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A. Last week we talked about the horrifying concept of the final day of judgment. In contrast, this week our topic is enormously uplifting and encouraging.
1. Chapter seven has two parts to it. We’ll cover part one this morning and part two next week.
B. Revelation 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: 5 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
C. So, we read about the vision of the One on the throne in Rev.4. In Rev.5 we read about the scroll with the seven seals and the Lamb who was the only one worthy to open the seals.
D. The in Rev.6 we began to read about the opening of these seals.
1. First four seals: the unleashing of four evil horsemen which bring devastation to the earth
2. The opening of the fifth seal: the saints in heaven crying out, How long?
3. And Rev.6 ends with the opening of the sixth seal: the day of God’s wrath (last week)
4. So, you come to chapter 7 expecting to read about the seventh seal. But the 7th seal is not there.
5. Instead, you have two more visions, and then the seventh seal doesn’t come till chapter 8, verse 1.
E. The most common way of addressing this is to say chapter seven is an interlude, that the process of the opening of the seven seals pauses for 17 verses and then resumes in 8:1.
F. I don’t like the interlude theory. It makes more sense to me to consider these verses as part of the sixth seal. In other words, I think it makes more sense to think of the 6th seal as having three parts:
1. The judgment day 6:12-17, which we discussed last week
2. The vision of the sealing of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel, which we are discussing today
3. The vision of the great multitude in Rev.7:9-17, which we’ll cover next week
G. Fortunately, the issue of how to interpret the structure here is more difficult than finding the MEANING of each section. And, not as important.
II. Three parts of this passage to look at this morning:
A. 1 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.
1. So here we have four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, preventing them from blowing on the earth – like dams holding the waters back.
2. Why are the angels holding the winds back? It’s because – before these winds are released to do their damage – something else has to be done first.
3. So, what are these four winds which the angels are holding back?
a. Well, it’s hard not to connect the four winds about to fall upon the earth with the four horsemen on four horses ready to ride forth to bring destruction upon the earth, especially since v.2-3 which say that these four forces are going to bring harm upon the earth.
b. This is also a very reasonable connection in light of a vision in Zech.6:1-8, which, like Rev.6:1-8, has four horse-powered forces which were sent to the earth, which are explicitly connected to “the four winds of heaven” in Zech.6:5.
4. — “Standing in the same tradition as Zechariah, and therefore possibly also behind Rev. 7:2-3, is Jer.49:36, where ‘the four winds’ are divine agents of judgment against a nation...For “winds” in general as agents of divine judgment elsewhere in the OT cf. Ps.18:10; 104:3-4; Is.19:1; 66:15; Jer.4:11-12; 23:19; 51:1; Hos.13:15-16.” – Beale
5. So, we have four angels essentially holding back the four horsemen; it’s like they’re holding the reigns as the horses are biting at the bit to get going.
6. But why are they being restrained? What must be done before these forces of destruction are released upon the earth? That’s what we learn in v.2-3.
B. 2-3 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.”
1. While the four angels are holding back the four winds, a fifth angel rises up and calls to the other four: ‘Don’t do any harm yet! First, we’ve got to seal the Lord’s servants!’
2. This is what must be done before the four horsemen are released to wreak their havoc on earth.
3. So, what does it mean that the servants of God need to be sealed on their foreheads?
a. Marks on the forehead are used a lot in the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev.13:17; 14:1-4, 9-11). It has to do with ownership. Remember that the ones who get the seal here are “the servants of God,” which is the same Greek word as slaves.
b. Greg Beale says, “It was a common practice in the ancient world to mark slaves on the forehead to indicate who owned them and to whom they owed service.”
4. But this seal was more than ownership. It was also protection.
a. We see this a little later in Rev.9:4, where the satanic powers are commanded “not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (Also, Rev.16:2.) So, they couldn’t harm any who had the seal.
b. It seems like the Lord’s chosen people are given a protective coat or shield which prevented them from being harmed by the destructive powers being released.
5. Let me share two Bible analogies to help us get a grasp on this:
a. In Ezekiel 9:1-7 there’s a story which really helps us understand the point of this seal (but it’s pretty heavy). Ezekiel prophesied at a time when the sin in the city of Jerusalem had gotten so abominable that God was bringing His judgment down upon them – mainly through Babylon. Ezekiel was actually already in Babylon along with many other exiles, but, in a vision, he is transported back to Jerusalem. There God says to him to assemble all the executioners of the city, along with their instruments of execution. And so the city’s six executioners came. But with them came another man. And the Lord said to this other man, “Go through the city and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who mourn and grieve over all the sins being committed in it.” And then to the executioners God said, “You, pass through the city after him. Start in the temple, and strike the people down. Kill old men, young men, maidens, women and children. Do not spare them or pity them. BUT DON’T TOUCH ANYONE WHO HAS THE MARK.” This is very similar!!
b. It is also similar to what happened at the Passover in Exod.12, isn’t it? God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn of each household, but He told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on their doors. When the angel of death saw the blood on the door, he would PASS OVER that house, and the firstborn of that house would be spared.
6. So, this is the idea of this seal. Before God sends His messengers of mayhem to the earth, He first orders that protective seal be placed upon each of His servants so that they might not be harmed.
C. 4-8 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 5 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
1. So, who are these 144,000 who are given this seal? Well, we’ve already been told in v.3 that they are the servants of God. Let me tell you why I think it’s talking about all true believers.
a. In Gen.12 God called Abraham to be His, promising to bless Him and His children, to be his God and the God of His children, to make them a great people – as many as the stars of the sky and the sand of the seashore. And Abraham’s family grew into a clan and then into a nation.
b. But two strange things happened as it all unfolded. Many of the descendants of Abraham were not included among God’s promised people. And the other thing which happened is that some who were NOT blood descendants of Abraham were included among His family, people like Rahab, Ruth, Uriah and Bathsheba (Exod. 12:37–38; Ruth 1:16ff.; 2Samuel 11).
2. The NT explains it. It turns out that the identity of the children God promised to Abraham is more complicated than it seemed at first. It isn’t just the physical descendants of Abraham (Rom.9:6-7).
3. For instance, in the NT we find out that Jews who reject Christ aren’t true Jews.
a. We saw this in Jesus’ letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia in Rev.2:9 & 3:9 where He referred to “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
4. We also see that Gentiles who embrace Christ ARE true children of Abraham – by faith.
a. Galatians 3:7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Cf. Gal.6:16)
b. Galatians 3:29 If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
c. Rom.2:28-29 No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.
d. — (On circumcision of the heart, see Lev.26:41; Deut.10:16, 30:6; Jer.4:4, 9:25-26; Acts 7:51.) Turns out, Romans 9 says this is what God’s promise to Abraham was all about in the first place.
5. This seems to be why all of God’s servants from both before and after Christ are here depicted as this great community of the tribes of Israel.
6. The number 144,000 is also meant to be figurative, just like most of the rest of the numbers in the book of Revelation. The 144,000 represents the complete number of God’s people.
a. Seven is the number of completeness in Revelation. But 12 is the number of completeness when it comes to God’s people: based on the 12 tribes of Israel. Probably the 144 here is the number of the twelve tribes multiplied by the twelve apostles, times a thousand to make it a massive number.
b. In Rev.21:9-22:5, John has a vision of the heavenly city of God, “the new Jerusalem,” representing the whole people of God. This new Jerusalem has 12 gates, on which are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. It also has a great wall. And how tall is the wall? 144 cubits in height – with 12 foundation stones on which are written the names of the 12 apostles.
c. — There actually is a number, though it’s not 144,000. But there is a number none of us knows, the number of God’s elect, who will be saved and who will be citizens of the new Jerusalem. And the 144,000 is a symbol of the number of those people, chosen from before the foundation of the world and sealed for that great day.
III. So, this vision shows God making sure that all of His people are protected from the destruction descending upon the earth. But before we go any further, let’s talk about the nature of this protective seal. What exactly are the servants of God protected from as a result of being sealed?
A. What we’d LIKE to be true is that while the world is beset with all its problems, those who love Jesus are protected from trouble/pain/sickness/heartbreak/poverty. But that’s not the case, is it?
B. You see, just as parents know that unlimited candy and screen time is not good for their children, so God knows that unlimited success and smoothness and ease isn’t good for His children.
1. These things would make us glory in ourselves – and in this life. And I know it sounds funny, but this life isn’t what we’re here for. We’re here for the next life.
C. And so what are we protected from?
1. The nature of the protection is spiritual, not physical, financial, relational or even psychological.
2. The servants of God sealed in this way must still live in the world of turmoil, and even suffer alongside their fellow humans. But their souls are protected, their faith is protected. They are empowered to persevere through all the tribulations listed in Rev.6:1-8.
3. So, upheaval and trouble have been cast down upon the earth, but it can’t harm you!
a. It can be painful, but it can’t harm ultimately you.
b. It can do damage to your body; it can even kill you. But it can’t harm your soul.
c. In fact, not one hair on your head will be damaged, unless it is the will of God for you, unless it is the best possible thing for your soul.
4. The seal means that for lovers of God all tribulations are turned into good, as it says in Rom.8:28.
a. It protects not necessarily from afflictions, but from the evil of afflictions, as the WCF 20:1 says.
b. In other words, no affliction is allowed to harm their souls, and they’re protected from any affliction which would.
c. Although they may suffer and even lose their physical life, the seal protects them from losing their spiritual life with God. It empowers the saints to remain loyal to Christ.
d. Once sealed, these tribulations become the very instruments by which faith can grow.
D. Here’s another way of looking at it: The wrath of God is being manifested against the wicked through the tribulations brought about by these four horsemen in Rev.6:1-8.
1. But for believers, Jesus on the cross has already taken the wrath they deserved, so they are now immune from the wrath of God.
2. Usually we think about this as pertaining to the Judgment Day. But this is also true every day.
3. SAINTS ARE PROTECTED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS FROM ANY MANIFESTATION OF THE WRATH OF GOD. So, they are immune from any unneeded suffering or hardship.
IV. This has a lot to say to us about how we think about ourselves.
A. We sing the hymn, Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, and this is one of those glorious things the Bible say us about us. We have been sealed by God against all that can damage us! Amazing!
B. Let me ask you a question: Do you feel secure in the Lord’s loving hands?
1. Well, here is an important tool God has given us by which we might feel that security.
C. If you belong to Christ, you are protected. The world cannot touch you. The devil cannot overcome you. No one can snatch you out of His hand.
1. “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!” (How Firm a Foundation, by Robert Keen)
2. If you’ve been sealed by God, He’s got you covered! If you belong to Him, He will sustain you. If God has given you faith, He will maintain that faith.
3. I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ – Philippians 1:6. He doesn’t leave work undone.
D. What about those who lose their faith then? Those who lose their faith never had true faith.
1. This is part of the purpose of tribulation. It exposes false faith, and proves the reality of true faith.
2. True faith, you see, doesn’t come from us. It is the gift of a God who says, “This one is mine.”
3. Think about Judas and Peter. Both of them turned their backs on Jesus in the final days.
4. Judas was chosen as a disciple, but he was never reborn, he was never transformed within.
a. He lived with Jesus but Jesus never lived in him.
b. So, eventually Satan entered his heart and he betrayed Jesus.
c. The Lord didn’t maintain his faith because the Lord had never chosen to give him faith.
5. Peter, on the other hand, had true faith, and so he was sealed for Christ.
a. And when he denied Jesus, he didn’t fall away like Judas.
b. Jesus intervened. He said, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk.22:32)
6. Now, was Jesus waiting to see if Judas and Peter would make it? No, He wasn’t. He knew Judas was going to do what he did, and He prayed for Peter, enabling him to repent and return.
E. But Jesus let Peter fail. If He loved Peter, & if Peter was sealed, why would God allow him to fail?
1. Because Peter needed to fail. He needed to learn from failing. He needed to feel his weakness. He needed to be humbled.
2. And this is why God allows trials and tribulations to come into our lives.
3. We’re actually better off when life makes us feel weak, not strong.
4. At the men’s breakfast yesterday we heard Kurt’s beautiful testimony of how God used weakness and inadequacy in his life and in Jennifer’s to get their attention and to drive them to Himself.
5. Remember what Jesus said to Paul in 2Corinthians 12:9-10 “My power is made perfect in weakness.” And then Paul says, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
6. I know it’s often painful, but it is also beautiful. One of the great privileges of my life has been to watch people be sustained through what seems like impossible circumstances. How do they do it? It’s not them. Invisibly there are heavenly hands holding them up.
F. But there’s another reason God sometimes allows us to be battered with tribulations.
1. If you a new kind of automobile finish which was indestructible, how would you prove it to potential investors or customers? You would probably put it through every conceivable test – sun and heat, arctic cold, rain, sleet, salt, pressure-washing, hailstorms, sandstorms, blizzards, temperature fluctuations, drive-through car washes, floods, falling leaves and branches, people sitting on the car, years of wear and tear – and then show how the finish is still standing strong.
2. Does that sort of sound like your life? We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 2Cor.4:8-9
3. Well, now you know why!
4. Isn’t this exactly what’s going on in the story of Job? God is allowing Satan to wreak havoc on Job’s life, all in order to prove that Job’s faith in God is indestructible. Is it easy for Job? Ha!
5. But Job is still shining in the end, isn’t he? That’s sort of the idea, isn’t it?