1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. They held back the earth’s four winds so that no wind would blow against the earth, the sea, or any tree. 2 I saw another angel coming up from the east, holding the seal of the living God. He cried out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given the power to damage the earth and sea. 3 He said, “Don’t damage the earth, the sea, or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of those who serve our God.”
4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed from every tribe of the Israelites:
5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed;
from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand;
6 from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand;
7 from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand;
8 from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
9 After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out with a loud voice:
“Victory belongs to our God
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying,
“Amen! Blessing and glory
and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Will God literally only redeem 144,000 people? No, of course not. “One hundred forty-four thousand: this expression means ‘too many to count.’ It’s 1,000 multiplied by 12 and multiplied again by 12. Twelve recalls the 12 tribes of Israel as well as the 12 apostles.”* Verse 9 confirmed that view. It called the same group (the redeemed) “a great crowd that no one could number.” Jesus' salvation takes in all those who love and follow God in all ages and all places.
Lord Jesus, when so many parts of life feel hard, I can hardly wait for the promised day when you “will wipe away every tear from [my] eyes.” Until then, give me patience and hope. Amen.
* Catherine A. Cory, study note on Revelation 7:4 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 507NT.
** Zondervan, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 288302-288304). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
*** Catherine A. Cory, study note on Revelation 7:9 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 508NT.
It can be really hard to understand Revelation. In today’s blog, I’m going to try (in 500 words or less) to offer insight of how we can apply the challenging scriptures of Revelation to our lives today. Right now, there are a lot of things we’re missing - events, graduations, just being together. But there’s also a lot that I see changing for the better. We’re reinventing the way we can have events and the way we can have community.
If we apply today’s events to this passage, we end up trying to force our situation into the Scripture to assert our own agenda and get a Cliff Notes version of what we want to hear (not unlike the way news headlines work). What we likely see then is a futurist point of view, looking just at the foreboding warnings of Revelation and seeing an apocalypse. If we do this, we could easily stop at verse 2 and blindly accept this headline: “We’re not gathered and everything is cancelled...God must have sent the angel with the power to damage the earth and sea.”
If instead we let today’s passage speak on its own terms to where we are in life, allow the Spirit to speak the words written centuries ago to us today, we begin to see the good news. In verse 1 we see vivid imagery of the angels, and therefore the earth, holding their breath. That’s followed in verses 2-8 by another angel stopping any destruction in order to prepare those who have been chosen by God. The rest of the passage (11-16) describes a beautiful processional of worshipers from across the globe. Verse 17 ends by saying that the Lamb (Jesus) will shepherd (guide, lead, protect) these people, borrowing imagery from Psalm 23. Finally comes the well-known promise, the good news of this passage, “God will wipe away every tear from their eye.”
Now that we’ve seen what this passage says, we can begin to hear God’s words speak to us today. Not unlike the angels, we are in a season of anticipation. We’re anticipating a time that we can move forward with life, a time when we can return to being with each other. The procession at the end of this passage reminds me of a graduation, something that many of us greatly missed.
If I’m really listening for what God is saying to us today, to this situation we’re in, it’s this: As the angels did at the beginning, we should take a breath and take notice of the good around us. Then moving to verse 14, I can hear God acknowledging that we are in hardship, and that we may go through more. But what’s at the end is a God who will look upon us with love, will wipe away our tears, and will lead us into a time and place of such goodness that we cannot fully imagine what’s in store.
That’s the good news we can see if, instead of looking at Scripture trying to find a forecast of current events, we look at Scripture as God’s message of hope to us.
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