A PICTURE OF GOD’S PEOPLE
In the previous chapter of our study in the book of Revelation, we saw the kings of the earth, the rich and the powerful, and everyone else filled with terror as they witness the unveiled wrath of the Lamb. And in the midst of their hopelessness and desperation they cried out, “Who can stand before the wrath of the Lamb?" So as we come to this chapter, we find the answer. Whereas the previous chapter was a chapter of distress, this chapter is a chapter of comfort because we learn that the wrath of the Lamb is not aimed at everyone…there are some that are spared the wrath.
A SEAL OF PROTECTION (Rev. 7:1-3)
Again, going back to the last chapter, John has just witnessed the reaction of the kings, generals, rich and the powerful, and the slaves and the free men at the unveiling of the wrath of the Lamb. Now he waits in anticipation of the judgment that is to come.
There are four angels that have gathered at the four corners of the earth. In other words, no one will be able to escape this judgment. But then, all of the sudden, there’s an interruption that takes place. Instead of seeing wrath, he sees a loving concern. Instead of seeing destruction, he sees protection.
Back in chapter 5 we read about seals. These seals were basically a large metal stamp that had a signature engraved on the end. When you wanted to put your seal on something, you would pour some clay or hot wax onto it and then you would press the seal into it resulting in an engraved mark which signified a number of things, but they were all a mark of AUTHORITY.
They also signified authenticity. A person receiving a message would know that it was authentic if had the seal of the person sending it. It signified ownership. Just like cows are branded to show that they belong to a particular rancher, items of value were marked with a seal to certify their legal ownership. The seal also signified protection. We see this when Pontius Pilate secured the tomb of Jesus with the seal of Rome. This seal was supposed to protect the tomb from being broken into but of course that seal didn’t matter to the One who had higher authority than the Roman governor.
Another example is found in the mark of Cain? After Cain killed Abel, God put a mark on Cain so that others wouldn’t seek revenge as a result of his evil deed. It was a mark of protection. It signified that Cain’s life was under the protection of the Lord. What a picture of God’s grace! I mean to think that God would protect a rebellious murderer…how much more willing is He to protect His people?
Much like everything else in Revelation, this vision of John’s finds its roots in the OT when Ezekiel had a vision of Jerusalem’s destruction. But before destruction came, God sent a man through the city to place a mark on the heads of His people:
Then He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his battle-ax in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer’s inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar.
Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; and the Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.”
To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple (Ek. 9:1-6).
So what I want for you to notice is that the mark is placed on the forehead of each man, which is also the same location in which the 144,000 are sealed; it’s also for the same purpose: so God’s people wouldn’t fall under the judgment that is reserved for the rest of the world. The great thing about all this is that we’ve been sealed also:
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:13-14).
No matter what this life brings, we can rest assured that through the Holy Spirit of God, we’ve been sealed…that is, we’re protected. Yes bad things are going to happen to us, but God promises that those things will work out for His eternal good.
THE 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8)
John hears the roll call of those who are sealed. There are 12 tribes mentioned. But these aren’t the same 12 tribes that were always listed in the chronicles of the Jewish people. There's some differences.
The tribe of Judah is mentioned first. Judah wasn’t the firstborn, Reuben was. Reuben is always mentioned first in any list of the tribes of Israel. But Judah was the royal tribe. It was the tribe of David and Solomon. It was the tribe of Jesus. Another major difference between this list and others in the Bible is the omission of the tribe of Dan.
Who are these 144,000? What do they represent? What’s the significance of this number? The Jehovah’s witnesses would have you to believe that the 144,000 are the only ones going to heaven. If that’s the case, then why do they spend so much time telling everybody else about Jesus? If I knew that only 144,000 people were getting into heaven then that would be the biggest kept secret of my lifetime!
The multiplication factor of the number 144,000 is 12 x 12 x 1,000. Now, we've already seen two groups of twelve in the 24 elders which were around the throne which correspond to the 24 courses of the OT priesthood and also to the combined peoples of the Old and New Covenants. But this time the two 12’s are multiplied and then multiplied again by 1,000. The number 1,000 is used to describe a great number:
Moses speaks of blessing the nation of Israel a thousand-fold (Deut. 1:11).
God is said to keep His covenant and His loving-kindness to a thousand generations (Deut. 7:9).
Joshua speaks about how a single Israelite can put a thousand enemy soldiers to flight (Josh. 23:10).
The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10).
A thousand years are like a single day in the eyes of the Lord (Ps. 90:4).
God’s covenant with Abraham was for a thousand generations (Ps. 105:8).
My belief is that these numbers aren’t to be taken literally. When the Psalmist says that the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills, he doesn’t mean that number 1,001 doesn’t belong to Him….everything belongs to Him! So in the same way, when we see the number 1,000 here in Revelation, I don’t think that it’s limiting the number of God’s sealed people to that amount.
So who are these 144,000? Are they some select group of Jewish people? I think that they’re much more than that. Just like the 24 elders represented the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles of the Old and New Covenants, I also think that these 144,000 represent God’s people of the Old and New Covenants.
Now, if that’s the case, then why are the specific tribes of Israel mentioned? I think that it’s because God doesn't want us to lose sight of our Jewish heritage. When you came to Christ as your Lord and Savior, you entered into the family of Abraham.
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed (Rom. 9:6-8).
Today’s church is mostly made up of Gentiles. So does that mean that God’s promise to Abraham has somehow failed? Absolutely not. It just means that it’s being fulfilled in a different way. It is being fulfilled through the entire church made up of both Jews and Gentiles. It’s being fulfilled because we’ve all become spiritual descendants of Abraham.
Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).
This is important. God doesn’t have two separate groups of people that He deals with. He doesn’t have two churches, He has one. This means that for a Christian to be involved in discrimination or hatred is like a dog that bites his own tail. As believer’s in the work that Christ did on the cross, we are all one people, with one purpose.