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Grace in a Time of Calamity

May 7th, 2015

For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 7:17

I am a pastor and the spiritual benefit of this passage to our souls is significant. When there is hardship and heartache on this earth, what is happening in heaven? Is there another place in God’s creation where there is peace and praise and glory? Yes, there is, and this passage serves as an interlude to encourage us. The opening of the seals reveals the hardships that will be experienced on earth during the Great Tribulation, and chapter seven serves as a reminder of the grace of God that not only sustains us here but that comforts us in heaven when this life is ended.

I believe it is important that we grasp this truth, because we are tempted to think otherwise. We are tempted to imagine the little peace we have here can be increased after death, and all such thoughts lead ultimately to doubts about heaven and about even the possibility of a peaceful existence in an ideal setting. But God reverses this process and proclaims to us the truth of heaven, that heaven is devoid of sin and of unrighteousness and is the realm of God, of holiness, and of perfect peace, security, and comfort. And, there is a wondrous perspective of life on earth and of God’s purpose and plans that we gain in heaven, and from this eternal reality we call heaven comes into our lives today, by His Spirit, the peace of God.

We have peace today not because we work ourselves up to it, not because we seek to calm the mind or withdraw from conflict or to meditate on peaceful and quiet thoughts. We in Christ have the divine peace of the eternal God from the eternal heaven who places His peace in our hearts. Christ said, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:27). Our peace is not merely the absence of troubling thoughts – that is the only peace the world can offer – but it is the divine work of God in our spirits and souls; it is the light and peace of heaven shining down upon this earth, the light and peace of God’s future kingdom shining backwards in time into our hearts today.

An Explanation of Chapter Seven:

The events are an interlude between the seven seals and the seven trumpets. When the seventh seal is broken (8:1) the seven trumpet judgments begin. The first six of the seven seals show the rise of the Antichrist and the result of his rise in the world, warfare, famine, death, persecution of Christians, and the revulsion of his works by creation itself.

A Postponed Judgment, 7:1-4: Chapter seven begins with four angels restraining the wind, so as not to destroy the earth (7:1). Then another angel cries out for them not to destroy the earth “till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3). So the earth is not destroyed so early in the Great Tribulation, but there is a spiritual truth in these words that is often revealed in Scripture. The angels who are always zealous for the name, reputation, glory, and purpose of God, are understandably impatient with human unbelief. More than once they have been ready to destroy the spiritual rebellion among us, but God in His love and patience stays the hand of judgment for the sake of the elect, that some will be saved (Gen. 19:1; 2 Sam 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35; Psalm 35:5-6; Acts 12:23). We read this in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise … but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

A Protected Remnant, 7:5-8: The sealing of the 144,000 is a point of debate among Bible students. Some see this as symbolic for the church, for all of the redeemed through all of the ages. The number twelve symbolizes completeness. God chose twelves tribes of Israel from the sons of Jacob, and Christ chose twelve apostles, depicting completeness. I see this differently, however, as depicting the nation of Israel in the future. One of the main differences between the 144,000 and the vast multitude (7:9) is that the 144,000 are Jewish and earthbound, and the vast multitude are in heaven.

The sealing here does not describe the sealing of the Spirit at salvation (Eph. 1:13), because that is not done by angels but by the Spirit of God. Rather the sealing spoken of here (7:3) is about the preservation of life and is done as an act of protection against evil in the fifth trumpet judgment (9:4). The 144,000 described here are symbolic of Jews in the future turning to faith in Christ. The list of the tribes is interesting because Dan and Ephraim are excluded, presumably because of unbelief and idolatry, so this emphasizes spirituality and not the land rights. This would echo what is proclaimed elsewhere – a great turning to Christ among the Jewish people at the end times (Zechariah 12:10 and Rom 11:25-26).

A Proclaiming Population, 7:9-17: A multitude that no one can number is described here, of every tribe nation, people, and tongue. The task of the church is to proclaim the gospel to the nations and “then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). The question is, of course, is this all of the believers, or only some of the believers? Some who hold to a mid-tribulation rapture see this assembly as indicating the rapture of the church, half way through the Great Tribulation. I see it differently, however, that this represents those who have become Christians during the Great Tribulation but have died in the process, whether through hardship and pestilence or martyrdom. Though the martyrs are singled out earlier in 6:9, there is nothing to exclude them also from this multitude.

The joy of their proclamation and the celebration of their salvation is wonderful. They praise God not because they must but because they desire to do so. “White clothes” (7:9 and 7:14) indicate their forgiveness through Christ. They serve God day and night happily and joyously. This is what heaven is like, to have a purpose to live for and that purpose is the service of God for all eternity.

In this world we get tired and weary. Our bodies become exhausted, and our patience sometimes runs out. But in the world to come the joy of the Lord shall be our eternal strength and we will find endless enthusiasm and motivation for service. The “living fountains of waters” (7:17) indicate constant refreshment and spiritual strength.

An Application of Chapter Seven:

For us today we need to learn to lean upon the power of the Spirit in our service. Whenever we serve in our own strength we will become tired – emotionally and physically tired. Certainly our bodies as well as our minds need rest, but the service of Christ is also to be done in the Spirit. We are to be “fervent in spirit” meaning alive in the Spirit of God, strengthened by Him in our innermost person. Moses prayed to God in a former dispensation, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15), realizing his and the people’s inadequacies to be God’s people. So Christ has promised us His presence, not just around us but also within us.

Living in His Spirit protect us from worry and fatigue, and fills us with joy and purpose. We serve not only longer but better and more effectively when we let Him fill us with His Spirit.

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