Revelation 7:1-17 Part 7


1)    After this I saw four messengers having stood upon the four corners of the earth restraining the four winds of the earth in order that the wind might not blow upon the earth or upon the sea or upon any tree.

2)    And I saw another messenger going up from dayspring having the  Living God’s seal.  And he did cry out in a great voice to the four messengers to whom it was given to injure the earth and the sea, saying

3)    ‘you may not injure the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.

4)    And I did hear the number of the ones who have been sealed, one hundred and forty four thousand have been sealed from all the tribes of the sons of Israel:

5)    from the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,

6)    from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,

7)    from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,

8)    from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.

9)    After this I looked and, Lo!  a great crowd which no one was able to number out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, having stood before the throne and before the Lamb, having been arrayed in white garments and palms in their hands,

10) and crying out with a great voice, saying ‘The Salvation to our God, To Him Who sits on the throne and the Lamb!’

11) And all the messengers had remained steadfast round the throne, and the elders and four living creatures fell on their faces before the throne, and they did worship God,

12) saying ‘The praise and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the might to our God to the ages of ages.  Amen.’

13) And one of the elders uttered, saying to me ‘Who are these who have been arrayed in white garments?  And whence did they come?’

14) And I addressed him: ‘My lord, you have known!’  And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.  And they did wash their garments and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

15) Because of this are they before the throne of God.  And ‘they do service to Him day and night in His sanctuary’ And ‘the One Who sits on the throne shall tabernacle over them.’

16) ‘They shall no more hunger, nor shall they thirst any more, nor shall the sun fall down upon them, nor any burning heat.’

17) ‘For that Lamb in midst of the throne shall feed them, and He shall lead them upon springs of living water, and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.’


“Until WE have sealed the bond-servants….”  The God Who covenants – Father, Son and Spirit – seals (preserves, stores up in His vault), those who are His.  And none of them are to suffer the wrath of the Lamb.  All of them are to be rescued from the wrath to come quickly.

And John hears the number of them.  And it’s a very specific number. And then he hears the number from each tribe – in order.  Those, too, are very specific numbers; and they are numbered with specific individuals; and the numbers are especially meaningful (as we’ll see).

The Lamb’s loosing of the sixth seal, and the cries for vengeance from the martyr’s blood at the base of the altar, and the revelation of the seven-fold outpouring of the wrath of God, all continue to be expanded as John hears and observes what has been “stored up” in the treasury of God’s covenant promises.

And as our Lord looses the seals of His covenant, let’s please be perspicuous – as were the original readers and hearers.  And as the apostle commands, let’s lift our eyes and our minds and our hearts into the heavenlies and see all of these things as God reveals them to John. 

All of this is not to be “interpreted”; it is all to be “received”!  We are not to examine it as “observers”; we are to receive it and participate in it as members of the family!  It was revealed and written for the Church; and we are the Church!  All of this is for us, His people!  We are the recipients of these mighty acts of grace and mercy.

Our God will be glorified in His creation.  His majesty will be recognized and acknowledged and revered.  The veneration of the ONE true God will be exclusive, and His people will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

What we are receiving here is the incomparable, matchless and most excellent acts of love and grace and mercy toward those who belong to God and with whom He has covenanted.  And if we are just detached, casual observers, or maybe just exegetical and editorial interpreters, then we aren’t “receivers” and “participants” of that love and mercy.

Observers and interpreters see these things from afar, they’re somewhat detached, and they look at them “passively” and pass judgment on them from their own viewpoint.  And we mustn’t do that.

As God gives love and shows mercy, we must be in receipt… and be filled with wonder and astonishment and admiration – and thanksgiving.

How can we say that the termination of a nation in the heat of the anger and wrath of God is an act of love and mercy?  Wrong question!

The right question, from God’s perspective, is “Why did He save a remnant from a people which had rebelled against Him from the beginning; which had filled His temple with idols, which had persecuted and killed His prophets, and had killed His Son; and which had pursued, persecuted and killed His lost sheep?”

 You see, this remnant was the true Israel promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jacob IS Israel).  And it was this remnant, rescued from the wrath to come, that formed the Church of Jesus Christ in the nations.  Three thousand of them (from every nation on earth) at Pentecost; and all the rest of them sought out by our Lord and His apostles from the four corners of God’s “heaven and earth”.

Had there not been a dispersion of God’s elect people into the nations after the Lord’s resurrection, there would be no Church in the nations.  And we Gentiles would have been left in our sin and depravity.

This is the love and grace and mercy of God, not only to His covenant people Israel, but also to us in the nations, who are now true Jews.  The WORD of God has sought us out and found us and freed us from the captivity and darkness of our own sin heritage.  And we worship Him in His new Israel, in a new Jerusalem, in a new temple (made without hands).

As we’ll later find in the Revelation, the names of the twelve apostles of Jesus are on the foundation of this new Jerusalem in which we now so mercifully live.  And the gates of our new city are adorned with the names of the twelve sons of Jacob – the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

So, you see, we move – by the grace and mercy of our God – from the slavery (bondage) of pagan humanity into the new city of God through the gates named for Israel’s sons!  They are the gateway through which we enter, for they were the firstfruits of Christ.  In the Lord’s Own Words, He came to find the lost sheep of the house of (Jacob) Israel!

They were loved – and chosen – from eternity… covenantally promised; and that covenant revealed to Abraham, that in him all nations would be blessed.  And his grandson, and his twelve great grandsons, would fill up the promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations.  His “seed”, who would honor their father and keep God’s commandments, would be blessed (steadfastly loved) to the “thousandth” generation!

And while I’m right at this point, all of you note that the two sons of Isaac – Jacob and Esau – both received the sign and seal of the covenant!  To Jacob the sign of the covenant was the grace of God to the nations; to Esau the sign of the covenant was to the ultimate cursing and destruction of “heaven and earth” – Israel, God’s micro-cosmos.

As God moved mightily to free these twelve nations – tribes – from their bondage in Egypt, they were then assembled around Mt Sinai to receive His Law-word.  And that Law-word included the precise construction of the tabernacle which, with the tribes of Israel gathered, was the man-made, earthly, replica of God’s throne-room and His cosmos.

Once that tabernacle complex was completed, and once it had been inhabited by the Glory Cloud, Israel was assembled around it in order.  There was a nation at each corner of the complex, and two in between each corner, for a total of twelve nations, in order, all gathered around the tabernacle.

So, if you can envision the tabernacle standing up on end, with the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies at the top, it is a man-made copy of God’s judgment seat, in the heaven, over all His created domain… a “cosmos” if you will, and all His people gathered around, a living, breathing, pulsating “micro-cosmos” in the likeness of God’s heaven and His entire creation.

That’s why God called it “heaven and earth”, for it was made in the likeness of His heaven and earth.  And it had four corners; and Israel, gathered around, formed four corners; and the tabernacle complex had four corners; and the altar of whole burnt offering had four corners; and the ark of the covenant – with its cherubim – had four corners.  God’s covenant nation, you see, had four corners.  That’s how He made it; that’s how He perceived it.

When Israel entered the “land”, the twelve tribes were allotted specific locations, in an orderly fashion, by God.  And the promised land was perceived by God to be that “heaven and earth” that He had prescribed for Israel in the desert, with all twelve tribes gathered around the temple, which would be built later by Solomon.  And it would still be perceived in “fours”.  And the nations of Israel gathered around it – one at each “corner” and two each in between.

The permanent temple was to be built on the dome of the rock in Jerusalem, with the same specifications given at Sinai; for the dome was in the likeness of the cosmic firmament.  And, like in the desert, the temple, on the dome, was the only place in all of Israel where the sacrifices were to be offered.  And the people were to come from the four corners of the “land” to worship and sacrifice.

At the completion of the temple, God inhabited it in all His glory (as His Presence in the heaven is described in Moses and the prophets).  His Presence filled the holy of holies, over the ark and its cherubim.  And the entire land of Israel, with its twelve tribes, was complete in the very likeness of God’s throne-room over His creation.  It was, indeed, the very image of His creation…..described by Him with it’s own sun, moon and stars, and its earth and sea and trees, and the four winds and the four corners and its twelve tribes.

And as our Lord “saves” His people Israel, as promised all through the Scripture, He saves them, in twelves, from the wrath to come.  His view – His perception – of His people is in twelves, as His heaven and earth Israel was gathered in order in the desert.

The twelve nations, in order around the tabernacle, was the likeness of His throne-room and His creation.  And at the entrance to the tabernacle was the altar of whole-burnt offering, without which there was no entrance into the heaven.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having been sacrificed, was the “fullness” of that entire ceremonial and sacrificial Law-word, including the priesthood and tabernacle and the permanent temple.  Therefore none of it was of further use.  And therefore it was all destroyed in His Parousia.

The entire “heaven and earth” that God had called into being in the desert, and had established around the dome of the rock in Jerusalem, passed from existence in the Parousia of Jesus Christ; for He had come; and He had accomplished the covenantal sacrifice – to which all of it had pointed!  The whole “heaven and earth” that He had established for Himself – Israel – was to reveal the Sacrifice, and was for the purpose of the sacrifice for the sin of the world, to bring glory to Himself in the salvation of His people… a majestic act of love and grace and mercy toward His creation and its creatures.

Now.  Since I’ve brought them up several times in the course of preaching, most of you know that I belong to a number of Theological discussion groups… some of which you might recognize: the PCA discussion group, the OPC discussion group, the reformed theology discussion group, the reformed Christian culture discussion group….among others.

They’re very interesting… sometimes.  Quite a while ago I had to have my webmaster greatly expand my email box in order to handle the traffic – especially when I’m away for more than a day or two.  And usually, after downloading, I just delete most of them, unless there’s a particularly intriguing topic under discussion.  I just read, mostly. Because of time issues I rarely get involved (you just have to pick and choose your own battlefields).  Besides, most of them are just “milk”, and have no “meat”.

I just didn’t have time to load up during this last OPC topic because of the level of difficulty with the Revelation text, and moving my business office; but I wish I could have.  It was a worthy occasion to bring up some heavy artillery.

The owner of the OPC group, a PHD in theology from somewhere, was firing off his own rounds at somebody about preaching.

And the question he was addressing had to do with “conforming”, or “adapting” the preaching to the understanding of the hearers.  And that the preacher had to use language that the hearers are “used to” in order that they might understand what was being said.

And, further, he said that “evangelical” sermons (i.e. sermons about the “gospel”) ought to be preached on Sunday morning when there were visitors; and that “sermons of edification” could be preached on other occasions (such as Sunday night, or Wednesday night) when there was only the regular crowd there.  (Apparently they don’t need the Gospel.)

Well, my blood pressure went up substantially when I read those emails… I wanted very badly to take him on.  But… you’d be proud of me; I counted the cost.  A lot of time and energy would have been lost from study and preparation to preach to my own congregation.

We’ve had preaching and discussion about all of these issues; but let me just address them very briefly one at a time.  (And this is important to our text, mind you.)

Why is it that any Presbyterian minister, especially (maybe) a PHD in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, want to separate preaching “edification” sermons from “gospel” sermons?  Isn’t the Gospel of Jesus Christ “edifying”?  And, here’s the flip side of that; aren’t all sermons for edification concerning the Gospel?

Where in all of God’s covenantal Revelation for the salvation of His creation is there an absence of the Word of God made flesh?  Can anybody point me to a portion of God’s Revelation of Himself and His creation that has nothing to do with our Lord Jesus Christ?  The whole Bible is about the Christ!  It’s all Christian.

This is perhaps one of the more inane concepts of preaching.  But it is, unfortunately, the prevalent one.

And as far as preaching to the level of understanding of the hearers is concerned, this is the very reason that many who name the Name of Jesus can’t understand the Bible when they read it!  They only hear things “about” God in the language that they use all the time.

They hear sermons that are “adapted” in some way to our common language in order that they can “understand” the sermon!  They never get to hear God’s language.  So, when they read their Bibles, they can’t understand what they read… and, therefore, they don’t know what their Bible says!

And then, closely related is the issue of expositional preaching which completely disappears when the preacher looks for texts to preach certain “kinds” of sermons to different groups of people.

Now.  Is there a connection that ought to be made here…or what?

Sociologists say that religious people today have very little knowledge of the religion that they profess!  And that Christians, especially, don’t know the “book” that details their professed religion!  In other words, they don’t know what they believe.

Well, it’s the preaching!  It’s always the preaching.

Two things:  If preachers talk down to their congregations (just like teachers teach to the lowest common denominator in public education), then the people never grow past where they were when they started.

And, secondly, if the Church never hears God’s Word as He reveals it, in His Own language, then the Bible will continue to be an obtuse and mysterious book!  Folks have to “hear” the Word of God in order to grow and to learn.  They have to hear the words and the language.  They have to hear it as God revealed it.  If they don’t hear it, they won’t know it… they’ll never have an opportunity to know it.

If one never hears the words that God uses, then one never learns the words.  If folks going to Church on Sunday never hear God’s revelatory descriptions of His Own Person and His Own creation and His Own creatures, as those descriptions occur over and over again through the text of Scripture, it’s no wonder that it’s so mysterious to them; and its no wonder that they’re taken in by charlatan “evangelists” who scare them for money!

And it’s these so-called “mainline” denominations that have lost most of their congregants to the “strange-fire” false prophets.  They’ve been “talking down” to their own people for decades.  It’s their own fault.

But there should be very little confusion among us, since we’ve been dealing with God’s language for years.  And as we hear more and more, we’re learning more and more.  And our children have grown up hearing the language from infancy; and now they have les and less trouble with it!  And the Bible becomes a readable book that makes sense.  There’s nothing obscure and mysterious about it… especially since we’re learning to see all these things from God’s perspective.

And there shouldn’t be any perplexity or distraction now, as we read John’s words here about the twelve tribes and the twelve thousand from each tribe.  He’s heard the number of the total; and he’s heard the numbers of each tribe in order.

God’s view of His covenant nation Israel is that which He prescribed in the desert, with its four corners and with its twelve tribes in order.  It’s a cosmic entity in the likeness of His heaven and earth.  And its essential purpose was the coming sacrifice for the sin of the world… a wonderful act of grace and mercy toward His creatures and His creation.

Now that there’s no more need for all of that, the Lord Jesus Christ having made that promised sacrifice, His elect, covenant people are rescued from that twelve-nation, four-cornered “heaven and earth”, before it is discontinued in the wrath of the Lamb.

This “micro-cosmos” – the essential purpose for which was the coming of the one sacrifice for the sin of the world – the micro-cosmos, with its sun and moon and stars and trees and rivers and seas and grass – everything in the likeness of God’s heaven and earth, and everything about it near its consummation – has a holy, elect remnant of God’s promised elect people.

It is a holy remnant of the twelve-tribed, four-cornered nation, a remnant that our Lord Jesus Christ came to seek and to save; and He saves them to the uttermost out of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob.  And He saves them in order; and He saves them in twelves – from the four corners of the – now – obsolete “heaven and earth”.

Okay.  Let’s spend our last few minutes on the order in which John hears the names of the twelve tribes and the number of bond-servants sealed from each.

First, just notice that after the first tribe is called (with its number), and after the last tribe is called (with its number), there are two words spoken to John… “were sealed”; whereas all of the tribes in between the first and the last don’t have those two words.

So, not only does the number “twelve” itself indicate the totality of the elect remnant of Israel – rescued from the bondage of darkness in this apostate nation and saved by the grace of God according to His promise, but each of the twelve thousand individuals from each tribe were sealed – those words at the beginning, and those same words at the end – they were sealed individually as a collective whole.

So we see the remnant people of God, complete to the last person, bought-and-paid-for bond-servants of Jesus Christ their Housemaster, sealed with the mark of the Christ, and rescued from the wrath of the Lamb, before this obsolete “heaven and earth” with its man-made temple passes out of existence

Our Lord sought them out and sealed them and rescued them, and He knew them by name; and they are individual persons who He loves, and who form the collective “whole” of the promised salvation of Israel.

And as John hears, and writes, they are not yet all sealed and rescued; but as we’ll see later in the text, in the coming weeks, our Lord already perceives them as the total number of the covenantal people – the elect Israel (as promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).

Now.  As John hears the order in which the twelve nations are named, he seems quite satisfied and confident, since it is God’s order and His people.  There’s no explanation of the order, of course.  And certainly no questioning of it.  It would seem quite self-explanatory.

And when the Churches get to hear it read, there will be no questioning of the order.  They’ll understand it and be quite accepting of it.  It wouldn’t necessarily require explanation except, of course, in the case of Gentile converts.

Most of the Church members are also members of those tribes who have been found and freed from the bondage, and expatriated by our Lord’s apostles.  So they would have simply received the information concerning the order in which their tribes are listed.  And we can be assured that they would have given thanks for the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of Holy Spirit for their having been among the twelve thousand saved from their tribe.  Certainly, their question would not have been “Why didn’t He save all of us?”

Questions about the order of the tribes that John heard appear in the literature down through the sixty-five (or so) generations since John wrote this letter, although the discussion about the issue has been scant.  Only one person (that I know of) has written more than superficially about it.

And I’m not going to expend the effort, for the next six weeks (at least) to preach through fifteen or sixteen hundred years of Israel’s history, detailing the order in which the tribes appear in the text of Scripture (especially since there’s a reasonable and Biblical conclusion to be made)!

But if we knew our Bibles, as the apostle John most certainly did, it would be a lot easier.  If we knew all the names of Jacob’s sons (in the order in which they were born) and their mothers – by heart; and if we knew the twenty (or so) different orders in which their names appear in the Scripture, we would almost immediately recognize why John just “received-without-question” the order here in the Revelation.

But just remember that the congregations receiving this letter were populated by members of the tribes of Israel; and they had been taught by this apostle and by Paul, and by other apostles and elders who were also members of the tribes.  And, as a result of their own history, and their having been taught by the apostles, they would have quickly seen this order given to John and delighted in it.  And without expending energy in intellectual analysis of it, they just “received it” for what it was.  It didn’t have to be “thought through” in detachment!

And we, too, have to learn to just receive God’s Word as it is spoken and written without being detached observers and passive interpreters and Biblical critics.  We have to know what it says and receive what it says.

But the order of the tribes that John heard can be summarily understood when compared to two others.  Should you read the order found in Genesis twenty-nine and thirty-five, and then go to Ezekiel chapter forty-eight, at which point the prophet describes the gates of the new Jerusalem – each gate named for a son of Jacob – you’ll find a symmetrical order there, with all of the same names as in the Genesis passages.

But then reading what John heard and wrote (post-incarnation of the Son of God), we find three stunning changes there which would have gratified all the creatures of the heaven, and would have most certainly cheered the Churches upon hearing them.

First, and since our Lord Jesus Christ was a descendant of Judah and the Savior of the world, the tribe of Judah occurs at the top of the order.  This is the first time that had occurred in all of Scripture.  Second, since the tribe of Levi was the tribe of priests; and since our Lord is the “fullness” of the priesthood, the name Levi is dropped way down in the order.  The priesthood is of no further use, since now, at the time of this letter (post-resurrection-and-ascension), there is ONE priest and mediator at the mercy seat in the heaven.

And third, the twelve… just as our Lord’s suffering was so greatly enhanced at the loss of “one of the twelve” (the apostle Judas), so there is the loss of one of the twelve from the final order of the nations of Israel revealed to the apostle John.

The order that John hears, and the order that appears on the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem, are absent the name of Dan (replaced by the second son of Joseph – Manasseh). 

Although all are sinful, Dan and His nation, seemingly always guilty of heinous acts, and of a particularly dubious reputation, is singled out by God as the “Judas” of the patriarchs.  And he, like the apostle Judas, is “missing”.

As Judas’ name is missing from the foundation of the New Jerusalem and the foundation stones of the New Temple made without hands, so Dan’s name is missing from the gates of the New Jerusalem.

And inversely, since Judas broke “the twelve”, instituted by our Lord, he (Judas) is the “filling up” of the loss of the twelve in the patriarchs of Israel.

But our God will not be mocked.  Later on in the Revelation to John, he sees the New Jerusalem.  And the twelve is restored to the four-cornered foundation; and the twelve is restored to the gates on the four sides of the city.  And God’s perception of His Israel has been restored… as it was revealed in the desert.  And its restoration and completion was accomplished by God the Son in His incarnation, humiliation and suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension.  And in His majestic work as King of Kings.

The old Israel is gone – in the work of the Christ.  The old Jerusalem is gone – in the work of the Christ.  The old temple is gone in the work of the Christ.

The old foreshadowed and prophesied the Christ.

And as John looks on, and as he writes (and the Churches hear), the Christ has arrived.  And there is no more use for the old.