The central place of Israel in history, in current events, and in God’s plan for the future is abundantly clear: Israel occupies a central place in God’s program of human history and God will not let the world forget or ignore the Jewish people. Yet as I have studied various commentaries on the book of Revelation and on other books of the Bible, I have been struck by the fact that a surprisingly large number of Bible scholars ignore the important place God has reserved for this great and historic race of people. The same grace which God has shown to His church (to Christians like you and me, and to these Bible scholars) God is still in the process of displaying toward His people, Israel – yet so many scholars seem blithely unaware of God’s grace toward Israel. Across the span of history and throughout the pages of His Word, God has plainly stated His eternal plan for the people of Israel. Now, as we open the pages of Revelation 7, we shall see the culmination of that plan.

In Revelation 6, we saw the opening of the six seals of judgment. But as we come to Revelation 7, we come to a pause between the first six seals and the seventh and final seal. It is as though God declared an intermission after the terrible scenes of judgment in Revelation 6. In this beautiful interlude in Revelation 7, God treats us, the viewers of this astounding vision recorded by the hand of John, to a kind of a flashback. What we essentially have in Revelation 7 is a flashback that supplies a missing piece of the Revelation puzzle. We are taken back to the beginning of the judgments of the seven-year tribulation period to see the working out of God’s plan from a different vantage point. What we will see in this flashback is the selection of a special group of Jews who will be given a special mission during the last days.

The book of Revelation is an unusual blend of literal events and symbols, and there are certain symbols to be found in the opening of Revelation 7. One such symbol is the phrase “the four corners of the earth.” This phrase simply refers to the four compass directions, north, south, east, and west. In verses 1-3 four angels are depicted as holding something that is about to come upon the earth. They have been commanded to restrain the four winds, which symbolize the devastating power of natural forces. The land, the sea, and the trees also appear as symbols in these verses. The land or the earth is frequently used as a symbol for Israel throughout the Old Testament. The symbol of the sea is often used throughout Scripture to describe the Gentile nations in general and the pagan nations in particular. The symbol of the trees frequently speaks of individuals in various places in Scripture.

The four angels who hold back the winds are the first four of the seven angels which sound their trumpets in the following chapters of Revelation. If you carefully compare what takes place under the judgments of the seven angels you will see that the first four of the seven angels control events which affect the land, the sea, and the trees.

In this passage, the four angels are commanded to hold back the winds of destruction until a very important group of people has been sealed by God. The angel which seals this group is described as “coming up from the east,” or more literally “from the rising of the sun.” This is an allusion to the prophecy of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament. There the prophet predicts that for those who revere the name of God, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” This is a poetic description of the coming of Jesus Christ in glory and in power. Thus it is in relationship to the coming of Christ that this special group is marked by the angel of the rising sun with the seal of God’s ownership.

There is no mystery about what it means when this special group is “sealed” by God. Today, all believers are sealed by God in a special way. That is why Paul tells us, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in us as Christians is the unmistakable mark of God’s ownership upon our lives; as Paul declares in Romans, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). The same Holy Spirit who has sealed us as God’s children will also seal this chosen group that is described in these verses. These are thus Spirit-filled, Spirit-led people. The seal is placed upon their foreheads, which indicates that the Spirit rules over their minds, their thoughts, and their will. They are governed by the mind of Christ.

Together with the vision of the angels, John heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. The first question about this body concerns its identity. The 144,000 sealed servants are to be taken symbolically rather than literally. The number is achieved by multiplying twelve, for Israel, by twelve, for the apostles, to signify the entirety of the redeemed church. This matches the heavenly city of chapter 21, with twelve gates for Israel’s tribes and twelve foundations for the apostles (Rev. 21:12-14), signifying the entirety of the redeemed church. This number is multiplied by a thousand probably to show the great multitude of Christ’s people. The idea of the Christians’ being numbered like Israel’s tribes may suggest that the church forms an army, carrying forth the banner of the gospel. With the winds of judgment and calamity being restrained for their passage and having being sealed by God, the church triumphantly advances to heaven.

When we think of the church in terms of Israel marching from Egypt to the Promised Land in the days of the exodus, we are reminded of the necessity of or perseverance in faith. Most of the Israelites who departed from Egypt under Moses never entered the Promised Land because of their rebellion and unbelief. Hebrews 4:2 warns that many who attend church today are like the outward members of Israel who never entered salvation, explaining that “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” This warns us that mere membership or attendance at church does not grant us salvation, but only by true saving faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Revelation 7 assures us that true believers are sealed by God so as to persevere all the way to heaven.

The question is: “Are we true believers, and do our lives bear testimony to the presence and power of God’s Spirit?” The first application of Revelation 7, then, is for us to know the reality of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, rather than a mere outward Christianity. Have we embraced Christ in a living faith, which alone can attest to our sealing by God for salvation?

Two more applications flow from these visions. Verses 9-10 show the church above praising God for its salvation. We should notice that this scene matches that of the Feast of Tabernacles in Israel, which celebrated both the successful completion of the exodus and the ingathering of the annual harvest. We see this especially in the waving of palm branches, which was one of the chief features of this festival, praising God for the ingathered harvest. How appropriate this worship will be in heaven, when the entire harvest of Christ’s people will have been gathered in. John’s vision continues in verses 11-12 with the angels of heaven worshiping God because of what they have learned through our salvation. Knowing this, we should endeavor to live now in such a way that watching angels will marvel at the power of God’s grace in our lives so as to praise our Savior forever.

Finally, we are reminded of the gospel imperative that shapes the calling of every Christian. Why has judgment not yet come? Why are the angels restraining the four winds? The answer: so that the full number of God’s elect people may come in. Our present history exists for the saving of the great multitude that will worship above. Like the twelve tribes in marching order, the church is sent through history on a gospel mission, to take the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world so that countless millions will be saved. Do we have a missional mind-set and zeal that fits this picture? What role are you playing in the great harvest of the gospel for salvation? Do you pray for specific people to be saved? Do you warmly invite neighbors to church? Are you prepared to explain the gospel message of Jesus to others, and are you willing to do so? What a joyful privilege it is for us to be His servants on earth, sealed and protected by His Spirit, to carry the gospel to the lost. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus told His disciples, but then sadly regretted that “the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37).

Revelation 7:1-12 Study Questions:

What are the angels at the four corners of the earth doing and why?

The idea of “harming” the earth, the sea and the trees in verse 3 is harsh. Why then, has the authority to harm God’s creation been given to these angels?

The “seals” on a scroll were the kind of sticky wax whose purpose, in the ancient world and sometimes in the modern as well, was to keep important documents secure against prying eyes. You could always tell if the seal had been broken, since it would be stamped with the mark of the one who had sealed it up.  How does the term seal take on a new, though somewhat related, significance here (vv. 2-4)?

Who makes up the 144,000 that John hears will be sealed (vv. 4-8)?

What benefit might the “seal” offer to those marked with it?


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