Even in the midst of an inferno, God never forgets His people.
Over these next few weeks, I’ll be on the conference trail, preaching and teaching somewhere else on the planet. That’s why our Revelation study will shorten considerably and my posts will mainly offer thoughts in passing.
Chapter 6 ended with a gloomy—“Who is able to stand?” A good many people of God ask the same question, picturing themselves thrown into the general mix of judgment/catastrophe that will come upon this globe.
The world seems to have begun falling apart in that chapter, and it gets worse in chapter 8 with cosmic disturbances, and in chapter 9 with the release of a demon horde.
What about me?
We can’t help asking. Every time a photo surfaces, even with a hundred faces in it, we’ll hunt for ourselves first–Was my hair right? Was my shirt tucked in?
You can’t read Revelation without wondering where you are in it. That’s why Chapter 7 comes along as an insert, offering reassurance to the people of God.
Naturally, no two commentators have an exact opinion on the identity of the people spoken of in this chapter. I’m looking at it as a collective of God’s people from the Old and New Testaments.
Long ago, God had told Abraham, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). Notice from this promise the nature of Abraham’s descendants: heavenly, and earthly.
Returning to Revelation 7, the literal naming of the twelve tribes in the first half of the chapter suggests Israel in the most literal sense. I’m going to go with that interpretation, and not treat the tribes as a spiritual metaphor describing the Christian church.
Besides, God hasn’t discarded Israel: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Rom. 11:1-2). Certainly Israel in its purest sense is a redemptive ideal in the mind of God– “The Israel of God” Paul called it (Gal. 6:16), and therefore neither race, nor pedigree, nor traditions can attain to it. But there remains a recognizable earthly component still reserved for God’s purpose, originally fitted to His promises.
The second half of chapter 7 rounds out the collective with believers in Jesus–those who come from all over he world (v.9), and stand in front of the Lamb, “Crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (v. 10). Though they came late compared to their Jewish brethren, they have quickly grasped the great object of faith—Jesus Christ—and entered “the Israel of God.”
These two groups share a common descent, but differ as to how far along they are in God’s redemptive plan.
God will protect both, but apparently does it in different ways.
For instance, there are several options when it comes to protecting someone from a burning building: either wrap them in asbestos, or remove them from the property altogether. In chapter 7, God seems to be doing both. He seals chosen Israelites for preservation (c.f. 9:4), while removing Christian believers into glory.
If you find yourself getting nervous about a world on fire, don’t forget to look for your big smiling face in the photo.