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Revelation 7

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REVELATION 7

There is a pause between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals; judgment halts for a brief time while God seals 144,000 Jews who will carry His message to the ends of the earth. We are not specifically told that these Jews will be God’s ambassadors, but we assume that this is why He seals them. We have seen that the day of God’s wrath is about to come (6:15–17); so God brings a lull in the storm and extends His mercy to Jew and Gentile alike. We see here two groups of redeemed people:

Holman Concise Bible Commentary The Seven Seals (6:1–8:5)

Chapter 7 is actually two visions, with the second both interpreting and concluding the first. The sealing of the 144,000 employs starkly Jewish symbols to describe those who know God through Jesus Christ. Clearly John was referring to Christians as the 144,000. For 7:3 refers to the “servants” of God, a term consistently used throughout Revelation to refer either to Christians in general or the Christian prophet, but never to the non-Christian Jew (or Gentile). Language employed in the Old Testament to refer to the Jews is characteristically used in the New Testament to refer to those who know God through Jesus Christ (for example, 2 Cor. 6:16–18; Gal. 3:29). Those who are in Christ are the beneficiaries of the promises made to Israel (Rom. 4:13–17; Gal. 3:8–9, 15–29).

The number 144,000 is an intensification (12 × 12 × 10 × 10 × 10) of the original number twelve (itself an obvious allusion to the twelve tribes). This indicates that the 144,000 comprise the full number of God’s people, God’s people now being all (Jew or Gentile) who are followers of Jesus. (Note 12:1–17; the woman who has a crown of twelve stars and brings forth Christ is Israel. Her true offspring is first Jesus—the fulfillment of Israel’s history—and His followers, that is, Jews and Gentiles “who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus,” v. 17.)

In the second vision the 144,000 have become “a great multitude, which no one could count.” Who are they? Using his favorite descriptions of heaven (see 21:3–4, 23; 22:1–5), John said that they are those who have “come out of the great tribulation,” now to experience the joys of heaven and relief from the tribulations they have endured. Compare 7:14–17 with 21:1–6; 22:1–5. The numberless multitude of 7:9 is not a reference to non-Christian Jews (or Gentiles); it refers rather to all who have trusted Christ. It is the Lamb’s bride, the holy city, the new Jerusalem (21:2). To have “come out of the great tribulation” does not mean that they exited the earth before the hour of tribulation. To the contrary, they did indeed experience the tribulations of this evil age; but now in heaven they enjoy the presence of God, where they will hunger no more nor thirst any more. No longer subject to death (21:4), they will drink of the water of life, will no more experience the oppressive heat of the sun, and will have every tear wiped from their eyes. As the true Israel of God, Christians (“the servants of our God”) have the seal of God. Having refused the mark of the beast (13:16–17), they hold to the testimony of Jesus in spite of persecution and therefore have the promise of final heavenly deliverance from this evil age of great tribulation.

I. The Sealed Jews (7:1–8)

The winds of heaven speak of God’s judgment, and the judgments here are specifically on the earth, sea, and green vegetation. It may be that these four angels holding the four winds are also the angels who blow the first four trumpets, for the judgments are similar (see 8:6–12). The angel from the east holds the seal of God. A seal signifies possession and protection; note 9:4. Today, the Christian is sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14). This sealing happens the instant the sinner trusts Christ, and it assures the believer of eternal life and an inheritance in heaven. The sealing angel commands the angels of the winds to hold back their judgment until His servants have been sealed and thus protected from the judgment to come. For a parallel scene, see Ezek. 9. Remember too that Christ taught that the angels of God would have a part in gathering His elect (Matt. 24:31). Along with the angels of the winds, we have also the angels of fire (14:18) and of water (16:5). These angels are God’s special ministers who supervise the activities of nature.

These sealed servants are all Jews: there are 12,000 each from twelve tribes of Israel. It is unfortunate that some well-meaning Christians have taught that the 144,000 are symbolic of the church (the new Israel), because the church is no longer on earth at this point in history. The 144,000 are true Jews who will be alive on earth at this time. They will probably be won to Christ through the ministries of Moses and Elijah, the two witnesses who will preach during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation (see 11:1–12). These Jews will probably be God’s chosen missionaries—144,000 “Apostle Pauls” who carry the Gospel to all nations! This event will fulfill Christ’s prophecy of Matt. 24:14; the result will be the salvation of a multitude of Gentiles (7:9ff). When you think of the multitudes that Paul won during his ministry, you can begin to imagine what 144,000 such missionaries would do!

The tribe of Dan is missing from this list, and the tribe of Manasseh takes its place. The reasons seem to be: (1) Dan led Israel into idolatry, Jud. 18:30; 1 Kings 12:28–30; (2) therefore God promised to blot out the name of the idolater, Deut. 29:18–21.

Holman Concise Bible Commentary The Seven Seals (6:1–8:5)

Chapter 7 is actually two visions, with the second both interpreting and concluding the first. The sealing of the 144,000 employs starkly Jewish symbols to describe those who know God through Jesus Christ. Clearly John was referring to Christians as the 144,000. For 7:3 refers to the “servants” of God, a term consistently used throughout Revelation to refer either to Christians in general or the Christian prophet, but never to the non-Christian Jew (or Gentile). Language employed in the Old Testament to refer to the Jews is characteristically used in the New Testament to refer to those who know God through Jesus Christ (for example, 2 Cor. 6:16–18; Gal. 3:29). Those who are in Christ are the beneficiaries of the promises made to Israel (Rom. 4:13–17; Gal. 3:8–9, 15–29).

The number 144,000 is an intensification (12 × 12 × 10 × 10 × 10) of the original number twelve (itself an obvious allusion to the twelve tribes). This indicates that the 144,000 comprise the full number of God’s people, God’s people now being all (Jew or Gentile) who are followers of Jesus. (Note 12:1–17; the woman who has a crown of twelve stars and brings forth Christ is Israel. Her true offspring is first Jesus—the fulfillment of Israel’s history—and His followers, that is, Jews and Gentiles “who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus,” v. 17.)

In the second vision the 144,000 have become “a great multitude, which no one could count.” Who are they? Using his favorite descriptions of heaven (see 21:3–4, 23; 22:1–5), John said that they are those who have “come out of the great tribulation,” now to experience the joys of heaven and relief from the tribulations they have endured. Compare 7:14–17 with 21:1–6; 22:1–5. The numberless multitude of 7:9 is not a reference to non-Christian Jews (or Gentiles); it refers rather to all who have trusted Christ. It is the Lamb’s bride, the holy city, the new Jerusalem (21:2). To have “come out of the great tribulation” does not mean that they exited the earth before the hour of tribulation. To the contrary, they did indeed experience the tribulations of this evil age; but now in heaven they enjoy the presence of God, where they will hunger no more nor thirst any more. No longer subject to death (21:4), they will drink of the water of life, will no more experience the oppressive heat of the sun, and will have every tear wiped from their eyes. As the true Israel of God, Christians (“the servants of our God”) have the seal of God. Having refused the mark of the beast (13:16–17), they hold to the testimony of Jesus in spite of persecution and therefore have the promise of final heavenly deliverance from this evil age of great tribulation.

REVELATION 7

There is a pause between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals; judgment halts for a brief time while God seals 144,000 Jews who will carry His message to the ends of the earth. We are not specifically told that these Jews will be God’s ambassadors, but we assume that this is why He seals them. We have seen that the day of God’s wrath is about to come (6:15–17); so God brings a lull in the storm and extends His mercy to Jew and Gentile alike. We see here two groups of redeemed people:

Rev 7:1–17. SEALING OF THE ELECT OF ISRAEL. THE COUNTLESS MULTITUDE OF THE GENTILE ELECT.

1. And—so B and Syriac. But A, C, Vulgate, and Coptic omit “and.”

after these things—A, B, C, and Coptic read, “after this.” The two visions in this chapter come in as an episode after the sixth seal, and before the seventh seal. It is clear that, though “Israel” may elsewhere designate the spiritual Israel, “the elect (Church) on earth” [ALFORD], here, where the names of the tribes one by one are specified, these names cannot have any but the literal meaning. The second advent will be the time of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, when the times of the Gentiles shall have been fulfilled, and the Jews shall at last say, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The period of the Lord’s absence has been a blank in the history of the Jews as a nation. As then Revelation is the Book of the Second Advent [DE BURGH], naturally mention of God’s restored favor to Israel occurs among the events that usher in Christ’s advent.

earth … sea … tree—The judgments to descend on these are in answer to the martyrs’ prayer under the fifth seal. Compare the same judgments under the fifth trumpet, the sealed being exempt (Rev 9:4).

on any tree—Greek, “against any tree” (Greek, “epi ti dendron”: but “on the earth,” Greek, “epi tees gees”).

2. from the east—Greek, “the rising of the sun.” The quarter from which God’s glory oftenest manifests itself.

3. Hurt not—by letting loose the destructive winds.

till we have sealed the servants of our God—parallel to Mt 24:31, “His angels … shall gather together His elect from the four winds.” God’s love is such, that He cannot do anything in the way of judgment, till His people are secured from hurt (Ge 19:22). Israel, at the eve of the Lord’s coming, shall be found re-embodied as a nation; for its tribes are distinctly specified (Joseph, however, being substituted for Dan; whether because Antichrist is to come from Dan, or because Dan is to be Antichrist’s especial tool [ARETAS, tenth century], compare Ge 49:17; Je 8:16; Am 8:14; just as there was a Judas among the Twelve). Out of these tribes a believing remnant will be preserved from the judgments which shall destroy all the Antichristian confederacy (Rev 6:12–17), and shall be transfigured with the elect Church of all nations, namely, 144,000 (or whatever number is meant by this symbolical number), who shall faithfully resist the seductions of Antichrist, while the rest of the nation, restored to Palestine in unbelief, are his dupes, and at last his victims. Previously to the Lord’s judgments on Antichrist and his hosts, these latter shall destroy two-thirds of the nation, one-third escaping, and, by the Spirit’s operation through affliction, turning to the Lord, which remnant shall form the nucleus on earth of the Israelite nation that is from this time to stand at the head of the millennial nations of the world. Israel’s spiritual resurrection shall be “as life from the dead” to all the nations. As now a regeneration goes on here and there of individuals, so there shall then be a regeneration of nations universally, and this in connection with Christ’s coming. Mt 24:34; “this generation (the Jewish nation) shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled,” which implies that Israel can no more pass away before Christ’s advent, than Christ’s own words can pass away (the same Greek), Mt 24:35. So exactly Zec 13:8, 9; compare Zec 12:2–14. So also Ez 8:17, 18; 9:1–7, especially Ez 9:4. Compare also Ez 10:2 with Rev 8:5, where the final judgments actually fall on the earth, with the same accompaniment, the fire of the altar cast into the earth, including the fire scattered over the city. So again, Rev 14:1, the same 144,000 appear on Zion with the Father’s name in their forehead, at the close of the section, the twelfth through fourteenth chapters, concerning the Church and her foes. Not that the saints are exempt from trial: Rev 7:14 proves the contrary; but their trials are distinct from the destroying judgments that fall on the world; from these they are exempted, as Israel was from the plagues of Egypt, especially from the last, the Israelite doors having the protecting seal of the blood-mark.

foreheads—the most conspicuous and noblest part of man’s body; on which the helmet, “the hope of salvation,” is worn.

4. Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000. A thousand implies the world perfectly pervaded by the divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God.

of all the tribes—literally, “out of every tribe”; not 144,000 of each tribe, but the aggregate of the twelve thousand from every tribe.

children—Greek, “sons of Israel.” Rev 3:12; 21:12, are no objection, as ALFORD thinks, to the literal Israel being meant; for, in consummated glory, still the Church will be that “built on the foundation of the (Twelve) apostles (Israelites), Jesus Christ (an Israelite) being the chief corner-stone.” Gentile believers shall have the name of Jerusalem written on them, in that they shall share the citizenship antitypical to that of the literal Jerusalem.

5. Judah (meaning praise) stands first, as Jesus’ tribe. Benjamin, the youngest, is last; and with him is associated second last, Joseph. Reuben, as originally first-born, comes next after Judah, to whom it gave place, having by sin lost its primogeniture right. Besides the reason given above (see on Rev 7:2), another akin for the omission of Dan, is, its having been the first to lapse into idolatry (Jdg 18:1–31); for which same reason the name Ephraim, also (compare Jdg 17:1–3; Ho 4:17), is omitted, and Joseph substituted. Also, it had been now for long almost extinct. Long before, the Hebrews say [GROTIUS], it was reduced to the one family of Hussim, which perished subsequently in the wars before Ezra’s time. Hence it is omitted in the fourth through eighth chapters of First Chronicles. Dan’s small numbers are joined here to Naphtali’s, whose brother he was by the same mother [BENGEL]. The twelve times twelve thousand sealed ones of Israel are the nucleus of transfigured humanity [AUBERLEN], to which the elect Gentiles are joined, “a multitude which no man could number,” Rev 7:9 (that is, the Church of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, in which the Gentiles are the predominant element, Lu 21:24. The word “tribes,” Greek, implies that believing Israelites are in this countless multitude). Both are in heaven, yet ruling over the earth, as ministers of blessing to its inhabitants: while upon earth the world of nations is added to the kingdom of Israel. The twelve apostles stand at the head of the whole. The upper and the lower congregation, though distinct, are intimately associated.

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