Revelation 7 - The Mark of the Lamb

Unveiled Hope: The Reigning Christ of Revelation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:57
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Christ does not open the seal of judgment until He seals His people



One of our favorite pastimes in our home—I’m specifically talking about the guys here—is sitting around and watching cheesy movies late into the night. (We’ve discovered that the later in the evening you start watching a cheesy sci-fi or action movie, the funnier it is!) You know the kind I’m talking about; over-the-top acting, cheap special effects and corny dialogue. The kind of movie where there’s a villain who has some doomsday machine or death ray or something that’s set on some kind of countdown—when the countdown or the timer reaches “zero”, the world blows up or something.
And you know you’re watching a cheesy movie when you start counting down in real time along with the timer onscreen and you have to keep backing up every time they show the timer, right? “ten… nine… eight… seven…”-- “Nine...” “eight...”) The good guys should have been blown up at least three times by the time they finally disarm the bomb or whatever. It’s an attempt on the part of the filmmaker to build suspense and highlight the nick-of-time heroism of the good guys—and when it’s done well it really is exciting and satisfying to see the heroes win. But when it’s done badly or sloppily it takes you out of the moment and just becomes silly.
Revelation 7 comes at the end of a countdown to destruction, doesn’t it? We saw last week as the Lamb—Jesus Christ—takes up the scroll of His universal reign and begins breaking the seals that lead up to the judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. War, famine, pestilence and death, vengeance for the death of His saints, the complete and utter upheaval of the entire world order—as He breaks each seal He moves closer and closer to the terrifying arrival of that judgment on the city and the people who arrogantly cried out that His blood be on their heads (Matt. 27:25). And Chapter 6 ends with people at the knife-edge of terror over the coming of the judgment they asked for:
Revelation 6:15–17 ESV
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Six of the seven seals have been broken; the breaking of the next seal will bring down the full weight of the wrath of Him Who sits on the throne and of the Lamb—the timer reads one second before detonation, and the last despairing question from the doomed is, “Who will survive? Who can stand?”
And Revelation 7 is the answer to that question! Before the last seal is opened in Chapter 8, John slows down the description of the judgment on Jerusalem to show that in the midst of that judgment, God spares His people. The message of Revelation 7 is that
Christ does not open the seal of judgment until He first seals His people.
Look at verses 1-3:
Revelation 7:1–3 ESV
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. 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, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
In Zechariah 6 we read a description of four chariots, representing God’s purposes for the earth, being sent to the “four winds of heaven”—in Revelation 6 we saw the first four seals representing God’s judgment on “the land”, on Jerusalem, for its blood-guilt for the murder of the Messiah. (Interestingly, Jesus makes this exact same reference when He prophesies about the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24:31, that
Matthew 24:31 ESV
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The Lamb commands the angels to “hold back the four winds”—hold back the horsemen of the Apocalypse—so that the judgment of Jerusalem does not begin until all of the “elect” (the “servants of God”) have been “sealed on their foreheads”. This is a reminder of how God commanded His people to live in the Old Testament—Deuteronomy 6:8 says that they were to bind the Law of God “as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes”—in other words, everything God’s people do (with their hands) and everything that they see (between their eyes) and everyone who sees them (on their foreheads) should make it inescapably obvious that they belong to God.
It’s really important that we take note of this—because just about anyone who has any acquaintance with the Book of Revelation at all immediately thinks about the “mark of the Beast” on the forehead in Revelation 13:17-18. We’ll examine what that means later in this series, but for now it is vital that we understand that that “mark” is a Satanic caricature of this mark in Revelation 7. Everyone wants to read Revelation to learn how to avoid “the mark of the Beast”—but this chapter urges us to receive the mark of the Lamb. As God pours out His judgment on a wicked and rebellious nation, we want our allegiance to Jesus Christ to be as obvious to the world as our forehead is!
Christ does not open the seal of judgment until He first seals His people. And in verses 4-9 we read about

I. The number of the sealed (Rev. 7:4-9)

Verse 4:
Revelation 7:4 ESV
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
John hears the voice call for the “Servants of God” to be sealed, and then he hears the tribes of Israel being numbered. So the first thing we see is
The number John heard (v. 4)
John goes on to list (most of) the tribes of Israel and the number “sealed” out of each tribe. Here again, there are a lot of different ways this 144,000 has been interpreted. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, say that this number represents the people born in the generation of 1918, when Christ returned to Earth to reign from the Watchtower Society offices in Brooklyn. Others teach that this represents the Jewish believers who will come to faith in Christ after the secret Rapture during the seven-year Tribulation. Others say that this number represents the total number of God’s people, the redeemed of all ages represented symbolically.
For reasons I want to unpack in a moment, it seems to me that the last view makes the most sense in this context. But here again we need to understand that if we insist on picking a fight with each other over the “right” or “wrong” interpretation of this number, we will miss the overriding truth of this passage, that God has sealed all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, to be delivered from His wrath by the blood of Jesus Christ, and all of them will be gathered around the Throne and the Lamb in Heaven.
One of the first things to notice about this number is how it was derived. The basic military unit in ancient Israel was the chiliad, or the “thousand” men (in Numbers 31:4, Israel was to send “a thousand men” from each tribe to war against Midian.) So this number represents a military formation—and army. If we stay consistent with the way we understand the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4, we understand that 12 represents the number of Old Testament (or New Testament) saints. So here we take the number of tribes (12) and multiply it by the number of the Apostles (12x12) and you get 144. Then you take that number and represent it by the “thousand”—the military unit—and you have 144 thousand, representing the victorious and triumphant people of God—the “Church Militant”—throughout all ages. (This is also consistent with the imagery of victory and overcoming that we see later in verses 15-17.)
The immediate context that John’s readers would have understood here is that God is promising to seal and preserve the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem when it fell under the judgment of God in A.D. 70. But at the same time, this image of the victorious people of God sealed from judgment reaches far beyond just the fall of Jerusalem—the promise to seal God’s people with the mark of the Lamb goes way beyond the boundaries of the Jewish nation, doesn’t it?
And that is precisely what we see in the following verses. John hears the number of the tribes of Israel being sealed, but then when he turns around, the number that John heard does not match
The number John saw (v. 9)
Look at verse 9:
Revelation 7:9 ESV
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
This is why I want to say here that the 144,000 is not a literal, discrete arithmetical number—because the uncountable multitude that John saw is clearly identified with the symbolic number of a complete army that he heard. And when you think about this for a moment, you see that John’s experience here between verses 8 and 9 is exactly the same experience that just about every New Testament Jewish believer had—they were thinking that the company of the redeemed would be confined to the twelve tribes of Israel, but God’s plan was that the whole earth would be brought into the New Covenant along with them! As Paul said to the Gentile believers in Ephesians 2:
Ephesians 2:12–13 ESV
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
In the following verses this great, uncountable army of the redeemed from every nation (not just Israel), every tribe (not just the Twelve Tribes of Israel), every people and every language go on to rejoice over the seal that they have been given, the seal that preserves them from the judgment to come. So in verses 10-14 we see

II. The praises of the sealed (Rev. 7:10-14)

Christ does not open the seal of His judgment until He first seals His people. Before He leveled His wrath on Jerusalem, He sealed His servants with His mark on their foreheads so that they would not be consumed. Just as the Hebrew slaves in Egypt were marked by the blood of the Passover Lamb so that the avenging angel of Death would spare them, so these verses tell us that the servants of God are marked—marked with the sealing blood of the Lamb—so that they would be spared the avenging wrath of God on the city that murdered the Messiah. And as we read through the following verses we see that the sealed servants of God praise Him for the seal they have received:
Revelation 7:10 ESV
and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
John says of the sealed people of God in verse 9 that they were “clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands”. These two images—their white robes and their palm branches—indicate the specific reasons they are praising God for their salvation. First, they are praising God
For the white robes of their righteousness
Down in verse 14 we read that they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14)—they have repented of their sins and trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their salvation. And once again we see a reference to the Old Testament in their worship—Isaiah 61:10 says, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exalt in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness!” Whatever else happens to the redeemed in the course of the judgments that are coming, they are completely and utterly sealed from the wrath of God by the blood of the Lamb! There is no condemnation for them, there is nothing that will separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus! And so they rejoice in their salvation.
They praise God for the white robes of their righteousness, and they praise Him
For the palm branches of their victory
When we read that the sealed are waving “palm branches”, we immediately think of the day we call Palm Sunday, when the people greeted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by waving palm branches and crying out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!” But the significance of the palm branches actually goes back about two hundred years earlier, when Jerusalem was liberated from the occupying Greek armies. The Jews, led by a priest named Mattathias, had rebelled against the Greeks who were forcing them into idolatry and the worship of the Greek gods. And in 160 B.C. Judas Maccabeus, the leader of the liberating Jewish army, entered the city to the cheers of the people of Jerusalem, who waved palm branches in celebration. The palm branch became associated with the Maccabean liberation—a symbol of throwing off godless oppression and false religion. The closest parallel in our own history would be the Gadsden Flag—the “Don’t Tread On Me” snake flag.
So here in Revelation 7, we see the innumerable host of the redeemed waving symbols of victory in their praise—that the Lamb has given them victory over the evil that oppresses them, that He has been victorious over every other so-called god or lord that competes with His glory. Even though the last seal hasn’t even been broken yet—the “countdown” to the judgment on Jerusalem hasn’t even reached zero!—they are already praising the Lamb for His victory!
They have already come out of the “great tribulation” that Jesus prophesied would fall on the city in Matthew 24:21— the “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be”. But even here the scope of this multitude of the redeemed—from every nation, tribe, people and language—indicates that this number represents not only God’s people who would be delivered from the destruction on Jerusalem, but all of God’s people who would be delivered from every trial and trouble and tribulation and distress throughout the history of the Church.
In every tribulation and time of judgment throughout history, we see that Christ does not open the seal of judgment on a people until he first seals His people. We have seen the number of the sealed, and the praises of the sealed, and in verses 15-17 we see

III. The blessings for the sealed (Rev. 7:15-17)

Look at verses 15-16:
Revelation 7:15–16 ESV
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
Consider the comfort that the churches who received this letter could take from these verses! They were facing the hatred of the Roman Empire, they were surrounded by threats to their existence from outside and the ravages of faithlessness and sin and false teaching within their walls. But because they are sealed by the mark of the Lamb,
They are sheltered in Him (vv. 15-16)
They “serve day and night in His temple”. Think of it—here and now, you either work the “day” shift or the “night shift”, right? You can’t do both, you’ll run yourself right into the ground. But the saints here in Revelation 7 rejoice because there are no more physical limitations to their serving God in worship! They never get tired, they never get sleepy, they never have to take a break or rest from their worship. They “hunger no more, neither thirst no more”—their bodies never run out of energy, they never get hypoglycemic and need to take a lunch break, because their worship is their food (John 4:34). The “sun does not strike them, nor any scorching heat”—they don’t get tired or sick, they don’t wear out and fall apart—nothing prevents them from worship!
They don’t have to step aside from worship because of their sin—they wear the white robes of the righteousness of the blood of the Lamb. They don’t get out of fellowship with God or each other because their battles with sin are over and done with for good! As John MacArthur said a few years ago, “When people ask me what appeals to me about heaven, it isn’t the streets of transparent gold or gates made of pearls; it’s the absence of sin. I’m tired of sin”. Here in Revelation 7 we have the promise that God’s people are sealed forever from their sin—they will not suffer the coming judgment for sin, and they will not be separated from God’s presence by their sin. The mark of the Lamb has sealed them.
The sealed rejoice because they are sheltered in God. And in verse 17 they rejoice because
They are shepherded by Him (v. 17)
Revelation 7:17 ESV
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 song that David sang centuries earlier in the fields around Bethlehem, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters”—that song from Psalm 23 echoes down through the years to be sung by the innumerable company of the redeemed in the throne room of Heaven—The Lamb Himself is the Shepherd, and He tenderly guides and protects and provides for His people, leading them to the “living waters” of His own presence! There is no scorching heat of trouble or creeping pestilence of sin that can touch the people that God has sealed—they are safe in His presence, sheltered and shepherded by Him.
In the Gospel account that he wrote, John relates how Jesus described Himself as the “Good Shepherd”—and here in Revelation 7 he comes back to that image to describe the way the Lamb shepherds the ones sealed from judgment by His blood. In John 10:14-15, Jesus says,
John 10:14–15 ESV
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
The ones who are sealed by the mark of the Lamb are sheltered by Him, and they are shepherded by Him. And that means that
They are known by Him (John 10:14-15)
The host of the redeemed, the great army of the people of God throughout all ages, is “a great multitude that no one could number"—but Jesus Christ knows every last one of them! Christian, if you have “washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”, if you have repented of your sin and trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your salvation, then you are known by the Lamb! You will never get lost in the shuffle, you will never fall through the cracks, you will never suffer any trouble or trial or heartache or calamity that will cause you to slip from the sight of your Shepherd for even a moment! He knows you, He has laid down His life for you, and He will never let you go!
You do realize, don’t you, that you who have been sealed by the mark of the blood of the Lamb have been promised that none of the four horsemen of the apocalypse can touch you? Surely that is part of why the sealed ones rejoice here in Revelation 7, and what the Apostle Paul means to tell us in Romans 8:
Romans 8:35 ESV
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Romans 8:37–38 ESV
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,
The sword of the red horseman of war cannot separate you from the love of the Lamb! You dwell in His presence where you will never hunger or thirst—the black horse of famine will not starve you! Neither death nor life will separate you—the pale horseman of death itself and the grave following cannot separate you from Christ—death only unites you with Him in Heaven!
In all these things, you are more than a conqueror—you can wave the palm branch of victory over the wicked oppressiveness of this rebellious world and rejoice in the Victory that the Lamb has already won, even now, while the darkness is still falling all around you with quarantines and riots and economic collapse and career-criminal politicians fighting with demonic intensity to destroy one another and this nation along with them!
Beloved, it is far too easy to succumb to the pessimism and fear and hopelessness of this world—there is a lot to be pessimistic about, isn’t there? But read through the Book of Revelation and hear the voices of the redeemed here in Chapter 7, and you do not hear any pessimism about the future, do you? The host of the redeemed is praising the victory of the Lamb before the last seal is even opened! So worship the Lamb the way He is worshipped by the victorious army of the redeemed worships Him around the throne—for the righteousness He has won for you by His blood, for the victory He has won for you over sin, death and the grave, and the victory He is winning through the advance of the Gospel throughout every tribe, tongue, people and nation!
God does not open the seal of judgment on a people until He seals His own people by the blood of the Lamb. If you have not yet received the mark of the Lamb, if you have not washed your robes white in His blood, if you have not turned from your sins and called on Him for salvation, this is your moment. Even now, God is holding back the winds of judgment from this land—giving you one more day to repent and turn to Him and receive the mark of the Lamb to seal you against His wrath. The countdown clock is getting closer to “zero” every moment—don’t waste another moment! Right after the service we will be down front to pray with you, to help you know for sure that you have been sealed by the blood of the Lamb, made righteous and victorious, sheltered by Him, shepherded by Him and known by Him forever!
Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


What are some of the ways that this passage about the 144,000 sealed servants has been understood by different Christians? What does this passage say about God’s people being “sealed” that every Christian can agree on?
What is the significance of the fact that John heard one number, but saw an “un-numberable” host of people? If the 144,000 represents a military formation, what does this tell us about the way we should understand the role of the church in the world?
Read Revelation 7:10-11 again. Note again the sequence of events in worship—the redeemed host of believers worships the Lamb before the Throne first, and then all of the angels fall on their faces before the Throne. How should seeing angels fall on their faces in response to believers’ worship affect the way you worship God on the Lord’s Day?
Read through Revelation 7:15-17 this week. Each day, take note of one of blessings listed there (e.g., that you will never be separated from God by your sin, that He will always lead you to Himself.) Which of those promises of blessing is most precious to you? Why? Spend time each day to praise God for one of those promises.
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