Sunday, January 24, 2016

Revelation 7

In Revelation 6, we saw God send disasters on the earth. They were brought by 4 horsemen. These disasters are expressions of God’s wrath poured out on mankind in rebellion against God. The chapter ended with the coming of the Lord in judgment. Those who rebelled against God experienced the wrath of the Lamb.

Chapter 6 ended with the cry of “who can stand” in the face of the wrath of the Lamb? Chapter 7 answers that question. And the answer is, the saints of God.

Chapter 7 contains 2 visions of the saints. Think of a play with 2 scenes. In verses 1-8 we see a vision of 144,000. In verses 9-17, we see a great multitude.

Believers of Earth

Chapter 7 is not chronologically later than the end of chapter 6. We know this because chapter 6 covered the whole church age. Chapter 7 drops back to show us what happens to believers before the wrath of God is poured out on non-believers.

Chapter 7 begins with four angels holding back the winds of earth. (1) It is not that wind is bad. This again is symbolic, using cosmic catastrophe to signal dramatic events. So the events of Chapter 7:1-7 begin before the judgments are poured out in Chapter 6. The angels hold back the winds to mean, before Christ pours out these catastrophes shown by the horsemen of chapter 6, believers will be protected. The 4 angels hold back the 4 horsemen who are the winds from the 4 corners of the earth. The 4 horsemen in Zechariah are also called the 4 winds of heaven.

The fact that the angels stand at the 4 corners of the world show their actions will affect the whole world. This terminology is used repeatedly in the Old Testament. For example, God promised to gather people from the 4 corners of the earth, meaning all over the earth. (Is. 11:12)  

Another angel arises with a seal of the living God. He orders the angels not to harm the earth until the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads. (2) So, the 4 angels holding back the winds must restrain the 4 horsemen\winds bringing devastation until the servants of God are sealed.

So, we are looking at a vision of earth here. The harm to be poured out on the earth is the issue. The servants of God on earth are Christians. They are those who believe in Jesus. They are servants of God. The angel will seal them to distinguish them from non-believers who will suffer the wrath of God.

A seal is a sign of ownership and protection. It is a similar picture to sealing a document with a signet ring. The seal signifies that the scroll belongs to the one who wears the ring. That person’s authority and power over the scroll follows the scroll with its seal. This seal in chapter 6 shows that believers belong to and are protected by God.

The image of the seal of God may come from Ezekiel 9:4-6. Ezekiel 9 is a vision of God pouring his wrath out on Jerusalem. Before it started, God told the man clothed in linen to pass through Jerusalem and put a mark on the forehead of the faithful. Everyone else was to  be killed.

The next occurrence is something John heard as opposed to saw. He heard the number of believers to be sealed. (4) Confusion arises because they are named as people from 12 tribes in Israel. Because of that, some want to say this is a vision of Jews converted before the judgment. However, further examination seems to make this unlikely.

First of all, theologically, the New Testament does not distinguish between Jewish and Gentile believers. In fact, it does the opposite. The book of Galatians is devoted to this topic. Paul wrote “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7) and “there is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) In Ephesians 2:14, he wrote that Christ died to reconcile both jew and Gentile to God in one body through the cross. He wrote that Gentiles who believe in Jesus are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19) He gave us a great visual image also, showing the people of God as a tree containing branches that are believing Jews and into which believing Gentiles have been grafted. (Romans 11)

Second, practically, there is no listing of the tribes of Israel matching the one in Revelation 7. Judah is promoted to the first place on the list, though Reuben was the oldest. But Judah is the tribe of the king, of Jesus, who leads the church. Dan is omitted entirely. Joseph is listed instead of his son, Ephraim. Also, exactly the same number are sealed from each tribe despite the great variance in their sizes in the Old Testament.

Third, contextually, this listing describes the “servants of God” and, thus,  appears to be a symbol of the church on earth. The number 144,000 is symbolic, being 12 x 12 x1000. All of believers on earth are sealed. So, Christians on earth will suffer persecution and tribulation, but they will not experience the wrath of God poured out on non-believers.

Although popular apocalyptic fiction has speculated on a physical mark on the forehead of believers, I believe this to be symbolic also. For example, Jesus said God set his seal on Jesus. (John 6:27) No one is recorded running up to Jesus to examine his forehead for a mark. They knew what he meant. Jesus belonged to and was protected by the Father.

The New Testament says believers are sealed as well. 1 Corinthians 1:21-22 says “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee”. Ephesians 1:13 says “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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire obsession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 4:30 says “and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Our seal is the Holy Spirit, who is given to us at our salvation. None who have the Holy Spirit will suffer the wrath of God in judgment or destruction.

The Great Multitude Described

In verse 9, John’s perspective changes again from earth to heaven. Having seen the saints on earth, he saw a great multitude in heaven. They were from all over the earth, from all nations, and groups of people in nations and speaking different languages. They stood before the throne of God dressed in white robes, waiving palm branches and shouting praise to God, saying “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb”. (10) They were praising  Father and Son for salvation.

We have seen that white robes symbolize victory through purity. Palm branches were used to acknowledge and celebrate a king. Remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people waving palm branches. (Matthew 21)

Angels Join the Praise

Upon hearing the praise of those in white robes the angels, the 4 living creatures and the elders joined in. They fell on their faces and worshipped. They said “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (12)

The Multitude Identified

Those in the white robes are identified for us in verses 13 and 14.

They are believers who died in faith in the tribulation. Their robes are white because they are washed in the blood of the Lamb. What a great paradox: a dirty robe washed in blood becomes white. The blood of Jesus washes away the stain of sin, leaving righteousness in its place. As the Lord said in Isaiah 1:18:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”

I think these are all believers who have gone to heaven. Some believe them to be those who die in a great tribulation at the end of the age. However, great multitude seems to show all believers in heaven, as the first vision showed all believers on earth. There is always tribulation for the body of Christ, though some individuals suffer greatly and some very little.

On earth, they experienced tribulation and persecution. but in heaven, they are before the throne of God. They are in his presence experiencing great joy. They serve him in his heavenly temple.

They will never be hungry or thirsty, nor suffering in the heat of the desert sun. They are now at rest and in peace. There is no sorrow to cry about.

This is our future after death: rest, joy, peace.

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