Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Revelation 7: The Sealing of God's Servants

Text : Revelation  7
Title :  The Sealing of God’s Servants
Date:  01/12/2013 

Last time we  considered the unveiling of the first 6 seals in Chapter 6, and now we are waiting with anticipation to see what the 7th seal might reveal. However, the 7th chapter  interrupts  that thought  just like a T.V. advertisement  interrupts  a story  just when it  gets tense!

Do you remember what the  last  six seals were all about ?  We saw  that they  were about God’s  dealings  with the world,   from the  ascension of Christ until the second coming of Christ. The first seal, the revelation of the  rider on the white  horse,   refers  to Christ who rides ahead with the gospel.
The next three  seals  reveal  three riders  that  exercise terrible   judgments on the earth. We have seen these things  described in 6:3-8  happening  in the history of the world  in these  last 2000 years. Thank God then  that at the beginning and in the midst of  God’s judgment  upon earth’s sin and chaos there is the gospel ! We are  encouraged to flee to Christ,  the Lamb of God  before the  wrath of the Lamb becomes our ultimate judge.
The 5th seal  revealed the existence  and impatience of  those who were  killed  for the sake of the gospel ,  and who are  now under the altar in  heaven,   whilst  the 6th seal   contains the revelation of the events that accompany  the   2nd coming of Christ.

Before John takes us to the opening  of the  7th   seal, there is this  dramatic interruption  in chapter 7.  
Now remember that chapter 6  concluded  with the  vision of the final judgment (6:12-17). The  people of this world are in panic, “… hiding  themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 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 ,  for the great day of  their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (6:17).  We  see  naked terror  as people  seek an escape route from the terrible  final judgment of Christ  - but there is no escape route! We have seen recent scenes of this  as   terrorists  strike a  shopping center in Kenya  and as  an unprecedented storm strikes the Philippines  or  as a horrific  Tsunami strikes Japan. People scrambling  in terror to get away , and these are only  mild indicators to what it will be like on that  day of  the wrath of the Lamb, when there will be  no escape route in the entire earth!   This  is all a  very terrifying   description, and now the question arises : “But what about the Christians at that time?

Ah ! This is where the 7th Chapter  gives us the answers , namely  to show  that  God’s people (whose righteousness is in Christ)  are being kept secure through all these  times of tribulation  and especially  at the very end!  We have seen that this is  also true of those  who have been killed  for the testimony of Christ. We see them kept  secure  under the altar of God in heaven  until  the  final judgment and the resurrection ( 6:10-11) .  I cannot see  that that  the saints  are taken out of the world  before  the  second coming of Christ  as some  are inclined  to teach.   Rather  we note that the Lord Jesus  keeps His people in their  tribulations  and trials. Believers are not spared from tribulations but  in tribulations. 

Chapter 7 : A Revelation of the  Eternal Security of the Saints

1.       From the perspective of the church  in  the history  of  the earth ( 7:1-8)
2.       From the perspective of the Church in  eternity ( 7:9-  17)

 The Church on earth
[7:1] 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.
The number four indicates universality; the  four corners of the earth  refer to the whole earth. Four angels are said to control the four winds. The ministry of angels  is often  associated with the elements ( Heb. 1:7à Psalm 104:4 à fire and wind) ;    Rev. 14:18 speaks the of the  angel who has authority over the fire; Rev.16:5  refers to the angel in  charge of the waters. Here it is angels who have control of the winds, restraining them from blowing destructively upon the earth  in terms of divine judgment.

[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.”
Another angel  ( from the east)  now appears  with  the seal of the living God.  This seal is different from  those  seals  associated with the scroll.  This is a seal  of identification – a marking    of the servants of God. 

What is the purpose of a seal ?
(i)                 A seal  protects against tampering  
(ii)                It indicates ownership 
(iii)            It certifies genuine character  

The  seal (or the mark )  is not  a literal mark, but it certainly reminds us of the fact that the Lord knows those who are His ( 2 Tim 2:19). We also read  in   Revelation 14:1 that this seal is the name of Christ and of God ( see also  9:4 and 22:4).  For other uses of  the Spirit’s sealing see:  2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13f; 4:30.
The seal of God  and Christ    stand  in direct contrast to  the   mark of the beast (cf.  13:16f ; 14:9; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) .  The  seal of God  ensures the deliverance of His people, while the mark of the beast  will  indicate  those that are ultimately marked for destruction. 

 [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.

What about the 144 000 sealed? Jehovah’s witnesses think that these   are 144 000  of the JW super saints  who will populate heaven, while the rest will populate the earth.
Others  think  that this number  is a reference to the Old Testament saints since  12 OT  tribes are mentioned.  The problem however with this list is that  it does not  agree with  the  list or the order of Jacob’s 12 sons  as found in Genesis .  Ephraim and Dan are omitted here and Manasseh and  Joseph are included. In terms of order, Reuben was the first born , and instead we  have Judah ( the fourth born son of Leah) mentioned first .  But the main  concern  is that  if we take this   number literally  the actual number of ‘ saved ‘ Jews is very small.  Also , why  should  the 1444 000 be sealed and the  great multitude of  vv. 9-17 not ?

The best interpretation is  that  since they are called servants of God, the  number 144,000 is more likely symbolic of the entire church, which includes believing Jews and Gentiles. It is a  symbolic number and it is a fixed number , indicating that  God knows the total number of His elect sheep on earth.  
In Revelation 14:5  the 144,000 are mentioned again and there they are  said to be those redeemed from the earth as “first fruits for  God and  the Lamb.”   This makes their identity clear. The Lamb  has shed His blood for people from every nation , “ from all tribes and peoples and languages…” .
Also the fact that the list of  the 12 tribes begins with the tribe of Judah ,the tribe from which the Lord Jesus was descended ,  indicates   that, since Jesus has died for the world,    this  includes all  God’s people at all times , from the    from the covenant community of the OT   to the covenant community of the  NT  - the church. In fact , if we take the  Abrahamic covenant seriously, then we would know that  he would be the father of many nations  ( Genesis 17:5)  and not only of the Jews .

The church in Heaven
 [9] After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”   
Here  the covenant promise which God made to Abraham, “through you, all peoples of the  earth will be blessed,” is gloriously fulfilled -  people  from every nation as  multitudinous  as the sand on the seashore . This tells us that God has his elect among every race and includes people who speak every language. It  also  tells us that the number of the elect is not small. In fact, it is so large that no  man could number  them!   Here is the picture  of the church  triumphant, as she  now enjoys  her  heavenly rest from her earthly labor and  hardships. And this glorious scene of God’s redeemed people becomes yet another cause for worship.

11] And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, [12] saying, “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”   -   Note – a  seven fold  acknowledgement of God and  His attributes  for which the church worships Him.

The interlude  of Chapter 7  now reaches its conclusion in v. 13, when a question is put to John.
[13] Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” [14] I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The identity of the  great  multitude is revealed: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” , by which is not meant,   as many  are inclined  to think,   those  who have experienced a  final great persecution on the earth at the end of times , BUT   this refers  to  the entire church age , which if you consider , has been   a period of great tribulation for the church  – such as Jesus had spoken of in John 15:18-21 .

[15] “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.  [16] They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [17] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Heaven is a world of worship. Heaven is a world filled with happy people. They are finally home from their restless wanderings . They are  no longer hungry or thirsty. In Christ they will now be entirely satisfied  and kept. There is no more sorrow . These are words which require no explanation. All we can do  after hearing them is to recite the seven-fold blessing of the heavenly choir given to God and to the Lamb:
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”And so, with this  picture  of the church  in heaven  before us, the interlude is over.

Chapter 8:1
The first cycle of judgment ends quite unexpectedly in the opening of the seventh seal in  Chapter  8:1, when  John  reports, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
Note   then that  the  breaking of the 7th seal   there   follows  absolute silence for half an hour. All this  leaves mankind speechless   But this too was foretold in the prophets. Zephaniah spoke of silence in connection with the day of the Lord: “Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near.”  Habakkuk did the same: “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

The  first cycle of  “seal judgments”  is  now complete. God has  brought final judgment upon all those who have reject  Christ – His Son- the  Mediator and Saviour for all who would believe in Him.  History as we know it ,is over!  The great judgment  has taken place – and  now  the choirs of heaven cease their singing. All creation stands in awe of him who is seated upon the throne. There is nothing left to say. God has brought all things to their appointed end.

 Amen!

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