Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Revelation of the Lamb's Followers

Part 14 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 7:1-17

WHO ARE THE 144,000?

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (v. 4).

Chapter 6 ends with the question, “Who can stand?” Chapter 7 gives us the answer: those who are sealed with “the seal of the living God” (v. 2). Those who are sealed are protected from the wrath of God and purchased as the people of God. The seal of God is the opposite of the “mark of the beast” (Revelation 13:16-18). Both seals signify allegiance—either to God or to Satan. There is no middle ground.

How should we interpret the 144,000? If we take a literal approach, they are Jewish believers. But if we interpret the 144,000 literally, what about 14:4? “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.” If we take a symbolic approach, they are the church. Christians are described as “Abraham’s offspring” (Galatians 3:29).

“Many who hold to a pretribulation ‘rapture’ of the church think that the two groups of 7:1-8 and 7:9-17 are different (converted Jewish people still suffering on earth in vv. 1-8, but the raptured church rejoicing in heaven in vv. 9-17). Others think these are Gentiles converted during the tribulation through the witness of the 144,000 Jewish believers who remain on earth (v. 4). Those who do not hold to a pretribulation rapture usually see vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-17 as the same group, with their suffering in vv. 1-8 turned to joy and reward in vv. 9-17” (ESV Study Bible).

If the two groups are the same, this vision would be similar to the vision of the Lion and the Lamb. In chapter 5, John heard about the Lion and then saw the Lamb. In chapter 7, John “heard the number of the sealed, 144,000”(v. 4) and then saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (v. 9).

Verses 1-8 might be describing an end-time army preparing for spiritual battle. (A census was usually taken before battle.) But victory is achieved in an unusual way. “They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). As Jesus conquered Satan through His death, His saints will conquer Satan through their deaths. The greatest witness to the truth of the gospel is the death of a martyr.

HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!

[Read John 12:12-19]

During the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19), the people in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as the King of Israel. In the vision of Revelation 7, the saints in heaven praise Jesus as the King of all nations.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (v. 9a).

“Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10) means “may those in heaven sing, ‘Hosanna.’” “Hosanna” means “save us.” It expresses both prayer and praise.

What kind of King is Jesus?

1. Jesus is the coming King.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9).

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10).

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

“Fear not, daughters of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15).

Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. “[Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, crucify him!’ (John 19:14-15).

Jesus will return to earth to reign. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. [...] On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11, 16).

During the Triumphal Entry, Jesus rode down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. Jesus was on the Mount of Olives with His disciples when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:12). After the ascension, the angels said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). “In the same way” means bodily and visible. But the angels could also have been saying that Jesus would return to the exact same place. “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4).

2. Jesus is the victorious King.

Clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (vv. 9b-10).

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14b).

“White robes” and “palm branches” were symbols of victory.

The people of Israel were expecting a different kind of salvation. The Triumphal Entry took place at the beginning of Passover week, which was a time to recall the Jewish people’s liberation from Egyptian slavery. Now as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people expected liberation from Rome’s oppression.

As the 144,000 will be sealed by God, we who are Christians today are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit “for the day of redemption”(Ephesians 4:30; cf. 1:13-14). This sealing guarantees future victory. “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). (But we are not exempt from persecution.)

3. Jesus is the Shepherd-King.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (vv. 16-17).

IS JESUS YOUR KING?

To make Jesus the King of your life is often a difficult decision, but it is always the best decision.

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’” (Mark 8:34-36).

“The purpose of this section is to encourage every believer to persevere in this life, for God will make up to us all that we have suffered. It is strange that many Christians will sacrifice and struggle in their earthly jobs, working always for future financial rewards and security, yet will sacrifice little or nothing for their final eternal rewards. Why give everything for earthly ‘blessings’ that will last only a short time and surrender heavenly blessings that will last for eternity? As Jesus said in Matt. 6:19-24, seek heavenly treasures, not earthly” (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, p. 334).

Nothing on this earth can compare to what is waiting in heaven for those who put their faith in Jesus.