The saints must be “sealed” before the onslaught of the “four winds of the earth” – Revelation 7:1-3.
Before the first four seals and their “riders” could be unleashed, the “servants of God” had to be prepared for the coming onslaught. Moreover, their “sealing” would enable them to “stand” before the “Lamb” and the “throne” on the coming “day of the wrath of the Lamb” that was unveiled when the “sixth seal” was opened.
The vision in chapter 7 consists of four sections. First, the “sealing of God’s servants.” Second, the numbering of the sealed. Third, the arrival of the “innumerable multitude” from the “great tribulation.” And fourth, the interpretation of the “multitude.”
Previously, the fifth and sixth seal openings posed two questions that are answered in chapter 7. First, how long must the martyrs wait for vindication? And second, who can stand before the wrath of the Lamb?
The first question was answered when the fifth seal was broken open: Until the full number of martyrs has been gathered. Only then will vengeance befall the “inhabitants of the earth.” The second question remains open at this point in the narrative.
THE FOUR WINDS. John saw four angels restraining the “four winds of the earth,” an image that echoes passages from Zechariah and Daniel.
- (Revelation 7:1-3) – “After this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding fast the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow upon the land or upon the sea or upon any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, holding the seal of the Living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels for whom it had been given to injure the land and the sea, saying: Do not injure the land or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”
In his vision, Zechariah saw four chariots with each pulled by different colored horses. When he asked what they represented, he was told, “they are the four winds of the heavens coming forward after each has presented itself near the Lord of all the earth” – (Zechariah 6:1-8).
Daniel saw the “four winds of the heavens bursting forth on the great sea, and four large beasts ascending out of the sea.” The “winds” agitated the “sea,” which caused the “four beasts” to rise out of it – (Daniel 7:1-3).
In Revelation, the “four winds” correspond to the four “riders” that appeared when each of the first “four seals” was broken. Now, the “four winds” are“granted” authority “to injure the earth and the sea.” “Granted” translates the same Greek verb that was used for the authority to act that was “given” to each of the four “riders” – (Revelation 6:1-8).
The wording from Zechariah is changed from the “four winds of heaven” to the “four winds of the earth”; probably to reflect the authority of the four “riders…over the fourth part of the earth.”
THE SEALING. The “servants of God” were “sealed” before the “four winds” were authorized to blow on the earth. Similarly, in Exodus, the homes of the Israelites were marked off with the blood of lambs to protect them from the destroying angel. But the “sealing” alludes especially to the passage from Ezekiel that describes the “mark” placed on the “foreheads” of the righteous in Jerusalem who were grieved over the “abominations” taking place in the city – (Exodus 12:13-28, Ezekiel 9:3-4).
The “sealing” did not protect the saints from death, as the unveiling of the martyrs “under the altar” when the fifth seal was broken proves. Instead, it empowered them to persevere through the trials and persecutions unleashed by the first four seals – (Revelation 1:9, 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 13:7-10, 20:4).
The four angels were not to harm “the earth, neither the sea nor the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” This is a verbal link to the later fifth trumpet when the “scorpions” released from the “Abyss” were told not to harm “the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads” – (Revelation 9:1-4).
The “seal of God” designated ownership. It was placed on the “foreheads” of His servants. The “seal” was anticipated in the letter to the church in Philadelphia:
- (Revelation 3:11-12) – “Because you kept my word of endurance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable earth to try the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming quickly! Hold fast that which you have, that no one takes your crown. He that overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and outside shall he in nowise go forth anymore; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name.”
The placement of the “sealing of God’s servants” after the sixth seal suggests the events represented by the four riders occurred between the enthronement of the “Lamb” and the “day of the wrath of the Lamb,” the “hour of trial” when no one was able to “stand,” except, possibly, the “sealed” saints.
The “seal of God” designated the men who belong to the “Lamb” and prepared them to persevere through the “great tribulation.” In the interim between the enthronement of the “Lamb” and the day of his “wrath,” for believers, death, disease, trials, and persecution continue.
But the “seal of God” also protects the church from the full effects of the “four winds,” which are implemented by the four riders released by the first four seal openings. The “seal” marks overcoming believers as “God’s servants,” and it enables them to endure whatever comes. And while satanic forces may inflict suffering on the saints, including martyrdom, the “Lamb” has set limits on the amount of harm his enemies can do (e.g., “The oil and the wine you may not harm,” “The fourth part of the earth”).
In the fifth seal, the discovery of the martyrs “underneath the altar” demonstrated that they had “overcome” and persevered in the “testimony of Jesus” despite persecution. That their pleas for vindication were answered with the reassurance that their “number” was yet incomplete, meant that their deaths were not the end of the story.