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Tribulation Saints - Part 1

Tom Pennington Revelation 7:1-17


I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to the Book of Revelation. Revelation 7.

When I was growing up, I was in some churches during those years that were thoroughly Arminian and because they were Arminian that is very man-centered in their approach, not understanding the sovereignty of God in salvation, they were often involved in various manipulative methods to convince people to accept the gospel. Of course, the most famous of those is the invitation system with its multiple verses of some contemplatively song and heads bowed and hands raised and all that goes with that. Another common approach was to remind people that after death they weren't going to have a second chance to repent and believe in Christ. Now, of course, in the case of that, it's entirely true. That's exactly what the Bible teaches. Hebrews 9:27, "it is appointed to men once to die and after this, the judgment." But others argued that if, in fact, you were living at the time of the rapture, you better have repented before that time because, if you didn't, then you would never have another chance to repent. You would not be able to repent and believe during the tribulation. That whole idea was based on a misunderstanding of Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 where Paul writes,

with the deception of wickedness for those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason, God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.

And what many I heard in my days growing up teach was that those verses argue that no one alive at the rapture, who had previously heard the gospel and had refused to believe, would ever have another chance to repent. It was done when the rapture occurred. But let me just say that that view denies the clear teaching of scripture and it is also, however unintentionally, a slur on the saving character of God. What we're going to discover as the Book of Revelation unfolds is that while the tribulation will be a time of unparalleled wrath, it will also be a time of unparalleled grace and redemption.

During those seven years, in His grace, God will blanket this globe with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It will happen through those who come to faith as Christians now share their faith with those they know and with others. It will happen like that. God, in chapter 11, will send two great witnesses whose testimony will fill the world. God will even send, according to Revelation 14:6, and angel flying through the heavens proclaiming the everlasting gospel. Tonight, we'll see another way that God is going to make sure the gospel is advanced. God is going to raise up a massive contingent of missionaries and commission them to preach the gospel across this globe during those troubled, difficult seven years.

Now, let me just remind you of where we are in Revelation. I'm not going to give you the full outline. I'll just give you enough to give you a point of reference for where we are. We're looking at the section that begins in chapter 4 and runs through chapter 22, "'The Things Which Will Take Place': The Stages of Jesus' Final Triumph." It begins, as we saw in chapters 4 and 5, as the Lamb takes the scroll - the seven sealed scoll - out of the hands of the Father. That is the title deed to the Earth. It's sealed with seven seals and the Lamb, the only one worthy, comes up and takes that out of the hand of the One who sat on the throne, God the Father. That's what we saw and discovered in chapters 4 and 5. Beginning in chapter 6, you have, then, the seven-year tribulation. It runs all the way through chapter 18. In chapter 6. Jesus breaks six of the seven seals that are on that scroll, the title deed to the earth, and as He breaks each seal, it unleashes a judgment on the world. So, the seals represent a series of judgments that God will pour out on this rebellious planet. Now, we have already seen in chapter 6, the first six seals and I'm not going to go back through all that they mean, I'll just give you the summary. We saw that, the first seal is Antichrist, the false peace. The second seal is war. The third seal is famine. The fourth seal is the death of a fourth of the people who have survived to that point. The fifth seal marks the middle. The fifth seal is initiated before the middle of the seven years and bleeds into the second half of the seven years. And it is divine justice - the cry for divine justice and then the expression of that divine justice. In the sixth seal, verses 12-17 of chapter 6, we saw the supernatural disasters that will unfold from the breaking of that sixth seal. There'll be a worldwide earthquake. The sun will be black and the moon will be like blood. The stars of heaven will fall. That is, there will be meteor showers and asteroids bombarding this planet. The atmosphere itself will be damaged, as a result, and even the tectonic plates on which the landmasses on this planet rest will be shaken and shifted and will shift.

Now that brings us, then, to chapter 7 and chapter 7 is an interlude. It's an interlude about the tribulation saints. Chapter 7 is the first of three such interludes in the Book of Revelation. It clearly follows the sixth seal and precedes the seventh seal, chronologically. Notice chapter 7, verse 1, "after this." In other words, after the breaking of the six seals in chapter 6. And then notice 8:1, "when the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven." So, clearly this chapter fits chronologically as it appears to between the sixth seal being broken and the seventh seal being broken. So, this chapter, then is a brief, dramatic interlude, a parenthesis, in the judgments of the tribulation. Let's read it together. Revelation 7:1.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind would blow on the earth, or on the sea, or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he called out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth, or the sea, or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, and from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed. After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen, blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen." Then one of the elders responded, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will no longer hunger nor thirst, nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

After Christ breaks the sixth seal at the end of chapter 6 and unleashes its judgments, the people of this world ask a question. Look at 6:17. It says, "the great day of their wrath has come." Here's the question, "and who is able to stand?" Chapter 7 is the answer that question. We understand the question, having studied the sixth seal, and having seen the supernatural disasters that will unfold on this planet, it's no wonder that people will ask: is anyone going to survive? In chapter 7, we meet two groups that will. If I had to summarize chapter 7, its message, I would put it like this: in His grace, God will save and commission 144,000 Jewish missionaries to preach the gospel during the coming tribulation and, in part through their ministry, He will save an innumerable multitude from across the globe. It's a great reality, isn't it? There's hope, even in the midst of wrath.

This chapter begins with the divine commission of 144,000 Jewish missionaries. That's the theme of verses 1-8, and let me just warn you, that's as far as we're getting tonight. Now, the stage for this commissioning is a pause, a pause in the wrath of God, in verses 1-3. And this pause begins by introducing us to the key actors in this part of the drama, the angels. Verse 1 of chapter 7, "after this." This phrase introduces another vision, obviously, and with this new vision, the scene shifts from God's judgment of the wicked to His protection of His people. But it also points out that the events of chapter 7, as we just noted, come chronologically after the events of the sixth seal at the end of chapter 6. So, verse 1 says, "after this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth." Now, as we've already discovered, angels are everywhere in this book. If you subtract the references to the angels of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 which, as we noted, were the human messengers of pastors of the churches, not actually angels, there are still sixty-seven other references to angels in this book.

Now, why angels? I think you understand this. God needs nothing. He is complete in Himself. He needs nothing from no one. But God has chosen, in His own eternal wisdom, to use the angels to create them and use them to His ends in the same way that He doesn't need us but uses us. In chapter 8, we'll see that he's going to use angels to execute His judgments on the earth. Here, He uses them to protect His own. Now, this vision begins, you'll note in verse 1, with four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. Now, I have to laugh at some of the skeptics. Uninformed, biased skeptics try to use the language, "the four corners of the earth," to argue that, "there you go, the Bible isn't correct. It's not without error because these are just the errant views of a primitive cosmology that sees the earth as flat and square." That's ridiculous because Biblical authors use this language poetically, just as many of our own writers still do. You've read those descriptions in other places outside the Bible. John's poetic language here points to the four primary points of the compass: north, south, east, and west. These powerful angels are pictured standing at four strategic points on this globe and verse 1 says they are, "holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind would blow on the earth, or on the sea, or on any tree." They are given power over the forces of nature, at least for this time, and for this purpose. But it is interesting that in chapter 14, verse 18, we read about the angel of fire. And in chapter 16, verse 5, we read about the angel of the waters. But, regardless, these angels are, for the time, given power over one of the most powerful forces on this planet, its atmosphere. Notice here, the four angels are, "holding back." The words suggest the prevailing winds on this planet are straining to break free, perhaps to pour out judgment on this world. It's like Paul says in Romans 8, "the whole creation groans under the weight of sin." That's kind of how this is pictured here. But specifically, these angels are ensuring that the four winds - in other words, all the winds that blow from the four points of the compass - that those winds don't blow on the landmasses, or on its oceans, or even on a single tree. Morris writes, "the circulation of the atmosphere is a mighty engine driven by energy from the sun and from the earth's rotation, but apparently these angels will temporarily pause the prevailing winds across this planet. They will stop the entire atmospheric engine of earth. For a short time, there will be no wind, not even the slightest breeze. No clouds will drift across the sky. The sky and the air will be deathly still." And oh, by the way, this is the action of just four of the millions of angels.

And why? And I love this. Why do they do this? Why do they put a pause button on the mighty engine of this earth's atmosphere? It's for God's people. Torrance writes, "this every moment on the earth, every moment on the earth is made to serve the redeeming purpose of God for mankind. The four winds from the four corners of the earth cannot blow and vent their rage as they like, but only as they are made to serve the church of Jesus Christ." God is in control and He has one great purpose and that's redeeming a people for His Son and everything that happens is to that end and for that purpose. Now, it's interesting when we read this description here in verse 1, that the first two trumpet judgments which are contained in the seventh seal - the first two trumpet judgments - affect the same parts of the creation as the winds are said to affect here, "the earth, the sea, and the trees," chapter 8:6-9. And so, it's like they're restraining. By the way, in prophetic literature the four winds often picture God's judgment against the earth. For example, Jeremiah 49:36-38, Daniel 7:2, Hosea 13:15, you see the four winds picturing, the sort of directive wrath of God, the judgment of God. So, these angels, then are holding back the wind which, in context, symbolizes they're holding back the coming plagues of the trumpet and bowl judgments. They're restraining, they're pausing the next phase of God's unfolding wrath, but only for a short time.

Verse 2 says, "and I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun." So, here's a fifth angel, that shows up. Some have argued this fifth angel is not an angel, at all. Rather, it's Jesus Christ. Or others have said, no, it's the Holy Spirit. That's very unlikely because the Greek word you see there translated "another" is a Greek word that means, "another of the same kind." And so, this Angel is another of the same kind as the four who have already been introduced. But John saw this fifth angel ascending from the east, "from the rising of the sun." It's interesting. Some of us have had the opportunity to visit Patmos. If you look east from Patmos. You're looking toward the land of Israel where God had accomplished salvation. This angel comes from there. The fifth angel had with, verse 2 says, "the seal of the living God." The Greek word for "seal" here was often used to describe a signet ring that was pressed into soft wax either to affirm a document's authenticity or to guarantee its security. You've all seen that in movies and other places where there's soft wax and a signet ring is imprinted in that soft wax to say, "this is a genuine document," or to say, "no one can look into this document until I say. I've sealed it with my ring."

Notice, this seal is not the seal of earthly monarchs, but it's the seal that belongs to the living God. That's a title, by the way, the scripture often uses for the true God to distinguish Him from idols which have no life. I love the ridicule in the prophets. It's like, "really? You're going to cut down a tree. You're going to pay somebody to carve it into a shape. You're going to use the other half to start a fire you're going to cook your food over. And then, when that idol's done, you're going to fall down and worship it and you're going to ask it to intervene in your life?" No, our God's not like that. He is the Living God. It's interesting. In the other places in Revelation where this title is used - chapter 4, for example, chapter 10, chapter 15 - John adds, "forever and ever," underscoring the unending nature of the living God's existence. There's a deliberate contrast made between the one true, eternal God and the many short-lived gods of the nations - here today, gone tomorrow. I could march up on the screen for you countless pagan gods who are no longer worshipped. They're in the dustbin of history. But we serve the one true, living, eternal God.

So, those are the angels that we're introduced to, but next, we see the angel's instructions. Verse 2, "he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and sea." The verb translated "cried out" implies urgency. And notice, he cried out with a with a great voice, a loud voice, a mega voice. His chief concern, the urgency, and the loud voice is because he wants to protect God's people who are here on earth. And, by the way, he's giving the orders so, apparently, this fifth angel is superior to the other four. It's very clear from scripture that there are ranks among the holy angels as well as the demons - Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:12. There are ranks. And this one ranks highly. He says, in verse 3, "do not harm the earth, or the sea, or the trees." This powerful angel commands the other four to pause the execution of God's judgment for a short time. Why?

Well, that brings us, in verse 3, to the purpose. Notice, "until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads." Now, the fact that these people are called the bond-servants – literally, the word is "doulos." It's douloi slaves. There, "the slaves of our God," makes it clear that these people we're talking about have already been redeemed and they already belong to God. But notice this fifth angel says wait, "until we seal them." Probably, that's referring to the five angels working together. This fifth angel and the other four need to mark these people with God's seal on their foreheads. Why their foreheads? Because it's the most obvious visible place on the body. It's the one place that's always there that isn't covered. And so, it marks you continually. Now, this is strange for us, but it wasn't strange in the ancient world. It was common for a soldier or for a member of a guild in the ancient world connected to the local deity to receive a mark on the forehead. It was a sign of consecration to that deity. We still see that done by some of those who worship false gods on our planet today. It's also interesting to note that the Antichrist, we're told, will seal his followers in that way. In fact, according to Revelation 13:17, his mark will either be the name of the beast or the number of his name. So, Satan will inspire the Antichrist to imprint the name or the number of the name on the forehead of his people. Satan is never original. He's never had an original thought in his existence. He's always copying God and Satan will have Antichrist seal his followers. That's because the true and living God will seal His people.

Now, what is this seal? Well, look at chapter 14:11. We're told what the mark this seal means. "Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000" - here it is – "having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads." So, this seal has the name of God and the name of the Lamb, and this is what is imprinted on their foreheads.

What's the purpose of the seal? Well, seals serve two purposes: as a mark of ownership, and a guarantee of security. This seal marks them as belonging to God. They're His people, His redeemed people - just like the mark of the Antichrist shows they're his people. The case of this seal of the living God it's to mark them as belonging to God and it is to protect them as they carry out their witness of the gospel and of Jesus Christ. What's the protection from? Why would they need to be protected? Well, from two things. First of all, God will keep them secure from the continuing destruction that He Himself will bring on this planet. In other words, God marks them to say, "don't let any of the harm that I'm going to pour out on this planet come on them." I mean, this is how God has often done His work, right? God marked the sons of Israel by blood on their doorpost and lintels so that they would be spared when He killed the firstborn of Egypt. God marked Rahab and her family with a scarlet cord hanging from the window to protect them when He destroyed Jericho. God marked His own to spare them from the destruction of the city of Jerusalem that was so, so much deserved. In fact, turn back to Ezekiel because I think the closest reference or, sort of, similarity to what we're reading here is in Ezekiel chapter 9. Ezekiel 9:1.

Then He cried out in my presence with a loud voice, saying, "Come forward, you executioners of the city, each with his weapon of destruction in his hand." And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with his smashing weapon in his hand; and among them was one man clothed in linen with a scribe's kit at his waist. And they came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Then the glory of the God of Israel ascended from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose waist was the scribe's kit. And the Lord said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and make a mark on the foreheads of the people who groan and sigh over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst." But to the others He said in my presence, "Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. Utterly kill old men, young men, female virgins, little children, and women, but do not touch any person on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary. So, they started with the elders who were for the temple."

God said, "I want those who grieve over the sin of the city, rather than participating in it, to be marked because when I come to destroy the city, they're not to be touched. That's a great picture of what we're seeing unfold in Revelation chapter 7. God will protect these people from the destruction that He Himself will bring but God will also keep them safe with this seal. He's going to keep them safe physically from their enemies until they have carried out their mission. Now, once these slaves of God are sealed on their foreheads, once they are protected, then God's punishing judgments will continue in 8:1. But let me show you what this seal does. Turn over to Revelation chapter 9., verse 4. Here we learn the preserving power of God's seal. When the fifth trumpet blows and these locusts and scorpions come out of the pit, verse 4, "they were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads." So, you see, the seal was to preserve and protect from the judgements that God Himself was going to bring, the other judgments. It's not stated explicitly that this seal was a protection, but it certainly implied. So, the pause in God's wrath has a specific purpose - to seal certain people.

That brings us then to the appointment of the Jewish missionaries in verses 4-8. We've seen the pause and God's wrath and now we see the purpose, the appointment of Jewish missionaries. Verse 4 assumes that the sealing that was talked about in verse 3 has already taken place because in verse 4, John hears a report about it, hears that report from an unidentified person, perhaps the fifth angel. Notice verse 4. "And I heard the number of those who were sealed." So, it's already happened. "144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel," and then he goes on through, as I read it a moment ago, the twelve tribes listed: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Manasseh, Naphtali, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin.

Now, what or who are these people, 144,000 from each of the tribes of Israel, 12,000 from each? Well, here's a point to stop and contemplate for a moment about how we approach the scripture. When we talk about interpreting the scripture, we often talk about interpreting it literally. That's a bit misleading when we say "literally" because, obviously, not everything in scripture is literal. There are intentional figures of speech, intentional metaphors, intentional poetic language. What we really mean when we say "literally" is we interpret the Bible normally. Normally. What do I mean by that? We interpret the Bible in the same way we interpret every other document. We interpret it in the normal sense of the words unless there are clues in the context that tell us that there are figures of speech or poetic images, and so forth. You read it normally. You read the Bible like you read your favorite website, or you read your favorite newspaper, or your book. Whatever it is. You read the Bible normally, just as you would there and you don't take license with it.

You've heard me share the illustration. My kids were growing up. Now, I want to demonstrate to them that you don't just distort the Bible any way you want. And so, one morning for our Bible time I brought the LA, I'm sorry, the Dallas Morning News and so I said, "you don't need to bring your Bibles. I'm going to talk about an article that really has some great spiritual significance," that I just chose at random an article on the front page. I think it was the Eagles were at American Airlines Center and I spiritualized that. I mean, I waxed eloquent about, you know, the meaning of this and the meaning of that and here's what we can learn. And this really challenges me spiritually. And, you know, my girls are looking at each other like, "what's wrong with Dad?" And finally, I let that build long enough and then I said, "what? What's the matter?" And they said, well, one of my daughters sheepishly said, "well, Dad, I don't think that's what that means," which is exactly what I wanted because I then said, "well, that's what it means to me," which is exactly what people do with the Bible. No, we read the Bible normally. You don't have any more freedom to twist and distort the meaning of the Bible. In fact, you have less freedom than you do with the Dallas Morning News. We interpret it normally.

Now, in this passage, many of our brothers that we love, our brothers in Christ, completely abandon a literal or normal hermeneutic. They argue - listen carefully - you just read it with me. They've argued that even though John goes out of his way to say that these are Jewish people from the twelve tribes of Israel, they're not actually Jewish people nor are they from the tribes of Israel. Instead, this entire list is poetic language representing the church. Now, I'm not making this up. One of the commentaries that I have on Revelation is written by a respected scholar, and I appreciate much that he writes. William Mounce is his name. He's a Greek scholar as well. Here's what he says about this section. "The number is obviously symbolic. 12 (the number of the tribes) is both squared and multiplied by 1,000 — a twofold way of emphasizing completeness. That there are 144,000 is a symbolic way of stressing that the church is the eschatological people of God who have taken up Israel's inheritance."

Now, maybe I'm just dense but when I read, what we just read a moment ago, I don't see that at all. Why? It's because I'm using a different hermeneutic. I'm using a normal hermeneutic, the same one you use and should use in every situation. This makes no sense. I mean, this group is given a definite number, 144,000, instead of the indefinite number of the second group we meet later down in verse 9. Here's another problem. If this is the church, that means that there are groups in the church that somehow can be divided and identified as the twelve tribes of Israel. It also means that the numbers here, 144,000 and 12,000 which is repeated twelve times is symbolic. Folks, if this number is symbolic, then it's hard to argue that any number in this entire book is literal. Let me say this as kindly as I can - and I love our brothers in Christ - but let me just say this: if you argue that John is actually referring to the church in these verses, you have completely abandoned a literal, normal hermeneutic because nobody reading this passage will ever land there. And let me also say that if you abandon that normal hermeneutic, you can make this group anything you want it to be. This may as well be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Thomas writes in his in his commentary, "no clear-cut example of the church being called Israel exists in the New Testament or in ancient church writings until AD 160. This fact is crippling to any attempt to identify Israel as the church in Revelation 7:4."

Now, before I leave this point, let me just briefly touch on this. Why would people - friends we love and appreciate - why would they argue that the church has replaced Israel? In other words, God is done with Isreal. He's never coming back to them. The church is now the new Israel. Why would they argue that? Well, I'm not going to make this up. These are the arguments that William Mounce, who I just read you from a moment ago. These are the arguments, he presents. Here you go. It grew out of Jesus' promise to the apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. What he's saying is: that can't mean that they're going to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. That has to be the church. Well, that's circular reasoning. He's using as an argument without making any proof of it. Here's a second argument: he believer in Christ is called the true Jew in Romans 2. Well, we spent a lot of years going through Romans and let me tell you, he's misinterpreting that passage because that passage is saying the one who is truly Jewish is the one who has trusted in the Messiah. Third argument: Galatians 6:16 uses the phrase, "the Israel of God," to refer to the church. This is a more complicated point to respond to, and I'm not going to take all the time here but let me just say it this way: in context that phrase, "the Israel of God," does not refer to the church as a whole. There are several other possibilities, but it doesn't have to be the church, as a whole. So, there's no reason. That's really their best argument. Number four - these are his arguments - James addresses his letter to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. Well, James pastored a Jewish church in Jerusalem. They were spread because of persecution. So, of course, what does he write? "To the twelve tribes scattered abroad" - doesn't prove that the church is the new Israel. And here's his fifth argument: Peter attributes the words of Exodus 19:6, originally given to Israel, you know, "you're going to be a kingdom of priests representing Me on earth." Now, that mission has been given to the church in 1st Peter 2:9. I'm going to come back to that one so I'm not going to answer it now, but those are the arguments. That's it. Folks, it comes down to this: there is no reason to interpret the word "Israel" in Revelation 7 in any way other than its normal usage. In the Old Testament, in the New Testament, Israel refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What that means is that there are 144,000 who are a select group of Jewish believers. Now, there's no evidence they're all the Jewish believers on earth, at that point in time. In fact, Revelation 12:17 talks about, "the rest of her children." That is Israel's children, implying that the 144,000 are not all the Jewish believers on the planet at that point, but they are a select group. God will choose and appoint these 144,000 as His missionaries to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, look again at Verses 4-8. Just a couple of observations I want to make for you. First of all, the fact that 12,000 are sealed from every tribe is a reminder of God's sovereign purpose. Not all the Jewish believers are chosen, but God chooses these specifically for the task. Secondly, some people worry about well, you know, what about the ten lost tribes? How is God going to sort all that out? It's like, really? Really? I mean you don't think God knows who belongs to each tribe. It is true. The records of those who belong to each tribe were lost when the Romans sacked the city of Jerusalem in AD 70, but God knows who belongs to each tribe. And frankly, I think it's possible eventually there will be some DNA test that will allow individuals to know which tribe they belong to. But regardless, it doesn't matter. God can sort it out. By the way, we speak about the lost tribes of Israel. I don't have time to take you back to the Old Testament, back to Chronicles, and show you, but those who were a part of those ten tribes in the north who were faithful to God, they moved to the south and integrated into the two tribes in the south and their posterity continued there. So, they're not really lost. Their line continued.

Another thing I want to point out to you in those verses, verses 4-8, is there are several unusual changes in this listing of the tribes. If you go back to the Old Testament, there are some nineteen lists of the sons of Jacob in the Old Testament and none of them are alike. The order of names is different. Different tribes are omitted at different times, but the number is always twelve. And again, they differ from each other and this one differs from the ones, the nineteen, in the Old Testament. But there are several interesting changes here I just want to point out to you. First of all, you'll notice Judah is listed first although, Reuben was the first born. Why? Well, in part because Reuben forfeited his birthright, you remember, in 1 Chronicles 51 because of his sexual misconduct with his father's concubine. But I think it's primarily because our Lord was from what tribe? The tribe of Judah. Revelation 5:5, He is, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." And so, Judah comes first. The second thing I want you to notice is that you won't find the tribe of Dan in this list. Dan is omitted. Why? Well, the tribe of Dan abandoned its divine allotment back in the time of Joshua. It abandoned its divine allotment of land and headed north to Laish. It was the only tribe that failed to conquer the territory that God assigned it. You read about it in Judges 1:34. And once it got to the north, the tribe of Dan, it engaged in idolatry and led the nation into idolatry. Read Judges 18. There, you read about the tribe of Dan and its gross idolatry. Later, Dan, became one of the two major centers of idolatry under Jeroboam - one was in Bethel, and the other was up in Dan where they have the worship centers and the high places and all the pagan worship that was a part of that. It's interesting, Deuteronomy 29:18-21 calls for those who lead others into idolatry to have their name blotted out from the nation. The only narrative in the Old Testament about the tribe of Dan is Judges 18 about their idolatry. So, the tribe of Dan is not selected for this duty in Revelation 7, nor is it protected during the tribulation because of its former sin of idolatry. However, I love this. In God's grace, if you read Ezekiel 48, Dan will have an inheritance in the millennium.

There's another interesting thing in these verses of the list of tribes. The name of Ephraim is omitted and the name of his father Joseph is inserted instead. That's very unusual. That's likely because, like Dan, Ephraim was consumed with idolatry, according to Hosea 4:17. In addition, and this may factor in even more heavily, the tribe of Ephraim rejected rightful kings of Judah and, instead, they made alliances with its enemies. Manasseh was the faithful son of Joseph so his name is included and Joseph's name is included in place of Ephraim.

Now, enough of that list. Go over to chapter 14 because here we learn more about this group of 144,000 Jewish evangelists. I read verse 1 a moment ago. Revelation 14:1. We're talking about the 144,000. Verse 2:

And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one was able to learn the song except the 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth.

What's implied in that? Their death, potentially. Keep that in mind. Verse 4. "These are the ones." Here we have a description of this 144,000. Not only are they Jewish 12,000 from each tribe, but these are the ones who have not been defiled with women. That is, they have been kept pure, morally pure in their characters. This will be a rampant time of sin. Gross immorality. They will have remained pure. Verse 4 goes on to say, "for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes." They are devoted to Jesus Christ. And notice, they have been, "purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb." There, we get a lot of insight into why 144,000 and why not all the Jews. Because this 144,000 represents the first fruits - you know that language from the Old Testament - of a Jewish harvest of souls that will come at the end of the tribulation in conjunction with the second coming. We saw it in Romans 11. At the end of the tribulation as at the point of the second coming, there's going to be a massive salvation of Jewish people. This 144,000 that come earlier in the seven years, they're like the first fruits, the promise of a coming harvest. Look back in Zechariah chapter 12. Here we read about what's going to happen at the at the second coming of Christ. Zechariah 12:10. You can see in verse 9 that we're talking about the time of Armageddon. "'I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.'" And then, here's what's going to happen to the Jewish people. "'I will pour out,'" verse 10, "'on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping out for a firstborn." What will that mourning look like? I think John MacArthur's right, I think it's going to look like Isaiah 53. If only we had known who He was. We didn't understand. Verse 11, "There in that day, there will be great mourning in Jerusalem." Go down to chapter 13, verse 1. "In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity." Verse 8, "'it will come about in all the land,' declares the LORD, 'the two parts and it will be cut off and perished; but the third will be left in it.'" In other words, God's going to save a remnant of Israel. Many will be killed, but many will survive. A third will survive. "And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'Yahweh is my God.'" Look at chapter 14, verse 3:

Then Yahweh will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west forming a very large valley.

Go down to verse 9, "and the Lord will be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one." That's what's coming with the second coming of Jesus Christ. The 144,000 are the first fruits. They're the first pieces of fruit gathered from the harvest that's promise a full harvest is coming. We just read about the full harvest. Look at Romans chapter 11, verse 25:

For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and then all Israel will be saved; just as it is written: "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob." "This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.

There's Paul summary of what we just saw in Zechariah. Likely most, or perhaps all, of this 144,000 will be saved shortly after the rapture and they will witness for Jesus Christ through the entire first half of the tribulation. But now, just into the second half of the tribulation, God will mark them to protect them during the rest of their ministry as His judgments intensify in the trumpet and bowl judgments. After their ministry is complete, some of them may suffer martyrdom – Revelation 12:13 and, as we saw in chapter 14. We'll see that when we get there. Many others of these 144,000 may in fact, survive and enter alive into the millennial kingdom after the second coming.

What's the significance of this 144,000 Jewish missionaries? Well, you have to remember the Jewish purpose, the reason for Israel, the reason for the nation. Exodus 19, God forms the nation, the constitution is offered and, in that setting, God tells them that He has called them to be a kingdom of priests to be His witness nation to the world. He put them in a land bridge in the middle of the three great continents of the ancient world and He says, "you are my witness nation." Tragically, for most of history, Israel failed in that purpose. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter says God has now given the task of being His witness nation to the church. But God is not done with His people Israel. The church is not a replacement for Israel. As Paul tells us in Romans 11, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. During the future seven-year tribulation, God will raise up 144,000 Jewish people, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes. He will have already saved them, but at that point, He will commission and seal them to be His witnesses on earth and, as we'll see next time, they will be the most effective missionary force that there has ever been on this planet. Not only will these nearly 150,000 people be instrumental in the conversion of their fellow Jews, but they will share the gospel and see people redeemed from all across this globe in countless numbers. Pretty remarkable.

What are the lessons for us, briefly, as we finish our time? First of all, there's a lesson here in the reality of God's coming wrath. Remember how chapter 6 ends: who can endure? The day of His wrath has come - of Their wrath, the One on the throne and the Lamb - has come, who can survive? You remember, in the ministry of John the Baptist, he saw the Pharisees coming. You remember what he said to them? Who warned you to flee what? The wrath to come. It's coming. It's coming. And it's right and just that it be. Two: we also see here the heart of God. God is by nature a Savior and you see that in what's going on in the middle of all of this. As God is justly judging this world for its sin and rebellion, what is God doing? He's saving people in countless numbers. Why? Because that's who God is. In Isaiah chapter 45, I love the invitation there in verse 20.

Gather yourselves and come; Come together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge, Who carry around their wooden idol And pray to a god who cannot save. Declare and present your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this long ago? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.

There's the heart of God. Don't miss that in the seventh chapter. You see it in Titus 3, as well. Thirdly, we see in this text the necessity of the gospel. In Romans 1, Paul calls it, "the power of God unto salvation." In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says it is, the message preached that is what God uses to redeem those who are perishing. And in Romans 10, you remember, Paul says, how can they be saved unless someone goes and preaches this message? So, whether its individual Christians, the 144,000, the two witnesses we're going to get to in chapter 11, the angel, flying through the heavens, God only saves through the message of the gospel. And that brings us to number four and that is: the priority of evangelism. If you really believe that, then we've been just as truly assigned the mission the 144,000 will be assigned. 1 Peter 2:9, "you are a chosen race" - speaking to us who are part of the church - "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." Listen to this. "So that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." God has just as truly chosen you, Christian, to be part of His witness nation as the 144,000 that He'll call someday. And number five: this passage tells us about the security of the believer. Why? Well, these 144,000 are sealed. Guess what? So is every other Christian. Look back at Revelation 3, verse 12. It says, "he who overcomes" - remember that language? That's every Christian. Every Christian is an overcomer. "He who overcomes" - that's you, Christian – "I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not have to go out from it anymore." And watch this, "and I will write on him the name of My God." You have been sealed by God as His own and He will preserve you into His eternal presence. And nothing, as Jesus said in John 10, can snatch you out of His hand. You have been sealed. I love that. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this amazing passage. Thank you, Lord, most of all, for Your saving character, that even in the midst of wrath, You remember mercy, that You will, in that day, save a countless number of people even as You exact justice. Father, we love You, and we thank You that You've shown us that saving mercy now. Thank You for saving us. Thank You for Christ. Thank You for the gospel. Lord, make us faithful witnesses. May, we be Your witness nation in this day even as the 144,000 will be in theirs. Make us faithful. We pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.


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Tribulation Saints - Part 1

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