Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 17 (“Spiritual Protection for God’s People”)
In chapter 6 of Revelation, we have seen Christ opening the first six seals of the scroll which was handed to Him by God. We see at the end of Rev.6, that the people of the world are in fear of God’s justice and wrath which is at hand. We’ve continued with Rev.6 and in vss.15-17 we read the following ~ “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Now, at the beginning of chapter 7, we would expect that Christ will open the 7th seal, but instead of doing that, something else first happens – God gives His people spiritual protection.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.7:1-8 ~ “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.”
· In today’s teaching, we will see that God will bring judgment upon the wicked according to his sovereign timing.
· The judgements of God include allowing evil forces to carry out their destructive activity.
· God’s people are marked with the seal of the living God, assuring them that they belong to God and will be protected spiritually from divine judgements.
We have here, the first interlude in Revelation – it stands between the sixth and seventh seal judgements. Interludes in Revelation often shed light on the current situation of God’s people and offer insight into their present responsibilities and future hope.
We’ve seen in Revelation 6 that the chapter concluded with a question: “Who can withstand the wrath of God and the Lamb,” and the answer was very clear: “No one.” It is as if there is some missing words after the answer of “no one” – the word, “but…” – “…but there is hope, because God’s servants will be able to endure or stand before God’s throne of judgment, because of God’s protective seal on their foreheads.”
This interlude then pictures the people of God being sealed prior to the outpouring of His judgements and the same people later celebrating in heaven. God’s people are protected from His wrath but not from the wrath of the beast and his followers.
3. THE FOUR WINDS (7:1):
When we look at vs.1 we see ~ “…standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.” In apocalyptic literature Angels are sometimes put in charge of nature ~ “And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say…” (Rev.16:5). The fact that these angels are standing at the four corners of the earth indicates to us that they control nature on every part of the world. They are holding back the four winds of the earth. God often uses the wind as an instrument of judgement. We see this beautifully depicted in Ex.10:13 when Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt which brought locusts to devour everything that was green ~ “So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts.”
The reason for holding back the four winds is the reason why Christ didn’t open the seventh seal immediately. These four winds in chapter 7 are destructive forces which are now held back by the angels on God’s command, because something must first be done and that is the sealing of God’s elect in order to protect them against God’s judgements. The servants of God, from all parts of the earth, first had to be sealed on their foreheads. This is confirmed by the fact that the fifth angel came from the east and calls to the other angels not to release their destruction until the servants of God have a “seal” on the foreheads (7:2). As already indicated, a seal was an indication of God’s protection and ownership. These “sealed people” therefore, are the people of God and this sealing are related to their salvation as in the comparable figure used by Paul in 2 Cor.1:21-22 ~ “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
4. THE SEAL OF GOD (7:2-3):
We read in 7:2 about a fifth angel ~ Then I saw another angel.” This fifth angel is the one who carries the seal of God and he and his helpers (see vs.3 where the 5th angel says ~ “until we have sealed the servants of our God”) first want to put God’s seal of ownership on the foreheads of the saved children of God.
Why and from what are these saved people to be protected? That we will see in chapter 8, when the 7th seal is opened. What we can say however, is when we look at Rev.16:6, those who have the seal of God are worshippers of God and will be the objects of His abiding grace. In 16:2, the bowl of God’s wrath appears to be directed exclusively toward those who have the mark of the beast, thus excluding those with the seal of God (16:6). Even when facing persecution and martyrdom at the hand of the beast, they can be certain that no plague from God will touch them, but that they will be in His presence for ever because they are His very own possession.
John witnesses the sealing of God’s 144,000 witnesses, and he hears the praise song of an unnumbered multitude. It is important for us to contrast these two groups of people.
However, before we can look at these two groups, there is one thing we must clarify. At the end of chapter 6 we had the terrible judgement of God poured out on all men on earth who hadn’t had the seal of God – so, the judgement is already completed – it is final, but now here in chapter 7 we read about the 144,000 who received God’s seal – how is that possible? First condemnation and then suddenly salvation and as we will later see, again condemnation. How must we understand this? Why would God now be sealing people after He had already judged everybody?
In order to better understand the unfolding or deploying of Revelation, I’ve compiled the following diagram:
So, we must remember that Revelation is not written in chronological order. When we get to chapter 7 we go all the way back to the beginning of chapter 6 – we call this an interlude. It is as if we go through all these judgements and then the question comes, “who can stand and survive these judgements?” Then John sees a picture which goes back to chapter 6. It is like a video that you rewind in order to see the whole drama again to see whether there are survivors and then John sees 144,000 survivors ~ “After this (after the sealing of the 144,000) I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (vs.1). This goes back to Zech.6:1-5 ~ “Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2 The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, 3 the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong. 4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.” This is also from an apocalyptic book, speaking of horses coming before judgement are going to take place. They are ready because they’ve been given authority to execute judgement.
If we therefore read chapter 7 in chronological order, it does not make sense. The only way that it makes sense is when we read it as if chapter 7 was placed before chapter 6. At the end of chapter 6, the question is asked ~ “…for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (6:17). Now in chapter 7, the answer follows on that question before the vision proceeds with the opening of the 7th seal in chapter 8 – “Who can stand?” “Only the 144,000 and the unnumbered multitude.”
5. THE 144,000 (7:4-8):
In vss.4-8, we see 144,000 who are “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” In Scripture, a seal indicates ownership and protection. Today, God’s people are sealed by the Holy Spirit ~ “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph.1:13-14). This is God’s guarantee that we are saved and safe, and that He one day will take us to heaven. The 144,000 will receive the Father’s name as their seal (Rev.14:1), in contrast to “the mark of the beast” that the Antichrist will give those who follow him ~ “And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur” (Rev.19:20 – also see: 13:17; 14:11; 16:2).
This seal will protect these chosen ones from the judgements that will “…hurt the earth and the sea” (Rev.7:2), and occur when the first four angels blow their trumpets (Rev.8).
The question is, who are these sealed Jews? First, we must understand that not all Jews were or are doomed. In every age, God has had His faithful remnant. Elijah thought that he was alone, but God had 7,000 who were yet faithful to Him (1 Kings 19:18). The sealing described in Rev.7 certainly had its background in the Ez.9:1-7, where the faithful were sealed before God’s judgement fell. Second however, although this sealing is pictured in terms of the tribes of Israel (vss.4-8), we cannot take this picture as a literal list as many people do. Some believe that Christ has two groups of people, namely the Jews and Gentiles and God offered the kingdom to the Jews. When they refused the offer, God put a “plan B” into action and offer the kingdom to the Gentiles. The problem is that God still have to save his first choice of people namely the Jews and therefore, according to these people, the rapture occurs with God taking the Gentile church out of the world and now He can deal with His people Israel. The mentioning of the tribes of Israel are offered as a prooftext for this theory. This is the most common position taken today.
I do not believe that this viewpoint can refer to a literal group of ethnic Jews. I do not believe that there will be a secret rapture of the church before the Tribulation, because there is nothing in the Bible that teaches this, in fact John says in chapter 1 that he is our partner IN the Tribulation. He does not speak of a future Tribulation, because he says that he is already our partner IN the Tribulation.
God as the sovereign, almighty and omniscient (Afrikaans: “alwetende”) God, does not work with a “plan A” and “plan B,” because it is contrary to His attributes and who He is, in fact I think it is blasphemous to reason like that.
Secondly and related to the first group, is that this list is linked to the prophecy in Rom.11:24, 26 ~ “24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree… 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’” These scholars then connect the list of 144,000 to Rom.11. These people reason like this because they take a literal approach to Revelation. Now, if you do that, the figure of 144,000 does not match with the words “all Israel.” So, this figure must be a symbolic figure.
Some people (a very few though) see this figure or list, as a remnant of ethnic Jews living during the first century, but there is absolutely no Biblical evidence for such a viewpoint.
Finally, some see this list figuratively, pointing to the people of God as a whole, who was sealed and to make it through the tribulation. I believe that this is the Biblical viewpoint. Why can’t this figure be literal? There are irregularities with the list in vss.5-8 and therefore we cannot take it as literal. Just to mention two or three:
o This list is not repeated in any other part of the Bible.
o The list is out of birth order. Ruben was born before Judah, but is mentioned first, then the sons of the concubines are mentioned and then the sons of the legitimate wife.
o Joseph is part of the list that indicates that this list is of the sons of Jacob and not the tribes of Israel.
o On the other hand, Manasseh is included which points to the tribes and not the sons.
o Ephraim is excluded and if you have Manasseh, you must have Ephraim.
o The same applies to Dan, because he is excluded from the list.
One can easily ask whether John is confused, but that cannot be true because he knows both the list of sons, as well as the tribes.
Numbers in the rest of Revelation are used symbolically, why then just use this literally? This list must be a symbolic list and not literal, it is therefore not 144,000 ethnic Jews.
If this list then is symbolic, it then explains the irregularities in the list. The 144,000 is therefore not speaking of Israel as a nation but of the true Israel, the spiritual Israel, the church, described by the apostle Paul as “the Israel of God” (Gal.6:16).
We must also keep in mind that the number 144,000 is significant because it signifies perfection and completeness (144,000 = 12 X 12) and therefore, the figure of 144,000 is not the numerical figure of people, nor exactly 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes, but this is a symbolic figure, meaning that every person from the Old and New Testament dispensations who belong to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are saved – the elect is a perfect and complete group of believers and this include saved Jews as well. We know this from Rom.9:6-8, that there are true Jewish believers – those who embraced Jesus Christ as Messiah ~ “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
Furthermore, there is no doubt as to who this multitude is, because one of the elders explained it to John in Rev.7:14. They are Gentiles (and those Jews who believe in Christ as the true Messiah) and they are identified by the angel as those “who have come out of the great tribulation” (vs.14).
We see uncountable numbers of people – Gentiles from all nations who are standing in heaven before God. We know, according to Rev.5:9, that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God died to redeem people out of “…every tribe and language and people and nation.” This fact is, the fruition of the Lord’s mandate in Mark16:15 ~ “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
It seems therefore, that this group is exactly the same group as the 144,000 in the third interlude in Rev.14:1, 3. How is that possible? To answer this, we must look at two verses in this chapter. First, 7:4 which starts with the words… ~ “And I heard.” Secondly, 7:9 which starts with the words… ~ “And I looked.” In vs.4 he hears the angels talking about the believers that received the seal from God which will protect them from God’s wrath, but in 7:9 he actually sees them with his own eyes – a great multitude who will be saved through the Tribulation – the Tribulation that started during the first century and is still continuing until the second coming of Christ. This multitude of people represent the whole company of the redeemed in Christ from the beginning of times, till the end before Christ’s second coming. We can say this because, they were accepted by God, for they stood before God’s throne and the Lamb (7:9), and they were continually serving God… ~ “…in the His temple” (7:15).
No doubt that this multitude had been rejected on earth, for they stood for Truth at a time when lies were popular and Satan was in charge.
6. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
This is the praise of all nations and angels that is ringing through the corridors of heaven. Once again, as we saw in chapter 5, the theme of the Lamb is prominent (7:9,10,14,17), as it is throughout Scripture, beginning in Genesis and culminating in Revelation. In Gen.22 God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When the boy asks his father ~ “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answers ~ “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:7-8). On that occasion God would provide a ram (22:13). Two thousand years later He would yet again provide the Lamb. In Ex.12:5 we are told that the Passover must be sacrificed and that the lamb must be without blemish. In Is.53 we meet the Messianic Suffering Servant of the Lord – the perfect Lamb without blemish.
We are told in vs.7 that He was led as a lamb to slaughter. We then come to the New Testament and the ministry of John the Baptist, who seeing the Lord Jesus declares ~ “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh.1:29). Now, in Revelation, we see the eschatological warrior Lamb on the throne with His Father. He had been slaughtered, but now He stands as the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent resurrected Lamb – a Lamb who is a Lion and also, as we now see, a Shepherd.