Rev. 7:1 – After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel rise up from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were empowered to harm the earth and the sea: 3“Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the slaves of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 512,000 sealed from the tribe of Judah, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Benjamin. (HCSB)
Another angel … from the east
In verse 2 John sees “another angel” rise up from the east. He carries “the seal of the living God” and cries out to the four angels, “Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the slaves of our God on their foreheads” (v. 3). This angel is unique in that he comes to seal God’s slaves, while the four others are sent to restrain the four winds. Angels are messengers of God and serve Him in different capacities. Some, like Gabriel, bring messages. Others, like Michael, stand for Israel. Others bring protection, deliverance or judgment. They do not seem to prefer one task over another; they simply obey God when He sends them to earth, and this particular angel is sent to halt the advance of the other four until God’s special mark is upon His slaves.
This angel comes from the east. The direction is significant. The tabernacle in the wilderness faces east (Num. 3:38). The temple in Jerusalem faces east (2 Chron. 5:11-12). It is at the eastern gate of the temple – “the temple gate called Beautiful,” Acts 3:2 – where Peter and John heal the lame man. Perhaps most important, when Jesus returns, He will come from the east: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27; see also Ezek. 43:1-7). So this angel comes from the east, the direction of the sunrise, to do a great work on the Lord’s behalf, sealing His slaves.
Sealed on their foreheads
The seal of God is placed upon the foreheads of His chosen servants. There seems to be a parallel between this portion of Revelation and what Jesus describes in Matt. 24:30-31. At the end of Revelation 6, the wicked of the earth seek to hide from the wrath of the Lamb, consistent with what Jesus says in Matt. 24:30, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Then, at the start of Revelation 7, angels are sent to restrain the four winds until God’s chosen ones are sealed. This seems to fit with Matt. 24:31, “He [the Son of Man] will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” If Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and John’s record in Revelation 7 are describing the same events, then God is about to pour out His wrath on the earth. But first He spares the righteous. This could fit a preterist view, in which Jews who heed Jesus’ warnings flee Jerusalem before its destruction in 70 A.D. It could also fit a futurist view, in which a large number of Jewish believers are spared the horrors of the Tribulation. In any case, it appears God delivers a number of His elect before His judgment falls.
Seals in scripture
There are about 60 references to seals in the Bible. Generally speaking, seals are spoken of in two ways. First, a seal is an object – often a small, semiprecious stone with writing cut into its surface, making an impression in clay or wax. Second, a seal signifies the impression itself. In this context, the angel from the east seals the 144,000 – placing God’s mark of ownership on them. At the same time, the 144,000 are sealed, or receive and bear the mark of God.
The seal, John says, is placed on their foreheads. It’s possible the seal is visible, for while John only hears the number of those sealed in Revelation 7, he sees the 144,000 on Mt. Zion in Revelation 14. Also, the Antichrist, the great imposter, requires his followers to receive a mark on their foreheads, perhaps indicating a visible sign. But it may make more sense to see God’s seal as the mark of the Holy Spirit, who seals the believer (Eph. 4:30). If the futurist view is true and the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth at this time, it would take a special act of God to send His Spirit to mark out the 144,000 as His own.
The use of seals in scripture might shed some light on this passage. Harper’s Bible Dictionary points out that seals often render something secure against tampering (Jer. 32:10; Matt. 27:66), to demonstrate authority (1 Kings 21:8; John 6:27), to seal a letter (1 Kings 21:8; 1 Cor. 9:2), to seal a covenant (Neh. 9:38), to delegate authority (Esther 8:8; John 6:27), and to seal documents (Isa. 8:16; Jer. 32:10; Rev. 5:1). The 144,000 are indeed secure from the tampering of the wicked; they are under the authority of the King; they are messengers; they are partakers of the divine covenant, and so on. More important, if this seal is in fact the Holy Spirit, they have the indwelling presence of God and are empowered by Him to carry out His will.
Next: I heard the number … (Rev. 7:1-8)