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The Sealing


We are continuing our message series entitled “Visions of Victory” from the book of Revelation. We are in the midst of the second scene, or vision, all about seven seals on a scroll being opened by the Lamb of God who is Jesus Christ. Last week we talked about the first six seals. Now, there is a sort of pause before the seventh seal is broken at the beginning of chapter 8. And here we see a different type of sealing going on. Rather than the sealing of a document, it is all about the sealing, or marking of people, as with a stamp, and for their protection. Listen for God’s word to you from Revelation 7…

 

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,

from the tribe of Gad 12,000,

from the tribe of Asher 12,000,

from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,

from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,

from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,

from the tribe of Levi 12,000,

from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,

from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,

from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,

from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’

    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’

    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

 

When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

 

When?

 

The first key question that needs to be asked and answered is: when does this sealing of God’s people take place? It is problematic to assume that Revelation moves in strict chronological order. This chapter is one example of that. John says, “After this I saw…” not “After this X happened…”

 

John’s vision in Revelation 7 begins with four angels at the four corners of the earth holding back the four winds of the earth. The reference to the four corners of the earth reminds us that people in John’s time believed the earth was flat and square. Another angel warns the first four angels not to harm land or sea or trees until a seal is placed on the foreheads of the servants of God. Only then can destruction be unleashed on the earth.

 

Yet, at the end of chapter 6 we saw clearly depicted various events associated with the Second Coming of Christ. One thing is abundantly clear from Scripture, that is that once Christ returns, there will be no further destruction of the earth. Furthermore, the four horsemen we saw last week are associated with the four winds in Zechariah 6:1-5.


When one takes full account of these two factors, it becomes clear that what John is showing us in chapter 7 is another view of what he already showed us in chapter 6. Why does John repeat himself like this? As I said last week, I think it is because we need to be reminded of God’s truth, more than we need to be taught new truth. And what is the truth that John is reminding us of here? It is the truth that God’s control over the four horsemen/winds ensures that his church is sealed and secure before destruction rides/blows forth. (Wilcock)

 

Some associate this destruction with the end times immediately before Jesus returns. Based upon these verses, they call it “the great tribulation”. But Jesus also spoke of a time of tribulation when Jerusalem would be destroyed. That happened in AD 70. And there are many times of tribulation in the life of every Christian, indeed of every human being. The important thing is not so much when this tribulation takes place, but that God’s servants are protected through it. There is a parallel to this in Ezekiel 9 where “a man clothed in linen” is told to “put a mark upon the foreheads” of God’s faithful people, before the six “executioners of the city” smite it with his wrath. Intriguingly, Paul also talks about a sealing of God’s people in Ephesians 1:13-14, 

 

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

 

We were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when we first put our faith in Jesus. From that moment forward, our ultimate safety was guaranteed. As Michael Wilcock says, “when the searing winds begin to blow, the servant of God is found to have been sealed already against their power. The horsemen ride out on their career of destruction; but the church has been made indestructible.”

 

This does not mean that followers of the Lamb will always be physically safe. We know that is not the case. But it does mean we will be kept spiritually safe. And, as Jim Elliot once said, “Your life is immortal until your job is done.”

 

Who?

 

The second question we need to ask and answer in order to understand Revelation 7 is: who exactly is being sealed here?

 

There has been much theological dispute over the answer. But in one sense, the answer is simple. The angel tells us that it is the servants of God who are being sealed. Further, we are told the number of those being sealed: 144,000. Further still, we are told that this number comes from all the tribes of Israel. 

 

But here we must take a cautious pause. We have already seen how everything, especially numbers, in the book of Revelation are highly symbolic. And what could be more symbolic than the number 12? There were twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles of Jesus. Earlier in Revelation we saw how these two groups were represented in the 24 elders. Here it seems odd that there are exactly 12,000 that come from each of the Israelite tribes, regardless of how small or large those tribes were historically. Furthermore, the tribes are listed in an order found nowhere else in the Bible, and one of them (Dan) is omitted altogether, and the lack is made up by including one of Joseph’s sons as well as Joseph himself. Obviously, this description of Israel is very stylized indeed.

 

Then, beginning in verse 9, John gives us a picture of a multitude that no one can number from every nation, tribe, people, and language. John is told that this great multitude has come out of the great tribulation and that they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. So, one would assume, that this vast multitude are all Jesus-followers. But if they come from every nation, tribe, people, and language, then this group also has Jews in it. It makes me wonder: if I were there, which group would I be part of? After all, I am Jewish by blood and Christian by conviction. The same would be true of John himself and all the first followers of Jesus. Furthermore, Paul, in Romans 11, pictures all of God’s people as part of one olive tree. Some unbelieving Jewish branches have been broken off. But some Jews have believed in Jesus as their Messiah. So, they are still part of God’s tree. And then other believing branches, the Gentiles, have been grafted into God’s tree. The bottom line is that all of God’s people are part of one tree. 

 

This leads me to think that once again John has given us two pictures of the same thing. This is confirmed by Revelation 14:1 where we see that the 144,000 have the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name on them. Both the 144,000 and the great multitude belong to the Lamb.

 

Where?

 

A third question that we need to ask and answer to understand this passage is: where are these two groups, if they are indeed two groups? 

 

It seems clear to me that while both groups symbolize the same people, namely God’s servants, one group (the 144,000) is on earth, and therefore needs continuing protection provided by God’s sealing. The other group, the great multitude, is worshiping the Lord in heaven.

 

Is that not a picture of the situation we find ourselves in all the time? Right now, only a small portion of God’s servants is on earth, and therefore needing his continued sealing protection. At the same time, perhaps the vast majority, an untold number, of God’s servants are worshipping him in heaven. 

 

We confess in The Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the Communion of Saints. As believers in Jesus Christ, we belong to a vast family, not only on earth, but in heaven as well. And we have communion, fellowship, not only with believers on earth, but also in heaven.

 

What?

 

A fourth question we need to ask is: what are God’s servants doing? What they are doing is perhaps more important than who they are or where they are.

 

What God’s servants are doing is worshiping him. What could be more worshipful than this statement? …

 

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

 

In effect, the great multitude is joining in the worship of the elders and the living creatures, that worship we saw depicted so beautifully in Revelation 4 and 5. And why should we think that this worship is restricted to heaven? Every time we worship God from here, on earth, we are joining our voices with the heavenly chorus. It does not matter that we cannot hear that chorus with our physical ears. What matters is that God hears and receives the worship of all his people, whether on earth or in heaven.

 

Why?

 

Another question we must ask is: why is this great multitude so privileged as to worship God in heaven? 

 

One of the elders answers this question when he tells John who this great multitude is: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple.”

 

It is only because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb that this great multitude are able to worship God in heaven and serve him day and night in his temple. John makes clear here what Jesus also made clear in the Gospel: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It is only through Jesus and his blood shed on the cross that we can come into the presence of the Father.

 

Holy Communion is a reminder of this as well. It is a reminder of Jesus’ blood shed for us and his body broken for us. That shed blood is the only way into communion with God.

 

As William Barclay says, 

 

Here is a revolution. In the earthly Temple in Jerusalem no Gentile could go beyond the Court of the Gentiles on pain of death. An Israelite could pass through the Court of the Women and enter into the Court of the Israelites, but no further. Beyond that was the Court of the Priests, which was for priests alone. But in the heavenly temple the way to the presence of God is open to people of every race. Here is a picture of heaven with the barriers down. Distinctions of race and of status exist no more; the way into the presence of God is open…

 

How?

 

One final question is: how does this great multitude live in heaven? And the answer is that they live continually under God’s care. We read…

 

and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’

    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[
b]
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes

 

Again, as William Barclay says, “There is spiritual promise here, the promise of the ultimate satisfying of the hunger and the thirst of the human soul.”

 

Augustine prayed, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”[1] The good news of this chapter is that all who choose that rest will one day find it.

 

Remember when you were a small child and your mother wiped away your tears? God will do the same for us upon our entry into heaven. Sorrow and sighing will be no more.

 

The Seventh Seal

 

All of this is well worth meditating on in a humble silence. Thus, how appropriate it is that we have these words at the beginning of chapter 8: “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

 

Silence in heaven—what a beautiful thought! This world of ours is often too filled with noise…noise that distracts. And could it be that God wants silence too—silence to listen to the prayers of his people?

 

The Lord knows that sometimes we need silence in which to meditate on all that he has done for us. We need time to meditate on all that has gone before, in the first seven chapters of Revelation, before we go on to the next thing that God wants to reveal to us. I hope that you will find moments even this week, as the Lord says in Psalm 46:10, to “Be still and know that I am God.”



[1] Saint Augustine. The Confessions of St. Augustine (p. 1). Kindle Edition.

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