The Tribulation Saints
October 11, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
Before we turn to our study of Revelation chapter 7 let me just review some of the things we’ve learned from chapter 6. In Revelation chapter 6 we read about six of the 7 judgment seals. Every time the Lord Jesus opens a seal, destructive forces of God’s judgment are released.
We learned that all of these seals fall within the time period called The Tribulation.
This is the future seven-year period of worldwide unprecedented trouble just before the second coming of Christ. This is what the book of Daniel refers to as the 70th
week and it will begin when the Antichrist makes a 7-year treaty with the Jews.
Daniel 9:27 (NLT), “The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven.”
We learn from the teaching of the Lord Jesus that the Tribulation period has two aspects: The first part is the beginning of the birth pains
(Mt 24:8). The second is the Great Tribulation
The Great Tribulation begins when the Antichrist who made a 7-year treaty with the Jews breaks that treaty in the middle of that period (Dan 9:27; 12:11; cf. Mt 24:15-22).
Dan 9:27 (NLT) - The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.
Dan 12:11 (NLT) - From the time the daily sacrifice is stopped and the sacrilegious object that causes desecration is set up to be worshiped, there will be 1,290 days.
Mt 24:15-22 (ESV) - “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short
Now how do the six seals in chapter 6 relate to the Tribulation period?
- The first four seals, aka The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, fall within the period Jesus refers to as the beginning of the birth pains.
- The fifth seal where the souls of martyrs in heaven cry out to God to avenge their unjust deaths may occur just before the Great Tribulation begins.
- The sixth seal with the cosmic and terrestrial disturbances seems to fall within the Great Tribulation because rebellious humanity cry out, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come.” (Rev 6:16b-17a)
Upon recognizing that the great end-time day of wrath from God and from the Lamb has come, in great panic, the sinners ask, “Who can stand?” There are the last words that we read in chapter 6.
As we come to chapter 7 we will see the answer to that question, “Who can stand?” In this chapter, John sees two groups of people can stand and who will
stand, when the great wrath of God and of the Lamb arrives.
- The first group comprises the 144,000 Jews who will receive God’s seal on their foreheads (7:1-8).
- The second group to escape divine fury constitutes the innumerable multitude from every nation and language (7:9-17).
Today, we are going to look at these two groups who will survive the fury of divine judgment and even prosper spiritually under the blessing of God during the Great Tribulation.
[Note: In the remaining portion of this study, you will be hearing many comments that I have taken from John MacArthur’s explanation of the book of Revelation entitled, Because the Time is Near.
Let’s look at the first group:
I. THE 144,000 JEWS (7:1-8)
A. Wrath Restrained (7:1)
1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.
The phrase “after this”
signifies that the vision of the sixth seal has ended and John is about to see a new vision. It may also indicate that this new vision depicts events that come after the sixth seal chronologically. The scene now shifts from judgment on the ungodly to special protection for the godly. - MacArthur
As the vision unfolded, John first saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth.”
The phrase “the four corners of the earth”
is simply a way to designate the four primary points on the compass (north, south, east, and west). The language is figurative to indicate the worldwide nature of these angels’ responsibility.
John saw these four angels having power over the elements of nature. John saw them “holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.”
Most probably the “four winds” are not literal winds but they are a picturesque way of referring to the destructive forces that will harm the earth from all directions. One example of this is in Jeremiah 49:36 where the “four winds” are associated with God’s judgment.
- Jer 49:36 (NLT) - I will bring enemies from all directions, and I will scatter the people of Elam to the four winds. They will be exiled to countries around the world.
In the OT, winds
are regularly used to depict destructive forces from God (e.g., Jer 18:17; Eze 13:13).
- Jer 18:17 Like the east wind I will scatter them before the enemy.
- Eze 13:13 Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end
The four winds that the angels hold back are related to the destructive forces that will be released in the upcoming Trumpet judgments that we read about in Revelation chapters 8 and 9.
Why do these four angels temporarily restrain or hold back the destructive forces of God judgment from coming upon the earth? The reason becomes clear as John sees another angel come into the scene.
B. Saints Sealed (7:2-3)
2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.
John saw the angel ascending “from the rising of the sun.” That is a poetic way of saying from the east, the point of the compass in which the sun rises. From John’s perspective on the island of Patmos, the east would be toward the land of Israel, the land where God’s promised salvation came through Jesus. - MacArthur
The angel had with him “the seal of the living God.” This seal often referred to a signet ring. Kings or other officials would use such rings to stamp into wax on documents or other items, affirming their authenticity and guaranteeing their security (Est 8:8; Dan 6:17; Mt 27:66). - MacArthur
- Est 8:8 But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked.
- Dan 6:17 And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.
- Mt 27:66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard
The seal that was brought by the angel belonged to “the living God.” Rev 14:1 says that the mark on the foreheads had the name of Christ and the Father. It is interesting to note that just as Christ had His followers sealed on their foreheads, so will the Antichrist seal his followers on their foreheads or right hands. The mark will have some connection with the number “666” (13:16-18).
What is the purpose for the sealing? Ezekiel 9:4–6 gives us a similar instance of sealing God’s people and this will give us some idea what sealing does.
Eze 9:4-6 And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark.
This mark on the foreheads of the righteous is a protective measure for them in view of an impending massacre in Jerusalem. The protective effect of the seal is clear in connection with the fifth trumpet judgment (Rev 9:4), but is implied in the other trumpets also.
The fifth angel called with a loud voice to the four angels, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
The “loud voice” shows the urgency. Before the four angels could release the elements that will harm the earth, the sea or the trees, these servants of God must receive the mark of God in their foreheads that will exempt them from the ill effects of God’s visitation against the rest of mankind.
Who are these “servants of God” who will be sealed?
MacArthur: That they are referred to as [servants of God] indicates they are already redeemed. At this point they are to be protected so they can continue to witness about Christ. After the sealing is complete the judgments can begin. Revelation 14:1–5 describes their morally pure, undefiled character and devotion to Christ. They are also described as having been “purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (14:4). They will be the most effective missionaries the world has ever seen, and will be instrumental in the conversion of both their own countrymen and the nations.
C. Israelites Identified (7:4-8)
4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
5 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed
Who are these servants of God? Despite the plain and clear declaration of the text that the 144,000 who are to be sealed will come from every tribe of the sons of Israel, many still identify them as the church composed of Jews and Gentiles.
These 144,000 do not represent the whole church during the tribulation nor do they refer to all Jewish believers at that time. They are a unique group selected among the Israelites during the Tribulation period for the purpose of witnessing to a rebellious world. The term “Israel” must be interpreted in accordance with its normal biblical usage as a reference to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
That there were 12,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel speaks of God’s sovereign choice of these people.
Those who object to this literal number of Israelites say that the tribal records were lost when the Romans attacked and destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The reply to this is that though the identity of the tribe members is lost to mankind, God, who will be in charge of the sealing when it takes place, knows who belongs to each tribe.
The specific tribal names in this list raise three interesting questions. Why is Judah listed first, even though Reuben was the firstborn? Why is the tribe of Dan omitted, and why is Ephraim omitted in favor of his father, Joseph?
- Though Reuben is the eldest of the sons of Jacob, he forfeited his birthright as punishment for his sexual misconduct with his father’s concubine (1Chro 5:1). [Perhaps the reason for Judah heading the list is because Jesus Christ, according to his human nature, came from that tribe.]
- The omission of the tribe of Dan in favor of the priestly tribe of Levi probably is due to the tribe’s reputation for idolatry (Dt 29:18–21). [Although the other tribes were guilty of the same sin, but Dan was the leader in idolatrous practices.] While Dan will share in the millennial blessings (Eze 48:1–2, 32), the tribe will not be selected for this duty nor protected during the tribulation.
- Similarly, the name of Ephraim is omitted in favor of his father Joseph because Ephraim defected from the ruling house of Judah (Isaiah 7:17). Like Dan, Ephraim was consumed with idolatry (Hos 4:17). His brother Manasseh is included because he was the faithful son of Joseph.
Some Bible scholars think that these 144,000 Jews will remain unharmed and remain alive till the end of the Great Tribulation. John MacArthur, for example, writes, “The Jewish evangelists … will be preserved on earth. They will survive the divine wrath unleashed by the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments. God will also protect them from the murderous efforts of Antichrist to wipe out believers. Having survived the wars, famines, and unprecedented natural disasters, they will enter the millennial kingdom alive.”
Maybe this is correct but the Bible does not clearly say this. I agree with the more balance view of Robert Thomas. His idea goes something like this:
The 144,000 Jews will be protected only while they are doing the task God has for them. However, when their task is done, God may allow them to be slain as martyrs. We find precedence for this in the two witnesses mentioned in Rev 11. These two witnesses were untouchable while they were doing their task, but “when they have finished their testimony,” God allowed the beast to kill them (Rev 11:7). As I mentioned before, martyrdom of believers should not be regarded as judgment from God. Martyrdom is a great privilege (Phil 1:29; Mt 5:10-11) and the highest place in the future awaits the martyrs (Rev 20:4).
I like what MacArthur said in conclusion of this section (7:1-8):
“This critical passage reinforces the biblical truth that God is not through with the nation of Israel (see Romans 9–11). Though Israel failed in its mission to be a witness nation, that will not be the case in the future. From the Jewish people will come the greatest missionary force the world has ever known.”
II. THE BELIEVERS OF THE TRIBULATION (7:9-17)
[Note: All this section comes from John MacArthur’s book, Because the Time is Near
A. Their Description (7:9-14)
Revelation 7:9–17 describes that vast multitude of people from all the nations of the world who will be saved during the coming tribulation. This could include those of Israel who are saved during the preaching of the 144,000. There is nothing in the terminology of the passage that excludes Jews. Rather, the phrase “every nation” could include them.
As it does throughout Revelation, the phrase “after these things” introduces a new vision, distinct from the one in 7:1–8.
That the group introduced in this passage is distinct from the 144,000 (7:1–8) is evident from several considerations:
- First, the phrase “after these things” introduces a new vision.
- Second, this group is described as “a great multitude which no one could number.” No specific number is mentioned.
- Third, the 144,000 came from the twelve tribes of Israel (7:4–8), while this group came from very nation and all tribes and peoples and languages.
- Finally, the 144,000 are beyond the reach of persecutors because they are sealed for protection from persecution on earth (7:3). Yet this second group is beyond the reach of any persecutors because it is already in heaven. Verse 14 describes and identifies them as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
The redeemed were “clothed in white robes.” [The “robes” worn by these multitudes] are the same ones worn by the martyrs in 6:9–11. That fact suggests that the group in view here is part of that earlier group of martyred believers. As the tribulation wears on, the number of martyrs will increase, as will the number of believers who die naturally or violently, eventually accumulating into the vast, uncountable multitude in this passage.
The white robes
are symbolic rather than literal, since the saints do not yet have their resurrected bodies (6:9; 20:4). Such white robes, also symbolic of holiness.
The saints also held “palm branches in their hands.” Palm branches are associated in Scripture with celebration, deliverance, and joy. The palm branches in the hands of these redeemed saints are a fitting symbol of celebration because of salvation in Christ.
John saw this vast crowd of victorious, joyous saints standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
They are no longer seen under the altar praying for divine vengeance (6:9–11), which has already begun, but standing triumphantly before the throne of God.
The redeemed martyrs constantly cry out with a loud voice in joyous, exuberant worship. Their prayers of intercession as we have seen in 6:10 have ceased and they are glorifying and praising God, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Salvation is the theme of their worship, as it is throughout Revelation. In 12:10 John heard “…a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
” The occupation of those in heaven is continual, eternal praise of the Almighty God and the Lamb. They identify God as “our God,” claiming God as their own.
The innumerable believers before God’s throne were not alone in their loud worship. An uncountable number of angels (first reported in the earlier vision of 5:11) joined them. The angels ringing God’s glorious, magnificent throne (4:1–6, 5:1, 6) also surrounded the other two groups involved in worshiping God, the elders and the four living creatures.
In 5:8–10, the twenty-four elders sang the song of redemption, while here they are seen praising the God of redemption. The four living creatures are cherubim, an exalted order of angels and often appear together with these elders (5:6, 8, 11, 14; 14:3; 19:4).
Overwhelmed by God’s glory, all present fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.
Then, recognizing God’s sovereignty and holiness, the worshipers utter a benediction saying, "Amen,”
meaning “so let it be.”
Their prayer is that “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." (7:12 cf. 4:11; 5:12)
The phrase “forever and ever” indicates that this praise is not temporary or momentary, but will continue eternally. What is described here is worship that will never cease through all of endless eternity.
7:13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?”
The elder was not asking for information because he did not know the answer, but to emphasize his point. The elder’s question specifies and emphasizes the truth that people will be saved during the tribulation.
John’s reply to the elder is emphatic: "Sir, you know."
(7:14a) It includes both a confession of ignorance and a request for further revelation.
The heavenly elder’s reply gives us the identity of these believers. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.”
They lived into it, were redeemed during it, and have now come out of it through death. The description of these believers clearly distinguishes them from any other group of redeemed people in history.
The elder further described how the tribulation believers gained the privilege of being in the presence of God and His angels.
7:14 They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The reason these tribulation believers were allowed to stand before the throne of God is that they were purified and cleansed from their sins by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on their behalf.
Here their white robes
indicate holiness, and purity. “Soiled garments” in Scripture symbolize the defilement of sin (Isaiah 64:6; Zechariah 3:3), and salvation is often pictured as a washing (Ps 51:7; Isa 1:18; Tit 3:5; Rev 22:14). That anything could be cleansed by washing it in blood seems strange to consider, but not to those familiar with the Old Testament. Such a washing was required for spiritual cleansing (Hebrews 10:4). Christ’s substitutionary death atoned for the tribulation believers’ sins, and by repentant faith they were justified and reconciled to God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18–21).
As a result of their faith in Christ, justification, and reconciliation, they receive three great blessings:
B. Their Blessings (7:15-17)
1. Privilege (7:15a)
15 Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple;
These saved martyrs are given the privilege to be in the presence of God that they might serve Him day and night.
- “Serve” here pertains to priestly service.
- “Day and night” is an idiomatic way to indicate their continuous occupation. There is no actual night and day in God’s eternal heaven (22:3–5).
- The location of that service is in His temple. There is currently a temple in heaven as we see in Hebrews 8:5. In the eternal state, however, there will no longer be a need for a temple, “for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). The heavenly temple currently is the holy domain where God’s presence dwells outside the fallen universe, but that will be unnecessary in the new heavens and new earth where sin has been forever done away with. There will no longer be a temple building, because God will occupy all places, and all believers everywhere throughout the eternal state will continue to worship and serve Him forever.
2. Protection (7:15b)
and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence (7:15b)
In a wonderful, comforting picture, God, described as He who sits on the throne (cf. 4:1–3; 5:1, 13; 7:10), promises to shelter them with His presence. … These believers will have witnessed unspeakable suffering and indescribable horrors as God’s judgments were poured out on the world. They will have suffered terrible persecution at the hands of Antichrist and his followers. But when they enter God’s presence, they will come to a heavenly sanctuary, the most secure place. There they will receive shelter from the terrors of the fallen world that are to come as God continues to unleash His devastating and destructive judgments.
3. Provision (7:16-17)
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."
This comforting promise of further provision is drawn from and almost identical to the words of Isaiah 49:10. As they experienced the horrors of the tribulation, these sufferers had endured hunger, thirst, and scorching heat as the sun beat down on them, a phenomenon which will occur in the tribulation (Revelation 16:9). Yet now they will enjoy eternal satisfaction, for the Lamb in the center of the throne (5:6) will be their shepherd.
The picture of God as the Shepherd of His people is one of the most beloved and common in the Old Testament, and Jesus is depicted as the Shepherd of His people. The Great Shepherd will guide His flock to springs of living water and wipe every tear from their eyes. In heaven there will be no pain or sorrow. In this age when Christianity is under siege on all sides, it is comforting to be reassured of the ultimate triumph of God’s saving grace. God will redeem His people. That thought should bring all believers great comfort, and motivate us to praise God for the greatness of His plan.
From Robert Rayburn, Senior Pastor, Faith Presbyterian Church
The encouragement of this chapter is not only for those believers who happen to be numbered among the last generation of saints to live before the end of history. It is for us all.
It points ut to the encouragement that should sustain us in the face of troubles and difficulties of life as Christians in this world of sin and death.
What will keep us motivated to endure the weariness and agony of that spiritual warfare that we must wage as we offer our hearts and lives promptly and sincerely to God? The battle with temptation is so difficult, so wearing, often so discouraging. What will keep us at this hard and seemingly endless work? What is to comfort us in the face of life’s trials: sickness, trouble, sorrow, and finally death itself? How do we lift our hearts above the disappointments of life? How do we find the motivation to continue to make of our lives a true service of the Lord when we are bowed down with the weight of life in this sin-sick world that bears ever day the marks of God’s judgment and anger at the sin of man and the Evil One? How do we maintain our concentration on the kingdom of God when this world and its master are continually beguiling us with inducements to make our peace with them?
The answer to those questions … [is not] that as we trust in the Lord his blessing will be given to us in the course of our life in this world and we will surmount our troubles and find success in what we do.
The answer is in [one sense] the forgiveness of sins, the knowledge of God, the peace that passes understanding, the joy of salvation, access to God in prayer, the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, the blessings of the communion of the saints, the high purpose of life, and all the rest that fills a Christian’s experience of life in this world with satisfaction and deep pleasure.
But, all of that being said, it is striking and something a thoughtful Christian should carefully consider, that the largest part of the consolation, encouragement, and comfort that is offered to the saints who must live in this vale of tears is what comes after
! The greatest reason for placing one’s trust in Jesus Christ is not for what one gets in this world
but for what one gets in the next
. And, and this is our point this morning, the greatest motivation for living a faithful life in the teeth of the opposition of the world, our own flesh, and the Devil is so that we may be found at last in heaven.
This is a special emphasis of the book of Revelation. In the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 all the emphasis falls on what the faithful saint will obtain at the end of the age
. Surely the Lord promises to be with them meantime and to help and sustain them, to enable them to endure the trials that must come; but the reason they should endure is because that is the only way for them to come at last to the throne, to wear the white robe, to hold the palm branch of final victory, to fall down with the great multitude praising God, and then to say farewell forever to hunger and thirst, to scorching heat, and to tears. This is the first picture of saints in heaven that we are given in Revelation. It is an anticipation of that great description of heavenly life that comes at the end of the book.
It is placed here for our encouragement. Stand fast, remain faithful to the Lamb, and here is where you will find yourself at last!
That is heaven in the Bible: the fulfillment of all that human beings were meant to be in communion with God who gave them life. It is the world of love, of joy, of goodness. And that is a destination, an end, a future, a prospect worth whatever
it costs you in this life! If only I might be there some day. And I shall be if I remain; you shall be, if you remain faithful to Jesus Christ. John thought that before he describes the suffering through which the church must pass at end of the world, you would want to know that!