Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jim Hamilton on sovereignty, sealing and suffering

    After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
    12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
    12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
    12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
    12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
    12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
    12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
    12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
    12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
    12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
    12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
    12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
    12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
(Revelation 7:1-8 ESV)


Pastor and theologian Jim Hamilton discusses the above text in his recently published book Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Hamilton Jr., James M. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print). For Hamilton, the sealing of the saints speaks to God's sovereign control throughout the universe, particularly in regards to the suffering of the saints. He writes,
There are important lessons for us here: God is sovereign over the harmful forces in the world. The divine passive is a way to state that God has ultimate control over something while at the same time distancing God from it. This teaches us that the harmful things that happen do not surprise God. Satan has not tricked God. The world is not spinning out of God's control. God is in absolute control of everything that happens. Some things happen because he has given ability to an agent he has appointed to accomplish his purpose. God's purpose will be accomplished, even if humans and demons act wickedly (see 17:17).
In addition to the fact that God is sovereign over everything, even harmful things, we see in this passage that God actively protects his people. God keeps his own. Not one of them will be lost. The sealing in view here probably does not guarantee that the servants of God who are sealed will have no pain, but 9:4 indicates that those who are sealed are spared the pains of judgment. The sealing in view ensures the preservation of the servants of God in the faith. God seals them in the sense that he keeps convincing them that he is trustworthy. He keeps compelling them to trust him. He makes sure they will always have compelling evidence to believe what he has said.
There is comfort here for us, isn't there? You can be confident that no matter how bad it gets, you will not suffer the smallest bit more than God allows you to suffer. God will not allow the suffering to go farther than you can bear. You can also be confident that if God is in control, the suffering is not meaningless. In addition, you can be confident that God will never let you go (189).

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