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Revelation 7:1-8:1: Sheltered By His Presence Print E-mail
Sunday, 15 April 2012

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An important question seems to arise as you study Revelation 6 and the opening of the seven seals: where are Godís people?  As we saw a couple of weeks ago, the four horsemen bring severe judgment upon the earth (6:1-8).  Then we are told of the martyrs in heaven and in them we get a glimpse of Godís people (6:9-11).  Yet, this is followed with the opening of the sixth seal which brings the destruction of the natural order, which involves the cries of those suffering under the wrath of the Lamb (6:12-17).  That section ends with an important question: Who can stand?  In one sense, the answer is that no one will be able to stand against the Lord on that Day.  Yet, it is also true that Godís people will not be subjected to His coming wrath.  They will face the wrath of unbelievers and the Enemy (as we have seen and will continue to see), but they will be saved from the wrath of God

Thus, we could answer the question of who can stand with the truth that Godís people will stand.  It is this answer that John gives us in chapter 7.  He gives us a description of Godís people in this passage.  So then, how does he describe them?  The chapter can be broken into two visions (or at least two parts of the same vision): a vision of believers on the earth (v. 1-8) and a vision of believers in heaven (v. 9-17).  Letís look at each of these.

The vision of earth: The 144,000 of Israel (v. 1-8)

Johnís description of believers at the end of the age begins with a vision of the earth and the destruction that is about to come upon it.  Look at verses 1-3.  John is given a vision of four angels holding back the four winds of the earth.  They are about to unleash the fury of these winds, but before they do another angel comes who has the seal of the living God.  He tells the others to not harm the earth until the servants of God have been sealed.  Thus, judgment on the earth is coming (which could be referencing the judgment of the four horsemen or the judgment that comes with the opening of the sixth seal or both) but Godís people will be sealed. 

What is the significance of this seal?  It is the seal that will protect them from Godís coming wrath.  Unlike Godís enemies who are given the mark of the beast, Godís people will be marked with His seal.  One commentator notes: ďIn this book there is no neutrality.  One is a follower of (and owned by) God or of Satan.Ē 1  We see in this the importance of being a follower of Christ.

So then, what is the identity of the sealed?  Look at verse 4.  Although various interpretations have been offered, let me focus on just two, which both see the number as symbolic and not literal.  First, some see this as a reference to ethnic Israel.  Paul speaks of all Israel being saved after the fullness of the Gentiles is brought to Christ (see Romans 11:25ff).  Although this is a possible reference to that prophecy, it does not seem to fit the immediate context of this passage or the message of the whole book, which focuses more on the inclusion of all nations.  Likewise a second option seems to fit the book and the particular passage better, namely that the 144,000 is a reference to the Church in the last days. 

Before the final seals are opened, the Lord seals His people to protect them from His wrath that is coming.  Of course, these believers could symbolize all believers, but it seems best to me that they are in particular those facing the final days of persecution (since they are clearly numbered and the host in heaven is innumerable, see v. 9).  The Church is regularly spoken of as the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel.  Through faith in Christ, we become Abrahamís offspring (Galatians 3:7-9, Romans 4), the people of God.  So then, I think the best interpretation of the 144,000 is that they are the Church in the last days, who are sealed by God to protect them from His coming wrath.

The vision of heaven: The Great Multitude around the throne (v. 9-17)

The vision shifts in verse 9 to another scene in Godís throne-room.  I believe this vision is of our eternal state.  In other words, those sealed during the last days have now joined with the believers of all time to worship around the throne of God.  So then, what does this worship look like?  Look at verses 9-12.  Once again we see that the multitude around the throne is made up of people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.  It is not just ethnic Israel who make up the people of God.  It is not just Americans.  No, it is people from all nations. 

This vision, and Godís sovereign power to bring it about, is what fuels global missions.  Our longing for, and Godís promise of, global worship spurs on global missions.  The nations will worship our God and the Lamb.  We will proclaim together: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.  At such worship, the angels will respond: Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.  God is worthy of all praise because He has redeemed a people for Himself. 

Yet, who are these people worshipping around the throne?  We are told in verses 13-14.  Look at those verses with me.  The elder describes these people to John in two ways.  First, they are those coming out of the great tribulation.  This probably refers to the final tribulation period in particular and all the tribulation of the Church in general.  Second, they are those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  The imagery is striking and many hymn writers have used it in composing their songs. 

We sang one such hymn this morning: ďAre you washed in the blood, in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless?  Are they white as snow?  Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?Ē  The people from every nation, gathered around the throne worshipping, have all been washed by the blood of the Lamb.  They have all turned from their sins and placed their faith in His death and resurrection.  And so that old hymn asks a very important question: are you washed in the blood?  Have you turned from your sins and trusted in Christ?  Will you be numbered among the great multitude on that Day?

The elder goes on and describes to John the reward that will be given to this great multitude that has trusted in Christ.  Look at verse 15.  I have to be honest and tell you that this verse surprised me this week.  I was working through the text on my outline and came to this verse and could not hold back the tears.  For in this verse God gives us the greatest gift that He could ever possibly give us: the gift of Himself. 

I encourage you to pause and take that in this morning.  Your life may be hard right now, you may be facing difficulties at work or at home or at both.  You may be discouraged or hurting or lonely or tired or afraid.  But if you have turned from your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ, then there is coming a Day when God will shelter (you) with his presence.  And your circumstances, however bleak, cannot change that.  He has promised you Himself.  He has promised to shelter you with His presence forever.  The actual word communicates the idea of God Ďtabernaclingí with His people, residing with them.  Our home will be in His presence.  What an unbelievably glorious reward!

We see another reward in verse 16.  Look at that with me.  Not only will we dwell in Godís presence forever but all physical suffering shall be removed.  Again, remember how encouraging this would have been to the seven churches in Asia.  They were facing persecution and hunger.  But God reminds them that it is only temporary.  Such suffering will not last.  The Lord will usher us into His presence and bring our suffering to an end.

One final reward is mentioned in verse 17.  Look at that with me.  What a paradox!  The Lamb will be our Shepherd.  The One who was slaughtered in our place will now lead us to living water.  All of our sorrow will be ended for God will wipe away every tear.  He will comfort us and care for us and provide us everything that we need.

Can you imagine?  No more tears and no more sorrow.  Jesus shepherding and leading us to living water.  No hunger or thirst or pain.  Dwelling with God, sheltered in His very presence.  This is the promise of reward that is given to those who endure through persecution and wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb.  This is the reward that is promised to those who stop trying to be satisfied with the stuff of earth and give themselves to the service of Christ.  If you are not a Christian, then I plead with you to turn from your sins and place your faith in Christ so that you can live in the joyous expectation of this reward.  If you are a Christian, then I encourage you to never lose sight of this promise.  Never forget that Godís presence is your future home.

The seventh seal is opened in 8:1.  Look at that with me.  The opening of the seventh seal is followed by a half an hour of silence.  This brings the first cycle, the cycle of the seals, to a close, and leads to the beginning of the second cycle, the blowing of the seven trumpets.  What does the silence signify?  It seems to point to the suspense that will come before the final judgment.  It contrasts the constant bustle and noise of life.  Heaven is holding its breath in light of coming great judgment.  Before we get to that, John will continue to describe the end of the age from his different perspectives, moving to the blowing of the seven trumpets next.

Yet, what can we say at this point about what we have seen in the first cycle?  The opening of the seals teaches us two major themes of the book.  First, it teaches us of the just judgment for the enemies of God.  His enemies will face His wrath and they will not be able to stand.  Yet, second, it teaches us of the glorious blessing for the people of God.  Because they have persevered in the faith, they will be granted the right to stand before Godís throne and to worship Him forever.  Their faith will be sight.  Their prayers will be transformed into praise.  They will be sheltered in His presence.  It is a staggering thought. 

One commentator writes: ďHow can anyone read this passage without a sense of worship and overwhelming awe?  How can any Christian meditate on it without reaffirming his or her commitment to put the Lord first in everything?  Can any earthly achievement begin to compare with this scene?Ē 2  Brothers and sisters, if this is what we are promised for all eternity, if God is going to take away all our suffering and bring us into His presence forever, then what kind of lives should we lead?  Whatever seems to matter so much in this life, one thing will always be true: Christ matters more.  He is the slain Lamb who has purchased our pardon and guaranteed our eternal blessing.  May we spend our lives proclaiming what we will proclaim then: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!  Amen.

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 310.

2 Ibid., p. 333.

~ William Marshall ~

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