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Bible Commentary on the
Book of Revelation
By Brian Pepper
King James Version
And after these things
I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth
We may well ask, is it possible to know exactly what the seal might be? Yes, the answer is found in the Holy Scriptures. Isaiah 8:16 says, "Bind up the testimony, seal the law among My disciples." This law is the Ten Commandments known as the Royal law, for they were written by God Himself. The original is in heaven itself as we notice in Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 15:5.
According to Scripture, the words 'sign' and 'seal' are synonymous terms. Romans 4:11 says, "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith…" In this law there must be both a sign and a seal.
To help us discover the seal in God's law it would be well to examine the specifications of a seal. A seal must contain three things, the Name, Office and Territory of the monarch. For instance, the seal of Queen Elizabeth would be Elizabeth II, Queen, Great Britain, etc. As we look in the law of God for His seal we must find these three things. In the first commandment we find only His name, the same in the second and third commandment. However the fourth is different, notice what it says in Exodus 20:10,11, "But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God (His Name): in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, ... for in six days the LORD made (Creator) heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is (Territory), wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
Of all the commandments, it is only the fourth one which has the three characteristics of a seal. Only in this one do you find the Name, Title and the Territory. It is the only one that shows by whose authority the law is given. Ezekiel 20:12, "Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them."
This seal is a sign of sanctification, and it is a sign forever. The seal placed in the forehead by the angel, cannot be read by man; only God and heavenly beings can read it. There are those who would desire to enforce the keeping of one day in seven, their preference would be for Sunday which they claim to be the Lord's day. However no civil law can enforce the true keeping of God's day or any other day, for only those who are living very close to Christ can enter into the blessing and sanctification which God has placed upon it.
God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel goes on to say "And hallow my sabbaths; and shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God" (Ezekiel 20:20). These two verses tell us that God's Sabbaths are to be a SIGN or a SEAL, and that this SEAL is a SIGN of sanctification and is a distinguishing mark which clearly identifies those who serve God.
A Methodist writer, Amos Binney says, "God's blessing and sanctifying the day meant that He separated it from a common to a religious use, to be a perpetual memorial or sign that all who thus observe it would show themselves to be the worshippers of that God who made the world in six days and rested on the seventh."
Satan had done his utmost to deceive people as regards this seal; he has tried to keep the people from seeing the importance of it. He puts it into the mouths of people to say, "Why give such great importance to a mere day? Saturday is just a day; Sunday is just a day." True enough, they are just days; but it is what the day stands for that really counts and it is a day which reveals the true God.
It has been well said, "If men had always kept the seventh day there would never have been an idolater; for the Sabbath is a memorial of the true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Nor an atheist: for the Sabbath, in memorialising creation, gives us a personal God, our Maker and friend. There would never have been an evolutionist; for the Sabbath presents God as the Creator, not blind force or unaided natural law."
It would be true to say that Christ's atonement for mankind would never have been denied, for not only does the Sabbath preserve the truth of Christ as Creator, but also as the Re-Creator. Just as clearly does the fourth commandment reveal the true God, the Bible also makes it plain that a casual, superficial observance of the Sabbath day does not constitute the 'Seal of God.'
It is only as the Holy Spirit writing God's commandments on the surrendered heart, can bring about a complete sanctification. Satan has deceived the world. He has led thousands to spurn and reject the Commandments of God, but despite his efforts the SEAL is still there, for it is in the very foundation of God's heavenly government. 2 Timothy 2:19 says, "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his..." God tells His true followers that His SEAL still remains for it is in the very foundation of God.
In Isaiah 8:16 we are told "Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples." The message tells us that God's broken law must be mended or repaired and placed back in the sacred position God intended it to have in the hearts of His people. So just before the coming of Christ, the broken law will be back in its rightful place. For the law of God is to be sealed among the members of the true church of the last days.
Remember that searching question of verse 17 last chapter? "Who shall be able to stand?" There is one thing that is sure, it will be those who are positive, active, dedicated and obedient Christians, who will be able to stand.
And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea
The angel ascending from the East gives a special command to the four angels who are holding back the destructive forces. It is great encouragement to know that the angels of God are still in control and that God's work must be completed before the angels let go. However there is a word of caution in the book 'Early Writings' by EG White page 58, "… The sealing time is very short, and will soon be over. Now is the time, while the four angels are holding the four winds, to make our calling and election sure."
SAYING, HURT NOT THE EARTH, NEITHER THE SEA, NOR THE TREES, TILL WE HAVE SEALED THE SERVANTS OF OUR GOD IN THEIR FOREHEADS.
Saying, hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees
The world is in an unsettled state for there seems to be unrest, preparation for war itself, political upheaval, economic difficulties, violence and an upsurge in criminal activity. There is no question that the great day of God is coming closer but the command to the angels is still in force, that they hold the four winds until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads.
Till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads
God knows the sincere seeker, He knows the honest hearted follower for they are the ones who are sealed with the SEAL of the LIVING GOD. It is the servants of God who are SEALED; to be a servant means to be completely loyal, that is a true servant in the full sense of the word.
The Holy Scriptures indicate that the character of those who are SEALED must reflect the image of Jesus fully, stand before God without spot or stain, reveal to others God's character of love.
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.
And I heard the number of them which were sealed
The fact that this company known as the 144,000 is numbered, suggests that this company is much smaller in size than the Great Multitude mentioned later on in this chapter. The Great Multitude was so large that it could not be numbered, at least that is by man. The fact that there is a difference in sizes of these two companies is important, as we will notice later on.
And there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand
There are those who take this number as a literal number and there are those who believe it is symbolic. If it is a literal number then it is a very small company indeed. There are very good reasons why it could be a symbolic number and it is worth taking notice of them. Firstly in the Book of Revelation, numbers do have a symbolic meaning. For instance, the number 12 represents the Church, it is God's Kingdom number. Israel was made up of Twelve Tribes and in the New Testament there are Twelve Apostles. The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, also represents the Church and there are twelve gates at the entrance to the city with twelve angels standing at each gate. The city has twelve foundations which bear the names of the twelve Apostles. 144,000 is the square of 12 multiplied by 1,000. Another thing that is rather strange is that each tribe is exactly 12,000 in number. The twelve fold repetition of the number 12,000 suggests that the purpose of this passage is to show the distribution of the sealed people among the tribes of spiritual Israel rather than to give the exact number.
Another point to consider is that the Loud Cry or Second Pentecost climaxes at the time this number is made up, and thousands will pour into God's Remnant Church from all over the earth. In Revelation chapter 18 verse 4, we are told that there are large numbers of God's people still in Babylon who must come out. It will be these who will respond to the final call and will swell the numbers of the saved. It does not pay to be dogmatic in these things where there is insufficient information but there is evidence that this number could be a symbolic one.
Of all the tribes of the children of Israel
Twelve thousand from all the tribes of Israel. There are those who believe that the 144,000 is made up of Jews, that this company is Jewish. It is very important that ISRAEL is a character name, that it means Overcomer, and how often overcoming is stressed in Revelation. To be an Israelite is to be an overcomer.
The Three Angels messages of Revelation 14, as it circles the globe, have a special message to the inhabitants of the earth. Verse 6 says, "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation and kindred and tongue and people". As those who hear this message respond to it, they become spiritual Israel, though they belong to every nation.
The apostle Paul in Romans 9:6 latter half says, "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel". In verse 7 first half, "Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children…" In verse 8, "That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." It is all who are in Christ that make up God's Israel, regardless of nationality.
The Apostle Paul explains how this comes about in Romans 11:17-24. In this passage he uses the illustration of grafting new stock into the old olive tree. He says that some of the branches (that is the natural descendants of Abraham, the Jews) were broken off because of unbelief in Christ. But through faith in Christ, the wild olive (that is, the Gentiles) are grafted into the old Olive tree. It is in this way that the Twelve Tribes are perpetuated. Such statements of St Paul as these make it very clear. Romans 9:6 last half says, " For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Romans 2:28 says, "For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly". Verse 29 says, "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly". Paul amplifies this in Galatians 3:26-29, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Regardless of nationality, when a person accepts Christ as his or her personal Saviour, they become spiritual Israel. That is why James, in his epistle to the Christian believers, writes as he does in James 1:1,2. "James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." James is addressing Christians, some are converts from Paganism, others are Jews, and yet they are all included in the twelve tribes. Our Lord Jesus sums it up nicely by saying in John 8:39 last half, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham."
It is character that makes a person an Israelite, the same kind of character as Abraham. Unfortunately a large number of the literal descendants of Abraham failed to develop a character which would have fitted them for a place in God's Kingdom. One thing is very certain, that it is character and character alone which will determine whether a person is sealed or not.
The 144,000 is divided up into twelve divisions bearing the name of Jacob's twelve sons, and these names are character names, and the father of these sons has described for us the character of each one. As we examine each one, we will be able to fit ourselves into the character described which is most like our own, thus we will be able to determine under which gate we will enter into the New Jerusalem.
OF THE TRIBE OF JUDA WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND, OF THE TRIBE OF REUBEN WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND, OF THE TRIBE OF GAD WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND.
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand
Juda is named first and there is a special reason for this. In order to find out the reason why Juda is placed first we have to turn to Genesis 49:8-10. "Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."
Judah is placed first on the list in honour of Christ who came from this tribe, for Shiloh is none other than Christ Himself who is the true LION of the tribe of Judah. The LION, the King of the forest, is a very fitting symbol of this tribe, for from this tribe there came Israel's greatest king, David and the son of David, SHILOH. The name Judah means "the praised one". The record says that Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, "prevailed above his brethren," and thus he inherited the spiritual birthright. Judah was a real overcomer, for in his early life he was wild and reckless, but as he grew older he acquired such personal strength of character that he is the first of the tribes entering the Kingdom. The record states that Judah "prevailed above his brethren..." How did he prevail above his brethren and thus inherit the spiritual birthright? There is no record that he did it by force of arms and yet he stands out as the leader.
Judah won the respect of his brethren in the day by day contact of home life. It was a confidence not born in a moment but one which was established over a period of years. And so there will be 12,000 of the 144,000 or one twelfth of that number if taken symbolically, who will enter the New Jerusalem under the name of JUDAH. Persons who have in times of perplexity or of great difficulty, been recognised by their brethren as trusted leaders. No other tribe has furnished the world with so many mighty men of God.
At the head of the list, JESUS of Nazareth. Caleb, the man who when others were only able to see unsurmountable difficulties, was able to say "We are well able to overcome it." David, honoured above all other earthly leaders, in being taken as a type of Christ. Daniel, who was prepared to face hungry lions, rather than compromise with principle.
Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand
Reuben should have been the first on the list for he was the first born. Jacob speaking of Reuben, reveals the reason why he lost his position as the first born. Genesis 49:3,4 says, "Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: Unstable as water, thou shalt not excell; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defilest thou it: he went up to my couch."
It was because of weakness of character that he lost the privilege of the first born. Like his uncle Esau, he lightly esteemed the birthright. He committed a sin that caused him to lose forever the spiritual and temporal rights of the first born, he committed adultery with his father's wife. Reuben was "as unstable as water," he was unreliable and even his father had little confidence in his word. Rather unfortunately the unstable nature of Reuben seems to have been transmitted to his descendants. Right throughout the history of this tribe there is a record of this very thing. But here is a very strange thing, although Reuben and his descendants failed, strangely enough, Reuben will be immortalised. For right throughout eternity, the countless millions of the redeemed will read the name of Reuben on one of the pearly gates of the New Jerusalem.
You might say, "How is it possible to honour one who apparently made a failure of his life?" This is one of the great mysteries of the Gospel. When the character of Christ is manifested in the lives of those who accept the Gospel message, there is such a pronounced change in their lives that they are now fitted for a place in God's Kingdom. There are multitudes of men and women in the world today with characters like Reuben. They are "unstable as water", with no power in themselves to do any good thing. But when they realise their weakness and turn to God for help, He comes to their rescue and changes their lives and characters so they are able to walk into the Holy City under Reuben's gate.
Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand
Gad moves from the 8th place in the original list that was given by Jacob on his death bed to the 3rd tribe to enter the Holy City. There is not much written about Gad. Genesis 49:19 says, "Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last." Gad can be taken as a type of the backslider who is overcome by a flood of temptations but realising his danger, prays for divine strength and overcomes in the end. The secret of the Gadite's victories over their enemies is given in 1 Chronicles 5:20 "They cried to God in the battle, and He was entreated of them; because they put their trust in Him." It is very easy to see why this tribe were moved up the list to a position near the top. We ought to ask ourselves the question, are we like Gad putting our trust where it ought to be?
OF THE TRIBE OF ASER WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND. OF THE TRIBE OF NEPTHALIM WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND. OF THE TRIBE OF MANASSES WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND.
Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand
Genesis 49:20 says, "Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties." Asher or Aser was to be prosperous. No matter what hand to, he is bound to prosper. You have met them for there are some Christians who as far as prosperity goes just cannot go wrong. But their prosperity is the hardest test of all. When Moses pronounced his parting blessing upon the tribes of Israel he said, "Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil" (Deut 33:24). Some people have the happy faculty of always getting out of difficulties as if everything was oiled. Asher would yield royal dainties. God knows that His people need plenty of encouragement so He gives us the Ashers' who by speaking kind words warm the hearts of the people. What a blessing to the Church is the Asers' or Ashers', there should be more of them.
Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand
Now we come to Naphtali, this is the name given in the Old Testament. The change of names comes about because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament is in Greek. Genesis 49:21 says, "Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words." Naphtali sees a thousand places where he can speak good words and is always ready to give a helping hand. A hind, or female deer, is a timid animal, ready to flee at the first approach of danger. No one would attempt to place a burden on a deer, so Naphtali is not burdened down with heavy responsibility and is able to give of his time helping others.
Naphtali has a precious gift that everyone may covet, "He giveth goodly words." He encourages the downcast and the discouraged, and by his kind words brings fresh hope and courage. However because he speaks "goodly words" does not mean that he does not have depth of character for we are told in Judges 5:18 "Zebulin and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field." They were determined to conquer or die, for the cause of God was more precious to them than life itself. Thank God for the Naphtalis', they can be found in every church. The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we like this tribe? I wish we were, but God has seen fit to have all types and characters make up His church.
Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand
Manasses or Manasseh replaces the tribe of Dan. Manasseh was not a son of Jacob but a son of Joseph and was Jacob's grandson. Before we notice how Manasseh moves into the honoured list, we will find out why Dan is excluded. Genesis 49:16,17 says, "Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward." Putting this in simple and every day English, he was a cruel critic, a backbiter and the gift that should have been a blessing became a curse, causing others to stumble and to fall. The cruel critic, the one who always detects the evil in others first and is first to speak about it. The gift of judgment which God intended should be a help to His people has been misdirected. It is a solemn thing to consider that those who continue in this sort of thing can never enter the Kingdom of God. The accuser of our brethren was cast out of heaven and so there is no place there for those who follow his example.
Now what about Manasseh, who takes his place? Like his great uncle Esau, Manasseh, although he was the first born, received the second place in the blessing. However unlike Esau who was careless about the blessing and did not place much value on it, Manasseh esteemed the blessing and was proud of it. The blessing of the LORD was greatly prized by Manasseh and by his descendants. They took a qreat interest in the reforms that were instituted by the good kings of Judah. When King Asa broke down the idols and renewed the worship of the LORD, we are told that they came to him "in abundance" from Manasseh, "when they saw that the LORD his God was with him" (2 Chronicles 15:9). Again when King Hezekiah held his great Passover feast, representatives from Manasseh humbled their hearts and came and partook of the Passover. Again they did the same in the days of Josiah. I believe that because of Manasseh's ready response to reform, the LORD has seen fit to immortalise Manasseh.
OF THE TRIBE OF SIMEON WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND. OF THE TRIBE OF LEVI WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND. OF THE TRIBE OF ISSACHAR WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND.
Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.
Simeon was a very cruel man and was the most guilty in the selling of his brother Joseph. If you are cruel and revengeful by nature then you can clearly place yourself in the tribe of Simeon. He was a man of strong passions, and his life and that of the tribe which bears his name, contain some of the darkest stains in the history of ancient Israel.
The crowning sin in Simeon's life was the murder of the men of Shechem. Levi, his brother, was connected with Simeon in this wicked work but Simeon seems to have been the leading spirit for his name is mentioned first. Jacob in his parting blessing said, "l will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel." Both tribes were divided and scattered, but how differently! The Levites held positions of honour and were scattered over the country as religious educators and priests. While Simeon through corrupting elements in the tribe itself, was reduced in numbers and finally lost their inheritance. In the twenty fifth chapter of Numbers we find that the chief men of Simeon were the leaders in the great apostasy and they became the prey to the harlots of Midian.
This certainly raises a question in our minds how it can be that a man who was famous for murder and sin should have his name inscribed on one of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. And that one 12th of the 144,000 will enter the city of God bearing the name of that man. The fact that one has committed sin will never exclude him from the kingdom of God. It is unconfessed sin which debars anyone from receiving eternal life. Jesus is the only one born of woman who is sinless. He alone of all the family of Adam will throughout eternity have an uncovered life record. But our life record, marred by sin, will be covered by Christ's righteousness. The blood of Christ can cleanse from sin of the deepest dye and even murderers can enter heaven, not as murderers, but as pardoned sinners.
So gathered out of the sin and wickedness of the last generation, there will be twelve thousand redeemed ones, who through the virtue of the blood of Christ, will be grafted into the tribe of Simeon, and right throughout eternity will represent that tribe in God's Kingdom.
Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand
Levi was a partner to Simeon in their cruelty to the Shechemites. Genesis 49:5 says, "Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations." They were brothers not only in flesh but in their thoughts and actions. Jacob goes on to describe them in the next two verses. Verse 6 says, "0 my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall." Verse 7 says, "Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel."
Levi received no inheritance of the land of Canaan, because of Levi's participation in the massacre, but was scattered among the other tribes. Later on we have a very good illustration of how a curse can be fulfilled and yet result in a blessing to all concerned, for this is what happened to Levi. Character is formed by the way that individuals meet the common events of every day life. But it is tested by the way they meet the crisis of life.
At Mt Sinai the people of God passed through one of the greatest crises in the history of the church, when the whole multitude of Israel worshipped the golden calf. It was at this time when even God Himself was ready to destroy Israel that the tribe of Levi came forward and by their faithfulness helped to save the cause of God. Exodus 32:26 says, "Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S side? let him come unto me. And all of Levi gathered themselves together unto him." Verse 27 says, "And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour." Verse 28 first half says, "And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses …"
At the time of this crisis the honour of God was dearer to the Levites than all worldly connections, neither brother, companions or friends stood between them and their duty to God. As a reward for their faithfulness, the priesthood, a portion of the birthright, was given to the sons of Levi. What Reuben lost by unfaithfulness in his father's house, Levi gained by being true to God before all Israel.
Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand
There is something very interesting about Issachar. Genesis 49:14,15 says, "Issachar is a strong ass couchinq between two burdens: And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute."
Are we like that, ready to bear the burdens, even double burdens? The cause of God would never advance if it were not for these loyal burden bearers. They never let you down, but put their shoulders to the task and carry the responsibility of God's church.
There are many who lose the blessing by murmuring and complaining when they are required to carry double burdens, but Issachar was sustained by the thought of the pleasant land in store and that one day he would be able to lay down his heavy burdens. There are Issachars in every church and what a blessing they are for they are the salt of the earth. As the redeemed read the name of Issachar on one of those twelve gates, it will be a constant reminder of these faithful and loyal burden bearers, the backbone of Gad's church.
OF THE TRIBE OF ZABULON WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND. OF THE TRIBE OF JOSEPH WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND. OF THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN WERE SEALED TWELVE THOUSAND.
Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand
In Genesis 49:13 we read, "Zebulon shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon." Zebulon is the counsellor, the one who speaks words of wisdom at the right time. He is likened to a haven of ships, there is safety in his counsel. When the church faces a crisis he is the one to steer it through the turbulent waters. You can always depend on him for his nature does not change. With all the buffeting that comes in the Christian experience, Zebulon remains firm and unshaken.
Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand
We now have two remaining tribes. In the most expressive words and figures the patriarch Jacob pronounces unlimited blessings on Joseph. Genesis 49:22-24 says, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel".
Joseph receives the greatest blessing of all. Jacob uses the illustration of the archers, "The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him". This is a reference to the persecution Joseph suffered as well as his years of slavery and imprisonment. However in all his trials and persecution Joseph stood firm, for his hands were strengthened by the One who is the Shepherd and Stone of Israel.
The Josephs are rare, they are the jewels of the church, the precious ones of God. During Joseph's long life of 110 years we have no record of his ever proving untrue to God in any way. He died with a firm faith in the promise made to Abraham, lsaac and Jacob. The Josephs' are a sanctified people, they walk very close to God.
Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand
And now we come to the final tribe. Genesis 49:27 says, "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil." Benjamin was aggressive, he is mentioned as the hunter. The warlike character described by Jacob was seen in the tribe that carried his name. The Benjaminites were distinguished archers and slingers. It is interesting to notice that St Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:1 says, "For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin."
The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we aggressive for God? If so, then it is certain that we belong to the tribe of Benjamin. However not only was Benjamin aggressive but he was also unselfish, "he shall divide the spoil". The same fearless character that Jacob compared to a wolf, destroying everything before it, is changed by the converting power of the Spirit of God, and the strength once used to destroy is now used in building up the work.
God is going to work a miracle, for He is going to transform all these characters in the refining process of trial and persecution. Before any of the 144,000 can enter into those pearly gates they must pass through the Time of Trouble spoken of by the prophet Daniel. At this time they will be tried and tested and their characters will be perfected, for it is said of them in Revelation 14:5, last part, "...For they are without fault before the throne of God." Not through their own merits but through the sanctifying power of God.
Jude 24 says, "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." Christ will put the finishing touches on their characters so they are able to stand before God without stain or spot.
AFTER THIS I BEHELD, AND, LO, A GREAT MULTITUDE, WHICH NO MAN COULD NUMBER, OF ALL NATIONS, AND KINDREDS, AND PEOPLE, AND TONGUES, STOOD BEFORE THE THRONE, AND BEFORE THE LAMB, CLOTHED WITH WHITE ROBES, AND PALMS IN THEIR HANDS;
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number
Firstly John directs our attention to the 144,000 who are sealed by God in the closing hours of earth's history. They are a very special company and are represented by a number, which indicates that they are limited in size. Now John sees another company much larger, for there are so many that man is not able to number them.
Of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues
Like the 144,000, the Great Multitude are redeemed from this earth and John sees them standing in the throne room of God. We will notice later that the 144,000 are God's people who will be living in the last hours of time and will not see death for they will be translated. The Great Multitude are those who have fallen asleep in Jesus from the time of Adam right down to the last person to die before the LORD comes.
In the book 'Great Controversy' by EG White there is an excellent statement found on page 644, "Amid the reeling of the earth, the flash of lightning, and the roar of thunder, the voice of the Son of God calls forth the sleeping saints ... Throughout the length and the breadth of the earth, the dead shall hear that voice; and they that hear shall live. And the whole earth shall ring with the tread of the exceeding great army of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. From the prison house of death they come, clothed with immortal glory, crying, "0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory?" And the living righteous and the risen saints unite their voices in a long, glad shout of victory."
Stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands
Over and over again the emphasis is on white robes, it is utterly imperative that those who are to attain the Kingdom must be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Palms in their hands is a symbol of victory because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, thus they are able to stand victorious before the throne.
AND CRIED WITH A LOUD VOICE, SAYING, SALVATION TO OUR GOD WHICH SITTETH UPON THE THRONE, AND UNTO THE LAMB.
Salvation to our God
The R.S.V. renders it more accurately as "Salvation belongs to our God." The great concourse of the Redeemed burst forth in vocal acclamation of GOD and the LAMB. 'Ministry of Healing' by EG White page 506 says, "The conflict is over, all tribulation and strife are at an end. Songs of victory fill all heaven, as the redeemed stand around the throne of God. All take up the joyful strain, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain' and hath redeemed us to God."
AND ALL THE ANGELS STOOD AROUND ABOUT THE THRONE, AND ABOUT THE ELDERS AND THE FOUR BEASTS, AND FELL BEFORE THE THRONE ON THEIR FACES, AND WORSHIPPED GOD,
What a dramatic and awesome scene! Combining with the great praise service of the Redeemed, the heavenly beings now unite their voices in the great chorus. All heaven is touched as the Redeemed testify of their experiences.
SAYING, AMEN: BLESSING, AND GLORY, AND WISDOM, AND THANKSGIVING, AND HONOUR, AND P0WER, AND MIGHT, BE UNTO OUR GOD FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN.
This is a sevenfold doxology. As the hosts of heaven listen to the testimony of the Redeemed, they are reminded that God is wise and righteous. Satan maligned God's character but now all heaven can see that GOD is just and good and so all join in praising God.
AND ONE OF THE ELDERS ANSWERED, SAYING UNTO ME, WHAT ARE THESE WHICH ARE ARRAYED IN WHITE ROBES? AND WHENCE CAME THEY?
The elder puts into words the question that was doubtless in John's mind. "Who are these?" Some are of the opinion that John is referring to the 144,000, others believe the reference is to the great multitude. It seems more likely that both the 144,000 and the Great Multitude are included for they represent all the Redeemed of all ages.
AND I SAID UNTO HIM, SIR, THOU KNOWEST. AND HE SAID TO ME, THESE ARE THEY WHICH CAME OUT OF GREAT TRIBULATION, AND HAVE WASHED THEIR ROBES, AND MADE THEM WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest
John did know who they were and where they came from, for he has already told us. In verse 9 we are told that they are people, redeemed out of all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues. John would not know all there was to know about either company as later he gives us more information regarding the 144,000 and adds additional points about the Great Multitude. Possibly this question was asked of John and answered by the elder more for our benefit than for John.
And he said to me, these are they which came out of great tribulation
This applies to all the Redeemed, whether of all ages, or of the final hours of earth's history. The 144,000 pass through the great time of trouble such as has never been before (Daniel 12:1). They will experience the mental anguish of the time of Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:4-7). They will have to stand without a Mediator through the terrible scenes of the Seven Last Plagues. They will pass through the most severe time of trouble the world has ever known and will finally triumph and be delivered. The Great Multitude also have gone through terrible persecution, many have suffered torture and been subjected to terrible indignities. They too will ultimately triumph and stand victorious before the throne of God.
And have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb
The elder tells us how their robes have been made pure. They have successfully fought the battle against sin, for righteousness is the victory. Christ was victorious on Calvary, and by accepting Christ, God's people are assured of victory also. Both righteousness and victory are symbolised by the white garments.
THEREFORE ARE THEY BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD, AND SERVE HIM DAY AND NIGHT IN HIS TEMPLE: AND HE THAT SITTETH ON THE THRONE SHALL DWELL AMONG THEM.
Therefore are they before the throne of God
If their robes were not white they would not be able to stand before God. It is the righteous and victorious state of this blessed company that enables them to stand continually in God's presence.
And serve him day and night in His temple
Night usually brings an intermission to most human activities. Men mostly work by day and rest by night, but the Scripture tells us that "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalms 121:4). There is continual activity in heaven.
And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them
The elder looks forward to the endless ages of eternity, when God will dwell continually with His people. Before we leave this scene it is worth noting that later on in chapter 21, John gives us more information regarding God dwelling with His people.
THEY SHALL HUNGER NO MORE, NEITHER THIRST ANY MORE; NEITHER SHALL THE SUN LIGHT ON THEM, NOR ANY HEAT.
They have known hunger and they have experienced thirst, even though the promise has been given that God's people would have bread and water during the plagues. They would have had discomfort when the sun scorched men with fire even though that plague was for the wicked. However the assurance is given that never again will they know what it is to be hungry, never again will they suffer discomfort from the heat of the sun.
FOR THE LAMB WHICH IS IN THE MIDST OF THE THRONE SHALL FEED THEM, AND SHALL LEAD THEM UNTO LIVING FOUNTAINS OF WATERS: AND GOD SHALL WIPE AWAY ALL TEARS FROM THEIR EYES.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them
The Lamb shall feed them, in that case, they will have an abundance of good things. There will never be a time when their food will be in short supply. Isaiah 40:10 says, "Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him." Verse 11 first half says, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd".
And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters
Just as Jesus is the Living Bread which came down from heaven, so He is the Living Water. The Redeemed are assured that never again will they need be anxious regarding their personal needs.
Before the rebellion in heaven, Lucifer was a covering cherub, standing in the presence of God. In his fall he took with him a multitude of angels. The place once occupied by Satan and his angels, will be filled by the 144,000 when at last they gather about the throne, where they serve Him day and night in His temple. This is their reward for the hunger and thirst they have endured while on earth. They are the close companions of the Saviour and He leads them to the fountains of Living waters.
"Jesus is waiting with longing desire to open before his people the glory that will attend his second advent, and to carry them forward to a contemplation of the landscapes of bliss. There are wonders to be revealed. A long lifetime of prayer and research will leave much unexplored and unexplained. The work of instruction begun here will be carried on to all eternity. The Lamb, as he leads the hosts of the redeemed to the fountain of living waters, will impart rich stores of knowledge; he will unravel mysteries in the works and providences of God that have never before been understood." 'Testimonies to the Church' by EG White, page 301, Vol 5.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
In that wonderful day the tears will be wiped away by the joys of heaven and eternity. The King of glory has wiped the tears from all faces and every cause of grief has been removed. Christ Himself has shed many tears on behalf of humanity. The angels have wept at the scenes they have beheld. But now all is joy and peace. This chapter closes with the marvellous assurance of eternal happiness. How we long for this day to dawn and all the hopes and longings of God's people to be fulfilled.