Sealed – Revelation 7:1-17 01/10/21

Sealed – Revelation 7:1-17 01/10/21


One aspect of the Revelation that makes it so difficult to interpret is that the vision does not unfold sequentially. It moves back and forth in time, looking at various details from different perspectives. There are periods of time simply skipped over, sometimes to be visited later, and sometimes simply not addressed at all. That is exactly what’s happening in our text today.


Our passage today, chapter 7:1–17, is sometimes referred to as an “interlude” because it appears to interrupt the opening of the seven seals[1] that we examined last week. At the end of chapter 6 only six of the seven seals had been opened. Chapter 7 doesn’t address this, and instead deals with “sealing” followers of Jesus. Now, if the first four seals of chapter 6 are actually a record of the Church Age, the nature of the “seal” gets to be very interesting.


Revelation 7:1 opens with “after this” (Μετὰ τοῦτο). This doesn’t mean after the events of Revelation 6 the events Revelation 7:1–8 chronologically follow.[2] It means that the vision in Revelation 7 came to John after the vision from chapter 6.[3] So we’re introduced to four angels, apparently very powerful ones, and yet it’s not yet clear when the four angels come into the sequential flow of history.


We have a lot of symbolic language being applied. The angels are holding back the winds, although it’s not likely that this literally means there was no wind anywhere on the planet. It is far more likely that “the four winds” the angels are holding are a reference to be the four horsemen of 6:1–8.[4] Remember, last week we saw that the first four seals addressed the time preceding the end, the Church age.


The angels restrain the winds until something happens in Revelation 7:2-3. The “servants of God, “more literally “slaves of God,” are sealed. As with so much of Revelation, John draws from Old Testament references, the events of this passage echo the words of Ezekiel 7:1-3. So we can presume that this “sealing” is a good thing. But… what is the “seal of the living God?” The word is (σφραγῖδα)[5] and in the ancient world the “seal” was a mark of some kind that served as a legal protection and guarantee, particularly in relation to property.[6] Therefore, the “seal” also served to confirm ownership.[7] In fact, the practice of marking a slave on the forehead to indicate who owned them was a common practice in first century Greek culture.[8] The sealing taking place here marks off Jesus’ followers as being God’s possession.[9]


Now, chronologically it appears to be immediately prior to the opening of the first four seals. And as we saw, these were probably just the birth pangs Jesus referred to in Matthew 24:5-8. We haven’t gotten to the Great Tribulation itself, we’re still in the present, in the Church Age.


There are plenty of hints regarding the nature of the “seal.” It could serve to protect Jesus’ followers from physical harm,[10] but that has not been God’s way in the past. In fact, the reality of martyrs referenced in Revelation 6:9 argues against this. The seal could be protection from demonic attack,[11] which would be consistent with the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of each believer. It also seems to provide exemption from the coming judgments of God revealed in Revelation 9:3-4.


Given that, I have to wonder if this seal might not be the same seal of the Holy Spirit described in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22. We, each of us, are sealed by the Spirit of God, and He accomplishes exactly the kinds of things we’ve been examining. The “seal,” the Holy Spirit, is the mark of true membership as children born again into God’s family, without which entry into the eternal “city of God” is impossible.[12] It is possible that I’m mistaken, but if I am, it doesn’t change anything about the meaning of the passage.


It is clear that the “sealed” are people of God,[13] but which people? The text identifies them as being from all the tribes of the children of Israel. But, in the midst of all this symbolic language, is this literal… or symbolic? The likelihood of symbolic language is high. Paul repeatedly refers to Christians as being “Abraham’s seed.”[14] In the context of the Revelation, John has already made the distinction between true and false Jews back in chapters two and three.[15] So who are these people?


They must be Christians, those who are sealed by the Holy Spirit.[16] It’s reasonable, then, to see this as another way of speaking about the Church.[17] Remember, verse 3 says that the angels will seal “the servants (slaves) of God.”[18] This means that those who receive the seal must already be servants of God and, therefore by default, believers.[19] Although it is possible that the reference is to Messianic Jews, it’s likely that this 144,000 people symbolically points to the entire community of the redeemed described in Revelation 7:9-10.


With that, we can then consider the numbers. Many rightly note that nearly all use of numbers in the book of Revelation have figurative significance.[20] They therefore conclude that this number, too, is symbolic. The number 144,000 is (12 X 12 X 1,000), and probably, symbolically, gives a picture of the Church universal.[21] The use of twelve in the context of Israel heightens the symbolic sense of completeness.[22] Obviously, the 12 tribes of Israel, the number of the sons of Jacob, and hence the number of tribes of Israel.[23] This would convey a sense of completeness. Twelve times twelve would then be really, really complete.


The number 12 and the number 1,000 were commonly significant numbers in Jewish culture.[24] One thousand was the standard designation for the largest grouping of Israelite soldiers.[25] As the army of God, we then have the complete universal Church in mind. (There is always the opportunity to go off the tracks when analyzing symbolic language, and if I have done so, please forgive me.) And so, the 144,000 sealed individuals are a reference to true people of God.[26]


So, we have the saints sealed by the Spirit described in Revelation 7:1-8 during the Church Age described in Revelation 6:1-4. And then we find the vision skipping forward in time as God’s people stand before the heavenly Temple/Throne Hall[27] in Revelation 7:9-15. We can know that this is prior to the New Earth because we have reference to the Temple in Revelation 7:15 and we know there will be no Temple in the New Earth, according to Revelation 21:22.


It’s likely that these people gathered before God are the same ones referred to in verse 4, the 144,000.[28] Since this cannot be on the New Earth, and it is clearly not taking place during the Great Tribulation, it must be taking place following the Great Tribulation.[29] The individuals present are identified as those who have “come out” of the Great Tribulation.[30] The words are literally “the ones coming out” (οἱ ἐρχόμενοι ἐκ).[31] The verb “come” is in the present tense, which is interesting. It conveys the idea of continuing to come out.[32] The voice of the verb us either middle or passive. The middle voice tells us that subject of the verb, “the ones” are reflexively being affected by their own action, that of coming out.[33]


Alternatively this could be in the passive voice indicating that they are being brought out.[34] It seems to me most likely that this is the intent, these people are brought out by the Spirit, they were in the Great Tribulation and were brought, or interestingly in the present tense, “are being brought out of it,” indicating that they were in it and are now not. Note that being brought out does not necessarily mean they survived it, remember the souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6:9?


But the present tense is tantalizing. There are a variety of ways that the present tense may be used aside from simply pointing to an activity taking place “right now.” This could be used in the tendential present which describes something that is proposed to happen, but has not yet actually taken place.[35] Alternatively, this could be a futuristic present which describes what will take place in the future as though it were occurring in the present,[36] which is probably what John has done here.


Now, at this point we should note that there are multiple tribulations that we need to keep in mind. First, there is tribulation that is simply part and parcel of life.[37] Then, there is the period of intense tribulation that will come upon the final generation of Christians[38] that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:21-22. And then, finally, there is the time when God’s wrath comes upon the earth, which will especially be revealed through the coming trumpets and bowls that we’ll be looking at in the near future.[39]


I suppose the meaning comes down to whether the expression “the great tribulation” is a technical term for a specific period in time, or if it may be used more generally. The presence of the definite article “the” (τῆς) suggests this is a reference to a specific period of time,[40] while the general nature and size of the gathered people suggests a more general reference to tribulation.[41]


I’m inclined to read this more generally, but at the end of the day, I have to confess that I simply do not know. Either way, it does not change the point and impact of the passage. At its most fundamental level, we find here a clear call to faithfulness. It’s easy to get lost in all the details, and the images we have in our heads from the “Raptured” series, and the associated movies, do not help. This passage isn’t dealing with cinematography. It is dealing with reality.


We are being called upon to be faithful to God. How does that play out practically? Well, I don’t think that has a single answer. Certainly, it starts with being faithful right now. It starts by knowing what the Scriptures say about the Christian life, and then seeking to live it in the power of the Spirit. The Revelation isn’t only about some distant future, it is about right now. Our lives should be defined by Jesus and His will… right now. That will is not hidden. His will for each of us is that we live by faith, that every situation, every challenge, every activity, is submitted to the review and direction of the Spirit of God in our lives.


If you’re waiting for the end of the end before you decide to get serious about your Christian walk you will find that you made a serious mistake.


[1] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 78. [2] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 406. [3] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 406. [4] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 406. [5]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 7:2. [6] Gottfried Fitzer, “Σφραγίς, Σφραγίζω, Κατασφραγίζω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 940. [7] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 410. [8] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 411. [9] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 1129. [10] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 409. [11] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 409. [12] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 411. [13] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 478. [14] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 479. [15] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 479. [16] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 479. [17] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 82. [18] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 414. [19] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 414. [20] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 416. [21] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 413. [22] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 417. [23] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 82. [24] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 82. [25] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 82. [26] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 418. [27] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 86. [28] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 485. [29] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 485. [30] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 485. [31]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 7:14. [32] Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013). [33] Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013). [34] Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013). [35] David Black, It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy to Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.: 2002), 107. [36] David Black, It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy to Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.: 2002), 107. [37] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 485. [38] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 485. [39] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebre3wws – Revelation, gen. eds., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 485. [40] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 434. [41] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 87.

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