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THE TWO VISIONS OF THE CHURCH
I. STUDY NOTES--Revelation 7:1-17
Six of the seven seals which closed the divine scroll have been opened. The record revealed evangelism, war, famine, death, persecution, confusion and overthrow of earthly governments. Before the seventh seal is opened in chapter 8 verse 1 we are given these two visions of chapter 7 lest Christians lose heart.
II. MEDITATION--Revelation 7:1-17
The previous vision of the opening of the 6 seals in chapter 6 reminds us that man’s own sin brings judgment on himself. Man’s greed creates the judgments of war, famine, death, persecution, fall of governments. In such a context the evangel of the gospel is presented.
The call of verse 3 in chapter 7 "Do not harm . . . till we have sealed the servants of God upon their foreheads," is a reminder that one of the bitter things about the worst storms of human life is that we are likely to forget the reality of God in the storms. In the midst of swirling destruction ho w dare men believe that God keeps His eye on those who are true to Him--and that whatever happens to them He gives them inner victory?
The experiences which John has been describing in chapter 6 are likely to shake our faith. It is only in the realisation that WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN SEALED BY GOD that we can pass through our testing times without losing our faith. If we are sure that God has already sealed us then we can face and triumph in any disaster.
WHAT OF THE CHURCH DURING THE PERIOD OF THE 7 SEALS?
The two visions of Revelation chapter 7 are introduced between the sixth and seventh seals TO TEACH THE PRESERVATION--THE SAFETY OF THE CHURCH DURING THE WHOLE PERIOD FROM PENTECOST OF ACTS CHAPTER 2 UNTIL CHRIST’S FINAL COMING.
The whole idea of the marking and sealing of the saints upon earth is simple, that God protects His people during all the judgments that befall the world. The sealing of the saints does not take place only in one period of history. The sealing takes place during the whole Christian era.
So, chapter 7 answers the question WHAT OF THE CHURCH DURING THE PERIOD OF THE SEALS?--and the answer given in chapter 7 is PRESENT SAFETY AND FUTURE TRIUMPH.
1. THE SEALING OF THE SAINTS ON EARTH 7:1-8
"Four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth." The figure here is from Jeremiah 49:36 and Daniel 7:2. "Four," always in this book the number of THE EARTH. "The sea" (which is never at rest is a symbol of THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH). see Isaiah 57:20 "The wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot rest," and Revelation 17:15 "The waters . . . are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." The four angels hold back the winds of judgment.
"Do not harm the earth . . ., TILL WE HAVE SEALED THE SERVANTS OF OUR GOD UPON THEIR FOREHEADS." The basis of this symbol is found in Ezekiel 9:4-6. The whole idea of the marking and sealing of the saints on earth is simple, that amid all the judgments that befall the world for its sins GOD PROTECTS HIS OWN PEOPLE. This SEALING refers TO THE ENTIRE DURATION OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA. This sealing does not take place only in one period, it is not placed here chronologically as if it happened only after the sixth seal. The sealing of the saints is the answer to the natural enquiry after reading chapter 6--"What of the church of Christ amid all these judgments?" And the answer of the two visions of chapter 7 is PRESENT SAFETY AND FUTURE GLORY."
"The number sealed was 144,000" . . . Who are the 144,000? To John this number represented THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. (Numbers are not used mathematically but spiritually in the book of Revelation. We make nonsense of the book if we interpret some numbers literally and others as symbols). 12 is the number of THE CHURCH in this book. The 12 tribes of Israel, squared by the 12 Apostles and multiplied by 1,000 (to show vast multitudes) = 144,000. "The 144,000 sealed" means "THE WHOLE CHURCH ON EARTH." The point of the number 144,000 given in verse 4, and then divided in the following verses 5-8 into 12 equal parts IS TO SHOW THAT NOT ONE OF GOD’S SAINTS IS MISSING. Verses 4-8 refer to ALL GOD’S PEOPLE. Not merely to Jews. Obviously a literal interpretation to the effect that exactly 12,000 souls, not one more nor one less, will be saved out of every Jewish tribe is impossible. Quite plainly the 144,000 is not the sum total of JEWISH Christians. Such a literal interpretation is further disproved by the list of tribes which appears in verses 5-8. For John’s list of the 12 tribes differs from every other list of the 12 tribes in the Bible. John omits one tribe altogether (Dan is omitted), and still more impossible to overcome in any literal explanation is this, that "Manasseh"(verse 6) and "Joseph" (verse 8) are tribes that overlap, since Joseph comprises part of Manasseh. Perhaps John deliberately changed his list of the 12 tribes in order to make clear that he did not intend a literal interpretation of the 144,000 as being JEWISH Christians. These difficulties disappear when we see that the description of the sealed IS SYMBOLICAL OF THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, THE SPIRITUAL ISRAEL. The 144,000 are not the literal but THE SPIRITUAL ISRAEL, and are composed of all peoples and nations and languages.--See references Galatians 6:16 "The Israel of God" to Paul was the whole church. Galatians 3:29, Philippians 3:3, Romans 9:6-8. It is an error to interpret the 144,000 to be only Jewish Christians, just as any literal interpretation describing the 144,000 to be members of one sect is an error. THE ISRAEL OF THIS VISION IS THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (THE SPIRITUAL ISRAEL). The OUTSTANDING THOUGHT OF THE VISION OF THE SEALING OF GOD’S SERVANTS IS SAFETY. When God’s judgments come on earth because of man’s rejection of His Son this vision gives assurance of safety for all who belong to Christ. WHEN DOES THIS SEALING TAKE PLACE? Christians are ALL SEALED NOW WITH THE SEAL OF THE LIVING GOD. "God has put His seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." 2 Corinthians 1:22. When you received Christ "you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it." Ephesians 1:13-14. "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Ephesians 4:30. These references echo the thought of Revelation 7:1-8 of THE SEALING OF ALL CHRISTIANS NOW, that they may be KEPT SAFE through all earthly tribulation until the final day of redemption. Notice WHERE the saints are sealed (Revelation 7:3) "IN THEIR FOREHEADS" that is, WHERE ALL CAN SEE. Is the Holy Spirit so manifest in our lives that everybody can see Whose we are and Whom we serve? Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit. These should be seen in us if we have been sealed. In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus gave the same message as John gives in Revelation 7:1-8. THE SEALING OF THE SAINTS--TEACHES SAFETY FOR GOD’S PEOPLE ON EARTH. This sealing is not in some future time but NOW as references such as 2 Corinthians 1:22 show plainly "God HAS sealed us" When you believed." If you are a Christian then you are part of the 144,000 (the church), sealed NOW and KEPT. The message of Revelation 7:1-8 is that THE CHURCH ON EARTH CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED BY OPPOSITION.
WHO ARE THE 144,000 SEALED? (Revelation 7:4-8)
In our previous notes we answer--THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. The reader is asked to take particular note of our previous study notes on Revelation chapter 7.
WHEN DOES THIS SEALING TAKE PLACE? In our previous notes we answer CHRISTIANS ARE ALL SEALED NOW WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The sealing is of all Christians NOW. And Revelation chapter 7 teaches that Christians are KEPT SAFE through all trials until final redemption.
WHERE ARE THE SAINTS SEALED? In our notes we are reminded from verse 3 "IN THEIR FOREHEADS"--that is, WHERE ALL CAN SEE.
Is the Holy Spirit so manifest in our daily lives that everybody can see WHOSE we are and WHOM we serve? The mark of the Spirit is "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control" according to Galatians 5:22-23. if we have been sealed in our foreheads then others will see these marks of God’s Spirit in our daily lives. ALL Christians are SAFE NOW. Men may destroy our bodies but our real life is hid with Christ in God. THE SEALING OF THE 144,000 (THE WHOLE CHURCH) TEACHES THAT THE CHURCH CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED.
These verses mean--
(1) That in heaven Christians HAVE NO UNSATISFIED DESIRES.
On earth we "hunger and thirst," we have many unsatisfied desires, not only for food and drink but also for such things as perfect knowledge, and full fellowship. Our knowledge and fellowship is to be complete in heaven where we neither hunger nor thirst.
(2) In heaven there is INTIMATE PERSONAL GUIDANCE
The LAMB who was the SACRIFICE is now in the midst of the THRONE and has come to the place of SUPREME POWER. And is also THE SHEPHERD who guides His people like a shepherd leading his flock. Christ is the SACRIFICE and the KING and the SHEPHERD all in one.
This picture is important. Sometimes we emphasise the SACRIFICE of Christ on the Cross where the LAMB was sacrificed for us, and we forget to think of His triumphant REIGN over the lives of completely SURRENDERED Christians in this present world. And too often we forget the tender, INTIMATE GUIDANCE OF CHRIST TODAY.
Here in Revelation 7:17 all three aspects are combined--The Lamb, the King, The Shepherd to guide us are all here in this wonderful verse.
(3) And here is INEXHAUSTIBLE VITALITY
Link John’s picture of the Shepherd who guides victorious saints to "SPRINGS OF LIVING WATER" with the 23rd Psalm where He leads to "STILL WATERS." Here, in Revelation 7:17 Christ guides the Christian both in time and eternity to inexhaustible SPRINGS of vitality for living.
(4) And here TEARS ARE ONLY A MEMORY
for "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." This picture of men and women who have forgotten how to weep is full of comfort to those who live in this tear drenched world. In heaven tears have no place. All tears are wiped away. God Himself is the great comforter. There are no tears we shed in this present world which God does not see. He knows our present sorrows and heartaches--He knows it all--and some day, when we cross over from the church militant to the church triumphant in heaven God will wipe away all tears from our eyes.
Truly, if we have now gained some understanding of this 7th chapter of John’s Revelation we have already experienced the BLESSING promised in Revelation 1:3.
"Blessed is he that readeth . . ."
Verses 10-12 tell us that in heaven the members of the church victorious SING. They sing the song of THANKFULNESS for they have been FORGIVEN.
These outbursts of song are characteristic of the whole book of Revelation. One can judge an interpretation of the Christian faith by its capacity to set people singing. There is something wrong with any Christian church which does not create triumphant music. Paul and Silas singing hymns of praise to God in a prison cell at midnight remind Christians that even in the midst of trials such as the 6 seals of Revelation chapter 6 describe we still have much for which to sing praise to God. God has sealed us for Himself. We too should be able to sing a rolling note of praise for God’s blessing, and power, and honour. Tribulation may be ours on earth, but tribulation is not the end of our journey. As those forgiven we too can sing praise to God. We should be able to join in the 7 fold song of praise to God in verse 12 of "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might, be to our God for ever and ever."
Verses 13-17 bring us some of the finest poetry and deepest theology of the book of Revelation.
That the SAFETY of God’s people is secured
That Christians are SHELTERED by God
That at last they NEITHER HUNGER nor thirst, nor suffer the scorching heat--
that all TEARS ARE WIPED AWAY.
These are tokens of God’s goodness that have comforted Christians of all generations as they look even at the graves of loved ones, past death, into the great church triumphant in heaven.
Verse 15 states that in heaven "The redeemed SERVE HIM day and night within His temple."
So, life in heaven is not pictured by John as one of lazy ease and idleness, but as one in which THE SERVICE WE BEGAN ON EARTH REACHES ITS HIGHEST FULFILMENT. His servants "SERVE HIM." (We have this same message in Revelation 22:3). Not one of us knows fully what heaven is like. "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him," as 1 Corinthians 2:9 states. But we will not sit around idle all day "For His servants shall SERVE HIM" states verse 15.
The most miserable days we have known are those days when we had nothing to do. Time and life drags very slowly. Life is tedious when there is nothing to do. But when there is service to give time passes quickly and we are happy when we are busy doing things we want to do. "In heaven the redeemed SERVE Him day and night." I find this verse important. On earth we find that those who are always complaining and are miserable are those who are doing NOTHING. Those who are BUSY are the happy folk. On earth as in heaven true Christians find their happiness and satisfaction in serving the Lord day and night.
Is Revelation 7:15 a picture of our own churchmanship?
Can we sing
"I am happy in the service of the King I have peace and joy that nothing else can bring In the service of the King?"
John’s words in verses 16 and 17 of the victorious saints have strengthened the faith and courage of Christians and lifted tear stained eyes with shining hope even when they have stood at the graveside of dear ones--to know that they are now sheltered in the nearer presence of God.
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Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 7". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent