The 144,000

Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together. This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame.” 
Revelation 14:1-5 NLT

In parallel with the global events under the control of the beasts, John’s vision panned across to Jerusalem, the location of Mount Zion. Jesus was standing there, and there were a lot of His people with Him. 144,000 in fact. They had the name of the Lamb of God and His Father written on their foreheads. Back in Revelation 7:4 we read, “And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel.” We now also now know what the mark, the “seal of God” was, though it wasn’t clear in Revelation 7. So this event involving Jesus and Mount Zion must be confirming His second coming. Now we know that Jesus ascended into Heaven from the Mount of Olives from Acts 1:12, where Luke recorded, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile“. And the angels present at that event, as the disciples were straining to see Jesus’ ascent through the clouds, said, ““Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” So here we are, blessed and encouraged, because Jesus has done exactly what He said He would do – return to earth a second time.

It is interesting that the 144,00 Jewish believers were present as the End Time Tribulation was unfolding (just before the seventh seal was broken in Revelation 7). And in spite of the devil’s best efforts, with all his mayhem setting up the Antichrist and an evil world governmental system and religion, the 144,000 were still there. The devil failed in his attempts to eliminate them. How encouraging is that? They showed that it is possible to stand firm to the end. Also, the Jewish believers must have been followers of Jesus, because they were standing there in Jerusalem with Him. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus will rule and reign from Mount Zion. We read, “Then the glory of the moon will wane, and the brightness of the sun will fade, for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will rule on Mount Zion. He will rule in great glory in Jerusalem, in the sight of all the leaders of his people“. (Isaiah 24:23). 

Do we pilgrims, not counted amongst the 144,000, feel a bit insecure? The Bible version we have used today, the NLT, records that these Jews were “purchased from among the people on the earth”. Other versions describe them as being the “first-fruits”. But whatever they were, these were God’s holy people with a special mission. Their purity was faultless, they were unstinting followers of Jesus, they had never told lies, and the verses today record them as being a “special offering to God and to the Lamb“. But as for us Gentile believers, where do we stand in the End Times vision? Perhaps we will be counted in the number in Revelation 7:9, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.” But whatever happens, those who stand firm to the end will one day be with our loving Heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus, in Heaven. Jesus’s said to the repentant thief on the cross next to him, “… I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭23:43). God will never reject a truly repentant sinner from entering His presence.

Father God. We bow before Your throne this morning with deeply grateful hearts. Only You have the words of eternal life. Only You hold the keys to eternity. We worship You today. Amen.

The Four Winds

“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.

The Fifth Seal

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:9-11‬ ‭NLT

The fifth seal was broken and John saw an altar in Heaven. It’s not clear what it looked like in detail, but one thing for sure – it was nothing like the altars we find in our churches and other religious buildings. This one had a special place underneath, and here we find the souls of the Christian martyrs. Men and women killed for nothing more than believing in the Word of God and being faithful, holding onto their beliefs and testimony in spite of threats and mistreatment. Quite rightly, they wanted to see justice, and they called out to God for Him to intervene and punish the people who had abused them. In response, they were each supplied with a white robe, but why was that? Note that this happened before the second coming of Jesus, so at this point the martyrs would not yet have received their new bodies. The martyrs would have been disembodied spirits, but because of their mortal sacrifice, they were fast tracked into Heaven. And the robes were supplied to give them substance and parity with the other Heavenly beings. They were encouraged to rest and be patient, because there were more martyrs to come. Notice that in Heaven, they straight away worshipped God, with “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true”. Their focus was on God, as it had been in their lives on earth.

Christians have been martyred almost continuously to the present day, starting with Stephen. We can read the account of his martyrdom in Acts 6 and 7. Today, with better global communications, we can discover where Christians are being killed for their faith. Open Doors, a UK-based organisation founded by Brother Andrew in 1955, regularly reports on Christian persecution, and on-line videos can be found that detail up to date topics for prayer. They reported that in 2021, 5,898 Christians were murdered because of their faith. And that’s the people they know about. 

A passage of Scripture that I find most encouraging is in Acts 4, where the early church prayed for boldness in the face of persecution. We read in verse 29, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word…”. This was the early church’s response to persecution, and the boldness they displayed in the face of persecution led to Christianity quickly spreading all over the civilised world at that time.

We pilgrims today must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. And together we must stand firm with them, also being a living testimony to our faith. Perhaps one day we will get the opportunity to talk to some of the Heavenly martyrs, finding our more about their sacrifices, but in the meantime we are encouraged by the fact that in our witnessing they are cheering us on, as we know from Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne“. 

Dear Heavenly Father, we pray together for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution in countries like Afghanistan and North Korea, where even having a Bible in their possession can lead to incarceration and murder. Please strengthen their faith, and be with them in their times of trial. For Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

The Fourth Seal

“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a horse whose colour was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease and wild animals.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:7-8‬ ‭NLT

Now the fourth living being gets involved, with another shout of “Come!” And in John’s vision a fourth horse appears. This one was a pale green in colour, perhaps an appropriate shade, as his rider would be introducing sickness and disease into the world. This rider had a name, “Death”. And he had a friend with him called “Grave”. And his mission was to create havoc in a quarter of the world’s population by stirring up war and fighting, introducing food shortages and diseases and, almost as though for good measure, unleashing wild animals to attack and kill people. What a dire and dismal prognosis. 

We are just emerging from a global attack of disease in the form of Covid. Millions have died in spite of extraordinary attempts and spectacular successes to mitigate and reduce the impact of this rampant virus. But in previous centuries we have seen similar plagues such as Spanish flu, Black Death, and so on. Has this horseman already been active in our world? Surely we would have known and people everywhere would be aware that God is judging the world in response to its evil and sin?

Jesus gave us a few clues about the end times in Matthew 24. And one thing he did say was that in spite of the signs, people would effectively ignore them. In Matthew 24:37-39 we read, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realise what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes”. Sadly, in spite of extensive evangelising and spreading of the Good News, most people don’t want to change their ways. And one day, all of a sudden, it will be too late for them to respond.

So we pilgrims keep picking away, sharing our messages of hope, not just by our words, but also with our deeds. Sharing our love of God with those around us. Being kind and caring to one another. So that when Jesus returns He will find us doing what He has asked us to do.

Dear Father God. Thank You for giving us such a tremendous message of hope for the wicked and sinful world within which we live. Please increase our opportunities to share what we have. And we pray that You continue to resource us for the tasks You want us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

The Third Seal

“When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice from among the four living beings say, “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley will cost a day’s pay. And don’t waste the olive oil and wine.”
Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭NLT

This time the third living being shouts out “Come!” And a black horse with a rider carrying a pair of scales appears. And he heads off into the world to introduce famine wherever he goes. His message is stark – people will have to work all day and will only be able to buy a small amount of food with their pay. 

Here in the affluent West, famine is almost unheard of, though I know we have people struggling to make ends meet, as inflationary pressures reduce spending power and introduce difficult decisions that need to be made in low income households. And we are currently hearing doomsday messages of famine, particularly in third world countries, because of shortages of grain caused by the war in Ukraine. But the third horseman has a message of food shortages unheard of up until now. So this period of tribulation may be yet to come.

Pilgrims on earth today are God’s representatives. We carry on regardless doing what God has asked us to do, without deviating from our mission. We look out for those around us, but also for ourselves and our loved ones. We must tailor our approach to those in need, bearing in mind what James said in his epistle, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (‭‭James‬ ‭2:14-17‬). Here in the UK we have “food banks”, where needy people are referred to when they have no money to buy food. And local authorities and charities are available to help those in need. But there are other ways in which we can help the less fortunate members of our societies. 

One way is through our local churches and fellowships, where we can offer practical help to others, and particularly the widows and orphans there that James wrote about (James 1:27). We spent time with others, listening and counselling, using our faith-filled gifts and talents to help how and when we can. My parents were part of the “make do and mend” generation that employed their practical skills to help themselves and others extend the life of everyday items. My mother was a genius as needlework and I can remember she spent long hours darning socks or knitting squares, using recovered or recycled wool, to make blankets. We need to “think outside the box” for ways in which we can practically help those around us. And in that way we are extending the Gospel into people’s lives, people who would otherwise be resistant to words on their own.

The famine introduced by the third horseman of the Apocalypse may not yet have been unleashed, but it will be one day. We hope we won’t be around at such a time but who knows? Regardless, though, we need to leave a legacy so that subsequent generations will be able to carry the Gospel torch, ready to hand it on in the generational relay race, the finishing tape of which is eternity.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your presence in our lives. Without You we would be a sad and lost people. Instead we have a spiritually rich and loving family, of which You are the Head. We’re so grateful. Amen.

The Second Seal

“When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living being say, “Come!” Then another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword and the authority to take peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere.”
Revelation 6:3-4 NLT

We don’t know the time difference between opening the first and second seals. But whenever it took place, there is another thunderous “Come!”, this time from the second of the living beings. A red horse appeared, and its rider gallops off into the sunset, waving a mighty sword. And in his vision, John was told that the rider on the red horse was able to take away world peace, unleashing wars and loss of life everywhere. 

With the opening of the second seal, introducing the next step in this time of tribulation, things are looking grim. Those of us fortunate enough to be living in a peaceful place will have no idea what such mayhem looks and feels like, apart from the news reports. Here in the UK it has been many years since we experienced a war on our soil. But in other parts of the world, conflict is constant and never very far away. As I write, the war in Ukraine continues, with tragic stories emerging from the ruins, of “slaughter everywhere”

Again we wonder if we are in the period of time called the Tribulation. Jesus foretold what would happen, and His words are recorded in Matthew 24. Verses 5-8 read, “for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” Personally, I believe we are in the period referred to by Jesus as “birth pains”, but we’ve been in this period for hundreds of years. Wars, famines and earthquakes have been with us since time as we know it began. However, we don’t know whether this coincides with the breaking of the first seals in John’s vision. We also don’t know the time period over which these early times of tribulation took place. The horses and riders released following the breaking of the first four seals have been referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Are we in Apocalyptic times? Hmmm…

As pilgrims, we must not be distracted in our mission in life. Jesus gave us a job to do, and we must faithfully carry it out. We mustn’t adopt a fatalistic attitude, fearing what is coming and sitting in our pews in the meantime, waiting for the end of our lives and hoping we don’t get too much hassle in the process. So we continue to read the Word, we pray, we worship and praise our wonderful Heavenly Father, and we share our messages of hope with those around us. We must not use the account of John’s vision to alarm us. Instead we must allow it to energise us, acting as a springboard projecting us into the sad and lost world around us.

Dear Father God. You know when all these things we read about in Revelation will take place. And we rest in You, secure in the knowledge that You are our loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us. We worship You today. Amen.

Suffering

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Smyrnaean church was really experiencing some hard times. Jesus could see what was coming in their lives and warned them, through John, that the persecution and tribulation would be intense. So intense in fact, that some of those in the Smyrnaean church would face death. Others would be imprisoned. And all because they believed the Truth, God Himself. Of course, all this suffering would strike fear into even the strongest, and most committed, men and women amongst them. So Jesus’ message starts once again with “Don’t be afraid“. Our wonderful Lord fully realised that the intersection between the natural and the spiritual will sometimes induce fear amongst human beings. I’m reminded of the first thing Jesus said to the disciples when He was walking on the sea of Galilee. In Mark 6:50 we read, “They were all terrified when they saw him. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here! ”. I’m sure the Smyrnaeans were themselves just as terrified, if not more, because some of them would be facing death. But the Lord loved these people and had a message for them that would have strengthened them through their persecution. He told them that it would only be for ten days.

For some, the idea of being tested for our faith is rather daunting. Someone once asked the question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you”? Beyond all reasonable doubt? But why would God allow us to be tested in the first place? Perhaps there are times when we go through the motions of being a Christian, but deep down we have lost our way. Our faith is perhaps weakening, or may even have reduced to a level of non-existence. In the past two years, Christians have been quite severely tested, at least here in the UK. Tested by the Covid lock downs that have shut our churches, and forcing us to depart our comfort zones and grapple with new technology, such as Zoom and YouTube. Removing from us the option of seeing our friends in person, and warming a pew on a Sunday morning. We may not have been through the physical pain and suffering the Smyrnaeans experienced, but the outcome may have been the same. When us Christian pilgrims are faced with the reality that there is a cost to our faith, some will decide that the price is not worth paying. And consequently they will disappear from the spiritual radar and fall away from the faith. In my locality, some Churches of Scotland are having to close because the congregations are no longer numerically viable. One of the reasons is that the numbers of attenders hasn’t recovered to the pre-Covid levels. Thankfully, other churches are thriving, the stronger for the testing experience.

For the faithful perseverers, there is a “crown of life”. It is there stored in a safe place. We each have one lined up for us. Our names are written on them. They are precious and far more valuable than any amount of gold and precious jewels would be. James 1:15 picks up the theme as well, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him“. 

So what does a “crown of life” look like? Here are a few thoughts. The crown imparts life, as we read in our verse today. Also it is a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), a crown of righteousness, (2 Timothy 4:8). It is imperishable and will never wear out (1 Corinthians 9:25). It is a crown of joy (Philippians 4:1). And it is the prize for staying true to our calling (Philippians 3:14). I can’t wait to get mine, and I know it will be a perfect fit. And there’s one just for you, my reader, today. If …

Dear Lord. We thank You for Your encouragement, always there for the asking when we go through a time of tribulation. I pray for the strength to stand firm in my faith day by day. Amen.