Before the onslaught of the “four winds of the earth,” the Lamb “sealed” his “servants” with the “seal of the Living God” – Revelation 7:1-3.
Before the opening of the first four seals and the unleashing of their contents, it is necessary for the “servants of God” to be “sealed.” The forces represented by the “four winds” must be released to inflict “harm,” but not before the saints are prepared to withstand their onslaught. Moreover, the “seal of God” will enable the saints to “stand” on the coming “day of the wrath of the Lamb.”
The vision in chapter 7 consists of four sections. First, the “sealing of God’s servants.” Second, the numbering of the sealed saints. Third, the arrival of the “innumerable multitude.” And fourth, the interpretation of the “multitude.”
Previously, the openings of the fifth and sixth seals posed two questions. First, how long must the martyrs wait for vindication? And second, who can stand before the wrath of the Lamb?
The first question was answered when the fifth seal was broken: Until the full number of martyrs has been gathered. Only then will vengeance befall the “inhabitants of the earth.” At this point in the narrative, the second question remains open.
The “Four Winds”. John saw four angels restraining the “four winds of the earth,” an image alluding to passages from Zechariah and Daniel.
- (Revelation 7:1-3) – “After this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding fast the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow upon the land or upon the sea or upon any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, holding the seal of the Living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels for whom it had been given to injure the land and the sea, saying: Do not injure the land or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”
In his vision, Zechariah saw four chariots pulled by different colored horses. When he asked what they represented, he was told, “they are the four winds of the heavens coming forward after each has presented itself near the Lord of all the earth.” In his vision, Daniel saw the “four winds of the heavens bursting forth on the great sea, and four large beasts ascending out of the sea,” winds that agitated the “sea” and stirred up the “four beasts” that ascended from it – (Daniel 7:1-3, Zechariah 6:1-8).
In Revelation, the “four winds” correspond to the four “riders” that appeared when each of the first “four seals” was broken. Here, the “four winds” will be “granted” authority “to injure the earth and the sea,” but only after God’s “servants” are “sealed.” The Greek verb rendered “Granted” is the same one used previously for the authority “granted” to each of the four “riders” to execute their assigned tasks – (Revelation 6:1-8).
In Revelation, the wording from Zechariah is changed from the “four winds of heaven” to the “four winds of the earth,” which probably reflects the authority of the four “riders… over the fourth part of the earth.”
The Sealing. The “servants of God” were “sealed” before the “four winds” were authorized to blow on the earth. “Servants” translates the Greek term ‘doulos,’ meaning “slave, servant.” The same term was used in the opening sentence of the book, which is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show to His servants [‘doulos’] what things must soon come to pass.” Since the book is addressed to the “seven churches of Asia,” the identity of God’s “servants” is not in doubt.
The placement of the “seal of God” on the foreheads of His “servants” alludes to the passage from Ezekiel that described the “mark” placed on the “foreheads” of the righteous men in Jerusalem who were grieved at the “abominations” that were taking place in the city – (Exodus 12:13-28, Ezekiel 9:3-4).
The “sealing” did not protect the saints from death, as the unveiling of the martyrs “under the altar” by the fifth seal demonstrated. If anything, it empowered them to persevere through the trials and persecutions unleashed by the first four seals, including martyrdom – (Revelation 1:9, 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 13:7-10, 20:4).
Nor did the “seal of the Living God” exempt His “servants” from all harm. The forces represented by the “four winds” were only restrained “UNTIL” the saints received the “seal” in their foreheads. That the “four winds” refer to the malevolent forces unleased by the first four seal openings is confirmed by the instructions issued by the angel.
The “winds” were not to harm “the earth, neither the sea nor the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God.” Yet the breaking of the first four seals did “harm” the earth. The second seal opening caused “peace to be removed from the earth,” and all four “riders” were authorized to inflict harm on the “fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, hunger, death, and by the beasts of the earth.” This places the “sealing of God’s servants” before the breaking of the first four seals.
The “seal of God” was placed on the “foreheads” of His “servants” to designate ownership. It was anticipated earlier in the letter to the church in Philadelphia:
- (Revelation 3:11-12) – “Because you kept my word of endurance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable earth to try the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming quickly! Hold fast that which you have, that no one takes your crown. He that overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and outside shall he in nowise go forth anymore; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name.”
The placement of the “sealing of God’s servants” after the sixth seal suggests the events represented by the four “riders” occurred between the enthronement of the “Lamb” and the “day of the wrath of the Lamb,” the “hour of trial” when no one would be able to “stand,” except, of course, the “sealed” saints.
The “seal of God” identified the men and women who belong to the “Lamb” and prepared them to persevere through the coming tribulation. But in the interim between the enthronement of the “Lamb” and the day of his “wrath,” believers continue to experience death, disease, trials, and persecution.
However, the “seal of God” also protects the church from the full effects of the “four winds.” It marks overcoming believers as “God’s servants” and enables them to endure whatever comes. And while satanic forces may inflict suffering on the saints, including martyrdom, the “Lamb” has set limits on how much harm his enemies can do (e.g., “The oil and the wine you may not harm,” “The fourth part of the earth”).
In the fifth seal, the discovery of the martyrs “underneath the altar” demonstrated that they had “overcome” by persevering in the “testimony of Jesus” despite persecution. That their pleas for vindication were answered with the reassurance that their “number” would be made complete, meant that their deaths were not the end of the story.
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