Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is Revelation 7:2-17. We will especially be focusing on the first half of the reading.
1. In the second half of the reading from Revelation 7, we see a beautiful picture of the “Church Triumphant.” That is to say, we see a beautiful picture of the saints in heaven—men and women who have died in the faith and are pictured standing in their glorified state before the throne of God. It’s a beautiful picture to envision this “great multitude that no one could number . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .” (Revelation 7:9). It’s a comforting picture on this day when we celebrate All Saints’ Day as we think about the saints who have gone before us and have died in the faith—they are standing in that number praising the Lord. And our Christian confidence is that someday we will join them. Some day we will enter that glorified state and stand before the throne of God along with them. But before we reach that eternal goal, we have this little thing called life to try to faithfully navigate.
2. Life can be such a challenge. It throws so many different things at us that it can be difficult to know how to faithfully navigate through it all. In these kinds of moments where we’re not quite sure what to do, in these moments where we feel conflicted or confused, the devil, the world, and our sinful nature seize the opportunity to tempt us. They tempt us to take our focus off of what really matters. See, the devil, the world, and our sinful nature are constantly bombarding us with temptations to focus on the concerns of this life rather than the promise of eternal life. Those temptations can and do come in the most tragic moments of life, such as a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or even a major global health crisis. But it’s not only in these “big” moments where the temptation to focus too much on this life comes. That same temptation also comes in “smaller” moments like when someone speaks poorly of us, when we’ve been lied to, when we have been treated wrongly, or any number of such times. We can’t control it. These things can and will happen to us. Temptations can and will come. In this life we are constantly bombarded with temptations to focus on the concerns of this life. The question is, what do we do in those moments? To answer that question, let’s turn to the first half of our text.
3. Our text begins this way:
Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:2-3).
In life’s most conflicted moments, when temptations come encouraging us to focus on the concerns of this life rather than the promise of eternal life, these words offer us some guidance. To be clear, the guidance isn’t so much concerning what we should do in these moments, it’s concerning where our hope and trust and comfort come from. Now, this text, Revelation chapter 7, serves as a bit of an interlude in the midst of John’s vision of the end times, which he is describing in the chapter surrounding ours. The angels of God are carrying out the Lord’s will concerning the end times, and suddenly out of nowhere our text breaks in with an angel carrying “the seal of the living God.” This angel instructs the other angels to pause their work until all of the servants of God have been sealed with the seal. This moment in John’s vision tells us that whatever the will of the Lord might be concerning the end times or anything else which might happen in this world, the Lord always has one chief priority which is more important than anything else—that’s sealing the salvation of his people. My friends, he does that for you and me in Holy Baptism. Through the waters of Holy Baptism the Lord works in us forgiveness of sins, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. In Holy Baptism you were given the seal of the living God as a guarantee of eternal life. We must never lose focus on this life-changing reality.
4. The rest of this first section of our reading on which we are focusing says this:
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed (Revelation 7:4-8).
It would be a mistake to try to make too much out of the numbers and names listed here (besides, of course, the obvious fact that the best tribe is saved for last—that is, the tribe of Benjamin!). But seriously, it would be a mistake to make too much out of the numbers and names listed here. The book of Revelation is a highly symbolic book written in the Greek apocalyptic style which relies heavily on symbols and images to convey its message. Taking it too “literally” would be akin to taking literally a poem such as: “Roses are red; violets are blue; sugar is sweet, and so are you.” Clearly this poem is not calling the person to whom it is addressed a candy bar. A symbol is being used to make a point. So too in this portion of Revelation. The number of those sealed with the seal of the living God is 144,000. That is 12 x 12 x 1,000. 12 x 12 is a symbol for the fullness of God’s people—12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and 12 Apostles in the New Testament. 1,000 is a number of completeness to the highest degree—10 multiplied by itself 3 times. This number of 144,000 is communicating the assurance that the fullness of God’s people—all who believe, all who are baptized—the fullness of God’s people will be sealed with the seal of the living God before the end of all things. And our assurance is this: we do stand in the company of God’s people here on earth. And because we have been sealed with the seal of the living God in Holy Baptism, we will be glorified along with all the saints who have gone before us when Jesus returns on the last day.
5. My friends, it’s inevitable—challenges come in this life. Confusing times will happen. We are virtually guaranteed to face difficulties such as disease, pandemic, and death. We are virtually guaranteed to experience personal challenges of numerous types. And so, in the face of the temptations you inevitably will be confronted with in those moments, stay strong. Keep your focus on the promise of eternal life. You have been sealed in your baptism with the seal of the living God guaranteeing that this enteral life is yours. May our Lord help us to always keep this guarantee at the forefront of our focus.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.