Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 7)

From Ranko Stefanovic:

In SS Lesson #6, changes have been made to teach that Rev 7 portrays two different group of saved people.

The Tuesday lesson has been completely rewritten.

Also, in the Wednesday lesson, significant changes were made in the conclusion of the lesson: “The 144,000 are not a special small group of saints separated from the rest of the believers. They are the first fruits in the sense that they have been purchased by the blood of Christ and, as such, are the first fruits of the harvest of God (see Rev. 14:14-16).” The concluding statement was introduced stating that the 144,000 are “the firstfruits of the larger harvest of the saved through all the ages.”

In the Thursday lesson, the sentence “Abraham (Gen. 17:1) and Job (Job 1:1) were blameless, but not sinless,” “but not sinless” has be removed. And the fourth paragraph as a whole has been removed.

Here’s the original manuscript of this week’s lesson:

The Sealed People of God

Sabbath Afternoon
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 7:1-17; 14:1-5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; 2 Pet. 3:10-14.
Memory Verse: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, NKJV).
The message of the opening of the seven seals shows that every person who claims to believe in Christ faces blessings for faithfulness to Christ or curses for unfaithfulness. Just as God used the curses of the covenant to bring the Israelites back to Himself, the first four seals describe God’s disciplinary means to wake His people up from their spiritual lethargy and make them victorious. Yet, God’s people suffer injustice and oppression in a world hostile to the gospel. At the opening of the sixth seal, God is ready to deal those who harmed his faithful people.
It is important to understand the place of chapter 7 in the structural arrangement of the book. It is inserted parenthetically between the sixth and seventh seals. The sixth seal brings us to the Second Coming of Christ. As the wicked face impending judgment, they run in a panic and call on the mountains and rocks to fall upon them and hide them from the wrath of God and the Lamb. They ask in terror: “Who is be able to stand?” (6:17, NKJV). Revelation 7 tells us that those who will be able to stand on the day of Christ’s coming are the sealed people of God.
Thus, Revelation 7 identifies God’s end-time people who will live at the time prior to the Second Coming. Their other characteristics are given in Revelation 14:1-5. On the other hand, there is another interlude inserted between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Rev. 10:1-11:14). This interlude coincides with the same time period as the scene of chapter 7 and describes the experience and task of God’s end-time people at the time of the end.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 10.

Sunday February 3
Restraining the Winds
Read Revelation 7:1-3 along with 2 Peter 3:9-14. What does John see? How long are the angels supposed to restrain the winds? What will happen when the sealing is concluded?
In the Old Testament, winds stand for destructive forces by which God executes judgments upon the wicked (Jer. 23:19-20). The blowing of the winds correlates with God’s wrath in Revelation 6:17. It is another way of describing the seven last plagues to be poured upon the unrepentant humanity right before the Second Coming (Rev. 16). However, these destructive forces are being restrained by divine intervention while the sealing of God’s people takes place.
In ancient times, the primary meaning of sealing was ownership. The meaning of the symbolic sealing in the New Testament is that, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19, NKJV). God recognizes Him own people and seals them with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). At the end-time, the seal on the forehead marks those who choose to be on God’s side (Rev. 14:1). The seal of God is not a visible mark put on one’s forehead, but as Ellen White states, it means, “settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved”—Ellen G. White, The Last Day Events, p. 220. Those who willingly and knowingly side with the beast receive the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-17).
The faithfulness of God’s sealed people has been tested in every generation. However, the test of faithfulness in the final crisis will be the keeping of God’s commandments (see Rev. 12:17; 14:12). In particular, the fourth commandment will become the test of obedience to God (Rev. 14:7). As the Sabbath has been the sign of God’s people in biblical times (Exod. 31:12-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20), so it will be the sign of loyalty to God in the final crisis.
Read Ezekiel 9:1-11. Ezekiel’s vision, which originally concerned the destruction of Jerusalem before the Exile, is the backdrop of the sealing in Revelation 7:1-3. In light of Ezekiel’s vision, what is the purpose of the sealing?
At the time of the end, the seal functions also as a sign of protection from the destructive forces of the seven last plagues—as in Ezekiel’s vision. Thus, the question raised in Revelation 6:17 receives the ultimate answer: those who will be able to stand protected on the day of God’s wrath are the sealed people of God.
Paul warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit by whom we have been sealed (Eph. 4:30). How does one grieve the Holy Spirit?

Monday February 4
The Sealed People of God
Read Revelation 7:4-8. What is the number of God’s sealed people? Do you see this number as literal or symbolic?
The announcement of the number of those who are sealed marks the completion of the sealing. John hears that their number is 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel. The reference is not here to a literal number but what it signifies. The number 144,000 consists of twelve times twelve times one thousand. Twelve is a symbol of God’s people: the tribes of Israel and the number of the church built upon the foundation of the 12 apostles (Eph. 2:20). Thus, the number 144,000 stands for the totality of God’s end-time people.
Compare the list of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7:4-8 with those in Genesis 49 and Numbers 1:5-15. What are the differences between these lists of the tribes and the one in Revelation?
The twelve tribes listed in Revelation 7 are not literal because the twelve tribes of Israel are not in existence today. The ten tribes were taken into captivity during the Assyrian conquest (2 Kings 17:6-23), where they became integrated with other nations. The twelve tribes do not constitute Judaism today.
Also, the list of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7 is not a regular list. Judah is listed as the first tribe instead of Ruben. Also, the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted, and Joseph and Levi are included instead. The obvious reason for the exclusion of Dan and Ephraim is because in the Old Testament these two tribes are apostate and idolatrous (Judg. 18:27-32; Hos. 4:17).
The list of the tribes in Revelation 7 is not historical but spiritual. It tells us that the unfaithfulness of the tribes of Dan and Ephraim does not have place among God’s sealed people. Also, the church in the New Testament is referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel (Jam. 1:1). The twelve tribes in Revelation 7 stand for the entire people of God.
The 144,000 are portrayed as an army modeled after ancient Israel going to war. In ancient Israel, there were 1,000 soldiers in a basic military unit (Num. 31:3-6). The symbolic number 144,000 denotes the church militant in terms of 144 military units of 1,000 ready to go to the final battle (Rev. 17:14) in contrast to the enemy army numbering 200 millions (Rev. 9:16).
Can you think of yourself as preparing for a war or battle? What preparation would you make? In what way would that preparation define your priorities in life?

Tuesday February 5
The Great Multitude
John the Revelator heard that the number of God’s sealed people was 144,000. The apostle then expected to see them entering the tribulation of the seven last plagues.
Read Revelation 7:9-14. What group of saints does John see at this point? How are they described and where do they come from? What are they shouting before God’s throne?
John sees the Great Multitude as they come out of the great tribulation of the seven last plagues (Rev 7:14). Who is this incalculable multitude?
The key to their identification is found in a special literary feature, “I heard” and “I saw.” Many times, John hears about something in vision, but when he actually sees it, it appears to him in a different symbol (see Rev. 5:5-6). John had previously only heard that the number of the sealed people was 144,000. As the winds are to be unleashed, they are ready to enter the great tribulation of the seven last plagues. Yet, John did not see them as such because they are spread in every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.
When he actually sees them, they appear as a great, incalculable crowd coming out of the great tribulation. The war is over, and they are no longer on earth but before the throne of God. They appear as incalculable, not because of their uncountable number, but because they stand in contrast to the countable 144,000. They are no longer seen as an army, but as the church triumphant.
This shows that the 144,000 and the Great Multitude are the same group of God’s end-time people pictured in different times and circumstances.
Read Revelation 14:1-3 along with 15:2-4. In light of Revelation 5:9 and 7:10, what is the content of the new song sung by the 144,000? Why are the 144,000 the only ones able to learn that song?
Revelation 14:1-3 pictures the 144,000 as God’s triumphant people with the name of God on their foreheads; they are committed to God in their mind and character. While Revelation 7:9 pictures them as standing before God’s throne, in chapter 14 they are standing on Mount Zion. Mount Zion is the place of God’s rule (Mic. 4:7) and of deliverance for God’s people (Isa. 31:4; Joel 2:32). The 144,000 have passed through the final crisis and are now celebrating the great victory over the forces of darkness.
Read about the reward of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:15-17. How does their future relate to their past? How does one wash the robes making them white in the Lamb’s blood?

Wednesday February 6
Those Who Follow the Lamb
Revelation does not explain who exactly the 144,000 are, but rather what they are. All we can learn is that, as the last generation, they are the representatives of all God’s saved people who will have to go through the final crisis of this world’s history.
Read Revelation 14:4-5. What are the three chief characteristics of the 144,000 saints? How are these characteristics related to the description of the end-time saints in Revelation 14:12?
Revelation 14:4-5 builds upon the description of the 144,000 as the ones who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). Although they experienced the fullness of Satan’s wrath in the final crisis, they have remained firm because of their close relationship with Jesus.
In light of Revelation 17:5, in what sense have the 144,000 not been defiled with women? How is this related to the fact that they are redeemed from people as “the first fruits” to God?
That the 144,000 have not defiled themselves with women mirrors the practice among ancient Israelite soldiers of not having sexual relationships with women prior to battle (1 Sam. 21:4-5). Similarly, the 144,000 entering the final battle are symbolically portrayed as not spiritually defiling themselves with women.
Sexual immorality is a symbol of unfaithfulness to God. Revelation 17:5 talks about the end-time prostitute Babylon and her daughters, with whom all the people of the world will commit fornication (see Rev. 18:3). However, the 144,000 will remain loyal to Christ and resist the defiling relationships with Babylon and apostate religions. They “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”
The 144,000 are further described as the ones who “have been redeemed from among men” as “first fruits to God and to the Lamb (NKJV).“ In ancient Israel, the first fruits were the best fruits of the harvest offered to God. The term “the first fruits” refers to God’s saved people in their totality as distinct from the people in the world (see Jer. 2:3; Jam. 1:18). The 144,000 are not a special small group of saints separated from the rest of the believers. They are the first fruits in the sense that they have been purchased by the blood of Christ and, as such, are the first fruits of the harvest of God (see Rev. 14:14-16).
To have the name of God on one’s forehead means to reflect His character. How is such a person recognized? As you think of the members in your congregation, does their behavior indicate that God’s character is engraved on their minds and characters?

Thursday February 7
Salvation to Our God and the Lamb
Read Revelation 14:5 along with 2 Peter 3:14. Revelation describes God’s end time people as “without fault.” How is this achievable?
The final characteristic of the 144,000 is that “in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (NKJV). The deceit spoken of here refers to Satan’s end-time deceptions (Rev. 13:14). While most of the people in the world choose to believe his lies, God’s end-time people will receive the love of the truth so as to be saved (2 Thess. 2:10-11).
“Without fault” (Gr. amōmos, “blameless”) refers to the fidelity of the 144,000 to Christ, not their morally sinless status. In the Old Testament, Abraham (Gen. 17:1) and Job (Job 1:1) were blameless, but not sinless. Two thousand years ago, Christians were called to be holy and without blemish before God (Eph. 5:27; Phil. 2:15).
In the closing days of this world’s history, the 144,000 will reflect the true character of Christ. Their salvation will reflect what Christ has done for them, rather than their own holiness and works (see Eph. 2:8-9). The 144,000 have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14), and, as such, are found “spotless and blameless” before God (2 Pet. 3:14).
Revelation nowhere indicates that in God’s kingdom there will be two distinct groups of saved people: the final generation of saints who will reach a level of holiness that no generation before them was able to attain. The 144,000 are not a select group of super saints who will, at the Second Coming, be granted special privileges not available to the rest of the redeemed. The redeemed saints are all dressed in the white robes provided by Christ (see Rev. 19:8). These white robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb and make all the redeemed equal before God.
Meditate on the following statements: “We need to be refined, cleansed from all earthliness, till we reflect the image of our Savior, and become ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ . . . When the conflict of life is ended, when the armor is laid off at the feet of Jesus, when the saints of God are glorified, then and then only will it be safe to claim that we are saved and sinless.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355. How can we live a life of sanctification in active preparation for eternity, and yet not suffer from the pitfalls of perfectionism and fanatical holiness?

Friday February 8
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Sinlessness and Salvation,” pp. 353-357, in Selected Message, book 3.
The identity of the 144,000 is a hotly debated issue. What seems evident in Revelation is that the 144,000 are the last generation of God’s people in the closing days of this earth’s history. We know that they will go through the time of the tribulation of the seven last plagues (see Rev. 7:15-17) and that their loyalty will be tested like no generation in the past.
Yet, who will be in that group is not revealed to us. This is one of the secrets that God has kept for Himself (Deut. 29:29). Only the future will reveal who will be a part of this group of saved saints. Regarding this, we have been given a warning:
“Christ says that there will be those in the church who will present fables and suppositions, when God has given grand, elevating, ennobling truths which should ever be kept in the treasure house of the mind. When men pick up this theory and that theory, when they are curious to know something it is not necessary for them to know, God is not leading them. It is not His plan that His people shall present something which they have to suppose, which is not taught in the Word. It is not His will that they shall get into controversy over questions which will not help them spiritually, such as, Who is to compose the hundred and forty-four thousand? This those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol.1, p. 174.

Discussion Questions:
Think of the following admonition: “Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the hundred and forty-four thousand.”—Ellen G. White, in SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 970. How can you put these words into practice? How does this striving impact your daily decisions?
An important characteristic of the 144,000 end-time saints is the singing of the new song. As you think of your own life, does your present spiritual walk reflect a song of a fresh experience with God? Or, does your life reflect your past stale stories of God’s works in your life, lacking evidence of present commitment? How does your present life reflect a new song of your spiritual walk and experience with Christ? Do you know Christ working in your daily life, or do you just know about Him?

7 thoughts on “Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 7)

  1. Kevin James

    The many changes lends to greater confusion about this special number. It has been evident in the SS I am attending this morning. So many opinions not derived from the text itself. I struggle with not be frustrated.

    Reply
  2. Carol

    When the conflict of life is ended, when the armor is laid off at the feet of Jesus, when the saints of God are glorified, then and then only will it be safe to claim that we are saved and sinless.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355.
    Why would you use this quote that says we cannot know we are saved until we get to heaven when you have used quotes from Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament that say that we are saved and sealed such as Ephesians 1:13,14? The message is so clear in the Bible surely you do not have to put doubts in our minds from the works of Ellen White.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Sorry, I was sharing someone else’s work, that tension didn’t jump out to me when I read it two years ago. While claims of “I am saved” are not without risk, the NT supports assurance in the Spirit.

      Reply
  3. Gugu

    Interesting. Now if the 144000 is composed of the living generation and those raised in the special resurrection which is thus phrased at it pertains to the resurrection of a certain group and not everyone who is saved and, how can the 144000 be said to be the same group as the great multitude. To this extent the 144000 seems to be distinct group to me.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      You are not the only person who thinks so. But in your comment you brought a couple assumptions from outside the chapter into your reasoning. I think the evidence of the chapter itself would point in the direction to two images for the same people of God at the end of time.

      Reply

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