Grace For The Journey
We are continuing our series of studies through the Book of Revelation. We are in the part of the Book that mainly concerns future events. Chapter 6 described for us certain events that would take place during the time of Great Tribulation upon the earth. Chapter 6 ends by describing the cataclysmic events to occur when Jesus returns and we hear the unbelievers crying out, “The great day of His wrath has come; who is able to stand?” Chapter 7 is the answer to that question. We read in chapter 7 about those who are able to stand when the Lord returns.
I suppose we could sum up the main point of the entire Book of Revelation with a paraphrase of its main point and the main point is: “Hang in there.” God is in control. He has a perfect plan. He is guiding the events of history to fulfill that perfect plan. So … hang in there. When I think about this, I recall the song, “Through it All.” The lyrics remind us of God’s guiding hand in our lives: “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus. I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.” Chapter 7 is a reminder that receiving Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior and then living for Him will be worth it all in the end. He is guiding us “through it all.” What we see here in these verses are at least four major blessings of the Lord.
First, we see . . .
I. The Blessing Of His Sovereign Protection – Verses 1-3.
Chapter 6 detailed the coming of the Great Tribulation upon the unbelievers of the earth. It tells of the coming of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” how God is going to allow man to get what he wants. The result will be war, famine, pestilence, and death upon the land. But before God allows this judgment to come, we see the working of His sovereign protection.
Verse 1 tells us, “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth (an idiom for the four directions: north, south, east, west), holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” We see God sovereignly holding back His judgment. Before the four winds of judgment blow upon the earth, God steps in and exerts His sovereign protection.
Verses 2 and say, “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, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’”
There are four angels getting ready to allow the four winds of judgment to blow upon the earth and God steps in and pauses the action. Then we see another angel coming from the east – the direction from which comes the blessing of sunshine – and he has in his hand “the seal of the living God.” A king’s seal was used to denote ownership and authority. The seal here may be like the king’s signet ring, a ring impressed into hot wax, denoting the king’s “stamp of approval” and “ownership” of a thing. Here we read that God’s seal is marked upon a people. The fifth angel who appears says, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
More about that in a moment, but for now I want us to simply note the blessing of God’s sovereign protection. These verses remind us that God is in control of every single detail of history. This doctrinal truth encourages me like no other. I heard about a boy who in the fourth grade. There was a bully in his class by the name of Arnold Arlinbaugh. Arnold was one of those guys who was just bigger than life. Bigger and taller than anyone else. Seemed to this fourth grader like maybe he was already shaving! Just a big, mean, dude. The young boy was out on the playground one day, and the bully came over to him and started throwing punches. As he was taking the blows to the chin, he could see a teacher looking at what was happening but she was too scared to do anything. The young boy remembered when Arnold it me with the first left cross to my face he was surprised that it did not hurt as much as he expected. He was so surprised that the words just came out of my mouth: “That didn’t hurt.” Of course, saying that out loud in front of Arnold did not help his situation any. He remembered Arnold saying something like, “Oh, yeah?! Well, how about this and this,” and he threw the punches. The young boy remembered at the time just being absolutely surprised by what a punching he could take. It was like there was this mysterious, strengthening power within me, sustaining me through it all.
We all get beat up a lot in this world. The outworking of sin is all around us. Tragedy comes to us in many forms: sickness, job loss, financial strain, people problems, and worry. But God has promised to be with us and to work out a perfect plan for every single one of us (Romans 8:38). Nothing escapes His notice, and He demonstrates His sovereign protection over our lives by allowing us to suffer only what He knows we can handle, by the help of His grace. So . . . When you are taking hits from life’s challenges, remember the blessing of God’s sovereign protection. He is there, empowering you, guiding you for His glory. The blessing of His sovereign protection.
Secondly, see . . .
II. The Blessing Of His Sealed Possession – Verses 4-8.
In verses 4-8 we read of the people who receive God’s special seal of possession and ownership. Verse 4 says, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Then we read of the 12 tribes: Reuben, Gad, Naphtali, and so forth. 12,000 each for a total of 144,000. It Is interesting how people have interpreted this 144,000.
- For years, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said it referred to them. They were the 144,000. I think they now believe it is a number that refers to their leadership.
- There are many good scholars who believe the number symbolizes the church.
- I think it is best, however, to take this text as straight-forwardly as possible. John tells us that these 144,000 people are Israelites. He identifies them as “servants of God” who are “one hundred forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.”
I think we have to conclude, then, that the 144,000 are Israelites who will receive the blessing of God’s seal during the time of Tribulation. It suggests that they will be specially protected by God and used of God during this time.
Some scholars believe the 144,000 Israelites are Jewish evangelists who will share the Gospel during the tribulation period. That may be true, but the text does not explicitly say that. In fact, we do not read of that anywhere in the Book of Revelation. We do read, however, in the Gospels that the “gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mark 13:10) before the end comes. It is more likely how these 144,000 will be used of God in this way.
These Israelites receive the blessing of God’s sealed possession. Israel is, and will forever be, a special people chosen of God. God gave Israel an unconditional promise in Jeremiah 31:35-37, “Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): ‘If those ordinances depart from before Me,’ says the LORD, ‘Then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD.’” God promises to forever bless the nation of Israel. That is why Israel is always in the news. That is why Israel cannot be annihilated. As S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. puts it, “Pharaoh tried to drown the children of Israel and they would not drown. Nebuchadnezzar tried to burn them and they would not burn. Haman tried to hang them and they would not hang.” Each person failed in his attempt to annihilate the Jews. We could add others; Hitler for example, and every Muslim who understands the Koran as teaching that all Israel must be killed will fail also. Someone said, “The history of Israel is the history of a miracle and the miracle of history.”
The Bible teaches in Romans 11 that Israel is now experiencing a blindness, a hardness of heart. But when the Lord Jesus Christ returns, the nation of Israel, those living during Christ’s return, will look upon the One who was pierced for their sins and they will be saved.
We see the blessing of God’s sovereign protection, His sealed possession, and now . . .
III. The Blessing Of His Saved Procession – Verses 9-14.
Verses 9 through 14 declare, “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, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 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, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ 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.’”
John gives us a vision here of all the Christians who have come out of the Great Tribulation, saints who have given their lives as martyrs for the Lord Jesus Christ. They are God’s saved procession. They are there around the throne, dressed in white robes, which signify the purity and victory of the Lord Jesus Christ. They have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb (verse 14).” That is the theme of the Bible! We are reminded by the hymn writer, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
This leads naturally to the final blessing. We see also . . .
IV. The Blessing Of His Supreme Provision – Verse 15-17.
What we read of these Christians who have died during the Tribulation time teaches us what lies in store for every Christian. Verse 15 states, “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.” In heaven we will not be sitting on a cloud with a harp in our hands. That sounds boring to me. We will be doing stuff. We will be in the presence of God Himself, finding our greatest joy in serving Him. Look at God’s supreme provision for Christians. Whatever we have been deprived of here because of this fallen world, we will be provided for there. In fact, it may be better to say: whatever need we have here is a need removed there.
Heaven will be all about Him!
We will need eternity to
Discover and express the
Wonderful truths about
Who God really is and
What He has done for us!
Verses 16 and 17 declare, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 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.” Talk about it being “worth it all in the end!” The blessing of God’s supreme provision. Whatever trials, pain, and loses we encounter here, God will remove completely there. There will be no more suffering. The Great God Himself will take His strong, loving hand and wipe away every tear from our eyes! Praise His holy name!
I read a story recently from a correspondence I received in an email. I think it fitly illustrates how receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and living for Him in this world is worth everything: In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in “the room.” There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read – “Girls I Have Liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one, and ashamed at some of my comments and thoughts recorded on each. And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the thoughts and actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me and I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories, others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed.” The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I Have Given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed At.” Some were hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve Yelled at My Brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger,” “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes there were fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my brief life to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.
When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To,” I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented. When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.
An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it.
Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand. And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.
But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own, deeper than I had ever seen on any face. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one? Why did He have to know? Finally, He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just held me, flooding my soul with a love-words could never capture.
Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. I noticed that each signature was in red. “No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I tried to pull the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.
He gently took the card back. He smiled a gentle smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” Suddenly I felt clean, clean on the inside in a way I had never known. As I looked at myself, I saw that miraculously my clothing was now a glorious white robe, brighter than any material I had ever seen. Then I remembered what God’s Word, The Bible, says in Reverlation 7:14, “they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” God indeed “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In Mark 8:36, Jesus asks, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” The answer is: it profits that man nothing. In all of your planning for the future, have you given serious thought to what happens when you die?
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!