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: “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.” – Revelation 7:2-3
This week we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. As we gather in worship to remember to Whom we belong and from where He has brought us, let us consider the “seal of the living God”. In the midst of the sufferings brought on by the first four seals – the spirits of the four horsemen, an angel calls a halt to the devastation just long enough for God’s messengers to “put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God”. What is this seal? What does it look like? How do we know who has it and who does not?
The seal given to these servants is a mark that distinguishes them from the rest of the world and acts as their protection from some of the suffering yet to come. Like the Lamb’s blood, left above the doors of the Israelites in Egypt during the Passover, and like the crimson rope that Rahab let out her window in Jericho, this seal signals to the approaching forces of God that this is one of their own, that we who bear the seal are captive strangers to this land ruled by Babylon (or whatever name the worldly power calls itself). Unfortunately, it does not win any social merit or provide any discounts for those who still walk the earth and live under the world’s rules. The sealed live with targets painted on their backs in their own communities as they fervently await the coming Kingdom of Christ their Lord. So, while it preserves them in the long run, the seal of the living God brings the attention and persecution of the world upon the believers who bear it.
What does this seal look like? Some believe it is a cross, marked on our foreheads. This is probably a Christian interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:8, where God tells Israel to bind his law on their hands and between their eyes. Conservative Jews observe this law by wearing ‘Tefillin’: small boxes containing scriptures, attached to the hand and forehead by leather straps. As Christians, we understand the Christ fulfilled the law on the cross and so we wear crosses as jewelry, tattoos, and other decorations as a similar reminder. Therefore, it is not outlandish to expect the seal of the living God to be a cross decoration. However, the letter to the Ephesians (one of the churches in Revelation) shines a different light on this subject.
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” – Ephesians 1:13
More than a physical symbol, we recognize the seal of the living God as bearing, or carrying the Holy Spirit in us. More than a baptism of water or an anointing of oil, the thing that separates the sealed people of God is the Holy Spirit in them. This is a mark that the angels would certainly recognize and although it may not manifest itself physically on our body, it certainly would manifest itself physically with our bodies. Look at these verses from Ephesians…
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 4:29-5:2
Do you think it is possible to live this kind of life – a life led by the Spirit, and not be noticed or set apart from the world in which we live. In a world where it is uncommon not to swear (and if you think I’m wrong try driving through Lexington or Cincinnati about 5pm) do you really think you can love your neighbors the way Jesus loves us and stay under the radar? I think not. Stand up for Jesus, love the unloveable, put aside bitterness and embrace kindness and the world will take notice and will mark you as a stranger… but Heaven will notice too.
This is our purpose and our hope: we bear the mark of Christ – His Spirit and His sufferings, not because we want to escape the coming tribulation the world will face when Heaven comes down, but because we are God’s adopted children and we want to be just like our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We care not what the world nor anyone else thinks. Rather we live a life of love for God, putting Him before all others and all else, and rejoicing in that love he has for us and the rest of the world.