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We have been considering the opening of the seals. The first four seals gave us the four horsemen, signifying conquest, war, famine, and death. The fifth seal showed us the souls of saints at the altar in heaven. The sixth seal was followed by convulsions of nature. earthquakes, falling stars, etc. We have not yet come to the seventh seal, and it does not immediately follow. The seventh chapter comes in as an episode or interlude between the sixth and seventh seals. This interlude, the seventh chapter, has its own special purpose. There was evidently a reason for inserting it here before the seventh seal. The six seals have been of a terrifying character. This interlude chapter is of a very different nature. Its effect would be to give encouragement and assurance to the suffering saints on earth. It brings out the safety of God's people, and the blessedness of those who have gone through fire and blood to a martyr's death.
Now what is this seventh chapter? The first half is the sealing of 144,000 of the children of Israel.
Vs. 1-8. Four angels were standing on the four corners of the earth holding the four winds. This shows that all the agencies of nature, all the instruments of judgment, are in God's hand. Not a wind can blow, not a storm can strike, not a judgment can fall, but by his permission. He says to the sea: "Hitherto shalt thou come and no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." And when Satan afflicted Job he could not go one iota farther than God permitted him. And as this storm of persecution falls upon the early church, and as this period of judgment falls on the persecutor, and as this period of danger and dissolution engulfs the lands where the churches are located, every lash is in God's hands and every life in his care. That is what the church needed to know in that hour when convulsions worse than earthquakes were about to shake the social and civil fabric to its center.
And so it was commanded: "Hurt not the earth nor the sea until we have sealed the servants of God in their foreheads." And 144,000 were sealed. It cannot be admitted that Jews alone constituted the servants of God. If the servants of God were to be sealed it must have embraced vastly more than the Jews. However at that particular time the Jews were the special objects of hatred, and the carnival of slaughter that ensued especially involved the Jews, and myriads of them were butchered without mercy. In these circumstances the danger to Jewish Christians was particularly great. This was true not only at Jerusalem but in all of those cities wliere the conflict raged. The Jewish converts would be subject to danger not only from those who hated the Jews, but from the persecution of the Jews themselves. So here we have this vision of a great multitude of Jews wlio have accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah and are sealed by God as his servants. That just 12,000 from each tribe are sealed shows that the number is not to be taken literally, but representatively. John the Baptist and Christ and his apostles all preached to the Jews up and down Judea and Galilee. And the command of Christ on the eve of his ascension was to "begin at Jerusalem." And when Paul went on his missionary journeys he went first into the synagogues and preached Christ. Here then are the results of the gospel among the Jews of that day.
The purpose of this seal or mark in their foreheads was that they might not be destroyed in the coming judgments that were to fall. A similar scene is recorded in Eze_9:1-11 , where men were marked in their foreheads and were not to be slain in the devastation of the city, according to the vision of Ezekiel. And when we come to the ninth chapter of Revelation and the plagues have fallen we will see that they were commanded to hurt only those who had not the mark of God in their foreheads. So that the evident purpose of this vision of sealing was to assure God's people of divine care. This was a vision. The mark was God's mark, not man's. It was not for the observation of human eyes, but was a revelation to God's people of his providential disposition of all their affairs.
It is further to be noticed in this connection that when Jerusalem was besieged by Roman armies, the Christians escaped the slaughter by a most remarkable providential circumstance. I take it that this vision of sealing referred to the affairs of the church on earth; but when we come to the second half of the chapter we have a scene staged in heaven.
Vs. 9-17. Now John sees a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. John was informed that "these are they that have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore are they before the throne of God, they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more," etc. This scene shows the blessedness of the saved and especially of the martyred dead, who came out of great tribulation, and is in happy contrast to the sad and somber pictures of Judgment that preceded and that are to follow. This seventh chapter is the happy episode or interlude between the sixth and seventh seals, and between the scenes of judgment which they portray.
It has been thought by some that the terms used to describe this multitude are too inclusive or universal to fit the historical view of these chapters. In answer it may be said that the terms used to describe the multitudes that were in Jerusalem at Pentecost were almost as universal; for it is said that there were Jews from every nation under heaven. Besides it is not necessary to assume that the vision was limited by the age of the world and the progress of the kingdom up to that date; but that the vision might fitly convey an idea of the consummation of Christ's kingdom as an incentive and encouragement to the church on earth in the times of its trial, and in all times.
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the Third Week after Epiphany