Here actually a parenthesis begins before the seventh seal is opened. In this parenthesis, which consists of chapter 7, you hear what the believers are going through in this period of time of the sixth seal. You will also read how they are being preserved by God during this horrible time. It beautifully illustrates that God remembers mercy in the midst of wrath (Hab 3:22LORD, I have heard the report about You [and] I fear.
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
This chapter is as it were an answer to the question that was asked at the end of the previous chapter: ‘Who is able to stand?’ The answer is: A great number of saints, both from Israel (verses 1-81After 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.2And 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,3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”4And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:5from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand [were] sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,6from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,7from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,8from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand [were] sealed.) and from the nations (verses 9-179After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and [all] tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches [were] in their hands;10and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”11And all the angels were standing around the throne and [around] the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,12saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, [be] to our God forever and ever. Amen.”13Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?”14I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.16They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;17for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”), is able to stand before God and the Lamb. Both groups of believers will go through the great tribulation. They will not die like the martyrs, but they will enter the kingdom of peace alive. The first group will be sealed before they enter the great tribulation, the second group is presented as coming out of the great tribulation.
V11After 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.. That the scene which John gets to see now, follows after what is previously written, is to be derived from the words “after this”. After having seen the Lamb That opens seals, John now sees “four angels”. When the trumpet judgments break loose in chapter 8, the sounding of the trumpets happens by angels (Rev 8:2,62And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.6And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.). Angels are also to be seen here. Angels are used by the Lamb to do His work. That work consists of protecting the saints (Heb 1:1414Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?) and the judgment of the evil in accordance to the purity of heaven, the dwelling place of the angels.
The four angels are “standing at the four corners of the earth”. That means that the whole earth is their work territory (cf. Isa 11:1212And He will lift up a standard for the nations
And assemble the banished ones of Israel,
And will gather the dispersed of Judah
From the four corners of the earth.
). The number ‘four’ that appears three times in this verse speaks of what is general, universal. While they are standing there they are “holding back the four winds of the earth”, so that these winds cannot cause destruction. The sealing of the elected of God happens in silence.
When the four winds will blow, animals as symbols of rulers of worlds will ascend from the sea of nations. You read about that in Daniel 7 (Dan 7:2-32Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea.3And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another.; cf. Jer 49:3636‘I will bring upon Elam the four winds
From the four ends of heaven,
And will scatter them to all these winds;
And there will be no nation
To which the outcasts of Elam will not go.
). Here they are still being stopped. God determines the time of their coming, but also controls them for the benefit of His own (Psa 105:1515“Do not touch My anointed ones,
And do My prophets no harm.”
). They are being ‘held’, for they try to tear themselves loose. But it is impossible to escape the grip of God Almighty.
V22And 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,. Then John sees “another angel ascending”. He comes from the east, from the side where the sun rises. When the sun rises, a new day lightens up. This speaks of the rising of “the sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:22“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.), which is Christ, Who expels the darkness and causes the dawning of the day. This ‘other angel’ is not an image of Christ. In the next verse he puts himself on the same level with the four angels when he speaks about ‘we’ and ‘our God’.
The angel has “the seal of the living God”. A seal is a mark of ownership. ‘The seal of the living God’ makes clear that he who bears it, belongs to Him and is known by Him (cf. 2Tim 2:1919Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”). Therefore the seal means also safety (cf. Eze 9:44The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, [even] through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.”) at the same time. It is the seal of the living God, which means that its bearers are untouchable by death.
When God is called 'the living God, then it is also to emphasize the contrast between Him and the dead idols (1Thes 1:99For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,). This is how He is called also in relation with Israel in the days of Joshua and Hezekiah (Jos 3:1010Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.; 2Kgs 19:4,164Pehaps the LORD you God will hea all the wods of Rabshakeh, whom his maste the king of Assyia has sent to epoach the living God, and will ebuke the wods which the LORD you God has head. Theefoe, offe a paye fo the emnant that is left.’”16Incline You ea, O LORD, and hea; open You eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the wods of Sennacheib, which he has sent to epoach the living God.), which is at the beginning (Joshua) and at the end (Hezekiah) of his history in the land. Just like He intervened in the days of Joshua and Hezekiah for the benefit of His people, He will do that also in the time of the great tribulation. In that time He will lead and preserve His people right through the general idolatrous worshipping of the antichrist and the beast.
The angel gives a command on behalf of God to the four angels that have power over the winds. The winds want to harm but they cannot, because they are held by the angels. Only when the angels let them loose they will be able to do their damaging work. That means that it is not the winds that have the power to harm the earth and the sea, but the angels are the ones that have the power. Angels also have power over fire (Rev 14:1818Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.”) and over water (Rev 16:55And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things;). However, they do not act on their own, but they are under the authority of God.
V33saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”. Those that are sealed are “the bond-servants of our God”. They are the elect persons from the twelve tribes of Israel (verse 44And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:) who serve God. Their service seems to consist of the proclamation of His Name, the preaching of the living God, while everything around them has turned his back on Him. They will preach both in Israel and in the whole world and they will continue their service with which the twelve apostles have started when the Lord Jesus sent them out (Mt 10:2323“But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish [going through] the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.; 24:1414This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.). It seems that the result of their preaching is ‘the multitude’ which the second part of this chapter is dealing with.
It does not say what this seal exactly is. Possibly it is the name of God and the Lamb which they get on their forehead (cf. Rev 14:11Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb [was] standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.; 22:44they will see His face, and His name [will be] on their foreheads.; 3:1212He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.). There is a reasonable argument for this approach if you consider that the ungodly have the name of the beast on their forehead (Rev 13:1616And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,; 14:9,119Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”; 20:44Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.). They are sealed “on their foreheads”. In that way it is a clearly observable mark to everyone that they have focused their thoughts on God and that God recognizes them as His own (cf. Rev 13:1616And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,). They openly testify of His Name in each part of the world wherever they were scattered. The angel confirms that the sealing is the reason why the winds were being stopped.
V44And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:. The number of the ones who were sealed is made known. It is one hundred and forty-four thousand. It is also mentioned who they are. Those are “the sons of Israel”. It is also said that they are each from a different tribe. From further details it appears that from each tribe the same number of sealed ones comes forth, namely twelve thousand.
The numbers have a symbolic meaning whereby it is not necessarily to be excluded that it should be considered literally. It is possible that in the time of the great tribulation one hundred and forty-four thousand servants of God will go out in Israel and in the whole world to proclaim His Name. But the symbolic meaning is important. The number twelve, which also in the multiples of one hundred and forty-four and twelve thousand stands at the forefront, is in the Bible continually the number of a perfect reign and government.
This number is especially related with Israel. At the beginning of the history of this people are the twelve patriarchs. This nation consists of twelve tribes. The breastplate of the high priest had twelve stones which represented the whole nation. Out of this nation twelve apostles were called. The twelve thousand from each tribe of Israel indicate a worldwide government, for the territory of their service is the world.
V5-85from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand [were] sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,6from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,7from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,8from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand [were] sealed.. In the Bible we find almost thirty lists of names of the sons of Jacob, whereby the rank order of the names is not always the same and sometimes a name is replaced by another one. This list that John gives, is led by Judah. Not Rueben, the firstborn, comes first, but Judah, the royal tribe. That is also understandable, for Judah is the tribe from which the King of kings, Christ, has sprouted (Rev 5:55and one of the elders *said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”; Gen 49:99“Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The tribe of Dan is not mentioned. The reason for that is not said. It is possible that it is because Dan has introduced the idolatry in Israel (Jdg 18:30-3130The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.31So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.). That does not mean that Dan loses his place in the land, for he will have his part of inheritance in the millennial kingdom of peace (Eze 48:22Beside the border of Dan, from the east side to the west side, Asher, one [portion].). The important thing is that God cannot use anyone from his tribe to testify of Him as one of His sealed people when the idolatry is general. Manasseh, the son of Joseph takes the place of Dan.
Now read Revelation 7:1-8 again.
Reflection: How can you show your ‘seal’, meaning: how can you show that you are of the living God?