The Two Multitudes
The Two Multitudes
The Two Multitudes
Good afternoon. I hope that everyone is having a great weekend. Today we are going to be looking at Revelation chapter seven. But before we get there I want to give us a kind of recap so that we can begin to see why so many in the persecuted church actually find comfort in this book. In first chapter we had this vision of Jesus and that Jesus is the one who is in control of all things and that the safety of His people, His church, rests fully within His hands. Then in chapters two and three we see Jesus call to His church throughout time in these seven letters to the seven churches of Asia. And the call was a consistent one. That if we turn to Jesus we will be rewarded as conquerors. Then in chapters four and five we are given this magnificent look into the throne room of God. And again we are shown a picture of God’s sovereign majestic will at play over all of creation. And that that naturally leads to worship of the greatness of his glory. Up to this point there may have been some stern warning for His church but we have had no judgment upon the world. The first five chapters nearly a quarter of the book is initially written to encourage the church so that when the end comes we might be found faithfully worshipping our one true king. Then and not until chapter six do we begin to actually see God pour out his wrath against the sin of this World. And in chapter six we saw the breaking of the first six seals and even in the midst of the six seals we see hope in the angel of the first horseman. We see hope for those who have been and will be martyred in the name of Jesus. Today in chapter seven we are going to read what I like to call an interlude within the story. There will be others as we go along. In chapter seven Jesus is going to remind us yet again who it is that is in charge and that no matter what happens our hope must rest in him. So, throughout the book we have seen up to this point a consistent pointing to Jesus as our source of Hope for what is to come. And yet in the church today we tend to turn first to our own abilities and the abilities of others when things go what appear to be wrong in our lives. Rather than first and foremost leaning on Christ Jesus. My hope today is that we can continue to see that all of our hope for a better future is found in and only in the depth of our relationship with Christ Jesus. And listen very carefully there is a difference between knowing a lot about someone and having a relational knowledge about someone. We all whether we wish to or not know a lot about the lives of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. However none of us, I don’t believe, at least have any relational knowledge of either. This is a trap that we must avoid in our relationship with Jesus. We must not simply “study” the scriptures. But rather when we read the scriptures, or pray, or worship, or whatever spiritual discipline you may be engaged in we must turnt that into time with Jesus. Here’s the hard part you need to figure out what that really means for you. As we look at todays passage we need to remember that Jesus has already set a future in place for each of us that is more glorious than what we could ever imagine. So let’s look at chapter seven.
Revelation chapter seven as a said is kind of an aside in the midst of the story. In chapter six we had the opening of the first six seals and then in chapter eight we will get the seventh seal opened and the six trumpets will be introduced to us. But right here in the midst of this is chapter seven. And like I said we will see this idea of an interlude in the story again later in the book. I believe that this interludes are given so as to provide hope to the people of God. Today we are going to be introduced to two groups and many state that the two groups are separate groups from one another. I actually disagree with this position and believe that the two groups are actually one and the same and there are significant hints within the text, I believe that point to this reality. I believe that what we see in the chapter is actually the same group represented at two different points in time. The first group is representative of a group of people that now find themselves at a point historically after the first six seals and at the beginning of the tribulation. And we will see the beginning of the tribulation next week in the opening of the seventh seal. The second discussion of the group is actually the same group however it is them present in time at the end of the tribulation. Is this obvious? Absolutely not. Nothing in this book is obvious. That is why there is so much disagreement about the book. So let’s look closer at chapter seven.
The first group is find in verses one through eight and we read in verse one.
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.
So in John’s vision he is shown all of creation as we experience it here on earth and he sees four angels that are holding back the four winds of the earth. These winds have the ability to be destructive forces of judgment by God. But, that he is holding back that judgment so that this group that we will find in this first section might come into being.
In verses two and three we read.
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.”
So, we have already discussed why these angels are being held back from releasing the four winds.
We need to now discuss what is this seal. And here’s the key to this it is never called a “mark”. It is always called a seal. Through all of the scriptures we are told that believers are sealed by God. We are never told that we bear the mark of God. One of the difficulties that we must struggle with, and it is a struggle, and that is that apocalyptic language does not convey its message in precise specific language. Instead it tends to to use much more surreal imagery with a fluidity to the imagery that makes understanding the imagery at times difficult.
That said I do not believe, I did at one time. But I do not now believe that believers receive a mark that they can see upon their forehead. Is there something present that the angels may be able to see. This is possible. But this language that believers are sealed is found throughout the scriptures and plays a very significant role in our understand of Gods protection over our lives. Not only in the midst of the tribulation but in the midst of whatever trials we find ourselves in today as well. I will get into this more as we sort out who this group is later.
In verses four through eight we read.
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
So what we all want to know is who are the 144,000 because this is perhaps one of the greatest points of debate within the book. And I know that today is probably going to be the first time that you have ever heard the position that I am going to put forth. At least it may be the first time you have ever heard it fully explained. And I believe it is so important that I am going to slow down and take my time on this point. Which means we will have to get to the second group next week. But, look that’s ok. We should never feel rushed in coming to a better understanding of God’s plan for his people. I do often times though. But I need to resist that slow down and ensure that you have a fuller understand to lean upon in difficult times.
So the first question that I believe needs to be addressed isn’t who are these individuals. But rather why are they sealed? This will help us in identifying who they are meant to represent. Unfortunately to fully understanding the why we need to jump forward in the book to the sounding of what we will find is the fifth trumpet. And in chapter nine verse four we read.
They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
At the time in the Revelation that we find ourselves in chapter seven God is about to pour out his wrath upon sin here on earth. But the affliction of His wrath is not to be universal. It is not going to affect everyone. In the midst of this rebellious world we find the people of God. And we need to remember the object of Gods wrath is not specifically humanity, but rather the sin that humanity harbors within. The sin that they so desperately cling to and in the end worship. But this wrath will not fall upon Gods chosen people. They are sealed and therefore delivered out from the midst of His wrath.
This revelation that John receives is very similar to Israel in Egypt. God sent a series of ten plagues upon Egypt in order to bend the will of Pharaoh so to speak to the will of God. Israel was right there in the midst of Egypt, in the midst of each and every plague. But God delivered His people through that time. The tenth plague brought death to every first born male in Egypt. However the Israelites were told to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood upon the door of their homes. And when judgment came it would pass over every home whose door had been sealed by the blood of the lamb. Wow. I don’t believe there is a more obvious means that God uses to point to Jesus in the Old Testament as the Messiah.
The understanding of the sealing of the 144,000 is made even more clear in Revelation chapter sixteen verse two where we read.
So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
The wrath of God is not poured out upon all of humanity but rather only those who bear the mark of the beast.
God will protect all of His people who have received His seal of protection so to speak. He will protect them from the outpouring of his wrath. They will suffer tribulation at the hand of the antichrist and many if not most will be martyred.
So we understand the purpose of the seal. It is meant as a means of protection to guarantee that God’s people will one day stand before him. So what is this sealing.
This is not a new idea to the scriptures. The idea that God’s people are sealed is find frequently in the scriptures. We read this in Ephesians chapter one verses thirteen and fourteen.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were 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.
Similar ideas are expressed also in 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 4:30.
The sealing of believers is a way in which God gives to each of us his assurance of spiritual safety. Why? Because we are His possession. This sealing is an inner spiritual reality and as such it can not be seen by the naked eye. And we see here in Revelation chapter seven this same seal upon the people of God. It is placed upon them in order to spiritually protect them for the coming Antichrist.
This is the purpose of the sealing of the believers.
So, now the question is who are the 144,000. It would take weeks to explore every possible understanding that has been put forward. In the end there are only a few that are frequently found within the church.
I would say this that the most natural way to understand the identity of the 144,000 is to see them as the Jewish people and to find in this symbolism the salvation of Israel. The rejection of Jesus by Israel was a significant struggle for many within the early Church. In fact Paul devoted three entire chapter in the book of Romans to this struggle. And we are going to end up leaning very heavily on two of these chapters to better understand who is in view in this 144,000. In these three chapters Paul insists that the promises that God made to Abraham and to Israel are not annulled they still exist to this very day. Why? Because there is always a believing remnant of Jews who have inherited the promises. The majority of Israel however are guilty of unbelief and are therefore broken off from the people of God. Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree to show this truth. Paul wants us to understand that God is not done with Israel. He says that they are still a holy people. A people set apart by God. He goes on to state that Israel has been currently “hardened” in unbelief until the full number of Gentiles might be grafted on to the olive tree. And that the hope is that the ingrafting of the Gentiles might provoke the Jews to jealousy. And this jealousy would drive them to Jesus and thus Paul says in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved.” And what he means here by the fact that all of Israel will be saved is that there will come a day when the entire family of living jews - “all Israel” - will be saved. This does not mean that every Jew throughout history will be saved. This would make our belief in Jesus meaningless. Right? Jews who persist in their unbelief can not be saved. Because that is the means that God has ordained for salvation.
The predominant view as to the identity of the 144,000 and the one that is found in the Left Behind series. Which is probably why it is today the predominant view of the Church. Is that the 144,000 are a remnant of saved Jews who will witness to the “gospel of the Kingdom.” In other words the coming of God’s Kingdom. And they will do this after the church has been raptured before the priory of the great tribulation. They identify the second multitude that we will get to next week as a great host of gentiles who will be saved as a result of the preaching of this Jewish remnant. And that these gentiles will be martyred for their faith by the Antichrist. This view depends completely on the fact that the church is raptured prior to the great tribulation. Which up to this point in the book of Revelation we have seen absolutely no mention of a rapture. This view holds that the Antichrist will make a seven-year treaty with the nation of Israel. But in the middle of what is called the “week of years” the Antichrist will turn in anger and attempt to destroy his former allies and he will attack Israel and there martyrdom is found in chapter thirteen. The problem with this view is two fold. The first we have mentioned already. We have seen no in gathering or rapture up to this point in the book of Revelation. Second the martyrdom in Revelation chapter thirteen. Is not said to be directed at Israel, but rather anyone who does not take the mark of the beast. So this martyrdom in chapter thirteen must include both Jew and gentile alike.
I would suggest that the 144,000 are not meant to identify literal Israel, but rather what we might call “spiritual Israel.” And I must admit I don’t like this phrase because of how some have come to describe it. Instead what we need to see from Romans Nine through Eleven is that spiritual Israel is actually now simply called the church. So I want to spend some time now explaining why I believe this. One of the reasons I believe that is what is in view here is some irregularities in the list of the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact John’s list here agrees with no list of the twelve tribes of Israel found in the scripture. In fact in Ezekiel chapter forty-eight God enumerates the twelve tribes of Israel who will enter into the heavenlies. So, let’s look at a comparison of these two lists.
The Twelve Tribes
The Twelve Tribes
So many interpreters and pastors view this list in Revelation as literally representing Israel. However, if we do this then we have a problem. And that is that Johns list in Revelation does not represent the actual twelve tribes of Israel.
In fact there are several irregularities between the two lists. First in yellow we will see the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are not represented in Johns list. Now we could say that Ephraim is indirectly because Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh and Joseph is mentioned in Johns list. But that would mean that Manasseh is then somehow included twice. And then John includes both Levi and Joseph which are not found in Ezekiel 48.
I can find no satisfactory explanation for the irregularities of the list of names except one: John intends to say that the twelve tribes of Israel are not really literal Israel, which is what is found in Ezekiel 48, but rather John represents the true, spiritual Israel, which Paul explains is now the Church.
The most difficult of these irregularities is the omission of the tribe of Dan. In Ezekiel 48 we are clearly told by God that a remnant of the tribe of Dan will enter into the heavenlies. But now we find them missing. Many have tried to explain this by suggesting that the Antichrist arises from the tribe of Dan. And so the entire clan is then seen as being apostate and thus lose their inheritance of the land. However this simply can not be true because of their inclusion in Ezekiel forty-eight. Unless we want to say that God got it wrong then, and that’s not going to happen.
The New Testament, I believe, clearly conveys the idea that the church is the true, spiritual Israel. I recognize that the word Israel is never used of the church in the New Testament, except perhaps in Galatians 6:16.
However, let me present the argument this way. In Galatians 3:12 we read.
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
And then in Romans 4:11 we read.
He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,
Abraham is the father of the righteous whether they be circumcised or uncircumcised.
In Philippians 3:3 we read.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
So let’s put this together. If everyone who believes in Jesus are the true sons of Abraham, and are the true circumcision, then I believe we must conclude that the church is the true spiritual Israel. That’s why Paul when speaking of the church in Galatians chapter six says in verse sixteen.
And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
Paul here I believe refers to the church as the Israel of God. If not then this verse is very clumsy in the midst of chapter six.
I also believe that this interpretation makes the best sense for our chapter as a whole as well. Particularly when trying to find the relationship between the two groups represented in this chapter. The represent the same people - the church - simply found in two different stages in her history in regards to the end times. First they stand at the threshold of the great tribulation and then finally the church finds herself having passed through the tribulation, martyred but victorious.
We know that it is the church that is sealed already so that it might be protected from the works of Satan. The church will suffer persecution during the great tribulation, but she already has throughout her entire history. This is not something new.
And the number 144,000 is not a difficult one to figure out right the 12 times 12,000. As is usual in the book of Revelation, the number is symbolic and is simply stating the full number of the people of God will be brought safely through the time of tribulation. God will not lose one of his sheep. The great shepherd will see his sheep to their final place of rest and salvation eternally at peace within His presence.
I will skip this morning pointing at God’s sovereignty even though it is clearly present within this passage, yet again. Instead I want to briefly look at two ideas that come from this passage.
First is our spiritual heritage.
Our Spiritual Heritage
Our Spiritual Heritage
I will say it this way. IF our understanding of the 144,00 is correct then all God’s servant, whether they be Jew or Gentile, are also viewed through the prism of Israel. That means that all of us regardless of whether we be Jew or Gentile should see our spiritual heritage in the patriarchs and the prophets of ancient Israel. I am NOT saying that God has “replaced” Israel with the Gentile Church. It simply means that gentile christians have been grated into the heritage of Israel and we can now speak of Abraham as our father. We should recognize a spiritual heritage that runs deeper than any ethnic or national heritage to which we might somehow claim allegiance. And so when you read the Old Testament do not separate yourself from the story of Israel. This is the story of our people. We have been grafted in to that story.
Finally I want to discuss the idea of Victory and what true Victory looks like.
There is a significant group within our Church that speak of living the victorious life. And I must admit there are times I am attracted to their ideas. The problem is that what most in the church preach as the victorious life is not how the scriptures describe victory for the people of God.
Humanity always seeks to achieve power and overcome their adversaries by simply applying more power. Whether that be through our own power or as some in the church would preach it through the power of the Spirit within us.
God however summons us to overcome through weakness. We are God’s army. And we are engaged today in a war that is not simply a personal matter. And a purely defensive strategy can never win a battle. All it does is simply delay the inevitable. In Romans six Paul speaks concerning how it is that we are to wage spiritual warfare. In there he lists our single offensive weapon. He calls it the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. Which is a simple reference to us declaring the gospel of Jesus to this lost world.
Jesus has not called us to simply preach the gospel within out churches and wait for the lost to come so that they might be found. Jesus is challenging each one of us to take the good news of our King outside the church. Jesus is calling us to strike offensively and to tear down the gates of hell. Her in chapter sever it is as though we are being called to go forth and find those who might join the King’s army and be prepared to die in hope of eternal life.
What does victory look like?
In the world victory is won when a King or a Leader calls his people to die in battle so that he might find victory over his enemies. However in the Kingdom of God our King died in battle so that his people might find victory over their enemies.
THE GREAT MULTITUDE
THE GREAT MULTITUDE
Let us pray.
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.