The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 52

Saints in the Great Tribulation

(Revelation 7)

Angels and the Natural World

     The seventh chapter of Revelation is interposed between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals on the great scroll, and thus does not necessarily participate in the chronology of the preceding and following chapters.  On the other hand, it begins with “And after these things I saw . . . ,” which seems to indicate that its events do not begin until after the great earthquake described in Revelation 6:12-17, when the sixth seal was opened.  The termination of the chapter, however, seems to anticipate eternity, so that to some extent it represents an expository digression given for John’s encouragement (and ours) just prior to the breaking of the last seal and the resulting judgments of the seven trumpets.  As a whole, therefore, the chronology of Revelation 7 seems to pick up right after the earth convulsions of the preceding chapter.  Though it also looks back to the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period, it looks forward to the end of the great tribulation and even to the eternal state in the new earth.

Revelation 7:1.    And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.

     After he had seen “these things” (the judgments under the first six seals), John saw another amazing situation.  There, standing on the four “corners” of the earth, he saw four mighty angels holding back the four winds of the earth.

     This verse has long been derided as reflecting a naïve “prescientific” concept of earth structure, one that supposedly viewed the earth as flat with four corners.  However, it is  the same word (Greek gonia) which is translated “four quarters” of the earth in Revelation 20:8.  In terms of modern technology, it is essentially equivalent to what a mariner or geologist would call the four quadrants of the compass, or the four directions.  This is evident also from the mention of the “four winds” which, in common usage, would of course be the north, west, south, and east winds.

     Parenthetically, accurate modern geodetic measurements in recent years have proved that the earth actually does have four “corners.”  These are protuberances standing out from the basic “geoid,” that is, the basic spherical shape of the earth.  The earth is not really a perfect sphere, but is slightly flattened at the poles.  Its equatorial bulge is presumably caused by the earth’s axial rotation, and its four
“corners” protrude from that.
  The meaning of this verse, however, is undoubtedly that the angels located in four different key positions on the earth, perhaps one at each pole and two at opposite ends of a strategic equatorial diameter, are able to control the great atmospheric circulation which governs the winds of the earth.

     This verse offers a remarkable insight into one of the abilities and functions of God’s mighty angels.  As created beings, they are not omnipotent, but they do “excel in strength” (Psalm 103:20).  In obedience to God, with great wisdom and power they are able to comprehend and control to some degree the systems and forces of God’s natural creation.  When John first saw these four angels in particular, they were already engaged in the remarkable labor of restraining the great wind systems of the earth, keeping the winds from blowing on either land or sea.  The circulation of the atmosphere is a mighty engine, driven by energy from the sun and from the earth’s rotation.  The tremendous powers involved in this operation become especially obvious when they are displayed in the form of great hurricanes and blizzards and tornadoes.  These winds of the earth make life possible on earth through the hydrologic cycle, transporting waters inland from the ocean with which to water the earth.  Yet the angels – only four of them – had turned off this gigantic engine.

     This situation had apparently existed for some time before John noted and recorded it.  It presumably ties in with the great famine which the world was experiencing under the judgment of the third seal (Revelation 6:5, 6), and was part of the means by which God was miraculously supporting the judgment called forth by His two Witnesses (Revelation 11:3-6) that there should be no rain on the earth for the first three-and-a-half years of the tribulation period.  Without earth’s wind systems on the earth, there could be no rain.  Waters evaporating from the oceans would simply rise up into the higher atmosphere, eventually to spread out as a high vapor canopy around the earth.

     The atmospheric disturbances caused by the bombardment of meteorites or asteroids under the sixth seal may have occasioned the precipitation of some of these vapors, or they may simply have driven them farther upward.  Furthermore the volcanic activities accompanying the global earthquake must also have emitted vast quantities of water vapor, spewing them into the upper atmosphere.  Both phenomena would contribute to the reestablishment of some of the “waters above the firmament” (Genesis 1:7) which had formed the earth’s primeval thermal vapor blanket before the great Flood.

     In the meantime, a great calm prevailed in the lower atmosphere of the earth.  No breezes blew on the land, no leaves rustled in the forests, no waves broke on the shores.

Revelation 7:2.     And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea. 

     John then saw another great wonder.  A still mightier angel appeared on the eastern horizon.  Some have even suggested this angel could be Christ Himself.  Slowly, like the sun, the angel ascended from the east and, as he ascended, called out in a great voice, loud enough to reach the four angels stationed at the four quarters of the earth.

     The four angels, restraining the winds as they were, had the power to “hurt” both the earth and the sea.  The drought which they were generating would eventually dry up the rivers and lakes and scorch the trees and grass, leading finally to widespread suffering and starvation.

     But the great angel from the east, though rising like the withering sun, had a message of grace for the servants of God.  Furthermore he came bearing the seal of the living God.

     The nature of this seal is not specified except that it was to identify certain special servants of God.  These servants were to be protected thereby not only from the immediate judgments but from later judgments of God on the earth (Revelation 9:4).  They evidently had a special ministry to fulfill and were to be protected, at least from physical judgments sent by God, until that ministry was accomplished.  This was analogous to the protection of the ancient Israelites from the physical judgments sent by God upon the Egyptians (Exodus 9:6, 26; 10:23; 11:7).

     The Holy Spirit is called the seal of God, at least during the Church Age (note 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13; 4:30), assuring every genuine believer that his soul will indeed be preserved safe in Christ until the day of final redemption.  He is omnipresent, of course, and will still be “sealing” new believers in this way even during the tribulation period.  This may be, at least in part, the meaning of this work of the angel.

     This particular sealing, however, while no doubt incorporating  the salvational sealing of the Holy Spirit, clearly had as a further purpose the actual physical protection of those who were sealed, preventing God’s judgments on the earth from destroying them with the wicked.

Revelation 7:3.     Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.

     After the judgments under the sixth seal (earthquakes, stars falling, etc.) there was thus to be a brief respite on the earth.  This would give God’s enemies an opportunity to recover from their fears and to rationalize their experiences naturalistically, fixing them more firmly than before in their wickedness.  Its main purpose, however, was to give those who had come to believe in God an opportunity to understand their new faith, to study His Word, and to realize the cosmic significance of the events through which they were passing.  A great multitude of new believers had emerged, even in the fiery furnace of affliction.  The ancient prayer of Habakkuk was being answered: “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

     In particular was this to be vital for the preparation of a very special group of God’s servants.  They were to have a key role in witnessing to the world in the latter years of the tribulation period and then in the millennial age to come.  They must both be prepared spiritually and then protected physically, if they were to accomplish their important ministry.  They must therefore be “sealed in their foreheads.”

     This unusual procedure is perhaps partly in reference to the special instruction and understanding they must acquire in their minds (the forehead perhaps includes a cryptic reference to the brain’s frontal lobe) before they can be effective witnesses and leaders in the years just ahead.  They would need a concentrated time of study in the Scriptures and in their significance to an understanding of God’s great purposes in creation, redemption, and the current cataclysmic judgments.

     The seal, however, may also imply an actual physical mark on their foreheads, identifying them to all who would encounter them as God’s special servants, under His special protection.  This procedure would soon be blasphemously imitated by the coming world dictator, the beast, who would require all his followers “to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (Revelation 13:16).  Ultimately, however, it would become a wonderful badge of identification and unity for all the saints, throughout eternity, when “. . . his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3, 4).

     Exactly how the angel will affix the seal to their foreheads and what the insignia will be are not revealed.  Nor is it indicated just how the recipients of the seal are to be selected.  There was, however, a somewhat parallel instance in ancient Israel during the time of God’s angry judgment on His people as they were being sent into captivity.  All in Jerusalem were to be slain except those upon whose foreheads God had set His mark.  The latter were “the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (Ezekiel 9:4).  Jerusalem was to be destroyed for its wickedness, except for those who had cried out against its wickedness.

     Possibly this will be the criterion in the future judgment as well.  Multitudes will turn back to God during these first years of the tribulation period.  Especially will this be true in Israel, where the remarkable deliverance from Gog (Russia) will have had a traumatic effect on the whole nation even before the period of judgment begins.  Many such believing Israelites will go further, believing in Christ as their Messiah and Savior.  They will soon begin a forthright witness for Him, seeking to lead their countrymen, and indeed the world, to accept Him before it is too late, in the manner of Psalm 2:10-12 and Romans 1:16.  It is probably such as these upon whom the Lord, through the angel, places His seal. 

Revelation 7:4.     And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

     Although there were great numbers of Gentiles who were being saved, God chose to seal Israelites only.  “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come” (Psalm 102:13).  The new temple was under construction (Revelation 11:1).  It was almost time for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled.  “And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression to Jacob, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 59:20).  An adequate cadre of faithful and prepared Israelites must be called for a strategic ministry of witness and leadership.

     But why such emphasis on the number 144,000?  This is the only mention of such a number in the Bible and it obviously is based upon the twelve tribes of Israel, with 12,000 chosen from each tribe.  The number twelve is also that of the apostles chosen by the Lord, and it is their names which are to be inscribed upon the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14).  The names of the twelve tribes of Israel are to be inscribed on its gates (Revelation 21:12), as well as on the gates of the millennial city of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 48:3-35).

     The Lord had promised that in the millennial age His twelve apostles would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).  Even though most of the people in the tribes had been long dispersed, and many today speak of ten of the tribes as the “lost tribes,” God has kept the genealogical records and will be able, in His own good time, to identify all the tribes once again.  Each will have his own geographical boundaries assigned in the millennium (see Ezekiel 48).

     Thus, during the millennium, each tribe will have its own land, and one of the twelve apostles to serve as its judge.  The latter, however, are resurrected and glorified men, whose true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and so can be only partially identified with the earthly tribes.  There will also be need for an actual earthly member of each tribe to serve as its leader, perhaps for communication with its heavenly representative, the assigned apostle.  If there are 12,000 prepared leaders for each tribe, then each could serve in this capacity for one month, twelve per year, throughout the thousand years of the kingdom age.  Although this is only speculative, it could at least suggest a possible reason for God’s preparation of the 144,000 in this way.  There may be other good reasons known only to God at this time.

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