We have been able to discern that the theme of John’s second vision is justice. We anticipate and yearn for God to make the world a just place. As Jesus has broken the first six seals on the legal document He holds, we have been anticipating its contents. We long for Jesus to open and read the book. There is only one seal remaining, but we will have to wait a little longer. The first verse in Chapter 7 begins the first of three interludes in John’s second vision. In the prelude, John depicted decretive work of the Father. In each interlude, he depicts the conquering work of Jesus–the advancement of His Gospel and judgment. As Jesus broke the seals, we recognized that He is conquering the world (Cf. 6:1-2) by revealing the Father to the nations (Cf. 6:12-17). We saw that Jesus is waiting to judge the world until He is finished building His church (Cf. 6:11). In this interlude, John depicts Jesus conquering the world prior to His work of judgment.
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 bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
The four winds (v. 1-3)
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.
“After this,” is not a phrase that chronicles the events John describes in Revelation. After John saw Jesus break the six seals in his heavenly vision, he now sees four angels holding back four winds at the four corners of the earth. This is symbolic, not literal. Revelation is a picture, not a puzzle. If John were describing literal occurrences, we would have to believe that the earth is a flat rectangle or square and that wind comes from her four corners and is controlled by four angels. I’m sure that is why some skeptics ask, “Do Christians really believe the world is flat like the Bible claims?” Their insinuation is that the Bible contains errors with regard to the laws of physics. Anyone, then, who believes the Bible is ignorant. When we see John’s Revelation the way he intends, we recognize the symbolism for what it is—a picture.
We have already seen the apocalyptic significance of the number four. Four is a number that depicts totality. In this case, John uses it simply to refer to the whole earth. The winds represent harm to the earth. The four angels “holding back the four winds” are being instructed not to “harm the earth” (v. 3).
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God;
In Chapter 1, verse 16, Jesus’s face was depicted as shining like the sun in its strength. This symbolic angel ascends from the rising of the sun. If there is any connection, and the isn’t necessarily, John is pointing us to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This makes sense because John has just called our attention to Jesus’s crucifixion (Cf. 6:12-17). Logically, not necessarily chronologically, the people of God are sealed as a result of the resurrection. If John is turning our attention to the resurrection, then the people of God are sealed on the basis of Christ’s work, not theirs. Jesus redeemed His people throughout all time by His crucifixion and sealed them with His resurrection. In the Pauline epistles, we read:
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11).
Upon believing the Gospel, every believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ensures that the work God started in those who believe the true Gospel will completed. Perhaps, you have heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved.” That is true, but Scripture goes further. God doesn’t merely deliver us to the sweet by and by. He actually seals us with His Holy Spirit, and His Holy Spirit brings life to our mortal bodies to the praise of the Father’s glory. God ensures our sanctification and our completion because, in a sense, His reputation is on the line. We refer to this doctrine as the perseverance of the saints. I’m not sure of the implications for the elect in the times of the Old Testament, but I am confident they were sealed with the Holy Spirit even if there was no normative indwelling.
The angel is wielding the seal of the living God. Only Jesus is worthy to open the seals on the book (Cf. 5:1-14). The seal in view, here, is the same sort of mark indicating God’s authority and ownership of His people. To be sealed is to be purchased by God. All those who are purchased, atoned for through Christ’s crucifixion, are also sealed in His resurrection. All those for whom Christ died are sealed and will persevere. Everything is connected. People are totally depraved, as we recognized in the previous passage (Cf. 6:12-17). If people are totally depraved, they don’t seek after God or choose Him. Instead, even when God reveals Himself they hide from Him. If anyone is to be converted, God must do the converting because people hide from Him; That’s unconditional election. If all those for whom Jesus died are sealed and not everyone turns to God or perseveres, then Jesus did not die to atone for everyone; That’s limited atonement. If everyone for whom Christ made atonement is sealed and made complete, then no sealed person rejects God or fails to be sanctified; That’s irresistible grace. We have already seen the perseverance of the saints. These doctrines are the basic soteriological doctrines of biblical Christianity. All Calvin did was give them formal theological designations in response to Jacobus Arminius. We can trace all five points from these three verses and what it means to be sealed with 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 bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
The symbolic angel carrying the seal of the living God instructs the four angels holding back the winds of the earth not to harm the earth, or unleash the winds, until “we” have sealed the bondservants of God on their foreheads. Those who believe in a future, great, seven-year tribulation might take this to mean that the tribulation will not come until God saves all He is going to save. There are two problems with such an interpretation. First, John has not even hinted at a future, seven-year tribulation. In fact, John sees himself as a partaker in the tribulation (Cf. 1:9). If believers are seen as somehow being marked during such a fantastical seven-year tribulation period, the reader must wonder why the angel is giving an instruction contrary to God’s judgment. Second, most dispensationalists interpret Revelation as a chronological prophecy of future events. Here, the angel is instructing the others not to harm the earth until God’s elect are sealed only after the cataclysms of Chapter 6. The only way to make that work is by inventing a period of calmness after God pours out His wrath in order for the new tribulation-period believers to be sealed. I’m simply not sure why anyone would want to do so many theological gymnastics to try to fit the text to their view of end-times events. There is a more natural reading of the text.
The tribulation, as we have seen, is a current condition of the world. The current condition of the world was described as Jesus broke the first six seals. Jesus told the saints under the alter of incense to wait a little longer before He will set things right (Cf. 6:11). God still isn’t judging the world, and the angel is still telling the others to wait before carrying our God’s judgment. As He conquers the world, Christ is building His church before judging the nations. This interlude is an extrapolation of the condition of the world we saw in Chapter 6, namely of the idea that Jesus is conquering the world, bringing more people into His kingdom, and revealing the Father.
John refers to those who are sealed as bond-servants, reaffirming that the seal is a seal of authority and ownership. Why is the seal placed on the foreheads of God’s bondservants? In Exodus 28:36-38, God instructed Aaron and his sons, the priesthood, to wear a gold plate on their foreheads. The words, “Holy to the Lord,” were engraved on the plate. As Christ conquers the world, He is building for Himself a kingdom of priests. The symbolic seal placed on every believer designates that believer as part of the Lord’s everlasting priesthood, holy to the Lord. For all those folks who were really looking forward to a day when every Christian would have a distinguishing mark on his or her forehead, I am sorry to disappoint. The Holy Spirit is the literal seal. The inscription is symbolic here in Revelation. We are a holy priesthood.
It still seems we need some clarity about timing. As we have talked about Jesus judging the world up to this point in Revelation, we have seen that His judgment and wrath are perpetual. He offered judgment in the Old Testament, and His wrath was poured out. We can trace some of the wrath John talks about in Revelation to the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. Still, there is a not-yet sort of feel when we read Revelation. Consider the Amorites in Genesis. God did not give the land of Canaan to Abraham but waited four-hundred years. Then, He brought Abraham’s descendants back to Canaan to conquer it. God did not need to explain why He chose to do things the way He did, but He wanted Abraham to know:
Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete (Genesis 15:16).
God did not pour out His wrath on the Amorites until their iniquity was complete. This is why, throughout time, God is patient with nations. If there are still people to be converted in those nations, God tarries in judgment. That is perpetual but finds its fulfillment in the judgment of the whole world at the end of our current age. This already, not-yet tension is consistent through the Revelation. That includes the seal of the living God. All of the elect are already sealed from before the foundation of the world (Cf. Ephesians 1:4) and sealed again at their conversions. What a wonderful tension to boggle the mind.
But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:7-9).
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