Sermon on Revelation7:1-8
Text: After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
6 from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, 7 from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
When people hear “The book of Revelation,” many will think of all of the fantastic visions that are recorded there. They may say that the book is too hard to understand, so they shy away from reading it. You can find many books that have been written to try and explain the visions. Unfortunately, many of them draw false conclusions from the visions. The book is easier to understand, when you think about the occasion and the purpose for the book. The book of Revelation records the various visions that God gave to the apostle John, as he was in exile on the island of Patmos. John was the last surviving apostle. He was elderly. There may have been some fear about what would happen to the church after he was gone. God gave John these visions to reassure John, and the rest of the Christian Church, that, although it may seem, at times, that the Church would completely disappear, the Church will endure until the end of time. Then, it would be welcomed into the glories of heaven. We have such a reassuring vision in our text for this morning. As we study THE CHURCH OF GOD, we see that it will be 1. Protected By God Until The End Of The World and that 2. All Will Be Safely Gathered In.
Just prior to this vision that we are studying this morning, John saw a vision that described conditions as the time of the end drew near. They were some rather frightening visions. Then, God gives him this vision to comfort him. We read in verses 1-3, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” There are four angels that are holding back the four winds. In a moment, we will look at that portion of the picture. First, however, we want to look at how long they are to hold back these winds. They are to do so, “until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
What is meant by a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God? The seal was a mark of ownership. A comparison that might help us understand the concept would be a cattle brand. The cow is branded so that everyone knows whom that cow belongs to. Or, we might think of the movie “Toy Story” where young Andy writes his name on his toys. This seal marks us as one of God’s own.
This is a very comforting thought because there was a time when we were not God’s own. We were separated from God because of our sins. Each one of us has that long list of sins that we have committed against God. There is the spiteful word that we said to someone who wronged us and the desire to get back at them. There are the times when we were lazy. There are times when we have not gladly heard and learned God’s Word. The truth of the matter is even one sin is enough to separate us from God. By nature, we do not belong to God.
However, God wanted us to be with him for all eternity, so he did what was necessary to rescue us from our situation. It meant that the Son of God would come to this earth to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus came to the earth to live a perfect life in our place. To pay the debt of sin that we owed, Jesus went to the cross. Because of his perfect life, his innocent suffering and death and his resurrection, we have been forgiven. The day that we were brought to faith, God put his seal on us, claiming us as his own. He continues to do this until all of the servants of God, those who have been chosen by him, have this indelible seal on their foreheads.
Until that time, the four angels are told to hold back the four winds that would destroy the earth. This is a picture of Judgment Day. God will have his creation exist until the last person that will be sealed is brought to faith. This assured John and the Church of all time, that God’s Church will continue until the end of time. We might also think of all of the times in the world’s history where Satan has tried to snuff out the Church. There were the persecutions during the time of the early church. Martin Luther had to flee for his life as he proclaimed the clear truths of God’s Word. There have been leaders in various countries that have tried to erase the church, such as Stalin. In some places in our world today, there are people who will persecute and kill Christians. However, we have the reassurance that they will never succeed in getting rid of the Church. God holds his protecting hand over the Church and will keep her safe until the end of time.
The next section of the vision talks about those who will be sealed in the terms of numbers. “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” (Verse 4) There has been some confusion about this verse and the ones that follow. Does this refer to 144,000 converted Jews, those who are direct descendants of Abraham? This is not the case for several different reasons. First of all, while there are 12 tribes listed in verses 5-8 with exactly 12,000 from each tribe being sealed, the list does not agree with any listing of the 12 tribes found in the Old Testament for the literal, historical 12 tribes of the children of Israel. In the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi is not counted among the 12 tribes when the land was divided. That tribe is listed in verse 7. On the other hand, the tribe of Dan is omitted in this listing. We also see that the tribe of Ephraim is omitted. Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph. The tribe of Joseph is listed as a substitute for Ephraim, which was one of the most important tribes in the Old Testament.
So, if the ones sealed in verses 4-8 are not those of Jewish descent, then, who are they? We find the answer earlier in the book of Revelation, where Jesus, in speaking of the congregation in Smyrna, speaks of those “who say they are Jews and are not.” (Revelation 2:9) They were of the Jewish nationality, but they were not Jews, spiritually. We get a clearer picture in Romans 11:25&26, “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” We see that the tribes of Israel that are mentioned are a picture of the believers, regardless of nationality, that have been sealed as God’s own.
Another question that arises is the number 144,000. Does this mean that only 144,000 will be in heaven? There are some church bodies that teach this. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be if there were only 144,000 people in heaven? You would always have to wonder if you were part of that 144,000. What if you weren’t one of that number? What would happen to you then? What do you have to do to make it into that elite group? You would always be at unrest or you might get to the point where you throw your hands into the air and say, “Since I’m probably not part of that 144,000, what difference does it make how I live my life?”
However, from the verse that follows our text, we see very clearly that there will be more than 144,000 souls in heaven. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) In this verse, we see clearly that there will be more than 144,000 people. John describes the believers in heaven that have gathered around the throne of God as being so many that he couldn’t count them all and they were from every nationality on the earth.
What does the number 144,000 signify in verse 4 of our text, then? Remember that the book of Revelation is filled with picturesque language. As you read through the book, you see, first of all, that the number “12” or multipliers thereof, are associated with the Church, with God’s people. We see this in the fact that there were those 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus had 12 disciples. When you read the book of Revelation and see 12 or a multiplier of it, you are directed to think of God’s people, the Church. In addition, when you see the number “10” or multiples of it, you think of completeness. We see this elsewhere in the Bible. For example, there were 10 plagues that God sent to set his people free from the hands of the Egyptians. God gave 10 commandments. We often associate the number 10 with completeness, as well. We have ten fingers on our hands. So, when you see 10, you think of completeness. Add to this the fact that the number 10 is cubed. In the English language, we would think of a superlative, such as fast, faster, fastest. By using the number 144,000 in this section of his Word, God is assuring us that the entire Church will be brought into heaven. There won’t be any left out. There won’t be any forgotten. Every single believer will stand in the presence of God and enjoy all that has been prepared for them, one day. This means that you can rest assured that God knows you individually and will make sure that you are in heaven with him.
This vision is so reassuring to us. I think that we can, at times, feel as John may have felt when he was in exile on the island of Patmos. The Christian church is constantly under attack in our world. There are those who do all they can to undermine and persecute Christianity. There are many false teachers, proclaiming lies in Jesus’ name, and many are following them. Sometimes, we may wonder if the Christian church will survive, at all. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, be assured of this: Our God is still in control. He will protect his Church until the end of the world. As Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Also, we have the assurance that God will bring into his Church all of the elect. May God continue to fill us with this confidence every single day until we see it fulfilled with our own eyes in heaven. Amen.
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