The question which is frequently raised in our day is, how shall the church ever survive in the midst of the corruption and devilish assaults which seem to grow in frequency and intensity. So urgent the question becomes, that we are inclined to frame it within the context of survival and almost overlook the fact that the church must do much more than survive; she must be busy in her calling! We ask, how is it possible that in our day of moral decay, great apostasy in the nominal Christian church, persecution of the faithful Christian, social upheaval, wars, natural disturbances, and an increase of God's judgments upon men, that the church of Jesus Christ continues to preach the true Word of God, enjoy the Sacraments as Christ instituted them, and be protected by the discipline which Christ instructed His church to exercise? Why are not the people of God deceived by false doctrine and led away to pursue a life of sensuous pleasure?
The answer we find in the portion of Scripture we would like to consider in this chapter. The people of God are sealed by God Himself and that makes all the difference.
We read of this in Rev. 7:1-8, "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, hurt not the earth neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." Then we have listed the following twelve tribes each having sealed 12,000: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Aser Nephthalim, Manasses, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon Joseph, and Benjamin.
This chapter seven of Revelation forms an interlude between chapters six and eight. In the preceding chapters, John's attention has been drawn to the vision of the seals. Christ was revealed to John as the One Who was able and willing to take the sealed scroll from the Sovereign God Who sat upon the throne, and to open it and reveal and realize its contents. This brought forth the four Horsemen who in their totality constitute the first four seals. The fifth seal revealed that under the altar were the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God. With a loud voice they cried saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell in the earth?" They are victoriously delivered from the troubles that mark this present time, they are clothed in white robes of victory. The sixth seal unfolded a terrible array of destruction in nature. Listen, "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together... For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" Rev. 6:12-17. The six seals taken in their totality reveal that as long as earth continues the purpose of God shall be victorious. The white horse shall ride on and with it shall come wars, bloodshed, troubles in society, and persecution of the saints. In the midst of this world, God continues to speak to the wicked that the great day of His wrath is come when He will call all mankind to account. These same signs assure the church that the end draweth nigh when they shall be delivered. This testimony will be most terrible just prior to the return of Christ when all the forces of nature shall be shaken with judgment.
In the vision recorded In Rev. 7, it is about the time for the opening of the seventh seal. This seventh seal in turn comprises seven trumpets. These are mentioned in Rev. 8:7 through 9:21 (the seventh trumpet becoming in turn seven vials). These seven trumpets are a further revelation of God's terrible judgments upon the world.
In order to understand the sealing of the 144,000 we have to be acquainted somewhat with these trumpets. The first trumpet (Rev. 8:7) presents a terrible hail storm with flaming fire which destroys a third part of the vegetation. The second (Rev. 8:8) presents destruction of life in and on the sea brought about by a flaming mountain. The third trumpet brings destruction in the rivers and inland waters (Rev. 8:10 11). The fourth trumpet is sounded and a third part of the sun, moon, and stars are made dark which in turn affects man's life (Rev. 8:12). The angel shouts in heaven. "Woe woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound" Rev. 8:13. The fifth trumpet brings forth terrible demons and evil spirits that corrupt the minds of men (locusts out of the bottomless pit, Rev. 9:141). The sixth trumpet brings upon mankind great pestilences, terrible wars, famines, etc. which really constitute an increase of the destruction wrought by the horsemen. One third part is destroyed by the trumpets which shows an increase over the one fourth of the seals. With the blowing of the trumpets things are brought closer to the end and the hand of God is working in a greater measure of judgment upon the unrepentant wicked as they hover on the brink of hell.
In the midst of the vision of seals and trumpets, God reveals to John quite a different scene. We can just imagine how terrible this vision must have been. It is frightening to read, but try to imagine one that actually saw all this dramatized in a revelatory dream before his very eyes! John heard the kings of the earth, the great men, and the rich men, and chief captains, and the mighty men and every bondman, and every free man scream from their hiding places, "Mountains and rocks, fall on us! Hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!"
The four angels which John saw in the beginning of chapter seven were the harbingers of those who would blow the seven trumpets. The wind that was about to sweep over the earth that was restrained by the four angels (indicating that the whole earth is involved, north, south, east, and west), must not be separated from the following seven trumpets; rather the wind will occasion the trumpets to blow. As soon as the four angels will release the wind, the seven angels with trumpets in their hands will blow and the results will follow.
John must have been excited to hear the angel who ascended from the east (the sun rising), shout, "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." At this point in the vision, attention is drawn to the church of Jesus Christ that is on earth. What will happen to them? The opening of the six seals have brought forth terrible judgments of God upon the earth and these will increase as the end comes. The trumpets are about to be blown revealing a still greater judgment and horrible specter of depravity and death. God knows that the interest of John (who is a servant of God who has to write these things down in order that he may tell it unto the churches) is centered in the welfare of the church. These words are for us.
The church is sealed by God. This guarantees their safety in the midst of the world that is being plagued and shaken by the righteous God.
We must ask, what does this mean that certain ones are sealed, and that too on their forehead? Scripture repeatedly speaks of the children of God as being sealed. Some examples: "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise," Eph. 1:13. "Now he which stablished us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God: Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts," II Cor. 1:21,22. "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption," Eph. 4:30. From these texts we conclude the following: First; that the living God seals them. The angel is His messenger to fulfill His will. He is the source of salvation and apart from Him there is only death and destruction. Secondly; this seal is a proof of ownership. When God through the Holy Spirit seals a person, He designates that that person belongs to Him. This means that the seal that is placed upon the child of God has its source in the sovereignly free counsel of divine election. Eternally, God sealed unto Himself His people, through the decree of election. Still more, these elect are sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Their mark is really the blood of the atonement. This was typically manifest in the Old Testament when Israel stroked the blood-mark upon the doorpost, (Ex. 12:21-23) God sealed His own with blood. This is also signified in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism in the New Testament church. The mark of the sealing is essentially the verification of being purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the seal distinguishes a person, it separates the one sealed from those who are not sealed. For this reason the mark is placed upon the forehead. This represents the fact that the sealing of the child of God by the Holy Spirit is not only internal, it also becomes manifest in the world. Surely, according to the passages quoted, the Holy Spirit is the One Who seals the people of God within their hearts by the preaching of the gospel. He gives a new heart of flesh which replaces an old heart of stone. He gives us revelation so that we know God. He fills us with divine love so that we respond to God. By the working of the Holy Spirit we are sealed in an unbreakable and unchangeable eternal covenant of friendship with God. This sealing becomes manifest in our life. In the vision, the seal is on the forehead thereby representing the visibility of the seal. You can tell who is sealed! You can see who are the children of God by their walk of faith in the midst of an evil generation.
Finally, It is a seal of safety. This follows from what we have just said. Notice, the fact that the 144,000 are sealed does not mean that they will not suffer the plagues, the judgments common to all mankind. The church in the last days will not escape the judgments of God like Israel did in Egypt. Scripture is replete with warning concerning the Great Tribulation which the church will suffer: Matt. 24:19-24, II Thess. 2:2, II Peter 3:18, Rev. 3:11, 12. The sealing by the Holy Spirit indicates that the salvation of the church is God's work which He performs by the Holy Spirit and no power or evil force shall ever destroy that work of God. He Is faithful and whatever He begins He finishes for the glory of His name.
Besides this, the church must understand that when God will send great judgments and terrible plagues as we have them described in the sixth seal and the ensuing seven trumpets, even though the outward manifestation of these shall fall upon all men everywhere (they shall cover the whole earth for the four angels will release the four winds of heaven), yet these terrible things will not be given to the people of God as judgments. As surely as God sends sunshine and rain to all men everywhere, yet from a twofold motive (as favor for His people and as tokens of wrath upon the wicked... that their measure of iniquity may be filled), so also God sends his plagues upon all men for this same twofold purpose (as judgments and wrath upon the wicked... tokens of the fiery cinders that shall enflame them in death and hell, but as tokens of favor for His people... assuring them that even in the tribulation He works all things for their spiritual well-being, cf. James 1:2-5, and draws them into the redeeming arms of love in Jesus Christ).
We must now ask, just who is sealed?
John did not actually see the throng of people who had this seal on their forehead; he "heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel," Rev. 7:4.
According to the Dispensationalists who divide the Bible into various epochs or periods, the Israel of the Old Testament is obviously intended. They refer this event to the saving of the nation of Israel.
Many serious objections must be raised against this view. First the literal twelve tribes are not intended because the list excludes two tribes, viz. Ephraim and Dan. Besides Joseph is mentioned as a tribe, which he never had except through has two sons Ephraim and Manasses. Judah is mentioned first rather than Reuben who was the oldest and therefore is mentioned first in other lists, e.g. Numbers 1. No one is willing to make the 12,000 a literal figure as if each tribe had exactly the same number of people saved, a fact which would be contradicted by history. The emphasis here is rather upon the spiritual house of Israel. The Israel of the Old Testament is here representative of the people of God of all ages as they are redeemed in Jesus Christ. Judah is mentioned first because it was out of Judah that Christ was to be born, cf. Gen. 49:10, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." Secondly, throughout the New Testament, "Israel" is referred to as the church of all ages. Consider Matt. 2:6 where Christ is presented as a "Governor, that shall rule my people Israel," a reference to the entire church of all ages.
Similarly Rom. 11:26, "So all Israel shall be saved" is a reference to the entire church, the children of lsrael according to election and the church of our day, Jew and Gentile. These same children are identified as the children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6), an obvious reference not to the natural seed of Abraham, but the spiritual seed. Here they are properly called, "servants of our God," Rev. 7:3. Thirdly, if those sealed referred entirely to the Jews of the nation of Israel, there would be little significance in proclaiming this to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:1-8). These churches included Jews and Gentiles who had been drawn together by the power of the gospel. To them comes this vision, the tidings of good news. Consequently, to each of us who are called by the gospel unto a living faith in Jesus Christ comes the good news: we are sealed by the living God and all the tribulations that must come to pass in order to bring our Lord Jesus Christ upon the clouds of heaven, shall not separate us from the love of our God, Rom. 8:33.39. Finally, this same truth is borne out in the significance of the numbers themselves.
Numbers have revelatory significance in Scripture. The total of 144,000 is the product of 3 x 3 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10. Three is the number of God triune. Four is the number of man as he reaches out into the vast span of the earth (four directions, four corners). Three times four speak of the power of the three over the four, or God's power over man, hence 12. Consider God's power over the life of Israel as represented by the 12: Twelve sons of Jacob formed the twelve tribes, twelve stones in the Jordan after the miraculous crossing, Elijah took twelve stones for the altar on which the fire of God descended, there were twelve gates to the temple, etc.
The number ten in Scripture conveys the idea of completion, the full and perfect extension. Thus the ten plagues on Egypt formed the complete expression of God's wrath upon them; the ten virgins in the parable of Christ represented complete humanity of which five were wise and five were foolish. The extension of 10 x 10 x 10 indicates the sum total of all the twelves from generation to generation as they are brought into the church throughout the history of the world. If we put this together, we can understand that in the Old Testament the 3 x 4 was represented in the 12 tribes of Israel. In the New Testament the 3 x 4 was represented in the 12 disciples of Christ. By multiplying them together we have the product of the two as God unites them in Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile are saved by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). This product multiplied by 10 then indicates to us that God will gather His church from all the generations of the earth, as long as the earth continues, He will gather unto Himself all His people, the complete number of every generation until all things shall be realized in the return of Jesus Christ.
This then is the gospel of great comfort to the people of God, whether Jew or Gentile: we are sealed by God Himself on the basis of the blood of Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. We have the certification that though God subjects the wicked to terrible judgments, His mercy is always upon us as He draws us nearer and nearer unto Himself. In His hands we shall rest safe and content.
Those that are sealed shall surely be saved. Already in the later part of this chapter we are directed to lift up our eyes beyond the church that militantly struggles in this world and see her as she is redeemed in the blood of the Lamb, "After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Iamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb," Rev. 7:9, 10. These are further described in Rev. 14:1ff., "And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand having his Father's name written in their foreheads... and they sung as it were a new song before the throne."
The kingdom of heaven is reserved for all those who are sealed. Are you one? Now you understand how to answer that question don't you? You recognize that all the 144,000 confess that they are not living for a great kingdom of peace on this earth, their eye of faith is directed to the new heavens and new earth. They do not live for themselves and seek the praise of men, they recognize that they are dead in sin and unworthy of the least of God's blessings. Their great joy is being sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ and thus made worthy through Him. Finally, those who are sealed have but one purpose in this life and in that which is to come. They desire to praise God, everlastingly to shout forth the greatness of our God who hath saved us in the blood of the Lamb. If this is your confession, do not doubt, but that you are sealed unto that great day.