“Once the righteous have been removed to a safe place…” is the phrase I ended yesterday’s blog with. The story seems to continue in chapter 7 with 144,000 from the ‘tribes of Israel’ – a very precise number indeed! These people are ‘sealed’ on their foreheads by God’s angel to prevent them being harmed. Seals do three things: Firstly they protect against interference (e.g., the tomb of Jesus was sealed by the Jewish authorities). Secondly, they signify ownership (2 Cor 1:22; Ephesians 4:30) and thirdly, they confirm authenticity (1 Cor 9:2). In Christ we have the Father’s protection, we are purchased for the Son – by his own blood – and the Holy Spirit confirms that we are sons of God (Rom 8:15).
The number 144,000 is almost certainly symbolic, rather than literal. Mathematically it is 12 squared by 10 cubed and these numbers, along with 144 appear time and time again in Revelation. The number probably symbolises the entire church of the old and new dispensations and could not be interpreted as anything to do with the tribes of Israel – most of which ceased to exist centuries previously. John hears 144,000 but sees a much larger group, the great multitude around the throne that no man could count. My instinct is that these two groups are the same: God knows the precise people who are called into his Kingdom; he knows them by name, and they are his – their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. But they are a vast number that we could not possibly count. All of these are the redeemed and they will be with the Lord forever, freed from death or tears or pain or persecution or fear.
They cannot seem to stop praising Father and Son, with the seven-fold blessing: “Praise and glory, wisdom, thanks and honour, and power and strength…”.
The identity of this great group? The angel explains: “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” (v14). It seems a paradox that washing in something red can turn the article white – in fact what it describes is more of a bleaching process! These ‘washed’ people are all of us – all the redeemed in Christ. They are all who have ever lived and given themselves to Jesus. There were sinners and now they have been made righteous. Some were intensely persecuted and unjustly treated and now they are free and cared for. The Lamb that they gave their lives for has opened up the entirety of his risen life for their sakes. Their Lamb – our Lamb – will become Shepherd of all. Eternal fellowship, friendship, and joy! No more tears!
MALACHI 1, 2, 3 and 4
This is the final book of the Old Testament, as laid out in the Bible, although not the last one chronologically and not the last one in this reading plan. Malachi, who name means “My Messenger” spoke God’s words to the Jews in Jerusalem who had returned from exile, probably during the period of time that Nehemiah, the Governor, had returned to the King’s service in Babylon. During this time, with their spearhead leader otherwise occupied, the people lost vision, began to doubt God’s love for them and generally slipped into bad habits and selfish behaviour. As the Proverb says: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…” (29:18). Nehemiah’s vision had included the rebuilding of the walls, help for the poor, avoidance of mixed marriages, keeping the Sabbath, and faithful tithing and giving of offerings. The people had sunk into rejecting God’s way in all these things; therefore, the Lord sent his word via Malachi.
“I do love you”, said the Lord. “In fact, I chose to love you, from the first; I chose you and I rejected Esau” (Malachi 1:2-3). This is an example of God’s sovereign choice in action and is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:10-13, as proof. Because the Lord had chosen Israel, he persisted in sending his messengers to warn the nation; he did not ever finally give up on them.
There were many ways in which Israel/Judah really offended the Lord:
1 – Offering substandard animal sacrifices to the Lord, when they should have been giving him the first and the best. (Are we rather like that with our time and energies? Do we give him the parts of our day that no-one else would want?)
2 – The priesthood is corrupt and fails to teach the people the truth of the scriptures. They do not bother to uphold God’s honour.
3 – In marriage, many of the people are unfaithful to the Lord by marrying those who do not recognise and worship him. If you marry an unbeliever, you are rejecting the Lord and his wisdom, by saying that you prefer a woman or man who rejects God and cares nothing for him. “Do not be unequally yoked” it says in the New Testament. There is no better way to put a brick wall in the way of your walk with the Lord than by marrying an unbeliever. And if that is the case, then there is no point in even dating such a person. What can light and darkness have in common! (It is a different matter if you were already married before you met Jesus, of course.)
4 – In marriage, many of the people had divorced their original marriage partners and taken up with someone else. Everyone who gets married makes a covenant before the Lord to put their spouse’s interests and needs before their own. If you voluntarily break that covenant, you are therefore offending God and also “doing violence to the one you should protect” (Malachi 2:16). We need to be on our guard to avoid those temptations to be unfaithful. One result of offending the Lord in this way is that our spiritual offerings are of no value since they originate in hypocrisy. (There are legitimate grounds for getting divorced that the Lord permits; these have been covered in previous notes.)
5 – Turning justice upside down. The cynical people had embraced a sinful lifestyle and attempted to justify it to themselves. Evil people were labelled as ‘good’ and good people as ‘evil’. Their religion was nothing more than set words.
Malachi 3 focusses on the First Coming of Christ generally. “Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple”. Jesus would come to purify God’s people, to speak out against injustice and to re-align people with their God.
6 – Withholding tithes from the Lord’s temple had put the nation under a curse. It was effectively robbery! But there was a way out: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this – says the Lord Almighty – and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (3:10). The principle of generous giving to the Lord’s work has never been repealed; the precise amount is less important than the regularity and the generosity of spirit that characterises it. If you stop giving because you cannot afford it, then you will never be able to afford it! If you are stingy with the Lord, he will be stingy with you; household appliances will not last long and your work will not be blessed. On the other hand, give to the Lord what you can, and he will multiply it and find ways of giving it back!
Chapter 4, the final one, focusses more on the Second Coming of Christ. “The Day is coming; it will burn like a furnace”. “But for you who revere my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (or ’wings’). Comparison of the Lord Jesus to the blazing sun is found in Isaiah 60:19; Luke 1:78-79; and Isaiah 9:2). In the words of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ there is that line: “Hail the Sun of Righteousness…Risen with healing in his wings”; it refers to the Malachi passage. Jesus, the Light of the World, will come to mankind on two occasions and will change everything forever!
Elijah will also be sent to us – perhaps representing John the Baptist (Matthew 17:11-13) – and perhaps also one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:3. If he is not obeyed, then the Lord will come and strike the land with total destruction.
So, we started in Genesis with creation, and we end in Malachi with impending destruction. Thank God for the New Covenant!