Welcome to this blog which is following the Book of The Revelation. Previous blogs can be found by date from the archive, or at emmock.com bible reference, or emmock.com topic word. Comments and questions are always welcome. M other blog, which is more political can be found at xtremejesus.co
The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in:
Revelation 7 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The 144,000 of Israel Sealed
7 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 could blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, 3 saying, ‘Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants[a] of our God with a seal on their foreheads.’
4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel:
From the tribe of Judah twelve thousand 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,
from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed.
The Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ 14 I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; 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 worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
The repeated sequences of seven represent repeated versions of the victory of God’s justice. For that reason the content of the seventh of each sequence is reserved as it is going to be fully described only at the climax of the book. In the case of the seals, the seventh is represented by “silence in heaven”. Today’s passage comes between the sixth seal, which represents the devastating anger of God expressed in the cross of Jesus and the faithful deaths of his followers, and the silence which leads into the new sequence of the seven trumpets.
The fact that this passage is nevertheless to do with “sealing” should put us on our toes and encourage us to interpret it as the inner meaning of the “sealed” book,that is. of the whole sequence of the seals. It is a full answer to the question: what is the hidden meaning of God’s fight against evil powers through Jesus and his followers?
The answer is that God is placing his seal on those who will share his victory because they have shared his pain. They have stood by God and his crucified messiah in their faith and their actions. In that sense they are self-selected but God confirms their wishes by marking them as his own. They are depicted as belonging to the 12 tribes of Israel and making up the perfect number of God’s people 144,000. They are “Israel” by choice and not by birth.
But even this inner meaning of the “sealed book” is followed by an innermost meaning as the vision shifts to the court of heaven and the great multitude of those sealed by God stand before the throne in with clothes and palms of victory. They are no longer called Israel but are explicitly recognised as from all parts of the world. They acclaim God and the Lamb as the sources of “salvation” which means, rescue, liberation, victory. Again the Lamb is mentioned in the same breath as God. In response the heavenly court gives honour to God as the source of all goodness.
Then the heavenly elder reveals to John the nature of God’s salvation”. In simple and tremendous words he identifies the great crowd as those who have opposed the powers of evil at the risk of their lives. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This extraordinary phrase highlights the great contradiction: in worldly terms they have suffered bloody violence, but because Jesus the Lamb has suffered the same violence, they now share his victorious life. They have identified with the Lamb and now the Lamb identifies with them. Their life of worship shows that their lives have always and only worshipped God. Their service in his temple mirrors their costly service given on earth. The hunger thirst and scorching heat experienced by Jesus on the cross and by them in their sufferings, will now not hurt them, for Jesus, the Lamb at the centre of the Rule of God, will guide them to the refreshing waters of new life.
And God, like a tender mother or father will wipe away their tears. In this heaven, their tears are not denied, or forgotten, as if they had never been, but recognised as the cost of sharing the goodness of God, who takes responsibility for their hurt. This unique image of God as the parent wiping away the child’s tears recurs near the very end of the Revelation in chapter 21, where it is explained not simply as a picture of divine kindness but as the creation of new cosmos in which there shall be no more suffering or death. The author borrowed the image from Isaiah chapter 25 which also prophesies the end of death. The borrowing brings together the voices of a prophet from eight centuries BCE with the the voice of John the prophet in the first or second century CE and the borrowing speaks even more powerfully in its new setting.
Again I should mention the principle of interpretation that I have adopted:
Heaven is the counterpart and ultimate future of earth. This passage therefore shows the real meaning of the struggle of faithful people against evil powers; it also reveals their ultimate and victorious future in God’s Rule.
Although these words are meant especially for those engaged in conscious struggle for God’s justice, they belong also to all who suffer and yet hold fast to goodness. They have been a resource for my own inadequate ministries in the church.