AN INTERLUDE

Chapter 7 of the book of Revelation is some kind of an interlude which John sometimes employs elsewhere. there’s going to be an interlude before the series of 7 trumpets. Some say this interlude is to answer the question of what are the Christians doing during all this apocalyptic eschatological judgement on unbelievers. What are the believers doing? Where are they? That’s a very important question, and this book talks about God’s people having persecution from unbelievers, and it also talks about a time when God’s going to pour out His judgement on unbelievers. And what about the birth pains of the new age that Mark 13:8 talks about? Does it include the Christians suffering, or does it include unbelievers suffering, or both? And we are not just 100% sure what the word tribulation or persecution encompasses whenever it appears in the New Testament. “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth,…” – There has been many theories about what these 4 winds are. the rabbis say the 4 winds from the 4 quarters of the earth are evil. Some say it refers to the trouble mentioned in Jeremiah 49:36, or Daniel 7:2 where the winds are evil. Some say it’s the idea of being connected with the trumpets and the bowls. As for God’s judgement, i really think, if you go back to Zechariah 6:5, John is pulling the background with the 4 horses. So these 4 winds should be the angels of the plagues of God. “… so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.” – what is the idea of the tree here? Well, some say it’s symbolic for life, and the effect of the strong winds on it. We’re not really sure what it’s for. It’s very unusual, i should admit, but it’s here.

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” – What’s the idea? Why has God been holding judgement on the unbelievers? Because He wants to mark His own. If you are undergoing terrible persecution and being killed for your faith, it would really encourage you that God has a mark on your forehead. God knows who you are. God knows where you are. God knows what you are going through. All things are in His hand. He is in control. But what is the seal here? There’s a ‘seal’, or a ‘mark’ back in Ezekiel 9:4, and i think it’s the Old Testament allusion to the ‘seal’. We see it again in Revelation 14:1 where a group of God’s people are mentioned as being sealed or being marked on their foreheads. Seals shows ownership. Seals show it’s genuine, it’s real. Seals also show protection, and it’s permanent (God does not back out on His choice). As a side note, satan tries to mimic God’s sealing by sealing his children with the mark of the beast (cf. Rev. 13:16,17; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).
Notice as it says, the number of those who are sealed is 144,000. There’s been a terrible fight here over who are these. Well, because it’s mentioned that they’re the children of Israel, and a list of the 12 tribes follows. Why would anybody be in doubt? But the problem is, the list is highly unusual with Judah being listed first; Joseph being listed instead of Ephraim; Dan completely omitted; and we have Levi include who’s usually left out. Now, i think John knew his Old Testament well enough to know that he listed it funny, and i think it was his way of saying it’s not literal Israel. I also think the number is symbolic at 12000 from each tribe. It’s also unusual, why only 12000 from each tribe? The tribes are almost unknown by John’s day. I think the context shows us it’s symbolic. But who are these people? Well, it depends on people’s presuppositions. Some say this is converted Israel (cf. Rom. 11:26). Dispensationalists say it’s the Jewish preachers when the church has been raptured out and these Jewish believers are going to be evangelists. Others say it’s the church as using Old Testament titles. I personally think that’s what it is, because I see the New Testament as putting titles of the people of God (Israel) in the Old Testament on the church. I see it in Revelation 1:6 where the church is called a kingdom of priest, that goes back to Exodus 19:6. James 1:1 and 1 Peter 1:1 likewise put the term 12 tribes of the diaspora as a designation to the church. There are many Biblical references where the church seems to be called spiritual Israel and my Dispensational tradition would radically disagree with me on that. “…I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne…” – we are still in the throne room of chapter 4 and 5. Now who is this 2nd group, and how are they related to the first? This has been a big question. Is that the same group of people? I think it’s the same people of God, because John makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles anywhere in his writings. This great multitude is from every nations and tribes, which shows how the Gospel has advanced across national barriers. And as they were standing before the throne, they were clothed with white robes, and with palm branches on their hands. The Greek noun stolas for robes signify long royal robes, that they are white suggests the idea of justification. The redeemed stand before God in righteousness which Christ imputes upon them. White is also the color of victory, while palm branches are often emblems of triumph. However, it must be noted that it was not their death or martyrdom but Christ’s that won them their triumph. It is in His substitutionary death that we are made whole, and that’s the truth of the Gospel.

Notice as it says in verse 15, “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.” – this has the idea that God is going to dwell with them permanently, or “He will make His Shekinah to dwell with them”; Shekinah meaning the glorious presence of God. Even in the midst of these tribulations and pressures, and some are dying, God on His throne knows them, and is protecting them. That’s the thrust here. Whoever those 144,000, or whoever those innumerable host of every tribe , the major thrust here is the sovereignty of God over history, and not the details of the Second Coming. We have truth here, but it’s in symbolic language, so i don’t think we can be real dogmatic about the purpose of the book. It doesn’t matter who’s got the right interpretation about its purpose. The over-all thrust is that which is happening before the throne of God. God is in control. God’s going to work it out. Justice is going to come. Justice for unbelievers, and justice for believers.”They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd,…” – this is the idea of God setting things straight dwelling with His people. Notice the Lamb is at the center and He will be their Shepherd; a striking word to use of a Lamb. “…and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.” goes back to isaiah 25:8, and is quoted again in Revelation 21:4. What a comfort this must have been to the persecuted believers of John’s day and every age!

God’s mechanism for redeeming mankind is through a Lamb that was slain. And the only One who can open the book of the world history or the destiny of man is this Lamb. And as He opens the book, all these plagues begin to fall on humanity. In the midst of these plagues, we see that God is in control. God does know His people. He’s got them marked and sealed, and protected as He exacts His judgement on the earth. That’s the word. That’s the message. That’s the great truth. Not the details of this apocalyptic language because we all disagree on the details. The overall theme is – surely our God reigns!