Questions From Readers
What is the sealing referred to at Revelation 7:3?
Revelation 7:1-3 states: “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. 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.’”
When “the four winds” are released, the result will be “the great tribulation,” the destruction of false religion and the rest of this wicked world. (Revelation 7:14) “The slaves of our God” are Christ’s anointed brothers on earth. (1 Peter 2:9, 16) Hence, this prophecy indicates that the sealing of Christ’s brothers will have been completed when the great tribulation breaks out. However, other Bible verses indicate that there is an earlier sealing of anointed ones. Therefore, at times, we speak of an initial sealing and a final one. What is the difference between those two?
Let us consider the meaning of the word “sealed.” In ancient times, a seal was an instrument used to make an impression on a document. The word can also refer to the impression itself. In those days, it was common to attach a seal to a document or other items to indicate authenticity or ownership.—1 Kings 21:8; Job 14:17.
Paul compared holy spirit to a seal when he stated: “He who guarantees that you and we belong to Christ and he who has anointed us is God. He 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) Hence, Jehovah anoints these Christians with his holy spirit to indicate that they are his possession.
However, there are two phases in the sealing of anointed ones. The initial sealing differs from the final sealing (1) in purpose and (2) in time. The sealing in an initial sense serves to select a new member who is added to the number of anointed Christians. The sealing in a final sense serves to confirm that this chosen and sealed individual has fully demonstrated his loyalty. Only then, at the final sealing, will the seal be permanently placed ‘in the forehead’ of the anointed one, identifying him conclusively as a tried and faithful ‘slave of our God.’ The sealing mentioned in Revelation chapter 7 refers to this final phase of the sealing.—Revelation 7:3.
Concerning the timing of the initial sealing, the apostle Paul wrote to anointed Christians: “You also hoped in him after you heard the word of truth, the good news about your salvation. By means of him also, after you believed, you were sealed with the promised holy spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13, 14) In many cases, the Bible record shows that first-century Christians were indeed sealed shortly after they heard the good news and became believers in Christ. (Acts 8:15-17; 10:44) Such sealing demonstrated God’s approval of them. However, it did not show God’s final approval. Why not?
Paul stated that anointed Christians are “sealed for a day of releasing.” (Ephesians 4:30) This indicates that the passing of time, usually many years, is involved after that initial sealing. Anointed ones need to remain faithful from the day they are sealed with holy spirit until the ‘day they are released’ from their fleshly bodies—that is, until their death. (Romans 8:23; Philippians 1:23; 2 Peter 1:10) Therefore, only at the very end of Paul’s life could he say: “I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8) Moreover, Jesus said to a congregation of anointed Christians: “Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.”—Revelation 2:10; 17:14.
The word “crown” gives further evidence that time passes between the initial sealing and the final one. Why? In ancient times, it was the custom to give a crown to the runner who won a race. To receive the crown, he had to do more than merely enter the race. He had to run all the way to the finish. Similarly, only if anointed Christians persevere all the way to the end of their course—from the initial sealing to the final one—will they be crowned with immortal life in heaven.—Matthew 10:22; James 1:12.
When will the remnant of anointed Christians who have initially been sealed receive their final sealing? Any still alive on earth will be sealed “in their foreheads” before the outbreak of the great tribulation. 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 and must yet finish their earthly course.