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Revelation 7:1–8

“I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their forehead’” (vv. 2–3).

Giving an account of the chronological order in which the events of the last days will take place does not seem to be the purpose of the book of Revelation. Today’s passage helps us see this. Remember that Revelation 6:12–16 gives us a scene of judgment to accompany the opening of the sixth seal on the heavenly scroll. In this judgment, mountains pass away and the whole cosmos is shaken. Revelation 7:1–3 says that “after this” judgment, four angels are held back from harming “the earth or the sea or the trees,” which can mean only that these things continue as they are after the divine judgment of 6:12–16. The “after this” of Revelation 7:1 cannot be a chronological marker of what happens after judgment; it is a reference to a new vision given to John.

Revelation 7 actually answers the question, “Who can stand?” at the end of chapter 6. Who will endure the great day of the wrath of the Lamb unscathed? The people mentioned in chapter 7. God will hold back the destructive forces of judgment in their case.

Those who are protected are sealed by God on their foreheads (6:3–4). Among other things, seals in the ancient world were a mark of ownership, so the people sealed in Revelation 7:1–8 are marked out by God as belonging to Him. Probably the mark on their forehead is also related to texts such as Deuteronomy 11:18, where God’s people are told to place the law on their foreheads as a symbol of their loyalty to the Lord. The 144,000 sealed are faithful servants of God, marked off by Him as His own and thus safe in the day of wrath to come.

The 144,000 sealed saints of God belong to the tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:5–8). John is likely not talking only about Jewish believers here. The list of twelve tribes does not correspond to any list of twelve in the Old Testament. The tribes of Dan and Ephraim are excluded. The list includes the tribe of Joseph, yet properly speaking, there was no tribe of Joseph but tribes named for his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. When we consider also that even gentile believers are sealed by God in the New Testament (Eph. 4:30), it becomes clear that the 144,000 represent all believers in Christ. Twelve tribes times twelve is just another way of saying “the people of God,” as Israel—God’s people—could be summed up in twelve tribes. This twelve times twelve is then multiplied by a thousand, the number of men in a military unit. The entire church, God’s spiritual army, is set apart for protection in the day of wrath.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

A day of wrath is coming for sinners, but those who belong to Jesus will not suffer it. As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Jesus has saved us from the wrath to come. We can look forward in confidence to the day of God’s final judgment if we belong to Jesus. Those who do not know Him have much to fear on that day, but they will be saved from the wrath of God if they trust Jesus today. Let us never shy away from proclaiming this truth.


For Further Study
  • Numbers 1
  • Ezekiel 47:13–48:29
  • Matthew 10:1–4
  • James 1:1

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From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue