The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
1. The judgment of the seven seals, 6:1-8:5
iv] Interlude, 7:1-17
The day of judgment, the Great Day of the Lord, is fully underway with the opening of the sixth seal, but before it hits in full force John sees four angels prepare to seal "the servants of our God", to set them apart from the judgment now reigning down upon the earth. The number of those sealed is "144,000 from all the tribes of Israel."
The kingdom is come, the Great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment, is upon us, but through it all God's servants will be preserved.
i] Context: See 6:1-8. We now come to the first of the interludes that sit within the seven judgments. This first interlude presents in two parts, The sealing of God's servants, 7:1-8, and The Lamb is the shepherd, 7:9-17. These "illustrative vignettes", Osborne, focus on the church as it struggles with the tribulations involved in the Great Day of the Lord; "they provide information about the situation regarding the saints", Osborne. The opening of the seals reveals God's judgment upon "those who have resisted Christ's lordship and have persecuted those who witnessed to that lordship", Blount, while the interlude focuses on believers caught up in that judgment. The faithful, those who have remained true to Christ in the face of the pressure to conform to the secular city, Babylon, are sealed for Christ. They will come through the terrible Day to join the "great multitude" before the throne of God. In the midst of judgment "we are shown the church, protected by God and the Lamb", Smalley.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8
iii] Structure: The sealing of God's servants:
The vision of the four angels, v1;
The word from the angel of the East, v2-3;
"wait until I have marked the foreheads of the servants of our God."
The number who were sealed, 144,000, v4-8.
John's vision of the Lamb, as he opens the sixth seal, reveals the horror of the Great Day of the Lord; it concludes with a question - "who can withstand it?" John's vision of the four angels reveals the answer: only the "servants of our God", those "sealed on their foreheads", the elect, those set apart and made secure for the Day of judgment. This "redemptive seal", Koester, marks the faithful as belonging to God, as having been purchased by the Lamb (14:1-4), and therefore protected from the divine wrath about to be poured out on the world. Presumably the seal / mark / tattoo bears the names of God and the Lamb (14:1, 22:4), and stands in contrast to the mark of the beast on the forehead of those who belong to the beast (13:16-18). Boring suggests the seal is applied at baptism, but it is more likely the mark of those who endure in faith, those who persevere.
Timing: The interlude presents us with a continuity problem, given that the act of sealing would need to take place before the opening of the sixth seal, in fact, before the opening of all the seals. Osborne calls it "a flashback to the period proceeding the seals." As already noted, the opening of the seals is not sequential, rather each seal describes a different element of a single event, namely, the day of judgment - apocalyptic is anything but linear. So, the sealing of believers does not fit a linear time line. Judgment is not put on hold while the sealing takes place. In time terms, the sealing has already taken place; in fact, from God's perspective, believers were sealed before the creation of the world, cf., Eph.1:4 (Remember! God is greater than Dr. Who).
With the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls, we stand with John in heaven watching the unfolding of the Great Day of the Lord. From the heavenly perspective that day is now. In the interludes, 7:1-17, 10:1-11:14, we find ourselves back with God's people on earth looking out into a world about to be overcome by the day of judgment. From our perspective that day is not yet. It is a minute to midnight, and even now we experience something of the tribulations, but be assured, although singed, our God is able to keep us safe and secure.
See "The continuity problem with respect to timing" in 10:1-11.
The number who were sealed, 144,000: It is interesting to observe the way the different sects have taken this number literally and drawn up their list of those included in the 144,000. One could argue that it is the number of believers, but given 7:9, the "great multitude that no one could count", it is more likely that the number is symbolic. The Jehovah's Witnesses argue that it represents a special group of believers, but again such a conclusion ignores the nature of apocalyptic symbolism. Again we have a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, but missing Dan, replaced by Manasseh, which links to the twelve apostles, with Judas similarly being replaced. The 144,000 in 14:1-5 is made up of Jewish males who are virgins (that rules me out!). As for the number itself, it is made up of 12 times the superlative number 1,000, times 12. So, we are dealing with apocalyptic imagery which is not to be taken literally, imagery which represents the perfect new Israel.
The 144,000 are those who are sealed to withstand the terrible Day of the Lord, the Day of God's wrath; they represent today's end-time church. They will join with the "great multitude that no one could number", v9, that is even now gathered before the throne of the Ancient of Days, a people "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues" - the multitude of sealed believers, past, present and future, now in heaven. See v4.
Text - 7:1
The sealing of God's servants, v1-8: i] The vision of the four angels, v1. "Winds, as the general agents of divine judgment, form a constant Old Testament image", Smalley, cf., Jer.23:19, Ezk.5:12. The angels, as instruments of the divine will, act to restrain this judgment.
meta + acc. "after [this]" - Temporal use of the preposition, although like the use of oJte, "when", in Revelation it presents more in the terms of a change in scene rather than a sequential temporal event. The antecedent of touto, "this", is the opening of the sixth seal.
eJstwtaV (iJsthmi) perf. part. "standing" - [i saw four angels] having taken stand. The participle is best classified as the complement of the accusative object, "four angels", of the verb "I saw", standing in a double accusative construction.
epi + acc. "at" - upon, on. Spacial use of the preposition.
thV ghV gen. "of the earth" - [the four corners] of the earth. The genitive is adjectival, partitive or possessive. The ancients conceived of the earth as a square.
kratountaV (kratew) pres. part. "holding back" - holding, grasping [the four winds of the earth]. The participle is best classified as attendant on "standing", "I saw four angels standing ..... and holding back ....", but it could be viewed as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their standing, as NIV, even possibly adjectival, attributive, "who were holding back ....." The wind blows from heaven / the sky and in the vision the angels are deflecting it from the earth below. "Some writers said that winds from the diagonal points of the compass were the most destructive, bringing heat, drought, cold, snow, locusts and pestilence", Koester. Caird, so also Beale, identifies the four winds with the four horsemen, cf., Zech.6:5. This is a reasonable assumption, but it may not be in John's mind. The image is of the angels holding back divine judgment for the sake of the elect.
iJna mh + subj. "to prevent [any wind from blowing]" - that not = lest [a wind should blow on / upon the earth]. Introducing a negated purpose clause, "in order that not" = "lest", or hypothetical result, "so that no wind might blow."
mhte ..... mhte "or [on the sea] or [on any tree]" - neither [on / upon the sea], nor [on / upon (= against) any tree]. A negated correlative construction, Semitic in form. The preposition epi is used a number of times in this verse. The last usage is followed by an accusative, probably indicating movement, so not "on / upon", "on the land or on the sea", epi + gen., but "against any tree", Barclay.
ii] A word from the angel of the East, v2-3. We have again a typical apocalyptic vision introduced by kai eidon, "and I saw", followed by what is seen, in this case an angel rising from the east, who "called out with a loud voice", and instructs the four angels to seal "the servants of our God", to mark, to set them apart as belonging to God and therefore spared from the impending judgment.
anabainonta (anabainw) pres. part. "coming up" - [and i saw another angel] coming up. The participle serves as the complement of the accusative object "angel", of the verb "I saw", standing in a double accusative construction.
apo + gen. "from" - Expressing source / origin.
hJliou (oV) gen. "the east" - [sunrise] of sun. The genitive is probably verbal, subjective, so Aune; "from the rising of the sun." John may be suggesting that divine blessing comes from the East, so Smalley, but disasters have also come from the East, 9:14, 16:12, so Aune. Mounce may be right by suggesting that it is nothing more than a picturesque detail.
econta (ecw) pres. part. "having" - The participle is adverbial, best viewed as modal, expressing manner, as NIV; "rise up .... with the seal of the living God", Moffatt, but note how John often handles this participle in 1:16.
qeou (oV) gen. "[the seal] of the [living] God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive. The seal belongs to God and under his authority the angels are to mark believers with it, such that they are protected from the tribulations about to befall the earth. Note Ezekiel 9 where the mark is applied to the remnant of Israel to protect them from the four judgments about to be inflicted by the Babylonians. Note also 14:1-4 where the seal amounts to an inscription of the name of the Lamb and the Father.
zwntoV (zaw) gen. pres. part. "living" - The participle is adjectival, attributive, "the seal that belongs to the God who lives." A common characteristic ascribed to God in the OT.
fwnh/ (h) dat. "in a [loud] voice" - [and he called out] in a loud voice. The dative is adverbial, expressing manner, as NIV. In apocalyptic literature an angel will usually addresses the prophet, but here he/she addresses other angels. "He shouted with a loud voice", Berkeley; "with" as in the manner of, but possibly "with" as in means, "by means of."
toiV .... aggeloiV (oV) dat. "to the [four] angels" - Dative of indirect object.
oi|V dat. pro. "who [had been given]" - to whom [it was given to them]. Dative of indirect object of the verb "it was given", so also the resumptive pronoun autoiV, "to them", serving as a roundabout way of emphasizing the antecedent, "the four angels"; "to whom, that is to them, the four angels, authority / power was given to harm the earth and the sea."
adikhsai (adikew) aor. inf. "to harm" - to harm, despoil (act in a harmful way) [the land and the sea]. The subject of the verb "was given" is assumed to be "the right / authority / power", in which case the infinitive is epexegetic, specifying "the right / ....", with the infinitival construction then serving as the subject; "the right to harm the land and the sea was given to them."
legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying [do not harm the earth]. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, expressing action accompanying the verb "he called out"; "he called out ...... and said ..." "Do not let the winds harm the earth, ....." See legwn 1:17 for John's use of this participle.
mh adikhshte (adikew) aor. sub.. "do not harm" - Subjunctive of prohibition.
mhte ..... mhte "or [on the sea] or [on the trees]" - neither [the sea,] nor [the trees]. A negated correlative construction.
acri + subj. "until [we put a seal]" - until [we seal the slaves of the god of us]. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause referring to a future time in relation to the main verb. A more conventional form would be eJwV an + subj. "Until we seal" reflects the Greek but the NIV has developed the sense with "put a seal", although the TEV expresses the sense better with "until we mark the servants of our God with a seal." Even so, most people would have little idea of a seal ring being used to put a wax seal on something, so the CEV is on the right track when it drops the word "seal" altogether, "wait until I have marked the foreheads of the servants of our God." The presence of a seal on something marks "authentication and ownership", Smalley. Note Isaiah 42:6-7 where sealing with the divine name identifies membership in God's covenant community, and authorizes the members to serve as a light to the Gentiles, ie., to witness, so Aune and Sweet.
epi + gen. "on [the foreheads]" - upon [the foreheads of them]. Spacial use of the preposition.
hJmwn gen. pro. "[the servants of] our [God]" - [the slaves of the god] of us. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / subordination; "slaves / servants of the God over us." Those servants of God, the saints, those who have persevered (conquered) with their faith intact, are marked out as the true followers of Christ. John is probably using the word doulouV, "slaves, servants", for the saints because slaves in the ancient world were often branded or tattooed to identify possession. In similar fashion, believers are marked to identify that they are God's possession, God's special people, the apple of his eye, and thus are protected when he executes judgment, cf., 14:1, 22:3-4.
iii] The number who were sealed - 144,000, v4-8. John now identifies those who are marked / sealed. It is traditionally held that this number represents the new Israel, those marked ek, "come from" (partitive), the twelve tribes of Israel (note the one tribe missing, and that by the first century there are no longer twelve tribes, ie., John is using apocalyptic symbolism for the elect / the faithful remnant). As noted above, the number is also symbolic, 12 by 12 a perfect number, and 1,000, a number "beyond all reckoning", Boring. There is a difference between the 144,000 and the "great multitude that no one could count", v9. The 144,000 are on earth and the "great multitude" is in heaven. The 144,000 are protected from the judgment about to fall on the earth, although they will, and are, experiencing tribulation, whereas the "great multitude" is already in their gleaming robes as they stand before the throne of the Ancient of Days. The one ultimately represents the other, but in time-space terms they stand apart.
kai "-" - and. Again John uses kai instead of de to indicate a step in the narrative.
twn esfragismenwn (sfragizw) gen. perf. mid./pas. part. "of those who were sealed" - [i heard the number] of the ones having been sealed [to be a hundred forty four thousand]. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive.
ek + gen. "from [all the tribes]" - from [every tribe] - Here likely serving as a partitive genitive, so Aune; "drawn from."
uiJwn (oV) gen. "-" - of sons. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / material, limiting "tribes"; "every tribe consisting of / made up of the sons of Israel." The genitive "Israel" is adjectival, relational.
Note that the tribe of Dan is missing. John includes Joseph (Israel's son), and one of his grandsons, Manasseh (but not Ephraim), who serves to replace Dan. Dan is associated with idolatry, but he probably serves to align with Judas; see above.
ek + gen. "from" - from. Here likely to serve in the place of a partitive genitive, so Aune; "drawn from."
Iouda gen. proper. "of Judah" - [the tribe] of judah. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic, limiting "tribe"; "the tribe which is descended from Judah."
esfragismenoi (sfragizw) perf. mid./pas. part. "were sealed" - [twelve thousand] having been sealed. Technically the participle serves in a periphrastic construction which is missing the verb to-be, although often classified as a participle serving as a finite verb (quite common in the Revelation); "twelve thousand were sealed (marked on the forehead) from the tribe of Judah", Phillips.