2 August 2012Revelation 7:1-8
"Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads." (v. 3)
The 144,000 of Revelation have given rise to a great deal of speculation over the centuries. The number occurs in both chapters 7 and 14, and some question whether it refers to the same group of people. Quite what is the function of the 144,000 in the overarching story is unclear.
Among those who read Revelation primarily as describing future events there have been a number of groups identifying themselves with these mysterious 144,000. Perhaps best known are the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Revelation's mysterious 144,000 have also entered popular consciousness. It is rumoured to have influenced the popular American TV series, 4400.
The 144,000 are introduced after the opening of the sixth of seven seals on a scroll held in the hand of God (see Revelation 6:12-17). The opening of this sixth seal unleashes divine judgement on the earth amid scenes of human desolation and despair.
It is in this context of desolation and judgement that we find our key verse for today. Judgement is to be delayed until the servants of God can be marked with a seal.
In ancient Near Eastern culture a seal was a symbol of authority and identity. Its function is similar to that of a signature on the back of a credit card. Along with the impression of one's name on the card, the signature serves to identify and to authenticate the bearer of the card.
And so it is here; those servants of God marked with a divine seal bear an imprint which serves both to identify and to authenticate them during a time of great trial and desolation. God will not leave the faithful without hope in times of despair.
I don't pretend fully to understand all that Revelation 7 is about. However, it is reminder that ours is a God who offers hope in despair; and this at least I do understand and value.
- What might it mean for you to bear God's imprint in a world searching for hope?
- Revelation leaves us with an unresolved dilemma. On the one hand God is presented as being in control of all things. On the other, it also presents scenes of desolation and devastation. How do we begin to reconcile our belief in a good and sovereign God in the face of human despair?