Chapter seven seems to be the first major parenthesis in the vision chronology. Rather than seeing judgments, John saw two distinct groups of people. The first is said to be 144,000 people. These will represent Israel’s twelve tribes (with Manasseh in place of Dan), 12,000 from each tribe. These people are called “the servants of our God” (Revelation 7:3). They each will be given “a seal on the forehead” (Revelation 7:3), which must happen before “the earth or the sea or the trees” (Revelation 7:2) are damaged by the coming judgments. What their role is during this time is not specified, but they will certainly be marked out for a reason.
The second group is comprised “of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language,” a group too numerous to count (Revelation 7:9). This helps confirm that the 144,000 will be literal, ethnic Jews, contrary to some who think they represent believers. This group must also include Jews. These people will join the angels, living creatures, and elders from Revelation 5:11-14, offering the same praise found in that section. When John could not identify this new group, one of the elders told him that they were “the ones who have come out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14). They are often assumed to be martyrs, because they have “long white robes” similar to the martyrs of the fifth seal (Revelation 6:11). However, that is not stated. All of the armies of heaven will return with Jesus in white linen (Revelation 19:8, 14), and the believers in Sardis were promised white clothing, even though there is no mention of martyrdom (Revelation 3:5). Whatever we cannot say about these people, we can say that they came to faith in Jesus during the Tribulation.
It is possible that these two groups are meant to show the state or number of believers at the beginning and end of the Tribulation.