A seal, in biblical times as today, is used to guarantee security or indicate ownership. Ancient seals were often made of wax, embedded with the personalized imprint of their guarantor. The Roman authorities used such a seal to secure Jesus' tomb ( Matt 27:66 ). A signet ring was also called a seal. It was valued among Israel's booty ( Num 31:50 ).
The significance of the act of sealing is dependent on the importance of the one doing the sealing. This is why Jezebel falsely authenticated letters she wrote in Ahab's name by affixing them with his seal ( 1 Kings 21:8 ). Ahasuerus's solemn decree to annihilate the Jews ( Es 3:12 ) and then to bless them (8:8, 10) was sealed with his signet ring.
The word "seal" often is used figuratively in the Bible. The divine origin of prophet "books" solemnizes the opening of the seals with which they are securely fastened. They are opened at God's discretion, often announcing doom ( Isa 29:11-12 ; Dan 9:24 ; 12 Rev 5:1 ). Also, the Book of Job speaks of the great God who "seals off the light of the stars" ( 9:7 ). God providentially uses clouds to block out the otherwise helpful presence of stars. He also seals up transgressions, disposing of them as he wills ( Job 14:17 ; Hosea 13:12 ). The bridegroom refers to his bride as a sealed (chaste) garden spring ( So 4:12 ). Pledging fidelity, the bridegroom asks his beloved to seal him to herself on the heart and on the arm ( 8:6 ). The psalmist asks God to seal his lips to prevent sinful speech ( 141:3 ).
The New Testament continues the mostly metaphorical use of "seal." For example, Satan's ineffectiveness is secured by God's sealing of the abyss ( Rev 20:3 ). Paul sealed a generous offering collected from believers in Macedonia and Achaia by delivering it to the needy church in Jerusalem ( Rom 15:28 ). Paul described his Corinthian converts as the seal of his apostleship ( 1 Cor 9:2 ). Those who dogged him could not refute his effective ministry in transforming lives (see also 2 Cor 3:1-3 ). Testimonies to the truth are sealed to indicate the certainty of the one making the claim ( John 3:33 ). God the Father has staked such a claim on his son, rendering the words of Jesus equivalent in authority to those of the Father ( John 6:27-29 ).
Paul described Abraham's circumcision as a seal, or guarantee, that Abraham was reckoned righteous by God ( Rom 4:11 ). By commanding this outward observance of the old covenant, God indicated how human beings could demonstrably consecrate themselves by faith to him. The covenant was bilateral in the sense that it needed to be ratified (i.e., sealed) by each individual. God takes covenant-keeping signs and vows seriously. The seal has no effect unless accompanied by faith. A God-ordained sign entered into by faith makes certain the grace that it signifies ( Rom 4:16 ). "The Lord knows those who are his" and "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" ( 2 Tim 2:19 ), the insignias etched into the seal placed on "God's firm foundation, " are at the same time a blessing and a warning. The tribulation saints have a seal with God's name protecting them from judgment ( Rev 9:4 ; 14:1 ). Throughout eternity all of God's people will bear this mark of identification ( Rev 22:4 ).
The Holy Spirit seals those who trust in Christ. The Spirit's presence is God's guarantee that believers are owned by him and secure in him. Since the Holy Spirit's task is to apply Christ's work to God's people, he anoints believers "in Christ" the moment they believe ( 2 Cor 1:21-22 ; Eph 1:13 ). The Father anointed Christ with the Spirit at his baptism, the inauguration of his messianic ministry ( Luke 3:22 ; 4:18 ). Similarly, a believer's baptism marks him or her out as God's. A believer is a secure member of God's family, not because he or she is "holding on, " but because the Spirit is applying the promises about Christ. His sealing merely comprises the initial down payment that anticipates the future, full redemption of God's "marked possession" ( Eph 1:14 ; cf. 2 Cor 5:5 ). In the meantime, Paul commands Christians not to grieve the Holy Spirit in light of the coming day of redemption ( Eph 4:30 ). The Christian is marked as a "new self, " a "re-creation" of God ( Eph 4:24 ), indwelt by the Holy Spirit. His work of sealing believers, therefore, implies a moral responsibility. His name, "Holy" Spirit, is not without significance. His sealing separates the believer from the world and from his or her unholy past. It is incongruous for a sealed believer to ignore God's present sanctifying work through the Spirit resulting in practical godliness ( Eph 4:14-6:9 ).
Bradford A. Mullen
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Seal'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".