Sunday, June 3, 2012

Revelation Bible Study - Lesson 22 - Revelation 7:1-8

Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, "Wait! Don't harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants." And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel: from Judah – 12,000; from Reuben – 12,000; from Gad – 12,000; from Asher – 12,000; from Naphtali – 12,000; from Manasseh – 12,000; from Simeon – 12,000; from Levi – 12,000; from Issachar – 12,000; from Zebulun – 12,000; from Joseph – 12,000; from Benjamin – 12,000 NLT)

In this chapter, it appears that we go back to the start of the tribulation, or maybe just before it. We then take another view of what will happen during the last times. Chapter six showed a quick view of the earth and unbelievers. This chapter is going to tell that even during that time, the Lord will have His servants spread the Word and that many will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

Four Corners, Winds and Angels

What do the four corners of the earth represent?

It may seem obvious but it must be emphasized that the four corners of the earth are used to make sure we know that what is about to happen will encompass the whole earth. In Ezek 7:1-4, the Lord spoke of disaster coming on the four corners of the land. He wanted to make sure that the nation of Israel knew that His judgment was coming against them and all parts of the nation would be affected. This chapter in Ezekiel is like the event in the end times. This is what I call Ezekiel’s “doom chapter.” It is filled with nothing but the predictions of the horror that will come upon the nation and the inability of anyone to escape. When the Lord said it would come upon the four corners of the land, it set the stage for the continued descriptions of the complete destruction that followed.

Can we interpret the four winds as being either symbolic or literal? If symbolic what do they represent? If literal what does this imply?

And I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; and I will scatter them to all those winds, and there shall be no nation to which those driven out of Elam shall not come. I will terrify Elam before their enemies, and before those who seek their life; I will bring evil upon them, my fierce anger, says the Lord. I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them. (Jer 49:36-37 RSV)
In Jeremiah, the four winds represent every part of the earth and the four quarters of the heavens represent every part of heaven. It isn’t as if we could go to some place and see where the winds start or see the angels holding back the wind. Rather, we again see the all-encompassing aspect of the events. The four winds in Jeremiah are destructive winds as are those in Revelation. However in Jeremiah, it isn’t the wind that is doing the destruction, but the foes and enemies of Elam. This clearly identifies these winds as symbolic.
Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another.” (Dan 7:2-3 NASB)
These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. (Dan 7:17 NASB)
Wind seems to be random to us, but the Lord is the One in control of the wind. He uses this symbolism in Daniel several times in the Bible to show that all history turns out as He directs. This passage and the following verses show the correlation between the peoples of the earth and the sea. Envision the sea as the unorganized mass of humanity. Then God works to bring forth four nations. Even though we can see from the following Scriptures that Satan is ruler of the earth and that the nations belong to him, it is still our sovereign Lord who guides and directs history.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." (Matt 4:8-9 ESV)
… following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in  the sons of disobedience … (Eph 2:2b ESV)

If the land and the sea in Revelation are referring to the nations of the earth, then the winds should be interpreted as symbolic. Even if the land and sea doesn’t represent the nations of the earth, the winds could be symbolic of God’s wrath.
As we look into Revelation further, we can see that many disasters come from various directions harming the land, sea and the vegetation on the earth. This brings up the possibility that these winds are not symbolic because the harm is going to come upon trees as well as land and sea. These are all things that can be severely affected by high winds. We could very well expect higher winds during the end times. The Lord may do this through natural means such as changing weather patterns (El Nino or La Nina).
If you look though history, the earth is continually becoming more arid in many places. The Sahara desert is continually advancing. In many nations, people have cut trees for fuel (and other reasons) and the growth is not replaced. The end result could be like the nation of Israel today. A lot of Israel would be a desert if it weren’t for irrigation that makes it productive. In the times of David and before, the Lord called it a land flowing with milk and honey. It produced without irrigation and had large forestlands. Some of this can be blamed on our own misuse of the environment. It could simply be God’s judgment upon sinful nations – very much like the drought and famine He brought upon Israel during the time of King Ahab. There are many disasters that could occur to the earth and people like to theorize about how it may occur, however this one is obviously declared to be in the power of the Lord.
One way or another, symbolic or literal, the angels are currently holding back the winds and the implication is that they are about to let them go. The call from the angel coming from the East clarifies that the other four angels have power to harm, but haven’t done it yet. It will not happen until the Lord gives His approval.

Fifth Angel

What are two missions of this angel coming from the East?

For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Matt 24:21-22 NIV)

Unless the days of disaster are cut short, no one will survive. The fifth angel has two missions. His first is to instruct the other four to hold the disaster. In this case he is doing it so that a special group of people may come to know the Lord. We aren’t just talking physical survival, but eternal life.

His second mission is to bring the seal of the Living God. He is bringing the seal and in doing so, he is a participant in putting the seal on these people’s forehead to mark them as God’s chosen servants. Some say that because the rapture has already occurred, that there is no one to witness to these people, therefore an angel must do it. (So I ask what about the Bible, books, tapes, and videos?) Again, speculation can bring about any number of answers and theories.
Who does God primarily use to bring people to salvation? How might angels participate in this?

While the Lord has left the mission of evangelism up to us (Matt 28:18-20), it is evident that angels have a part in this ministry as well. The angel says to wait until “we” put the seal on their foreheads. Just as this angel has a part in bringing people to Christ, we also have different jobs in bringing people to Christ. We won’t know until we are in heaven how some of the things we have done in life have helped others come to Jesus. It is apparent that the Lord is using this angel to ensure that there will be enough time given so that all these people will come to Him. I wonder how many times unbelievers are spared from death by angels only because the Lord wants them to have another chance to repent from their sins and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Sealed Saints

What is the seal that is placed on the foreheads of these believers?

I’m sorry to say that the cross on the forehead of believers that only other believers could see, which was purported to be this seal in the “Left Behind” series of books, is fantasy. These books are novels. Despite the author’s claims to adhere to biblical accuracy, they are fiction and should not be used to interpret Scripture.
"Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal." (John 6:27 NASU)
If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. (1 Cor 9:2 NASU)
The Father has placed His seal of approval upon Jesus. It was not a physical mark that could be seen, but it was demonstrated in the many miracles that Jesus performed. The seal of Paul’s apostleship wasn’t a physical mark either, but the numbers of people that came to Christ when he spread the Gospel.

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor 1:21-22 NKJV)
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:13-14 NKJV)
God has done the work to make us stand firm in salvation. He is the One who makes us continue in Christ and it is because of His seal of ownership, His Holy Spirit, who guarantees it. We may die but He is forever and we will always be in Him. A partnership or sole proprietorship does not have a seal, but a corporation does. A corporation legally lives even if some of the owners die. A partnership is automatically dissolved when a partner dies. The Lord has a seal, a living seal, the Holy Spirit. Both the Lord and the seal live forever guaranteeing the permanence of our relationship with Him.
How does Ezek 9:3-6 prefigure this event in the book of Revlation?

Then the glory of the God of Israel rose up from between the cherubim, where it had rested, and moved to the entrance of the Temple. And the Lord called to the man dressed in linen who was carrying the writer's case. He said to him, "Walk through the streets of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of all who weep and sigh because of the detestable sins being committed in their city."
Then I heard the Lord say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all—old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin right here at the Temple." So they began by killing the seventy leaders. (Ezek 9:3-6 NLT)

This occurred in a vision that was given to Ezekiel before the Lord destroyed Jerusalem because of its wickedness. When the actual battle came, people didn’t have marks on their foreheads and there weren’t six people doing the killing as the previous verses indicate. The man clothed in linen (priestly garb) is said to represent Christ in His priestly role as mediator. He is marking those upon whom He is having mercy to spare them from the calamity that is about to overtake Jerusalem. If we can see Christ in this vision, then the people are not limited to those in Jerusalem, but represent everyone down through the ages who have received God’s mercy and salvation. The mark in this case would not be something visible on our foreheads, but as we have seen above, the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the fruit that He bears in our lives.  

144,000 Jews

Provide your first thoughts. Is this number being saved literal or symbolic? Are they really Jews or is this symbolic?

Unless we can come up with something better, it appears that many people are about to be saved. They are not saved to start with because the angel had to stop the show for a while. If we take it literally, then there is a specific number of Jews who will be saved and as we will see later, for a very specific purpose. Many people argue that it cannot be taken literally because all of the genealogies have been lost. No one knows who is truly from which tribe anymore. The answer is just as obvious. The angels have direct access to God’s records so they know. Observe what the Lord has decreed.
"I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them; for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. Then E'phraim shall become like a mighty warrior, and their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and rejoice, their hearts shall exult in the Lord.
"I will signal for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as of old. Though I scattered them among the nations,y et in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return. I will bring them home from the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria; and I will bring them to the land of Gilead and to Lebanon, till there is no room for them. They shall pass through the sea of Egypt, and the waves of the sea shall be smitten, and all the depths of the Nile dried up. The pride of Assyria shall be laid low, and the scepter of Egypt shall depart. I will make them strong in the Lord and they shall glory in his name," says the Lord. (Zech 10:6-12 RSV)

The Lord made this promise after the Jews (mainly from the tribe of Judah, Benjamin and Levi) had already returned to Judah, so it can’t be attributed to the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. It hasn’t happened yet and is still waiting for its fulfillment. It will occur because He has compassion on them. Little verses like this always crop up when we think that God might respond to our pleas. He reminds us that it is because it is what He wants to do, because of His nature. It also shows that His restoration is perfect.
Why or why not is the current state of Israel a fulfillment of this promise in Zechariah? How can this be applied to Christians?

Many think that the modern day restoration of Israel is the fulfillment of this promise because Jews are returning from all over the world. This may be the start of it, but it hasn’t been completed because the country is a secular state and hasn’t returned to the Lord. When this is fulfilled, it will be as though He had never rejected them. (The same applies to us when we are saved – it is as if we had never been separated from Him.) This is the reason why the Jewish people to this day have been able to keep their identity. It is so that the Lord will have someone to bring back. It is also a good reminder to us. When we are among non-Christians, we should also remember Him and keep our identity. The Lord says that He will signal them and bring them back. He doesn’t need anyone to identify them, He knows who they are and He also knows who we are. He never forgets who His children are. The last verse needs to be emphasized, that they will walk in His name. Since the Messiah has already come once, the only way to walk in the name of the Lord is to walk in the name of Jesus. This obviously hasn’t happened in Israel – yet!
Some suggest that the 144,000 should be taken symbolically and is representative of all believers. This is because there are twelve (apostles) times twelve (tribes) to form 144 and represent all Jewish and Gentile Christians. Ten is a number of completeness. Three is the number of God and 1,000 is ten to the third power indicating God’s completion of salvation before His wrath is completed. All the math sounds neat, but it seems to me more man’s desire to explain the numbers. As far as I’ve seen, this numerology doesn’t have any Scriptural backing. On the surface, it would more likely to be symbolic of all Jews coming to Christ at the end time. Paul affirms that there will be a time when Israel will be saved.
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." (Rom 11:25-27 NASB)
What might be a problem with using this list of 144,000 Jews as representative of all Jews?

Dan is missing from the list of tribes in Revelation. The half tribe of Manasseh is included instead. (The descendants of Joseph were split into two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, his two oldest sons.) If we were to include the half tribes, then Ephraim is also left out but Joseph is included. Hal Lindsey states that many scholars suggest that the reason for the substitutions is that the Antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan based on the following verse.[1]
Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that his rider falls backward. (Gen 49:17 ESV)
This seems like a stretch to me. It’s also contradictory because Lindsey later identifies the Antichrist as Roman.[2] Scholars also think that Ephraim is left out because they led the way in splitting the kingdom of Israel in two. Lindsey also says that these two tribes were the first to lead Israel into idolatry. Some problems with these views are that Solomon revived the mess of idolatry with his many wives. Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim, was the leader of the revolt against King Solomon’s son; however it was at the Lord’s decree and as a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness near the end of his life. (See 1 Kings 11 and 12.) To use these things as a basis for tossing these two tribes out of the special Jews for Jesus task force is pure speculation as far as I’m concerned. Besides, Zech 10:7 refers to the Ephraimites and their return to Israel. If there is a reason for leaving out the names of these two tribes, it is well beyond me.

Read Rev 14:1-5. What things in this passage about the 144,000 point to addressing them as literal or symbolic?

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (Rev 14:1-5 NIV)
Arguments for these people being symbolic of all Jews or all believers can be made because they are going to learn a song that others can’t learn. This fits a symbolic interpretation if those who can’t learn it are people who reject Christ. Something that makes it hard to take this literally is that it appears that they are all single men and pure, not having had any sexual relationships with a woman.
What is it that makes a person defiled?

And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23 NASU)
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:28 NASU)

Based on Jesus’ words, a person can be married and be undefiled by a woman. However if they have ever had any immoral relationship with a woman, even in their mind, then they have been defiled because of what is in them. This makes it pretty tough to find 144,000 men anywhere in the world who could fit this picture before they become Christians. Also, they haven’t ever lied. Wow! That makes it even tougher. We shouldn’t be looking then for 144,000 single Jewish men who have kept themselves pure. Chapter 14 comes before Jesus’ return to the earth, yet it says that He is standing on Mount Zion with these 144,000 and that they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. This has to be symbolic of people who are redeemed.
Has your initial answer changed? Are then, the 144,000 symbolic of all people or only symbolic of Jews?

Even by a process of elimination, it is hard to say that these people are either symbolic of all Jews or a literal number of Jews. Again with God, it would be possible for them to be a literal group. However, they could be symbolic of all men because they are offered as first fruits of those purchased from among men (all people), meaning that they are a symbol of all who are purchased by Jesus and His sacrifice. This fits with what we have been taught elsewhere in Scripture. All who have faith in Jesus are sons of Abraham – not just Jews.

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. (Gal 3:7 NASU)
If we see that all believers are the represented by the 144,000, then the beauty of this is that in the eyes of God, we are considered pure, undefiled and not liars once we have come to know Him.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. (Col 1:21-22 NLT)
For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (Col 3:3-4 NLT)
 Doesn’t this sound a lot like the 144,000 who are appearing with Jesus, blameless and appearing with Him Glory?
After concluding that the 144,000 are symbolic, how might this change your conclusion about the winds and why?

At the beginning of the chapter, I waffled between interpreting the four  winds as symbolic or literal without really landing on the side of either. I think that these elements need to be interpreted in context with the 144,000. The seal on their foreheads have been shown to be symbolic also. There isn’t a break in the context to justify taking some things as literal and others as symbolic. In fact the 144,000 are specifically tied to the winds because they must be sealed before the winds are released. Based on this, I would expect the destructive winds to be symbolic also.
When do these people come to Christ? Do they all come before the rapture or do some come after?

They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Rev 9:4 NKJV)
Chapter 8 of Revelation appears to be the beginning of God’s wrath upon the earth. Since people are still being saved in chapter 9, it indicates that the 144,000 represent those who come to faith in Christ before and during the tribulation. The latter are present on the earth during some of the worst tribulation but are spared from suffering God’s wrath. I still can’t say for certain that this sealing occurs before or after the rapture of the Church. When the 144,000 appear on Mount Zion it would have to be in the spiritual realm since Jesus doesn’t return physically until later. That could indicate that they will be raptured later or will be martyred. I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned for more details.
What has stood out to you in this lesson?

Some things stand out in my mind from this chapter:
·         God is in control.
·         God seals us forever, establishing our salvation.
·         Our lives are hidden in Christ and our sinful lives are not seen. We are as if we had been pure from birth.
These things bring glory to our Lord and give us hope. It frees us from the guilt of the past and fear of the future. May you bask in these truths as you follow the Lamb.

[1] Hal Lindsey, There’s A New World Coming  (Santa Ana: Vision House, 1973) page 121
[2] Hal Lindsey, There’s A New World Coming  (Santa Ana: Vision House, 1973) page 184

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