This is an article in the series on the vision of the book with the seven seals (Rev 4:1-8:1).
The first verse uses symbols to describe as God “holding back” destruction:
1 After this I saw four angels
standing at the four corners of the earth,
holding back the four winds of the earth,
so that no wind would blow
on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
In the next verse, the seal of the living God arrives on earth:
2 And I saw another angel ascending
from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God;
Then the angel announces WHEN that destruction will be released on earth:
and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels
to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea
“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees
UNTIL we have sealed the bond-servants of our God
on their foreheads.
This explains why God is delaying Christ’s return.
This is the second article on Revelation 7:1-3. The first article discussed where the sealing fits in the end-time events. It concluded that God’s people will be sealed THROUGH AND DURING the end-time persecution of God’s people as described in Revelation 13:11-18. The seven last plagues – described in Revelation 15-16 – follow immediately after that persecution, meaning that God’s people are sealed to protect them during those seven last plagues.
This second article discusses Revelation 7:1-3 in more detail; particularly WHAT the seal of God is. Was this seal always available and does it simply identify God’s people, or does it mean that God’s people will receive power through the Holy Spirit?
Earth, sea, trees – The four angels keep the four winds from blowing “on the earth or on the sea or on any tree” (Rev 7:1). The earth and sea symbolize the people of the world (e.g., Rev 12:12; 13:1, 11), but the trees represent God’s people (Rev 9:4).
Four – The number four in the “four angels,” the “four corners of the earth,” and the “four winds” (Rev 7:1) symbolize that these things are worldwide. For example, Revelation often uses four synonyms to describe the entire population of the world (e.g., Rev 10:11; 13:7; 14:6).
Four winds – This is discussed in the previous article. The four winds (Rev 7:1) are another symbol for the seven last plagues.
Holding back – The “four angels” symbolize God “holding back” (Rev 7:1) forces of destruction. God has always been restraining the forces of destruction. But a time will come when He will allow unprecedented destruction. When that time comes, God’s people must be protected, and they will be protected by His seal. For that reason, God holds back the end-time plagues until His “bond-servants” are sealed (Rev 7:2-3).
The rising of the sun – The angel ascends “from the rising of the sun” with the seal of God (Rev 7:2). In other words, it comes up in the east like the sun. The sign of the Son of man will also first appear in the east (Matt 24:27-30; cf. Ezek 43:2; Matt 2:2, 9).
An End-Time Only Seal
In this section, the question is what the seal of God in Revelation 7 is. According to the apostle Paul, people are sealed at conversion with or by “the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 1:13; Eph 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22; 1 John 4:13). In other words, that seal was available throughout the church age. However, for the reasons below, the seal of God in Revelation 7 is something that ONLY END-TIME BELIEVERS will receive to protect them during end-time catastrophes preceding Christ’s returns:
1) The seal is given to people who ALREADY are Christians (Rev 7:3).
2) The sealing (Rev 7:1-3) is parallel to Ezekiel 9:1-7. In both, (a) a mark is made on the foreheads of God’s people (b) to protect them from the judgment that follows. Since, in Ezekiel 9, people who are ALREADY faithful to God are marked on their foreheads, the same should apply in Revelation 7.
3) The seal protects against a danger that does not exist in previous ages, namely the four winds, interpreted as the seven last plagues.
4) The seal in Revelation 7 has a different purpose. The purpose of the seal mentioned by Paul is to provide assurance to God’s people but the purpose of the seal in Revelation 7 is to protect God’s people from the tribulations to come (cf. Rev 9:4).
5) The seal Paul wrote about was always available but the seal in Revelation 7 was not. It “ascends” in the east after the angels have already been holding back the four winds for some time.
6) Revelation mentions the seal of God in two chapters and BOTH chapters mention it in the context of the end-time, namely, in the context of the great day of God’s wrath (Rev 6:17-7:2) and the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-14:1).
The seal in Revelation 7, therefore, is not the same as the seal Paul wrote about. It is something additional that only end-time believers will receive to protect them when the winds (the seven last plagues) are released.
The seal will empower God’s people.
But HOW will it protect God’s people? One possibility is that the seal serves to IDENTIFY God’s people so that the angels would not pour out the plagues on them (Rev 16:2). But, for the following reasons, the seal should be understood as power from God to enable God’s people to remain faithful to God during the destructions caused by the seven last plagues:
1) The seal is God’s name on the foreheads of His people (Rev 7:3; 14:1). Since names in Revelation symbolize character (cf. Rev 17:3, 5) and since the forehead symbolizes the mind, to put the name of God on their foreheads is to change how they think; they like God. They will have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
2) Even in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1), “His name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). This is the seal of God but must indicate something more than mere identification because then EVERYBODY will have His name on their foreheads.
3) During the second part of the fifth seal “their fellow servants” will be “completed” (Rev 6:11). That completion has been interpreted NOT quantitively to a specific number but that God’s people must be completed qualitative to spiritual maturity. Since another article has shown that the sealing (Rev 7:1-3) is equivalent to that completion, the sealing must also be to spiritual maturity.
4) Revelation indicates several times that Christ will only return when His people have become spiritually mature. For example, He will return (Rev 19:11) after “His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8; cf. Rev 14:15). Another article concluded similarly that the number 144000 is not literal but also symbolizes the spiritual maturity of God’s end-time people.
5) The “four winds,” for which God’s people are sealed, are interpreted as the seven last plagues and one purpose of the plagues is to show that the people with the seal of God would rather die than disobey God. This also implies that the seal of God is more than mere identification.
Rick Joyner, in his book, “The Call,” explains the seal of God well. Quoting Jesus, Rick wrote:
The last-day church will not be greater than Paul’s generation, even if she does greater works. All that is done is done by My grace. However, I will make more of My grace and power available to the last-day church, because she must accomplish more than the church in any age has yet accomplished.
Last-day believers will walk in all the power that I demonstrated, and more because they will be the final representatives of all who have gone before them. The church will demonstrate My nature and My ways as they have never been demonstrated before by men. It is because I am giving you more grace, and to whom much is given much will be required.
– End of Summary –
Discussion of the Text
The Sea, Earth, and Trees
All three verses refer to these things:
The earth and sea symbolize the people of the world (e.g., Rev 12:12). For example, the two beasts of Revelation 13 come out of the sea and out of the earth respectively (Rev 13:1, 11).
The trees, on the other hand, represent God’s people (Rev 9:4). Therefore, by delaying (“holding back” – Rev 7:1) the end-time destructions, God protects ALL people of the world.
Not permitted to harm the Trees
Note the relationship between the four angels and the earth, sea, and trees. The four angels:
- Hold back the four winds, so that no wind would blow on the earth or sea or on any tree (Rev 7:1).
- Were granted to harm the earth and the sea (Rev 7:2).
- Are instructed not to harm the earth or sea or trees until God’s bond-servants have been sealed.
While verses 1 and 3 say what these angels are NOW NOT ALLOWED to do, verse 2 says what they WILL BE ALLOWED at the right time. Important to note that verse 2 omits the trees from the list. In other words, the four angels are NOW protecting the earth, the sea, and the trees, meaning that they are now protecting ALL people. But, in the future, they will be permitted to harm the earth and the sea but not the trees. This supports the identification of the trees as God’s people.
The Four Winds
The angels were “holding back the four winds of the earth” (Rev 7:1).
Daniel, similarly, saw “the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea and four great beasts were coming up from the sea” (Dan 7:2-3). These beasts are kingdoms (Dan 7:17). The “great sea” is explained as “the earth” (Dan 7:17). This supports the view that the sea and the earth in Rev 7:1 represent the peoples of the world (cf. Rev 12:12). This also shows that the winds symbolize things that cause upheaval and conflict among the peoples of the world. The following is another example:
“I will bring upon Elam the four winds
from the four ends of heaven,
and will scatter them to all these winds;
and there will be no nation to which
the outcasts of Elam will not go” (Jer 49:36).
Throughout Scripture, winds are symbols of God’s judgment actions (1 Kings 19:11; Job 1:19; 21:18; 30:15; Psalm 1:4; 147:18; Isa 11:15; 27:8; 32:2; 41:16; Jer 22:22; 49:36-37; 51:1-2; Daniel 2:35; 7:2).
A previous article has concluded that the “winds” of Rev 7:1 are another symbol for the seven last plagues. In brief, it concludes as follows:
During the end-time persecution of God’s people as described in Revelation 13, the image of the beast will attempt to put the mark of the beast on all people (Rev 13:15-16). However, DURING THAT SAME PERIOD OF PERSECUTION, the angels will put the seal of God on God’s people.
As soon as every person on earth is marked with either the seal of God or the mark of the beast, God will pour out the seven last plagues on all people who have the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2).
Therefore, both the seven last plagues and the four winds are released as soon as God’s people are all sealed (cf. Rev 7:3). Consequently, the four winds are the same as the seven last plagues.
The Rising of the Sun
The angel ascends “from the rising of the sun” with the seal of God (Rev 7:2). In other words, it comes up in the east like the sun. We know today that if something was approaching earth from outer space, it would appear to be rising in the east as the earth turns. The rising of the sun means the east. The sign of the Son of man will also appear first in the east (Matt 24:27-30). In the Bible, the east frequently refers to God. For example:
- “The glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east” (Ezek 43:2).
- The three wise men saw the star in the east (Matt 2:2, 9).
The angel, therefore, brings the seal from God.
The Living God
The seal is called “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2). “The living God” may be a shortened version of the description of God found elsewhere in Revelation: “Him who lives forever and ever” (Rev 4:9-10; 10:6; and 15:7). Alternatively, this phrase may identify God as the Source of life:
“Just as the Father has life in Himself,
even so He gave to the Son also
to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).
God holds destruction back.
Revelation 7:1 mentions the four winds as the threat. The next two verses do not mention the winds again, but the angels themselves cause “harm.” These are not literal angels nor literal winds. The four winds symbolize worldwide destruction and the four angels symbolize God restraining the forces of destruction.
God has always been holding back the forces of destruction. However, in the end-time, at the right time, God will allow the forces of destruction to destroy without limit.
If the winds would be released prematurely, God’s people will be harmed. Therefore, God delays the final end-time destruction until all of His people are sealed (Rev 7:2-3). When the forces of destruction are released, God’s people will be protected by the seal on their foreheads. But the people of the world will have no protection.
The Sequence of end-time Events
The Sixth Seal, at the end of chapter 6, begins with the signs of the return of Christ (Rev 6:12-14; cf. Matt 24:29-30). The next chapter (Revelation 7) begins with the sealing of the 144000. However, the sealing, logically, must be completed BEFORE Christ returns. Revelation 7:1-8, therefore, interrupts the sequence of events and jumps back to the time before His return. The sixth seal continues in Revelation 7:9 with the innumerable multitude standing before God’s throne.
We see this structure, namely that something is mentioned briefly, and that the text then goes back in time to explain it, often in Revelation. For instance:
The woman’s wilderness period is mentioned briefly in Revelation 12:6. Then the text jumps back in time to the War in Heaven (Rev 12:7-12) to explain why the woman had to flee to the wilderness. The sequence of events continues in Rev 12:14.
Babylon receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh plague at the end of Revelation 16. Revelation 17 and 18 then interrupt the sequence of events to explain the origin, nature, and the end of Babylon. The seventh plague continues in Revelation 19. For further discussion, see – Does the Book of Revelation describe events in chronological sequence?
The sequence of end-time events, therefore, is as follows:
1) God (symbolically, the four angels) has always been restraining the forces of destruction (symbolically, the four winds) (Rev 7:1).
2) At a point in history, the seal of God comes down out of heaven (Rev 7:2). Another article argues that this is the beginning of what Daniel calls, “the time of the end” (Dan 12:4, 9).
3) While God continues to restrain the forces of destruction, the servants of God are being sealed (Rev 7:3-8). At the same time, the image of the beast marks all other people with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16).
4) When all of God’s people are sealed, and every person has either the seal of God or the mark of the beast, God releases the forces of destruction. A previous article concluded that that time of destruction is symbolized by three different symbols, namely:
- The four winds (Rev 7:1-3),
- The seven last plagues, and
- The first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14), when “every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Rev 6:14).
5) When the purpose of the plagues has been achieved, Christ will return. Then, while the great multitude of people who lived in rebellion against God hides in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17), an innumerable multitude of God’s people will stand before His throne (Rev 7:9).
An End-Time Only Seal
In this section, the question is what the seal of God in Revelation 7 is. In the New Testament, God’s people are sealed when they receive the Holy Spirit:
“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Eph 1:13, NIV; cf. Eph 4:30).
“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13).
The Holy Spirit is the assurance of salvation—the guarantee of heaven. This sealing takes place when a person comes to Christ and is not limited to the end-time. Sealing, therefore, was a present reality in Timothy’s day and was the mark of a genuine Christian.
Then the question is: Is the seal in Revelation 7 the same as the NT seal? In other words, is the seal in Revelation 7 simply a symbolic way of saying people are saved?
If that was true, the Revelation 7 sealing may be an intensified final proclamation of the gospel with the result that people at the End become genuine believers and are sealed in the New Testament sense. In this interpretation, sealing is a process that has gone on throughout the Christian era but reaches a final climax at the time of the end.
An End-Time Only Seal
But it is proposed here that the seal of God in Revelation 7 is something special that only end-time believers will receive and, therefore, is not the same as the seal that is available throughout the church age. This is indicated by the following:
1) Servants are sealed.
Firstly, “the four winds” are held back by “four angels” until “the servants of God” are sealed “on their foreheads” with “the seal of the living God.” In other words, people who are ALREADY sealed in the Pauline sense receive the end-time seal. The Revelation 7-seal, therefore, is something in addition to the seal mentioned by Paul; a deepened spiritual maturity as the end-time approaches.
2) Ezekiel 9
Secondly, the sealing in Revelation 7 is parallel to the horrific description of Ezekiel 9:1-7. In both, (a) a mark is made on the foreheads of God’s people (b) to protect them from the judgment that follows. Revelation 7 symbolizes the judgments as destructive winds. In Ezekiel 9, angels kill those who are not marked.
In Ezekiel 9, the people who have ALREADY shown that they are faithful to God are marked on their foreheads. By inference, the same applies to Revelation 7. This confirms the previous point, namely that the people who are ALREADY God’s people ALSO receive the seal of God.
3) End-Time Danger
Thirdly, God’s people are sealed in Revelation 7 to protect them from a danger that does not exist in previous generations, namely when the four winds are released. Since this danger is limited to the end time, the seal is also limited to the end time.
4) Different Purpose
Fourthly, the seal in Revelation 7 has a different purpose. The seal mentioned by Paul is to provide assurance to God’s people. In contrast, the seal in Revelation 7 serves to protect God’s people from the tribulations to come. This is confirmed by Revelation 9:4:
“They were told not to hurt …
only the men who do not have
the seal of God on their foreheads.“
5) Not Always Available
Fifthly, the seal Paul wrote about was always available but the seal in Revelation 7 was not. It “ascends” in the east after the angels have already been holding back the four winds for some time. Therefore, it comes out of heaven and the sealing begins at a specific point in history.
The fifth seal also refers to a point in history AFTER many of God’s people have been killed but BEFORE many more will be killed (Rev 6:9-11). Another article concludes that the point in history in the fifth seal is when the angel brings the seal of God in Revelation 7. It would then follow that the seal would not be available during the previous four seals.
That article also concludes that that point in time is the beginning of the Time of the End (Dan 12:4, 9).
6) End-Time Context
Sixthly, the seal of God is mentioned in two chapters of Revelation and both chapters mention it in the context of the end-time events:
Revelation 7 mentions the seal between the great day of God’s wrath (Rev 6:17) and the innumerable multitude who inherits the new heaven and new earth (Rev 7:9, 14-17).
Revelation 14 describes the 144000 sealed servants of God (Rev 14:1) in the context of the end-time persecution to put the mark of the beast on all people (Rev 13:15-16).
Paul wrote that, at conversion, God’s people “were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13). The seal in Revelation 7, however, is not the same as the seal Paul wrote about. It is something in addition that only end-time believers will receive to protect them from the destruction of the seven last plagues.
What is the Seal of God?
As indicated by the following, the winds will not harm the people with God’s seal:
Firstly, the angels (or winds) have not been granted permission to harm the trees, which symbolize God’s people (Rev 7:2). (See the discussion above of the earth, sea, and trees.)
Secondly, as already stated, the winds are the seven last plagues and the plagues will only fall on people with the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2).
To understand what the seal is, we must also ask: WHY will the winds not harm God’s people?
Does the seal serve to identify God’s people so that the angels will know on which people to pour out the seven last plagues?
Or, will the seal of God will change God’s people to enable them to endure the destruction caused by these plagues?
Identify God’s People
In the first option, the winds cannot be unleashed until it is clear just WHO the righteous are. Once they are IDENTIFIED by means of His seal, the angels will know who to “harm” and who not. Perhaps one of Jesus’ parables has this in mind: When the slaves asked:
“Do you want us, then, to go and gather them (the tares) up,”
The man said,
“No; for while you are gathering up the tares,
you may uproot the wheat with them” (Matt 13:28-29)
The blood on the doorposts in Exodus 12:21-23 was one example of a mark that served to IDENTIFY the people who must be spared. In Revelation 9:4, the seal of God also seems to serve as identification:
“They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth,
nor any green thing, nor any tree,
but only the men who do not have
the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev 9:4)
Jesus promised to keep the people who kept “the word of My (His) perseverance” from “the hour of testing” (Rev 3:10). This verse does not mention something with which God’s people are marked. It also does not seem as if the people will be changed to endure “the hour of testing.” It simply seems to say that they will be identified:
“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance,
I also will keep you from the hour of testing,
that hour which is about to come upon the whole world,
to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 3:10).
Empower God’s People
The alternative is that the seal of God will empower God’s people to remain faithful to God during the destructions caused by the seven last plagues. The following supports this view:
1) God’s Name on the Forehead
The seal is put on the foreheads of the servants of God (Rev 7:3). For the following reasons, God’s name on the forehead indicates a substantive change in God’s people:
(a) The forehead symbolizes the mind. The seal is the name of God (Rev 14:1), and names in Revelation represent character (Rev 17:3, 5). In other words, to put the seal of God on their foreheads is to change how they think; they like God.
(b) Even in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1), “His name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). This must indicate something more than mere identification, for then all people will have the seal of God.
(c) Satan’s counterpart of the seal of God is the mark of the beast. Both Satan’s mark and God’s seal are names on foreheads (Rev 13:16-14:1). The mark of the beast is the name of the beast (Rev 13:17). It may be applied to the “right hand,” meaning that people comply even though they DISAGREE with what the image is doing, but because they are intimidated by threats of punishments (Rev 13:15). Others will receive the mark on their foreheads (Rev 13:16), meaning that they AGREE with what the image is doing. The mark of the beast on the forehead, therefore, means something more than mere identification. Since the seal of God is God’s counterpart of the mark of the beast, this supports the conclusion that the seal is more than mere identification.
2) Parallel to the Fifth Seal
The fifth seal describes a specific point in history (Rev 6:9-11). After that point in time, “their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed” (Rev 6:11). That has been interpreted as qualitative completion; not that a specific number of God’s people must be killed.
Another article concluded that the point in history in the fifth seal is when the angel ascends in the east with the seal of God. Consequently, the completion of “their fellow servants” in the fifth seal is the same as the sealing of Revelation 7:1-3. As since that “completion” in the fifth seal is understood qualitatively, the same must apply to the sealing; namely that God’s people are to be made complete in character.
3) Explanation of God’s Judgments
The sealing (Rev 7:1-3) is part of the breaking of the seven seals of the sealed book (Rev 5:1, 5) which has been identified as the book of life. The seals are Satan’s accusations against the people identified in that book. He claims that they are sinners and deserve to die. That Jesus breaks the seals means that He directs events on earth to refute Satan’s accusations by revealing the faithfulness of God’s people under persecution. (See – How will Satan be defeated?) In that context, spiritual maturity makes more sense than mere identification.
4) His Bride has made herself Ready.
Further evidence of the extraordinary character of the 144000 is the indication that Christ will only return when His people have reached a required level of maturity. For example:
“His bride has made herself ready.
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen,
bright and clean; for the fine linen
is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8).
Jesus will “reap” when “the hour to reap has come,
because THE HARVEST OF THE EARTH IS RIPE” (Rev 14:15).
In this description of Christ’s return (Rev 14:14-20), “the harvest of the earth” symbolizes God’s people.
5) The Number 144000 implies Maturity
The special nature of the end-time seal is also indicated by the number of people that will receive it; 144000. Numbers in Revelation are always symbolic. The article which identifies the 144000 concludes that this number should be understood qualitatively and means that these people are spiritually mature and will not withdraw their testimony under persecution.
6) The Purpose of the Plagues
The “four winds” have been interpreted as the seven last plagues. The series of articles on the seven last plagues has concluded that the purpose of the plagues is not to punish but to demonstrate that God’s judgments are perfect:
On the one hand, the plagues will show that the people with the mark of the beast, although they profess to be Christians, are hardened beyond repentance.
On the other, the plagues will also show that the people with the seal of God would rather die than disobey God.
This also supports the view that the seal of God is more than mere identification.
People are sealed with the Holy Spirit when they become Christians but the seal of God in Revelation 7 is something in addition that only end-time believers will receive to empower them to remain faithful during the final catastrophic events before Christ returns. God will make more of His grace and power available to the last-day church because she must accomplish more than the church in any age has yet accomplished.