The focus for the first time is on the tiny nation of Israel. “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.” Let us clear the air about the nation of Israel. This is not the church or some kind of spiritualization of believers. It is not the first 144,000 members of the Watchtower society or the most faithful members thereof. These are physical members of the nation of Israel who are defined by the very tribes of which they belong. I do not mind saying that all who try to interpret our text any other way than what it literally declares border on ignorance and incoherence. God still has a plan and purpose for the nation of Israel. They are still His elect nation and He still purposes on redeeming them. They are the physical descendants of Abraham and to them belongs all the physical promises which God made to Abraham. We take the advice of the psalmist who told us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem because when Jerusalem has peace or is reconciled with its God the Prince of Peace will be on this earth. Hear the words of the apostle Paul: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:25-32). So God is now dealing with this nation again in the manner of grace.
The angels of God are ministers to those that believe and here we see them ministering to a remnant of Israel. There are according to our text “four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth….” We remember that the number four is the number of the earth and the illusion of our text is that the judgment from heaven was going to descend upon all corners of the globe: north, south, east, and west. The only thing that stood between the winds of judgment descending upon the four corners of the earth is the commandment of the Lord to His angels to lose it upon the earth. We see also that the immediate judgment that is coming will be upon the earth: “holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.” That is a direct reference to the beginning of the trumpet judgments which will begin by being poured out on the earth, sea, trees, and grass. The first two trumpets specifically affect trees, sea, grass (Rev. 8:7, 8). We will speak more specifically about the trumpet judgments later but for now we note that before the seventh seal is opened which will pour forth those judgments God has this tasks before the angels. This judgment is momentarily delayed for our text says this: “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” The angels in this description have the role of pouring forth Gods judgment. Each trumpet will begin with an angel sounding a trumpet. So there is a dual role for the angels as ministers of God’s judgment and ministers of God’s grace. We will deal with their role in the judgment later but suffice it to remind you that in many of the parables of Christ it was the angels that executed judgment and we see the literal truths of that here. One particular angel stands up here for the nation of Israel. Daniel foretold that in the last days Michael the archangel will stand up for the nation of Israel. “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1). One would then imagine that this is the fulfillment of that promise. The description of this angel that stands up for Israel is that he ascended from the east, from the rising of the sun. Christ said this: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:27). Here God will have Israel to begin looking east. This angel is also described as having the seal of living God. The seal is a sign of ownership and authority. This angel was carrying a seal to mark out those who belong to God. Israel as a whole is not yet saved but they soon shall be. Here God claims a remnant (John 6:27, Eph. 4:30, etc.). Before the first trumpet of God’s judgment sounds a remnant of Israel will be sealed and protected by God. Just as it was with the plagues of Egypt so it will be that judgment will fall on all Egypt but (at least this part of) Israel will be brought safely through it. And just as it was with at the Passover there will be a seal applied before the death angel passes. We will yet get a greater description of this remnant as we go along (especially in the 14th chapter). We note only here that they are called servants of God (the angels even added a possessive pronoun, our, to show that their God is the same God and they are fighting on the same side). Some people read in this text that this means they will be missionaries preaching the gospel all over the world but that is reading something into the text that simply is not there. They are servants because they are set aside to do the will of God at this time, whatever that will may be. And they will be sealed from the wrath to come by a specific mark on their foreheads. One may wonder if this will later cause the antichrist to mark those who follow him. God is further adding the demarcation lines for what is left of humanity at this time. The sole purpose of the this mark is foreshadowed in the book of Ezekiel and it is important to remember that this time is not just a judgment on the world but is the final judgment on the nation of Israel to bring them back to their God. God set seals on the foreheads of those that feared Him in ancient Israel before He sent the sword into Israel. Those who were marked were spared from the sword of God while the rest of the nation was scattered and chased by the sword. “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (Ezek. 9:4). These then will be not be touched by the sword but will stand as victors of God; untouched by God’s sword or man’s sword.
We then get a description of those who are sealed. “And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.” There are a few oddities which are worth noting for the student of the Word. Levi is here mentioned among the brethren even though Levi did was not reckoned among the brethren in the Old Testament. They were set aside for the service of God and to offer sacrifices. Here they are equal with the brethren. The Geneva Bible contains this explanation and I commend it to you. “Here the tribe of Levi is listed with the rest, because all the Israelites were equally made priests with them in Christ by his priesthood (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10).” These all were set apart for God and not just the tribe of Levi. Judah is mentioned first because Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Christ is yet given pre-imminence. The tribe of Dan is not mentioned. Does that mean that Dan will not be represented among Israel in the Millennial Reign of Christ? No, if we believe that Ezekiel was describing the Millennial Reign of Christ then Dan is mentioned as having an inheritance there (Eze. 48:32). So some of the tribe of Dan will make it through this great tribulation that is coming, but none of them were sealed by God here. Some speculations have been given for their omission here. Some believe that the antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan. Ezekiel foretold of a day in which Dan would have a trade connection with European nations (Eze. 27:19). Jamieson et al added this: “… for its tribes are distinctly specified (Joseph, however, being substituted for Dan; whether because Antichrist is to come from Dan, or because Dan is to be Antichrist’s especial tool [ARETAS, tenth century], compare Genesis 49:17, Jeremiah 8:16, Amos 8:14; just as there was a Judas among the Twelve)….” But, most agree that that Dan is left out because of idolatry. Geneva Bible states this: “Dan is not mentioned, because the Danites long before forsaking the worship of God, were fallen away from the fellowship of God’s people, to the part of the Gentiles: which evil many ages before Jacob foresaw (Genesis 49:17) See Geneva, and because of which no mention is made of this tribe in the book of Chronicles.” I leave that to your discretion. The last oddity is that Ephraim is spoken of under the name of Joseph while the other son of Joseph, Manasseh, is mentioned with his own name. Some say that Ephraim is like Dan and was not mentioned due to idolatry. Jamieson et al stated that “Besides the reason given above omission of Dan, is, its having been the first to lapse into idolatry (Judges 18:1-31); for which same reason the name Ephraim, also (compare Judges 17:1-3, Hosea 4:17), is omitted, and Joseph substituted.” But, Ephraim being called by the name of Joseph seems to be a blessing. Ephraim was given the blessing of the firstborn even though Manasseh was the elder. God does not take away that honor here. I commend those oddities to your study. At the end of the day we see that Israel is important to God’s plan and God is literally setting them apart here for Himself to bring them through this time of great tribulation.