God’s People and Purposes Will Survice
November 2, 2008
Who remembers Carnack? He was the character Johnny Carson used to play. Carnack would first hear an answer, then he would make up the question.
Q: What do you call a military coup led by General Kitchy Kitchy?
Q. What do the Los Angeles Dodgers do with 100 pop flies."
And on it would go.
Today we’ll take a look into one of the chapters of Revelation – a book I’d love to preach through when I get up enough courage. However, we’ll do a one-off look at this wonderful and puzzling letter.
To help us think about Revelation 7, I’d like to suggest that apostle John is given answers to which we will need to supply the questions.
Revelation is addressed to 1st century churches in 7 cities of the Roman province of Asia (now Western Turkey) as representative of all Christi’s churches. These churches were threatened by false teaching, by persecution, and by spiritual complacency. Jesus sent his revelation to John to fortify his churches to resist the wiles of the devil, whether in the form of intimidating violence (the beast), deceptive heresy (the false prophet) or beguiling affluence (the prostitute).
Revelation unveils the unseen spiritual war in which the church is engaged; the cosmic conflict between God and his Christ on the one hand, and Satan and his evil allies (both human and demonic) on the other.
However, we learn early on that the lamb of God has already triumphed by his victorious death on the cross. but his church continues to be assailed by the dragon until that day when the Lord returns.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there was an incredible sense that humanity was improving, that wars would cease, that every one would increasingly get along with one another. One reason for this naïve (as it now seems) optimism was the presence of Darwinian influence on social thought in our country and in Europe.
Then came WWI – then Nazi Germany – and so on. The 20th century proved to be the bloodiest on record – and I might add, there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than ever before, and there seems to be no end in sight in the 21st century.
What does this have to do with Revelation? Just this: There are 3 sets of 7 judgments in the book of Revelation. The first set of 7 comes in chapter 6 when the Lamb opens the Scrolls 7 seals. Each of them reveals that this world will have conflict, war, famine, tumult and decay to the very end. And in each set of 7, there is an interlude between the 6th and 7th calamity.
Chapter 6 tells that the church is not immune from these conflicts, and that they will continue until the return of our Lord. In chapter 7, before the 7th seal, we have the appearance of the 144,000; also described as a great multitude that no one could number…
So, back to Carnack. If he sealing of the 144,000 in the midst of the unfolding judgments of God is described in chapter 7, what is the question to which this is the answer.
Point One: The First Question is This: Will God’s Cause Survive?
Now look at Revelation 7:1-3 (ESV)
(1) After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. (2) Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, (3) saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads."
The emperors that the Christians knew were Nero and Domitian – Domitian is called in 1 book I have the next persecuting emperor. Most believe that John wrote Revelation during his reign. Before him was Nero who did persecute Christians.
So, in the minds of many Christians was this – will God’s cause survive? And the answer is given in chapter 7. Yes, it will. Nothing can deflect or alter in any way the will of God in Christ Jesus.
Notice how the 4 angels in verse 1 are holding back the 4 winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.
Obviously we are not to read Revelation in the flat, but symbolically. Numbers are obviously used symbolically as well. 12,000, 144,000, and 7 all have symbolic value.
In this section, God is restraining evil until the entire number of his people is sealed. And what is the seal?
Revelation 14:1 (ESV)
(1) Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.
The seal is the name of the Father and the Son which is written on their foreheads – i.e. on their hearts.
Nothing can keep God from sealing his elect with his name. All the considerable forces of evil, from which we are not immune, cannot keep God from his calling, sealing and protecting his elect.
God never leaves those whom he has called and set his seal upon. God never loses any of his people. Even the weakest Christians will be preserved. God can’t be defeated.
So, will God’s cause – the salvation of mankind – be defeated? No. Despite appearances to the contrary, they won’t.
Second Question: This arises from the v 5-8, the roll call of the 12 tribes of Israel. Who are God’s People?
Who are God’s people? That’s the question to which the mention of 144,000, and the great multitude that no one could count suggests.
In verses 5-8, the 12 tribes of Jacob are listed. The role call is given and they all answer – Aay!
A closer look at this list, however, helps us understand the symbolism. Is this list symbolic of OT believers, or as the Jehovah’s Witnesses think – the literal number of those in heaven; or is it the full number of those whom God has sealed, who constitute the church on earth or the church militant. I think the latter and here is why.
There are a few surprises. I’ll name a few. The OT list is in Genesis 35.23-26.
Abraham – Isaac – Jacob & Esau – and from Jacob comes 12 sons.
However, the list in Revelation is a bit different from Genesis 35. Jacob had 2 wives – Leah and Rachael and two concubines; Bilhah and Zilpah. One of the children of Bilhah, Dan is not mentioned. But, the rest of the children of the 2 concubines are listed – Gad, Asher, Naphtali and Mannasseh (replacing Dan). Also, Judah is first on the list when Reuben should have been. Further, it is unusual that both Joseph and his son Manasseh (a grandson, after all) are mentioned.
So – this list is not actually a list of Jacob’s Sons for Dan is omitted and Manasseh (grandson) is included. Further they are not the tribes that inherit5ed land in Canaan, for Dan is omitted, and Levi is (they received no land) and Joseph is listed instead of his son Ephraim.
What’s the point? This list shows that God’s people, known to the Lord, includes both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and that this list is symbolic of the Church, which is called in Galatians the Israel of God.
Further the order of tribes symbolizes the reign of Jesus (from Judah); the incorporation of outcasts and the exclusion of idolaters from the covenant community (Dan). Further, God shields his people.
The church is described in Philippians as those –
who glory in Christ and put no confidence in the flesh – not even religious flesh.
And in Revelation 7
The church consists of those who in Revelation 7:14 (ESV)
(14) I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The way you know you are part of this number is that you do glory in Christ – and that you have been forgiven by the blood of the lamb. Is that true of you today? If it isn’t, why not make it so?
So, question 2 – who are God’s people – answer v 5-8.
But there is another answer to this question. Verses 9-13
Revelation 7:9 (ESV)
(9) After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
They are crying out - Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb.
Are these a different group that 5-8?
I don’t think so. Why?
They have already come through the great tribulation (which I take it to mean the world between the resurrection and the second coming). The difference between the 144,000 and this countless multitude is not in the ethnic composition of the two, but in their location.
The 144,000 is symbolic of what we used to call the church militant – the church as it is today, protected by God, but certainly not immune from the trials and tribulations of a fallen world and sinful people.
God’s people are shielded from apostasy and from his wrath by our union with the Lamb (bearing his name, sealed by his Spirit), but still in the world.
The innumerable assembly is what we call the church triumphant. They constitute the victorious church in heaven.
So the difference is the location, not the ethnicity. The church militant and the church triumphant.
The triumphant church emerges through from tribulations not through a painless rapture as some think.
One more fact about this church: Revelation 7:15-17 (ESV)
(15) "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 shelter them with his presence. (16) They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. (17) For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Point Three: What is the Future Going to Look Like?
The Bible doesn’t give us very much information about life in heaven. I suppose it is far too great for us to comprehend.
However, there is a glimpse over the horizon.
From this we see that we will be sheltered by his presence – we need no other shelter other than his; we will no longer hunger and thirst; and the lamb of God will wipe away every tear.
In Isaiah’s prophesy God is the Shepherd who leads his flock to springs of water.
In Revelation the Lamb is their shepherd. He is in the center of the throne and with the Father receives worship from all creatures everywhere (Rev 5.13-14)
These victors already taste the joys of the New Jerusalem, where God will dwell among his people, wipe every tear from their eyes, and cause them to drink of the water of life.
The end of chapter 6 is an awful picture.
Revelation 6:16 (ESV)
(16) calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,
In response to the 6th seal’s terrifying preview of final judgment and the desperate question ‘Who is able to stand.’ We have these visions assuring us that nothing will be able to separate the Lamb’s flock from the love of Jesus Christ. Those marked as God’s treasure by the seal of his name are secured and sheltered from his burning wrath to come.
Those who reject the lamb fall down because of their rebellion.
And the end of chapter 7, ordinary people are also falling down – but not in terror – but in admiration.
Philippians 2:9-10 (ESV)
(9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,