Harold Camping, in support of his "departing out" doctrine, claims that the144,000 of Revelation 7:1-8 represents all who were saved during the church era, allegedly from A.D. 33 until 1994. Then, the "great multitude, which no man could number" of Revelation 7:9 ff are supposed to be the ones saved during the final tribulation via Family Radio and other undisclosed media, unsullied by any association with church. (Neither "church" nor "other media" are ever satisfactorily and consistently defined, but that would properly be the object of another discussion, along with the necessary result that Family Radio, practically speaking, is left as the single source of an unfolding stream of increasingly bizarre revelations and interpretations and re-interpretations of God's precious Holy Scripture.)
It is, of course, proper to react to the above so long as we continue to do so in a God-glorifying and edifying manner (I Corinthians 14:26). However, let us not discount earlier truths taught by Camping in happier times, especially since most of these are also held by most Bible-believing, sovereign grace believers. Also, let us take care to not try to find a meaning as opposite as possible from what Camping teaches, intentionally or otherwise. I'm not suggesting that this is being done on this forum, but I have noticed it in other discussions, and it is something that we all need to guard against, lest we miss truth on the rebound.
First, the book of Revelation is not time-sequential. This is the dispensational approach, and its adherents have a host of problems and inconsistencies in trying to explain Revelation. One bit of evidence cited is the Greek conjunction kai, typically translated as "and", "but", "or". For example, both Chapters 7 and 14 of Revelation begin withkai. As we read Revelation, we may subconsciously assign a time sequence to the events being described. This may or may not be correct. Actually, in the book of Revelation, it is incorrect so to do more often than not. (In other parts of the Bible, this may be appropriate, such as Genesis 1 and the account of the six days of creation, which are all connected by the Hebrew "vau", which is used much like the Greek kai.)
Revelation 7:9 ff is a bit different. As Camping now points out regularly, it begins with "After this …". This is a much stronger indication that it may be taking place after the events of verses 1-8. The Greek is very clear and is very correctly translated in the KJV. Camping then claims this as incontestable evidence that there are in view two groups of people being saved at two different times, one after the other.
To the best of my knowledge, though, Camping has never dealt with the fact that Revelation 7 begins in verse 1 with "And after these things …". Note, too, that the Greek underlying "after these things" in v. 1,meta tauta, is identical to what appears in v. 9, where it is rendered, "After this …". However, Revelation 7:1-8 follows Revelation 6:12-17, which is a clear description of the end of the world.
When examining conclusions that anyone has derived from the Bible, it is very fair and reasonable to expect that what is presented be consistent throughout. If the events of Revelation 7:9 ff take place after the events of Revelation 7:1-8, then that passage in turn must follow Revelation 6:12-17.Therefore, Camping's church age takes place after the end of the world. This is, of course, absurd to the uttermost.
The answer, of course, is that the visions in the book of Revelation are presented in the order that God gave them to the apostle John, not necessarily in the order that the events described occur in history, or will occur. Thus, Camping's interpretation of Revelation 7 must immediately be rejected, without even needing to venture whom the 144,000 may represent.
The proposition that the 144,000 of Revelation 7 represent believers still on earth while the 144,000 of Revelation 14 represent believers who have gone on to heaven is certainly at least plausible. However, let us keep in mind (as you indicate, Bruno), that while we may distinguish between two groups in these passages, we cannot separate them, since "Clearly, both groups are part of God's family …", as you have said. I believe that the emphasis needs to be on the similarities. All of the descriptors for both groups belong to all believers, whether presently displayed or future. This is an important characteristic to bear in mind in light of the "departing out" teaching, which grossly distorts Revelation 7.
There are at least three distinct similarities between the two groups in Revelation 7 and 14.
… till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
… having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
2) The twelve tribes of Israel
Revelation 7:5-8, in which twelve tribes are listed
… These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The connection with Revelation 7 is via the use of "firstfruits". In James 1 we read,
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
3) The theme of redemption
… Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God …
[The elect are not getting the punishment that the rest of the world is getting, and which they themselves deserve
just as much.]
… the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
Then, there is the group in Revelation 7:9 ff, the "great multitude, which no man could number", which I believe is the same group of people as in vv 1-8. When these passages are compared with the descriptions in Revelation 4 and Revelation 5, as well as chapters 2, 3, 12, 15, 19, 20, 21, and 22, everything matches. It's all the same group of people, God's redeemed. Again, we can distinguish, as you have suggested, Bruno, between believers still on earth and believers in heaven. This has been termed "the tension between the future and the not-yet".
However, in contrast to what Camping is teaching of late, Revelation 7 in no way describes two dispensations during the New Testament era. The closest that we get to that is a highlight of Old Testament and New Testament believers via the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4 and 5. However, even these can easily be shown to be of the same family of believers, as is affirmed in the Westminster Confession and other faithful confessions (giving credit where credit is due).
I hope that this helps a bit with the discussion.
Please continue to pray earnestly for Family Radio, and Harold Camping in particular.
Wishing you all God's blessings,
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