Monday, May 26, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ Six Seals. 144,000. A Great Multitude.

          Revelation is full of numbers. They make great conversation starters. They also make for terrible fights. They ought to quiet our souls before God in humility that he has deliberately, and beautifully, revealed his mind about the last hour without giving us anything that would enable us to know the times or seasons he has set by his own authority.[1] By denying us access to what is his, he encourages the child-hearted to settle down and pay attention to what is ours.
          The Church’s work is to be filled with the Spirit and go into the world as Jesus’ witnesses.[2] Revelation is given, at least in part, to assure us that God is looking after the times and seasons he has fixed by his own authority, just as promised, no peeking allowed, so stop worrying about those things,[3] seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and trust him for daily provision now, and eternal provision later.
          As I turned to the seventh chapter of Revelation, I was confronted with the fact that God does not immediately describe the seventh seal. After presenting the first six seals in consecutive order,[4] leaving us hanging with the imagery of God shaking out his divine diorama so that his enemies are terrified by the day of wrath, the Revelation Symphony then leads us to an interlude between movements.
          I have come to appreciate greatly the way John introduces new scenes. In this case he says, After this I saw…”[5] followed by, “After this I looked…”[6] It is important to note that John is describing the order in which he saw and heard things. This does not tell us the order in which they occur in history (as though God was really telling us the times and seasons he has set by his own authority after all), but the order in which the divine revelation presents these things to create the effect God has purposed for this book.
          So, after showing us the cataclysmic things that will take place at the coming of Christ, and the horrified response of the Worldlings who have refused to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Creator and Redeemer, it is time to show us something else. There are thoughts God wants in our minds as we transition from the sixth seal to the seventh seal.
          The next two pictures show us that a symbolic number of 144,000 “servants” of God, “from every tribe of the sons of Israel,” are sealed; and, “a great multitude that no one could number,” made up of people who have come “out of the great tribulation,” are standing before the throne, joining with angels, elders, and living creatures in worship of their God and the Lamb.
          Last week, I began my consideration of the sixth seal by wondering if the catastrophic description was figurative, to get John’s focus on the reaction of the world to the coming of Christ, or literal, meaning that something was going to happen to the creation at the time of Jesus coming. By the end of the week it was clear that the coming of Christ will include these terrible changes to the present creation. To whatever extent the description is real or symbolic doesn’t change the fact that it will be a terrible time for the unsaved, and the real-time events will fit the description perfectly.
          This week I begin my consideration of this interlude with lots of questions about the 144,000, and the great multitude no one could number.[7] While there is a whole week to ponder these things in prayer, I already see that the first group pictures God sealing those who are his before further disaster plays out on the divine stage, and the second group pictures the glorious presence of God for those who have already gone through tribulation.
          Since the focus of the first group is that they are sealed by God before he releases his angels to wreak havoc on earth, there is an assurance that God’s people are identified so clearly to God that, when his angels come to “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other,”[8] they will have no difficulty knowing who belongs to God.  
          And, since the focus of the second group is to show how glorious their eternal joy in heaven will be after whatever tribulation they go through, we can welcome the assurance that this affirms Paul’s example of, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”[9]
          Those who are sealed by God before the clock strikes midnight, are welcomed into God’s presence “after the tribulation of those days.”[10]God stops everything to show his children that they are sealed, and therefore safe from the coming judgment. And, God rolls the clock ahead to show the wonderful experience of his presence that comes after whatever tribulation his church goes through, so that we can endure all things in the assurance that we are sealed now, and safe then.
          It is kind of like what Paul said as the conclusion to his glorious expression of praise for all our “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”[11] He wrote, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”[12]

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Acts 1:7
[2] Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2; Ephesians 5:18; Revelation 6:9
[3] Matthew 6:25-34; vs 33
[4] Revelation 6
[5] Revelation 7:1
[6] Revelation 7:9
[7] Revelation 7
[8] Matthew 24:31
[9] Romans 8:18
[10] Matthew 24:29
[11] Ephesians 1:3
[12] Ephesians 1:13-14

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