Sealing the Israel of God
Vision 4—Revelation 7:1-17
Subject: The 144,000 are sealed, and a great crowd is observed standing before Jehovah’s throne and before the Lamb
Time of fulfillment: From the enthronement of Christ Jesus in 1914 on into his Millennial Reign
1. “Who is able to stand” during the great day of divine wrath?
“WHO is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17) Yes, who indeed? When the great day of divine wrath devastates Satan’s system, rulers and peoples of the world may well ask that question. To them it will appear that the impending cataclysm will snuff out all human life. But will it? Happily, God’s prophet assures us: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe.” (Joel 2:32) The apostles Peter and Paul confirm that fact. (Acts 2:19-21; Romans 10:13) Yes, those who call on the name of Jehovah will be survivors. Who are these ones? As the next vision unfolds, we shall see.
2. Why is it remarkable that there will be survivors of Jehovah’s day of judgment?
2 It is truly remarkable that anyone should come through Jehovah’s day of judgment alive, for another of God’s prophets describes it in these words: “Look! A windstorm of Jehovah, rage itself, has gone forth, an onward-sweeping tempest. Upon the head of the wicked ones it will whirl. The burning anger of Jehovah will not turn back until he will have executed and until he will have carried out the ideas of his heart.” (Jeremiah 30:23, 24) It is urgent that we take steps to weather that storm!—Proverbs 2:22; Isaiah 55:6, 7; Zephaniah 2:2, 3.
The Four Winds
3. (a) What special service performed by angels does John see? (b) What is symbolized by “the four winds”?
3 Before Jehovah unleashes this fury, heavenly angels perform a special service. John now beholds this in vision: “After this I saw four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding tight the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow upon the earth or upon the sea or upon any tree.” (Revelation 7:1) What does this mean for us today? These “four winds” are a vivid symbol of destructive judgment about to be let loose on a wicked earthly society, on the surging “sea” of lawless humanity, and on lofty treelike rulers that draw support and sustenance from the people of the earth.—Isaiah 57:20; Psalm 37:35, 36.
4. (a) What do the four angels represent? (b) What will be the effect on Satan’s earthly organization when the four winds are released?
4 No doubt, these four angels represent four angelic groups, whom Jehovah uses to hold back the execution of judgment until the appointed time. When the angels release those winds of divine wrath to whirl at one time from north, south, east, and west, the devastation will be tremendous. It will resemble, but on a stupendous scale, Jehovah’s use of the four winds to scatter the ancient Elamites, shattering and exterminating them. (Jeremiah 49:36-38) It will be a gigantic storm wind far more devastating than the “tempest” by which Jehovah annihilated the nation of Ammon. (Amos 1:13-15) No part of Satan’s organization on earth will be able to stand in the day of Jehovah’s fury, when he vindicates his sovereignty for all eternity to come.—Psalm 83:15, 18; Isaiah 29:5, 6.
5. How does Jeremiah’s prophecy help us understand that God’s judgments will embrace the entire earth?
5 Can we be sure that God’s judgments will ravage the entire earth? Listen again to his prophet Jeremiah: “Look! A calamity is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest itself will be roused up from the remotest parts of the earth. And those slain by Jehovah will certainly come to be in that day from one end of the earth clear to the other end of the earth.” (Jeremiah 25:32, 33) It is during this tempestuous storm that darkness will engulf this world. Its ruling agencies will be shaken into oblivion. (Revelation 6:12-14) But the future will not be dark for everyone. For whose sake, then, are the four winds held back?
The Sealing of God’s Slaves
6. Who tells the angels to hold back the four winds, and for what does this allow time?
6 John goes on to describe how some will be marked for survival, saying: “And I saw another angel ascending from the sunrising, having a seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying: ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until after we have sealed the slaves of our God in their foreheads.’”—Revelation 7:2, 3.
7. Who really is the fifth angel, and what evidence helps us establish his identity?
7 Though this fifth angel is not named, all the evidence indicates that he must be the glorified Lord Jesus. In line with Jesus’ being the Archangel, he is here shown to have authority over the other angels. (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9) He ascends from the east, like “the kings from the rising of the sun”—Jehovah and his Christ—who come to execute judgment, as did kings Darius and Cyrus when they humbled ancient Babylon. (Revelation 16:12; Isaiah 45:1; Jeremiah 51:11; Daniel 5:31) This angel also resembles Jesus in that he is entrusted with sealing anointed Christians. (Ephesians 1:13, 14) Further, when the winds are unleashed, it is Jesus who leads the heavenly armies in executing judgment on the nations. (Revelation 19:11-16) Logically, then, Jesus would be the one to command that destruction of Satan’s earthly organization be held back until God’s slaves are sealed.
8. What is the sealing, and when did it begin?
8 What is this sealing, and who are these slaves of God? The sealing began at Pentecost 33 C.E. when the first Jewish Christians were anointed with holy spirit. Later, God proceeded to call out and anoint “people of the nations.” (Romans 3:29; Acts 2:1-4, 14, 32, 33; 15:14) The apostle Paul wrote about anointed Christians’ having a guarantee that they “belong to Christ” and added that God “has also put his seal upon us and has given us the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit, in our hearts.” (2 Corinthians 1:21, 22; compare Revelation 14:1.) Thus, when these slaves are adopted as God’s spiritual sons, they receive a token in advance of their heavenly inheritance—a seal, or pledge. (2 Corinthians 5:1, 5; Ephesians 1:10, 11) They can then say: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”—Romans 8:15-17.
9. (a) What endurance on the part of the remaining spirit-begotten sons of God is required? (b) For how long will the testing of the anointed go on?
9 “Provided we suffer together”—what does that mean? In order to receive the crown of life, anointed Christians must endure, faithful even to death. (Revelation 2:10) It is not a matter of ‘once saved, always saved.’ (Matthew 10:22; Luke 13:24) Rather, they are admonished: “Do your utmost to make the calling and choosing of you sure for yourselves.” Like the apostle Paul, ultimately they must be able to say: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.” (2 Peter 1:10, 11; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8) So here on earth the testing and sifting of the remaining spirit-begotten sons of God must go on until Jesus and his accompanying angels will have firmly implanted the seal ‘in the forehead’ of all of these, identifying them conclusively, irrevocably, as tried and faithful “slaves of our God.” That seal then becomes a permanent mark. Evidently, when the four winds of tribulation are unleashed, all of spiritual Israel will have been sealed in finality, even though a few will still be alive in the flesh. (Matthew 24:13; Revelation 19:7) The entire membership will be complete!—Romans 11:25, 26.
How Many Are Sealed?
10. (a) What scriptures indicate that the number of the sealed ones is limited? (b) What is the total number sealed, and how are they listed?
10 Jesus said to those in line for this sealing: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Other scriptures, such as Revelation 6:11 and Romans 11:25, indicate that the number of this little flock is indeed limited and, in fact, predetermined. John’s next words confirm this: “And I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel: Out of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed; out of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed.”—Revelation 7:4-8.
11. (a) Why could the reference to the 12 tribes not apply to literal, fleshly Israel? (b) Why does Revelation list the 12 tribes? (c) Why is there no exclusively royal or priestly tribe in the Israel of God?
11 Could this not be a reference to literal, fleshly Israel? No, for Revelation 7:4-8 diverges from the usual tribal listing. (Numbers 1:17, 47) Obviously, the listing here is not for the purpose of identifying fleshly Jews by their tribes but to show a similar organizational structure for spiritual Israel. This is balanced. There are to be exactly 144,000 members of this new nation—12,000 from each of 12 tribes. No tribe in this Israel of God is exclusively royal or priestly. The whole nation is to rule as kings, and the whole nation is to serve as priests.—Galatians 6:16; Revelation 20:4, 6.
12. Why is it appropriate that the 24 elders sing before the Lamb the words of Revelation 5:9, 10?
12 Although the natural Jews and Jewish proselytes were given the first opportunity to be chosen for spiritual Israel, only a minority of that nation responded. Jehovah therefore extended the invitation to the Gentiles. (John 1:10-13; Acts 2:4, 7-11; Romans 11:7) As in the case of the Ephesians, who previously had been “alienated from the state of Israel,” now non-Jews could be sealed with God’s spirit and become part of the congregation of anointed Christians. (Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:5, 6; Acts 15:14) It is appropriate, then, for the 24 elders to sing before the Lamb: “With your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.”—Revelation 5:9, 10.
13. Why could Jesus’ half brother James properly address his letter “to the twelve tribes that are scattered about”?
13 The Christian congregation is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Peter 2:9) Replacing natural Israel as God’s nation, it becomes a new Israel that is “really ‘Israel.’” (Romans 9:6-8; Matthew 21:43)a For this reason, it was quite proper for Jesus’ half brother James to address his pastoral letter “to the twelve tribes that are scattered about,” that is, to the worldwide congregation of anointed Christians that in time would number 144,000.—James 1:1.
The Israel of God Today
14. What shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently held that the 144,000 is the literal number of those making up spiritual Israel?
14 Interestingly, Charles T. Russell recognized the 144,000 to be a literal number of individuals making up a spiritual Israel. In The New Creation, Volume VI of his Studies in the Scriptures, published in 1904, he wrote: “We have every reason to believe that the definite, fixed number of the elect [chosen anointed ones] is that several times stated in Revelation (7:4; 14:1); namely, 144,000 ‘redeemed from amongst men.’” In Light, Book One, published in 1930 by the Bible Students, it was likewise stated: “The 144,000 members of the body of Christ are thus in the assembly shown as selected and anointed, or sealed.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently held to the view that literally 144,000 anointed Christians make up spiritual Israel.
15. Just prior to the Lord’s day, what did sincere Bible students think the natural Jews would enjoy after the ending of the Gentile Times?
15 Nevertheless, does not natural Israel today merit some special favor? In the period just prior to the Lord’s day, when sincere Bible students were rediscovering many of the basic truths of God’s Word, it was thought that with the ending of the Gentile Times the Jews would again enjoy a privileged standing before God. Thus, C. T. Russell’s book The Time Is at Hand (Volume II of Studies in the Scriptures), published in 1889, applied Jeremiah 31:29-34 to the natural Jews, and commented: “The world is witness to the fact that Israel’s punishment under the dominion of the Gentiles has been continuous since B.C. , that it still continues, and that there is no reason to expect their national re-organization sooner than A.D. 1914, the limit of their ‘seven times’—2520 years.” It seemed that the Jews would then experience a national restoration, and this prospect apparently brightened in 1917, when the Balfour Declaration pledged British support for making Palestine a national home for the Jews.
16. What efforts were made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to reach the natural Jews with the Christian message, and with what result?
16 Following the first world war, Palestine became a mandated territory under Great Britain, and the way opened for many Jews to return to that land. In 1948 the political State of Israel was brought forth. Did this not indicate that the Jews were in line for divine blessings? For many years, Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that this was so. Thus, in 1925 they published a 128-page book, Comfort for the Jews. In 1929 they released an attractive 360-page volume, Life, designed to appeal to the Jews and dealing also with the Bible book of Job. Great efforts were made, especially in New York City, to reach the Jews with this Messianic message. Happily, a few individuals responded, but the Jews by and large, like their forefathers of the first century, rejected the evidence of Messiah’s presence.
17, 18. What did God’s slaves on earth come to understand regarding the new covenant and the Bible’s restoration prophecies?
17 It was obvious that Jewry, as a people and as a nation, was not the Israel described in Revelation 7:4-8 or other Bible prophecies related to the Lord’s day. Following tradition, the Jews continued to avoid using the divine name. (Matthew 15:1-3, 7-9) In discussing Jeremiah 31:31-34, the book Jehovah, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1934, stated conclusively: “The new covenant has nothing to do with the natural descendants of Israel and with mankind in general, but . . . is limited to spiritual Israel.” The Bible’s restoration prophecies relate neither to the natural Jews nor to political Israel, which is a member of the United Nations and a part of the world that Jesus spoke of at John 14:19, 30 and 18:36.
18 In 1931 God’s slaves on earth had received, with great joy, the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. They could subscribe wholeheartedly to the words of Psalm 97:11: “Light itself has flashed up for the righteous one, and rejoicing even for the ones upright in heart.” They could clearly discern that spiritual Israel alone had been brought into the new covenant. (Hebrews 9:15; 12:22, 24) Unresponsive natural Israel had no part therein, nor did mankind in general. This understanding cleared the way for a brilliant flash of divine light, outstanding in the annals of theocratic history. This would reveal how abundantly Jehovah extends his mercy, loving-kindness, and truth to all humans who draw close to him. (Exodus 34:6; James 4:8) Yes, others besides the Israel of God would benefit by the angels’ holding back the four winds of destruction. Who might these be? Could you be one of them? Let us now see.
a Fittingly, the name Israel means “God Contends; Contender (Perseverer) With God.”—Genesis 32:28, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
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The general selection of the true Israel of God proceeded from the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. down to 1935 when, at a historic convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Washington, D.C., emphasis was shifted to the ingathering of a great crowd with earthly life prospects (Revelation 7:9)