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Well, we return now to the book of Revelation; and we’re coming to chapter 7 this morning, and this introduces us to a very important part of redemptive history. I want to help you to understand that. Before we head into the seventh chapter of Revelation, I want to take you back into the Old Testament to a couple of prophecies. Go back to Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah 31. These are epic, significant prophecies because they prophesy something that is so specific it cannot be ignored.

Jeremiah 31, verse 31, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

This is the New Covenant—not the covenant made with Abraham, not the covenant made with Noah, the law, but a New Covenant. It is a promise of the future salvation of Israel, a time when God will regenerate them, “put [His] law within them and on their heart . . . write it . . . be their God and they will be [His] people. . . . I will forgive their iniquity, their sin I will remember no more.” That is the future salvation promise to the nation Israel specifically, unmistakably. That is the promise.

I want you to see that promise in another context. Ezekiel 39. Ezekiel 39, verse 25, “Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’”—referring to Israel—“‘and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name. They will forget their disgrace and all their treachery which they perpetrated against Me, when they live securely on their own land with no one to make them afraid. When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall be sanctified through them in the sight of the many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God because I made them go into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land; and I will leave none of them there any longer. I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ declares the Lord.” Again, the prophet Ezekiel promising the future salvation of Israel.

One more Old Testament prophet, Zechariah. Zechariah makes an amazing promise. In Zechariah chapter 12 and verse 10, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced”—referring to the Crucifixion—“and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.” And then he goes on in verses 11 to 14 to lay out the extent of the weeping. I can’t imagine any weeping equal to that. That is the day when Israel looks on the One they pierced and mourns for Him, and the mourning will be monumental, for they will be mourning for all of the Jews throughout history until that day who rejected their Messiah. Everyone will mourn.

But “in that day,” chapter 13 begins, “a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” This is the day of their salvation.

Go down to verse 8: “‘It will come about in all the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘that two parts in it’”—two parts, meaning two-thirds of the Jewish people—“‘will be cut off and perish; but a third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, “They are My people,” and they will say, “The Lord is my God.”’” That’s the future salvation of Israel in the words of Zechariah.

I want you to turn to the New Testament, to the eleventh chapter of Romans. Romans chapter 11. And Paul borrows language here from the prophet Isaiah. But in Romans 11 and verse 25, “I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”—until God has gathered all those from the Gentile nations. When that is complete, that “partial hardening”—because there are some Jews who are coming to Christ in all generations—but a partial hardening has happened to Israel while God is gathering His church from the nations. But after that, verse 26, “So all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’” He will bring about, verse 27 says, “[His] covenant with them . . . [the covenant by which] I take away their sins.” Will this happen? Verse 29 adds, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

No one can argue the promise of the Bible that God is going to redeem Israel, that He is going to save them in the end. In the process, He will purge out two-thirds of that nation, and the one-third will then receive all the promises that He gave through Abraham, through David, and reiterated in the prophets—the promises that Jesus also reiterated, the apostles reiterated, and Paul wrote about in Romans 11.

Why am I saying all of this in connection with the book of Revelation? Because as you turn to chapter 7, you’re going to come to a passage where this salvation of Israel is launched in the future. Let me read it to you, starting in Revelation 7 and verse 1.

“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the [slaves] of our God on their foreheads.’

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.”

At this point in the book of Revelation, chapter 7 answers a question that comes at the end of chapter 6. Go back for a minute to chapter 6, and notice the question at the end of the chapter in verse 17: “Who is able to stand?” “Who is able to stand?”

Why is that question asked? Because starting in chapter 6, verse 1, we have a picture of the future time of Tribulation, when God releases His global judgments. And you remember in chapters 4 and 5, the Lord Jesus is pictured in a vision taking a scroll out of the hand of the Father, sealed seven times, which would be what they would do with a Roman will in ancient times. Christ is the heir to the universe, and this is the title deed of the universe. The Father’s hand holds it until Christ takes it, and it’s now His turn to take back the universe; and that’s the unfolding of the seals.

And we saw what happens as the Lord, in the future time of Tribulation, begins to take back this universe from demons and Satan and sinners, and it’s terrifying. First, there is a seal that pictures a white horse, which is global peace, a kind of false peace headed up by the Antichrist—we talked about that. It doesn’t last very long. Now remember, we’re in a period of time called the Tribulation, seven years long; all of this is very rapid-fire.

Peace is followed almost immediately by another seal being opened, and a red horse, verse 4 says, “[taking] peace from the earth.” So it goes from peace to war. And even the peace is tenuous because to maintain the peace, the Antichrist and his forces have to continue to conquer and conquer, to hold back the rebels. And following the war is the third seal, which is the black horse of famine; and the famine is disastrous. And it leads to the fourth seal, the ashen horse, the pale horse, which is death, and the death of one-fourth of the globe’s population, two billion people.

So these are the horrors that are going to take place after the church is gone. Chapters 1 to 3 of Revelation, the church is on earth. We see the Lord speaking to His church. Chapters 4 and 5, we move with the scene to heaven. The church is in heaven, represented by the twenty-four elders. Now we come back, in chapter 6, to earth for the judgments that are going to come on this world. The fifth seal is a picture of martyrs praying for vengeance from God, vengeance on those enemies of God and those who have shed the blood of the saints during that Tribulation period.

And then the sixth seal, verses 12 to 17, is really the beginning of the end. It’s “a great earthquake.” It’s “the sun [becoming] black as sackcloth,” the “moon [becoming] like blood,” “the stars of the sky [falling] to the earth,” “the sky . . . split apart like a scroll . . . rolled up, every mountain and island removed out of their places.” This is terrifying to the degree that the kings of the earth, the great men, the commanders, the rich, the strong, slaves, free men—meaning everybody at all levels of society—try to find protection in the caves and the rocks; and they begin even to pray to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come.”

They finally recognized, by the time the sixth seal hits, that this is the wrath of God they’re experiencing. This is the wrath of the Lamb they’re experiencing, and it comes with massive devastation. And just to make it as clear as I can, it kills all the ungodly, it kills all of them.

Now that poses the question, “Who is able to stand?” Who is—can survive? We know the extent of the death from the words of the apostle Paul back in 2 Thessalonians. Listen to this: First chapter of 2 Thessalonians, the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven. This is at His coming. And of course, leading up to it, the judgments begin. But when He finally comes in the end, He will come “from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes”—the next verse says—“to be glorified in His saints on that day.” “When He comes to be glorified in His saints,” at the very same time, all “those who do not know God,” “do not obey the gospel,” will be destroyed and suffer “the penalty of eternal destruction.” So this is the final judgment of all unbelievers on the earth, at the end of the time of Tribulation.

The sixth seal has features that extend to the very end and to the return of Christ. And out of the sixth and seventh seal will come seven trumpet judgments that happen in months, and seven bowl judgments that happen in days—and maybe even in hours—in rapid-fire acceleration. But the assumption is we are at the end, we’re at “the great day of [the] wrath” of God “who sits on the throne” and “the wrath of the Lamb,” the culmination of the Day of the Lord. And the question is, “Who is able to [survive]?”

Not all Christians will survive, because there will be massive persecution and slaughter. Go back to verse 9 of chapter 6, and you will meet the believers who are “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and . . . the testimony which they had maintained.” These are people who were converted. As the Tribulation begins, after the rapture of the church, they come to salvation. They are slaughtered and massacred by the Antichrist and his forces, and they are pictured in this vision crying out for divine vengeance.

In verse 11, “There was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” So they’re praying for vengeance, and they’re told, “You have to wait because God has planned for more believers to be martyred, more believers to be killed.” And we’ll see more about how the Antichrist carries out that massacre of the saints and how he goes for the nation Israel as well, as we progress through.

So it is a terrible time of death. And even believers are going to be persecuted. They won’t escape some of the horrors of that time of Tribulation, which then takes you back to the question again, in verse 17, Who’s going to survive? Somebody has to survive. And here we meet them, in verses 1 through 8. This is a direct answer to that question. The Lord knows who belongs to Him. He’s very discriminating.

In fact, that’s how the Old Testament ends. In chapter 3 of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, it’s very specific. Judgment is coming—this is final judgment—and the saints wonder whether they’re going to survive. Verse 16 of Malachi 3, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another”—They’re saying, “Are we going to be able to survive the judgment?”—“and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name”—which is a way of letting us know God knows who belongs to Him. “‘They will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.”

And then the next chapter, chapter 4, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” Again, the—literally—consuming final judgment of all the ungodly.

Verse 2, “‘But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,’ says the Lord of hosts.” The saints have nothing to fear.

Now that doesn’t mean they’ll all survive because, clearly, many will be martyred. But as we come to chapter 7 in the book of Revelation, there is a unique group that will be protected, and they’re a very critical group. There are 144,000 of them, 12,000 from each of the tribes identified. And what are they, or who are they? How are we to understand them?

I think maybe the best way to get a grip on who they are is to understand that they are described in chapter 14 of Revelation, verses 1 to 4: “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand”—there they are—“having His name and the name of [the] Father written on their foreheads.” There they have been identified; they have been labeled; they have been marked. “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.”

So who are they? Verse 4, “These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men”—here’s the keyword—“as first fruits to God and to the Lamb”—“first fruits.”

Something new here. This is “first fruits”; this can’t be just the church. This is a new group. And what group is it? We are told exactly what group it is: the Jews. And the “first fruits” are the “one hundred and forty-four thousand.” They’re the ones elected by God, so specifically identified that even though they don’t know their heritage, God knows what tribe they come from. They are the first fruits of the redeemed Israel, and they’re going to be protected. Why are they going to be protected? Because they’re going to have the responsibility to evangelize the rest. You have two scenes: restraining angels, and sealed saints.

So with that as kind of an overview, let’s take a look at the restraining angels, verse 1: “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth”—north, east, west, and south—“holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.”

Now that anticipates what’s coming in the trumpet judgments. When we get to chapter 8 and we see the trumpet judgments unleashed, it’s going to be hail, fire, certainly, wind. The earth is going to be burned up, the sea is going to be affected, the trees are going to be burned up, giant mountain of fire thrown into the sea, and things begin to fall out of the sky. But for now, nothing’s going to harm the sea, nothing’s going to harm the earth, and nothing’s going to harm the trees for a moment because four angels are holding back the four winds of the earth. Winds are, in the Old Testament, associated with judgment. And the judgments that come in the trumpet judgments in chapter 8 are definitely driven by wind.

Now these angels, by the way, are mighty in strength. They’re actually the only beings who can control the climate, and it only takes four of them. They are mighty in strength. Psalm 103:20, I read that this morning, they are “mighty in strength.” And they “[hold] back the wind”—the wind is churning.

One science writer said, “When John first saw these four angels in particular, they were already engaged in the remarkable labor of restraining the great wind systems of the earth, keeping the winds from blowing on either land or a sea. The circulation of the atmosphere is a mighty engine driven by energy from the sun and the earth’s rotation. The tremendous powers involved in this operation become especially obvious when they are displayed in the form of great hurricanes and blizzards and tornadoes. These winds of the earth make life possible on earth through the hydrologic cycle, transporting water inland from the ocean with which to water the earth. Yet the angels, only four of them, have turned off the gigantic machine.”

No wind, no breeze, no rustling of the leaves, no waves, no judgment—stillness. They hold it back. The wind is ready to roll; the angels hold it back. Powerful, powerful angels.

Why are they holding it back? Well, the second feature and the rest of the text is to seal the saints. So you have restraining angels and sealed saints. The judgment is still terrible; it’s about to be unleashed. But for the moment it’s restrained because there is the first fruits of the Jewish nation that must be protected and brought to salvation and become the missionaries that reach the rest of the nation.

So in verse 2, “I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun”—that’s the east—“having the seal of the living God.” The seal, the sphragis; it’s like a signet ring or a stamp. King Ahasuerus has one in the Old Testament. Nebuchadnezzar had one in the Old Testament. Royalty had those to stamp something as authentic. Pharaoh, in Genesis 41, had a seal used to mark something officially, authentically, and securely in the possession of the king.

Well, these folks are going to be sealed with a seal. And what is that seal? I just read it to you in chapter 14. It’s just what you would expect. Listen to this: and “having His name and the name of His father written on their foreheads.” That’s the seal. The one hundred and forty-four thousand will be stamped with the name of God, Yahweh, and the Son of God, the Lamb.

Now we know the Antichrist has a seal, a mark. The book of Revelation will say much about the mark of the Antichrist—chapters 13, 14, 16, 19, 20. We’ll look at that. The Antichrist has his mark; and if you don’t have his mark, if you’re not stamped with his stamp, you can’t function; you can’t survive in the world.

But these will have been stamped by God as His own possession and the possession of the Lamb, and they are protected from all judgment because they have such an important task to do. The judgment is waiting. In chapter 9, verse 4, it says an “angel sounded”: “They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, [not] any green thing, [not] any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment.” Again, this is just an indication that this is a very protected group of Jewish people. They’re not to be harmed in any way because of the strategic nature that they possess, which is the first fruits of the redeemed Israel.

Verse 3, “Do not harm the earth or sea or trees until we have sealed the [slaves] of our God on their forehead.” Possession, security, protection—they belong to God. They have been purchased. Chapter 14 I read you: “They have been purchased from among men as first fruits.” Again, this is first fruits. This is a new people. This is the end of the times of the Gentiles. This is God’s salvation of His Jewish people.

Now, looking at verses 4 to 8 you might see nothing on the surface except just twelve names and the emphasis on twelve thousand of them being sealed, totaling 144,000. But the specific nature of this is just stunning, and I’ll show you why. As you look at those names, there are some things that you need to understand; and I’ll point them out to you.

Normally in a list of the twelve tribes of Israel, the first one is going to be Reuben because Reuben was the oldest. So why is Judah the first one? He was not the firstborn; why is he placed first in the list? Because Reuben lost his birthright, lost the right of primogeniture, if you will, due to defiling his father’s bed—sexual sin. So even in that switching of those names, there is a specificity that is stunning.

Levi is included, Levi, down in verse 7. But Levi had no territory. Levi was a priestly tribe with no land. So why is Levi included? Well, because Dan had to be taken out of the list.

Why was Dan left out? Because of gross idolatry. Dan was the only tribe to fail to conquer its territory, Judges 1. And Dan turned wholly to idols. Deuteronomy 29 requires the blotting out of anyone who brings idolatry into Israel. Dan did that, so Dan is removed. So Levi slides in to take Dan’s place.

And then usually, Joseph was divided into two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Manasseh is in the list in verse 6. Where is Ephraim? Well Ephraim, his name is not here. His name had to be replaced in verse 8 with his father Joseph. Why was Ephraim excluded? Because he was addicted to idols. He was a defector from the house of David. He was an ally of Judah’s enemies. It’s an amazing detail.

So when somebody says, “Do you think ‘one hundred and forty-four thousand’ means one hundred and forty-four thousand?” If it doesn’t mean that, then it’s hopeless. And if it doesn’t mean these tribes, then why all the detail? And if it’s not twelve thousand, then you tell me what it is—and whatever you say, I won’t believe. This is a very detailed portion of Scripture. And God knows exactly what He is doing in gathering the first fruits among the Jewish people, who will be protected so that they can be instruments as the first fruits of the salvation of that nation. Blindness, in part, has happened to Israel, as we saw with the apostle Paul.

God has a purpose to save Israel. You’re looking at a nation beleaguered in this present hour by a massive force of Islamic animosity that has one goal in mind, and that is to obliterate them off the face of the earth. That is a bad idea, because God said to Abraham, “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed; whoever curses Israel will be cursed.”

You can’t do that. You can’t destroy this people. It can’t be done because God has a plan for them. You don’t know any Amorites, Hivites, Jebusites, Amalekites, or any other -ites. But Israelites, they’re still around. That’s where history’s going, and you’re watching another futile attempt to stop the plan of God ordained before time began.

What’s a practical implication to this? What strikes me is if you ever question the ability of God to fulfill His promise to you; if you ever have moments of, perhaps, fleeting doubt that the Lord’s going to do what He said He was going to do—take you into heaven, that He’s going to protect you from the evil one and bring you to eternal glory—if you’ve ever wondered whether He will be able to do that, whether He will be faithful, mark it down: You just need to look at Israel. If you doubt that God can keep a promise, look at Israel.

God is faithful. They are exactly where we would expect them to be in human history. They have been initially gathered into their land. The diaspora, in some sense, is over, and now they’re fighting against those who would exterminate them completely. And consequently, they’re not defended by God because they’re righteous, they’re defended by God because they still have promise in His plan. It’s the testimony of God’s faithfulness beyond all other historical realities, to see Israel in existence in this day, after all those who tried and still try to kill them. We’ll learn more about the 144,000 and about the rest of the things going on in the Tribulation in the rest of the book of Revelation.

Lord, again, we have to say thank You, because we would have no ability to understand any of these things if it weren’t for Your grace in revealing them to us on the pages of Holy Scripture. It’s beyond expectation that You would have been so kind to us, Lord, to show us history before it’s ever written. But You do this not so that we can simply know things, but so that we can trust You.

The existence of Israel, Jewish people, is a testimony of Your faithfulness. If You, through centuries and centuries, millennia, are faithful to a people who have rejected You, how much more faithful would You be to ones who have received You? You have been faithful to the promises You made to an apostate nation to protect them, preserve them, and bring them to salvation. How much more can we trust Your promises to us whom You love?

We thank You that in a spiritual sense, like the 144,000, we have Your name on our foreheads and the name of the Lamb. We belong to You. And You will discriminate in judgment. You know who belong to You and who do not.

Lord, I pray that if there are those here this morning with us who do not yet embrace the gospel but live in disobedience to the command to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that this might be the day of their obedience so that they can pass from death to life, and from being an object of judgment to being an object of divine love and possession. You have said that those who don’t know You are children of the devil; those who do know You are Your own beloved children who bear Your name. We thank You for that privilege of grace, and we ask, Lord that You would put Your mark on some even today, protecting them from all future judgment because they are Yours by faith in Christ. That’s our prayer. We pray in His name. Amen.

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