The companions of God

The Little Book of the Revelation - Fifth in a series

After the Lord breaks the sixth seal, we expect final blows to fall. Instead, in Chapter 7, the actions slows; no seal is opened. Two groups of people are revealed, one on earth, one in heaven.

The winds of God’s judgment are temporarily restrained (Rev 7:1-3) while the first group, 144,000 of God’s servants, are sealed in their foreheads. Later, in Chapter 14, we learn that this seal is the “Father’s name written in their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)

This sealing reminds of Ezekiel’s mark upon those who sighed and cried because of all the abominations in Jerusalem. (Eze 9:4-6) These servants are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16; Mat 22:32).

Their number is comprised of 12,000 men from certain tribes of Israel (Rev 7:5-8), excluding Dan and Ephraim— representing the worst of the idolators? (Hos 4:17; Amos 8:14)

In Ephraim’s place is Joseph who, with his oldest son Manasseh, retains the double portion among the tribes even as Ephraim is removed. In Dan’s place is Levi.

Levi was not historically numbered among the children of Israel (Num 1:49) because the Lord was his portion as his tribe performed the sacred duties. His inclusion in this accounting shows we have entered into a new time. Yet the tribes are presented in four groups of three (Rev. 7:4-8), which is reminiscent of the configuration commanded in Numbers (Num 2).

John travels in an instant from earth to heaven to see another group:

  • After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. (Rev 7:9-10)

We are back at God’s throne with his beasts, elders and angels, now joined by the saints “which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14)

Differences between the groups

Some commentators say the 144,000 represent Jews living in the end-times who have not yet discovered that Christ is their Messiah, but are soon to arrive at that realization.

This is supported by Paul’s insight:

  • For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; (Rom 11:25)

Would the “fulness of the Gentiles” be the “great multitude which no man could number”? (Rev 7:9) Perhaps these are the fellow-helpers of the martyrs of the fifth seal, who would be killed like their brothers before arriving in the throne room. (Rev 6:11)

Commentators who subscribe to the ‘dispensational’ construct in theological understanding (ref) view the arrival of this multitude in heaven as marking the end of the ‘church age.’ (ref) After this, God’s attention turns to the Jews.

Some theologians who study the Bible to explain its message in a ‘covenantal’ framework* (ref), interpret Revelation 7 as two views of the same group, that is, the 144,000 are the ‘called, chosen and faithful’ (Rev 17:14) on earth who are assured of a heavenly welcome, in God’s timing, and they are assured of persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)

Other ‘covenantal’ expositors understand Paul’s words in Romans 11 as predictive of salvation for a remnant of Jews, and do not think the Church will be removed before the Resurrection.

Reading various commentaries one sees numerous perspectives. The Revelation is a book that all would agree defies complete understanding.

If Chapter 7 is read as a sequence of events, then we would view the Jews remaining on earth though the church is ‘removed’, but it is not possible to read the Revelation as relying on an orderly framework.

As we have noted previously, the chronology of the Revelation is always puzzling. Which events are sequential and which ones are concurrent? Which chapters or portions give further explanation or details of previously reported events?

Clues in Scripture

We cannot understand the Revelation without seeing its prophecies by the light of related Bible passages. “Let Scripture explain Scripture” is a foundational rule for the Christian who honors the whole Word of God.

Paul’s word in Romans 11 are the key to understanding some scenarios in John’s Revelation. Of the Jews and the mysteries of the two groups’ influence upon each other, Paul wrote:

  • As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake.
  • For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.
  • For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience,
  • even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.
  • For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.
  • O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
  • For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
  • or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
  • For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. (Rom 11:28-36)

Will the Jews be alone among the heathen as the end-time terrors pick up speed? Will the Church be removed, leaving them without a witness in the world?

* See Westminster Confession, Chapter 7

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A more drastic scene

The Little Book of the Revelation - Fourth in a series

Continuing in the “run up” to Revelation 10, in Chapter 6 the opening of the seals on the book commences. John does not say that the first seal was broken but that ‘one of the seals’ was; he hears thunder, and one of the four beasts invites him to see what is revealed. (Rev 6:1)

A rider with a bow on a white horse comes into view. And we know and have experienced what the flaming arrows of this bow are— provocations to carnal indulgences and sin, embracing the world, whatever leads to sickness, ruin and death. It is because of these arrows and the weakness of the flesh that the other steeds have a full reign.

Some commentators say the white horse rider is Christ, but Christ’s weapon is the sword (Rev 19:15) which figuratively is the word of God (Eph 6:17) enabling us to take the shield of faith to stop the fiery darts of the Antichrist.

In succession, the second, third and fourth seals are opened and one by one the other three beasts point John to see a red, then black, then pale horse which usher in war, famine and death.

Christ opens the fifth seal revealing God’s martyrs –or their souls– under the altar, signifying their security in Him. Yet, they are crying loudly, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10) Christ’s answer is that they should rest yet for a little season until their fellow-servants and their brethren are killed as they were. Not a comforting answer!

Plain old prophecy?

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of penetrating the mysteries of Revelation is sorting out which events are to be understood in a linear chronologic framework and which ones flesh out the skeleton or reveal behind-the-scenes events or details of the major markers.

We saw an example of this in Revelation 5 in the previous post. John saw the Father’s companions worshipping Christ, and heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea saying, “Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever..” (Rev 5:11-13) But we noted that not every knee has yet bowed nor every tongue yet confessed that Jesus is Lord. Therefore, that scene is a foretaste of glory, the fulfillment of prophecy in a future time, though we could view the scene of heavenly worship of God as current and continuous.

Some might say that is an example of the difference between Chronos and Kairos (ref) or a linear versus an ’ecstatic‘ experience of time. But it could be seen as ‘plain old prophecy.’ “It is characteristic of predictive prophecy that it often mingles different times together in one composite picture” (Walter Martin)

Rather than occurring one after the other, it could be that the wars, famines and deaths are concurrent with the killing of the servants of the Lord. Yet, their successive opening shows the passing of time; ‘God is working his purpose out.’

And again, we ask, is the opening of the seals simply a view to how the world has always been, or does it show that a specific, new point in time has begun—a time encroaching upon our day?

Up to the opening of the sixth seal we could view the Revelation as unfolding time and again throughout the centuries. But when the sixth seal is opened, a more drastic scene and a different group of people come into view. We see the rebellious unsaved masses realizing they are doomed.

A great earthquake occurs, the sun becomes black, the moon as blood, the stars fall to earth and ‘the’ heaven departs as when a scroll is rolled together.

  • And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Rev 6:15-17 ASV)

Running the race set before us

The sixth seal presents a contrast to the fifth. The Christians in the end time must be killed but will then receive eternal life and heavenly rest; the rebellious must also die, but what is their final end? Not good!

By keeping our eyes on the Lord we will finish the race.

  • And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Gal 6:9)
  • Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... (Heb 12:1)
  • For yet a very little while,
    He that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry.
    But my righteous one shall live by faith:
    And if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him.
    (Heb 10:37-38; Hab 2:2-4 ASV)

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Things that are

The Little Book of the Revelation - Third in a series

Rollover the Scripture links to read the referenced Bible verses.

In Chapter 4 we see the ‘one on the throne’ (Rev 4:2) who appears as a jasper and a sardine stone, that is, brownish and blood red. This scene shows ‘things that are’ as did Chapters 2 and 3.

God’s throne, encircled by an emerald rainbow, rests on the banks of a crystal sea where he basks in the praises of his 24 elders and attending beasts. These lovely beasts or creatures have eyes all over and within!

Perhaps the number of elders combines the 12 Old Testament tribal heads of Israel and the 12 New Testament disciples of the Lord, all with crowns of gold (Rev 4:4). In heaven there is unity and reward.

The four beasts seem to be a lion, calf, man, and an eagle (Rev 4:7). There are many points of view about these beasts. See here.

Thunders and lightnings show God in complete control, in glory with his companions, conversing and ruling from his throne (Rev 4:5), and before it are seven lamps of fire. These are identified as his seven spirits, viewed by numerous theologians as the Holy Spirit. We see these again in Chapter 5—the slain lamb has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. (Rev 5:6b)

The book sealed with seven seals is presented in Chapter 5 (Rev 5:1) and a strong angel proclaims, not asks, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? (Rev 5:2)

No one is found who can, not in heaven or earth or under the earth; in fact no one could even look at it. This made John weep profusely but an elder tells him not to, because the Son of Man has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. (Rev 5:5)

Some commentators believe the sealed scroll is a title deed to the earth (ref Jer 32), which Christ alone may open, proving his right of ownership. Others say that John’s Revelation continues the prophecies given to Daniel, and describes the consummation of those which he was told to seal up till the time of the end. (Dan 12:9) Whichever view one takes, the sealed scroll and the Little Book are integral to God’s providential work in salvation and judgment. Each person will form his or her understanding. The author is a layperson, not a pastor or professor.

The Son is seen “in the midst of the throne” (KJV) or next to it (ESV) as a lamb slain (Rev 5:6), where he also takes the book from his Father and is worshipped by the unusual beasts and by the elders who hold golden bowls filled with believers’ prayers that manifest as scents. (Rev 5:8)

Things that are?

John next sees hundreds of thousands of angels around the group, also worshipping Christ, and hears every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea saying, Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever. (Rev 5:11-13; refs: Isa 45:22-25; Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10)

This may be a ‘vision within a vision’, for the worship of God by all his creatures has not yet occurred.

Will the opening of the seals also begin a ‘vision within a vision’? Are we about to see events yet to unfold? Or, isn't the procession of the four horses of the Apocalypse— deceit by antichrists, wars, famines and death, characteristic all of history?

Do the seven seals of the Revelation only relate to the final days on the earth when God moves to shake all nations, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain? (Heb 12:26-27; refs: Is 13:13; Joel 3:16) Or do the four horsemen not revisit mankind each century?

Bible commentators differ on this question, yet it does not seem reasonable for the Lord to show John a vision of how things have always been if this final book of Scripture pertains to the last days. Of course, some say we have been in the last days since the resurrection of the Lord.

The course of history goes from bad to worse, then back to better, but one day it will go from bad to much, much worse, and the pendulum will return to a place where there shall be no more death, sorrow, crying or pain. (Rev 21:4)

The current world of lockdowns, lies, food shortages, fiscal ruin, sexual mayhem, and the erosion of the rule of law, bring to mind David’s question: “If the foundations be destroyed, What can the righteous do?” (Ps 11:3) Vaccine passports have begun to facilitate buying and selling. Yes, we do sense that lines are being drawn and a different day is dawning. But of course, “of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.” (Mat 24:36 ASV)

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