Bible Study with Jairus – Revelation 7
The Cornerstone Brings Together Jews and Gentile Believers
The end of Revelation unveils the beauty of the New Jerusalem, a magnificent city that has been recently constructed. First Peter 2:5 tells us that we as believers are the living stones that compose that spiritual temple, the New Jerusalem: “You, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the cornerstone of the entire structure. First Peter 2:4 states that Jesus is “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” First Peter 2:6-7 also agrees that Christ is the cornerstone. Both Isaiah and Ephesians talk about how Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, unites Jews and Gentiles.
As the body of Christ matures at the end of Revelation, the construction of the spiritual temple is completed. Naturally, we would expect to see more about the progress in earlier chapters as well. And that is exactly what we find when we study Revelation.
The image of the New Jerusalem from Chapter 21 correlates to the vision in Chapter 7. Chapter 21 says that the New Jerusalem has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and on the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12). The city has twelve foundations, and on them are written the names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:14). And Chapter 7 describes a vision that takes place between the sixth and seventh seal. It encourages believers to stay hopeful when going through suffering because God is already building his spiritual temple.
Let’s look at the vision more closely. In this vision, God describes 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel who had been sealed (Revelation 7:3-8). He also introduces “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). This vision is a vivid depiction of the truths revealed in Ephesians 2. The hatred between Jews and Gentiles has been removed. The Israelites and the multicultural tribe are all united before the throne of God. Because Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, believers from every nation can grow together into the temple of the Lord (Ephesians 2:11-22).
We Need to Understand the Overall Structure of Revelation
When we go for a walk in a forest, there are signposts or maps to guide us. If we do not see the signposts or misinterpret the signs, we will get lost. In the same way, when we read the Scripture, it’s easy to get lost. Especially when we read a difficult book like Revelation, we often miss the signposts and take the wrong path. There are signposts everywhere in the Bible. But sometimes we fail to see them. Perhaps they are overgrown with moss or shrubs and we must make extra efforts to find them. In the same way, when reading the Bible, we need help from the Holy Spirit to help us find the signposts.
In addition, we must not pay too much attention to the details in the Bible, or we will lose the forest for the trees. We will get lost because we fail to see the big picture. Just like you solve a jigsaw puzzle by creating the outer border and the main picture first, we need to see the outline and the big picture in the Bible. Only then will we be able to fit the details into place.
So here is an important question: What is the overall picture of Revelation? The overall structure is that God will judge the church and the world in order to mature the bride of Christ (the New Jerusalem) and prepare her for the second coming of Jesus Christ. In Revelation 12, we see a description of the bride giving birth to a male child. Because he knows that the church is destined to judge the angels, Satan’s anger grows exponentially after the male child is born. He begins to persecute the church and the overcomers. This event initiates a three-and-a-half-year tribulation.
Let’s review the structure of the Book of Revelation:
- Revelation 1-3 describes the Lord’s judgment upon the church.
- The Lord shows John a heavenly vision of God’s throne (4-5).
- After cleansing the house of God, the judgment of the world begins, which is the purpose of the seven seals (chapters 6-8) and the seven trumpets (chapters 9-11).
- In between the judgments God includes visions to encourage believers to see God’s grace and kindness amid suffering and judgment. The vision between the sixth and seventh seals reveals the foundation the New Jerusalem is built upon: Christ.
- Through Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone, the Jews and Gentile believers are united (chapter 7).
- The vision between the sixth and seventh trumpets encourages believers to see that the mystery of God will be fulfilled (10:7). This is the signpost of Revelation. And this is the overarching structure: judgment comes first, then comes encouragement. Then the cycle repeats itself.
- After Revelation 12, the battle between Christ and Satan intensifies until it culminates in the Battle of Armageddon. Of course, Christ and His bride win the final victory over Satan and his demons. God puts down the rebellion, destroys all evil in His universe, and invites the New Jerusalem to come to earth.
We must see the hidden structure of the Book of Revelation so that we will not get lost as if we were in a forest.
The Vision in Revelation 7 Reveals the Foundation of New Jerusalem
Revelation 21 mentions the names of the twelve tribes written on the twelve gates, as well as the names of the twelve apostles written on the twelve foundations. The angel has a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, including its gates and its walls (Revelation 21:15). Those who have worked in construction or visited a construction site know that measuring is an important part of the building process. Whenever the Bible is talking about taking measurements, it is often referring to the building process. Both Revelation 21 and Revelation 11 talk about an angel taking measurements. Revelation 11:1 says, “Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there’” (11:1). Here, the idea of measurement may indicate sizing up the building and the building materials.
Even though the Book of Revelation contains a lot of judgment, it also contains rebuilding and growth. Paul says it in this way: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). God’s judgment demolishes the old creation, while God’s renewal builds up the new creation.
Although the Bible says that the New Jerusalem came “down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2), it does not exclude the possibility of building it on Earth. The word “parousia” contains both the idea of a public appearance and a hidden manifestation. Jesus Christ will return to earth publicly, but he also manifests himself in more subtle ways within the hearts of his followers. He appears quietly, like the morning star mentioned in 2 Peter 1:19. In the same way, the construction of the New Jerusalem has two aspects. On the one hand, she comes down from heaven; on the other hand, she is built up in each of our hearts. This is what Peter proclaims: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).
The themes of tearing down and building up are two main themes of the Book of Revelation. They mirror the concepts of judgment and encouragement. God never tears down if he doesn’t intend to build up again. God’s work does not stop at tearing down or judging. He also rebuilds and encourages his people, the world, and the new creation.
We can see this structure clearly at the beginning of Revelation 7. After the first six seal judgments, the four angels at the four corners of the earth were about to harm the earth and the sea (7:1-2). This judgment would have been part of the sixth seal, because it was happening before the seventh seal. However, another angel asked them to hold back the judgment until he sealed God’s servants with the seal of the living God (7:3). The severe judgment was temporarily suspended.
Chapter 6:12-14 says, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth… The sky… was removed from its place.” Jesus uses a very similar description of the end times in Matthew 24: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). In Matthew 24:21, He goes on, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Then verse 31 says, “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Jesus’ words correlate closely to the vision in Revelation 7. After the angel with the seal of God stops the four angels who want to harm the earth and the sea, the chapter never records that the four angels actually executed their plans. Perhaps Jesus was referring to these four angels when he said that unless these days were cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of God’s chosen people, God’s grace had cut these days short.
In addition, Matthew says that an angel will blow a trumpet to gather His chosen Jews together. This corresponds with the opening of the seven seals. Revelation 7 says that 144,000 Israelites were sealed, and their return to God may have begun during the blowing of the seventh trumpet. However, none of the 144,000 came from the tribe of Dan. Perhaps this tribe comes back to God in Revelation 21. This is beyond the scope of our current discussion.
Let’s return to our discussion of tearing down and building up. Judgment is not an end, but only a means to an end. The purpose of judgment is to bring people to repentance and gather God’s chosen people—not only the Jews but also the saved people from all nations—to himself. Jews and Gentiles are built together on the cornerstone, Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of the temple.
Christ, the Cornerstone, Unifies the Jewish and Gentile Believers
Christ is not only the Lamb of God who takes away sin, but he is also the Designer and Architect of the City of God. Speaking of Abraham, Hebrews 11:10 says, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” I believe this city is the New Jerusalem in Revelation. That raises a question: What is the building material? As a spiritual building, the temple is made of living stones. And who are those living stones? Believers! Both Gentile believers and Jewish believers are the living stones that make up this building. The Jewish people rejected Christ as their cornerstone, but he nonetheless became the Chief Cornerstone that united Jews and Gentiles. Acts 4:11 maintains, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” (See also Matthew 21:42.)
The Bible refers to Jesus as the cornerstone many times. Isaiah 28:16 says, “Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laidas a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone.’” The cornerstone refers to Christ, who is the foundation of a spiritual building. Obviously, Jesus Christ is not a physical stone; he is a “spiritual Rock … and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus is the foundation of the church, and we are the living stones being built upon it. We are being built into a spiritual temple, the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.
Nowhere is this building process better described than in Ephesians 2. First, Paul reminds the Gentile believers of how they were formerly separated from the promises God made to the Jews (2:12), but how that hostility was removed through Jesus Christ (2:14). They now have access in one Spirit to the Father (2:18). Paul tells them that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (2:20), “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:21-22). The “whole structure” includes both Jewish and Gentile believers who grow together into a holy temple in the Lord. This temple is the New Jerusalem. Christ, as the cornerstone, must include both Jewish and Gentile believers as he builds his temple.
Paul’s words can help us understand John’s vision in Revelation. If we are not familiar with Paul’s writings, our understanding of Revelation will be limited. The Bible is written by different people, but they are all inspired by one Holy Spirit. We must look at the Bible as a whole and interpret the vision in Revelation in the light of the inspiration that Paul saw and received.
The Building of the Foundation in Revelation 7 Is Necessary for the Seventh Seal and the Seventh Trumpet
In the Bible, we see a spiritual principle: God gradually does away with the old as he incrementally brings in the new. He does not get rid of the old too quickly, or the new growth wouldn’t have a foundation to stand on.
We see this principle in Revelation 7. In the seventh seal judgment and the seventh trumpet judgment, God judges the old creation so he can bring in the new creation. But he will not destroy the old creation before the new creation is fully formed because we still need the old creation to supply the physical needs of our natural existence.
In the same way, when we first put our trust in the Lord, the Holy Spirit gives us some sense of repentance, but he doesn’t show us all of our problems at once. Instead, as we mature, he gradually reveals more and more sins that we need to deal with. Another example comes from the Old Testament. When God commanded the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites, he didn’t allow them to do it all at once. If they had, the wild beasts would have grown and multiplied in the vacated land before they could fully take possession of it (Deuteronomy 7:22). Israel needed to drive out the Canaanites gradually. The Canaanites represent the aspects of the physical body and the physical world that are still useful. In Deuteronomy, the Canaanite’s presence served a purpose: to restrain the increase of wild beasts. The same principle applies to us today. We need our physical bodies so we can continue to develop our spiritual lives. Only when we reach heaven or obtain a glorified body will we escape the restrictions of our physicality. Until then, we need our bodies. Although there is no way to escape from the physical body, we can still experience freedom from the bondage of the sinful flesh.
Our spiritual maturity determines how well we deal with our flesh. For example, Watchman Nee often held trainings to help brothers and sisters mature spiritually and overcome the flesh. Sometimes when people asked him questions, he would speak out about their spiritual problems very frankly, sometimes even mercilessly. But other times, he refrained from pointing out their shortcomings, instead giving them compliments. People asked, “Why do you have such a strange way of handling questions?” He responded, “Everyone’s spiritual life is different. For those who are more mature spiritually, critical words can help them. But for those who are spiritually immature, words of criticism would make them stumble.”
This story illustrates this principle well. Before the old creation can be judged and torn down, the new creation needs to be built up. The seventh seal and the seventh trumpet judgments that take place after Revelation 8 will be even more severe. That’s why Revelation 7 is so important. This chapter serves to build up the Jews and the Gentiles and bring them together in reconciliation. As God unites Jews and Gentiles upon the cornerstone, Christ, he lays a solid foundation for the spiritual temple. Only then will the church be able to endure God’s harsh judgment on the old creation. We hope that this spiritual principle helps you better understand God’s words in Revelation 7.