After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000. After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 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 spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
I am incurable romantic. I cry at the Hallmark commercials, I get emotionally worked up over all sorts of things. When Molly and I were dating, we spent some time apart and when I wrote her, I got rather flowery. I am one of those who can write some of that poetry like “An Ode to her eyebrow”:
The arc of her eyebrow
Is as the rainbow after the storm
It’s brilliance and color
Keep me warm.
Does it make sense, not really, unless you understand what the author is trying to portray and that is just what God is trying to do in Revelation, portray something. Not in scientific, logical language, but in the language of His love for us, the language of image and picture, and that is particularly true of our passage today.
The story has slowly unfolded, as we saw the one on the throne and the throne room, with the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures worshiping. Then we saw the Lamb come to take the throne and He alone is found worthy, worthy to put the plan of God into effect and again there is worship. Six of the seals on the scroll have been opened, and again we see worship, chapter seven is an interlude, like a commercial break on TV.
You are watching an intensely powerful story on TV. You are really involved in it. The drama unfolds, emotions run high. Suddenly it is commercial time. The letdown, and the anger. You want to know what is going on, but you have to find out if you are using the right toothpaste or not.
We have all been watching the opening of the seals and now suddenly there is another picture, it is almost as if we are taken into another vision. But here, God wants to show us something. For we have seen the picture of awful destruction, will we live through it and chapter seven is God’s YES.
The picture we get in verse 1 is a picture of great destruction that is about to fall on the world, God sends his angels to hold it back. It is a picture again of God’s patience, holding back destruction till the right time, until all the servants of God are sealed, till all have the mark of God on them, but what is that mark, what is that seal?
We need to jump ahead to chapter 14, where we meet again those who are sealed and there we read that the 144,000 have the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads, the seal of the Living God, not He who is dead, not He who is unreal, but the Living God.
The mark that is given indicates 3 things: One, We are sealed against tampering. These are not to be tampered with, my protection is given, says God. No one may touch these or they will face my wrath, a wrath so frightening that people would rather have mountains fall on them than face it. That seal is for eternity. (See Romans 8:38-39)
Two: We are sealed for ownership. The picture here is that of the Roman practice of branding slaves with the mark of the owner. With that brand, everyone knew who your owner was, that you were bought and owned. You could not escape that brand, it was on you for life. The seal of the Lamb indicates that (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20) You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
Three: We are sealed for identification. Again it is the picture of branding the slave. With that mark, all know who you are, and it cannot be erased, your identity is established, all know that they are God’s.
Who are the 144,000?
If we go out to the parking lot and I show you my Matrix, there is two ways we can look at it: One, standing outside and I say that this is my Matrix, we look at tires, paint, roof rack etc. Two: sitting inside and I say that this is my Matrix, we look at seats, radio, dash board etc. It is the same car, we are just looking at it two different ways. That is what is going on here, we have the picture of 144,000 sealed and then later the great multitude. With the 144,000, the picture is of God knowing each and everyone by name, He knows each one and how many there are. He knows you, you are not part of some great blob, you are an individual and always will be. God says, This one is mine, this one is mine and he/she must be kept safe. Nothing can harm them, for they are sealed and my judgement will not fall on them.
Then in verse 9 is the picture of the great multitude, a fascinating picture, a picture of all of God’s children drawn to the throne. I don’t know about you, but this brings a shiver of joy to me, for Jesus said, When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. Here is a picture of that, You are faithful, Lord, a picture of God’s great promise to Abraham fulfilled. His seed will be as many as the stars, a vast sea of humanity, that no one can count. They have come from races that have fought each other; from countries that oppressed each other; from tongues that misunderstood each other; from tribes that killed each other. And they stand in a unity that we cannot understand, that goes beyond all that separates, for they have a loyalty to Jesus.
Here the Bible peels back the covers from that which normally lays beyond what we can sense as we are given a picture of what things are like from God’s perspective. Here is the gathering of believers, what in theological circles is called The Church Triumphant. The part of Christ’s community of believers that have won the battle; they have crossed the last great hurdle, death, and they have triumphed. Sin, pain, evil can no longer get to them, never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst… no scorching heat… God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. They are safe and secure, forever, and they celebrate.
What John sees pictured, first century folk would understand — white robes and palm branches., the stuff of grand celebrations. To give someone clothing is to give something of yourself, the new clothing signals a radical change. Now they are no longer naked, now they are clothed with the robes of the Lamb. And they celebrate, and glory in the love and power and grandeur and wonder of the Lord.
The angels join in that celebration and the great leaders of the heavenly community – the elders – they join in the celebration. It is an amazing picture, and one that can give tremendous comfort; comfort because we can know that death does not mean defeat, that it is only the doorway to triumph, victory, celebration, a loud celebration, as someone said: The Church Triumphant is playing the harp. But they must be electronic harps, amplified and connected to huge heavenly speakers. None of this wee tiny stuff that you see in pictures. These are big suckers — chapter 14 says they sounded like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder.
What is seen here is a great picture of security. We search for security, and it is pulled out from under us. We try to get job security — but when things don’t sell there are layoffs. We try to get money security — dollar goes down, inflation grows. We try to get family security — the kids leave, divorce.
Here is a real picture of security, not one we guarantee ourselves, but is guaranteed by God, who seals us, gives us protection, in a relationship that cannot be broken. Let the winds blow, let the plagues come, let the judgements fall, we are protected. We are not sure we can stand up to the storm, BUT the Lamb has chosen us, the Lamb carries us, and He will carry us through. It is what gave Cassie Bernall the courage to stand up at Columbine and proclaim that she believed, not her own courage, but the Lamb.
What a picture, what a commercial break, for what they have suffered is forgotten, the feast has begun and now they fill nights and days with unending service to God.
Eternity is not a life of nothingness as many try to tell you. The Bible describes the future life as life that is intensified living, not a life of boredom, playing harps and singing in choirs, not a life of continual Sundays — and I use that in the bad sense, when you can’t do anything, not a life of Thou shalt nots. A life like Jesus described, I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.
God does not promise freedom from persecution, but He gives a picture of eternity, to help us live through that persecution. No matter what happens, nothing can harm your relationship with the Lamb. So let the winds blow, let the plagues come, let the judgements fall, you are protected. Which would rather have true in your life? When the Lamb shows up in his wrath, you cry out to the mountains to fall on you and cover you OR to be able to stand like Cassie Bernall and others and proclaim that no matter what happens you do not fear.