Simultaneous victory, advancement and yet great tribulation – this is the picture of the church as presented by the Apostle John. Spiritual victory has already been assured by the cross-work of Jesus Christ. Temporal victory is on the horizon as the church of Christ marches on winning souls and changing the landscape. So powerful is the church that the gates of hell cannot prevail. However, as the church marches on and waits for the king to return and put an end to unrighteousness, the church suffers terribly. Yes, the church is like a mustard seed; it will grow to become a mighty tree. However, as it grows and thrives, it will be divinely tried and tested while being satanically tempted and terrorized.
This great tribulation to be experienced by the church is specifically presented in chapter six of Revelation. There, the Lamb of God is preaching a sermon and it has seven seals or points. His first point presents the Crowned Knight on the white horse who has already conquered and yet marches on. With the sword of the Gospel he wages war and wins the hearts and minds of many. However, points two through six are not so easy to digest. Natural disaster, economic depression, governmental injustice and war fall upon all. Christians are included and specifically targeted for persecution. All is bad; then comes the really horrible news. In the sixth seal or point, John uses prophetic or apocalyptic language that presents the world as coming to an end. Everything is disrupted. All is lost. There is a crescendo of damage. Divine dystopia has arrive. Those who do not know and love God, they hide and beg not to see his face. Suicide is a far better alternative.
Chapter six ends with the question, “Who can stand?” Chapter seven delivers the answer:
Revelation 7 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel … After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The question is asked, “Who can stand?” Who can stand tall during seals two through six? Who can stand during the various wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, epidemic, and persecution? Who can endure the great tribulation? The answer is the 144,000 who receive the seventh seal from the fifth angel.
This begs another question, “Who are the 144,000?” Some believe this represents 144,000 Hebrews who will be saved after the secret rapture of the church. Others believe this number represents 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who will have risen to the highest level of spirituality. I do not prefer either of these two views. Rather, I believe this is a symbolic number that represents the Israel of God. I follow this interpretation for the following reasons:
- Numbers are symbolic in the Revelation.
- In the same chapter, the 144,000 have become a multitude.
- In the same chapter, Israel have become individuals from all nations. • The listing of tribes is not normative. It is out of order. Dan and Ephraim are excluded.
- In the New Covenant, there is no longer any significance between Jew and Greek in the Church.
- In the New Covenant, the Church is called the “Israel of God.” Believers are the “Children of Father Abraham.”
- In John’s writings, Orthodox Jews who deny Christ are called the “Synagogue of Satan.”
- In Revelation, John has already pointed out the unity of the Israel/Church community. There is one priesthood. There is one kingdom. Twenty-four elders belong together.
- That being said, I am neither anti-Semetic nor anti-Israel. I would still love to see Israel thrive as a nation in the Middle East. I am thankful for their friendship with the United States. Frankly, it would please me greatly for them to take over the Middle East. Perhaps God has this in mind. In addition, I hope and pray for a Hebrew revival. Scripture seems to allude to this fact. It would be a beautiful end to a tragic history.
Therefore, putting the pieces together, only those who receive the stamp of God can stand. Christians are those who make it through the tribulation. Christians are those who come from every ethnicity. Christians are those do not hide from God, but are found standing before the throne. Christians are those who are clothed in white robes and get the privilege to herald the salvation provided for them by the Lamb. Christians get the opportunity to worship alongside the angels. Christians serve God, and He shelters them with his presence. Christians shall no longer shall Christians hunger, thirst, or suffer, because Jesus is their Shepherd.
Believing friends, are you standing in the midst of great tribulation today? I would encourage you to read Psalm 23 with Revelation 7 in mind. You can find nourishment for your soul even in the presence of your enemies. Goodness and mercy are following you all the days of your life. Then later, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Unbelieving friends, you are standing in the midst of great tribulation today, and greater tribulation is coming tomorrow. Do you understand that some – Christians – get the privilege of starting on their feet and willfully falling to their knees? Do you understand that all others begin on their feet and are found worshiping on their backs. They will be forced to bow the knee. They will be forced to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King. They will cry “uncle” and then comes hell. Why will you suffer the effect of the curse alone? Will you walk through the tribulation of this life without God? Why will you suffer for eternity? Find salvation in Christ, and then your Lord will be your Savior. Then you can pray Psalm 23 with confidence.