Revelation 7: Stand...And Deliver! (vs 1-8)
Rev 6:17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"
We now come to Revelation Chapter 7 after an in-depth review of the first six of the seven seal judgments in Revelation six.
We discovered that in the first five of the judgments that they would, although supernaturally superintended by God, be man-driven. Antichrist will rise to power through the intrigue, diplomacy and deception of the nations, that a brutal, bloody world war would ensue, that famine and death by disease would follow and how many Christians that come to faith would die because of their testimony--both visible and verbal--and seek justice from God.
Last week, we discussed how the sixth seal would be solely from God. There would be no doubt in the minds of all men regardless of station because of the nature of the events that would occur. There will be a great, worldwide earthquake--the "Big One"--the sun being hidden and the moon appearing blood red from the dust of volcanic activity, the onslaught of a huge meteor storm and every mountain and every island across the world will be moved out of their respective places.
Yet, with the terror and horror of the forces of nature at God's hand being unleashed, the vast majority of men will hide in caves and will ask for rocks to fall on them to escape what they know all too well: this is the wrath of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. They do not turn from their sin to Jesus, they are too hardened in their sin to want to turn to Him. In fact, they will be furious that Jesus would have the audacity to do this to them!
The last line of scripture in chapter six is shown above, and it begs the question to us: who is able to stand?
This week, we will discover that God will send forth a huge group of super evangelists to witness to all mankind, both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew). This group has been misunderstood and this particular passage of God's Word has been twisted and skewed by both cults and professing Christians alike, and we will discover, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the real meaning behind this Scripture.
After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Rev 7:1, NKJV
I found it amazing to find the vast amount of information on this particular chapter in God's Word, especially the first eight verses. On the surface, it seems pretty simple and straight forward, but the truth is that there are a lot of things that kind of work their way out of the Word when you do some serious study on them.
The first thing to know about Revelation 7 is that this chapter is called a "parenthetical" or "parenthesis" chapter. In other words, it is a break in the action so to speak. We have witnessed the opening of the first six seals by Jesus, and the seventh seal will not be broken until chapter eight.
The phrase "after these things" is the Koine Greek meta tauto. In Revelation 4:1 we saw the Greek term meta tauta. The difference in the terms is that the latter is singular (one) , and the former is plural (more than one). In fact, the above should be translated "after this " (NASB; Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary). This means that this section of scripture is meant to immediately follow the sixth seal--after this--in the timeline, and not "after these things" meaning the six seals as a whole. What this indicates is that there is a change in vision; we draw our attention to what is happening in "the parenthesis".
In short, what we see here is a big pause in the action. In fact, everything stops. Four angels stand at the four corners of the earth, and their job description changes from one of letting loose the winds of the earth to stopping them.
Here is a place where "bible critics" try to have a field day with the scriptures. They will try to say that this implies that the Bible says that the earth is flat, and has four corners like scientists in the time of Columbus stated. However, God's Word, in Isaiah 40:22 states clearly that the earth is round. Pretty much anyone would recognize quite easily what these four corners are--the four positions of the compass: North South, East, West.
These four unidentified angels will hold back (literally, take prisoner) the winds of the earth. There are different ideas about what that means, and both a literal and figurative meaning fits. First, we must remember that when you have great upheaval as is shown in the sixth seal (earthquakes, meteor showers, volcanic eruptions) you will undoubtedly have unstable weather. There will likely be tornadoes, hurricanes, and the like. Like the eye of a hurricane, there will be an eerie calm as no wind will blow across the face of the earth. One commentator stated that this would cause problems across the world (smog accumulation, for instance) but we will see that this is not the case in Thursday's devotional.
The second idea here, which I believe, is that all judgment will pause while what is to occur in chapter 7 unfolds. These angels are God's messengers and servants to conduct judgment upon the earth; they will be instructed to hold back the winds of judgment while two groups of people will be favored by God; one in becoming his messengers, one in finding eternal life and rest but at great cost.-JH
Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. Rev 7:2 NKJV
God's Seal of Approval
There is much said about the east position on the compass in God's Word. For instance, the troops that meet in Armageddon will cross a then dry Euphrates River, coming from the east (Rev 16:12) and when Jesus returns, he will come from the east (Matt 24:27). Also, the Magi came from the east (Matt 2:1), Eden is mentioned as being in the east (Gen 2:8), the glory of God came to the Temple from the east (Ezek 43:2). Thomas notes other instances, and states in his commentary "God has chosen to reveal His salvation from the this area of the world. It is, then, appropriate that the angel should come from there."
This angel that comes to instruct the other four angels bears a special, unique item: the seal of the living God. The Koine Greek word for seal is sphragis, and "was usually a signet ring to that an oriental monarch affixed to give validity to official documents or to mark property...it was used to authenticate and protect (Thomas). In short, then, this word carries three designations: it validates or shows the item or person was authentic and authorized by the sealer or his agent or it was a seal that was used as a sign of protection and lastly it was a mark of ownership of that item or person.
When I think of a seal, I think of that famous "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval". The folks at Good Housekeeping magazine would test and approve, with their reputation on the line, a certain product to be used by a consumer. It meant that the person using that product could count on it being a quality product.
Also, it is a mark to show ownership. When a deed is executed in the county courthouse, a seal is placed on that deed to show it is official, and that the owner mentioned really is the actual owner. We saw this same thing in Revelation Chapters 4-6 in the seven sealed scroll; it is the "title deed" to the earth, and only Jesus Christ could open the seals.
Lastly, it is a seal of authority. In Daniel Chapter 6, King Darius placed his seal mark on the stone that sealed Daniel in the lions den; no one was allowed to break the seal and open it as in "accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians". But this is a seal of authority, as we will see in the next few devotionals.
If you are saved, you have the seal of God on you already. You have been sealed by God, my friend, 'who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Cor 1:22, NKJV) and "you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30, NKJV). You are marked as a possession of God, and your soul is protected from eternal damnation. In addition, you bear the authority of God to witness on His behalf, sharing the Gospel of Christ with all. Also, we are owned by God, as His willing servants.
Never forget that you are sealed! There is great comfort in knowing this.
Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying,"Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed...Rev 7:2-4, NKJV
As I mentioned a few days ago, there is a lot in this particular section of Scripture, much more than one would think upon first glance. Let's see what else God's Word has for us here.
As mentioned prior, one commentator mentioned that the "engine of the earth would be shut down" and that smog would settle in on cities and other issues. However, I don't believe that is the case because the angel from the east states "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees". With all that has happened so far, this is a break in the action at the order of God. God is the God of mercy, and God will give the people of the earth that have not turned toward Him the opportunity to do just that.
Now what is interesting here is that God is going to supernaturally mark a certain people. This seal will be on their foreheads; there is speculation as to whether this forehead seal will be visible or not. This is not the first time in God's Word that a seal is mentioned on the forehead (see Ezek 9:3,4), but the mention of a mark on the forehead--the mark of the beast--is mentioned in Revelation 13, which we will see future devotionals; it is in great contrast to this seal however.
We will examine just who these people are in Friday and Saturday's devotionals, but let's examine first what they are: "servants of our God". The Koine Greek term for servant is doulos, which means "bond slave". This word is used an incredible 120 times in the New Testament, over half--63 times by my count--by Jesus Himself. This word refers to a person that willingly stays as a slave when he has been freed by his owner. The slave would have been treated so well, and so admired his master that he would deny his personal freedom to stay in the service of the master he loved.
One scholar brought up an interesting point: these men that would be sealed were not just saved at this point, but were already servants. They would have already been through the first six seals judgments, and survived. They had made themselves willing slaves--given themselves to God in service. Willing to make a stand for Him.
Which brings us to this last thought. If you have Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you have been bought out of the slave market of sin. Each person, before they are saved, are in slavery to sin, but were set free to become willing slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-23). Paul wrote "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Rom 6:2, NKJV). You have been set free from sin, you do not have to sin--you choose to sin. Also, are you willing, in light of the cost, to serve God?
And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed: of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed. Rev 7:4-8
When interpreting the Bible, literal interpretation is always the best avenue in which to start. Yes, there are different figures of speech, that is true. There are metaphors, hyperbole and other figures of speech in God's Word, but we must remember that "the best sense is the plain sense, any other sense may be nonsense". We must be careful to allow the Scriptures speak to us, and not to try to fit a certain passage into our theology. It's like the old saying about trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
That being said, this part of Scripture is often twisted by both cult and believer like to make it say what they want it to say. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, for instance, say that the 144,000 apply to them. The Jehovah's Witnesses had to change their theology when their number exceeded 144,000; they then said that this was an "elite" class that would inherit heaven and that those not quite as faithful would live on earth forever in eternal bliss.
Some Christians that follow theology that claims that the prophecies in Revelation have already occurred in 70 AD make the claim that the 144,000 is a number that is not precise, that it refers to a large number and that it can mean any believer. These same people also state that the church is Israel.
There are great problems with both of these views.
First, in reference to the Jehovah's Witness view, this has nothing to do with an elite class that goes to heaven. It is a group of men that will spread the gospel during the end times. Second, and this applies to both of the above groups, the men sealed are specifically addressed as Israel. In addition, the tribes are specifically listed, twelve in all. There is no confusion here, it is not vague, it is specific: twelve tribes, twelve thousand from each tribe, 144,000 in all.
In addition, more can be found out about these "super-evangelists" in Revelation 14: "These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins" (Rev 14:4 NKJV). Now give this some thought: does Revelation 7:4-8 and 14:4 refer to all people? Absolutely not. These people that are sealed are a very specific people: Jewish men, of the listed tribes (no, not all tribes are included, as we will see tomorrow) and they are virgins (or, at the very least, either celibate or married and a "one woman man"). So, if someone claims to be one of the 144,000, ask them what Pastor Harry Ironside used to ask: "Which tribe?"
I just saw a topic that was being discussed at a church that completely floored me: "How Much Can You Still Get Away With And Still Be A Christian?", or something very similar to this title. This is America, should we be surprised at the thought? I love my country, but it sure does seem that we have become a nation of slackers, entitlement oriented, always looking get away with as little work as we can yet make the highest pay possible. In short, we want to work the least and get the most benefit because we feel we deserve it. We can learn a great lesson about faithfulness, reward and being set aside from the above scripture.
First, we see that Judah is listed as the first tribe, and Reuben is listed as the second. However, Reuben was born first, and Judah was born second. Why is this the case? In our Sunday School class at Resurrection, Brother Dave Staggers just covered this in his wonderful teaching in Genesis. Reuben is most likely considered second behind Judah because of his having relations with Bilhah, one of Jacob's concubines, in Jacob's own bed (Gen 35:22, 49:4).
Next, we see that Dan and Ephraim are not listed in this list, but Joseph and Levi are. Why? There are a few prominent ideas as to why. Some feel that it is because the tribe of Dan was the first to fall into idolatry, and Ephraim followed as well. Also, some feel that Antichrist will arise from the tribe of Dan due to Genesis 49:17: "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, A viper by the path, That bites the horse's heels So that its rider shall fall backward."
Joseph's faithfulness to God is shown greatly in Genesis, and Levi was normally not included but perhaps it was included due to the priestly nature of the tribe.
What can we learn from this listing of the tribes? A lot, I think. Reuben lost his high standing and double portion because of defiling the bed of his father with Bilhah. There was a price to be paid. And the tribes of Dan and Ephraim both are not included for perhaps the reason of sliding into idolatry. Their ancestors would not be part of the great 144,000; but the tribe of Dan, however, still has the promise of a portion of the land in Israel.
If someone claims to be a part of the 144,000, here are important questions to ask them. First, as Harry Ironside once asked, "Which tribe?". Second, how would they know what tribe? Nearly all Jews have no idea which tribe they belong to; God however does. Lastly, as Lassigne stated in his commentary, why would anyone want to belong to that group now? It would mean you were left behind!