Lord Jesus, You told us that in this world we will face trouble. You told us we will face hardship and difficulty and even persecution. But You also told us to take heart, because You have overcome the world. Help us, O Lord, to take comfort in knowing You as our King, and that ultimately we will be victorious because You are victorious. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read Revelation 6:1-8:5
At the end of Revelation 5, the slain Lamb (Jesus) had taken the scroll, God’s plan and purpose for history, from the Father’s hand and had been recognized as the King who would bring that purpose to pass. In Revelation 6, that’s exactly what begins to happen: the Lamb breaks open the seals one by one, and history begins to unfold toward its conclusion.
Christians have often wondered how to understand the structure of Revelation. It contains three main sets of judgments—seals, trumpets, and bowls, with other visions mixed in around them. So the big question through history has been, “How do those judgments fit together?” Some have said they fit chronologically, that is, they follow one right after the other. There are good arguments for understanding the book that way, but perhaps a better way to understand it is not in terms of a line but rather a kind of spiral, which describes the same time period over and over again, each time with increasing intensity and drama. The reason for this thinking is because every major section of the book ends at the same place—at the final judgment. Read 8:5, 11:15–19, 16:17–21, and 20:11. Each of those sections has essentially the same ending: Christ is proclaimed King, and there are signs of the final judgment, the day of the Lord.
Here in Revelation 6, at the breaking of the seals, we see those judgments unleashed for the first time. The first four seals bring judgment in the symbolic form of four horsemen: red for war, black for famine, pale for death or disease, and white for the nations of the world. One striking reality, too, is that Christians are not exempt from the effects of these worldwide judgments. The fifth seal shows martyrs—which is probably not a special class of Christians but rather points to all Christians who have “taken up their cross” to follow Jesus—under the altar crying out for judgment. Then in response to their prayer, the sixth and seventh seals are opened, and final judgment falls.
Between the sixth and seventh seals, however, there is a pause in the action, and John is given another vision: the sealing of the people of God so their faith might not fail. Of topic, the most pressing question is, “But who is sealed?” Revelation 6:4 tells us that it is 144,000 from every tribe of the sons of Israel.
So are these Jews who are sealed, or a special class of elite Christians? Probably not. It means that all Christians are sealed. There are several reasons for thinking so.
First, the number is clearly symbolic:
12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 144,000
Given that 12 represents both the tribes of Israel and the apostles, and 10 is a number of completeness, 144,000 probably represents the whole people of God, both Old Testament and New Testament saints.
Second, it’s important to keep in mind that the New Testament often gives the titles and privileges of Jews to the church. Paul even calls Christians “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).
But third, something is happening here which actually shows up several times in Revelation: John hears something, but then turns to see something else, which clarifies the meaning of what he heard. Remember in Revelation 5 when he heard that a Lion would open the scroll but then turned to see a slain Lamb? The words, “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” were interpreted by the vision of the Lamb. The same thing happens here, where John hears the number of those sealed, but then turns and sees, not a group of 144,000 Jews but rather “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” (7:9).
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.17 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.
- Coming on the heels of the judgments poured out in Revelation 6, the vision in the next chapter offers powerful encouragement. Whatever our afflictions, whatever pressures this world exerts against us, Jesus is firmly in control of it all. He told us we should expect trouble. So we know that everything we face ultimately comes from His hand, and we know He has irrevocably sealed us if we are in Christ.
- Even so, we should remember that until we stand before Jesus, we are a church at war—the “church militant,” as the old theologians used to put it. Think about this: Why does the angel call out the names of the tribes in Revelation 7? The answer is that the only other time this kind of language was used—“So many from the tribe of …”—was when Israel was being called up to war. John’s is a vision of the army of the Lamb, and those of us who are His people are numbered in it.
Are you living in light of Revelation 6-7? (2:33)
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- To be a Christian is to remain faithful in witness to Jesus, even in the face of potential ridicule or persecution. Take a few minutes to think and pray about whether you have been frightened of what the world might do to you if you bear witness to Jesus. What promises do you have from Jesus that help undercut that fear?
- Study again the image of the Lion and the Lamb in Revelation 5, and the image of the 144,000 and the victorious army in Revelation 7. At what conclusion do you finally arrive about the identity of the 144,000? Who are they, and why are they sealed?
- Review your physical health and financial stewardship, and do the two portions of the below assessment again. Has anything changed over the last six months? Are there any new habits you would like to continue after this study is finished? Plan to put your new habits into action next week (if you aren’t already) and tell your accountability partner which habit/activity you started or plan to continue and ask them to check up with you about it. [Being a Disciple]
- How would you describe your general health?
- Do you exercise regularly? Eat well?
- Do you have a budget?
- Do you have consumer debt? how much?
- Do you give regularly to your church or other ministries?