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30 December 2018

The Sealing of God’s Servants (Revelation 7:1–8)

The seventh chapter of Revelation appears to interrupt the unleashing of the seven seals; it is inserted between the sixth and the seventh seal opening. However, this “interlude” is an integral part of the series of seven seals and follows a literary pattern set in Chapter 5. The “sealing of God’s servants” includes several verbal links to the unveiling of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-14.
Chapter 7 is comprised of four sections:
1.    The sealing of God’s servants (7:1-3).
2.   The numbering of the sealed (7:4-8).
3.   The vision of an innumerable multitude (7:9-12).
4.   The interpretation of the innumerable multitude (7:14-17).
In Chapter 7, the same group is portrayed with two different images:  the tribes of Israel assembled for travel and the innumerable multitude exiting the “great tribulation.” In the end, the full number of the saints is “standing before the Lamb and the Throne.”
The fifth and sixth seals posed two questions that are now addressed:
1.    How long must the martyrs wait for vindication?
2.   Who can stand before the wrath of the Lamb?
The sealing of God’s servants uses imagery from the Exodus story of Israel. The full number of martyrs is assembled for the march to the Promised Land, New Jerusalem. The vision of the innumerable multitude presents overcoming saints “standing” before the Lamb in the Promised Land, having faithfully endured the tribulation.
The Four Winds (7:1-3)
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth holding fast the four winds of the earth.” After this” refers to the sequence in which John received the vision, not the chronological sequence of events. This paragraph cannot follow the sixth seal chronologically since it produced the day of the Lord.
John sees four angels holding back “the four winds of the earth,” a clause that alludes to Zechariah 6:1-5, “Behold, four chariots came forward from between two mountains…the first with red horses, second with black horses, the third with white horses, the fourth chariot with spotted horses…These are the four winds of heaven.”
The “four winds” are the four riders unleashed by the first four seal openings. The four winds were “given to injure the earth and the sea,” the same verb already used for the powers granted to each of the four riders (Revelation 6:1-8).
The wording of Zechariah is changed from “four winds of heaven” to “four winds of the earth,” most likely, because the four horsemen had authority “over a fourth part of the earth.” The wording also echoes Daniel 7:2 where the four beasts ascended from a sea disturbed by “the four winds of heaven.”
This “sealing” occurs before the openings of the first four seals; malevolent forces are unleashed against the saints only after they are sealed by God. “Servants of God” elsewhere refers to followers of the Lamb (1:1; 2:20; 19:219:5; 22:3; 22:6).
The angel with the seal orders the “four winds” to forebear “until we seal the servants of our God.” This alludes to the Exodus story when the homes of the Israelites were marked with lamb’s blood to protect them from a destroying angel (Exodus 12:13-28).
The sealing of God’s servants also echoes Ezekiel 9:4 where a mark was placed on the foreheads of men in Jerusalem Ezekiel 9:4 (“Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who are sighing and crying over all the abominations that are being done in her midst”).
Unlike Israel in Egypt, this sealing does not protect saints from death; martyrdom is the church’s highest calling (1:9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11; 12:17; 13:7-10; 20:4). Instead, this “sealing” empowers them to persevere through the tribulation. Since the “four winds” are withheld until God’s servants are sealed, this “seal” is related to the effect of the first four seal openings.
The four angels are commanded, “Do not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” This is a verbal link to Chapter 9 where the “scorpions” from the Abyss are told they should not “hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads” (Revelation 9:1-4). This indicates there is some overlap between the series of seven seals and seven trumpets.
The “seal” of God designates ownership. It is placed on the foreheads of God’s servants. The same sealed company reappears in Revelation 14:1-5 where the “seal” is the Lamb’s and “his Father’s name written upon their foreheads” (cp. Revelation 3:12).
Above all, based on the imagery from Exodus and Ezekiel, the “sealing” protects God’s servants from the final wrath on the Day of the Lord. Faithful believers may suffer in this life, but God enables them “to stand” on the Day of Judgment.
Number of the Sealed (7:4-8)
The text does not state whether John saw the group about to be numbered; only, that he heard their number. In the fifth seal the martyrs were told that they must remain under the altar until their full number was assembled. That numbering is now portrayed with the numbering of 144,000 men from the tribes of Israel.
The number 144,000 is based on twelve squared then multiplied by a thousand. The number is figurative; it stresses fullness, the completed congregation of God’s people. Twelve is associated with Israel, the “twelve tribes of Israel,” and symbolizes the Lamb’s people.
The squaring of twelve is done by multiplying the twelve tribes of Israel by the names of the twelve “apostles of the Lamb” (21:12-14). New Jerusalem is laid out with square numbers; its wall is 144 cubits (“The city lies foursquare…its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits” (21:16-17). The square of twelve is multiplied by a thousand. This echoes the image of the army of Israel arrayed for battle by its “thousands” (Numbers 31:1431:48Deuteronomy 1:151 Samuel 8:12).
When the twelve tribes are listed in the Old Testament, the order varies (Genesis 35:23-26Exodus 1:2-4Numbers 1:5-151 Chronicles 2:1-2).  Reuben is often listed first, Israel’s first-born.  Distinctive here is the placement of Judah first, the place of prominence. Already John has heard that the Messiah sprang from Judah (5:5-6). The present list echoes that previous declaration (“the lion out of the tribe of Judah”).
 John now hears the number sealed, out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed, out of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand,” and so on. He also “hears” the names of the twelve tribes.
In Revelation 5:5, John heard, “lion out of the tribe of Judah”; when he looked, he “saw” a slain Lamb; what he sees interprets what he hears.
The tribe of Dan is excluded from the list. The picture is of national Israel assembled for travel to the Promised Land. Under the old covenant, the tribe of Levi was excluded from the census because that tribe was prohibited from participation in warfare. Its priestly duties took priority (Numbers 1:47-53).
Dan is left out so Levi can be included among the “twelve tribes.” Under the Lamb, all members of God’s people belong to the priestly class (Revelation 1:65:10), but in this vision, the entire company is assembled.
In ancient Israel, only males of military age were numbered (Numbers 1:1-31:18-201 Chronicles 27:231 Samuel 24:9). Likewise, only “males” are numbered here, the “sons of Israel” (7:4; cp. 14:1-4). This is another indicator that this company is figurative since “females” are excluded.
The paragraph ends with God’s servants sealed, numbered, and, presumably, ready for whatever awaits them on their journey.

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