Christ Is Our Protection
Revelation 7:1–3, 9–17
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the image of Christ as our protector as given in Revelation 7.
2. Explain how Christ serves as his or her protector now.
3. Write a prayer of thankfulness for Christ’s protection.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Apr. 23—Thanks for Faithful Followers (Colossians 1:3–8)
Tuesday, Apr. 24—The Lord Will Keep You (Psalm 121)
Wednesday, Apr. 25—God Is Our Deliverer (Psalm 3)
Thursday, Apr. 26—God Is Good (Psalm 34:1–10)
Friday, Apr. 27—Protection in Trials (Revelation 3:7–13)
Saturday, Apr. 28—Salvation Belongs to God (Revelation 7:1–3, 9, 10)
Sunday, Apr. 29—The Lamb on the Throne (Revelation 7:11–17)
“These [in white robes] are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
Symbols of protection are all around us. Police uniforms, fire trucks, insurance policies—the list is endless. But why does protection seem to disappear just when we need it? When we broke that arm? When we were laid off? When that drunk driver came into our lane?
Through all these troubles, Christ is still our protection! The uniform of protection we wear is a spiritual robe provided by Christ himself. Today’s lesson will challenge your students to consider how well their uniform “fits.”
A. The History of Blood
Blood is a “hot commodity” today—the Red Cross always seems to need blood donors. Yet blood is a dangerous fluid because of medical risks. As a diabetic who travels frequently, I have experienced the discomfort many people feel at the thought of my blood touching them if they have to deal with my blood-soaked testing strips. The HIV/AIDS crisis has made us wary of contact with anything tainted by blood. Yet there is no substitute for whole blood and blood derivatives for many medical procedures. We are scared by blood, but we need it.
In the religions of the ancient world, blood was viewed as sacred. Some ancients saw blood as containing the life principle, even the soul. They did not understand the function of blood. The fact that blood circulated in the body was not well understood until William Harvey’s conclusions in about ad 1615.
Blood was widely consumed as a food in the first century ad. This practice was abhorrent to the Jews (Leviticus 7:26; 17:12, 14; 19:26) and was forbidden by the early church (Acts 15:20). Like many of their contemporaries, ancient Jews believed a person’s blood contained his or her life. If the blood drained from a person, they knew that that person would die.
Thus life and blood were tightly linked (Deuteronomy 12:23). This helps us understand the frequent phrase innocent blood. From our modern, scientific point of view, we cannot imagine blood itself being guilty or innocent any more than hair can be. Yet innocent blood conveys the idea of the violent death of an innocent person. To slay an innocent person would bring guilt of bloodshed upon the perpetrator (see Deuteronomy 19:10; compare Psalm 106:38).
The Old Testament taught that human blood was not to be shed in violence (see Genesis 9:6, part of the covenant with Noah). Murder was more than a criminal act; it was an offense against God. There was a sense, then, that all the human blood belonged to God and that humans had no right to abuse it (see Genesis 4:10).
Yet animal blood was an integral part of the Jewish religious system. A dramatic example of this is found in Exodus 24:3–8. In this ceremony of commitment, Moses took fresh animal blood and sprinkled it on the crowds of people (warning: don’t try this at your church!). Thus their vow was sealed. The Old Testament taught that blood purifies, as summarized in the New Testament passage Hebrews 9:22: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness [of sins].”
Blood—on the one hand, so abhorrent; on the other hand, so important. Today’s lesson looks at Revelation 7, which gives a spectacular picture of the importance of the blood of Jesus for John’s readers and for us today.
What Do You Think?
For the church to talk about the blood of Christ may seem “uncivilized” to some. How would you defuse this problem before it arises? Or have you found this even to be a problem?
B. Lesson Background
Last week’s lesson (Revelation 5) saw a crisis in Heaven resolved by the appearance of the redeeming Lamb of God, the risen Christ. He was deemed worthy to break the seven seals of the mysterious scroll held by God. The Lamb could unroll the scroll to reveal its contents.
Revelation 6 is the account of the breaking of the first six seals. When a seal is broken, various symbolic things happen. The first seal, the white horse, represents the lust for conquest; a good example of this is the Roman Empire (Revelation 6:1-2). The second seal, the red horse, symbolizes war; this is both the ancient and modern plague of humanity (6:3-4). The third seal, the black horse, stands for famine; this is a usual consequence of war (6:5-6). The fourth seal, the pale horse, denotes death; this is the ultimate result of war (6:7-8). These four seals are a distinct set, sometimes called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The fifth seal (Revelation 6:9–11) presents a question from the people of God, “How long, Sovereign Lord?” (6:10). The answer is that they must wait “a little longer” (6:11). While they wait, their confidence is found in the way they address God: “Sovereign Lord, holy and true” (6:10).
The sixth seal (Revelation 6:12–17) is summed up in the statement, “wrath has come” (6:17). It presents a frightening picture of cosmic upheaval when the wrath of God and of the Lamb is unleashed on sinful humanity. Those caught in this cataclysm ask, “Who can stand” against it? (6:17). The answer is not given but is obvious: no one can withstand the unleashed fury of God. This is the day of God’s final vindication of his righteousness (see Amos 5:18–20).
The seventh seal does not come until Revelation 8:1. It does not have a distinct event attached to it. Rather, it is the beginning of the next series, the seven trumpets. Chapter 7, our focus in this lesson, is an interlude between the terrifying images of the first six seals and that next sequence. It comes back to answer for the people of God the question, “Who can stand?”
The people of God are the saints pictured in the fifth seal. While no one can withstand God’s wrath, there is a protection for the people of God so that they will not have to face it. This protection comes through the blood of the Lamb, our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ.
I. Seal of Protection (Revelation 7:1–3)
While some styles of dress may identify persons as nonbelievers, most Christians look and dress like their non-Christian neighbors. This text teaches that there is a spiritual seal on God’s people that somehow marks them.
A. Angels Controlling Nature (v. 1)
1. After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
The number four symbolizes the whole earth in Revelation. This may be represented by the four angels charged with the earth, the four corners or quarters of the land (see Revelation 20:8), or the four winds that blow upon the earth (compare Jeremiah 49:36; Ezekiel 37:9; Daniel 7:2; Mark 13:27). The four angels seem to be stewards of the earth. Their actions demonstrate a pause in the furious activities of the previous chapter.
B. Angel with God’s Seal (vv. 2, 3)
2. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea:
Another angel enters the scene like the rising sun (coming up from the east), symbolizing the dawning of a new stage in the drama. This angel possesses God’s seal, giving him the ability to place a spiritual mark on people. This angel also has authority over the four earth-steward angels.
3. “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
The spiritual seal of God is pictured as a mark on the foreheads of God’s servants. Any destruction to be done by the four earth-steward angels is “on hold” until the project of marking all servants of God is accomplished.
This seal on the forehead is a repeated image in this book (see Revelation 9:4; 14:1; 22:4; compare Ezekiel 9:4). It stands in contrast to the “mark of the beast,” a type of sealing done on those who are not covered by the blood of the Lamb, whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life (see Revelation 14:9; 16:2). This mark is equivalent to having worshiped the false god of the beast. The lake of fire awaits those who do (19:20; 20:10, 15).
What is this seal? We should not understand it as a physical mark, like a tattoo or brand. It is spiritual in nature. Many Bible students have equated the sealing with the act of baptism. Paul taught that when we are baptized, we have “clothed [ourselves] with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Baptism into Christ is connected with receiving the gift of God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38); having the Holy Spirit is a type of seal for believers (see Ephesians 1:13).
Those who maintain their trust in Christ are not in danger of having the mark of the beast stamped on their souls. As the next verses show, Christians are protected by the blood of the Lamb.
Just a few years ago, Extreme Makeover was a popular television program. The concept was to take a person who was “aesthetically challenged,” so to speak, and provide cosmetic surgery to help change that person’s looks and outlook on life.
One of the people featured on the show was Ray Krone. He had been wrongfully convicted of a murder not once but twice! His first conviction, in 1992, carried the death penalty. But it was overturned because of procedural errors. At his second trial, in 1996, he was again convicted but given a life sentence. DNA testing in 2002 exonerated Krone.
A key piece of the evidence against Krone in both of his convictions was his crooked smile, which supposedly matched bite marks on the victim. That was the feature that led to his being called “the snaggle-tooth killer.” So Krone was a perfect candidate for an “extreme makeover”—dental work, hair transplant, nose job—so no one would misidentify him again.
The seal on the foreheads of the righteous is probably not a physical feature. Yet it symbolizes the “extreme makeover” that God does to our spirits when we accept Christ and become his disciples. From that time on, we are different people with a new outlook on life. No one should be able to call us by any of those old epithets we carried when we were rebellious sinners. —C. R. B.
II. Panoply of the Protected (Revelation 7:9–12)
Revelation 7:4–8 (not in today’s text) introduces the concept of God’s people numbering 144,000. This is not to be taken literally, as if Heaven were run by census takers. The number 12, which occurs 35 times in Revelation, is an important number relating to God’s people. (See the discussion of the 24 elders of Revelation 4:4 in Lesson 7.) The number 144,000, or 12 times 12,000, refers to the ultimate, multiplied people of God. These are pictured as coming from the nation of Israel, but they are not alone.
A. White-Robed Multitude (vv. 9, 10)
9. After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Added to the 144,000 is a countless crowd. The crowd defies any attempt to count it. This multitude comes from all the families and peoples of the earth, not just Israel. They are uniformly wearing white robes (which will be explained later).
They are also carrying palm fronds. This reminds us of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:13). It is customary in the ancient world to carry palm branches at celebrations (see Leviticus 23:40 and the non-biblical 1 Maccabees 13:51).
A white robe is the customary baptismal garb in many churches. The color white has long symbolized purity.
One of the grim ironies of life is how symbols of goodness and holiness have been misappropriated by the forces of evil. An example is how white robes became a symbol of virulent racism. After America’s Civil War, men dressed in white robes and wearing white hoods brought a reign of terror on African-American citizens.
Such ideology continues to have influence even in the early twenty-first century. How ghastly it is that some members of such organizations even thought of themselves as “good Christians.” Some even were ministers!
In today’s text John sees a multitude of God’s people dressed in white standing before his throne. Their robes are a symbol of the righteousness they had found in Christ; their robes are not cloaks for evil deeds and attitudes. Can you think of other ways in which holy symbols are misappropriated to disguise sin? —C. R. B.
10. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
The Palm Sunday cry of “Hosanna” meant “God, save us!” Understandably, the Jews of Jesus’ day were hoping for God’s miraculous saving of their nation. The cry, “Salvation belongs to our God” is a fulfillment of that Palm Sunday appeal. In Heaven the people of God shout “Salvation!” to celebrate an accomplished fact. They are the multitude of the saved, and the salvation is attributed both to God and to the Lamb.
B. Heavenly Throng (vv. 11, 12)
11. All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
What Do You Think?
There will be unity in Heaven among all people, creatures, and angels! How does that fact inspire you to build up the kingdom of Christ and work for the unity on earth for which Jesus prayed (John 17:20, 21)?
The multitude of the saved is now joined by the heavenly cast of characters who worship. We saw angels, the elders, and the four living creatures back in chapters 4 and 5. As before, they assume a prostrate posture of worship.
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
The throng sings a sevenfold worship chant. It is like their earlier praise song (Revelation 5:12) with the change of riches to thanks. Amen means “it is true.” The long-anticipated salvation of God is now finalized.
III. Blood of Protection (Revelation 7:13–17)
Most men are not experts at doing laundry. If they are like me, they end up with white sheets tinged pink because they washed them with a new red T-shirt. However, even the worst launderer knows that you need clean water to get clean clothes. You cannot wash white linens in muddy water and make them bright white. Yet Scripture offers an amazing image: robes washed in blood that become purest white.
A. Washed in Blood (vv. 13, 14)
13. Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
John again draws the attention of one of the elders (see Revelation 5:5). Perhaps John looks confused at this vast array of white robes, so the elder poses a question that is already in John’s mind: What’s going on with all these white-robed people?
14. I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
John wisely lets the elder answer his own questions. The robed persons have survived great tribulation. Some interpreters see this as referring to a specific tribulation period related to Christ’s second coming, but that is probably not what is meant. These are the saints who have endured to the end. They have been faithful to the point of death (Revelation 2:10); they have received their crown-of-life reward. This reward is pictured here as the privilege of wearing a white robe. It is white, the symbol of purity, because of the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus.
What Do You Think?
How can we pray for fellow Christians who are being persecuted? Do you think God listens to generalized prayers such as “O Lord, please help all the suffering Christians”? Why, or why not?
We therefore have a startling picture: washing a robe in red, staining blood and having it come out the purest white. The blood of Jesus was the price for our sins. The Bible teaches that blood must be shed for sins to be forgiven (Hebrews 9:22). The blood of Jesus is thus a divine means for our forgiveness. The shedding of Jesus’ blood paid the price that God decreed for sin’s punishment. We can have our guilt taken away (Hebrews 10:19; 12:24; 1 John 1:7).
What Do You Think?
The church can teach Christians how to remain faithful during times of persecution and ridicule. But will the same techniques work during times of great prosperity, when the temptations of “the good life” on earth distract us? Explain.
B. Fulfilled in God’s Service (v. 15)
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
This is not simply a picture of future bliss in Heaven. This can also be seen as a possibility for us today. Worship is our acknowledgment of the Holy God and submission to him. We don’t need to wait for the afterlife in order to serve him day and night. Do it now!
Visual for Lesson 9
You can use this visual as a lead-in to the question below. Ask, “How will God lead you through your tears today?”
C. Protected by the Mighty Lamb (vv. 16, 17)
16, 17. “Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This too is not simply a picture of future bliss. Much of this is a spiritual image of our lives today. We are sheltered by our Savior. We suffer no eternal damage from the natural world. We live with the comfort of God in our lives. We do indeed suffer the daily sorrows of life, but God overcomes these.
We now live lives of protection and purpose. The center of the throne is the Lamb, and the Lamb is the center of our lives (compare Isaiah 49:10). Our purpose is to trust, obey, and follow him (John 21:22). Jesus bids us follow him today and every day (Matthew 16:24). We thus die to self and rejoice in our service to him (1 Corinthians 15:31).
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you found that the promise of God taking care of your needs in Heaven has helped you deal with the tough spots in life on earth?
From a medical perspective, blood has several functions for our bodies. It protects us in that it contains white cells that fight against invasive infections. Blood carries away wastes created by the various cells and allows the kidneys and other organs to eliminate them. Sometimes a person administering first aid will allow a small wound to bleed a little in order to “clean” it, that is, flush out impurities.
Paul taught that since we are justified by Christ’s blood, we are saved from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9). Peter wrote that we have been redeemed from futile lives by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The author of Hebrews advised his audience that the blood of Christ purifies us so that we can worship God (Hebrews 9:14). In John’s opening statements of Revelation, he affirmed that the blood of Jesus makes us free from the enslavement of sin (Revelation 1:5).
These are just a few of the rich ways that the New Testament authors use the image of the blood of Christ to help us understand how our salvation has been made secure. And this is not just “any blood” of Jesus. If Jesus had had a bad hangnail that bled and we possessed the bloody rag that he wrapped it in, this would have no more spiritual value than any other historical curiosity. The blood of Jesus had no magical properties. It did not glow in the dark or have sparkly glitter in it. It is what that blood represents that is important: Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for our sins.
Paul put it very plainly when he said, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Without the blood of Jesus, we would be overwhelmingly dirty because of our sin. As we consider God’s marvelous provision, may we offer thanks to the one who still sits on the throne and to the Lamb who gave his blood for us.
“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its pow’r. Till all the ransomed Church of God be saved, to sin no more.”
—William Cowper (1731–1800)
Thought to Remember
Our eternal protection is the blood of the Lamb.
O Jesus, your blood, your blood, your cleansing blood! It is a mystery and a marvel to us; what power it has! Father we thank you for providing our salvation through the blood of your only Son, Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing