The first six seals represented the calamitous events breaking out in the world at large. They showed humanity facing the consequences of its own sinful actions as well as the impending judgment of God. Chapter seven breaks away to a different scene. It picks up the story of God's people and answers the question of Revelation 6:17: "His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" John, in vision, now sees the security of the faithful in contrast to a sinful world facing almost total destruction.
Wrath of God Temporarily Restrained
As the seventh chapter of Revelation begins, we find that the wrath of God — the day of the Lord — is temporarily being held up. John sees "four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth" (verse 1). These winds, from the four directions of the compass, represent the retribution of God. Specifically, the four winds are restrained from blowing on the earth, sea and trees (Rev. 7:1). The first three angels blowing on trumpets will strike these ecological targets (Rev. 8:7-10). Immediately after the "four winds" vision, John hears another angel say, "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads" (Rev. 7:3). This seal leaves "His Father's name written on their foreheads" (Rev. 14:1). The prophet Ezekiel experienced a similar vision. He saw human figures in Jerusalem (standing as a symbol for all the tribes of Israel) disturbed over the sins being committed in the city (Ezekiel 9:4). They received "a mark on the forehead." What does it mean to be "marked" and "sealed"?
Those Who Are "Sealed"
To be "sealed" is a symbolic way of saying that these people are identified as belonging to God. They are "marked" for protection from the afflictions to come. The servants' "mark" or seal is also to be contrasted, in a vision John will shortly see, with the mark the followers of the "beast" receive. They are branded with the mark of its name (Rev. 14:11; 16:2; 19:20). This singles out and labels such people as the enemies of God. The 144,000 is the first group to be sealed and protected from what is coming (Rev. 7:3-8). Who are these individuals? They are the servants of God, the Apocalypse tells us. That means they obey him. They could certainly be part of the same group discussed in chapters two and three of Revelation. That is, they would be the people of God, members of his Church. Revelation, chapter 14, again mentions the 144,000. John says of this group: "These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.... These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb" (Rev. 14:4). In this context the 144,000 symbolize those who are true to God and his way. This group is composed of spiritual virgins. They do not commit spiritual fornication by following false religious and philosophical teachings. They have repented of ungodly behavior. They are true to God's perfect way. This group, however, is only the first to come under God's grace. They are the "firstfruits," as Revelation 74:4 points out, of a much greater spiritual harvest to come. In his defense before the Roman authorities, Paul said he was being judged for the hope of the resurrection. Said Paul, "To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to obtain" (Acts 26:7). Paul clearly tells us that the physical tribes of Israel were not then serving God (Romans 9:31;1 1:25).T he 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel described in Revelation must be converted Israelites and members of his Church (Galatians 6:16), organized into 12 tribes. The emphasis in Revelation is on the spiritual people of God or his Church. The 144,000, then, comprise the generation of faithful believers who live at this final turbulent period of human history. This group would be supernaturally protected from the trials and tribulations of God's wrath to come at the end times. In the next vision, John sees another group being sealed for protection. This much larger assembly is "a great multitude which no one could number." They come from "all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues" and they are all "clothed with white robes" (Rev. 7:9). The innumerable multitude is made up of individuals "who come out of the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14). If they came "out of" the great tribulation, they must have been in it. The definite article the is used here. The subject is the great tribulation at the close of the age, the one to which Jesus referred (Matthew 24:21). While some of God's people must suffer through the great tribulation — as we shall see later — God protects all of them from his earth-shattering wrath. This protection having been afforded to God's true servants, the time for the real day of the Lord — God's wrath on a sinning humanity — now begins.
God's Wrath Begins
We now come to the eighth chapter of Revelation and the opening of the seventh and final seal. John here records another vision. "When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets" (Rev. 8:1-2). The judgments to fall on the world are so shocking that a time of silence must be taken to commemorate what is to come. It's a dramatic pause or lull before the final storm of God's wrath. The trumpet plagues are poised to strike. Trumpets played a prominent part in events recorded in the Hebrew Bible. They were used to call people together, to move the tribes and to celebrate the festivals. They were also used to sound the alarm in time of war and in the coronation of kings. Trumpets herald the day of God's wrath. It is a time of alarm in the world (Zephaniah 1:14-16). Lightning, thunder, great noises and mighty tremors announce the beginning of God's wrath (Rev. 8:5). The world trembles before the presence of God as ancient Israel did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The first four seals depicted judgments that were the inevitable result of human sinfulness. God now directs the trumpet plagues against a world unyielding in its hostility toward him. These trumpet plagues affect a significant portion of earth. The stylistic "one-third" occurs a number of times in verses 7-12. These punishments are intended to lead the human race to repentance. Tragically, for the most part humanity refuses to heed (Rev. 9:20). Before Pharaoh would release ancient Israel from captivity, plagues devastated Egypt (Exodus 10:7). In the end time, horrifying events will strike fear in those holding world power. This will result in the release of God's people as well (Rev. 18:4). Both the remaining fragments of the physical nation and God's spiritual children will be freed from the oppressive "beast" that rules the world. John sees seven trumpet visions. They constitute the seventh seal. Each trumpet follows the other and represents real world events of the future. These trumpets depict plagues, afflictions or calamities which God will bring on a world that refuses to repent. We saw that the "great day of God's wrath" was announced at the end of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:17). These seventh-seal trumpets, then, portray events to take place during the day of the Lord. It is the time when God begins to directly assert control over a sinning world. It will be a time of great confusion. The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah wrote of this time. "The great day of the Lord is near, it comes with speed.... That day is a day of wrath, a day of anguish and affliction, a day of destruction and devastation... a day of trumpet and battle-cry over fenced cities and lofty battlements" (Zephaniah 1:14-16, New English Bible, italics added).
First Four Trumpet Plagues
The first four trumpet plagues strike the earth itself, creating an ecological catastrophe of global proportions. The visions present stylized scenes in which one third of whatever is struck is destroyed. • The first angel's trumpet sounds. A roaring firestorm destroys one third of the world's forests and vegetation (Rev. 8:7). • The second angel's trumpet sounds. John sees "something like a great mountain burning with fire" thrown into the sea. One third of all ocean life dies and a third of all ships are destroyed (Rev. 8:8-9). • The third angel's trumpet sounds. John sees "a great star" — perhaps a meteor — fall from the sky "burning like a torch." It destroys one third of the world's water supply (Rev. 8:10-11). • The fourth angel's trumpet sounds. Great disturbances in atmospheric conditions occur (Rev. 8:12).
The group of 144,000 faithful believers live at the turbulent period of history when Christ returns.
The final three angelic trumpet soundings are immediately preceded by an announcement. They have come to be known by a special title — the "three woes" — because of their extreme severity. John looks and hears "an angel flying through the midst of heaven." He cries out,, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!" (Rev. 8:13). The "first woe," or the fifth trumpet, is described in Revelation 9:1-11. The power that causes the destruction labeled as the "first woe" emerges out of the "bottomless pit." We see this later interpreted in Revelation 17:8 as a final rebirth of a great empire. This force surfaces to take political and military control of a large part of the world. Here's what John sees as the fifth angel sounds his trumpet. A "star" falls from heaven and is given a key to the abyss. This is a reference to Satan himself who is called "the angel of the bottomless pit" (Rev. 9:11). "He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. ... Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power.... And the shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle... and their faces were like the faces of men... and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots.... They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. And their power was to hurt men five months" (Rev. 9:1-10). The fifth trumpet, then, introduces a major cataclysm. It portrays a vast military — political superpower exacting punishment on other nations in war.
The Sixth Trumpet or "Second Woe"
"One woe is past," John suddenly hears. "Behold. still two more woes are coming after these things" (Rev. 9:12). Immediately after this angelic statement, John hears the sixth angel sound. What he sees and hears next staggers the imagination: an army of horsemen numbering 200 million (verse 16). John continues to write: "And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions: and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone" (Rev. 9:17). In vision, John sees this army advancing west across the Euphrates river, which runs through the modern-day Middle East nation of Iraq. The Euphrates river has great symbolic importance in history. It marked in Solomon's time the boundary between ancient Israel and nations to the east. In 539 B.C., the Medo-Persian king Cyrus diverted the Euphrates river preventing it from running through the center of Babylon. As a result. Cyrus and his troops were able to steal into the city unobserved along the dry riverbed. They surprised and captured the city, bringing down the Babylonian empire. The 200 million strong army of horsemen John portrays in Revelation is symbolic of a major invasion from the east, during a world war. This vast horde moves across the Euphrates and toward the Holy Land. One third of the humans alive are killed (verses 15, 18). Apparently what John witnesses is the second stage of a total world war in proportions not known to this day.
One Trumpet Must Yet Sound
The world's troubles do not end with chapter nine. One final trumpet plague — the "third woe" — yet remains. John now sees an angel standing with one foot on the land and the other on the water. John then writes the words he hears, that "there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel... the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets" (Rev. 10:6-7). However, before John receives the visions of this seventh angel, he sees other events that need to be recorded. These are things about the history of God's people and the preaching of the gospel. They occur during the tumultuous times of the great tribulation and wrath of God.