Reading for Tuesday, Nov 20: Revelation 7
Prior to the opening of the seventh seal, John’s vision shifts yet again. We might do well to think of this chapter as the answer to the cryptic question that closed out ch6: “Who can stand?”
Angels are poised to bring destruction, angels who have been given power to harm (v2). But a decree is issued: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads,” (v3). The notion of sealing is God’s way of signifying His people (see, for example, Ezekiel 9:1-6). And so a multitude from the 12 tribes are marked with this seal. And yet, as the scene progresses, the number of the sealed seems to swell, so much so that it cannot be numbered:
“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, 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!” (v9-10).
Some will argue that the 144,000 represents the true number of the faithful, but this is reading too much into the first part of the vision. Also, John’s vision is absolutely majestic in scope; the cosmic reaches of the Kingdom of God know no bounds, at least in this vision John shares with us. The nations (we should hear this as an inclusionary statement regarding those of us who are Gentile Christians) gather before the throne of God, clothed in white robes (indicative of the grace lavished upon them). Palm branches in their hands represents the victory John has been writing about — the victory of “the one who conquers” as we saw in chapters 2&3. But it should be noted that these martyrs / witnesses are not victorious simply through the shedding of their own blood. These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (v14).
And the song of praise that follows is a song of victory and praise to the God of salvation!