Revelation 7:1 – 8
This chapter details the preparation for opening the 7th seal. The “after this” signifies a sequence in events. It is a “break in the action” that allows God set apart a certain number of people, presumably witnesses, from Israel. It is debatable whether the number 144,000 is literal or symbolic. Twelve thousand from 12 of Israel’s 13 tribes are sealed (Ephraim becomes Joseph and Dan is omitted, while Levi is included).
The symbol of the seal may come from the Old Testament image of the Passover where the blood sealed the faithful from the final plague. It may come from Paul’s use of circumcision as a seal of righteousness (Romans 4:11) or of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22). Notice that all these images are signs of a covenant God makes with His people. According to Clarke: “By sealing we are to understand consecrating the persons in a more special manner to God.”
Dan is listed in Ezekiel 48:1 as receiving a share in what some think is the millennial kingdom. One idea is that the Anti-Christ will come from Dan. Genesis 49:17 states, “Dan will be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward”. Could be as simple as no one faithful from the tribe of Dan would be found/sealed?
In verse one there are four angelic beings (“probably evil ones” – Wesley). They are commanded to not harm the land or sea until God’s servants are sealed. What we see, between this and the last seal, seems to be a huge environmental shift. The sky changes, mountains are leveled, and the islands are moved from their place. One idea that has been proposed is that the earth will be returned to its pre-flood environment in preparation for the millennial period. Isaiah 65:19 – 20 may refer to the millennial period, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.”
Is there a conflict between honest biblical interpretation and honest science? In verse one is reference to the ”four corners of the earth.” Through history we have suffered two equal problems. We have imposed bad biblical interpretation on science and have allowed presupposition to impose itself on science.
An example is Galileo, a Christian, who claimed the earth revolved around the sun. The church, believing an Egyptian earth myth, forced him to recant. The presupposition of evolution, a common natural source that excludes God, imposed on science is a repeat of that history.
What does the Bible mean by “the four corners of the earth?” First, we need to understand when there is an expression of speech (“points of a compass”). Second, we need to understand the historical context of the writer, the book, and the audience. “Four corners” is a Hebrew image believing the world and elements are controlled by angels/spirits. The Greek believed the world was flat until about 600 years before Christ (about 400 years after Solomon identified the spherical shape of the earth in Proverbs 8:27, “When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep” [ESV]). The Romans believed in the four winds: Zephyrus, Boreas, Notus, Eurus.
Several suggestions exist to the meaning of these four angels: Zechariah 6:5 mentions four chariots: red (east), black (north), white (west), dappled-gray (south). Daniel 8:8 mentions “the four winds of heaven.” Barns suggests the four winds are Babylon, Persia, Greek, and Roman empires.
Revelation 7:9 – 17
The next image is a crowd around the throne of God. The number who had come out of the “Great Tribulations too great to be counted (…”These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”). Notice there are distinctions: nation, tribe, people, and language. Not only are these distinctions maintained, but it seems as if they are celebrated and honored. There is no generic, base, or correct form of Christian culture! Also, we see the setting right of all wrongs. As this crowd appears in unity before God, we see the effects of the curse of Babel reversed.
At this point we see three more anthems. Each details three things that belong to God.
In verse 10 we see “Salvation belongs to our God.” We tend to make two mistakes when we consider salvation. First is the idea that our salvation is strictly God’s arbitrary will (that God arbitrarily chooses based on ONLY His will who will be saved and who will be eternally lost). The thought is cooperation with God is either impossible or unnecessary. The problem is there is no way to know for certain if one is saved. One accusation leveled against this theological line is that it coopts the Greek Stoics’ concept of “fatalism.”
The second line of reasoning is that salvation is somehow dependent on the individual and is entered or maintained by works (or faithfulness). If one sins then they become separated from God, “lose” their salvation, and must be saved again. (See Hebrews 6 and 10 for the impossibility of being “resaved.”) The difficulty with this line is it reduces salvation (and Christianity) to a formula to be followed and plunges us into humanism.
John Wesley proposed what he called the “double action” of salvation. God takes the initiative and provides grace. This grace is the cause of our salvation (based on Jesus’ sacrifice). God is not willing that any should perish (be eternally lost), so Jesus paid the price for our sin (which causes separation from God). When God’s grace wakes us up, we are given the ability to respond. This enters us into a right relationship with God. Lydia is an example of this dynamic. (Acts 16:14c “…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”).
The “double action” comes from the idea that we “experience” our reaction (faith) to God’s grace (initiative and invitation) through relationship with God. The experience or relationship teaches us to know we are saved. As Wesley put it we have “assurance of salvation.”
Salvation is God’s because of the His authority, symbolized in the throne and His provision to save, symbolized in the Lamb.
The second anthem in this chapter shows us praise belongs to God. Praise is the most natural result of being saved. The natural chain of events should be the reality, the knowledge (correct interpretation) of the reality, joy over the reality, action that displays that joy.
Praise is also the most continuous habit of being saved. Praise keeps the fire burning rather than letting us grow luke-warm (see the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3). Praise makes us hungry and thirsty for the Word of God. When everything else is done and said, there will still be praise!
Praise may be the easiest of things God requires. It can be done everywhere and at all times. It is part of who we are created to be in right relationship to God. It takes our attention off ourselves and reminds us of our certainty and eternity in Jesus. Praise flows from knowing Jesus personally and puts everything into context!
The third anthem demonstrates that service belongs to God. Service is a natural part of our salvation relationship: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10 ESV]. The people will never lack protection or physical need. Their tears will we wiped away (A second reference to the “unhappy dead.”) All these provisions are made by the “Lamb” who will shepherd his people.
Are you saved, washed in the blood of the Lamb??
Are you serving God?
Are you praising God?