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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
Title:The glorified Christ defers the final opening of the scroll to safeguard the saints who live on earth.
Text:Revelation 7:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading : Ez. 9, 1-6a
Rev. 6, 12 - 7,17
Text : Rev. 7, 1-4
Ps. 67 : 2,3
Ps. 73 : 9
Hy. 43 : 3
Ps. 102 : 10,11
Hy. 12 : 1,4,5
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

At the end of Revelation 6 after the opening of the 6th seal we read the question, "who is able to stand?" Who is able to stand when the winds of God's wrath are blowing over the earth? Who? The question is rhetoric and expects a negative answer: no one! When everything totters and shakes on its foundations - and that's what the opening of the 6th seal reveals - who can stand?

But then in Chapter 7 we read about "a great multitude, which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." Thus in Chapter 7 we receive an answer to that question we read in the concluding verse of Chapter 6: who can stand? Those who have been sealed with the mark of God on their forehead, in other words the believers, they will be protected throughout the calamities depicted in Chapter 6. For they are sealed!

In view of this sealing of the believers, there is some kind of intermezzo in the opening of the seals. After the opening of the sixth seal, we do not read straight away about the opening of the seventh seal. Angels are standing at the four corners of the earth to hold back the winds of God's wrath. This means the final judgment of God portrayed in the opening of the sixth seal is deferred. This links Chapter 7 with a particular aspect of the opening of the fifth seal.

Last week Sunday when dealing with the opening of this seal we heard that the souls under the altar had "to rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who would to be killed as they were, was completed." Deferral of revenge in order that grace may triumph! Yet this deferral will not go on forever. The opening of the sixth seal makes this quite clear. God's judgment will come. This is the end of Chapter 6.

But then Chapter 7 picks up again on that deferral already mentioned with the opening of the fifth seal, deferral of God's judgment. Four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth holding back the blowing wind of God's wrath. Before the final seal is opened there is an interlude. Why? The answer to this question we heard already last week. The reason was: the number of the elect must be completed. Well, this same theme is touched upon also in the beginning verses of Chapter 7, verses 1-8. The saints are to be sealed, to be safeguarded before God's final judgment is poured out upon this earth. That's the reason for an intermezzo in the opening of the seals. Focussing on this divine intermezzo, this morning I preach you the gospel under the following heading,

We will pay attention to
1) the act of this deferral
2) the reason for this deferral
3) the result of this deferral

I The concluding verses of Chapter 6, Brothers & Sisters, inform us about the opening of the sixth seal. The events portrayed by the opening of this seal no longer refer to God's judgments throughout history, but they relate to what will happen prior to Christ's second coming when God's final judgment will be poured out upon this earth. The opening of this seal thus is the answer to the prayer of the saints, on which we focused last week, "How long, O Lord, before Thou will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth."

From Scripture we know that Christ's second coming will be preceded by a total disruption of life and this universally. Well, that's what we read when the sixth seal is opened. An earthquake makes the foundations of the earth totter People no longer have any ground under their foot, nor a roof above their head. And this is not just locally, as we hear about earthquakes at times, but universally. The tremors of this earthquake are felt throughout the whole earth.
When Scripture mentions an earthquake generally it's a sign of God's coming in judgment. Already in the OT we read that a great earthquake will accompany the Day of the LORD. Therefore when reading about an earthquake when the 6th seal is opened this too refers to God's coming as Judge of this world.

Next we read that all lights go out: "the sun." And then vs. 14, "." We receive here a picture of total disruption! To fully understand this picture, beloved, you should read it against the background of Gen. 1. When the light of sun, moon, and stars, which guaranteed stability of life > when these light goes out it terminates the work God did on the fourth day of creation. When mountains, earth, and islands are moved from their plates it terminates God's work done on the third day of creation. The receding of the sky puts and end to the work done of the second day of creation, and when there is no longer any difference between light and dark also the work done on the fist day of creation will be terminated. In other words, when God's final judgments are poured out on this earth this old world will be completely broken down. God will sweep away the foundations that gave stability to man's life on earth. The veil of heaven is moved away to give way to God as Judge of heaven and earth.

It's no wonder, beloved, when this happens that people in complete despair try to hide themselves from this wrath of God, especially when considering that what we read here in the concluding part of Rev. 6 has no comparison with any other previous catastrophe. When hearing about a devastating earthquake killing thousands of people we already stand in awe. But what the opening of the sixth seal portrays is even more devastating. The tremors of this earthquake will be felt throughout the whole earth ruining creation as a whole. Whilst man is still living on earth God breaks down everything around him: the stars in the sky above him, and the ground under his feet. In addition man no longer has any air to breath in, no longer any light to see. Indeed, it is no wonder when all this happens that this whole earth is in panic. In panic > for when this great day of God's wrath comes, who is able to stand?

That's Ch. 6, after which one expects that now the seventh and final seal will be opened. However, there is an intermezzo, the scene changes. John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth holding the four winds of the earth. When reading about the four corners of the earth this should not to be taken as a geometrical description, but in a symbolic way this indicates that all of creation will be involved when the destructive winds of God's wrath will blow over the earth. They will blow from the north, the east, the south, and the west, thus covering the whole earth. Yes, when these as yet still restrained forces will be loosened, there will be no escape. Four winds portrayed as powers of destruction. Also in the OT we read about these four winds as destructive agents of God, e.g. in Jer. 49, 36.

However, whilst these winds pull at their chains eager to fulfill their destructive task on earth, John sees another angel ascending from the east. From the east, i.e. the place from where the sun rises, which in Scripture is always symbolic of light and joy. This angel, therefore, is not an agent of destruction, but a messenger of salvation instead. With a loud voice he calls out to those other four angels to hold back their destructive power till the servants of God have been sealed on their foreheads. Thus there is deferral of God's final judgment.

In this context someone has spoken of about God slowing down His speed. True, in other places Scripture tells us that God is working with great haste towards the last day of history. The Book of Revelation is full of this speed with which God works, which is in line with what we read in the second letter of the apostle Peter that God is surely not slow in keeping his promises, as some count slowness. I preached on that text on New Year's Eve last year. God works with great haste towards the consummation of all things. Yet, beloved, this haste of God is not a nervous drifting haste of one who otherwise can't reach his aim and who, therefore, always hurries on. Also God's haste is controlled. It is the haste of the Almighty One who has all the components of world history in His hands and who thus speedily but at the same time controlled works towards that great and final day.
Because God is controlled also in His haste He does not straight away reveal His judgments in full strength, but He slowly increases their severeness till with the return of Christ His full and final wrath will be revealed.
It's for this reason, beloved, that the opening of the seventh and final seal does not straight away follow the opening of the sixth seal. There is a divine intermezzo to allow time for something else first.

The opening of the sixth seal thus makes clear beforehand that God's wrath will not be postponed indefinitely. This day will come. But then in Ch. 7 the revelation goes back to before this day making a link with an element that was also mentioned with the opening of the fifth seal, namely deferral of God's wrath. When the fifth seal was opened the saints prayed, "How long, O Lord, before Thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth." The answer to this prayer was that they had to wait a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. Deferral. Well, about that same deferral we also read in Ch. 7. Four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth holding back the destructive winds of God's wrath till the servants of God have been sealed on their forehead. This brings me to my second point in which we will deal further with the reason for this deferral of the final opening of the scroll.

II Why this deferral? The answer to this question John receives in what he sees next: "another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God." Some commentaries identify this angel with Christ. Yet this is not possible since Christ is the One who reveals all this. He is the Lamb mentioned in vs. 9 of this same chapter. Moreover this angel does not come from above, but from the east. As I mentioned before, this typifies him as a messenger of salvation. The instrument, which he carries, also confirms this: the seal of the living God with which he has to seal the servants of God. These servants are the believers, the ones to whom this last book of the Bible is addressed, Rev. 1, 1a, "."

What are we to understand by this sealing of the servants of God? What is this seal? When looking at other places in Scripture a seal is used as a mark to secure something or someone. Think of the tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was sealed so that no one could touch it. Well, that's how also the servants of God mentioned in our text are sealed, secured. Secured against what?
It's here that I would like to refer to that passage of the prophecies of Ezekiel, which we also read this morning. This passage has much similarity with what we read in our text.

In Ez. 9 we read about six men, each with a battle-ax in his hand. These men are agents of God to execute judgment upon Jerusalem because of its unfaithfulness towards the LORD. Yet another agent of God, a man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side, precedes them. This man clothed with linen is mandated to put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations done in Jerusalem, a mark to safeguard them against God's judgment.
I said before we read more often about such marks in the OT. I could refer to what happened at the time when the Israelites left Egypt. An angel of destruction went through Egypt, yet same angel passed over all the houses of the Israelites because of the blood pasted at their door lintels. By this mark the Israelites were secured against the judgment of God.
Well, something similar we also read in our text. Before God's judgments rage over the earth the believers are marked. The Lord knows those who are His and He has marked them accordingly. This mark is so essential that it is to be placed upon the foreheads of God's servants with priority; a mark which protects the believers against the judgments of God. It is put on their foreheads as a visible sign, so that when the angels of destruction are sent out they know how to make distinction between the servants of God and the unbelievers.
As regards this specific seal some have identified it with baptism, which is also called a sign and seal. Yet not all who have been baptized will be marked with the seal mentioned in our text. Why not? The answer is, since not all of God's baptized children let their life be determined by serving the Lord. Instead we should relate this mark to a living faith, whereby true believers distinguish themselves from an unbelieving world. By way of example I may refer here once more to Ez. 9, where we read, those who were sealed by the man clothed with linen were the ones who had distinguished themselves from the rest of Jerusalem by remaining faithful in serving the LORD.
Well, beloved, likewise when on the final day of history God's judgments will be poured out upon this earth, it will be a troubled time also for the believers. Nevertheless by the mark on their foreheads they will be safeguarded against eternal destruction. What is this mark? This > that in the hour of trial God Himself will make them persevere in faith! It's the mark of a living faith > living by power from above.

I come to this conclusion on the basis of other passages of Scripture, which also speak about the sealing of the believers. If I may just mention a few examples, then first of all I would like to refer to II Cor. 1,22, where the apostle Paul writes, "God has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." The same expression we meet in Eph. 4, 30, where the apostle writes, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." So, it is the Spirit of God, i.e. the Holy Spirit, by whom our life is marked and through whose powerful working the believers are able to stand in the hour of trial. Yes, when this hour comes, the hour trial, the glorified Christ Himself through his Holy Spirit will take care that God's elect shall persevere. Christ has promised that He will do so. I think here of the letter written to the church in Philadelphia, Rev. 3,10, where it reads, "." Instead of 'I will keep you from the hour of trial' it is better to read 'I will keep you through the hour of trial'. Christ will keep those who are His so that they will come through it unharmed.

The nearer we come to day of Christ's return, beloved, the more difficult it will become also for the true believers to remain steadfast in faith. And yet God's work in them shall triumph. Not one will be missing when it comes to that full number of 144.000. Through His Spirit God will give the believers the strength needed to persevere in faith to the very end. He will not forsake the work of His hands, but will cause it to triumph, beloved, also in your and my life. This brings me to my third and last thought: the result of the deferral of the final opening of the scroll.

III The actual act of sealing is not mentioned in our text. In the vision shown to the apostle John we only read about the final number of those who were sealed, a number than runs in the thousands. The earth is ripe for the judgment of God, yet despite an almost universal unfaithfulness there are still many who did not join in, who did not bow their knees before other gods. Ch. 6 concludes with the question, "Who is able to stand?" Who is able to stand when God's judgments are poured out upon this is? Who? Ch. 7 gives the answer: 144.000!

Who are these 144.000? Some commentaries speak here of a special group of people among God's elect, the elite troops of the church, who are involved in a special battle and who therefore need specific protection. Scripture, however, doesn't offer any ground for this explanation, especially when you compare the number mentioned in our text with the 144.000 mentioned in Rev. 14. Moreover, no true believer is excluded from being sealed with the Holy Spirit. Therefore like so many other numbers in the Book of Revelation, also the number 144.000 is to be taken symbolic. It refers to the full number as determined by God in His eternal counsel chosen in Christ already before the foundation of the world.

The number is to be taken symbolic; nevertheless it wants to tell us something. Therefore let us have a somewhat closer look at this number 144.000. The most essential number within this full number is the number 12, a number which in the OT always refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, the full number of the OT church. Yet the twelve tribes of Israel have grown: twelve times twelve, which points to the absolute fullness of God's work. The twelve tribes of Israel multiplied by the number of the twelve apostles, together forming the church both from the Old as well as the New Dispensation.
The next element is that the number 144 (twelve times twelve) is multiplied by 1000. This points to an enormous number (10 x 10 x 10) of people who because of the seal with which they have been sealed will be kept throughout the hour of trial. Thus the children of Israel will be completed by an innumerable number of other people: 12 raised to the second power times 10 raised to the third power, together forming macro-Israel! Despite this great number all these people still form a unity: they are one in serving the Lord and in bearing the mark of the living God.
Summarizing I can say: despite all opposition of Satan and his henchman God will come to the full number of His servants. A full number but also a perfect number: an equal number of sealed people from every tribe. This points to a perfect communion. No longer twelve tribes competing with one another in rivalry, but perfect harmony instead.

Thus God's work will reach its completion. The saints are safeguarded when God's wrath is poured out upon this earth. Does this mean, Br. & Sr., that never one of those who are sealed will be lost? Is he that has been sealed safeguarded automatically, whether faithful or unfaithful?
Answering this question I would like to draw your attention to the list of names of the twelve tribes following our text. Twelve - a complete number and yet one tribe is missing, namely the tribe of Dan, the first tribe which separated itself from the rest of God's people by substituting the true service of God with image worship and idolatry. So the fullness is not there just automatically. "The Lord knows those who are His." This is a quotation taken from Paul's second letter to Timothy, where in the same breath it also reads, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity," 2 Tim. 2,19. In other words, beloved, the seal with which we are sealed should not cause us to become complacent.
In this context I would like to refer what the apostle Paul writes in Rom. 11. In this chapter the fullness of Israel is compared with a olive tree on which no branches are missing, and yet many of these branches were broken off. Yet God grafted in those places wild olive shoots to share in the richness of the olive tree. New shoots grafted in Israel from all tribes, tongues, and nations. And so - Rom. 11,26 - "all Israel will be saved." 12 times 12.000: the fullness of Israel, the full number of true believers from all over the world who have Abraham as their father.
Thus also Romans 11 teaches we should never take God's grace for granted. For if God did not spare the natural branches, beloved, He will not spare you either when you do not carry His seal as a living member of his church. Grace is not something we inherit automatically.
Beloved, you have received the promises of God signified and sealed to you in your baptism. But God now also asks of us to accept these promises in faith. To say it in words related to this morning's text: the seal with which we are sealed must be carried by us visibly, clearly recognizable, so that everyone knows to whom we belong.

God has sealed us with a clear seal to safeguard us against His judgments. We related this seal to the perseverance of the saints worked by God, who in the hour of trial will give us the strength we need by power from above; strength from above to withstand the evil one. God is the One who will give us this strength when needed. Yet this should not make us careless in our attitude. I like to refer here to what we as church confess in the Canons of Dort, Ch. V. First Art. 12, "." Then Art. 14, where it reads, "." Thus by faithfully using the means of grace provided by God we are to confirm our call and election, as the apostle Peter writes it in his second letter, Ch. 1,10.

See, beloved, that's how in actual terms God seals us through His Spirit. Where the Spirit is at work God will reach His aim also in your and my life. That's why we should never grieve the Spirit by whom we are sealed for the day of redemption > grieve by living life in a careless way. Instead we should always live close to the Lord.

Rev. 7 thus highlights that in the end no one chosen by God and sealed by Him will be missing. Despite the many people who throughout the ages, starting in the OT, have turned their back upon the church, God still reaches His full number: 144.000 a number symbolic of fullness and greatness. Yes, the number of those standing before the throne of the Lamb on the last day will be innumerable indeed. In the continuation of this same chapter we read about a great multitude, which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues. Who are these, so one of the 24 elders asks. The answer reads, vs. 14, "."
These words show that also the saints went through great tribulation, their life on earth was surely not easy going. On the contrary, there was struggle, sin, and hardship. But they went into the eternal glory, justified by Christ's blood and sanctified by his Spirit.

How great a comfort this is, beloved to know all this. After this vision full of comfort, the glorified Christ can continue with the final opening of the scroll. For we now have the assurance that nothing in this world will be able to destroy Christ's church gathering work. He will come to the full number of the elect, the full number of those who have been sealed and who thus will be safeguarded in the hour of trial. They will come through it unharmed. As church living in the last days, let us thank God for this assurance.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. A Veldman

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