The Meaning of Seals and Sealing in Rev 7 (Interlude 2)

Chapter seven is inserted parenthetically between the sixth (Rev. 6:12-17) and seventh (8:1) seals. Chapter six climaxes with the opponents of God calling on the rocks and mountains to hide them from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb (6:15-16). These opponents then close with the poignant statement, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Rev. 6:17, NRSV. That question is answered in chapter seven with the appearance of two groups, the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8) and the Great Multitude (7:9-14). The keys to surviving the calamities that accompany the Second Coming, are being sealed (7:1-3), saved by God (7:10) and having one’s robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). The end result of the final events is a people who are continually before the throne of God, serving Him in His temple (7:15). The purpose of Revelation 7 within its larger context is to identify what God’s people will be like just before the Second Coming.

In the ancient world, sealing a book had two main purposes. One sealed a book to conceal its contents from view (Isa. 29:11; Rev. 10:4) or to validate the contents as being authentic or official (1 Kgs. 21:8; Esth. 8:8; Jer. 32:44). Concealment seems to be the basic purpose of sealing the book in Revelation 5. The book doesn’t need a seal of validation, it was already validated by being in God’s possession. The purpose of breaking the seals and opening the book would be to bring its contents into view.

A more symbolic use of the word sealing can be found when you are talking about people. Sealing a person could be a sign of ownership (Exod. 21:2-6; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 14:1) or a sign of protection (Ezek. 9:4-6). In early Judaism sealing was associated with circumcision. In Second-Century Christianity, sealing was associated with baptism. So the sealing of people by God would be a sign that they belong to God (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 9:4), and that God knows the ones who belong to Him. In a spiritual sense, sealing validates where a person stands with God.

But the sealing of Revelation 7 is different from that of Ephesians, Second Timothy, or even Revelation 9. The sealing of Revelation 7 is not primarily about evangelism, the people being sealed are already “servants of God” (Rev. 7:3). That means that they are already sealed in the sense of being owned and validated by God. In Revelation 7 the people of God (sealed in the first sense) are sealed again as a protection against the calamities that accompany the End-Time (Rev. 6:15 – 7:3). So the usage of sealing in Revelation 7 seems to be different from the meaning in the rest of the New Testament. As such, it is a play on words here, used in relation to a book in chapters five and six and used in relation to people in chapter seven. Sealing conceals in chapter five and protects in chapter seven.

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