A pause between two great periods. (1-3) The peace, happiness, and safety of the saints, as signified by an angel's sealing 144,000. (4-8) A song of praise. (9-12) The blessedness and glory of those that suffered martyrdom for Christ. (13-17)
Verses 1-8 In the figurative language of Scripture, the blowing of the four winds together, means a dreadful and general destruction. But the destruction is delayed. Seals were used to mark for each person his own possessions. This mark is the witness of the Holy Ghost, printed in the hearts of believers. And the Lord would not suffer his people to be afflicted before they were marked, that they might be prepared against all conflicts. And, observe, of those who are thus sealed by the Spirit, the seal must be on the forehead, plainly to be seen alike by friends and foes, but not by the believer himself, except as he looks stedfastly in the glass of God's word. The number of those who were sealed, may be understood to stand for the remnant of people which God reserved. Though the church of God is but a little flock, in comparison with the wicked world, yet it is a society really large, and to be still more enlarged. Here the universal church is figured under the type of Israel.
Verses 9-12 The first fruits of Christ having led the way, the Gentiles converted later follow, and ascribe their salvation to God and the Redeemer, with triumph. In acts of religious worship we come nigh to God, and must come by Christ; the throne of God could not be approached by sinners, were it not for a Mediator. They were clothed with the robes of justification, holiness, and victory; and they had palms in their hands, as conquerors used to appear in their triumphs. Such a glorious appearance will the faithful servants of God make at last, when they have fought the good fight of faith, and finished their course. With a loud voice they gave to God and the Lamb the praise of the great salvation. Those who enjoy eternal happiness must and will bless both the Father and the Son; they will do it publicly, and with fervour. We see what is the work of heaven, and we ought to begin it now, to have our hearts much in it, and to long for that world where our praises, as well as our happiness, will be made perfect.
Verses 13-17 Faithful Christians deserve our notice and respect; we should mark the upright. Those who would gain knowledge, must not be ashamed to seek instruction from any who can give it. The way to heaven is through many tribulations; but tribulation, how great soever, shall not separate us from the love of God. Tribulation makes heaven more welcome and more glorious. It is not the blood of the martyrs, but the blood of the Lamb, that can wash away sin, and make the soul pure and clean in the sight of God; other blood stains, this is the only blood that makes the robes of the saints white and clean. They are happy in their employment; heaven is a state of service, though not of suffering; it is a state of rest, but not of sloth; it isa praising, delightful rest. They have had sorrows, and shed many tears on account of sin and affliction; but God himself, with his own gracious hand, will wipe those tears away. He deals with them as a tender father. This should support the Christian under all his troubles. As all the redeemed owe their happiness wholly to sovereign mercy; so the work and worship of God their Saviour is their element; his presence and favour complete their happiness, nor can they conceive of any other joy. To Him may all his people come; from him they receive every needed grace; and to him let them offer all praise and glory.
Revelation 7:1-17 . SEALING OF THE ELECT OF ISRAEL. THE COUNTLESS MULTITUDE OF THE GENTILE ELECT.
1. And--so B and Syriac. But A, C, Vulgate, and Coptic omit "and."
after these things--A, B, C, and Coptic read, "after this." The two visions in this chapter come in as an episode after the sixth seal, and before the seventh seal. It is clear that, though "Israel" may elsewhere designate the spiritual Israel, "the elect (Church) on earth" [ALFORD], here, where the names of the tribes one by one are specified, these names cannot have any but the literal meaning. The second advent will be the time of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, when the times of the Gentiles shall have been fulfilled, and the Jews shall at last say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." The period of the Lord's absence has been a blank in the history of the Jews as a nation. As then Revelation is the Book of the Second Advent [DE BURGH], naturally mention of God's restored favor to Israel occurs among the events that usher in Christ's advent.
earth . . . sea . . . tree--The judgments to descend on these are in answer to the martyrs' prayer under the fifth seal. Compare the same judgments under the fifth trumpet, the sealed being exempt ( Revelation 9:4 ).
on any tree--Greek, "against any tree" (Greek, "epi ti dendron": but "on the earth," Greek, "epi tees gees").
2. from the east--Greek, "the rising of the sun." The quarter from which God's glory oftenest manifests itself.
3. Hurt not--by letting loose the destructive winds.
till we have sealed the servants of our God--parallel to Matthew 24:31 , "His angels . . . shall gather together His elect from the four winds." God's love is such, that He cannot do anything in the way of judgment, till His people are secured from hurt ( Genesis 19:22 ). Israel, at the eve of the Lord's coming, shall be found re-embodied as a nation; for its tribes are distinctly specified (Joseph, however, being substituted for Dan; whether because Antichrist is to come from Dan, or because Dan is to be Antichrist's especial tool [ARETAS, tenth century], compare Genesis 49:17 , Jeremiah 8:16 , Amos 8:14 ; just as there was a Judas among the Twelve). Out of these tribes a believing remnant will be preserved from the judgments which shall destroy all the Antichristian confederacy ( Revelation 6:12-17 ), and shall be transfigured with the elect Church of all nations, namely, 144,000 (or whatever number is meant by this symbolical number), who shall faithfully resist the seductions of Antichrist, while the rest of the nation, restored to Palestine in unbelief, are his dupes, and at last his victims. Previously to the Lord's judgments on Antichrist and his hosts, these latter shall destroy two-thirds of the nation, one-third escaping, and, by the Spirit's operation through affliction, turning to the Lord, which remnant shall form the nucleus on earth of the Israelite nation that is from this time to stand at the head of the millennial nations of the world. Israel's spiritual resurrection shall be "as life from the dead" to all the nations. As now a regeneration goes on here and there of individuals, so there shall then be a regeneration of nations universally, and this in connection with Christ's coming. Matthew 24:34 ; "this generation (the Jewish nation) shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled," which implies that Israel can no more pass away before Christ's advent, than Christ's own words can pass away (the same Greek), Matthew 24:35 . So exactly Zechariah 13:8 Zechariah 13:9 , Zechariah 14:2-4 Zechariah 14:9-21 ; compare Zechariah 12:2-14 , Zechariah 13:1 Zechariah 13:2 . So also Ezekiel 8:17 Ezekiel 8:18 , 9:1-7 , especially Ezekiel 9:4 . Compare also Ezekiel 10:2 with Revelation 8:5 , where the final judgments actually fall on the earth, with the same accompaniment, the fire of the altar cast into the earth, including the fire scattered over the city. So again, Revelation 14:1 , the same 144,000 appear on Zion with the Father's name in their forehead, at the close of the section, the twelfth through fourteenth chapters, concerning the Church and her foes. Not that the saints are exempt from trial: Revelation 7:14 proves the contrary; but their trials are distinct from the destroying judgments that fall on the world; from these they are exempted, as Israel was from the plagues of Egypt, especially from the last, the Israelite doors having the protecting seal of the blood-mark.
foreheads--the most conspicuous and noblest part of man's body; on which the helmet, "the hope of salvation," is worn.
4. Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000. A thousand implies the world perfectly pervaded by the divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God.
of all the tribes--literally, "out of every tribe"; not 144,000 of each tribe, but the aggregate of the twelve thousand from every tribe.
children--Greek, "sons of Israel." Revelation 3:12 , 21:12 , are no objection, as ALFORD thinks, to the literal Israel being meant; for, in consummated glory, still the Church will be that "built on the foundation of the (Twelve) apostles (Israelites), Jesus Christ (an Israelite) being the chief corner-stone." Gentile believers shall have the name of Jerusalem written on them, in that they shall share the citizenship antitypical to that of the literal Jerusalem.
5-8. Judah (meaning praise) stands first, as Jesus' tribe. Benjamin, the youngest, is last; and with him is associated second last, Joseph. Reuben, as originally first-born, comes next after Judah, to whom it gave place, having by sin lost its primogeniture right. Besides the reason given above omission of Dan, is, its having been the first to lapse into idolatry ( Judges 18:1-31 ); for which same reason the name Ephraim, also (compare Judges 17:1-3 , Hosea 4:17 ), is omitted, and Joseph substituted. Also, it had been now for long almost extinct. Long before, the Hebrews say [GROTIUS], it was reduced to the one family of Hussim, which perished subsequently in the wars before Ezra's time. Hence it is omitted in the fourth through eighth chapters of First Chronicles. Dan's small numbers are joined here to Naphtali's, whose brother he was by the same mother [BENGEL]. The twelve times twelve thousand sealed ones of Israel are the nucleus of transfigured humanity [AUBERLEN], to which the elect Gentiles are joined, "a multitude which no man could number," Revelation 7:9 (that is, the Church of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, in which the Gentiles are the predominant element, Luke 21:24 . The word "tribes," Greek, implies that believing Israelites are in this countless multitude). Both are in heaven, yet ruling over the earth, as ministers of blessing to its inhabitants: while upon earth the world of nations is added to the kingdom of Israel. The twelve apostles stand at the head of the whole. The upper and the lower congregation, though distinct, are intimately associated.
9. no man--Greek, "no one."
of all nations--Greek, "OUT OF every nation." The human race is "one nation" by origin, but afterwards separated itself into tribes, peoples, and tongues; hence, the one singular stands first, followed by the three plurals.
people--Greek, "peoples." The "first-fruits unto the Lamb," the 144,000 ( Revelation 14:1-4 ) of Israel, are followed by a copious harvest of all nations, an election out of the Gentiles, as the 144,000 are an election out of Israel also Revelation 3:5 Revelation 3:18 , 4:4 ).
palms in . . . hands--the antitype to Christ's entry into Jerusalem amidst the palm-bearing multitude. This shall be just when He is about to come visibly and take possession of His kingdom. The palm branch is the symbol of joy and triumph. It was used at the feast of tabernacles, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when they kept feast to God in thanksgiving for the ingathered fruits. The antitype shall be the completed gathering in of the harvest of the elect redeemed here described. Compare Zechariah 14:16 , whence it appears that the earthly feast of tabernacles will be renewed, in commemoration of Israel's preservation in her long wilderness-like sojourn among the nations from which she shall now be delivered, just as the original typical feast was to commemorate her dwelling for forty years in booths or tabernacles in the literal wilderness.
10. cried--Greek, "cry," in the three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic. It is their continuing, ceaseless employment.
Salvation--literally, "THE salvation"; all the praise of our salvation be ascribed to our God. At the Lord's entry into Jerusalem, the type, similarly "salvation" is the cry of the palm-bearing multitudes. Hosanna means "save us now"; taken from Psalms 118:25 , in which Psalm ( Psalms 118:14 Psalms 118:15 Psalms 118:21 Psalms 118:26 ) the same connection occurs between salvation, the tabernacles of the righteous, and the Jews' cry to be repeated by the whole nation at Christ's coming, "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
11. The angels, as in Revelation 5:11 , in their turn take up the anthem of praise. There it was "many angels," here it is "all the angels."
stood--"were standing" [ALFORD].
12. Greek, "The blessing, the glory, the wisdom, the thanksgiving, the honor, the power, the might [the doxology is sevenfold, implying its totality and completeness], unto the ages of the ages."
13. answered--namely, to my thoughts; spoke, asking the question which might have been expected to arise in John's mind from what has gone before. One of the twenty-four elders, representing the Old and New Testament ministry, appropriately acts as interpreter of this vision of the glorified Church.
What, &c.--Greek order, "These which are arrayed in white robes, WHO are they?"
14. Sir--Greek, "Lord." B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic versions, and CYPRIAN read, "My Lord." A omits "My," as English Version.
thou knowest--taken from Ezekiel 37:3 . Comparatively ignorant ourselves of divine things, it is well for us to look upward for divinely communicated knowledge.
came--rather as Greek, "come"; implying that they are just come.
great tribulation--Greek, "THE great tribulation"; "the tribulation, the great one," namely, the tribulation to which the martyrs were exposed under the fifth seal, the same which Christ foretells as about to precede His coming ( Matthew 24:21 , great tribulation), and followed by the same signs as the sixth seal ( Matthew 24:29 Matthew 24:30 ), compare Daniel 12:1 ; including also retrospectively all the tribulation which the saints of all ages have had to pass through. Thus this seventh chapter is a recapitulation of the vision of the six seals, Revelation 6:1-17 , to fill up the outline there given in that part of it which affects the faithful of that day. There, however, their number was waiting to be completed, but here it is completed, and they are seen taken out of the earth before the judgments on the Antichristian apostasy; with their Lord, they, and all His faithful witnesses and disciples of past ages, wait for His coming and their coming to be glorified and reign together with Him. Meanwhile, in contrast with their previous sufferings, they are exempt from the hunger, thirst, and scorching heats of their life on earth ( Revelation 7:16 ), and are fed and refreshed by the Lamb of God Himself ( Revelation 7:17 , Revelation 14:1-4 Revelation 14:13 ); an earnest of their future perfect blessedness in both body and soul united ( Revelation 21:4-6 , 22:1-5 ).
washed . . . robes . . . white in the blood of . . . Lamb--( Revelation 1:5 , Isaiah 1:18 , Hebrews 9:14 , 1 John 1:7 ; compare Isaiah 61:10 , Zechariah 3:3-5 ). Faith applies to the heart the purifying blood; once for all for justification, continually throughout the life for sanctification.
15. Therefore--because they are so washed white; for without it they could never have entered God's holy heaven; Revelation 22:14 , "Blessed are those who wash their robes (the oldest manuscripts reading), that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city"; Revelation 21:27 , Ephesians 5:26 Ephesians 5:27 .
before--Greek, "in the presence of." Matthew 5:8 , 1 Corinthians 13:12 , "face to face."
throne . . . temple--These are connected because we can approach the heavenly King only through priestly mediation; therefore, Christ is at once King and Priest on His throne.
day and night--that is, perpetually; as those approved of as priests by the Sanhedrim were clothed in white, and kept by turns a perpetual watch in the temple at Jerusalem; compare as to the singers, 1 Chronicles 9:33 , "day and night"; Psalms 134:1 . Strictly "there is no night" in the heavenly sanctuary ( Revelation 22:5 ).
in his temple--in what is the heavenly analogue to His temple on earth, for strictly there is "no temple therein" ( Revelation 21:22 ), "God and the Lamb are the temple" filling the whole, so that there is no distinction of sacred and secular places; the city is the temple, and the temple the city. Compare Revelation 4:8 , "the four living creatures rest not day and night, saying, Holy," &c.
shall dwell among them--rather (Greek, "scenosei ep' autous"), "shall be the tabernacle over them" (compare Revelation 21:3 , Leviticus 26:11 , especially Isaiah 4:5 Isaiah 4:6 , 8:14 , 25:4 , Ezekiel 37:27 ). His dwelling among them is to be understood as a secondary truth, besides what is expressed, namely, His being their covert. When once He tabernacled among us as the Word made flesh, He was in great lowliness; then He shall be in great glory.
16. ( Isaiah 49:10 ).
hunger no more--as they did here.
thirst any more--( John 4:13 ).
the sun--literally, scorching in the East. Also, symbolically, the sun of persecution.
neither . . . light--Greek, "by no means at all . . . light" (fall).
heat--as the sirocco.
17. in the midst of the throne--that is, in the middle point in front of the throne ( Revelation 5:6 ).
feed--Greek, "tend as a shepherd."
living fountains of water--A, B, Vulgate, and CYPRIAN read, (eternal) "life's fountains of waters." "Living" is not supported by the old authorities.