1] After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. 2] Then 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 granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3] saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servant of our God on their foreheads.” 4] And I heard the number of those who were sealed one hundred and forty-four of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed:
5] of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed;
6] of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed;
7] of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed:
of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed:
8] of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.
9] After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10] and crying out with a loud voice, saying “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11] All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12] saying:
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever.
13] Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”
14] And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15] Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16] They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17] for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Our title is found in Habakkuk 3:2, a prayer by the prophet as he was trying to figure out how God could use a wicked nation like the Chaldeans to judge His own people Israel. Knowing what the Chaldeans did to their victims, he prayed for mercy in the midst of judgment.
Revelation is essentially a book about judgment. Yet this chapter tells us there is also mercy.
It also gives us one of those behind-the-scenes looks we mentioned earlier and which gave us the title for the series: “Revelation: Director’s Cut.” In the first three verses, we’re introduced to several angels, four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, and another angel having the seal of the living God. There is possibly a second group of four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea. Until just two minutes ago, I believed that these two groups of four were the same; now I’m not so sure. It doesn’t really matter, there are more than enough angels to go around.
Though unseen, angels have a great deal to do with the providential dealings of God with this world. Here we see that they even have responsibilities in nature. The four winds of earth likely refer to the trade winds which continually circle our planet. As for the four corners of the earth, I’m not so sure. Even those who believe in a flat earth admit that it’s a circle, though I’ve seen diagrams of a flat rectangle. Perhaps it refers to the magnetic field of earth. Perhaps it’s just an expression to tell us that the angels have it covered. Regardless, that’s not really the point in the chapter. These angels are kept from harming the earth because something needs to be done first.
Verses 4 through 8 tell us of the “sealing” of the servants of our God on their foreheads, v. 3. Then there is a listing of one hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel, emphasis added. Then twelve tribes are listed, with twelve thousand being sealed from each tribe.
The reason we emphasized “the children of Israel” is because there is some discussion as to who these people are. Some even believe that this portion refers to the church, which they consider to be “spiritual Israel.” If that’s so, then why does the Spirit go to the trouble of so closely identifying these people as Jews from a particular tribe of the nation of Israel?
In spite of what men say, God is NOT done with the nation. Though during this present age, they are “set aside” and the church has been given their place of “favor,” though not the promises given to them in the OT, Scripture clearly says that there is coming a time when –
Israel shall blossom and bud,
And fill the face of the world with fruit, Isaiah 27:6.
Israel shall be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; You shall not be ashamed or disgraced forever and ever, Isaiah 45:17.
And so all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26.
With regard to this last verse, it doesn’t mean that every single Jew who ever lived will be saved, but rather that all the Jews who are alive at that particular time will be saved.
Revelation 7:4-8 give us the beginning of that work.
There is something else here. These elect Jews are said to be sealed on their foreheads, v. 3. I believe it will be a visible mark, right there for anyone and everyone to see. There will be no doubt that these are servants of God. Perhaps this will be the reason for the “mark of the beast” later on.
The rest of the chapter, vs. 9-17, describes a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, v. 9. In v. 14, John is told that “these are the one who come out of the great tribulation,” literally, “the tribulation, the great one.”
These who will be willing to die for the Lamb will spend eternity with Him. The terrible things they endured on earth will be as nothing compared to the blessing they will enjoy in heaven.
Without getting too much into what these faithful believers have to look forward to, I believe there is a great deal for us, as well.
I’m afraid that too often we fall into the attitude of the world regarding death and the hereafter. Granted that, unlike many in the world, we believe that there is a “hereafter,” but I fear we still fall far short of our views on it.
For example, in a conversation a while back with a brother concerning sickness, he said, “Well, that’s better than the alternative.” No, it’s not. Not for the believer. At the funeral of a dear sister and friend, someone said, “It’s good to be alive.” My response to that: “She’s more alive now than she’s ever been.”
I suppose it’s natural to fear death. It seems like such a final and irrevocable thing. (If you’ve recently suffered such a bereavement, I’m truly sorry. I don’t mean to add to your grief). We don’t even like to say the word “die.” We say, “So and so passed,” or some other phrase which lessens the impact of the reality of it all.
Apart from Scripture, we have no word about what happens at or after death. Those who deny Scripture deny the only source of comfort and help at such a time for those left behind, or instruction for those who have gone ahead.
And the Scripture does have something to say about it.
In speaking of his own trials and difficulties, the Apostle Paul wrote,
…[W]e do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
In Romans 8:18-23, he wrote,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willing, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered form the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
To the church at Corinth, he wrote,
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory,” 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.
And finally, though there is much more we could say about this,
…I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope, 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
Why not, Paul? Why aren’t we to sorrow in the same way as though who have no hope? What hope do we have? And notice that Paul doesn’t say that we’re not supposed to sorrow at all. We sorrow, but that sorrow is to be mitigated –
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, emphasis added.
Death isn’t to be feared; it’s only the door into eternal blessing.
But these words are only for believers. There is altogether another message for unbelievers, for those who deny Scripture, for those who think it’s all imaginary or just the views of ignorant and uniformed people – those who aren’t really “with it.”
Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment.
Even the most vocal opponent of Scripture has to admit the truth of the first part of this verse. Everyone dies.
However, the verse doesn’t stop there. Neither does existence…
…after this, the judgment.
John describes this judgment for us later in Revelation:
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire, Revelation 20:11, 12, 15.
“the lake of fire.”
I saw something just yesterday that is a classic illustration of what the world thinks about “hell.” There was a truck delivering a certain brand of beverage. According to the slogan on the side of the truck, this product “tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”
To many, it’s only a swear word or something to mock. Others believe it’s just the difficulties of this life. I had a lady tell me that she thought this life was hell. Still others will knock at your front door and tell you that it’s just the grave. If that’s true, then what did the Lord mean when He said, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Luke 12:4, 5.
“A loving God wouldn’t do that!”
That God is love is certainly taught in Scripture, 1 John 4:8. Many Christians seem to believe that all that is necessary is to preach the love of God and they’ve preached the Gospel. However, according to another verse in 1 John, the message is about not the love of God at all. 1 John 1:5 says, this is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
In the words of Habakkuk 1:13, God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.
“This is the message….”
What does this mean? It means what is the nature and character of this God who is love?
It means that God is holy, righteous and just. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. It must be judged.
It means that apart from the Lord Jesus, we’re all sunk.