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THE SIXTH SEAL, PART 4

 

 

And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed. Revelation 7:4

 

The wrath of the Lamb was let loose after the servants of God were sealed on their foreheads. The seal is the conviction that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the only savior from sin, and the absolute foundation of His church.

Sectarian churches were rejecting the actual concept of the biblical church even while professing to be that church. The sectarian churches practiced exclusive membership and rejected the thought or paid only lip service to the concept that other professing Christians could be saved and accepted by God in their different churches. But, the churches of the various denominations enrolled in their memberships people that were not saved from sin but only nominal Christians so that their memberships were a mixture of believers with nonbelievers. In many cases, nonbelievers outnumbered actual believers. To accept the message of the one biblical church, denominations would first have to openly accept other Christians as being truly saved and members of the body of Christ. Ultimately, to accept the message of the one biblical church, the real body of Christ, the sectarian churches would have to drop their separate identities and all merge into one universal church of God. With sectarian identity and prejudice so strong at this time, the concept was flatly rejected and people that accepted this biblical truth were looked upon as fanatics, schismatic, and heretics.

During a period of time at the opening of the sixth seal the wisdom of God worked to seal the servants of our God. Until this task was completed the four winds were held back from the earth, sea, and trees. In simple words, holding back the wind means that the Holy Spirit effectively left working in sectarian churches and denominations where He was not allowed to seal the servants of our God.

 

The 144,000

 

The initial sealing of the servants of our God is called the 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel. This is not to be understood as a literal number, it symbolizes the qualities of the servants of our God that were called out of sectarianism at this time.

The servants of our God are identified as the children of Israel. The name Israel appears only 3 times in the Revelation; first in chapter 2:14 in the letter to the church at Pergamos where it speaks of the doctrine of Balaam that caused a stumbling block to the children of Israel, referring to the literal nation of Israel as it was about to enter the promised land. The second time is here in chapter 7 under the sixth seal, and then 21:12 where the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are given to the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Ancient Israel is not the subject of the Revelation but it is used as a metaphor in the New Testament for the church Jesus built. In Hebrews 12:22–24 we find the church under the terms Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and others,  

 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

 

Also in Galatians 4:26, 31, “But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. . . . So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” Adam Clarke comments on this,

 

There is a spiritual Jerusalem, of which this is the type; and this Jerusalem, in which the souls of all the righteous are, is free from all bondage and sin: or by this, probably, the kingdom of the Messiah was intended; and this certainly answers best to the apostle's meaning, as the subsequent verse shows. There is an earthly Jerusalem, but this earthly Jerusalem typifies a heavenly Jerusalem: the former, with all her citizens, is in bondage; the latter is a free city, and all her inhabitants are free also. And this Jerusalem is our mother; it signifies the Church of Christ, the metropolis of Christianity, or rather the state of liberty into which all true believers are brought.

 

Galatians 6:15–16 combines all this and finally identifies the church as the Israel of God, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” All that have experienced the new creation in Christ are the Israel of God. Albert Barnes comments on the Israel of God: “the true church of God; all who are his true worshippers.” The servants of our God, those here called the children of Israel are nothing more than the church of God, built by Jesus Christ upon the seal they receive on their foreheads—the revelation that He is the Son of God and Savior of the world.

The visible churches of men rely on their respective modes of membership and vouch that those that join their churches are assured a place with God for eternity. The church of God, the Israel of the Revelation, relies solely on the atonement in Christ for salvation from sin and the assurance of eternity with God.

 

The Twelve Tribes of Israel

 

As said earlier, the 144,000 is not to be understood as a literal number. It is a number denoting perfection in the kingdom of God.

Historic Israel consisted of twelve tribes descended from the sons of Jacob, to whom God gave the name Israel. One cannot read the Books of Moses without constantly running into the names of Jacob’s twelves sons and the twelve tribes of Israel. One of Jacob’s sons was named Levi; however, the tribe of Levi is not listed in the catalogue of the twelve tribes. This is because God separated the tribe of Levi from the other Israelites and gave to them the priesthood and the service of the temple. In the catalogue of the tribes of Israel, there is no tribe of Joseph; instead, his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim became individual tribes in recognition of Joseph and how God especially used him to save Israel in the time of severe famine.

But there is a peculiarity in list of the tribes as it is presented here in the sixth seal. The first name listed is Judah. Reuben was the first-born son, the son of Leah, and would normally be listed first in the names of the tribes. Reuben is demoted to second and surpassed by Judah because of what is said in 1 Chronicles 5:1–2,

 

Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph's.

 

Judah was the fourth son of Leah yet he prevailed over all his brothers. The ruler mentioned in Chronicles is King David, who clearly understood why as he expresses in 1 Chronicles 28:4,

 

However the LORD God of Israel chose me above all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever, for He has chosen Judah to be the ruler; and of the house of Judah, the house of my father, and among the sons of my father, He was pleased with me to make me king over all Israel.

 

The reason the tribe of Judah is listed first in the catalogue of the sixth seal is because it is the tribe from which Christ descended, the head of His church and the king in the kingdom of heaven.

Gad and Asher follow Reuben and were the two sons of Leah’s maid Zilpah. Actually, Rachel’s maid Bilhah had a baby before Zilpah, but since Zilpah was the maid of Jacob’s first wife, her children rank higher than the maid of Rachel’s children.

Next is Naphtali, the second son of Rachel’s maid Bilhah. Her first son, Dan, is not mentioned in this list as the tribe of Dan was one of the principle promoters of idolatry in ancient Israel.

Manasseh, the son of Joseph is listed in the place of Dan.

Next follow Simeon, Levi, Issachar and Zebulun, the remaining sons of Leah.

Finally, Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of Rachel are listed, which were the youngest sons of Jacob.

Another son of Jacob is missing from the list, Ephraim, and this tribe is missing because it took the lead in dividing the Kingdom of Israel after the death of King Solomon, and, as was Dan, it was a promoter of idolatry in Israel and the seed of the despised Samaritans.

The perfection in the kingdom of God is represented by the compound of the 12,000 sealed out of each of the twelve tribes as listed; 12 x 12,000. Why 12,000 from each tribe? Barnes suggests the following:

 

This [the number 12,000] refers to the Christian church, and means, in connexion with what follows, that each portion of the church would furnish a definite part of the whole number sealed and saved. We are not required to understand this of the exact number of twelve thousand, but that the designation would be made from all parts and branches of the church as if a selection of the true servants of God were made from the whole number of the tribes of Israel.

 

We might expand on what Barnes wrote and say that the 144,000 symbolizes the totality of the servants of our God that were sealed and caught up like the scroll rolled up in 6:14.

 

D. S. Warner and the Church of God Reformation Movement

 

The 144,000 represent the first people from around the world to take a stand out of the sectarian visible church-at-large.

In the United States, a movement formed around a holiness paper titled The Gospel Trumpet edited by a man named Daniel Warner. Warner was not unknown in history. Kenneth Latourette mentions Warner in his book Christianity In A Revolutionary Age. Warner had fought in the Civil War and was converted to Christianity shortly after being separate from the Union Army. His first church association was with the Winebrennarian Church of God mentioned in our last lecture as one of the leading elements of the Primitive Church Movement in the United States. Latourette writes:

 

In the 1870’s a division occurred in the General Eldership of the Churches of God. It was led by D. S. Warner, who was expelled from that body for what it deemed heretical views. He taught entire sanctification as a second work of grace, divine healing, and extreme asceticism. Those who followed him rejected all creeds, recognized “the Lord’s people” in all denominations, and sought to bring about the identity, or at least the possible identity, of the visible and the invisible church.[1]

 

The Winebrennarian Church of God rejected the teaching of entire sanctification, leading Warner to question whether this was the true church of God. He wrote in his diary:

 

On the 31st of last January [1878] the Lord showed me that holiness could never prosper upon sectarian soil encumbered by human creeds and party names, and he gave me a new commission to join holiness and all truth together and build up the apostolic church of the living God.

 

Warner with just five other like-minded Christians left the Winebrennarian church to be just the church of the Bible in 1881. As The Gospel Trumpet carried the message across the continent, masses of people and entire congregations came out of their sectarian churches to be just the Biblical church. Within 20 years, The Gospel Trumpet carried the message around the world prompting how many only God knows to take like stands for the church built on the Rock, Jesus Christ.

The Church of God Reformation that ensued from this moving of God eventually took a somewhat sectarian stand on the message of the biblical church by seeing itself as the object of God’s working in the sixth seal and other parts of the Book of Revelation.

 

The Great Multitude

 

Chapter 7:9–10 shows us that in due time the servants of our God were sealed resulting in a great multitude rejoicing and praising God for salvation.

 

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

 

The truth was accepted not just by the symbolic 144,000, but by “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.” While this is called the day of the Lamb’s wrath, these people are found standing around the throne praising God and the Lamb. This is quite different from the people that were calling on the mountains and rocks to hide them from the Lamb and His wrath. This is reminiscent of what is seen in chapter 5 where the Lamb is celebrated at the heavenly throne. There the crowd was singing essentially the same song as we see in the sixth seal: “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Verse 9) Here in the sixth seal the crowd sings the second verse of the song: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Verse 11 of chapter 8 actually identifies the location of this celebration as the very throne of chapter 5: “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.” By the statement all the angels is to be understood the ministry God used to bring out the message of the biblical church as distinct from all the churches organized and run by men, churches where Jesus is not the head. These angels are the four angels holding back the four winds in verse 1 and the angel of wisdom in verse 2.

All the angels, the elders and the four living creatures fall on their faces to worship God just as they did in chapter 5 and sing this song recorded in verse 12, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Which is essentially the same as sung in chapter 5:13 “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

What is seen under the sixth seal is the restoration of the church as built by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not just an organization, fellowship, or group calling itself the church of God. It is the restoration of “on this rock I will build my church” as spoken by Jesus in Matthew 16:18. It is the restoration of the full gospel of salvation from sin and holiness of life through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit solely by faith in Christ and the unbridled word of God which produces a called out assembly of all that have the like, common experience. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’s prayer in John 17:11, 22–23,

 

 Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. . . . And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

 

The scene seems to leave the Apostle John somewhat speechless and in awe. In the vision, an elder—one of those around the throne—comes to John and asks him who these people are, as if John should know. This scene takes place well over a millennium-and-a-half in John’s future. His response is “Sir, you know;” today we would just say, “I don’t know.” Adam Clarke helps us to understand:

 

The simple meaning of the phrase “thou knowest” is, that he who had asked the question must be better informed than he to whom he had proposed it. It is, on the part of John, a modest confession that he did not know, or could not be presumed to know, and at the same time the respectful utterance of an opinion that he who addressed this question to him must be in possession of this knowledge.

 

The elder answers John,

 

These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Verses 11–17)

 

Last Thoughts on the Sixth Seal

 

The Book of Revelation is the story of “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this,” chapter 1:19.

Through the seals John saw the church in its original glory—the things which you have seen; the church beginning to fall away—the things which are; and the sad decline and slow recovery from apostasy—the things which will take place.

The sixth seal shows the restoration of the biblical church in its true perspective, not as a mere religious organization but as the logical and inevitable result of the experience of salvation—the real calling out of God’s people from a life of sin to a life of holiness and unity in the one body of Christ.

The sixth seal is the day of the Lamb’s wrath but for those that follow Him and serve Him day and night, their lives are anything but the subject of wrath—they are comforted by the Lamb.

 

They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Verses 16–17)

 

The sixth seal opened around 1800 a.d. and continues for an indefinite time. Those that are caught up in the wrath of the Lamb during this time are oblivious to what the Glorified Christ is doing. Meanwhile, during this time the Gloried Christ is gathering a people for His name. The glory seen only by them continues until the opening of the mysterious seventh seal.



[1] Latourette, Kenneth Scott,  Christianity In A Revolutionary Age,  Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI,  1961,  Vol. III, pg 117.