After these things
Μετὰ ταῦτα [Meta tauta] .1 This phrase indicates significant transitions in the development of Johns vision. The judgments of the first six seals have been communicated and now a transition occurs in preparation for the seventh seal, which will contain the seven trumpets and seven bowls. If the NU and MT texts are correct in rendering Revelation Rev. 7:1+ as After this rather than After these [things] (according to the text of the TR), then perhaps chapter seven describes the next vision John sees which is not necessarily chronologically related to chapter six. If so, then the sealing of Israel (Rev. Rev. 7:4-9+) and the killing of numerous faithful from all nations (Rev. Rev. 7:9-17+) may have begun during the previous seals.2 On the other hand, the distinction of the multitude in this chapter from those under the fifth seal (Rev. Rev. 6:9-11+) argues for understanding them as chronologically distinct groups. (See Revelation Rev. 7:9+ where Johns vision of the multitude coming out of the Great Tribulation is said to follow the sealing of the twelve tribes.)
Because the visions constitute a pause in the chronological progression represented by the opening of the seals, they have been called a parenthesis between the sixth and seventh seals, but there is some objection to this because the visions are an integral part of the books movement. . . . The natural meaning of the text places the sealing and the vision as a whole just after the sixth seal. Revelation Rev. 7:1+ is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals. . . . The description is provided to answer the questions of Rev. Rev. 6:17+ by way of showing that some will survive and even prosper spiritually under the blessing of God during earths terrors. . . . The evidence is sufficient for placing this sealing just before the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation, at the end of the period called the beginning of birth pains. Though the meta touto indicates a change of vision, this does not mean there is no relationship to the sixth seal.3In any case, what transpires in this chapter is an interlude of sorts which is not tied explicitly to any seal, but inferred as being between the sixth and seventh seals. The scene now shifts from the judgments themselves to the people of God, both Jewish and otherwise, who attend this time of wrath upon the earth:
The great day of Gods wrath has come, but the action is interrupted . . . the author introduces an intermezzo between the sixth and seventh members of the series. A change comes over the spirit of his dream. . . . it is a consoling rhapsody or rapture designed to relieve the tension by lifting the eyes of the faithful over the foam and rocks of the rapids on which they were tossing to the calm sunlit pool of bliss which awaited them beyond. They get this glimpse before the seventh seal is opened with its fresh cycle of horrors.4
Chapter 7 comes as a parenthesis between the sixth and seventh sealsa stylistic feature repeated in the trumpet sequence (Rev. Rev. 10:1+-Rev. 11:13+) but not with the bowls (cf. Rev. Rev. 16:12-21+). It is not intended to take the reader back to a time before the Four Horsemen are released in order to parallel the trumpets with the seals. It contrasts the security and blessedness which await the faithful with the panic of a pagan world fleeing from judgment. . . . Chapter Rev. 7:1+ also serves as a dramatic interlude. It delays for a brief moment the disclosure of that which is to take place with the seventh and final seal is removed from the scroll of destiny.5four angels
Four is the number of worldwide effect. See Four: the Entire World, the Earth. This is the first of several global judgments which involve four angels. There are four angels bound at the river Euphrates which will later be released to kill a third of mankind (Rev. Rev. 9:14+).
four corners of the earth
This is figurative language indicating the four main compass directions (Eze. Eze. 7:2). The angels have a ministry extending over the entire earth.
standing . . . holding
Standing is ἐστῶτας [estōtas] , perfect tense, having stood. Holding is κρατοῦντας [kratountas] , present tense. The angels had taken their positions earlier and were already actively restraining the winds when John saw them. This is the proverbial calm before the storm. Only the detail of the sealing of the 144,000 remained before the unleashing of these destructive winds.6
The four major directions from which winds blow: from the East, South, West, and North. This is equivalent to saying from every direction (Jer. Jer. 48:36; Dan. Dan. 8:8).7 Wind is also used to describe Gods breath or Spirit (Eze. Eze. 37:9; Zec. Zec. 6:5) which is often used in judgment. In Pharaohs dream, the seven years of Egyptian famine were brought about by an east wind (Gen. Gen. 41:6, Gen. 41:27). The plague of locusts brought upon Egypt came on the east wind (Ex. Ex. 10:13). The same east wind allowed the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea (Ex. Ex. 14:21). The east wind is often associated with Gods judgment and deliverance (Ps. Ps. 48:7; Ps. 78:26; Isa. Isa. 27:8; Jer. Jer. 18:17; Eze. Eze. 19:12; Hos. Hos. 13:15; Jonah Jonah 4:8). Since there is no mention of wind in association with any forthcoming judgment here, it seems best to understand the wind as denoting the judgment and influence of God which is about to blow across the land as it had in the past. In Daniels vision, it was the four winds of heaven which stirred up the Great Sea which brought forth the four rapacious beasts (Dan. Dan. 7:2). The sea represented the Gentile nations from which the four successive empires would arise. These same four winds control the upcoming rise of Antichrist in judgment (Rev. Rev. 13:1+). The winds speak of the impending global judgments and their initiation and sovereign control by God.8
not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree
These three parts of the created order will undergo Gods judgment in events to come.
- With the sounding of the first trumpet, a third of the trees are burned up (Rev. Rev. 8:7+).
- At the second trumpet, a third of the sea becomes blood (Rev. Rev. 8:8+). At the pouring forth of the second bowl, the entire sea becomes blood as of a dead man (Rev. Rev. 16:3+).
- At the sounding of the first trumpet, a third of the earth is burned up (Rev. Rev. 8:7+, NU and MT texts). At the pouring forth of the sixth bowl, the earth is utterly shaken (Rev. Rev. 16:18-20+).
That no wind might blow upon the earth the scene of settled government (Rev. Rev. 10:2+; Ps. Ps. 46:2); nor upon the sea nations and peoples in anarchy and confusion (Dan. Dan. 7:2-3; Isa. Isa. 57:20); nor upon any tree the might and pride of the earth (Dan. Dan. 4:10, Dan. 4:22; Eze. Eze. 31:3-9, Eze. 31:14-18).10
These symbols are easy to interpret. The earth is Israel; the sea, the Gentiles; the trees, as we know from the famous parable in the ninth chapter of the book of Judges, refer to those in authority.11While it is true that each of these entities carries a symbolic meaning in other passages (cf. especially Rev. Rev. 13:1+; Rev. 17:15+), it is best to understand their use here as literal because of the related passages which follow. The locusts are commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev. Rev. 9:4+). The passage concerning the locusts differentiates men from real vegetation (any green thing). When trees are destroyed, so too is the green grass (Rev. Rev. 8:7+). When the sea becomes blood, living creatures and ships are affected (Rev. Rev. 8:9+; Rev. 16:3+). If the sea represents the nations here (as it does in Rev. Rev. 13:1+ and Rev. 17:15+), then what is meant by the living creatures and the ships which ply its waters? Also, when men, cities, or authorities are the recipients of judgments which follow, they are specifically denoted as such (Rev. Rev. 9:4-5+, Rev. 9:18+, Rev. 9:20+; Rev. 11:13+; Rev. 16:2+, Rev. 16:9+; Rev. 18:14-19+; Rev. 19:19+).
2 This ministry of the 144,000 is something that occurs throughout the entire first half and not merely after the sixth seal judgment. In fact, it is going on during the Seal judgments, and it is the means by which the fifth seal saints come to Messiah. The passage begins with After this, which is not chronological, but merely the next vision John sees.Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 222.
7 We use the same expression today without in any way denying that the earth is a sphere, so must allow Revelation the same latitude and not see its thought as primitive!Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 7:1.
8 Since nowhere in Revelation do we read of the four winds actually blowing, they may be taken as representing the earthly catastrophes that occur under the trumpets and bowls.Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), Rev. 7:1-3.