Time Out, Rev.7:1-8
I was sitting on the couch in the ‘Man Cave’ at the men’s retreat last weekend watching NC play Oregon in the final four. It was down to the last minute or so and it was a close game. The man sitting on the other end of the couch commented that they will turn this final minute or so into 30 minutes with all the time outs and fouls that happen. The coach calls a time out when he has something real important to say to the players on the court at crucial times during the game. Sometimes the coach will call a time out when the team is getting beat up real bad in order to calm them down or give them a pep talk or to give them some strategy to help them get back in the game.
I think this chapter is kinda like that. The fourth, fifth and sixth seal has been rough on the world. There has been wars, famine, storms, earthquakes. I mean there is death all around. The world is getting beat up and believers are right in the midst of it. John pointed out some of them in chapter 6:9 who had been slain in the midst of this storm. God is calling a time out not because believers are losing or that He is losing. But rather that he might take care of necessary business. You see in the 6:17 the unbelievers are terrified of God. There will be no atheists then. They conclude ‘who can stand in that great day of the wrath of God and the lamb?” The answer for them of course is ‘No one!’
However, this chapter answers that question a little differently. Certainly, one who rejects the Lord, who refuses to repent of their sin will not stand in this judgment. In fact, we see just that in
Rev. 9:20, 21
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts
And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
But those who are believers, who put their faith and trust in the Lamb/the Lord Jesus Christ have nothing to fear. They will be able to stand in the judgment. In fact, I think they will be spared God’s wrath. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean believers will not die. That’s clear from those who are mentioned here who are martyred. These seals are describing the tribulation time. There will be believers during this time and many of them will be killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. But we will see that God puts his seal of ownership on 144,000 who will be protected from His wrath and will be preaching during this time and leading others to faith in Christ.
This interlude/time out answers the question of Who can Stand? Therefore it is a chapter of hope and calm in the midst of chaos.
This is like the ‘eye of the storm’ in a hurricane. There is utter destruction as the winds and rain beat down everything in its path. But then all gets calm, even sunny. People think the storm is passed not realizing they are just in the midst of the storm, the worst part is yet to come. This is like that. there is a peace, a calm but then comes the seventh seal and the seven trumpets where there will be calm, then unbelievable destruction. The seventh seal is opened in 8:1 where the seven trumpets begin. And even then the seventh seal is 1/2 hour of silence in Heaven.
This chapter is in two sections: The sealing of the 144,000 (1- 8) and the Blessedness of the multitude of believers before the throne (9-17)
A. Calm, vss. 1-3
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And 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 given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
after this - is directing us to a chronological marker. In other words after all this about the general panic of the world of unbelievers and their desire to hide from God's wrath.
John sees what he describes here as four angels at the four corners of the earth.
Of course there are not four corners.Some might want to use this to show that the Bible is off when it comes to science. Thinking that for some reason this teaches that the writers of the bible thought the earth was flat. However, we still use this metaphorical even now in discussions of north south east and west. This phrase most likely refers to the points of the compass.
Now the purpose of the Angel is to restrain the winds from blowing on the earth and doing damage. we also see in v.2 that the purpose of the four angels , with their winds, was to injure the earth and sea. Angels are powerful creatures who can hold back the winds. Think about the power involved in this. The earth is always windy. Winds bring the rains inland to water the land. If there is no wind at all it is too still. The earth has been undergoing a severe amount of wind with the calamities of chapter 6. So it would be a complete surprise and at first a pleasure that the wind is stopped.But this is only for a time.
B. Seal of God, vs.2, 3
Another (one of the same kind) angel is seen who coming from the east (rising of the sun) who has the seal of the living God. John is on the Isle of Patmos and the east would be toward Jerusalem. Hope and help comes from God. This is the promise of blessing to those believers living in tribulation. This seal as we shall see indicates power and authority as well as possession/ownership. With that seal he has the authority to command the four angels to hold off on their purpose of harming the earth. This is so that time is given to seal all those who are the servants of God.
These are already servants. they aren't sealed and then made servants. They are already serving the Lord and are sealed. this sealing is not the same as the Holy Spirit who seals all believers either. The sealing of them is so that they are marked out as belonging to God and thus the angels will know to treat them differently than those who are not sealed.
there is a calm while the believers are sealed.
The word seal is a signet ring like what would be used by a king to give validity to documents. Seals have been used by kings before even Israel. There are cyndrical seals that would be rolled across soft clay and then harden. These seals tell stories, mark identity or ownership. They were used to identify slaves, military members, those destined to execution. These are in the same way branding or tattoos are used today. They were to mark authenticity. They were normally visible and physical, but sometimes spiritual, as in the sealing of the Holy Spirit of a believer, Eph. 4:30.
We don't know what the seal used here was, but there are some who think it was the Hebrew letter tau.
See the discussion in R. L. Thomas, Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 470. He correctly notes, “Ezek. 9:4–6 where ‘the mark’ was the Hebrew letter ת (t) which in its old form was shaped like a cross. (Swete; Beckwith; Beasley-Murray; Mounce). Patterson, P. (2012). Revelation. (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.) (Vol. 39). Nashville, TN: B&H.
In Ezekiel’s vision he sees men who are to go into Jerusalem and slaughter those who are the enemies of God. But to protect those who mourn over the sinful things done in Jerusalem (indicating they were believers) he sends a man to go throughout Jerusalem and mark them. That way when the slayers come upon them they will know who not to touch.
What is interesting is that if this mark is the Hebrew tau then the mark that is being referred to is the mark of the cross.
The idea of marking up a body is not foreign or unusual in those times. It was not uncommon for a person to marked with ownership as a slave or or identification in a specific military unit.
We are not unfamiliar with that either: people have tattoos for all sorts of reasons, gang markings, identification as prisoners and so on.
The next thought is from what are the sealed protected?
It cannot be from physical suffering and death at least the text doesn't specifically state this. it does imply that they belong to God. Some would say that they are spiritually safe, ie. saved etc. Another way to look at this would be from the perspective of the Israelites in Egypt. They were protected from some of the plagues, but not all of them. They were protected from the wrath of God's judgments however. In this sense then, these are sealed from His wrath. That seems to be indicated by the earlier restraint of the four winds that would injure the earth until those who belonged to God were sealed.
These four angels who are to damage the earth are held back from their task. God is the one who is controlling the timing of their destructive activities. They are holding back the four winds of the earth so they do not blow on the earth, sea or upon the trees. Thus, the implication is to do damage through the storms they would unveil. Another angel, not one of the four arose out of the east to seal others, the 144,000. He would seal on the forehead those who were to be servants of God. He was also crying out to the four angels who were given permission to injure the earth and sea not to do so until all the servants of our God were sealed on their forehead.
C. God knows how to protect those He wants too. vs. 4-8
God knows how to protect those whom He wants to protect: he protected the 8 in the flood; He protected the Israelites in the plagues of Egypt; He protected the harlot Rahab during the battle for Jericho. He knows how to protect those he wants to.
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
These 144,000 sealed are again mentioned in Rev. 9:4 as the demons are released from the bottomless pit at the sounding of the fifth trumpet. The demons could not hurt those who were sealed.
They are mentioned again in Rev. 14:1,3 as part of the redeemed group that are singing a new song.
So is this number 144,000 to be taken literally? Or is this a symbolic number just as the 24 elders stands for the church. Commentators suggest this is the number of completion 12x12 according to standard thinking. You wouldn’t really stand and count each of the 144,000 it would be too time consuming, but to symbolize 12,000 from each of 12 tribes indicates the complete number of those saved would be reasonable.
The next question is who are these? Either these are Jewish believers or second they are both Jew and Gentile thus including the whole of the believers. On the one side are those who think these are all Jews reserved by God maintaining true faith in the Lord as the seven thousand in the days of Elijah. Some think we should take this literally, 144,000 Jews. Others think we should view them figuratively.
If we take them in a literal sense there are a few problems: 1. as will be noted, the list of the tribes is out of kilter. 2. if these are jewish believers certainly there will be many more than 144,000 amongst the tribes. 3. If the 12x12 suggests the perfect or complete number than this would be at best a representative number. and the names of the tribes simply a way of identifying them as the people of God.
Those who take this figuratively think they stand for Jew and Gentile believer or for the church the Israel of God. But we really have no evidence that would really lead a general reader to that conclusion.
I also think the fact that our text distinguishes them from the 24 elders, and those who are martyred and those who are of the innumerable great crowd, seems to suggest that they are probably Jewish believers as opposed to a mixed group. Most though do not limit these strictly to Jews for the following reasons: in Rev. 14:1 they have their fathers names written on their foreheads, so do all believers in Rev. 22:4 . In Rev. 21:12 all believers are included in the New Jerusalem though the gates have the names of the 12 tribes of Israel on them.
another issue is the abnormalities of the list of tribes. eg. Dan is missing from the list. Levi is listed though normally omitted because the priesthood belongs to it.
Judah is listed first before Reuben. Joseph is mentioned along with Manasseh one of his sons, but not Ephraim. So what are we to make of this list of tribes? The answer is elusive. It seems no commentator agrees.
We have to look at this as to how a 1st century Jewish believer, or even gentile believer would view this passage.
He would have understood this as 144,000 (an innumerable number of people to that culture) Jews who believe. And their responsibility is outlined in Rev. 14:1-5
What we do know is that these are redeemed and they serve the Lord in His presence and they sing a song of praise to Him that only the redeemed can sing.
It seems reasonable to conclude that these verses depicting the sealed of God shows us that while the judgments will be poured out on the inhabitants of the world, God has singled out His special people who belong to Him. these will be protected from His judgment.
So what does this have to do with us. Lets reason from what it had to do with believers contemporary with John. They were being persecuted severely for their faith in Christ. This would be a source of encouragement to them knowing that God knows how to protect them from spiritual falling away. He could protect them physically, but that would only help them temporarily. God is more interested in getting the gospel out than He is our comfort. These 144,000 illustrate that.
So it is with us. God is more interested in our spiritual growth and the spread of the gospel than our comfort. If persecution comes your way, rejoice that you have an opportunity to share Christ, the reason of your hope in the face of opposition.
We too, can take comfort in knowing that God is taking steps to ensure that we are able to handle what comes our way in this life so that we will glorify Him as we pass through the difficulty.