Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Chapter 7 is one of the passages in Revelation which can seem like it reverses or unworks what God had done before. God had called out a people for His own, setting Israel apart. Then God sent Jesus and brought up an upheaval in the relationship of God and humanity. The events of Pentecost launched the church, and while it took some time for Jews and Gentiles to be combined in one organization it can be a surprise for people to find Israel identified here again, and not just as a nation but with 12 tribes. But even in this context the tribes are set together with the peoples of the world, based on their common acceptance of God and the Lamb.
At the start of the chapter a period of calm is established. Perhaps this does not follow chronologically from the events that were described just before, we may be stepping away from that part of the vision to get another angle on things. We are told about four angels who have been authorized to bring destruction with the four winds of the world – from the four main directions – but for now the angels are keeping the winds still at the instruction of another angel holding the seal of God. In this time of calm that angel seals 144,000 people, 12,000 each from 12 tribes of Israel. This is a vision so perhaps the sealing process passed quickly, as can happen in a dream.
The identities of the tribes who were sealed create a small puzzle. We are used to reading of Joseph’s blessing being passed to his sons Manasseh and Ephraim (for the ‘half-tribes’), forming a set of 12 tribes only when Levi is excluded from the normal count. Levi gets excluded because Levi’s descendants gained a special role with God in the time of Moses and that was treated as their inheritance instead of land. But here Ephraim is excluded, and we have the “Tribe of Joseph” and the Tribe of Manasseh joining the Tribe of Levi. We lose Dan, the northernmost tribe, instead. Why? It might be because Ephraim’s name is so associated with the line of kings who brought idolatry to Israel, and that Dan was the tribe first associated with idolatry in the time of the judges (Judges 18:30-31). But we also have in Ezekiel 48:2 the prophecy that Dan will be in the kingdom and receive land, so there is something symbolic happening here rather than something permanent.
The larger point is that God continues to have a portion of people who are sealed for Him – God never gave up on Israel, never gave up the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. The results may not look like what people were expecting at different points along the way, but God does not forget to give gifts (just as God does not forget to give punishments, which the previous chapter was establishing). The significance of the seal itself in the Revelation vision doesn’t come up until chapter 9, but in marking those who are with God it provides protection (at least). I see this as being rather like the Passover in Egypt, but rather than being told to remain safe within certain buildings marked with blood the people themselves were marked for God and therefore able to travel with protection. And unlike those earlier Hebrew people they were not being told to separate themselves from everyone else, the context pairs them with a crowd “beyond count” from every nation and people.
The crowd in white robes sounds much like those who had been slain (6:11) who were “waiting” for their fellow servants who were to die. We are told that these many “came out of great tribulation” (7:14) but are not told how many (if any) survived it. This may be another reference to the souls from under the altar. Or others may have been added to the number. What is clear is that God rewards His servants. It says they shall hunger no more, thirst no more, and no longer will the sun beat down on them. It sounds like we are being told that the curse on the soil doesn’t apply to them anymore; they no longer must be concerned about working by the sweat of their brow to eat. Springs of living water are being offered, and God Himself will wipe the tears from their eyes. Pain and struggle is being reversed – permanently. You can see why I think this chapter may step out of the chronology of the vision to give an overview of promises that are being offered, refreshing our memory of joy.
Lord, you keep your promises, even the ones I don’t fully understand. Please help me to take seriously what you have said to me, and what I say to you. Thank you that you love so much better than I do. Let me be committed to learning from you, not simply facts or ideas, but growing as a person and growing in my relationships with others and with you. Help me to remember that you never want anything bad for me. Help me trust you to show me right paths. Thank you, Amen.
Application & Reflection Questions
- Who will receive the punishments of Revelation 6? Who will receive the rewards of Revelation 7?
- What do we learn from Revelation 7 about worship, commitment and faithfulness?
- What are some gifts and rewards God has already given to you? What gifts and rewards are you still looking forward to? Give thanks to God for what He has done, is doing, and will do!