Many profound poems were birthed in the trauma of the First World War. Rupert Brooke was one poet who captured the mood. In one of his poems, Safety, he expressed a response to the fear that gripped those caught up in the terrors of war.
Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death's endeavour;
Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.
When John wrote Revelation, he and those he knew and loved were in the middle of their own battle zone as the Roman authorities had declared war on the church. They also lived in a world which was at war with God, and consequently a world in which horrors like natural disasters, human conflict, economic collapse, famine and poverty reflected a created order so spoiled by sin that the wrath of God was being revealed at every turn. These tragedies that were erupting in his day, as they have done in every era, were symbolized in the seals that were broken open by the Lamb of God in Revelation 6 as he sovereignly supervised the unfolding of human history recorded in the scroll that was in his hand.
For so many, these events were terrifying - as their images are for many who read of them in Revelation and see them played out again in our day. Yet John's purpose was not to terrify but to reassure. And he does this as he interrupts the opening of the seals on the scroll to describe the seals on the saints. He tells us in chapter 7 that none of these horrors could be released until first the saints had been sealed. "Do not harm [the world] until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads" (v.3).
There are a number of implications of the idea of being sealed. One has to do with preservation. We have a mark on our foreheads that functions somewhat like the mark on the doorposts in the Passover story in Exodus. The terrifying angels in John's visions, like the angel of death in Egypt, cannot harm the saints.
This is not an immunity card. It does not mean we will not be hurt. In fact, many will lose their lives. Hurt but not harmed. As Peter writes to his friends also suffering persecution, friends whom he knew were suffering, "Who is there to harm you?" (1Peter 3:13,14). We can never be harmed. We are sealed in a harm-free bubble than cannot be burst. Hurt, maybe, but unharmed, even by death itself. In Brooke's words:
Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall; And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.