(2) Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, (3) saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
Another angel is seen by John, separate from the four who are holding back judgment. This angel is not seen in the sun (as some suppose) but he is rising from where the sun also rises (in the East). His ascension certainly gives the appearance of the sun rising. This contrasts with the four angels who are about to release the wind that will darken the sun with the storm of judgment (6:12). He rises where the sun rises and just as the sun rises daily with a message of light and salvation, so he rises with this message: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
“Until we have sealed.” This is familiar to us because we have already seen six seals opened in the last chapter and now we are seeing more seals. There is no difference in the Greek word except that it is in the form of a noun in chapter six (sphragis, a seal), while it is a verb in chapter seven (sphragizō, the act of sealing). The contrast is a fantastic picture! While the seals of judgment are breaking against the ungodly, the seals of God are gently placed over the faithful.
But what does this sealing accomplish? It does not seal them in the sense of protecting them from the troublesome times of those days. I understand that there was a literal protective element for the saints, as you can see Jesus warning the faithful to flee from all Judea when once they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Matthew 24:16; Luke 21:20-21), however, this in no way guarantees their success of preserving their physical lives. It is evident from the opening of the fifth seal (Revelation 6:9-11) that there would be godly men and women who would lose their physical lives during that turbulent time. So, whatever this seal is, we know that it would not prevent physical death. This seal is never spoken of as a protection against harm, only a marking and identifying of who belongs to God. This does not mean that these faithful brethren would not see the judgment of those days, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). They too would see judgment in those days, and they too may be afflicted physically due to the strain and threshing of the tribulum. Jesus told the apostles “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-19). So, it is once again made clear that the sealing of the saints in Revelation seven is not to protect them from physical dangers; Jesus even told them that some would be put to death, but in the same breath he said “not a hair of your head will perish.” How do we reconcile these two ideas? Jesus explains in his next statement: “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19); that is, they may lose their physical lives, but by their faithfulness they will gain eternal life. Jesus summarizes these ideas in another place: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). He has marked each and every one of his sheep, he knows them, not one is lost, and he gives them “eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
Revelation 14:1 gives us another glance at this forehead seal: “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Thus again, it is not a protective seal, but a mark of identity! The seal is the “Father’s name.” These belong to God, they are in his hand, and while they may be persecuted or even killed, they cannot be snatched out of the hand of God. This chapter is meant to be a source of encouragement for the brethren going through those troubling times. God sees them; he knows them. God is judging the people but the faithful will be remembered. Not a single one of them will be forgotten. This confidence is what Paul reminded Timothy of: “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:19). Paul said the seal on the solid foundation of God is “The Lord knows those who are His.” This is relatable to the seal on the foreheads of the saints, which seal is written the name of the Father in heaven. They know God and God knows them and the seal makes it official!
This vision is not the first time that we see this figurative imagery of sealing the faithful. As to be expected, this symbol is first seen in the Old Testament prophets. When Ezekiel saw a vision of six executioners for the city of Jerusalem he witnessed each with a weapon of slaughter in hand and he heard God say to them: “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house” (Ezekiel 9:4-6). This picture in Ezekiel is critical to see what God is communicating in Revelation seven. The figure is that these would be physically preserved, but again, this is only a figure (it is symbolic). The reality is that many of the righteous were slain too: “say to the land of Israel, Thus says the LORD: Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked” (Ezekiel 21:3). So, the symbol portrays the spiritual reality of those who are God’s faithful, they may lose their lives, but their lives are by no means lost.
Another time that this image is seen is in the New Testament. In Matthew twenty-four, Jesus is describing the judgment of God against the Jews (just like John is seeing in Revelation). In Matthew 24:29-30, Jesus uses the same language we just saw in Revelation 6:12-17 at the opening of the sixth seal (which the sealing of the saints are apart of). Jesus spoke of the sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling. He spoke of the tribes of the land mourning (remember that “tribes” refer to the Jewish people). He spoke of himself coming in the clouds for judgement (v. 30) against that generation (v. 34). Then Jesus said: “He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31). It is fascinating to see this same language in this order in Revelation 6:12-7:8 (just in more detail). Jesus speaking of gathering his elect together from the four winds, does not necessitate that all their lives would be spared, this is a much bigger matter than physical life. The gathering of his elect together reminds me of the good shepherd (which I referenced in my comments above), he knows his every sheep of his pasture, and by his grace he will save them, no matter what man, dragon, or beast would do to them. The vision also picks up on this idea and later we hear: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water” (v. 17).