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The Sealed of Israel
Here actually a parenthesis begins before the seventh seal is opened. In this parenthesis, which consists of chapter 7, you hear what the believers are going through in this period of time of the sixth seal. You will also read how they are being preserved by God during this horrible time. It beautifully illustrates that God remembers mercy in the midst of wrath (Hab 3:2).
This chapter is as it were an answer to the question that was asked at the end of the previous chapter: ‘Who is able to stand?’ The answer is: A great number of saints, both from Israel (Rev 7:1-8) and from the nations (Rev 7:9-17), is able to stand before God and the Lamb. Both groups of believers will go through the great tribulation. They will not die like the martyrs, but they will enter the kingdom of peace alive. The first group will be sealed before they enter the great tribulation, the second group is presented as coming out of the great tribulation.
Rev 7:1. That the scene which John gets to see now, follows after what is previously written, is to be derived from the words “after this”. After having seen the Lamb That opens seals, John now sees “four angels”. When the trumpet judgments break loose in chapter 8, the sounding of the trumpets happens by angels (Rev 8:2; 6). Angels are also to be seen here. Angels are used by the Lamb to do His work. That work consists of protecting the saints (Heb 1:14) and the judgment of the evil in accordance to the purity of heaven, the dwelling place of the angels.
The four angels are “standing at the four corners of the earth”. That means that the whole earth is their work territory (cf. Isa 11:12). The number ‘four’ that appears three times in this verse speaks of what is general, universal. While they are standing there they are “holding back the four winds of the earth”, so that these winds cannot cause destruction. The sealing of the elected of God happens in silence.
When the four winds will blow, animals as symbols of rulers of worlds will ascend from the sea of nations. You read about that in Daniel 7 (Dan 7:2-3; cf. Jer 49:36). Here they are still being stopped. God determines the time of their coming, but also controls them for the benefit of His own (Psa 105:15). They are being ‘held’, for they try to tear themselves loose. But it is impossible to escape the grip of God Almighty.
Rev 7:2. Then John sees “another angel ascending”. He comes from the east, from the side where the sun rises. When the sun rises, a new day lightens up. This speaks of the rising of “the sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2), which is Christ, Who expels the darkness and causes the dawning of the day. This ‘other angel’ is not an image of Christ. In the next verse he puts himself on the same level with the four angels when he speaks about ‘we’ and ‘our God’.
The angel has “the seal of the living God”. A seal is a mark of ownership. ‘The seal of the living God’ makes clear that he who bears it, belongs to Him and is known by Him (cf. 2Tim 2:19). Therefore the seal means also safety (cf. Eze 9:4) at the same time. It is the seal of the living God, which means that its bearers are untouchable by death.
When God is called 'the living God, then it is also to emphasize the contrast between Him and the dead idols (1Thes 1:9). This is how He is called also in relation with Israel in the days of Joshua and Hezekiah (Jos 3:10; 2Kgs 19:4; 16), which is at the beginning (Joshua) and at the end (Hezekiah) of his history in the land. Just like He intervened in the days of Joshua and Hezekiah for the benefit of His people, He will do that also in the time of the great tribulation. In that time He will lead and preserve His people right through the general idolatrous worshipping of the antichrist and the beast.
The angel gives a command on behalf of God to the four angels that have power over the winds. The winds want to harm but they cannot, because they are held by the angels. Only when the angels let them loose they will be able to do their damaging work. That means that it is not the winds that have the power to harm the earth and the sea, but the angels are the ones that have the power. Angels also have power over fire (Rev 14:18) and over water (Rev 16:5). However, they do not act on their own, but they are under the authority of God.
Rev 7:3. Those that are sealed are “the bond-servants of our God”. They are the elect persons from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 7:4) who serve God. Their service seems to consist of the proclamation of His Name, the preaching of the living God, while everything around them has turned his back on Him. They will preach both in Israel and in the whole world and they will continue their service with which the twelve apostles have started when the Lord Jesus sent them out (Mt 10:23; Mt 24:14). It seems that the result of their preaching is ‘the multitude’ which the second part of this chapter is dealing with.
It does not say what this seal exactly is. Possibly it is the name of God and the Lamb which they get on their forehead (cf. Rev 14:1; Rev 22:4; Rev 3:12). There is a reasonable argument for this approach if you consider that the ungodly have the name of the beast on their forehead (Rev 13:16; Rev 14:9; 11; Rev 20:4). They are sealed “on their foreheads”. In that way it is a clearly observable mark to everyone that they have focused their thoughts on God and that God recognizes them as His own (cf. Rev 13:16). They openly testify of His Name in each part of the world wherever they were scattered. The angel confirms that the sealing is the reason why the winds were being stopped.
Rev 7:4. The number of the ones who were sealed is made known. It is one hundred and forty-four thousand. It is also mentioned who they are. Those are “the sons of Israel”. It is also said that they are each from a different tribe. From further details it appears that from each tribe the same number of sealed ones comes forth, namely twelve thousand.
The numbers have a symbolic meaning whereby it is not necessarily to be excluded that it should be considered literally. It is possible that in the time of the great tribulation one hundred and forty-four thousand servants of God will go out in Israel and in the whole world to proclaim His Name. But the symbolic meaning is important. The number twelve, which also in the multiples of one hundred and forty-four and twelve thousand stands at the forefront, is in the Bible continually the number of a perfect reign and government.
This number is especially related with Israel. At the beginning of the history of this people are the twelve patriarchs. This nation consists of twelve tribes. The breastplate of the high priest had twelve stones which represented the whole nation. Out of this nation twelve apostles were called. The twelve thousand from each tribe of Israel indicate a worldwide government, for the territory of their service is the world.
Rev 7:5-8. In the Bible we find almost thirty lists of names of the sons of Jacob, whereby the rank order of the names is not always the same and sometimes a name is replaced by another one. This list that John gives, is led by Judah. Not Rueben, the firstborn, comes first, but Judah, the royal tribe. That is also understandable, for Judah is the tribe from which the King of kings, Christ, has sprouted (Rev 5:5; Gen 49:9).
The tribe of Dan is not mentioned. The reason for that is not said. It is possible that it is because Dan has introduced the idolatry in Israel (Jdg 18:30-31). That does not mean that Dan loses his place in the land, for he will have his part of inheritance in the millennial kingdom of peace (Eze 48:2). The important thing is that God cannot use anyone from his tribe to testify of Him as one of His sealed people when the idolatry is general. Manasseh, the son of Joseph takes the place of Dan.
Now read Revelation 7:1-8 again.
Reflection: How can you show your ‘seal’, meaning: how can you show that you are of the living God?
The Great Multitude From the Nations
Rev 7:9. As it is already said at the beginning of the previous section, this chapter deals with two groups of believers. The group that you paid attention to in the previous portion consists of believers from Israel. The distinction between that group and the group that you now have before you is the multitude from every nation and not from Israel. It is also a group that no one can number, while the one from Israel is numbered. Another difference is that the first group gets the seal before the great tribulation begins, while the second group appears when the great tribulation is over (see Rev 7:14).
The fact that the first and second group of believers is presented distinctively, is also a proof that the time of the church is over, for therein is no distinction between Jew and Greek (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Another remarkable fact is that it is not about resurrected believers, but about believers on earth who are alive. There are neither indications that they have died nor that they have glorified bodies. They also stand before the throne on earth and do not sit on the thrones.
They are clothed with “white robes” and have “palm branches in their hands”. The white robes speak of purity which they have gained through the blood of the Lamb (see Rev 7:14). That’s how they have been made acceptable to God. The palm branches in the hands are the image of the triumph that they have achieved over all resistance to which they were exposed. The white clothes were given to them, the palm branches are what they have earned.
Rev 7:10. They give all honor to God and the Lamb for their salvation, because They have led them through the great tribulation and protected them against all hostility. Due to that they now may enter the full “salvation”, which is the salvation of the millennial kingdom of peace, as living ones. They are aware that they owe everything to God and the Lamb, which they also express.
Rev 7:11-12. The praise of those who were preserved during the great tribulation, finds resonance in heaven with all the angels. Angels were used by God in that time as the executors of His judgments, but they are also the protectors of those who inherit the salvation (Heb 1:14). They stand “around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures”. The elders have made their praise heard in chapter 5 (Rev 5:9-10) and the four living creatures in chapter 4 (Rev 4:8). Here the angels are doing it, like in chapter 5 (Rev 5:11-12).
Their praise begins with “amen” and ends with it also. They agree with the praise of the countless multitude. They also confirm their own praise by that, because He has brought everything to a good end. Their praise is sevenfold, like in chapter 5 (Rev 5:12). Everything they say belongs to God and they ascribe all to Him. All these features or characteristics have become public in His acts, in the fulfillment of His plans. Just allow this sevenfold expression to sink in and say to God at each aspect: ‘It is ascribed to Thee!’
Rev 7:13. Probably there has been amazement on John’s face when he watched this scene. He does not know what he should think of it. What kind of people are they and where do they come from? One of the elders noticed it and responds to that. He formulates what John is thinking of. This may help us also to pay attention on someone’s face when we tell them something about God’s Word, which this person may be hearing for the first time.
Rev 7:14. John does not try to hide his ignorance by attempting to formulate an answer. By speaking out the words “my lord, you know” he acknowledges the insight of the elder with due respect. He takes in the place of a pupil. That is the right attitude and mind to receive teaching and to understand that teaching also. In his reply the elder deals first with his last question, which is the question where did they come from. He says that it regards people “who come out of the great tribulation” and who came to faith in that time through the testimony of the ‘brothers of the Lord’ (Mt 25:31-40). He speaks about the great tribulation. The article “the” makes clear that it is not about one or another undetermined tribulation, but about the well-known tribulation (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; cf. Mt 24:21).
Then the elder answers the question about who they are. He does that by pointing at their robes and what had happened to those robes. They have clothes which arrayed the whole body. Those robes were purified and made white. The means through which it happened is “the blood of the Lamb”. Clothes represent your conduct; it is what people see of you. By your conduct you reveal who you are. The conduct of the unbeliever is sinful. As a believer you are a new creation and your environment will see that by your conduct.
That this multitude has washed its robes in the blood of the Lamb implies an important truth. That truth implies that the blood not only purifies the believers of the church from their sins, but it also implies that the blood is the only way for purification of any sin from any believer of any time. Everyone who is saved is saved on the ground of the shed blood of the Lamb, whether it is regarding the Old Testament believers or the New Testament believers from after the rapture of the church. That the blessings attached to it, are different, is not the issue here.
Rev 7:15. Due to their purification through the blood of the Lamb they are able to appear before the throne and to serve Him. In their white robes they were made suitable to be in His presence. Therefore they are not there by their own achievements, but by grace. That grace also makes a person willing to serve God. Serving God happens in the temple of God on earth, by both Jews (Eze 40-47; Lk 2:37) and Gentiles (Isa 56:6; Isa 2:2; Zec 14:16). They will exercise this service without interruption, “day and night” (cf. Lk 2:36-38). What a privilege!
In His turn the Lord Jesus will serve them. He is in the first place the Ruler, then the One Whom they worship and then He is their Protector and Benefactor. He will make them enjoy His presence and protection (Isa 4:5-6). By spreading His tabernacle over them they will always be in the secret place of His tabernacle (Psa 27:5). In that tabernacle they sought their refuge in the day of trouble and now they may dwell there forever at rest. That also goes for you. Your relationship with the Lord will not be different from now in the perfection. Only the circumstances are different, He is not. Everything will be perfect and will be uninterruptedly enjoyed.
Rev 7:16. After the great tribulation in which they have suffered great shortage (Rev 13:17), a time comes in which they will lack nothing. Through the mercy of God an end will come to all hunger, thirst and heat which they have suffered (Isa 49:10).
Rev 7:17. This change in their situation is the result of the reign of the Lamb. All blessings begin with the throne (Rev 7:15) and go back to the throne, because the Lamb is there. He is the Shepherd Who shepherds His sheep. He makes sure that they have no lack of anything. Therefore He “will guide them to the springs of the water of life”. That speaks of an abundance of life that is freely available. In that way an abundant refreshment is available which makes life a great joy.
That refreshment you can now already find in the Word of God which is a fountain full of living water, for it is all about Him, Who is the living water. Up till the last page of this book He invites you to come to Him and drink (Rev 22:17). That invitation applies to the unconverted man, but is also to be applied to the believer. If you drink from Him, you can have an unspeakable joy in your heart, regardless if you are still in a world full of sorrow (2Cor 6:10; 1Pet 1:8).
Every hardship has disappeared out of the life of this multitude. These hardships will not be remembered or come to mind anymore (Isa 65:17). The remembrance of it will be erased by God Himself. He does that as it were with His own hand. He does not do that with a big swing. No, He pays attention to “every tear”. Every tear that is shed by one on His children in His sight, will be known by Him and will be taken away by Him with His own hand (Psa 56:8). The time of sorrow is over, the ‘time of singing’ has come (Song 2:12).
Only then the sufferings for the believers will come to an end. This is one of the many indications that a gospel which proclaims ‘Prosperity NOW’, the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’, is a false gospel.
Now read Revelation 7:9-17 again.
Reflection: Which blessings are the share of the great multitude and which of those are also yours? Thank God for that.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Revelation 7". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13