I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation ch7 vv1-8 which reports the "sealing" of the 144,000 servants of God.
I'm going to be asking the question; how does this benefit the people who receive it?
This act of sealing will be taking place in a time of "truce", which God allows and sets aside for the purpose.
The truce will be needed bcause the "Four Horsemen" sent by God have been running wild all through ch6, wreaking havoc on human life.
At the beginning of this chapter, the time of havoc is interrupted. We see four angels stopping the "four winds of the earth", holding them back
from "blowing against" the natural world. Perhaps these are the same "four winds from the four quarters of heaven" that God once threatened to
send against Elam (Jeremiah ch49 v36).
Then a fifth angel steps forward, whose real assignment is to tell us what's happening. He instructs the other angels, loudly, not
to hurt the
earth or the sea or the trees (in fact they're already acting on that instruction, just by being there).
Then he explains the reason.
Time must be allowed for the servants of God to be "sealed".
And so the time of truce begins.
It seems to come to an end in ch8 v6, because that's the moment when the angels with trumpets go into action, and the business of hurting the earth
and the sea and the trees can begin in earnest.
We get more information about the "time of truce" from the statement in ch8 v1;
"There was silence in heaven for half an hour".
I was discussing this in the attached thread;
Silence in Heaven
My explanation, briefly, was that the phrase "silence in heaven" was an oblique way of indicating that there were no expressions of God's wrath
upon the earth- this same time of "truce", in other words.
The "silence in heaven" lasts for "half-an-hour".
And the reign of the Beast, we learn from ch17 v12, lasts for "one hour".
So the "silence in heaven" can be identified as the first portion of the period during which the Beast is reigning.
It would seem, then, that the time available for the "sealing" operation is the entire first half of the reign of the Beast, however long that
period might be.
Next, we must consider the "servants of God" themselves.
One, rather oblique, way of learning more about them is to look at the numbers being quoted.
Because the symbolic meaning of number is always important in Revelation.
"10" has been described as the number of completeness or perfection. I think of it as pointing us towards "the full extent of the world".
"1000" is the cubed version of "10"; 10 is taken three times and multiplied out, and that's the result. I think of it as God's version of
"10", the full extent of God's
And all the way through the Bible, "12" is the number which points us towards "God's people".
Now each tribe on this list is numbered as "12" multiplied by "1000".
Then the multiplication by "12" is repeated, because there are twelve tribes on the list.
Which brings us the grand total of 144,000.
On that basis, the number 144,000 carries the symbolic meaning of;
"The fullness of God's people occupying the fullness of God's world."
The other source of information about them is the list of names.
This list is really a combination of two different lists from the Old Testament.
There's the list of "sons of Jacob", which includes Levi and Joseph.
Then there's the classic list of the "twelve tribes of Israel".
The difference between them is that the names of Levi and Joseph were left out of the second list, because Levi were set aside as a community of
priests, and the "house of Joseph" was divided into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
If we now compare the list of tribes in this chapter with the classic list, we can see that the names have changed again.
On the one hand, the names of Dan and Ephraim have disppeared.
It is not likely to be a coincidence that these were the two tribes which hosted the two golden calves established by Jeroboam, after he broke away
from the authority of Jerusalem. Not the kind of names that you can associate with loyalty.
On the other hand, the names of Levi and Joseph have been restored.
These have much better asociations.
It was the Levite Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, who showed his loyalty in the affair at Shiittim, which was one of the key moments in the
fight against idolatry. For that reason, the Lord said to Moses about him;
"Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he
was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel"- Numbers ch25 vv12-13.
While Joseph is renowned for a different kind of fidelity, refusing the advances of Potiphar's wife.
So the net result is that "faithful" names have replaced "unfaithful" names.
The implication is that this list is pointing us towards a "God's people" which has been cleansed of unfaithfulness.
If the point of the names and the way they change is to give this meaning to the complete list, there's no need for us to take them individually and
apply them to literal tribes or to literal groups of any kind. The "twelve tribe" symbolism belongs to God's people, and, for New Testament
purposes, God's people are those who have put their trust in Christ.
The essential point is that this listing covers the full number of the loyal servants of God. We can borrow the words of the Anglican liturgy and
describe them as
"The blessed company of all faithful people".
We must consider what is meant by the act of sealing.
This is not the first appearance of "sealing" in the New Testament.
We find it explained in Ephesians as the privilege of believers in general.
"In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and have believed in him, weresealed with the promised Holy spirit,
which is the guarantee of our inheritance".- Ephesians ch1 vv13-14
And there's a similar combination of ideas when paul writes to the Corinthians;
"But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a
guarantee."- 2 Corinthians ch1 vv21-22.
God would not need to have two different ways of "sealing" his people and marking them as his own. So it seems reasonable to assume that the sealing
in this chapter is that same sealing "with the Holy Sprit".
There's no suggestion that all the servants are sealed in a single moment.
It would be part of the continuing process of people hearing the gospel of forgiveness and putting their trust in Christ, receiving the promise of an
"inheritance" and receiving the Spirit as a kind of tangible pledge of that inheritance.
We can learn the purpose of the sealing from the parallel in one of Ezekiel's visions. The Lord is threatening to send his wrath against Jerusalem,
on account of its various idolatries. But he gives instructions, before this happens, to put a mark on the foreheads of all those who "sigh and groan
over all the abominations"; that is, their loyalty to God makes them grieve over the unfaithfulness of the rest of the city. The purpose of the mark
is to protect them from the action of wrath. (Ezekiel ch9 vv4-6)
So the purpose of sealing the servants of God must be to protect them
Does this mean physical protection?
Yes, we're told in a later chapter that the "locusts" won't be able to touch them.
But I believe the power of the "locusts" to be spiritual rather than physical, so this protection would be part of a spiritual protection.
The key point is surely the opposition between the "sealing" in this chapter and the "Mark of the Beast", as one of the great "opposing pairs"
The servants will be faced with the challenge of the Mark, and the possibility of martydom if they refuse it.
It would make sense, then, that the sealing should be part of their protection against temptation.
THis would be one application of the remarks made by John Calvin on that passage in Ephesians (and you won't often see me quoting Calvin);
"God on his part is pleased to empower [the gospel] by his Holy Spirit, and to print it so certainly in our hearts that we may be steadfast and that
the same steadfastness may not be beaten down by all the devil can ever do or devise to overthrow our faith"- Calvin, "Sermons on Ephesians"
Thus, in brief, the function of the sealing would be to bring into existence a body of believers who will not
take the Mark of the Beast.
[edit on 15-8-2010 by DISRAELI]