“Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, “Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.” And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel:”
Revelation 7:1-4 NLT
The scene in John’s vision changes. He now sees four angels, each standing at the four corners of the earth. Their task was to hold back the four winds, with the implication that wind-damage was waiting to happen. But before they could get to work, a fifth angel emerged from the East (with the dawn?) carrying “God’s seal”. And he called out to the four angels to wait. He had a job to do first. The vision continued and John discovered that the job of the angel carrying God’s seal was to place a mark on 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel. A mark that would clearly identify them as being servants of God. The number, 144,000, was derived from 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. And if we read on in chapter seven we find that each of the 12 tribes of Israel were listed by their family names derived from being sons and grandsons of Jacob.
We don’t know what the mark of the seal was. In this age of QR and bar codes, I suppose we could speculate about the seal being a digital mark. In John’s day, a seal would have been a blob of hard wax, pressed with an imprint from a ring. At first thought, a tattoo might be the mark, but then for the Jews that was prohibited, as we read in Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord“. But whatever the mark was, it would have been distinctive. And the four angels holding back the winds had to wait before they could unleash them to do harm over the land and sea.
It is interesting to note that at this point in John’s vision, the mark of God was applied to Jews and not Christians. We may be guilty of thinking that the Jewish nation was sidelined and overlooked by God, perhaps encouraged in this thought by what Jesus, speaking to the Jewish leaders, said in Matthew 21:43, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.” But it was quite clear in John’s vision that the 144,000 were Jews and not Christians of Gentile origins (I suppose they may have been Jewish Christians). It is also clear that those with a mark were not, as some sects have claimed, exclusively made up of their leaders and those members who are worthy of joining them.
So why were the Jews marked? In John’s vision it was obviously important enough for the four winds to be held back. And they were being marked with God’s seal. It would seem reasonable to think that these Jews became Christians and proceeded to evangelise their fellow Jews, and the Gentile nations, in these difficult times in the Tribulation period.
As an aside, the Bible is clear that the Jews are God’s chosen people. As far back as the time of Abraham, God made a promise that He would make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sands on the sea shore. We read in Genesis 22:17-18, “I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” God also made it clear that He would retain a remnant of His people throughout the generations, regardless of how they behaved (1 Kings 19:18, Romans 11:4). So we shouldn’t be surprised that God had a mission for His people, the Jews, in these end times. God told Abraham that through his descendants, the Jews, all the nations on earth would be blessed – perhaps this was one of the times when they would be called upon. And with a mark on them that distinguished them as belonging to God, the world’s remaining population would have been aware of who they were.
What sort of mark do we pilgrims carry? Are those around us aware of our faith and belief in God? Is it a positive or negative experience for them? Sadly, in our society here in Scotland, Christianity is considered to be a bit of an irrelevance. Church attendances are dwindling. And some churches and denominations are compromising or ignoring key teaching in the Bible, in a vain attempt to win new members. If our churches become accepting of worldly and unGodly beliefs why should a person, who is not a Christian, want to go there? But for us as individuals, we nevertheless have a mission. And that is to reach those people with our messages of hope, maintaining the purity of the Gospel and our faith. We look out for those who will otherwise be heading for a lost eternity.
Father God. We too have a mission to our communities and families. Please lead us to the right people. And we pray for the strength and boldness to make our faith shine like a beacon, illuminating the dark corners in our worlds. In Jesus’ name. Amen.