I don’t know about you, but I really miss going through Revelation whenever we miss services. Hopefully you are as excited as I am about jumping back into things tonight. But since we missed last week, I want to take a minute to remind you of what’s been going on in future Earth. Our past two studies encompassed the first six seal judgments. And remember, these are six of the seven seals on the scroll that only Jesus is worthy to open. And each time He breaks one of the seals, something huge happens on planet Earth. Who can remember what the first four seals are commonly known as? Yes, thank you, they are known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The first horse was white, and signified the coming of the antichrist. The second horse was red, and signified the coming of a massive, global war. The third horse was black and represented a famine that will most likely follow the war. The final horse was pale in color, and represented the 25% of the world’s population that would die in the war and the following famine. After that we looked at the fifth and sixth seals. Seal number five was a recognition of all of the people who have died for their faith, with the promise that even more would die for Christ. Seal number six was a massive shaking that shook the land, the sea, and even the sky.
For the next two weeks we will be looking at the lull in time between seals number six and seven. During this time period, a great number of people will trust in Christ as their Savior. There has been a notion over the years that nobody will be able to trust in Christ during the Tribulation, but Revelation chapter seven paints a very different story. So if you are not there yet, please turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter seven, and we will be reading verses one through eight. Revelation 7:1-8.
“And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And 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 given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Asher were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Naphtali were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasseh were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zebulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.”
Let’s pray before we begin.
Ok, so tonight’s passage obviously revolves around the 144,000 sealed by God, but before we get into all of that, we need to notice some things mentioned in verses one through three. Let’s start off by looking at verse one again. “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.“ Okay, in this verse we see four angels standing on the four corners of the earth holding back four winds. Wow. Let’s start off with the four corners of the earth. Don’t you imagine that people that don’t believe the Bible is true have fun with this phrase? They probably say, “Haha, the writers of the Bible believed that the world had four corners!” So how do we in a scientifically-enlightened age explain this phrase? Frankly, we can’t know for sure whether or not John understood that the world was round. There were mathematicians in the ancient Greek world that had already hypothesized that the world was round, but we don’t know whether or not John agreed with them.
But obviously, we believe that the Holy Spirit was a divine Editor for every word penned by John, so the phrase “the four corners of the earth” was acceptable to God. So how can we explain this? Can you say, “figure of speech?” Guess what. Even in the year 2011 people are still saying “the four corners of the earth.” Please raise your hand if you have ever said something about the four corners of the earth. Okay. Now, do any of you actually believe that the earth is flat? No, then why did you say it? Is it possible that the Apostle John did the exact same thing? I think so.
Enough about that. So we’ve got four angels standing on the proverbial corners of the earth, and they are holding back four winds. The winds here are representative of God’s judgment. And to see what judgments we’re talking about, let’s look at verses two and three. “And 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 given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.’” So to try and set the scene; we have four angels who are about to unleash four judgments onto the earth. And as they are preparing to release the judgments, an angel comes from the east with an official message from God. The phrase “having the seal of the living God” basically means that he comes delivering a message straight from God Himself. Just like ancient kings would set their seal onto official documents, God set His seal on this command to hold back the judgments.
And what is this message from God? The message was “Wait!” The angels were told to not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees until the servants of God had been sealed on their foreheads. And as to the specifics of the judgments that the four angels had, I think we can say with a great deal of certainty that they are the four judgments mentioned in Revelation chapter eight.
So just to recap verses one through three, God intentionally creates a lull between the massive earthquake and the next set of judgments to allow time for the sealing of His servants. And verses four through eight recount the sealing of His Jewish servants, and verses nine through seventeen talk about His Gentile servants.
Before we move on, does anybody have any questions about verses one through three?
Let’s now look at the mystery of the 144,000 by reading verse four. “And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” Three weeks ago I began our Bible study by asking what people thought were some of the key points in the book of Revelation. Specifically what I was talking about that week was the four horsemen, but I think the same line of thinking works tonight. If you asked a random group of people what they knew about the book of Revelation, one of the most common answers you would hear would be something about the 144,000.
In trying to understand the 144,000; you need to know that there are three main theories out there about what the 144,000 represent. The first theory is that the 144,000 is a literal number of Jewish people that will trust in Christ and become servants for God. The second theory is that the number is a symbolic number that refers to the Church as a whole. Proponents of this theory would say that Church is the new, spiritual Israel. But obviously, there are hundreds of millions of Christians in the world today; so they would say that the number 144,000 is a symbolic number. And while I don’t want to bore you, I’ll explain briefly why they say the number 144,000 is symbolic. The number three in the Bible represents the Trinity. The number four represents the completeness of Creation. So three times four is twelve, which is supposedly a really good number. Twelve tribes, twelve disciples, you get the picture. The number 144 is twelve times twelve, which essentially makes the goodness of twelve all that much better. Then, you multiply that by the number 1,000; which supposedly represents the world being conquered by God. Thus, you have the number 144,000. A number that multiplies the Trinity with Creation, multiplies that number by itself, and then multiplies that number by the number that represents God conquering the world. That is theory number two.
Before I comment on that theory, I want to briefly mention theory number three. This is a theory that says that only 144,000 people will get to go to Heaven to reign with Christ, while all other devout people will live in a paradise on earth. Does anybody know which modern-day cult came up with this theory? Yes, that’s right. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God will decide which out of their group is the most deserving to reign with Him, and the other devout people will remain on earth during the Millennium. I once had some Jehovah’s Witnesses at my home when I was a teenager, and I asked the elder if he believed he was one of the 144,000. He said he didn’t know, but he hoped that he would be. I asked him what he could do to increase his chances. He told me that knocking on doors was one thing he could do to better his standing with God. So the next time a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on your door, please do not slam it in their face. They are not evil, they are simply very confused. I would urge you to share with them the true gospel. And if that prospect terrifies you, give me a call; and if they can wait for me to get there, you and I will show them the truth together. My standing with God is already perfect, and it’s not because of any doors I’ve knocked on. My standing with God is perfect because Jesus Christ paid the price of my sins, and I am now washed as white as snow.
So obviously, I hope that none of you hold to the theory that the Jehovah’s Witnesses will make up the 144,000. But that leaves us with two very different options. One option says that literally 144,000 Jews will accept Christ and become sealed servants of God; and the other theory says that this represents every Christian, with the number being symbolic. Personally, I believe in the first theory. Look at verses five through eight. I’m not going to read those verses again, but can somebody tell me why I might think that this is a literal number? Yes, thank you. I believe it is literal because it gives very exact counts of how many will come from each tribe. If this number was symbolic of all of Christianity, I don’t believe that it would give specifics from the different tribes of Israel.
So what is this sealing business all about? Well, it’s pretty difficult to know for sure. Personally, I believe that more than 144,000 Jews will become Christians during this time; and that this number represents the number of Jews that will become evangelists for the gospel. The reason I think that more than 144,000 Jews will become Christians is that there are many millions of Jews in the world today, and I truly like to think that masses of them will finally trust in Christ when they see the events going on around them. That being said, I believe that the 144,000 will be like 144,000 little versions of the Apostle Paul. I believe the 144,000 will be Jewish men and women who not only accept Christ, but who are sealed by God to take His gospel all over the world. But who knows, I could be wrong. Maybe the Jewish nation will be so hard-hearted that only 144,000 of them will turn to Christ. I pray that is not the case.
From time to time I will jokingly say that I will give a gold star to whoever can answer a tough question that I pose. Just like much of the book of Revelation, my statement is symbolic, because I don’t actually have a gold star with me. But, at the same time, much of the book of Revelation is literal, right? Well, tonight my gold star question is literal, too. I have two very tough questions, and whoever gets it will literally get a gold star! Both of these questions have to do with the twelve tribes listed in verses five through eight. As you probably know, Jacob had twelve sons, which became the twelve tribes of Israel. But in the breakdown of the land, the Levites were not given any land, and the two sons of Joseph were each given pieces of the inheritance. So, if you count the twelve sons of Jacob, and the two sons of Joseph, there are actually fourteen tribes of Israel. The reason we say “twelve tribes” is because Levi did not get any land, and Joseph was not counted since his two boys were. But in this list, we have twelve names listed. The first question is which actual son of Jacob was not listed, and the second question is which son of Joseph was listed on this list. All I ask is that the same person not get both gold stars. I will give you a minute or two of searching through the Bible on your own trying to find the answer, and if no one has answered it, I will give you the book of the Bible to look in. Then, if still no one gets it, I will give you the correct chapter for each of the two questions. Sound like fun? All right, have at it. Remember, I want to know which son of Jacob is not mentioned, and second, which son of Joseph is mentioned. If you think of it, feel free to shout it out.
And I’m going to be really tacky and say that you’re all gold stars in my book!
All right, very nice. So notice that Dan was not mentioned, nor was Ephraim, the other son of Joseph. So the question now becomes, “Why weren’t these two mentioned?” While we can’t be for sure, most commentators believe the reason Dan wasn’t mentioned is that the tribe of Dan was the first tribe to officially fall into idolatry in the book of Judges. And as for the tribe of Ephraim, remember that the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire around the year 720BC. The Assyrians were a very brutal group of people that brutally murdered many of the people they conquered. History tells us that they almost completely blotted out the tribe of Ephraim. The reason Ephraim wasn’t mentioned is that there is probably no one alive today that is from the tribe of Ephraim.
So that, church, is my interpretation of the 144,000 people. I hope it was beneficial to you, and I hope it increases your understanding of God’s word. And I hope it is not depressing to you that I do not believe that all Christians will receive this special “seal” of God. Because church, we have already been sealed by God. You and I were sealed by the Holy Spirit the moment that we trusted in Christ as our Savior. Do I believe that I am one of the 144,000? No, I don’t. But I do believe that I have been saved from my sin, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. So I hope that tonight’s lesson has reminded you yet again that if you are a follower of Christ, then you have been sealed by the blood of the Lamb. I don’t know if you or I will be alive when all of these events take place; but I know where we’ll be if we’re not alive down here. And that is a very exciting thought.