The sixth seal: all-inclusive final judgment, old order come to an end and making way for new order. Ends with the end and a question: if it’s going to be like this, who can survive? Certainly a valid question for 1st-century saints; they were looking for comfort, John tells them it’s going to get worse especially at the end. Same true in today’s world, various places where Christian brothers and sisters are experiencing real persecution, even death. How shall we encourage them: cheer up, it’s gonna get worse?
At end of sixth seal nothing was in its former place; at beginning of John’s description in Chapter 7 everything is in its place. Looking back over sweep of time covered by first six seals, God shows John three things: how he plans to wage war against Satan, then two views of the church. Important to remember God promises blessing, not immunity; doesn’t promise to keep us from tribulation, promises to bring us through tribulation. Bad things will happen to good people; not without purpose and meaning, do not go unnoticed by God.
A. judgment restrained v.1-3
looks back over previous period: earth, sea, trees still intact so must be prior to final judgment. Throughout course of present age, church will experience certain things but God’s anger restrained in two ways.
The fullness of his anger has not been unleashed against his enemies: four angels holding back four winds. Calamities God has planned as through his creation he carries out overthrow of Satan’s kingdom are held back in scope and intensity.
God’s anger is not directed at his people but rather against his enemies. Saints do not have to fear wrath of God but they will undergo temporal hardship and attempted harm from Satan. God’s protection will be sufficient to guarantee their spiritual safety.
another reminder God is in charge
of judgment and mercy – agents, the angels, are acting at behest and direction of God. Not Satan’s world, he’s not in charge; remember Chapter 4 & 5 – God is well settled on the throne. Everything that occurs to the righteous and unrighteous, that is seemingly good or evil, is under watchful eye and governance of God. If mercy is to be displayed, God decides; if judgment to be carried out, God decides.
of marking his own – a mark that shows ownership, loyalty; works in both directions. Is antithesis to Satanic counterfeit, mark of the Beast; results of “wearing” each are opposite as well. God’s seal guarantees protection, Satan’s seal guarantees destruction. God takes initiative, marking those who are his with name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads. (Rev. 14:1) Those with God’s mark will indeed be preserved from spiritual harm, arrive safely home.
B. Jewish heritage v.4-8 (Church militant – on earth)
some missing, others included: Dan and Manasseh missing; Joseph and Levi included. In land inheritance, was Ephraim and Manasseh (Joseph’s double portion); Levi had the tithe rather than land. If referring to Old Testament saints or Jewish remnant, would expect listing corresponding to either Israel’s sons or those who had land inheritance in Canaan. This list is neither indicating it is most likely symbolic.
characterized as “servants of our God” (Rev. 7:3); identified as belonging to Father and Son (Rev. 14:1), promise also given to overcomers at Philadelphia church (Rev. 3:12). During fifth trumpet judgment, locusts only allowed to torment all those “who do not have the seal of God in their foreheads”. (Rev. 9:4) If purpose of Revelation is to comfort the church, not logical or consistent to think that only part of church is protected from harm. Also called those “redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4), a clear description of all the redeemed.
The 144,000 then must be the church here on earth during this age. It is the church militant, still waging war against Satan and his kingdom. It has Jewish roots; for all the Old Testament period church was Jewish. Gentiles in small numbers brought in from time to time, but olive tree of true Israel (spiritual descendants of Israel, Jacob’s name after change when he told God the truth and received God’s blessing Gen. 32:27-31) primarily Jewish. Dead Jewish branches will be pruned, live Gentile branches grafted in along with a remnant of live Jewish branches. One church with continuity from Adam through Christ to the end.
Number is symbolic also since in next scene the church is without number. Explanation given by several commentators: 12 tribes X 12 apostles (24 elders) X 10^3 (completeness intensified) represents the church of both Old and New Testament ages perfectly completed.
C. international flavor v.9-17 (Church triumphant – in heaven)
second view of the church: saints from every nation, tribe, people, language. This scene is of church in heaven – only a portion of humanity in total but still a mind-boggling number. If previous scene emphasizes early stages of the church, this scene makes plain that Gospel preached first to the Jews will permeate the world as leaven spreads through the entire bowl of meal. (Acts 26:23; Rom. 1:16; Matt. 13:33)
The church not limited to Jews with a few Gentiles only; God has much grander goal in mind – fulfilling his covenantal promise to Abraham: “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3) Great comfort: gospel efforts of militant church will be effectual – all the pain and suffering and persecution and even death for sake of Gospel will bear fruit. No matter how small, how few, how obscure your place in the world, will not be overlooked by God or left behind.
another scene of worship – the church at rest, clothed in righteousness of Christ, singing praise to God and the Lamb with great joy and celebration. Suffering is over, salvation is completed, saints have been fully delivered from effects of the curse. Leads to glorious worship of God, ascription to him of perfect (7-fold) praise: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, might.
One of elders makes certain John fully understands what he is looking at: not a company of worshipers directly created by God to worship him, rather redeemed saints. Again another direct word of encouragement to those experiencing great hardship in Asia Minor as well as other times and places. In spite of tribulation that has come at all times since curse (I will place enmity…) saints are under God’s protection and will receive his eternal blessing which accompanies his presence.
D. silence in heaven v.8:1
what’s left to say – God is awesome
It’s as if seeing the full scope of redemptive history, its conclusion, and commencement of what comes after – eternal salvation for the just, eternal punishment for the unjust – takes everyones breath away. Only one response to this understanding is appropriate: silent awe. “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab. 2:20) “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near.” (Zeph. 1:7) Boisterous joyful worship is appropriate before God; so also is silent wonder at who he is and what he has done.
Period of silence is short – about a half hour. Not the end of everything but a pause in anticipation of what comes next. Stopped in mid-stride, one foot at the end of the judgment and the other raised to enter eternal existence in new heavens and new earth. It is expectant silence, not silence of rest. More is to be seen and understood, actually in two ways: more detail about God’s plan for this age as seen, for example, in trumpet and bowl visions, more about God’s plan for the future new heavens and earth.
Several things to encourage suffering saints:
God has a plan: He will be glorified in the salvation of his people and the judgment of his enemies.
Saints may suffer from evildoers but will not get caught in cross-fire of God’s judgment.
The work of the church will be successful: the Gospel will go into all the world and bear fruit.
Future blessing for the saints far outweighs present circumstances which serve to prepare us for the future.
The eschatological terminus is the summing up of all things (Eph. 1:10). History is going somewhere and Christ is no passive by-stander. Not only is he active in the souls of believers, but in him all things hold their current form/state of existence (Col. 1:17) and any changes are ultimately connected to his sovereign rule over all things. He is driving the massive ship we call the universe, aiming it to end up harboring in his special presence on the last day. On that day he will both be marveled at and dreaded. On that day he will speak and souls will be infused back into bodies which will be transformed to be able to exist in their eternal abodes – some to honor and some to dishonor. That final day will witness something greater than “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The old creation was ushered in in such a way as to be mutable; it was susceptible to change and did change due to sin. But in that day, when the new heavens and the new earth come, only righteousness will dwell there. Not only will there be no more tears, no more death, no more sin, and no more effects of sin, there will be no possibility of anything but righteousness, peace, joy, and unbroken eternal life and communion with God and fellowship with saints and angels. This, surely, was plan A from the beginning – God will get all the glory through the work of new creation brought in by the skull-crushing Seed of the woman who entered into his glory by the power of the Holy Spirit at his resurrection and will usher his seed (and the heavens and earth themselves) into the same glory when he comes again. The present era is heading to the consummation due to the fact that the Father has given to the Son all things to sum up (Eph. 1:10).