144,000 Saints that are Sealed
Chapter seven is a parenthesis to the seals. The seals are an outline of what takes place during the tribulation and the parentheses contain more details. The seals outline clearly show that God will call out believers who become the tribulation saints. At the same time, a man will gain control over the earth and there will be widespread death. Joseph Stalin comes to mind as an example of this. While Stalin’s policies limited the death to Russia; the first seal ruler’s policies reach to the ends of the earth.
Looking at chapter seven it is clear that God wants us to focus on only the martyrs of the tribulation. There are some interesting observations to be made here. First, God has to silence the evil that is going on the earth long enough to call out, or seal, a group of Israelites to be witnesses. God gives a quiet time at the beginning of the tribulation in order to call out these chosen Jews. The word spirit actually comes from a Greek word that relates to air (pneuma). It seems that wind is often a symbol of the evil spirits stirring up things (Ephesians 4:14, Mark 4:39). So the picture here is that God prevents any movement of the spirits for a short amount of time. The reference to the four corners of the earth does not mean that the writers thought the earth was flat, but rather refers the four points of the compass.
Calling out Israelites makes perfect sense if you believe there is a difference between Israel and the church. The church is now removed and no longer the witness it once was. It is now time for God to start to fulfill all the promises to Israel. These are called during the tribulation, whereas the church saints are saved before the tribulation. It needs to be noted that there is a need for witnesses during the tribulation. An astute observer will understand that there is an absence of witnesses at this time which require this action. The best explanation for this is that the church is no longer on earth.
As far as the number of 144,000 goes it could be literal or it could be symbolic. However if someone knows something about this, it would nice to share it. One thing we do know is they do a very effective job of witnessing during the tribulation. The reason I say this is because in verse nine the Bible tells us that a multitude, which no man can number, will be saved. It also tells us that they are from all nations. These are saved during the great tribulation as verse fourteen clear states. These are the tribulation saints, not saints from time past.
Verses fifteen to seventeen again shows the end of suffering. This is an indication that the sixth seal is the end of the tribulation and the dawning of a new era. This is another reason for me to believe that the seals, trumpets, and vials are to be seen as layered in parallel rather than connected in a linear fashion.