Reading: Revelation 7:1-17
Chapter six finished with a question in the light of the catastrophes unleashed by the sixth seal: Who can stand? It seems that the answer is, ‘God’s servants will stand.’
Jesus told us that he had come for the lost sheep of Israel, (Matthew 15:24) here, in Revelation, we see the fulfilment of that as the tribes of Israel are shown to belong to God. God orders that the plagues are to be temporarily held in abeyance (2) while 144,000 ‘servants of God,’ 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, are sealed on their foreheads by the signet ring of the living God.(3)
Ancient documents were often tied with string and the knot was coated with lump of clay. The clay was then stamped by a signet ring (or something similar) marking and sealing the contents. Here, God’s seal symbolises both his ownership and protection. His name is written on their foreheads! There is no reason to take these figures as literal numbers, but instead they show us that during the tribulation of the plagues there is an amazing, massive, turning to Jesus by Jews. (1-8). Paul also speaks of these events in Romans 11:25-29: God’s promise to the patriarchs holds.
The Gospel was preached first to the Jew and then to the Gentiles, (everyone else), (Romans 1:16); in verses 9-17 we see a second group distinct from the first, a multitude of Gentiles- those from every tribe, tongue and people group. They are engaged in beautiful, heavenly worship. They sing a great hymn of salvation and as they do there is a response by the angels surrounding the throne, the twenty-four elders, and the four cherubim. (11-12). Beautiful, symphony, harmony and synergy.
Thankfully for us, in verses 14-17 there is an explanation of what John is seeing volunteered by one of the elders. This, we are told, is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). What John is seeing is the Christians who have died or suffered martyrdom during the period of tribulation.
The question asked by many is, “When will this tribulation begin?” Some believe that it is future event, and it’s ok to believe that, many people do, it’s often taught and preached. However, my personal view is that Revelation shows us what is happening behind the scenes of ‘the now‘.
‘The now‘ of everyone who reads it.
It is describing what was happening to John and the early church at that moment. Making sense of their suffering. It is describing ‘behind the scenes‘ of the First, Second and Third Century persecution of Christians and Jews, and the persecutions and tribulations of every century after. In the Twentieth Century there were more Christian martyrs killed than all the other centuries put together. John sees ‘behind the scenes‘ for them, and for us. It is ‘behind the scenes‘ for all that is going on now around the World, and has been going on since the day Jesus ascended into heaven worthy to open the seals.
Chapter Seven has a beautiful ending. All those who have suffered for their faith, all who have stood their ground, all those who have been persecuted, those who have been martyred are met by God in the most personal way. He comes and personally drys their tears.
In 1956 Jim Elliot and three other young men – Ed McCully, Roger Youderian and Pete Fleming- were missionaries in Ecuador sharing the word and love of God to a remote jungle tribe. They and their pilot, Nate Saint, made contact with the Huaorani tribe of Indians using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts from the plane to the tribe. After several months of relationship building, the men decided to build a base close to the Indian village. They were approached one time by a small group of Huaorani. Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the Huaorani without knowing that one frequent visitor to their base, Naenkiwi, had lied to his tribe about the missionaries’ peaceful intentions. On January 8, 1956 the small missionary team were ambushed and killed by ten tribesmen acting on Naenkiwi’s orders. Elliot’s and the teams’ bodies were found days later beside the banks of the Curaray River. In his journal entry for October 28, 1949, Jim Elliot wrote of his love and faith in Jesus and his desire to serve him even if it meant laying down his life, he wrote, “ He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
“My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:4-8)
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10)
Father, Holy One, and Faithful One, praise and glory is yours, all power and honour is yours. Always. There is no one like you. Thank you that as I follow you I am completely held and protected by you. Help me not to fear the difficult situations around me or the schemes of wicked people. Help me Lord, to show your love, and speak your words to a suffering and hurting, rebellious world. Pour out your spirit on me, that in these days I might stand firm, always loving, always serving, always faithful and always yours. In Jesus name. Amen.
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