Signed, Sealed, Delivered
“First they scourged him [a character named Faithful], then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords, and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.
Now, I saw that there stood behind the multitude [of evil men] a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.”
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
[Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 123]
When I first started seminary, I was taking multiple classes each semester
Part way through my seminary degree, I felt overwhelmed and had to cut back on the number of classes I was taking each semester (the reasons were financial, physical, and emotional)
After getting a little break and because only certain classes were offered during the summer, the last year and a half I took classes year around
I know that God was the One who helped me to accomplish my seminary degree while working full-time and having a wife and three boys
He saw me through that challenging, busy, and fruitful season of my life
God saw your through
Take time this morning to think about a time when God saw your through a difficult or busy time in your life
Perhaps you’re going through that difficult or busy season of life right now
We’ll see today that God will see you through
There is an interlude between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. This interlude helps us understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – God will see His people through.
GOD (Revelation 7:1-8)
Which direction does the interlude look (backward or forward)
Some scholars believe that what we see in Revelation 7 looks back to before the first six seals are opened
They believe that the sealing of the saints happens prior to the four horsemen and definitely before the seven trumpets are sounded and the seven bowls are poured out
1 Thessalonians 5:9, For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ
This is certainly true, but many people use this passage and belief to say that believers will not suffer persecution, trials, and death during the tribulation
Osborne asks the question that naturally comes to mind, “How can believers be protected and killed at the same time?”
The answer comes from realizing that protection and death apply to two different aspects of the end times
Saints are sealed and protected from God’s wrath that is seen in the seals, trumpets, and bowls
They are not, however, protected from the wrath of the beast
They will be persecuted and some will be killed by the inhabitants of the earth (unbelievers)
When the second horseman removed peace from the earth and caused men to slaughter each other, it was not God’s wrath that killed saints, but rather the unbelievers on earth
The interlude looks forward
This is certainly a possibility also
The phrase, “after this,” is referring to the order of time
John’s vision continues
There is a transition taking place into the interlude
This transition of the vision happens after the first six seals have been opened
Some scholars see all of Revelation 7 answering the question in Rev. 6:17, “who can stand?”
There are two groups who are empowered by God to stand
We’ll see today that those who are sealed can stand
Next week we’ll see that there is a great multitude in white robes who can stand
They are able to stand because of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ
God did and will see His people through
The angel from the east tells the other four angels not to harm the land, the sea, or the trees
The first three trumpets target the land, the sea, the trees, and the grass
Some of the bowl judgments affect the water (bowls 2 and 3)
In the seals the land is indirectly affected (famine)
“In its chronological relationship to the seals of 6:1-8, 7:1-8 gives us a flashback to the time just prior to God’s outpouring of judgment, and 7:9-17 takes us forward to the time following these judgments.” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 303]
Either of these viewpoints are acceptable and do not take away from the main principles taught here
The trumpets and bowls describe in more detail the seals
There are again two viewpoints suggested
One is that the seven trumpets and the seven bowls are repeating the judgments of the seven seals with more detail
The other is that the seven trumpets and the seven bowls are other judgments in addition to the those found in the seals
There are certainly some similarities found in the seals, trumpets, and bowls
We even see an increasing number of individuals being killed (4th seal – ¼ killed; 6th trumpet – 1/3 killed; after the 7th bowl – remainder of unbelievers destroyed)
Again, the principles taught in Scripture are not affected by whether the trumpets or bowls are additional judgments or a more detailed view of the seals
After the sixth seal is opened, John’s vision transitions to four angels standing at the ready
Holding Pattern (vv. 1-3)
Four corners of the earth
Some individuals speculate that this means the 1st Century people believed that the earth was flat
There are other references in OT Scripture that speak about the earth being a circle, so the idea that the 1st Century people believed the earth was flat is probably incorrect (this line of reasoning is used primarily by individuals who are looking for “mistakes” in the Bible in hopes of causing reasonable doubt about the inerrancy of Scripture)
It was a common way of referring to every direction
It was used as a way of talking about the entire world as a whole
It was a figure of speech to identify all four directions of the compass
The four angels aren’t just standing at the four corners of the earth, but they are also holding back the four winds
“Both participles stress ongoing action, as the angels ‘stand’ firm and ‘restrain’ the winds from their destructive purpose until God’s appointed time.” [Osborne, 306]
Holding back the four winds
The Greek for “hold back” is a very strong verb which means to forcefully “hold back, restrain,” or “prevent” an action
These four angels aren’t just standing around idly, twiddling their thumbs
No, they are actively straining to hold back these four winds, which represent destruction and judgment
PRINCIPLE – God is all-powerful
God’s sovereign power over the winds is a regular part of the Jewish lore surrounding the apocalypse and astronomy [Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 233]
God is in control of His creation, which includes the winds of destruction/judgment
God is able to delegate His power to whomever He chooses, which He was done here in giving these four angels the ability to restrain the four winds of the earth
The winds that are being held back are “winds of destruction”
These are God’s judgments, placed in a holding pattern until He tells the angels to release them
In Bible typology (the study of types or symbols), wind normally speaks of the judgment of God
Read Daniel 7:2-8
Jeremiah 49:36, I will bring against Elam the four winds from the four quarters of the heavens; I will scatter them to the four winds, and there will not be a nation where Elam’s exiles do not go.
Exodus 10:13-14, So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again.
“According to the Apocalypse of Pseudo-John (xv), four great winds will sweep the face of the earth and cleanse it from sin.” [Mounce, 155]
Zechariah 6:1-5, I looked up again – and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains – mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled – all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?” The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits [winds] of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.
In Jewish thought the winds that blew north-south or east-west were actually helpful winds, while those that blew diagonally (southwest-northeast or southeast-northwest or vice-versa) were considered harmful winds [Osborne, 305; Mounce, 155]
We see that God also uses the wind for good things – to be helpful
Exodus 10:18-19, Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt.
Exodus 14:21, Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.
We see then that the four angels are holding back the four winds of judgement from blowing on the land, sea, and trees
Land, sea, and trees
The coming judgments will not be directly against the inhabitants of the earth, but will definitely impact them
We will see the impact of the four winds of judgment on the land, sea, trees, and grass with the first three trumpets in Revelation 8
While the four angels are restraining the four winds of judgment, John sees another angel appear on the scene
Single angel from the east
Coming up from the east
The NASB is a more literal translation of the original Greek and actually captures what is in the Greek
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun . . . (Rev. 7:2)
We know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so some translators simply stated that this angel was coming up from the east
The angel has the seal of the living God with him
Seal of the living God
The 1st Century hearers would have connected and understood the significance of the seal
In the cults of the Greco-Roman era the worshipers had a seal placed on them to show that they belonged to the god(s) they worshiped [Osborne, 307]
A signet ring of a king or ruler was well known during the 1st Century
The ring was pressed into wax or clay to seal a document, which guaranteed its authenticity and protected the information contained in the document
The use of seals predates the OT Israelites and goes as far back as the Babylonians and Egyptians [Patterson, The New American Commentary, Revelation, 191]
Perhaps the most important source for the idea of saints being sealed is found in Ezekiel 9:3-4
Ezekiel 9:3-4, Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
In the Ezekiel text the mark was the Hebrew letter for “T” (the mark was made like a plus sign or an “X” – also thought to look like a cross) [Easley, 125]
“In the ancient world the seal meant ownership, protection, and privilege.” [Osborne, 307]
We know what the seal was because it is revealed in Revelation 14:1
Revelation 14:1, Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
So the seal or signet ring that the angel is bringing with him has Jesus’ and God’s name on it and it is put on the foreheads of the 144,000
PRINCIPLE – God rules the cosmos and can protect His people from the consequences of judgments He sends to get the world’s attention.
These believers are being spared from the coming judgments of God that will be poured out during the trumpets and bowls
There is a distinction made between those who are sealed by the angel of God and those who are not
After the fifth trumpet is sounded we see these words, And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev. 9:3-4)
This was not the first time that God made a distinction between His people and unbelievers
He also did it with the Israelites and Egyptians during the days leading up to their exodus
The livestock of the Israelites were not affected by the plague that God inflicted on the livestock of the Egyptians (Exod. 9:4)
The firstborn sons of the Egyptians and their cattle were killed while the firstborn sons and cattle of the Israelites were not (Exod. 11:7)
God made a distinction and He had the power to protect
God will see His people through.
We can take comfort in the fact that we are God’s children and that He promises to see us through
God’s sealed servants will not be hurt by His judgment winds, but the teaching of Scripture as a whole tells us that “God’s people go through the trials caused by ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’ (thus there are many martyrs), but they are spared the experience of God’s wrath because of Christ.” [Easley, 125]
The owner of the seal is identified here and the title used is very important
Those who were sealed by the Greco-Roman cults were sealed into a religion of god that is not alive
The God of creation is alive and able to protect His people
“Only Yahweh is active and alive. Only Yahweh intervenes in the affairs of his people. God’s actions for his people prove his power and demonstrate the nature of his person.” [Butler cited by Osborne, 308]
The fifth angel has arrived on the scene and is prepared to use the seal of God, but first he gives a command to the other four angels
The fifth angel’s command to the other four angels
He speaks to them in a loud voice (this is again speaking of clarity – his message was clear and understandable)
He tells them to continue restraining the winds of God’s judgment until the seal of God is put on the foreheads of the servants of our God
PRINCIPLE – God is patient with His creation.
This is a good thing for us
What we see throughout Revelation is that God continues to woo His people to the very end
2 Peter 3:8-9, But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God’s attribute of patience was also apparent during the time of Noah when He waited patiently while the ark was being built (1 Peter 3:20)
God is still patient with us
God will see us through
At this point John hears the number of those who are to be sealed
Sealed Up (vv. 4-8)
Number sealed: 144,000
“The purpose here is to stress the perfect completeness of the whole (note ‘every tribe’) ‘number’ of the persevering faithful in the church in a threefold way: taking 12 (the number of completeness), then squaring it, and then multiplying by 1000, another symbol of completeness in the book.” [Osborne, 312]
The 144,000 are being sealed, which is perhaps the more important aspect of this passage
They are being protected from the coming trumpet and bowl judgments
PRINCIPLE – God guarantees His people a future with Him.
While He protects them from His coming wrath, they will still experience persecution from the beast and the inhabitants of the earth
Paul expresses this principle beautifully to the Corinthian believers
2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
List of tribes
There is much debate over whether or not the 144,000 are only Jews or if it represents all believers
If we read it literally, then we have to say that it represents Jews only
There will be 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel who will be sealed
Romans 11:25-27, I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
They will represent Christ to the unbelievers on earth and some of them will experience martyrdom
There seems to be more evidence that the listing of the tribes is symbolic of all Christians and not just the Jews
By the time that John was writing in the 1st Century, it was difficult for Jews to determine their tribal heritage
Ten of the twelve tribes were virtually wiped out during the time of the Babylonians (sixth century B.C.) [Easley, 126-27]
Modern Jews have found it impossible to reconstruct which tribe they are actually descended from
This is not to marginalize or minimize God’s omnipotence (all-powerful) – He is certainly able to do the impossible and the miraculous
There are other factors in Scripture that perhaps point to the fact that it symbolizes all Christians
Seal on the forehead
We see the seal on the forehead in Rev. 7:3 and 14:1
In this passage, the tribes of Israel are not listed at all
It certainly could be assumed that the same group is being spoken of here
That’s why we need to continue searching and looking at other Scriptures
Revelation 3:12, Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the City of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (church in Philadelphia)
Revelation 22:4, They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Revelation 7:4-5 is the only reference in Revelation that associates the tribes of Israel with those who are sealed, yet the other passages are talking about all Christians
New Testament writers refer to all believers in Judaic terms
Believers as true Jews
Romans 2:29, No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.
Galatians 3:29, If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 6:16, Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. (Paul is referring to the church in this passage)
Philippians 3:3, For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. (Paul is using the Jewish covenant of circumcision)
Peter applies some Old Testament phrases to the New Testament church
He is taking what is originally intended for the Jews and reapplies it to all believers
1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Finally, James addresses his letter to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (James 1:1)
He is not only writing to the Jews, but also to all believers
Servants of God
The entire letter of Revelation is written to all believers
Revelation 1:1, The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.
In Rev. 7:3, those who are sealed are referred to as servants of our God
Unique list of tribes
The order in which the tribes are listed is unique to this list and is not found anywhere else in Scripture
Other listings of the tribes usually have them in birth order from oldest to youngest with Rueben being first and Joseph being omitted and his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, being included
Most scholars agree that Judah is listed first, because Jesus was born from Judah’s line – Revelation is all about Jesus being unveiled
The tribes that are listed are also unique
Normally the tribe of Levi is omitted because their inheritance was the Lord (they served the Lord in the Temple and receive portions of the animal, grain, and wine sacrifices)
The tribe of Dan is omitted from this list, supposedly because of their connection to idolatry (Judges 18:30; 1 Kings 12:29)
Equal numbers from each tribe
As mentioned earlier the number, 144,000, points to the perfect completeness of God’s servants who are sealed
We know from the Old Testament that there were not equal numbers of Israelites in each tribe
The first census is recorded in Numbers 1:20-42
The second census is found in Numbers 26:12-51
The division of land in the Promised Land was also not equal
This seems to point to something symbolic instead of literal
We serve an all-powerful God who guarantees us a future with Him, because He is able to protect us from the consequences of the judgments He sends to get the world’s attention
This should give you hope and courage as we continue to see the moral fiber of our culture disappear
Our hope and strength do not come from human beings, political powers, circumstances, possessions, or anything else
It only comes from God
He is the One who will see you through the difficulties of life
You have to focus upon Him and His Word
My Next Step Today Is To: Trust in the promise that God will see me through.
We know that God is infinitely patient with His creation
Perhaps you’ve experienced His incredible patience in your own life
That is something you can be thankful for
Have you expressed your gratitude and thankful to Him recently?
Maybe you need take time today to do that
His patience with all of creation is designed to allow everyone to come to repentance, so that no one will perish
Romans 3:10-12, As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Isaiah 59:2, But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.
1 Peter 3:18, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.
Romans 5:8, But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 1:12-13, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
My Next Step Today Is To: Believe in the name of Jesus and receive Him into my life, so I can become a child of God.
“Many Christians have fretted about how the tribulation might affect them. My beloved father-in-law Bob was one of them. In the late 1970’s he became convinced that he needed to stockpile food for the family. He didn’t want us to starve to death in case of severe famine or in case Christians were forbidden to purchase anything during the coming days of crisis. He invested a substantial amount of savings into hundreds of cans of specially processed food, everything from whole-wheat flour to peanut butter to dried banana flakes. Supposedly he gathered enough to feed us (sparingly) for three years. All the goods had a guaranteed shelf life of at least ten years. Bob died in 1982, leaving in his garage row upon row of cans untouched. Finally in 1997 they were all disposed of – a total loss.
What Bob and so many others have needed to understand is that in one way or another, tribulation is the normal lot of God’s people during this life-time. We prepare for it spiritually, not physically.
Certainly John and the Christians of his day were going through the ‘tribulation.’ Without doubt, for Jesus and the New Testament writers, tribulation is the common lot of humanity, including faithful believers (for example, John 16:33; Rom. 5:3; Jas. 1:27), though it is to be endured joyfully by God’s people.” [Easley, 134-35]
We have hope, because God will see His people through.