The sixth seal, as we have seen, starts with the martyrdom and persecution of the saints and ends with “the great day of their wrath” (Rev. 6:17). This day of “wrath” is pictured as a time when the kings and great men and even slaves run for the hills to hide in caves. John was referencing the second chapter of Isaiah, an end-time prophecy of the emerging victory of the “mountain of the Lord.”
It is apparent from this that if we were to place a time frame on the sixth seal, it actually takes us all the way to the time of the end and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. But the seventh seal, with its trumpets and bowls, must also be given time for fulfillment. The sixth seal does not conclude the book of Revelation. Hence, it is clear that while the persecutions of the sixth seal are ongoing in the background, other events are also taking place.
In fact, the great victory of the saints over the kings of the earth, along with the fall of Mystery Babylon, is not fully covered until Revelation 17-19. Hence, John has previewed the coming victory in chapter six, as if to give hope to the persecuted saints during their time of tribulation.
Furthermore, Dan. 7:21, 22 makes it clear that the little horn’s war with the saints continues until the transfer of authority at the end of the beast nations’ dominion. We must therefore conclude that the sixth seal largely runs concurrent with the seventh. There is no strict linear time line that divides the two into distinct historical phases. The sixth seal has more to do with the long-running war (persecution) in which the saints find themselves, while the seventh gives us a more definitive time line of events that focus on the downfall of Babylon.
The seventh chapter of revelation calls for a time-out to seal the saints, in view of the time of persecution when the little horn makes war on them. This is obviously a pause in the narrative, rather than a pause in the time of persecution.
The seventh chapter relates to the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the zayin, which means a weapon of war, a sword. While the carnal kings of the earth depend upon physical weapons to enforce their wills, the saints rely upon spiritual weapons. 2 Cor. 10:3, 4 says,
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
In fact, it is precisely on account of these spiritual weapons that the kings of the earth must flee to the mountains and caves, for what carnal weapons can withstand such spiritual weapons? The kings of the earth are allowed to overcome the saints during their allotted time (Dan. 7:21), but when their legal authority ends, God equips His saints with sufficient spiritual weapons to take back the earth by the manifest power of God Himself.
The Four Angels
Revelation 7:1 says,
1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind should blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
The phrase “after this” is not meant to date this event after the fall of kings, but to show that John saw this after seeing the sixth seal being opened. The sealing of the saints is obviously designed to protect, empower, or confirm those who find themselves at war with the little horn. Hence, the sealing would be meaningless if we were to place it after the war had ended in victory. For this reason, the sealing of these saints occurs at or near the start of the sixth seal, rather than at the end of the age as many have assumed.
The four angels represent the earth, each identified with a different direction (north, south, east, and west). These are the same four angels that the prophet saw in Zech. 6:1-8.
1 Now I lifted up my eyes again and looked, and behold, four chariots were coming forth from between the two mountains; and the mountains were bronze mountains.
The chariots were pulled by four horses of various colors: red, black, white, and “dappled” (spotted).
4 Then I spoke and said to the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are the four spirits [ruach, “winds”] of heaven, going forth after standing before the Lord of all the earth.”
The Hebrew word ruach means both wind and spirit. The connection between wind and spirit is seen on the day of Pentecost when a great wind blew in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 2:2).
The four spirits of heaven were told in Zech. 6:7, “Go, patrol the earth.” They are, then, the earth patrol, a kind of heavenly police. In Jer. 49:36 we find them under orders to bring judgment upon Elam.
36 And I shall bring upon Elam the four winds from the four ends of heaven, and shall scatter them to all these winds; and there will be no nation to which the outcasts of Elam will not go.
Zech. 2:6 makes a similar statement: “I have dispersed you as the four winds of the heavens.” Apparently, these four angels are identified with the four winds and four directions in order to portray their ability to scatter people and nations in every direction.
In Dan. 7:2 we find that “the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea,” and out of the sea came the four beast empires that were to rule the earth. We see here that these four angels, acting under orders from heaven, released these four beast empires and empowered them with the dominion mandate, replacing Judah on account of its lawlessness and rebellion. These same four spirits, or angels, have the power to call a time-out in Rev. 7:1 until the saints are sealed. It is good to know that these beast empires are limited by God’s leash.
So John tells us that these angels are “holding back the four winds of the earth.” In other words, the four winds of heaven control the four winds of the earth. The contrast shows us that the four winds (spirits) of the earth reside in the four beast empires raised up by the four winds of heaven. The earthly winds are the spirits of those empires, pictured as beasts because their hearts are beastly. A beast’s motive, as Darwin would say, is “survival of the fittest,” or the survival instinct, which is seen clearly in lions, bears, leopards, and in the nameless fourth beast in Dan. 7:7. Such nations “eat” smaller nations in order to satisfy their hunger and grow stronger. They are motivated by self-interest.
These four winds of the earth establish the reason why there were just four main beast empires. Technically, the Greek beast itself was divided into four pieces when Alexander died and was replaced by his four generals. Likewise, the Roman beast was extended by the little horn, whose reign lasted twice as long as the Roman beast itself. If we were to consider each beast to be separate, the list would be quite long; but the number four was prophetically important, so Scripture sets forth just four beast empires.
In the context of Rev. 7:1, the purpose of holding back the four winds applied primarily to the little horn which was to make war against the saints during the time of the sixth seal.
The Sealing Angel
Revelation 7:2, 3 says,
2 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun [east], having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
Seals had more than one use. Scrolls were sealed by wax on which an official seal was imprinted. The seal hid the contents of the document from the eyes of unauthorized people. In that sense, a seal was used to hide information and shows how the revelation of the overcomers was sealed, hidden, or not understood, because these saints were being persecuted and killed for speaking the truth.
But in the context of Revelation 7, we find another meaning that is more akin to the sealing of God’s people in Ezekiel 9:3-5,
3 Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. 4 And the Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark [tav] on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst. 5 But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity; and do not spare.”
This was Ezekiel’s revelation about the righteous men in Jerusalem being sealed for their protection before the destroying angels came to bring divine judgment upon the city for their lawlessness and rebellion against God. In the next two chapters, the prophet sees the glory of God depart from the temple and move to the Mount of Olives on the east side (Ezekiel 11:23).
This sealing not only depicted the protection of the righteous, but also ensured that the presence (glory) of God would remain upon them, even though the glory was departing from the temple. In other words, it foreshadows the divine plan to place His Spirit and His glory within a temple made of living stones.
And so Paul tells the Spirit-filled believers in Eph. 1:13, “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
Secondly, these sealed ones enjoy divine protection, although this does not necessarily mean that they are spared from martyrdom. All of the apostles except John were martyred, and the Roman Emperor Domitian tried to execute John by boiling him in oil. According to Tertullian (Prescription against Heretics, ch. 36), “the apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island.” Domitian was horrified when John got out of the vat of boiling oil unharmed. Only after Domitian failed to kill John did he exile the apostle to Patmos—an unusual departure from the usual execution.
Likewise, in Acts 12 we see how James was killed, while Peter was delivered by the angel. It is clear that God delivers some, but others are killed. It appears that some are called to follow Christ’s example in His first coming, while others are called to follow Christ’s example in His second coming. Yet all are sealed by the Holy Spirit.
In Revelation 7 the saints are sealed before the little horn arises to make war against them, but it is plain from Dan. 7:21 and from history itself that a great many of those saints were killed. We only need to read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to see this. But this is also implied at the end of the sealing in Rev. 7:13-17, where many saints are seen clothed in white robes, no longer persecuted and no longer suffering from hunger and thirst. It is a heavenly scene.
In ancient times it was common practice for a general to review his troops after a battle. Those who came out unscathed were marked with a cross on their foreheads to indicate that they were divinely protected. This is the symbolism of the man with the inkhorn in Ezekiel 9:4. It is said that he was to place a tav on the foreheads of the righteous. The Hebrew letter tav was originally written as a cross or “X.” It was only later, during the Babylonian captivity, that the Jews adopted the Aramaic letters used by the Babylonians that is used in the modern Hebrew language.
The seal, then, is the cross of Christ. The tav literally means “mark, sign, or signature.” Hence, God put His “mark” upon them and signed His name on their foreheads to identify them as His own. So we read in Rev. 22:4, “His name shall be on their foreheads.”
When the presence of God left the earthly temple in the time of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, His presence was placed in a greater temple—the body of Christ. Ezekiel’s sealing foreshadowed the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, when the historic moment arrived when the transfer of God’s glory to the Living Stones Temple would occur on the day of Pentecost. Many would become martyrs in the centuries since that time, but all retained the promise of God.