Category Archives: Reformed

God’s Provision for His People – Revelation Part 16

Revelation Part 16

Chapter 7

Ezekiel 9:1-6

God’s Provision for His People

AUDIO FOR THIS SERMON CAN BE FOUND HERE

One of my favorite vacation pastimes is reading science fiction. And over the years I’ve grown to be quite a fan of one particular writer: Orson Scott Card.

Arguably, Card’s most popular book by far is Ender’s Game. A futuristic story of a young man named Ender. Having sold over 7 million copies, I’m not alone in appreciating Card’s writing.

This Christmas, Sky purchased another book by Card for me, titled Ender’s Shadow. And it was lauded as highly innovative and a breakthrough in literature. It wasn’t a sequel or a prequel, but it covered the exact same time and events, but from the perspective of one of the other characters in the original book – a diminutive little boy/genius named Bean.

And if one hadn’t read the book of Revelation, this concept of covering the same time and events from a wholly different perspective would seem radically new and innovative.

But here we are in our study of Chapter 7 of the Revelation, and we are in fact confronted with the very same literary device Card is so lauded for. He’s just late to it by about 2,000 years.

For ch. 7 isn’t giving us a look at some sequential material down the road from what we’ve just seen in 6 and the opening of the seals – it is simply shifting point of view, from what’s happening on earth during the opening of the seals, to what’s happening in Heaven.

And from this point of view, the idea is to bring perspective, comfort and confidence to Christians after having rattled our cages with the things we saw earlier.

Last time we examined the opening of the 7 seals which we were told seal the scroll which was in the right hand of God as He sat upon His throne.

No one in all the universe was found worthy to break those seals and open the scroll until the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, Jesus the Messiah steps up, takes the scroll and begins to open it. He was worthy to do this because: Revelation 5:9–10 “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

This scroll, which we’ve said is nothing less than the eternal plan of God both to ultimately judge all sin and to reward His saints is both revealed, and enacted by Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God. He is, for lack of a better term, the executor of the Father’s will. And His action puts all of His will into motion.

Because Jesus resisted all sin in His life; paid the penalty for sin in His death; rose from the dead overcoming sin’s ultimate outcome in His resurrection – securing the salvation of all who will trust in His atoning work on Calvary – He alone is worthy to vanquish all sin and its effects, and to reward those who by faith are in Him. To bring about the glorious, eternal end the Father has promised.

That plan, as we saw last time, entails the crushing of all human governments and institutions and trust in anything but God Himself – ushering in His own Kingdom in its fullness. A Kingdom which will also get unpacked for us before this book is done.

More, it requires the complete undoing of this present world system which is based upon material economics, human/and or demonically inspired religion, culturally defined morality and autonomous human authority. Those 4 things must be overthrown.

Christ must finally rule and reign as the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords on earth. Holiness must permeate our beings in that we walk in holiness as thoroughly and naturally as God Himself does. All things of value are measured by God’s standard of what is most valuable to the soul in Christ. And all worship is the constant, joyful outflow of being blessed beyond our comprehension in the unending revelation of God in all of His magnificence and glory. For as we’ve said so often  He can bless us with nothing greater than Himself, since nothing greater exists.

What we are seeing unfold then in the following chapters, is the road to get there.

Yes, there will be judgment and destruction, but it will give way to eternal glory and wonder and goodness and perfection.

[XXXX] So as we saw last week – the opening of the 6 seals so far have laid out the basic plan.

It is a program of:

Righteous conquering, by means of

Human warfare

Famine

Massive loss of life

Widespread Christian martyrdom

Earthquakes and eco-cataclysm

Walking through those last week certainly wasn’t pleasant, nor was it pleasant for the first readers.

But our God knows how unsettling this picture is for us.

And so it is, He quickly gives us glimpse of something to settle our hearts and minds, when we know full well all of these things are coming on the world – and the world as we now know it, will cease to be.

Outline of Ch. 7

Vss. 1-3 / Restraining the wind until…

Vss. 4-8 / The 144,000

Vss. 9-10 / The Great Multitude

Vss. 11-12 / The Angelic Response

Vss. 13-14 / Explanation of the Multitude

Vss. 15-17 / The Promises

 

Vss. 1-3 / Restraining the wind until…

Yes judgment is coming, but God also has mercy and provision for those who are His – which all benefit from. The winds which will eventually bring great destruction, are restrained. And that, for a very specific purpose.

Fortunately, this picture of sealing or marking God’s people in their foreheads is not new in Scripture. We can go back and see how it was used before to get a handle on what is meant here. This will also inform us as to what is most likely meant later in the book with the mark of the Beast as a counter symbol.

We get a view of this in Ezekiel Ch. 9. The setting is another vision. This time, one given to the Prophet Ezekiel when he is exiled along with the rest of the Jews in Babylon.

Since Ezekiel’s mission was to preach to the Jews in captivity, a major part of that mission was to make them understand exactly why it was they were in exile. Why Jerusalem was destroyed.

The bottom line was, they had become an idolatrous and unrighteous society governed by greed, self-interest, oppression and sexual immorality.

Now for Ezekiel and many of his contemporaries, all of whom had gone into exile, the question was: Were their NO righteous people in Judah at all? And if so, how could God let the righteous go into exile along with those who were unrighteous?

And God uses this vision to say “I haven’t forgotten about those who didn’t give in to this sinful lifestyle like the rest.”

So God gives Ezekiel a look back at what was happening from God’s point of view BEFORE the Babylonians arrived to sack the city – Ezekiel 9:4 [The Lord sent an angel] And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”

And then in the following verses He begins to strike down the wicked.

The very same sort of thing is being communicated in Rev. 7. Yes, judgment will fall and when it does, there will be both righteous and unrighteous people on the earth – but the Lord knows, the Lord marks out and takes special note and care for those who are His even though they will endure much discomfort in it.

So the seal in their foreheads is probably not literal, but signifies something like what is said in 2 Timothy 2:19 “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

The picture is simply and beautifully that no matter what happens on the earth as God is carrying out His judgments, these things will not be indiscriminate – God knows and will always regard those who are His, no matter how difficult things become.

If you press me, I would say that the most likely explanation here is that the mark is faith itself. Believing that what God has said is true, and ordering our lives accordingly is always the mark of God’s people in every generation. Even as Hebrews 11:1 notes it is faith which is the conviction or evidence of what is unseen. A regenerate soul cannot be observed with the eye. The evidence of the unseen work of regeneration of the soul is that one by faith grasps the Gospel and trusts God by taking Him at His word.

Go back to the 10 plagues in Egypt. Remember how the first plagues affected everyone and not just the Egyptians?

The Nile turning to blood impacted Jews and Egyptians alike.

Same with the swarming frogs, and the gnats. But when it came to the flies next, God said: Exodus 8:22 “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.”

And from thereout, the Israelites were spared.

Go back to Noah. Noah and his family went THROUGH the flood, but they were not harmed by the flood. They were in fact “sealed” inside the Ark.

We see this same picture over and over, and it always testifies to God’s marking out His faithful ones to Himself, even when they must go through things that are judgments upon the wicked – they are not judgments upon them!

 

Vss. 4-8 / The 144,000

This number has been the source of endless speculation. The number is just too neat not to be symbolic. There are a couple of features that demonstrate this.

No census of Israel ever produced numbers like these.

The unique squaring off numbers is itself a hint as to its being symbolic. It is a common feature in Jewish apocalyptic literature.

Then there is the strange grouping – Judah first instead of Reuben the actual firstborn. Perhaps because the list is being impacted by the fact Messiah comes out of Juda? But then, there is the missing tribe of Dan and the insertion of Manasseh. All very odd.

In fact, there are no sacred records of genealogies of the Jews after 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple.  Once the records were destroyed, attempts to keep tribal purity were abandoned as well. The lines are all mixed. There is no one who can say my lineage is just from Judah, or Gad, or Naphtali, etc. It just doesn’t exist.

No, something else is afoot here. Israel the people group which went into Canaan, is not comprised of the same individuals as came out of Egypt – even though it is still the same nation.

And so we see a transition in the New Covenant as well.

There is always a fair amount of discussion at this point from various groups, especially over what is sometimes labeled “replacement theology.” The idea being that some systems say that the Church replaces Israel in God’s program, and then there is no future place for ethnic Jews in God’s program.

We can’t unpack that whole debate here but what we CAN say is that at least in some sense, Israel was a type or a shadow. But of what? Of the Church? In some ways. But more precisely, of Christ Himself.

The language of the Old Testament about Israel is that she is represented by the figure of a “vine”. It is all through the Scriptures. An example would be: Ezekiel 19:10 “Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water.”

When we come to Jesus, He deliberately appropriates this imagery to Himself. So in John 15:1–2 Jesus says: “I am the TRUE vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in ME that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

JESUS is the new or better, the fulfillment of Israel and all who are grafted into Him are considered such.

So it is that Paul argues at length how believing Gentiles are “grafted” in which makes us heirs of Abraham by faith, and breaks down the wall between Jews and Gentiles because we are one in Christ.

It makes more sense then to see the 144,000 as symbolic of the whole of Believers – from the 12 tribes, and from the fruit of the 12 apostles.

This is in keeping with how we would understand Ephesians 2:14–15 “For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both [believing Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself ONE NEW MAN in place of the two, so making peace”

Which figure then is expanded or further explained by seeing the great multitude in the following verses.

 

Vss. 9-10 / The Great Multitude

The same group from 2 different vantage points. All of the redeemed, fulfilling Israel’s type and putting all things in Christ – where, as we read in Revelation 5:9–10 “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Using here, the very same language of Ch. 5 of a “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

 

Vss. 11-12 / The Angelic Response

The angelic host around God’s throne, are tremendously moved by the display of God’s goodness to His people.

And seeing how God in His providence will mark out and keep His own no matter what else unfolds on that earth, they cry: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 

Vss. 13-14 / Explanation of the Multitude

This then accords with the angel’s explanation. Who are these? Those whose sins have been washed away by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary.

Let me make one quick comment here on the words “great tribulation.” If you come to the book with a particular scheme in mind, you might impose on these words more than is in the text. Some see a “great tribulation” of 7 years before the end. But that is a construct of the system. A 7 year tribulation is not spoken of in those terms directly. More likely, and we’ll address this later in more detail, the “tribulation” extends from Christ’s ascension and the death of Stephen the first martyr, all the way until Jesus returns. At certain times and certain places this tribulation is more intense than in others.

So as Jesus told us plainly: John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Which then was part and parcel of the early Church preaching from the beginning: Acts 14:21–22 When they [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

 

Vss. 15-17 / The Promises

Now the promises outlined here make themselves the application of what we are reading in this part of the vision. This is our takeaway.

What will keep our souls when we find ourselves in the very midst of this world coming apart at the seams in God’s judgment?

Because they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb:  Revelation 7:15–17

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,

Unending union with God in His unveiled presence.  

and serve him day and night in his temple;

Service life built around responding to the unspeakable experience of His presence and glory.

and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

Perpetual, personal protection from all ills of any kind.

16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;

Absolute, unvacillating satisfaction.

the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.

No good ever distorted into harm.

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.”

The end of all sorrow, and the tender, personal comfort of the God of all comfort for ever and ever amen.

All this, for we who were once Christ hating sinners, but who have found forgiveness, adoption, eternal life and reward, through faith in the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus on the Cross.

 

Now let us join with hearts and tongues,

And emulate the angels’ songs;

Yea, sinners may address their King

In songs that angels cannot sing.

 

2 They praise the Lamb who once was slain;

But we can add a higher strain;

Not only say, “He suffer’d thus,

“But that he suffer’d all for us.”

 

3 When angels by transgression fell,

Justice consign’d them all to hell;

But Mercy form’d a wondrous plan,

To save and honour fallen man.

 

4 Jesus, who pass’d the angels by,

Assum’d our flesh to bleed and die;

And still he makes it his abode;

As man he fills the throne of God.

 

5 Our next of kin, our Brother now,

Is he to whom the angels bow;

They join with us to praise his name,

But we the nearest int’rest claim.

 

6 But, ah! how faint our praises rise!

Sure, ’tis the wonder of the skies,

That we, who share his richest love,

So cold and unconcern’d should prove.

 

7 Oh, glorious hour, it comes with speed!

When we, from sin and darkness freed,

Shall see the God who died for man,

And praise him more than angels can.   John Newton