A short interlude

As we turn to chapter seven, it is almost as if John is given a short rest from the vision of judgements on the earth so that he (and we) can take stock of what has happened so far and prepare for what is still to come. Some very important things are happening even as judgement begins. God has not handed the earth over to our Enemy and His work of salvation continues. God's everlasting love for His creation offers humanity a final opportunity to accept His gift of eternal life. (2 Peter 3:9-10) John sees four angels, stationed at the four corners of the earth and holding back the winds. These winds seem to represent the judgements that are still to come being held back until a group of God's servants are "sealed". Winds were often used in the Old Testament to represent God's judgement. (Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15)

John is now given a vision of two groups of people: a specific number, chosen from amongst God's chosen people (Israel) and "a great multitude that no-one could count" taken from every other nation, tribe, people and language on the earth. This answers the question raised at the very end of chapter six: "For the great day of their wrath has come and who can withstand it?" (Revelation 6:17) Even as the "tribulation" continues, God is going to deliver these two groups of people.

The Jewish evangelists

John does not specifically say that the one hundred and forty-four thousand (144,000) who receive a personal "seal" on their foreheads are evangelists, but they are described as "servants of God", coming "from all the tribes of Israel". Some people have argued that the numbers used are symbolic, but it seems to me that the selection of a particular number indicates a particular choice and implies that they are chosen for a particular task. To my mind, this is to be evangelists. I believe that God is going to commission this huge number of Jewish people to be witnesses to Him to the rest of the world. This had been Jesus' original commission to His disciples in the early days of the church: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Since that church - His bride - has now been "raptured" and taken to be with Him in heaven, it seems very appropriate that the task of evangelism now be given to another group of Jewish believers.

The Jewish evangelists are marked with God’s "seal" on their foreheads, giving them divine protection while they undertake their task. In John's day, the owner of a slave would have marked the servant in some way as a sign of ownership. (For slaves, this was normally a hole drilled into the earlobe, but for soldiers or religious devotees, some form of seal on the forehead was also used.) The "sealing" of people indicated that they were under the protection of someone important - their master or owner. In the same way, when we become Christians, we are marked with the "seal" of the Holy Spirit. "In Him you also who have heard the word of truth - the glad tidings (gospel) of your salvation - and have believed in and adhered to and relied on Him, were stamped with the seal of the long-promised Holy Spirit." (Ephesians 1:11-13) Every believer is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit; it enables him or her to have the wisdom and strength to cope with life in a troubled world!

The group of 144,000 Jewish descendants is drawn from every tribe of Israel, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes. There are many lists of Jacob's sons in the Old Testament, but not one of them is the same as the list of the twelve tribes in this chapter! It is generally believed that two tribes (Dan and Ephraim) lost their places due to their previous love of idolatry and they are replaced here with Joseph and Levi. However, it is clear that all those chosen are of Jewish descent and the claim (by some contemporary groups, such as "Jehovah’s Witnesses") that their followers will be part of this select group has no biblical foundation or warrant and is totally false. They are sincerely misled in their zeal to attain their own righteousness. Righteousness comes only from God the Father, through none other than Jesus Christ, His Son, who died in our place. The 144,000 people are certainly chosen by God, but only from the "Children of Israel" as we see here.

The work of evangelism and salvation

The work of the evangelists will continue through the time of the "tribulation". During the first half of that period, the antichrist will use diplomacy in an attempt to persuade people to follow him as a man of peace. From then onwards, he will lose patience and his real character will be displayed as the winds of God's judgement are released. It is so important that we do not allow people to mislead us with misguided ideas and beliefs, based on purely human attempts to understand God or the workings of the spiritual realm. The one and only way to God is through Jesus Christ. (John 14:6)

God reaches out to individuals in His own way, through the Holy Spirit. This is why "salvation" is all about a personal relationship with God. It cannot depend on some human agency - be it a church or other religious group, or a ritual, procedure or practice that is followed to the letter. Usually, a person will "hear" the word of God from the lips of others and will respond to the invitation of eternal life from their hearts, as they respond to hearing the amazing word of truth. (Romans 10:13-18 - Amplified version)

These 144,000 men and women will first of all speak to their own people, just as Paul did when he first preached the good news outside of Israel. He went firstly to the local synagogue (if there was one) but, if he was rejected there, he turned to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) instead. However. at this time, Jewish people will be receptive to their brothers and sisters and all Israel shall be saved! "A hardening [insensibility] has [temporarily] befallen a part of Israel [to last] until the full number of the ingathering of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved. They [the Jews, at present] are enemies [of God], which is for your advantage and benefit. But, from the point of view of God's choice [of election, of divine selection], they are still the beloved [dear to Him] for the sake of their forefathers.” (Romans 11:25-31 - Amplified version)

The "seal" of God will rest on them and they will be safe and secure, but a constant thorn in the side of the antichrist. They will be living proof to the Enemy that his power is severely limited. It will not only be Jewish people who listen and believe; there will also be a final "remnant" of non-Jewish people (Gentiles) as well. The door will remain open, right up to the time when Jesus returns in judgement. (Zechariah 8:20-23 - Amplified version) God is sovereign, even in the earth’s most dreadful time. Pentecost was amazing but this revival will be much bigger as the Jewish evangelists go from nation to nation.

The work of the Holy Spirit will be even greater than the repression and suffering inflicted by Satan's activities. During this revival, the vast multitude saved will be so many that only God knows the final number. Many will be martyred for their faith, but they will enter heaven to join those standing before the throne and the "Lamb of God" and crying out: “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10)

The great multitude in white robes

Revelation 7:9-11

John now sees a great multitude before the throne of God. They will have joined those who were caught up to be with the Lord at the beginning of the "tribulation". This great multitude will be, for the most part, Jewish believers. They will have come from all those places to which the Jewish nation had been dispersed over the years – every nation, tribe, people and language! Now they know that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. They will all be praising God for His amazing grace. John describes them as "wearing white robes" (symbolising their righteousness and purity) and "holding palm branches in their hands" to indicate their victory and their joy. Many will have left the earth through the most horrible deaths that Satan could design for them, but that is now over and they are overflowing with praise for His grace and blessing. The use of palm branches reminds us of the "Feast of Tabernacles" when the Jewish people celebrated God's provision for them. (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)

This picture should certainly encourage us to take seriously the commission that we have to be evangelists in these last days before Jesus returns and God's judgement begins. How will our neighbours, our nation and our world hear of what is to come unless we each do our part? Here in the western nations, people from "every nation, tribe, people and language" are flocking to our towns and cities from all over the world. We no longer have to travel abroad to share the good news with people... God is bringing them to us! Let's not miss this opportunity to reach out to hurting and lost communities. For the most part, these people have come to our country so that they can better themselves. Would it not be amazing if, whilst doing that, they were also to discover the one true God, through hearing about Him from us?

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:13-15)

This passage was written about the Jewish people, but it applies equally well to all people. How will they hear unless we tell them? Imagine if wholesale revival were to begin in our country as those coming here respond to the good news about Jesus. Then imagine that many return to their own countries, telling their families of the miracles they have seen and the personal relationship with Jesus that they have discovered. It could be just like a repeat of the Holy Spirit starting the church at Pentecost! (Acts 2:3-4)

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the "wise and foolish virgins". (Matthew 25:1-13) This parable can be taken as referring to two types of believers: those who are ready for the return of the Lord Jesus and those who have heard the word of God and have started out along the way, but have become lazy and preoccupied with other concerns. They can be described as "backsliders". They have not responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be ready for the return of Jesus. When the trumpet call of God sounds and believers throughout the world are taken to be with Him, some of those who are left will know exactly what has happened. They may still have the opportunity of turning to Jesus once God's judgements begin, but it is likely to be a painful and difficult time. We need to ask ourselves now: “Am I a wise or a foolish virgin?" and respond accordingly.

Worship in heaven

As the great multitude gathers around the throne, the angels can only fall down on their faces in wonder at the amazing faithfulness and loving kindness of our God. Hear them as they say: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" (Revelation 7:11-12) Next time our mind is telling us fearful lies, let's just repeat this verse for ourselves. Our faith will rise rapidly!

The atmosphere is so wonderful that the combined praise of these new family members in heaven causes all the assembled beings to fall on their faces and worship God. What a challenge for us: to ensure that our words and actions cause others to worship Him and not us! All glory belongs to Him alone. As all in heaven witness these new saints, they can’t help but praise God because they know that the fire and fury of the "tribulation" has raised such a multitude of martyrs.

We may be reduced to tears in the midst of trials and troubles right now but, on the other side of death, we shall worship God for it. "Consider it wholly joyful, my brothers and sisters, whenever you [are enveloped in or] encounter trials of any sort." (James 1:2) Let us learn today to rejoice in all circumstances and to remember who we are in Christ and how much we have to be thankful for!

The reward for faithfulness

Revelation 7:13-17

One of the elders drew John's attention to those dressed in white, to emphasise that God will reward those who are faithful to Him. He wants us to be encouraged in whatever we go through, that we shall come out victorious, both here and in heaven. These victors are rewarded by being in the innermost court of the Father where they serve Him continually. They stand before the throne of God, looking into the face of God. What a reward for all the horror they have endured! These men and women may have missed the return of Jesus for His people - His church - but, through His great and amazing mercy, they have not missed out on eternal life with Jesus. The conditions are exactly the same: those who come into the kingdom of God at this time will do so by confessing their sins, turning away from them and then asking Jesus to be their Saviour and Lord. Instantly, they will be changed and, as John reports so vividly for us: "These are those who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and scrubbed them clean in the blood of the Lamb. That's why they're standing before God's throne. They serve Him day and night in His temple. The one on the throne will pitch His tent there for them: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. The Lamb on the throne will shepherd them, will lead them to spring waters of life. And God will wipe every last tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:14-17 - The Message version)

This will surely be a day of great rejoicing. Those who should be home with the Lord have come home. The prodigals have returned. The living God spreads His tent of protection over them and, after all the fear and insecurity of their time on earth, they are guaranteed eternal security. They have abundant provision in Him. They will never again suffer from the effects of the judgements meted out by the four horsemen of the apocalypse or of the other judgements (which we shall see later). Any pain or sadness they felt through foolishness will have been left behind and God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes. His family is home! Their reward is to be close to the Lamb. He will be their shepherd, dedicated to their welfare, happiness and undying joy. How could this be a time of recrimination or sadness? On the contrary it will soon be a time of celebration and joy at the marriage feast of the Lamb!

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