The Surprise Identity of the Sealed 144,000 — Revelation 7:1-8

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by Reverend Anthony R. Locke
Sermon Series in Revelation # 17

Revelation 7:1-8
English Standard Version

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.”

4   And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

5   12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

6   12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

7   12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

8   12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. [1]


 

The end of chapter six can be summarized by what Jesus said in Mark 13:19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.

God shares secret revelations about the end of the world so that we will be motivated to be ready. God’s revelation invokes within us a very important question, “Who can stand?”

Without Divine help we will not be able to stop our descent into the grave and Hell itself.

Chapter 7 calms our fears by telling us how to stand on the day of judgment. God paints a portrait of people who stand. There are two images painted by God in chapter 7. Verses 1-8 paint the Church Militant standing on the Earth. Verses 9-17 describe the Church Glorified in Heaven.

Most evangelicals only want to know one thing about the 144,000. “Will these believers go through the earthquake, meteor shower and the end of the world at the end of chapter six?”

I think it is a surprise to many Bible students that God doesn’t answer that question directly.

I grew up Independent Baptist where we were taught that Christians don’t suffer during the end of the world. The earthquakes, natural disasters and celestial disruptions are only for sinners.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Where in the Bible does it teach that Christians are protected from natural disasters? Did Christians not suffer when a tsunami wiped out 200,000? Did Christians not suffer when a hurricane pounded New Orleans? When volcanoes erupt, do Christians get some sort of shield for their temporal comfort? Where in the Bible does it teach that saints suffer less than sinners?

Christians suffer with the rest of the world during every natural disaster. When it rains the righteous and the unrighteous get equally wet Matthew 5:45. The Bible actually teaches that Christians suffer more in this life, not less.

The difference is that we are sealed with God’s name. We will not go down to Hell when we die, but we will get promoted to Heaven. We can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and not fear for God is with us. The world is terrorized by the raging sea, but the souls of Christians are protected with the peace of God in their hearts.

Even when trees are bent in half and torn out of the ground, the believer walks through the hurricane unafraid of the outcome for he has Jesus at his side.

Our relationship to the Father is our confident foundation. 2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are His.

God seals us with the name of Jesus, publically applied by the Holy Spirit, to identify us as being in fellowship and communion with the Father. We know Him and He knows us. We hear His voice. We confess His name. We profess faith in Christ. We receive a very public baptism.

Let’s get into our verses. John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth.

The phrase “four corners of the earth” is not a scientific phrase, but a poetic metaphor. God pauses all judgment that the peace of God might rule our hearts. Not a ripple of fear upsets our soul. The leaves of our life don’t even flutter while we stand protected by God from God. Our eternal destiny is secure. Our souls are confident of His love. We live in peace with God.

Verse 2 John sees an angel ascending from the rising of the sun.

From John’s perspective on the isle of Patmos, looking East, the sun rises out of the Land of Israel. Grace and salvation rise fresh every morning. The Son of Righteousness pushes away the darkness to shine God’s covenantal love upon the Earth.

And this Gospel Messenger holds the seal of the living God to identify God’s people. This seal separates the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats and the genuine from the fakes.

A little historical context will help. Every oriental monarch wore on His hand a signet ring of authority and power. He used it for at least three things.

  • He gave validity to official documents.
  • His seal kept others from tampering with His words, and
  • His seal communicated ownership.

We are sealed for the same purposes.

  • Our faith is validated and our family connections are ensured by God’s seal.
  • There is no tampering with our eternal destiny, and
  • Only God can determine our worth as He has purchased us for Himself by His blood.

And regardless of what we endure in this life, we are promised protection from evil, and when we die, promotion to paradise. With God’s seal, we will never suffer God’s wrath.

Ephesians 1:13-14 We are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

None of us can be lost by God, not even during the chaos at the end of the world.

John 6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

Imagine being in the early church and hearing this Book of the Revelation read during worship. By the end of chapter six things sound fairly bleak.

God redirects our thoughts to the hope of the Gospel in chapter 7. We are never going to be separated from God’s salvation. We might endure with sinners the end of the world, but we will not descend into Hell.

It’s like the words of Paul to the Romans, Romans 8:33-40 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Does God’s seal protect from the trouble in the world? No. But regardless of our suffering, we are promised to be promoted at the time of our death into the inheritance of the saints.

In verse 4 John heard the number of the sealed. The number 144,000 is something John says that he heard, not something that he saw or was permitted to count. Why? Because the meaning of the number is more important than the details of the number.

Now we must discuss two numbers. The number twelve and the number ten.

The number TWELVE in the Book of the Revelation always refers symbolically to that which is perfect. You might go one step further and say that the number twelve symbolizes a beautiful perfection.

In Revelation 12:1 there is a woman with twelve stars on her head. In chapters 21 and 22 there are multiple uses of the number twelve when describing the beautiful perfections of the new Jerusalem.

The number TEN is the number of fullness. If you have ten then all are accounted for. Nothing is missing. “We have all ten!” Without all Ten of the Commandments you are missing something very important.

So ten times ten times ten is the infinity of the fullness. Like when God multiplies 7 by 70. The reader doesn’t think of the number 490, but of an infinite amount of forgiveness that is given to an offender.

God uses the number 144,000 to say with numeric symbolism that the congregation of the saints in history is without number. All are accounted for and they are beautiful in their perfection. 144,000 is the number which symbolizes God’s collection of the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky. God organizes the saints in battalions and prepares them for battle.

Again, the meaning of the 144,000 is not in it’s numeric ceiling of 144,000. God doesn’t describe the Church with this number to communicate a limited group, but an unlimited group.

The Church is complete and perfect. Many commentators agree on this. The number 144,000 does not tell us that the number of the saved will be very small; it tells us that the number of the saved will be very great. The fullness is ten times ten times ten. Perfection times perfection (12).

The second thing we need to understand of the 144,000, is that it is made up of Jews. What does the word Jew mean? Jews are people who are worthy of praise.

Remember Jesus took the time to describe how He uses the label JEWS in the Revelation.

In Revelation 3:9-10 Jesus said, Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

Are the 144,000 descendants of Abraham? Not necessarily. Jesus said that Jews are no longer defined by the genetic lineage of Abraham.

Paul writes He is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God. Romans 2:28, 29.

God has carefully counted and identified His people so that none will be lost when His final judgment comes upon the earth. Does God keep the people worthy of praise (Jews) from the natural disasters? No. God keeps them from sliding into Hell fire. Saints might experience natural disasters, but that experience does not culminate in Hell and God’s eternal displeasure.

People of faith are sealed up safe in the Gospel promises. The four winds of damnation do not blow upon their souls. They are safe in God’s love.

There are a few more lessons for us in the list of the tribes. This list does not reflect Jewish traditions regarding birth order. The list of names teaches the story of salvation. Again, the Perfected and Full Church is in view. Not a Jewish army.

The tribe of Jesus is first. Jesus is of the Lion out of the Tribe of Judah. Our salvation always begins with Jesus. Joseph is listed instead of Manasseh because the double portion of the redemptive inheritance was promised from Jacob to Joseph. The tribe of Levi is listed even though they are usually not listed as they are not given any inheritance by Moses.

The tribe of Dan is not mentioned to keep the symbolism of perfection by listing only 12 tribes. Listing 13 tribes destroys the symbolism. That’s all that’s in play. One of the twelve gates of the eternal city of Jerusalem is named after Dan. Their tribe is not rejected Ezek. 48:32.

Let’s do this one last time. The number 144,000 isn’t a list of Jews who are saved in some future period of tribulation. These are the perfectly counted out people of God. This is the beautiful and perfected twelve tribes of Israel multiplied by the twelve Apostles. This is the fullness of the Bride of Christ as seen by 10 times 10 times 10. The 144,000 is symbolic of the full and perfected church on the earth. We are identified as belonging to God. We are ready for battle. We are protected from God’s wrath and included in the covenantal family blessings.

And God has each of our hairs numbered. He has our years counted. He tracks each tear that drops from our eyes. He knows our sleepless nights and our hard days. God has counted us among His people. He has sealed us by His own name unto the day of promise and blessing.

And nothing will be able to alter His Divine decree for we are sealed. Our faith might feel insufficient and wobbly, but God has sealed it genuine. We wear the seal of ownership for we belong to God. Our physical bodies may be beaten, maimed, or even destroyed, but nothing can harm our souls. We will leave this life and be promoted to Heaven. We are safe and secure.

This is the message God desires to share during this interlude about the end of the world. We could summarize the blessed words with Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

May we live in the confidence of His abiding love and forgiveness. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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Live in Gwinnett, GA next to Lake Lanier Islands. Married with four children. Pastored three churches over 18 years. Spent time serving as an Army Chaplain. Traveled in ministry to over 34 countries. B.A., M.A., M.Div., M.A.T.S., D.Min. BCC with NSC. Covering Georgia and upstate South Carolina

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