3 More Thoughts From Revelation 7 …
This morning, I preached part 2 of the “Lord of the Earth” series. This message focused on Revelation 7:1-17. In the sermon we saw that just as there is a certainty of the wrath of God coming in the future during the Great Tribulation, so also there is a certainty of a future revival that will come upon the earth in the last 7 years before Christ returns. If you missed the message, you can find it in the preceding posts.
As I knew would be the case in this series, there simply was not enough time in these messages on Sunday mornings to unpack all I would like to talk about in each sermon. So (similar to last week) here are a few more thoughts from Revelation 7.
- A few extra thoughts about the references to Israel in Revelation 7. As we saw this morning, after the rapture of the church, and during the Great Tribulation era, God will “seal” 144,000 descendants of Israel. As I mentioned today, I believe these are representative of all of ethnic Israel that will still be alive and on the earth during the tribulation. These sealed Jews will come to faith in Christ and be protected from God’s wrath during the time of the Tribulation so that they might be His witnesses among the nations during that era (see Isaiah 49:6 and Mathew 24:14 for further reference.) In the bonus content I put out last week, I mentioned the parallels between the 21 movements of wrath in the Great Tribulation era (Seals, Trumpet, and Bowl judgments), and the 10 plagues on Egypt during the time of the Exodus. It is interesting to see this “sealing” as a modern twist on the protection offered those who practiced the Passover in Exodus. At that time, the blood of a lamb on the doorposts offered protection from God’s wrath … here in the end times, the “seal” on the forehead of the Jews protected them from experiencing the wrath that was afflicting the rest of the earth (Revelation 9:1-4).
One interesting thing about this concerns the references to 12,000 FROM EACH TRIBE. John goes on to tell us the 12 tribes of Israel that are sealed included: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. This list of the 12 tribes is interesting in a few ways. First of all, the list includes Levi … something that is surprising because the Levites (as the Priestly Clan) did not receive any land inheritance, so they were sometimes omitted from the 12 tribe listings of the Old Testament. Second, we notice that Ephraim is not mentioned, but his brother Manasseh and father Joseph are. In the lists of the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, often Manasseh and Ephraim are listed as “half tribes,” and Joseph is excluded by name (referenced though through his two sons). Finally, we see that Dan is excluded from the Revelation 7 list altogether. So, is there anything to make of the special nuances of these lists? Probably! Though we may not know with total clarity. My best guess is that Dan is not mentioned here to single out Dan’s idolatry long ago. Same goes for Ephraim, whose name became synonymous with the Northern Kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) after the nation split, with the northern kingdom sliding into idolatry faster than the south. What is clear, though, is that God is not done with either Dan or Ephraim. He may discipline them a bit, but Ezekiel 48 talks about the Danites getting land during Jesus’ new Kingdom at the end, so they are not dialed out altogether. Also, Ephraim is not mentioned by name, but every descendent of Ephraim would have also been a descendent of Ephraim’s dad Joseph, so all are included. This reminds us that the kind of people God saves are “sinful people.” All the redeemed of heaven have this in common … including you and me. He did not give up on Israel, and He will not give up on us.
A second point of interest relates to the continued presence of Israel as a people ALL THE WAY UNTIL THE END. This is remarkable given Israel’s history. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the Jewish people were scattered around the world. They would not exist again as a nation until 1948! Nearly 2000 years!!! And yet, in the end times, there they are, named and accounted for. How can one explain the “legs” this nation has over the marathon of history? Well, it has to do with God. God made supernatural promises to Abraham, Isaac, and eventually Jacob (Israel). He promised to give them a kingdom, land, and blessing … and that Messiah would come through them! Given these promises (and God’s faithfulness) we should not be surprised to see Israel as an entity in this description of the end of the world. In the “kingdom phase” of the end (something we will see in greater detail later this year), God will make good on ALL the promises He made to Israel as a people. Including this reference to ethnic Israel here, is a reminder to all that God can be trusted. He does not forget His promises like we do. He holds them fast, even after thousands of years.
It is interesting to note that during the time of the Protestant Reformation, the nation of Israel had not existed for 1500 years. So, when many Reformation era Bible scholars wrote, they did not see these references in Revelation 7 to refer to literal Israel … after all, Israel was no more (from their perspective)! So, many scholars tried to replace Israel with the church, and they see Revelation 7 and the 144,000 as referring to the church – missing the obvious textual assertion that the 144,000 are actually Jewish! While the Reformers have given many gifts to the modern church, they (after all) were men, and captive to their era of history in some of their understanding. Given our vantage point in 2022, with Israel now celebrating their (nearly 75th) year as a reconstituted nation, it is easier to see why Dispensational theology (which maintains God’s program for Israel in the last days) has gained new footing. The blind spot of the Reformers here should also serve as a humble reminder for us. Especially as it relates to end times prophecy, there are most likely many things we don’t fully understand.
- The Song of Salvation in Revelation 7:15-17. After the “sealed” Jewish evangelists go and share the Gospel to the ends of the earth during the Tribulation, John records seeing a multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation in Heaven who had been saved as a result of the ministry of the 144,000. This multitude is serving, praising, and worshipping God in Heaven. As they worship, they sing a song that begins, “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb.” I love this statement. It reminds us that when it comes to salvation, Jesus is the hero (not us.) The redeemed of heaven are not sitting around singing about how great each other are. They simply are declaring again and again and again how great Jesus is! This reminds us why JESUS and GOD THE FATHER are the themes of our worship songs. We celebrate and sing of His greatness not our own. When we tell our testimonies, if anyone other than God the Father or God the Son is the hero, then we are telling it wrong. We are SAVED after all … by Him! It is God’s work that saves us and God’s work that should be celebrated in our worship songs and spiritual stories.
The remainder of this Song of Salvation talks about how for all time “The Lamb … will be their shepherd.” What a picturesque statement! The Lamb of God shepherding us for all time. I am immediately reminded of Psalm 23’s great statement “The LORD is my shepherd …” The amazing thing about heaven is that Jesus is there. And the reward for the follower of Christ is that we get to be led by Jesus for all time. When we are with Christ, He provides for us amazing things: provision (hunger and thirst no more – 7:16), shelter (sheltered in His presence and protected from the scorching elements – 7:15-16), and comfort from life’s hurt (drying every tear from our eyes – 7:17). Oh how wonderful it is to be shepherded by the Lamb for an afternoon … but to be with Him and under His care forever? That is truly amazing.
Think about all the struggles that the Tribulation era saints (those who believe based on the testimony of the 144,000) would have experienced. They had gone through so much difficulty in life (persecution, atrocities on the earth, the wrath of God falling around them … and all that in addition to life’s normal challenges!) After their earthly life was done, they found themselves before the throne of God and in a position of being cared for forever. What a contrast … what a reward! This world makes us long for something better. Jesus provides it. Are you dissatisfied with life today? Weighed down under life’s burdens? Then make the Lord your shepherd. Follow Him and be a member of His flock. There is nothing like it. Life still will have its challenges now, but in eternity, we have no hunger or thirst or tears.
- A more detailed chart of Daniel 9:24-27. I mentioned today a bit about the prophetic calendar laid out in Daniel 9:24-27 which (among other things) lets us know that we should expect the Great Tribulation era to last seven years. Pastor Bruce Hess shared with me a chart he produced on the timeline referenced in Daniel 9. I am attaching it here for your edification.