The Orthodox Pages



Part 7

7th February 2013












































































































































































Last week we saw the opening of the seals of the book and we finished with the fourth seal. The visions of the first four seals had something in common: at the opening of each seal appeared a horse and rider and the interpretation of each was centred on the colour of the horse. The first horse was white and represented the spreading of the Gospel, the evangelization of the Christian faith to the gentiles. The rider is the personification of the Gospel preached through the mouths of the Apostles and their successors. The second horse was red and represented the persecution of the Gospel, the persecution of the church and the bloody martyrdom of her saints through Satan and all those who became his instruments by denying that Jesus Christ is God. The third horse was black and represented mourning and misery as a result of a worldwide famine unleashed on the unbelieving populations of the world as a punishment. And lastly the fourth horse which was a pale colour representing plagues and diseases and together with wars will claim the death of a fourth of the world's population.
So today we continue with the opening of the fifth seal:
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
The fifth seals come as a kind of interlude, a rest from the tribulations that we saw with the fourth seal and worse tribulations that we will see with the opening of the sixth seal. Up until now the faithful reader will have felt a sense of discouragement when he thinks of what awaits us, but the fifth seal comes and offers hope and relief. It offers the martyrs, those who suffered and sacrificed themselves for Christ and now they ask something of Christ. But even though it serves as an intermission, it is not totally unrelated to the previous seals, because we saw the preaching of the Gospel and the persecutions and martyrdoms that followed because of the Gospel and now we are told that this was not in vain, the souls are not lost and have nothing to be afraid of because they are in paradise. It echoes the beatitude: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matt.5:11-12) Martyrdom is a reality that concerns the Gospel and comprises the identity of the Gospel. This means that any Gospel which is not persecuted is not genuine. Persecution and Gospel live together, any teaching that is persecuted is genuine and any teaching that creates the impression that everything is wonderful is most likely false.

As we saw with the second seal, persecution always follows the Gospel and as the Gospel will be preached until the end of time, persecution will also exist until the end of time. But as we approach closer to the end persecution will be more intense and many more martyrdoms will occur. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: "Who then is blessed? He who martyrs in piety for the sake of Christ in those last days" He will be far greater than all the early martyrs, because the old martyrs suffered at the hands of men, but the latter martyrs will fight against the instruments of Satan and against the antichrist himself who bears the face of Satan.
But let's now see the text of the fifth seal; "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." Here then we have a new element in this descriptive image of heaven: the altar before the throne of God and the creation of our altars that we have in our temples are based on this heavenly prototype. A great significance is that when Moses was called on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law, there God also gave him instructions on how to build the tabernacle, how the ark should be of a precise size in width, length and height, made of wood and plated with gold inside and outside, further more the holy objects will be of such and such a manner. God does not allow freedom of expression while constructing these objects, Moses and his technicians are not to guesstimate while building these holy items, simply because these will be copies or replicas of heavenly realities. Every thing in the temple of Solomon was made exactly according to the models given by God, and this holds true also for the earthly altar that we have in our temple: it is modelled after the heavenly altar.
So under this altar St. John the Evangelist saw the souls of the martyrs. Thus we see that all those who die in the present world live as souls in a specific place. Now if they happen to be saved they live under the heavenly altar. Now why under the altar? Initially the altar relates to their sacrifice. In the Old Testament when animal sacrifices were slaughtered on the altar, there was a ditch on the altar that allowed the blood to flow to the base. Blood is the carrier or vehicle of life and the soul is also called life and consequently as the blood was at the lower place of the altar of the Old Testament that is why the souls are also under the altar. Another point of view is that every faithful is an offering - a person of sacrifice without literally having to give his blood in martyrdom, but from the moment the person gives himself to Christ he becomes a person of sacrifice. St Paul says: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." (Romans 12:1)
There is also something else that we see in the life of the Church. When we consecrate a church, we place in a hole in the centre of the altar a silver box containing relics of the saints which is then sealed. This means that the martyrs make up the base of the altar becoming a replica of the heavenly altar. Here we don't have their souls but we have their bones. Two weeks ago, when we saw the interpretation of the throne we saw that God rests on the saints and the holy altar is also the throne of God where during the sacrificial offering of the Divine Liturgy, God rests on the relics of the saints who are under the Holy Altar. We can see then that the Book of Revelation has contributed greatly to the structure of our divine Orthodox worship. We have not put together a form of worship made from our own imaginations: our worship is based on Holy Scripture as well as Holy Tradition. If we were to closely analyse the Book of Revelation in relation to our worship we will find an astounding likeness.
Now under the altar we have the souls of the martyrs, we don't have people but souls only: their bodies have been left on earth. When a person dies the soul is ripped from the body and according to scripture the soul is carried by the angels to heaven. But here it is important to understand why the martyrs are under the altar. They are not in the kingdom of God but they are in paradise. The kingdom of God differs from paradise in the sense that paradise is the place of souls while the kingdom of God is reserved for the entire human being. When the resurrection of the dead takes place and the bodies will be reunited to the souls then they will enter the kingdom of God.
"And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"

The martyrs who gave their life as a testimony of their faith in Christ now ask Christ "how long will we have to wait until you judge and avenge our blood. This shows us that when the souls leave this place they are not in a deep state of sleep as some heretics teach, but are alive and have full consciousness and remember everything they experienced while still in the body. They cry out expressing their deep yearning for the fulfilment of righteousness and they want justice to be rendered; they want good to triumph over evil which will take place with the Second Coming of Christ. But we need to clarify something here; the martyrs are not looking for revenge: when they say how long until you avenge our blood, they are not looking for revenge on the inhabitants of the earth. This would be very strange since the martyrs while still in this world, while being skinned, while having their tongues cut off and the eyes pulled out and fried or boiled in caldrons, they were never cursing their murderers but were often praying for them. They did not become angry or indignant: they did not wish evil against their executioners. How then is it possible for the same people who were found righteous to enter paradise to seek revenge? Their cry is similar to that of the Psalmist: "How long, O Lord, wilt thou forget me?" (Psalm 12:1) It is not a request for revenge but a strong desire for the fulfilment of the resurrection. Lord, they are saying, did you forget about us? Did you not say in the Gospel of Luke: "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily." (Luke 18:7) The depth of their cry is not revenge but the yearning of the resurrection from the dead and their reunion with their lost body. The soul feels that her clothing is missing, her residence, her house, her temple. The soul misses the body so that the entire human existence can be whole again. The soul does not feel content when the body is missing, she deeply misses and wants her other half. So how long O Lord, until your Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead and the reunion of our bodies and souls? It will be as long as it is necessary for the fulfilment of his divine plan. Until the fulfilment of time; until their fellowservants and brothers who are to be killed as they have been was completed. But when this will be is only known by God.
"And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
Here we see that the prayer of the martyrs was heard by Christ and the answer came in two parts: the first part with an action and the second offered verbally. The first part was that they were each given a white robe. The meaning of this robe is symbolic of their triumphant and blessedness. The second part was that they were told to rest for a little while longer. This means that paradise is a place of rest and is a foretaste of the perfect rest that will be enjoyed in its fullness in the kingdom of heaven. The martyrs are told to have a little patience, because they express an impatience wanting to unite with their bodies. They are told to wait a little season, in other words a short time, but how does one measure time in eternity? Certainly any earthly time, even millions of years is a little time compared to eternity. But here Christ is reassuring them that the time is truly approaching, time is at hand. From Abraham until the promise of the first coming of Christ there is a period of about two thousand years, can we then calculate that a similar period of time will pass for the Second Coming? If so then time is truly at hand, but there is a difference between the two comings. For the first coming prophecies were given that accurately pinpointed the time when Christ would be born, but with the Second coming we have no dates but only signs of the last times and the beginning of sorrows with no indication when these sorrows will end. Certainly many of the signs given point to our present age, in a way that they could not have been understood in previous centuries, but if we think these are the last days Christ has also told us that he will come in an hour that we think not.
In any case it will not be until the numbers of the martyrs have been fulfilled. St. Paul said concerning the saints of the Old Testament: "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:29-40) This applies to the saints of the New Testament, they will not be made perfect without us, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven until everyone who is to be saved is accounted for.
Let's now see the opening of the sixth seal. The reading is very long and is divided into three parts with the last two parts in a form of an interlude, that is a break from the main reading.
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
In you remember last week I mentioned how the scriptures are interpreted according to a chronological order, in other words they are given a linear interpretation because they will only happen once or with a circular interpretation because they are events that continually occur throughout the history of the church. Here we have events that will only happen once. There will be a great earthquake and the sun will become black and the moon as blood and the stars will fall from heaven. These are events borrowed from the prophets and from the Lord's words in the Gospel concerning his second coming. The entire image shows a universal upheaval and is not limited to the earthly arena, but it extends to include the entire universe. The first element of this universal turmoil is a great earthquake. It is obvious that this is not a normal or common earthquake like the ones that shake the surface of the earth for a few seconds and which are measured in strength according to the Richter scale. This earthquake shakes and disturbs the entire universe with the result of the complete loss of the sunlight and the falling of the stars. The Lord expressed this reality as the prelude to his Second Coming in the Gospel of Matthew: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." (Matt. 24:29) So we can see that the account in Matthew and the account in Revelation are referring to the same event.

This event is interpreted in two ways, in the literal or ontological view and with a spiritual or allegorical view. But those who say that it is only allegorical, the Apostle Peter in his second epistle comes and does away with this theory and gives only a literal interpretation; he says: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10) Peter does not leave any room for an allegorical interpretation; he presents it as a reality of the end of history. But the fathers give us two explanations, but according to different times. The allegorical view refers to the period before the antichrist and the literal and ontological view to the period just after the antichrist. The allegorical view suggests a great sociological change in the world community, a change of ideas, a change of habits; we can say that the changes of the 20th century were cataclysmic, earth shattering. The mindset of people has been shaken, the gospel has been looked upon much differently in the past few decades, we do not look at the gospel in the same way we did in previous centuries; the rebellion and apostasy of our times is totally unsurpassed. The generation that lived and understood the two thousand year Gospel a certain way sees in amazement that the people of the next generation see things altogether differently. This is unprecedented in the history of Christianity.

Today we have a total rejection of faith, a form of de-Christianisation; a kind of earthquake that has shaken our social and ethical values. What other century saw the acceptance of homosexuality by certain so-called church leaders, what other century saw the legalization of abortion, and the boasting about fornication and adultery? Homosexuality, fornication and adultery have always existed but they never came out into the open to be congratulated. Premarital sex never came out to boast. Today people can't wait to boast about their premarital or extra marital escapades. In previous centuries those who did these things did so secretly, they were considered works of darkness. Homosexuals hold gay pride parades, but a hundred years ago they lived in hiding. Our times present an ethical earthquake of unprecedented proportions in the Christian world among people who hold onto some form of Christianity, because we're not talking about idolater: there was plenty of corruption in lands of idolatry, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Roman Empire before it became Christian etc. So this is the allegorical interpretation of the great earthquake that will turn things upside down.

The second view is the literal shaking of the heavenly powers and the falling of the stars. But before we see this universal shaking of the heavens we need to say something about the normal earthquakes which we are familiar with. The Evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke all note that at the end of times we will have many earthquakes. Luke especially emphasises this when he states there will be great earthquakes in various places. These earthquakes differ from the earthquake mentioned with the sixth seal, because they are earthquakes limited to some places on earth and are not related to the heavenly bodies. Nevertheless they will be earthquakes of great magnitude such as has not yet been experienced before. We have always had earthquakes and our scientists can give us a scientific and natural explanation why they happen, yet things we call natural are not necessarily so. For example death can be given a scientific and natural explanation: the human body ages, the vital functions weaken and death naturally follows. This is how we look upon death, yet in spiritual terms death is the result or consequence of sin. Death came into the world with the fall of Adam and Eve. It is the result of disobedience so it is not at all natural according to how God created Adam. Thus many things we think of as natural are only natural on the surface, but theologically they have another explanation. Earthquakes have a natural explanation, but in theological terms the created world turns against man because man sins against God. The earthquakes mentioned in the Gospels will happen as a result of man's apostasy from God. Saying this, the main reason for the earthquakes is not to bring destruction but to shake the conscience of men. Here in Cyprus when we have earthquakes people run out into the streets shouting audibly or inaudibly "Christ save us, Mother of God save us." Even those who say they don't believe in Christ, in fear for their lives will call upon him in times of danger. Thus earthquakes and other catastrophes are instrumental in shaking up people's consciences which therefore means that they are the result of God's love: God's love that visits us under the form of punishment to awaken us from the deep slumber of sin and apostasy and to make people return back to him.
As already mentioned the earthquake mentioned with the opening of the sixth seal is very different from our earthly earthquakes. "the heavenly powers were shaken and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood." Since the moon receives it light from the sun, but the sun is darkened, the moon will be darkened and appear like blood.
The world has already had a foretaste of the sun becoming dark in broad daylight and I do not mean the natural phenomenon of the eclipse of the sun by the moon which lasts a few minutes. When Christ was crucified the sun was darkened from the sixth hour, that is midday for three hours until the ninth hour, the hour of his death. The account of the Crucifixion does not allow for any metaphorical or allegorical interpretation. The sun literally was darkened for three hours and this is seen as a partial image, a foretaste of the things that will take place during the second coming of Christ. In Exodus we are told that the sun was darkened for three days as a sign of God's power against Egypt: "And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days." (Exodus 10:22-23)
"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, like a fig tree that loses her unripe figs when shaken by the gusts of strong winds."

It has been suggested that the stars mentioned here are not the stars in the sky, but important people. With an allegorical interpretation the verse is borrowing from the astrological language that the powerful people of the world are stars, the sky walkers of this world. This is a term we use in our everyday language we call famous people stars. With this interpretation the fall of the stars refers to the fall of great men, they become darkened and defeated and fall to the earth. The stars can also be the false gods of the world's various religions and even demons because further down in Revelation we will see that the angels of heaven are referred to as stars of heaven and when Satan fell from heaven we are told that he took with him the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. (12:3-4)
Whether this falling of the stars is allegorical or will happen in a physical form at the glorious coming of Christ is known only by him who possesses the mystical treasury of knowledge and wisdom. Meteor showers and shooting stars have been known to fall in numbers. On November 13th, 1833 over the eastern United States, the skies were lit up during the early hours by thousands of shooting stars every minute for four hours. The people then believed they were witnessing the prophecy of the falling stars and that the end of the world was imminent.
Scientifically if the earth was to be bombarded with fallen stars it would mean the end of the world as we know it, especially as many stars are actually bigger than the earth. In religious terms, let us not think that God cannot do this. It is a vision of the time just before the Coming of Christ and he has told us that the earth and heaven as we know it will be destroyed and there will be a new earth and a new heaven.
"And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places."
Psalm 103 says "the one who stretches out the heavens like a piece of leather." The KJV has as a curtain, but the Greek is literally translated as a piece of leather. This is an image of a scroll made of parchment, a long piece of leather skin stretched and rolled onto two poles. The technical term is metaphorical, but the event is real. Scrolls were often written on both sides and when the one side had been read it would be turned inside out to be read on the other side. The image we have here is that the sky will undergo an alteration, the heavens will change, the earth will change and the whole universe will change.
St. Peter says that we will be: "Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Isaiah also says: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." (Isaiah 65:17) Where will we be during this renewal of creation? Not on earth. Paul tells us that: '"we which are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Towards the end of the Book of Revelation the Lord says: "Behold I make everything new." Why? Because everything has become old from sin. The entire universe entered corruption when sin entered this creation and now everything must become new. This doesn't mean that everything will be lost. God created the universe out of nothing, but what he created cannot return to nothing. Only the form of the universe will change: the heavenly bodies will no longer be revolving as they are now, they will be moved into a new form, a necessary change because everything will become part of the kingdom of God.
This world has become violated because man has become old. Age is connected with corruption; the world has become old because of death and corruption. For this reason the form of the world as we know it was made temporary, the shape of the earth, heaven and the heavenly bodies was not made permanently. God foreknows all things and his will is that the form of this world will come to an end and men will become renewed, they will pass from corruption to incorruption and from now on men will live in a new heaven and a new earth having full communion with God. Therefore the destruction of the universe is not a punishment but the renewal of the universe and when this happens Christ will come back to receive his own, those who have resurrected unto life eternal. All these things that will happen are lofty and grand, they show a very noble purpose in life and what God has prepared for us from the very beginning.
"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

What John is describing here are the final moments of history, a little after the antichrist. In the Gospels the Lord tells us the same event: "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:25-27) Men's hearts failing them from fear because of all the things that will take place. But let's look at the verse from Revelation that we just read. Here it notes seven categories of people, kings, great men, rich men, chief captains, mighty men, slaves and free men. Today most classes among people have been levelled out although there are still some classes that still bring social division, but in previous centuries these divisions were much more profound and you could distinguish the classes by their appearance, by what they wore and how well groomed they were. Today most people wear the same clothes with the only difference being in the quality. Now when these phenomena take place and everyone will escape to hide in the holes of the earth and in the caves there will be no distinction between the classes; whatever class they may have belonged to, they will all be levelled out through fear. They will all run to the holes in the earth, and in these holes the poor man will have equal place with the rich man.

The majority of these people will be unrepentant sinners. Historically, the holes in the earth, the caves and cracks in the mountains were the shelter of the righteous escaping from the persecutions of the unrepentant sinners. St. Paul writes about the saints: "Of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." (Heb. 11:38) Even to this day holy men escape to these uncivilized places, although not to escape persecution, but to be alone in their thoughts with God without the distractions of the world. Now though a great reversal takes place, it is the turn of the sinners to seek shelter in the holes and caves of the earth. Isaiah says: "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day." (Isaiah 2:10-11)
But why will all the unrepentant sinners try to hide in the cracks of the mountains? The following lines give us the reason: "And they said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" They will try to hide from the face of God and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of his wrath is come. A lamb as we know is meek, it does not become angry so how do we have the wrath of the Lamb. This is because reference is being made to the Messiah who is not only the saviour, but the righteous judge as well. In the Parable of the Last Judgement, Christ tells as that at the end of time when he will come back in glory, he will separate people like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and the sheep on his right will enter with him into his kingdom, but the goats on the left will be cast from him into everlasting fire. Christ is both saviour and judge and people who think only of sweet Jesus full of love and compassion and forgiveness and refuse to think of Jesus the Judge are deluded. They sooth their conscience with the sweet Jesus of love and make no effort to correct their lives believing that the love of Jesus will accept them as they are. But Christ is the one who presents himself as the Judge and he does this to tell us to correct our lives so that he may find us acceptable, not everyone he says who say Lord, Lord will be saved.
Thus people will try to hide in the cracks of the earth and will say to the mountains and rocks fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? The great day of his wrath is of course the Second Coming of Christ when all men will be judged according to their works and no hole in the earth or crack in the mountain will be able to hide us from his presence.
As I mentioned just before we saw the opening of the sixth seal, that it is very long and is divided into three sections. I had hoped that we would have finished all three sectioned and also the seventh seal today, but the first part has taken up most of our time. We'll continue with the second section and see if we can at least finish with this part.
"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."
According to the ancient perception the world was flat and square. The Holy Scriptures use the perception of the people of the time in which the books were written. How else would God communicate with the people of that era when they had no knowledge that the earth is round without corners. But in terms of understanding it makes no difference if the world is round of square, standing on the four corners of the earth expresses that it is a global event that concerns the entire earth. According to scripture angels guard and protect the entire creation from the destructive intensions of the devil. Here the angels are responsible for the winds that blow on the earth and they are holding the winds back not as a punishment, but for the good of the faithful of the earth. This is told us in the verses:
"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."

We are told that the four angels holding back the winds are ready to bring destruction to the earth. The angels are not evil, they serve God and they are doing the will of God ready to punish the world for its apostasy from God. However before they proceed another angel from the east, and the east here signifies that the angel is good because east is the direction of paradise, he cried out to them to wait until all the faithful have been sealed with the seal of God on the foreheads. What is this seal? It was an old custom to seal with a red hot iron a name or symbol on animals and even servants to identify their ownership that they belong to a particular owner. Something still done with certain animals. But here it does not mean that we will be sealed on our foreheads with a red hot iron. Our church has always sealed the faithful. This is done during baptism when we are chrismated with the Holy Myron. As the priest anoints us with the Myron in the form of a Cross, he says: the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. So every faithful who becomes a member of the Orthodox Church assumes this seal: the seal of the Holy Spirit which means that God recognizes those sealed as his own. But the devil also seals his own which we will see when we reach the relevant chapter. Now what is the purpose of this seal? Not to spare us the suffering of martyrdom because martyrdom will increase in those last days, the seal is to protect the faithful from the delusions of the false Christs, the false prophets and mainly from the antichrist who will then be deceiving the entire globe.
John continues: "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."
The reading continues mentioning each tribe of Israel and that of each tribe twelve thousand were sealed. I won't read the verses, but what you need to know is that they are not mentioned in the correct order and one tribe has purposely been left out, for which there is an explanation.
So John heard the number hundred and forty and four thousand. This number has been the object of great abuse from heretics like the Jehovah Witnesses and Pentecostals. The number is he result of multiplying 12 x 12 thousand and this is why the twelve tribes were specified. The question arises; does this happen to be an exact number as the Jehovah Witnesses claim? In other words will only 144,000 people be saved and make it to heaven? Obviously not; this is a conventional of round number. This was explained in a previous talk using the Parable of the ten virgins. The Parable does not suggest that there were only ten virgins. The number is a round figure which can be divided into two equal groups of five. A round figure is used so that we do not start playing around with percentages like 80% will be saved and the other 20% will be lost. Likewise here the 144,000 is a figurative number resulting from multiplying the twelve tribes by twelve. Furthermore in a few verses down which we will see next week John adds: "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." So how can the 144.000 be counted but the multitude before the throne can't be counted? We come across the number 144,000 three times in the Book of Revelation and they do not refer to the same number of people. The next time we meet this number it refers to virgins, in other words to people who have dedicated their lives to God and remained virgins, thus a different category of people altogether. The number therefore is symbolic or representative.
Now even though the tribes of Israel are mentioned, the numbers do not refer to the actual twelve tribes of Israel but to the new Israel which consists of Jews and Gentiles and all those who believe in Christ all through the ages. The twelve tribes are the twelve Apostles. Christ said to the Apostles: "ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:28) Christians are therefore the New Israel of grace, the new people of God.
But this brings us to the question of why reference is made to the twelve tribes of Israel? The catalogue of the tribes begins with Judah "Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand." But Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and not the first; Reuben was the firstborn. So why is Judah mentioned first; this should make us curious. No Jewish tribe would allow another to supersede or take its rights especially as in the 40years in the wilderness the tribe of Reuben demanded this primacy. So why is Judah mentioned first? Simply because here there is no intension of adhering to the order of the twelve tribes which eliminates the argument that this has to do with the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribe of Judah is placed first because from this tribe will come fourth Jesus Christ. So this number has to do with a new race, it refers to the race of Christians.
Also in the catalogue of the tribes, the tribe of Dan is not included and to fill this place the tribe of Manasses is included. But Manasses was not a son of Jacob, he was the son of Joseph. Joseph had two sons Manasses and Ephraim and when Jacob came to bless his grandchildren, he crisscrossed his hands. Manasses being the oldest was placed to his right and Ephraim on his left. But Jacob crossed his hands and gave the blessing due to the oldest to Ephraim the younger brother. So if Ephraim received the blessing why is he not mentioned here instead of Manasses? Thus this takes us another step further away from the idea that the tribes mentioned here have to do with the Old Testament tribes of Israel. But another point is why isn't the tribe of Dan mentioned here? It is not mentioned here because the tribe of Dan would give birth to the antichrist, while the tribe of Judah mentioned first will bring forth Christ.
When Jacob was blessing his twelve sons also prophesied. When he came to Dan he told him that he would rule over the twelve tribes as though they were one tribe. This was partially fulfilled during the time of the Judges when from the tribe of Dan a Judge was appointed who ruled over all the tribes as though they were one. But this was only a partial fulfilment of the prophecy. A time will come when from the tribe of Dan a ruler will emerge who will rule the all the nations as though they were one nation and this new ruler is the antichrist who will govern the world as one government. But we will say more on the antichrist and who he is when we reach the relevant chapter.