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Some of you are old enough to remember the Tylenol scare. In September of 1982 there were a number of mysterious deaths. Investigators soon solved the mystery. The people who had died had all taken Tylenol. They discovered that someone had laced random bottles of Tylenol with cyanide.
As you can imagine, if you had any Tylenol you quickly threw it away. The company recalled all of their product. Whoever tampered with the bottles of Tylenol was never found. But this incident is the reason we have tamper proof packaging, sometimes double or triple sealed. Sealed for safety.
Sealed for safety, that’s what John sees happening in his vision recorded for us in Revelation chapter 7.
To understand why God wanted John to see this we only need to look at the end of chapter 6. There John saw the sun turn dark and the mood turn blood red. He saw the stars fall to the earth and the sky roll up like a scroll. He saw every mountain and island removed from its place. He saw what Jesus had foretold, recorded for us in Matthew’s Gospel: the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Peter describes it in this way, the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
John not only saw what was happening to the sun, moon, stars, and the earth, he saw the reaction of the people who were living on the earth. Even the richest and most powerful people tried to hide themselves. They realized that all the money in the world couldn’t save them. They knew they had no power to stop what was happening. They knew that they could not stand before the throne of the just and holy God. They had long denied the existence of God and mocked the idea of a day of judgment. Now they realized with dread that they were wrong and that they were without excuse.
The chapter ends with a very important question. When the great day of God’s wrath comes, who is able to stand?
John must have felt the answer. He must have felt fear and dread in his own heart as he saw what was happening and realized that he was not able to stand before God either. In order to be able to stand before God you would have to be perfect, completely without sin, never have let an unkind word slip out of your mouth, never even entertained a sinful thought in your mind. No one should be able to stand before God. Everyone should feel his wrath against sin and join Satan in Hell.
John needed the vision God gave him in chapter 7 and so do we. We need something that gives us hope.
God gives John a flashback. He shows him what was going to happen before the events of the last day described in chapter 6. He shows him that there are four angels holding back the four winds of the earth so that the wind could not blow on the earth, the sea, or any tree. They were the ones God had given the power to bring about the destruction described in chapter 6, but they were holding back. They were waiting for God to tell them that the day and hour had come, and they could release the destruction they were holding back. As Jesus pointed out, no one knows when that day will be, not even the angels.
John also hears the reason that these angels are told to wait, to hold back the destruction that will come on the last day. He hears another angel tell them, do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees until we have placed a seal on the foreheads of God’s servants. As Peter said, the reason Judgment Day has not come yet is that God is patient. He doesn’t want people to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance.
What is this seal and what does it mean?
In Revelation 14 and 22 we are told that those who are sealed have the name of the Lamb and his Father written on their foreheads.
The picture is not hard to understand. Almost every culture knows that if you put your mark, your brand, your name on something you are claiming that it belongs to you. God is showing John that he knows those who are his and he is going to make sure that before the events of the last day, those who are his are sealed for safety so that even the gates of Hell will not prevail against them. It is similar to what God did for his people in Egypt. He had them mark their doors with the blood of a lamb so that when the destroyer passed through Egypt, he would not harm anyone whose house was marked with the blood of a lamb.
Are you sealed for safety? Remember your baptism. At your baptism the pastor said, receive the sign of the cross on the head and on the heart to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ. And in obedience to the command of Christ you were baptized with water in the name of the one true God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God marked you. He put his name on you. He said, I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.
Remember the Supper. You receive Christ’s body given for you, and Christ’s blood shed for you. The blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has been painted on the doorposts of your heart. God is telling you that you have been sealed for safety.
Ezekiel had a vision very similar to the one John had. Ezekiel saw six men with swords ready to destroy all who lived in Jerusalem, but there was a seventh who was armed with a writing kit. This man with the writing kit was told, go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. The others were to follow and slay without mercy or compassion all who were not marked.
But notice who was marked, sealed for safety. It was all those who grieve and lament over the detestable things that were being done.
The most trustworthy assurance that you are marked by God and sealed for safety on the last day is your baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are objective promises from God that do not change. If you are tempted to doubt, they are what you need to look to because the promises of God trump any doubts or worries we might have. His promises are sure and unfailing.
But a secondary indication that you are sealed for safety is the fact that you grieve and lament over the detestable things that are being done in our world. You lament the fact that God’s clear word is being ignored and things God says are sinful are being accepted as normal, like living together outside of marriage and homosexuality, or constant misuse of God’s name and hateful speech. You grieve over the constant reports of human trafficking and the 73 million babies that are aborted each year, or the fact that so many seem to hate their fellow humans just because they have a different skin color. You have experienced disdain because you have tried to stand up for God and his word and to share the truth of salvation in Jesus alone with others. Such things certainly don’t earn you the right to be sealed for safety. We are saved by grace alone. But in as much as they are fruits of faith, lamenting and grieving over the detestable things that are happening around us, are evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, and that you are a child of God.
For now, the angels are still holding back the destruction God has decreed for the last day. He graciously holds back the day of judgment until all those who are his have been sealed for safety. What a blessing that he gives us the outward signs of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to assure us that we are his, that we are sealed for safety. When the destruction of the last day comes, we won’t have to hide in fear. We will be able to look up and rejoice because we see that our redemption is drawing neigh.
As those who have been sealed by grace, who grieve and lament over the detestable things we see happening in our world, may we also serve as those who carry the writing kit. May we serve as those who stan firm on God’s word and proclaim with the Psalmist, if the Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with the Lord there is forgiveness. Proclaim the law and the gospel so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit others may be marked with the blood of the lamb, sealed for safety in the last day.
The day of God’s wrath will come. When it does, who will be able to stand before him? No one will on the basis of who they are, where they came from, how rich or how powerful they were. Only those who are covered with Jesus’ blood; only those who have his name on their foreheads; only those who rejoice in the fact that Jesus lived and died to pay for their sins and rose again on the third day; who confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, their Savior; only they are sealed for safety so that when they stand before God he will declare them his for all eternity.