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Sealed and Safe (Revelation 7:1-17)

January 25, 2015 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 7:1–7:17

Happy Ever After

Sealed and Safe
Revelation 7:1-17
(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)
January 25th, 2015

 

I. Introduction

Revelation 1:3...Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. May God's blessing be on us this morning as we read and hear the words of this prophecy.

 

II. The Passage: “Standing Before the Throne” (7:1-17)

Let's begin by looking together at our main passage for this morning, Revelation 7:1-17.

 

A. The Decree for Those Sealed (7:1-8)

Why don't we begin with verses 1-8. John writes this description of the vision he was shown:

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.

Okay, most of us probably have a few questions about what we've just been told. The first question may be, “Why are angels holding back these four winds?” Well, the language of verses 1-3 indicates that these winds represent destructive forces. Do you see those words? “Against” (v. 1), “harm” (v. 2), and the word “harm” again in verse 3. And what is to be destroyed is also clear: “the earth and sea” (v. 2), or the “earth”, “sea”, and “trees” in verses 1 and 3.

We also know from the OT that angels are often used as agents of God's wrath. For example, David saw an angel standing over Jerusalem in judgment in II Samuel 24, and similarly in Ezekiel 9, the prophet saw, in a vision, seven angels carry out God's judgment against corrupt Jerusalem several hundred years after David. So it's not surprising that here and throughout Revelation, angels are the ones who carry out God's plan of ultimate justice.

But another question we might ask of this passage is, “What does it mean that the 'servants of...God' are 'sealed on their forheads'?” as we read in verse 3. Well, that's another connection back to Ezekiel 9. In that chapter we also read about God directing an angel to put a mark on the foreheads of the righteous before the other angels are permitted to kill the wicked in Jerusalem. We read there that the mark is a mark of protection and preservation. That the mark is on the forehead is most likely an indication of ownership.

This idea of sealing forces us to remember the context. Chapters 5 and 6 revealed how Jesus, the “Lamb”, took and is opening the sealed scroll that represents God's decree for ultimate justice to be brought to the earth. Coming into chapter 7, we have six seals already opened, with number seven still to be opened in chapter 8. So if you recall, I would argue the opening of the first six seals represents the disclosure, in summary form, of both God's already present and His final judgment on the earth. That final judgment, as poetically described in 6:12-14, is the very judgment to be unleashed by the “four winds” of chapter 7.

So before the seventh seal is opened, that is, before God's decree, specifically the sixth seal, is fully carried out, “the servants of...God” are marked for protection and preservation. But who are these servants? At first, the answer seems obvious: they are 144,000 Jews, composed of Israelites from each of the different tribes. Isn't that what we read in verses 4-8? But remember which book we're reading. In the midst of this vision, communicated to John through symbolic numbers and images, that interpretation would be a little out of place.

Think about these numbers. 144,000 is 12 x 12, with the product being multiplied times 1000. You may remember that twelve is a number associated with God's people, and one thousand is a number that represents an indefinite, but very large amount or a very long period of time.

In terms of the identity of this group, we also need to keep in mind what Jesus told the church in Smyrna in 2:9...“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus declared... “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” (3:9)

I believe when you consider other clues from both the immediate and broader context of this passage, and when you keep in mind what the rest of the New Testament teaches about the Church, that is, believing Jews and Gentiles, being the true “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), I think what John heard here was a symbolic description of the Church protected and preserved from the wrath of God. The specificity of each tribe is simply symbolic of both unity through diversity and of a comprehensive accounting, the fact not one will be overlooked.

 

B. The Description of Those Sealed (7:9-12)

I think this interpretation is strengthened by what we read next. Look with me at verses 9-12...

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!” [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.”

Up to this point in the vision, there has been a consistent connection between what John sees and hears, or between what he hears and sees. I think that's the connection we see here in regard to verse 4 (“and I heard”) and verse 9 (“after this I looked”). We saw this most noteably in chapter 5 where John heard about the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5), but then looked and saw “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (5:6). In this passage, John hears about the sealed “sons of Israel”, but then looks and sees “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”.

Remember the numbers: 12 X 12 (not plus) X 1000. That is symbolic numbering for “a great multitude that no one could number...”.

And notice where this “great multitude” is located. They are “before the throne”; specifically, they are “standing before the throne”. Why is that important? Do you remember how chapter 6 ended? It ended with a question being asked in light of the overwhelming tidal wave of God's ultimate justice, of His wrath, His judgment. Do you see the question there in 6:17? “...and who can stand?” Chapter 7 answers that question, doesn't it?

Here they are, standing before God, lifting up (according to verse 12) the second of only two sevenfold blessings in Revelation. The first was offered to the Lamb in chapter 5. Here it says at the end of verse 11 that they “worshiped God” in His presence, in the same heavenly throneroom/temple we were ushered into back in chapter 4.

Also notice how this group is described in verse 9: they are clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. These are symbols of righteousness and victory. What are they doing here? They are celebrating the protection and preservation of God. They are celebrating the effectiveness of God's seal upon them. That's why they cry out in verse 10, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

 

C. The Destiny of Those Sealed (7:13-17)

But all these connections become even clearer when we read the final section of this chapter. Look with me at verse 13-17...

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. [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

Okay. I want you to think about how the elder mentioned in verse 13, how he describes this “great multitude. How do we know they were able to stand in the day of the Lamb's wrath? Because the elder tells us so in verse 14: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” Tribulation is a word we've already seen in the first two chapters of the book. Flip back a few pages and look at these quotes from earlier in the book:

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9)

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty [says Jesus] (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. [10] Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.'” (Revelation 2:9-10)

“Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed [declares Jesus], and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works...” (Revelation 2:22)

So what we see in these verses is what we will see throughout the book. “Tribulation” is a term that refers to both the suffering of Christians at the hands of unbelievers, AND the suffering of unbelievers as the judgment of God is poured out on them. The seven churches were presently enduring tribulation. And from this book and from history we know things got worse. And we know throughout history, in some form or fashion, from one degree to another, the church has always suffered. But what we see here is that in the end, the Church WILL come through this “great tribulation”. They are sealed, and thus, they are safe.

Okay. Notice how this chapter begins and ends. It begins with the people of God sealed and it ends with the people of God safely delivered. Just as chapter 6, just as the scroll, was a summary of God's full plan of ultimate justice, I believe chapter 7 is also a summary, one of God's ultimate salvation from ultimate justice. If we compare verses 15-17 with the closing chapters of the book, we know the description here seems to be a description of our final state of blessing in the presence of God. For example, verse 17 assures us, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. But that promise is repeated in 21:4 where we read, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 

III. Not Excepted From, But Equipped For

Brothers and sisters, I want you to find deep, deep comfort in the fact that God seals His people; that through Jesus we are protected and preserved. Isn't that what Jesus wanted to communicate to the seven, struggling churches of Asia Minor? I think it is, but I also think we have to talk about the whole picture God has brilliantly painted for us here.

The biggest mistake we could make as we think about God's seal, about the protection and preservation promised here is to see this as a kind of 'hall pass' from suffering, when in fact Jesus revealed these things in order to help us endure. This doesn't except us from tribulation. It equips us for tribulation. The “great multitude” came out of the “great tribulation”. How did Paul teach the first Gentile churches: [he was] encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) One of the very best passages in all Scripture that speaks to this very issue is found in Romans 8:31-39. What does it mean to be sealed by God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] [here's the reality of the Christian life...] As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” [37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors [that amazing word we've already seen a lot in Revelation] through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So the safety of God's seal is not preservation from suffering in this life. It is preservation through the tribulations. It is the wonderful assurance that nothing can stop the work that God has begun in our lives by His grace. No matter how bad things get, God will bring us all the way home.

Let's be clear: “tribulation” is not just persecution from violent or slanderous unbelievers. Listen to how James talked about the trials and tribulations followers of Jesus face:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

The struggles and suffering of this life are those difficult situation that test our faith; that squeeze us to find out if we really do trust God. Ever been through a situation like that? Of course you have. We all have, to one degree or another. But how does God get you through tribulation? He gives you a vision of hope.

When you feel defeated, remember the victory you will one day celebrate before His throne. When you feel scorched by hurtful words, remember the shelter you will one day find in His presence. When you hunger and thirst for answers and rest, remember the satisfaction you will one day experience in His temple. When you feel lost, remember the shepherd who will guide into an eternity of life. When you weep, remember that one day, the strong but tender hand of God will one day wipe away every tear, forever.

“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"

But you might say, I don't have a seal on my forehead. Does this symbolic language really apply to me? Well listen to the way Paul describes the very same reality that John has communicated in visionary language. Here's the same glorious truth revealed in terms we are a little more familiar with. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:13-14...

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.

The “144,000”, the “great multitude” are described in Revelation 7 as having acquired possession of the eternal inheritance that is there's because of Jesus. There's so much in this chapter and in this book that is fascinating and puzzling. But we cannot let go of or zip past verse 14. We can't let our questions and theories steer us away from the astounding reality described in that verse: “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 blood that Jesus spilled on the cross for us is the only reason you and I can be equipped for tribulation by the hope of that “one day” in God's presence. Without the death of Christ, we are lost. Without the death of Christ, we are simply “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).

Let's finish by looking together at chapter 14 of Revelation. Look at verses 1-3...

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. [2] And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, [3] and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (14:1-3)

Here again God has employed the remnant language of chapter 7. Who are the 144,000? They are those “redeemed from the earth”. And only they (not the cherubim around the throne or the angels of heaven), only they can sing the “new song” of redemption. Will you sing that song one day? Is the tune in your heart even now, because you have trusted Jesus?

Let's thank God for the seal and the eternal safety that can be ours in Jesus.

 

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