Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Analysis Of The Chapter
The state of things represented in this chapter Rev. 7 is, that where there had been awful consternation and alarm, as if the end of the world were coming, and where the signs of the approaching consummation of all things are, as it were, held back until there should be an opportunity of sealing the number that was to be saved. This is symbolized by four angels standing in the four quarters of the earth, and holding the winds and the storms that they should not blow on the earth until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. The idea is that of sudden destruction about to burst on the world, which, if unrestrained, would apparently bring on the consummation of all things, but which is held back until the purposes of God in regard to his people shall be accomplished - that is, until those who are the true servants of God shall be designated by some appropriate mark. This furnishes an opportunity of disclosing a glorious vision of those who will be saved, alike among the Jews and the Gentiles. The fact, as seen in the symbol, is, that the end of the world does not come at the opening of the sixth seal, as it seemed as if it would, and as it was anticipated in the time of the consternation. The number of the chosen was not complete, and the impending wrath was therefore suspended. God interposes in favor of his people, and discloses in vision a vast number from all lands who will yet be saved, and the winds and storms are held back as if by angels.
The points, then, that are apparent in this chapter, without any reference now to the question of the application, are the following:
(1) The impending ruin that seemed about to spread over the earth, apparently bringing on the consummation of all things, restrained or suspended, Rev 7:1. This impending ruin is symbolized by the four winds of heaven that seemed about to sweep over the world; the interposition of God is represented by the four angels who have power over those winds to hold them back, as if it depended on their will to let them loose and to spread ruin over the earth or not.
(2) a suspension of these desolating influences and agents until another important purpose could be accomplished - that is, until the servants of God could be sealed in their foreheads, Rev 7:2-3. Another angel, acting independently of the four first seen, and having power to command, appears in the east, having the seal of the living God; and he directs the four angels having the four winds not to let them loose upon the earth until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. This obviously denotes some suspension of the impending wrath, and for a specific purpose, that something might be done by which the true servants of God would be so marked as to be publicly known - as if they had a mark or brand to that effect imprinted on their foreheads. Whatever would serve to designate them, to determine who they were, to ascertain their number, would be a fulfillment of this act of the sealing angel. The length of time during which it would be done is not designated; the essential thing is, that there would be a suspension of impending judgments, in order that it might be done. Whether this was to occupy a longer or a shorter period is not determined by the symbol; nor is it determined when the winds thus held back would be suffered to blow.
(3) the number of the sealed, Rev 7:4-8. The seer does not represent himself as actually beholding the process of sealing, but he says that he heard the number of those who were sealed. That number was an hundred and forty-four thousand, and they were selected from the twelve tribes of the children of Israel - Levi being reckoned, who was not usually numbered with the tribes, and the tribe of Dan being omitted. The number from each tribe, large or small, was the same; the entire portion selected being but a very small part of the whole. The general idea here, whatever may be the particular application, is, that there would be a selection, and that the whole number of the tribe would not be embraced; that the selection would be made from earth tribe, and that all would have the same mark, and be saved by the same means. It would not be in accordance with the nature of symbolic representation to suppose that the saved would be the precise number here referred to; but some great truth is designed to be represented by this fact. We should look, in the fulfillment, to some process by which the true servants of God would be designated; we should expect that a portion of them would be found in each one of the classes here denoted by a tribe; we should suppose that the true servants of God thus referred to would be as safe in the times of peril as if they were designated by a visible mark.
(4) after this, another vision presents itself to the seer. It is that of a countless multitude before the throne, redeemed out of all nations, with palms in their hands, Rev 7:9-17. The scene is transferred to heaven, and there is a vision of all the redeemed - not only of the hundred and forty-four thousand, but of all who would be rescued and saved from a lost world. The design is doubtless to cheer the hearts of the true friends of God in times of gloom and despondency, by a view of the great numbers that will be saved, and the glorious triumph that awaits the redeemed in heaven. This portion of the vision embraces the following particulars:
(a) A vast multitude, which no man can number, is seen before the throne in heaven. They are clad in white robes - emblems of purity; they have palms in their hands - emblems of victory, Rev 7:9.
(b) They are engaged in ascribing praise to God, Rev 7:10.
(c) The angels, the elders, and the four living creatures, fall down before the throne, and unite with the redeemed in ascriptions of praise, Rev 7:11-12.
(d) A particular inquiry is made of the seer - evidently to call his attention to it - respecting those who appear there in white robes, Rev 7:13.
(e) To this inquiry it is answered, that they were those who had come up out of great tribulation, and who had washed their robes, and had made them pure in the blood of the Lamb, Rev 7:14.
(f) Then follows a description of their condition and employment in heaven, Rev 7:15-17. They are constantly before the throne; they serve God continually; they neither hunger nor thirst; they are not subjected to the burning heat of the sun; they are provided for by the Lamb in the midst of the throne; and all tears are forever wiped away from their eyes.
This must be regarded, I think, as an episode, having no immediate connection with what precedes or with what follows. It seems to be thrown in here - while the impending judgments of the sixth seal are suspended, and before the seventh is opened - to furnish a relief in the contemplation of so many scenes of woe, and to cheer the soul with inspiring hopes from the view of the great number that would ultimately be saved. While these judgments, therefore, are suspended, the mind is directed on to the world of triumph, as a view suited to sustain and comfort those who would be partakers in the scenes of woe. At the same time it is one of the most touching and beautiful of all the representations of heaven ever penned, and is eminently adapted to comfort those, in all ages, who are in a vale of tears.
In the exposition it will be proper Rev 7:1-8 to inquire into the fair meaning of the language employed in the symbols; and then to inquire whether there are any known facts to which the description is applicable. The first inquiry may and should be pursued independently of the other; and it may be added, that the explanation offered on this may be correct, even if the other should be erroneous. The same remark, also, is applicable to the remainder of the chapter Rev 7:9-17, and indeed is of general applicability in the exposition of this book.
And after these things - After the vision of the things referred to in the opening of the sixth seal. The natural interpretation would be, that what is here said of the angels and the winds occurred after those things which are described in the previous chapter. The exact chronology may not be always observed in these symbolical representations, but doubtless there is a general order which is observed.
I saw four angels - He does not describe their forms, but merely mentions their agency. This is, of course, a symbolical representation. We are not to suppose that it would be literally fulfilled, or that, at the time referred to by the vision, four celestial beings would be stationed in the four quarters of the world for the purpose of checking and restraining the winds that blow from the four points of the compass. The meaning is, that events would occur which would be properly represented by four angels standing in the four quarters of the world, and having power over the winds.
Standing on the four corners of the earth - This language is, of course, accommodated to the prevailing mode of speaking of the earth among the Hebrews. It was a common method among them to describe it as a vast plain, having four corners, those corners being the prominent points - north, south, east, and west. So we speak now of the four winds, the four quarters of the world, etc. The Hebrews spoke of the earth, as we do of the rising and setting of the sun and of the motions of the heavenly bodies, according to appearances, and without aiming at philosophical exactness. Compare the notes on Job 26:7. With this view they spoke of the earth as an extended plain, and as having boundaries or corners, as a plain or field naturally has. Perhaps, also, they used this language with some allusion to an edifice, as having four corners; for they speak also of the earth as having foundations. The language which the Hebrews used was in accordance with the prevailing ideas and language of the ancients on the subject.
Holding the four winds of the earth - The winds blow in fact from every quarter, but it is convenient to speak of them as coming from the four principal points of the compass, and this method is adopted probably in every language. So among the Greeks and Latins, the winds were arranged under four classes - Zephyrus, Boreas, Notus, and Eurus - considered as under the control of a king, Aeolus. See Eschenburg, Man. Class. Literally, section 78, compare section 108. The angels here are represented as "holding" the winds - κρατοῦντας kratountas. That is, they held them back when about to sweep over the earth, and to produce far-spread desolation. This is an allusion to a popular belief among the Hebrews, that the agency of the angels was employed everywhere. It is not suggested that the angels had raised the tempest here, but only that they now restrained and controlled it. The essential idea is, that they had plower over those winds, and that they were now exercising that power by keeping them back when they were about to spread desolation over the earth.
That the wind should not blow on the earth - That there should be a calm, as if the winds were held back.
Nor on the sea - Nowhere - neither on sea nor land. The sea and the land constitute the surface of the globe, and the language here, therefore, denotes that there would be a universal calm.
Nor on any tree - To injure it. The language used here is such as would denote a state of profound quiet; as when we say that it is so still that not a leaf of the trees moves.
In regard to the literal meaning of the symbol here employed there can be no great difficulty; as to its application there may be more. The winds are the proper symbols of wars and commotions. Compare Dan 7:2. In Jer 49:36-37 the symbol is both used and explained: "And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come. For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, and before them that seek their life." So in Jer 51:1-2, a destroying wind is an emblem of destructive war: "I will raise up against Babylon a destroying wind, and will send unto Babylon fanners, that shall fan her, and shall empty her land." Compare Horace, Odes, b. i. 14. The essential ideas, therefore, in this portion of the symbol, cannot be mistaken. They are two:
(1) that at the period of time here referred to - after the opening of the sixth seal and before the opening of the seventh - there would be a state of things which would be well represented by rising tempests and storms, which if unrestrained would spread desolation afar; and,
(2) that this impending ruin was held back as if by angels having control of those winds; that is, those tempests were not suffered to go forth to spread desolation over the world. A suspended tempest calamity held in check; armies hovering on the borders of a kingdom, but not allowed to proceed for a time; hordes of invaders detained, or stayed in their march, as if by some restraining power not their own, and from causes not within themselves - any of these things would be an obvious fulfilling of the meaning of the symbol.
And I saw another angel - Evidently having no connection with the four, and employed for another purpose. This angel, also, must have been symbolic; and all that is implied is, that something would be done as if an angel had done it.
Ascending from the east - He appeared in the east, and seemed to rise like the sun. It is not easy to determine what is the special significancy, if any, of the east here, or why this quarter of the heavens is designated rather than the north, the south, or the west. It may be that as light begins in the east, this would be properly symbolic of something that could be compared with the light of the morning; or that some influence in "sealing" the servants of God would in fact go out from the east; or perhaps no special significance is to be attached to the quarter from which the angel is seen to come. It is not necessary to suppose that every minute thing in a symbol is to receive a complete fulfillment, or that there will be some particular thing to correspond with it. Perhaps all that is meant here is, that as the sun comes forth with splendor from the east, so the angel came with magnificence to perform a task - that of sealing the servants of God - cheerful and joyous like what the sun performs. It is certain that from no other quarter of the heavens would it be so appropriate to represent an angel as coming forth to perform a purpose of light, and mercy, and salvation. It does not seem to me, therefore, that we are to look, in the fulfillment of this, for any special influence setting in from the east as what is symbolized here.
Having the seal of the living God - Bearing it in his hands. In regard to this seal the following remarks may be made:
(a) The phrase "seal of the living God" doubtless means what God had appointed, or which he would use; that is, if God himself came forth in this manner, he would use this seal for these purposes. People often have a seal of their own, with some name, symbol, or device, which designates it as theirs, and which no other one has a right to use. A seal is sometimes used by the person himself; sometimes entrusted to a high officer of state; sometimes to the secretary of a corporation; and sometimes, as a mark of special favor, to a friend. In this case it was entrusted to an angel, who was authorized to use it, and whose use of it would be sanctioned, of course, wherever he applied it, by the living God, as if he had employed it himself.
(b) As to the form of the seal, we have no information. It would be most natural to suppose that the name "of the living God" would be engraven on it, so that that name would appear on anyone to whom it might be affixed. Compare the notes on Ti2 2:19. It was customary in the East to brand the name of the master on the forehead of a slave (Grotius, in loco); and such an idea would meet all that is implied in the language here, though there is no certain evidence that there is an allusion to that custom. In subsequent times, in the church, it was common for Christians to impress the sign of the cross on their foreheads (Tertullian de Corolla; Cyrill. lib. vi. See Grotius). As nothing is said here, however, about any mark or device on the seal, conjecture is useless as to what it was.
(c) As to what was to be designated by the seal, the main idea is clear, that it was to place some such mark upon his friends that they would be known to be his, and that they would be safe in the impending calamities, There is perhaps allusion here to Eze 9:4-6, where the following direction to the prophet occurs: "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the people that sigh, and that cry, for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark." The essential ideas in the sealing, in the passage before us, would therefore seem to be:
(1) that there would be some mark, sign, or token, by which they who were the people of God would be known; that is, there would be something which would answer, in this respect, the same purpose as if a seal had been impressed upon their foreheads. Whether this was an outward badge, or a religious rite, or the doctrines which they would hold and by which they would be known, or something in their spirit and manner which would characterize his true disciples, may be a fair subject of inquiry. It is not specifically designated by the use of the word.
(2) it would be something that would be conspicuous or prominent, as if it were impressed on the forehead. It would not be merely some internal sealing, or some designation by which they would be known to themselves and to God, but it would be something apparent, as if engraved on the forehead. What this would be, whether a profession, or a form of religion, or the holding of some doctrine, or the manifestation of a particular spirit, is not here designated.
(3) this would be something appointed by God himself. It would not be of human origin, but would be as if an angel sent from heaven should impress it on the forehead. If it refers to the doctrines which they would hold, they could not be doctrines of human origin; if to the spirit which they would manifest, it would be a spirit of heavenly origin; if to some outward protection, it would be manifest that it was from God.
(4) this would be a pledge of safety. The design of sealing the persons referred to seems to have been to secure their safety in the impending calamities. Thus, the winds were held back until those who were to be sealed could be designated, and then they were to be allowed to sweep over the earth. These things, therefore, we are to look for in the fulfillment of the symbol.
And he cried with a loud voice - As if he had authority to command, and as if the four winds were about to be let forth upon the world.
To whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea - Who had power committed to them to do this by means of the four winds.
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea ... - Let the winds be restrained until what is here designated shall be done. These destroying angels were commanded to suspend the work of destruction until the servants of God could be rendered secure. The division here, as in Rev 7:1, of the "earth, the sea, and the trees," seems to include everything - water, land, and the productions of the earth. Nothing was to be injured until the angel should designate the true servants of God.
Till we have sealed the servants of our God - The use of the plural "we" seems to denote that he did not expect to do it alone. Who were to be associated with him, whether angels or human beings, he does not intimate; but the work was evidently such that it demanded the agency of more than one.
In their foreheads - See the notes on Rev 7:2; compare Eze 9:4-5. A mark thus placed on the forehead would be conspicuous, and would be something which could at once be recognized if destruction should spread over the world. The fulfillment of this is to be found in two things:
(a) in something which would be conspicuous or prominent - so that it could be seen; and,
(b) in the mark being of such a nature or character that it would be a proper designation of the fact that they were the true servants of God.
And I heard the number of them which were sealed - He does not say where he heard that, or by whom it was communicated to him, or when it was done. The material point is, that he heard it; he did not see it done. Either by the angel, or by some direct communication from God, he was told of the number that would be sealed, and of the distribution of the whole number into twelve equal parts, represented by the tribes of the children of Israel.
And there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel - In regard to this number, the first and the main question is, whether it is meant that this was to be the literal number, or whether it was symbolical; and, if the latter, of what it is a symbol:
I. As to the first of these inquiries, there does not appear to be any good reason for doubt. The fair interpretation seems to require that it should be understood as symbolical, or as designed not to be literally taken; for:
(a) the whole scene is symbolical - the winds, the angels, the sealing.
(b) It cannot be supposed that this number will include all who will be sealed and saved. In whatever way this is interpreted, and whatever we may suppose it to refer to, we cannot but suppose that more than this number will be saved.
(c) The number is too exact and artificial to suppose that it is literal. It is inconceivable that exactly the same number - precisely twelve thousand - should be selected from each tribe of the children of Israel.
(d) If literal, it is necessary to suppose that this refers to the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. But on every supposition this is absurd. Ten of their tribes had been long before carried away, and the distinction of the tribes was lost, no more to be recovered, and the Hebrew people never have been, since the time of John, in circumstances to which the description here could be applicable. These considerations make it clear that the description here is symbolical. But,
II. Of what is it symbolical? Is it of a large number, or of a small number? Is it of those who would be saved from among the Jews, or of all who would be saved in the Christian church - represented as the "tribes of the children of Israel?" To these inquiries we may answer:
(1) that the representation seems to be rather that of a comparatively small number than a large one, for these reasons:
(a) The number of itself is not large.
(b) The number is not large as compared with those who must have constituted the tribes here referred to - the number twelve thousand, for example, as compared with the whole number of the tribe of Judah, of the tribe of Reuben, etc.
(c) It would seem from the language that there would be some selection from a much greater number. Thus, not all in the tribes were scaled, but those who were sealed were "of all the tribes" - ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς ek pasēs phulēs; that is, out of these tribes. So in the specification in each tribe - ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰούδα, Ρουβὴν ek phulēs Iouda, Roubēn, etc. Some out of the tribe, to wit, twelve thousand, were sealed, It is not said of the twelve thousand of the tribes of Judah, Reuben, etc., that they constituted the tribe, but that they were sealed out of the tribe, as a part of it preserved and saved. "When the preposition ἐκ ek, or "out of," stands after any such verb as sealed, between a definite numeral and a noun of multitude in the genitive, sound criticism requires, doubtless, that the numeral should be thus construed as signifying, not the whole, but a part taken out" (Elliott, i. 237). Compare Exo 32:28; Num 1:21; Sa1 4:10. The phrase, then, would properly denote those taken out of some other and greater number - as a portion of a tribe, and not the whole tribe. If the reference here is to the church, it would seem to denote that a portion only of that church would be sealed.
(d) For the same reason the idea would seem to be, that comparatively a small portion is referred to - as twelve thousand would be comparatively a small part of one of the tribes of Israel; and if this refers to the church, we should expect to find its fulfillment in a state of things in which the largest proportion would not be scaled; that is, in a corrupt state of the church in which there would be many professors of religion, but comparatively few who had real piety.
(2) to the other inquiry - whether this refers to those who would be sealed and saved among the Jews, or to those in the Christian church - we may answer:
(a) that there are strong reasons for supposing the latter to be the correct opinion. Long before the time of John all these distinctions of tribe were abolished. The ten tribes had been carried away and scattered in distant lands, never more to be restored; and it cannot be supposed that there was any such literal selection from the twelve tribes as is here spoken of, or any such designation of twelve thousand from each. There was no occasion - either when Jerusalem was destroyed, or at any ether time - on which there were such transactions as are here referred to occurring in reference to the children of Israel.
(b) The language is such as a Christian, who had been by birth and education a Hebrew, would naturally use if he wished to designate the church. Compare the notes on Jam 1:1. Accustomed to speak of the people of God as "the twelve tribes of Israel," nothing was more natural than to transfer this language to the church of the Redeemer, and to speak of it in that figurative manner. Accordingly, from the necessity of the case, the language is universally understood to have reference to the Christian church. Even Prof. Stuart, who supposes that the reference is to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, interprets it of the preservation of Christians, and their flight to Pella, beyond Jordan. Thus interpreted, moreover, it accords with the entire symbolical character of the representation.
(c) The reference to the particular tribes may be a designed allusion to the Christian church as it would be divided into denominations, or known by different names; and the fact that a certain portion would be sealed from every tribe would not be an unfit representation of the fact that a portion of all the various churches or denominations would be sealed and saved. That is, salvation would be confined to no one church or denomination, but among them all there would be found true servants of God. It would be improper to suppose that the division into tribes among the children of Israel was designed to be a type of the sects and denominations in the Christian church, and yet the fact of such a division may not improperly be employed as an illustration of that; for the whole church is made up not of any one denomination alone, but of all who hold the truth combined, as the people of God in ancient times consisted not solely of any one tribe, however large and powerful, but of all combined. Thus understood, the symbol would point to a time when there would be various denominations in the church, and yet with the idea that true friends of God would be found among them all.
(d) Perhaps nothing can be argued from the fact that exactly twelve thousand were selected from each of the tribes. In language so figurative and symbolical as this, it could not be maintained that this proves that the santo definite number would be taken from each denomination of Christians. Perhaps all that can be fairly inferred is, that there would be no partiality or preference for one more than another; that there would be no favoritism on account of the tribe or denomination to which anyone belonged; but that the seal would be impressed on all, of any denomination, who had the true spirit of religion. No one would receive the token of the divine favor because he was of the tribe of Judah or Reuben; no one because he belonged to any particular denomination of Christians. Large numbers from every branch of the church would be sealed; none would be sealed because he belonged to one form of external organization rather than to another; none would be excluded because he belonged to any one tribe, if he had the spirit and held the sentiments which made it proper to recognize him as a servant of God. These views seem to me to express the true sense of this passage. No one can seriously maintain that the writer meant to refer literally to the Jewish people; and if he referred to the Christian church, it seems to be to some selection that would be made out of the whole church, in which there would be no favoritism or partiality, and to the fact that, in regard to them, there would be some something which, in the midst of abounding corruption or impending danger, would designate them as the chosen people of God, and would furnish evidence that they would be safe.
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand - That is, a selection was made, or a number sealed, as if it had been made from one of the tribes of the children of Israel - the tribe of Judah. If the remarks above made are correct, this refers to the Christian church, and means, in connection with what follows, that each portion of the church would furnish a definite part of the whole number sealed and saved. We are not required to understand this of the exact number of twelve thousand, but that the designation would be made from all parts and branches of the church as if a selection of the true servants of God were made from the whole number of the tribes of Israel. There seems to be no particular reason why the tribe of Judah was mentioned first. Judah was not the oldest of the sons of Jacob, and there was no settled order in which the tribes were usually mentioned.
The order of their birth, as mentioned in Gen. 29-30, is as follows: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin. In the blessing of Jacob, Gen. 49, this order is changed, and is as follows: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin. In the blessing of Moses, Deut. 33, a different order still is observed: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali, Asher; and in this last, moreover, Simeon is omitted. So, again, in Ezek. 48, there are two enumerations of the twelve tribes, differing from each other, and both differing from the arrangements above referred to: namely, in Eze 48:31-34, where Levi is reckoned as one, and Joseph as only one; and in Ezek. 48:1-27, referring to the division of the country, where Levi, who had no heritage in land, is omitted, and Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as two tribes (Prof. Stuart, ii. 172, 173).
From facts like these it is clear that there was no certain and settled order in which the tribes were mentioned by the sacred writers. The same thing seems to have occurred in the enumeration of the tribes, which would occur, for example, in the enumeration of the several States of the American Union. There is indeed an order which is usually observed, beginning with Maine, etc., but almost no two writers would observe throughout the same order; nor should we deem it strange if the order should be materially varied by even the same writer in enumerating them at different times. Thus, at one time it might be convenient to enumerate them according to their geographical position; at another, in the order of their settlement; at another, in the order of their admission into the Union; at another, in the order of their size and importance; at another, in the order in which they are arranged in reference to political parties, etc. Something of the same kind may have occurred in the order in which the tribes were mentioned among the Jews. Perhaps this may have occurred also of design, in order that no one tribe might claim the precedence or the pre-eminence by being always placed at the head of the list. If, as is supposed above, the allusion in this enumeration of the tribes was to the various portions of the Christian church, then perhaps the idea intended to be conveyed is, that no one division of that church is to have any preference on account of its locality, or its occupying any particular country, or because it has more wealth, learning, or numbers than others; but that all are to be regarded, where there is the true spirit of religion, as on a level.
There are, however, three specialties in this enumeration of the tribes which demand a more particular explanation. The number indeed is twelve, but that number is made up in a special manner:
(1) "Joseph" is mentioned, and also "Manasseh." The matter of fact was, that Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh Gen 48:1, and that these two sons gave name to two of the tribes, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. There was, properly speaking, no tribe of the name of Joseph. In Num. 13 the name Levi is omitted, as it usually is, because that tribe had no inheritance in the division of the land; and in order that the number twelve might be complete, Ephraim and Joseph are mentioned as two tribes, Num 13:8, Num 13:11. In Num 13:11 the writer states expressly that by the tribe Joseph he meant Manasseh - "Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh," etc. From this it would seem that, as Manasseh was the oldest Gen 48:14, the name Joseph was sometimes given to that tribe. As Ephraim, however, became the largest tribe, and as Jacob in blessing the two sons of Joseph Gen 48:14 laid his right hand on Ephraim, and pronounced a special blessing on him Gen 48:19-20, it would seem not improbable that, when not particularly designated, the name Joseph was given to that tribe, as it is evidently in this place. Possibly the name Joseph may have been a general name which was occasionally applied to either of these tribes. In the long account of the original division of Canaan in Josh. 13-19, Levi is omitted, because he had no heritage, and Ephraim and Manasseh are mentioned as two tribes. The name Joseph in the passage before us Rev 7:8 is doubtless designed, as remarked above, to refer to Ephraim.
(2) in this list Rev 7:7 the name of Levi is inserted among the tribes. As already remarked, this name is not commonly inserted among the tribes of the children of Israel, because that tribe, being devoted to the sacerdotal office, had no inheritance in the division of the country, but was scattered among the other tribes. See Jos 14:3-4; Jos 18:7. It may have been inserted here, if this refers to the Christian church, to denote that the ministers of the gospel, as well as other members of the church, would share in the protection implied by the sealing; that is, to denote that no class in the church would be excluded from the blessings of salvation.
(3) the name of one of the tribes - Dan - is omitted; so that by this omission, and the insertion of the tribe of Levi, the original number of twelve is preserved. There have been numerous conjectures as to the reason why the tribe of Dan is omitted here, but none of the solutions proposed are without difficulty. All that can be known, or regarded as probable, on the subject, seems to be this:
(a) As the tribe of Levi was usually omitted in an enumeration of the tribes, because that tribe had no part in the inheritance of the Hebrew people in the division of the land of Canaan, so there appear to have been instances in which the names of some of the other tribes were omitted, the reason for which is not given. Thus, in Deut. 33, in the blessing pronounced by Moses on the tribes just before his death, the name Simeon is omitted. In 1 Chr. 4-8 the names of Zebulun and Dan are both omitted. It would seem, therefore, that the name of a tribe might be sometimes omitted without any particular reason being specified.
(b) It has been supposed by some that the name Dan was omitted because that tribe was early devoted to idolatry, and continued idolatrous to the time of the captivity. Of that fact there can be no doubt, for it is expressly affirmed in Jdg 18:30; and that fact seems to be a sufficient reason for the omission of the name. As being thus idolatrous, it was in a measure separated from the people of God, and deserved not to be reckoned among them; and in enumerating those who were the servants of God, there seemed to be a propriety that a tribe devoted to idolatry should not be reckoned among the number This will account for the omission, without resorting to the supposition of Grotius, that the tribe of Dan was extinct at the time when the Apocalypse was written - a fact which also existed in regard to all the ten tribes; or to the supposition of Andreas and others, that Dan is omitted because Antichrist was to spring from that tribe - a supposition which is alike without proof and without probability. The fact that Dan was omitted cannot be supposed to have any special significancy in the case before us. Such an omission is what, as we have seen, might have occurred at any time in the enumeration of the tribes.
In reference to the application of this portion of the book Rev 7:1-8, or of what is designed to be here represented, there has been, as might be expected, a great variety of opinions. From the exposition of the words and phrases which has been given, it is manifest that we are to look for a series of events like the following:
(1) Some impending danger, or something that threatened to sweep everything away - like winds that were ready to blow on the earth.
(2) that tempest restrained or held back, as if the winds were held in check by an angel, and were not suffered to sweep over the world.
(3) some new influence or power, represented by an angel coming from the east - the great source of light - that should designate the true church of God - the servants of the Most High.
(4) some mark or note by which the true people of God could be designated, or by which they could be known - as if some name were impressed on their foreheads.
(5) a selection or election of the number from a much greater number who were the professed, but were not the true servants of God.
(6) a definite, though comparatively a small number thus designated out of the whole mass.
(7) this number taken from all the divisions of the professed people of God, in such numbers and in such a manner, that it would be apparent that there would be no partiality or favoritism; that is, that wherever the true servants of God were found, they would be sealed and saved.
These are things which lie on the face of the passage, if the interpretation above given is correct, and in its application it is necessary to find some facts that will properly correspond with these things.
If the interpretation of the sixth seal proposed above is correct, then we are to look for the fulfillment of this in events that soon succeeded those which are there referred to, or at least which had their commencement at about that time; and the inquiry now is, whether there were any events that would accord properly with the interpretation here proposed: that is, any impending and spreading danger; any restraining of that danger; any process of designating the servants of God so as to preserve them; anything like a designation or selection of them from among the masses of the professed people of God? Now, in respect to this, the following facts accord so well with what is demanded in the interpretation that it may be regarded as morally certain that they were the things which were thus made to pass in vision before the mind of John. They have at least this degree of probability, that if it were admitted that he intended to describe them, the symbols which are actually employed are those which it would have been proper to select to represent them:
I. The impending danger, like winds restrained, that threatened to sweep everything away, and to hasten on the end of the world. In reference to this, there may have been two classes of impending danger - that from the invasion of the northern hordes, referred to in the sixth seal Rev. 6, and that from the influx of error, that threatened the ruin of the church:
(a) As to the former, the language used by John will accurately express the state of things as it existed at the period supposed at the time of the sixth seal - the series of events introduced, now suspended, like the opening of the seventh seal. The idea is that of nations pressing on to conquest; heaving like tempests on the borders of the empire; overturning everything in their way; spreading desolation by fire and sword, as if the world were about to come to an end. The language used by Mr. Gibbon in describing the times here referred to is so applicable, that it would seem almost as if he had the symbols used by John in his eye. Speaking of the time of Constantine, he says, "The threatening tempest of barbarians, which so soon subverted the foundations of Roman greatness, was still repelled, or suspended on the frontiers" (i. 362). This language accurately expresses the condition of the Roman world at the period succeeding the opening of the sixth seal; the period of suspended judgments, in order that the servants of God might be sealed. See the notes on Rev 6:12-17. The nations which ultimately spread desolation through the empire hovered around its borders, making occasional incursions into its territory; even carrying their arms, as we have seen in some instances, as far as Rome itself, but still restrained from accomplishing the final purpose of overthrowing the city and the empire, The church and the state alike were threatened with destruction, and the impending wrath seemed only to be held back as if to give time to accomplish some other purpose.
(b) At the same time there was another class of evils which threatened to sweep like a tempest over the church - the evils of error in doctrine that sprang up on the establishment of Christianity by Constantine. That fact was followed with a great increase of professors of religion, who, for various purposes, crowded into a church patronized by the state - a condition of things which tended to do more to destroy the church than all that had been done by persecution had accomplished. This effect was natural; and the church became filled with those who had yielded themselves to the Christian faith from motives of policy, and who, having no true spiritual piety, were ready to embrace the most lax views of religion, and to yield themselves to any form of error. Of this period, and of the effect of the conversion of Constantine in this respect, Mr. Gibbon makes the following remarks, strikingly illustrative of the view now taken of the meaning of this passage: "The hopes of wealth and honors, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the apartments of a palace. The cities which signalized a forward zeal, by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives; and the new capital of the East gloried in the singular advantage, that Constantinople was never profaned by the worship of idols. As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it is true that, in one year, twelve thousand people were baptized at Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children, and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert" i. 425).
At a time, therefore, when it might have been supposed that, under the patronage of a Christian emperor, the truth would have spread around the world, the church was exposed to one of its greatest dangers - that arising from the fact that it had become united with the state. About the same time, also, there sprang up many of those forms of error which have spread farthest over the Christian world, and which then threatened to become the universal form of belief in the church. Of this class of doctrine were the views of Arius, and the views of Pelagius - forms of opinion which, there were strong reasons to fear, might become the prevailing belief of the church, and essentially change its character. About this time, also, the church was passing into the state in which the papacy would arise - that dark and gloomy period in which error would spread over the Christian world, and the true servants of God would retire for a long period into obscurity.
"We are now but a little way off from the commencement of that noted period - obscurely hinted at by Daniel, plainly announced by John the twelve hundred and sixty prophetic days or years, for which preparations of a very unusual kind, but requisite, doubtless, are made. This period was to form the gloomiest, without exception, in the annals of the world the period of Satan's highest success, and of the church's greatest depression; and lest she should become during it utterly extinct, her members, never so few as then, were all specially sealed. The long night passes on, darkening as it advances; but the sealed company are not visible; they disappear from the Apocalyptic stage, just as they then disappeared from the observation of the world; for they fled away to escape the fire and the dungeons of their persecutors, to hide in the hoary caves of the earth, or to inhabit the untrodden regions of the wilderness, or to dwell beneath the shadow of the Alps, or to enjoy fellowship with God, emancipated and unknown, in the deep seclusion and gloom of some convent" (The Seventh Vial, London, 1848, pp. 27, 28). These facts seem to me to show, with a considerable degree of probability, what was designated by the suspense which occurred after the opening of the sixth seal - when the affairs of the world seemed to be hastening on to the Treat catastrophe. At that period the prophetic eye sees the tendency of things suddenly arrested; the winds held back, the church preserved, and a series of events introduced, intended to designate and to save from the Treat mass of those who professedly constituted the "tribes of Israel," a definite number who should be in fact the true church of God.
II. The facts, then, to which there is reference in checking the tendency of things, and sealing the servants of God, may have been the following:
(a) The preservation of the church from extinction during those calamitous periods when ruin seemed about to sweep over the Roman world. Not only as a matter of fact was there a suspension of those impending judgments that seemed to threaten the very extinction of the empire by the invasion of the northern hordes (see the notes on Rev. 6), but there were special acts in favor of the church, by which these fierce barbarians appeared not only to be restrained from destroying the church, but to be influenced by tenderness and sympathy for it, as if they were raised up to preserve it when Rome had done all it could to destroy it. It would seem as if God restrained the rage of these hordes for the sake of preserving his church; as if he had touched their hearts that they might give to Christians an opportunity to escape in the impending storm. We may refer here particularly to the conduct of Alaric, king of the Goths, in the attack on Rome already referred to; and, as usual, we may quote from Mr. Gibbon, who will not be suspected of a design to contribute anything to the illustration of the Apocalypse. "At the hour of midnight," says he (vol. ii. pp. 260, 261), "the Salarian Gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the imperial city, which had subdued and civilized so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia. The proclamation of Alaric, when he forced his entrance into the vanquished city, discovered, however, some regard for the laws of humanity and religion. He encouraged his troops boldly to seize the rewards of valor, and to enrich themselves with the spoils of a wealthy and effeminate people; but he exhorted them at the same time to spare the lives of the unresisting citizens, and to respect the churches of the apostles Peter and Paul as holy and inviolable sanctuaries.
While the barbarians roamed through the city in quest of prey, the humble dwelling of an aged virgin, who had devoted her life to the service of the altar, was forced open by one of the powerful Goths. He immediately demanded, though in civil language, all the gold and silver in her possession; and was astonished at the readiness with which she conducted him to a splendid hoard of massy plate, of the richest materials and the most curious workmanship. The barbarian viewed with wonder and delight this valuable acquisition, until he was interrupted by a serious admonition, addressed to him in the following words: 'These,' said she, 'are the consecrated vessels belonging to Peter; if you presume to touch them, the sacrilegious deed will remain on your conscience: for my part, I dare not keep what I am unable to defend.' The Gothic captain, struck with reverential awe, despatched a messenger to inform the king of the treasure which he had discovered; and received a peremptory order from Alaric, that all the consecrated plate and ornaments should be transported, without damage or delay, to the church of the apostle.
From the extremity, perhaps, of the Quirinal hill, to the distant quarter of the Vatican, a numerous detachment of the Goths, marching in order of battle through the principal streets, protected, with glittering arms, the long train of their devout companions, who bore aloft on their heads the sacred vessels of gold and silver; and the martial shouts of the barbarians were mingled with the sound of religious psalmody. From all the adjacent houses a crowd of Christians hastened to join this edifying procession and a multitude of fugitives, without distinction of age or rank, or even of sect, had the good fortune to escape to the secure and hospitable sanctuary of the Vatican" In a note Mr. Gibbon adds: "According to Isidore, Alaric himself was heard to say, that he waged war with the Romans, and not with the apostles." He adds also (p. 261), "The learned work concerning the City of God was professedly composed by Augustine to justify the ways of Providence in the destruction of the Roman greatness. He celebrates with special satisfaction this memorable triumph of Christ; and insults his adversaries by challenging them to produce some similar example of a town taken by storm, in which the fabulous gods of antiquity had been able to protect either themselves or their deluded votaries."
We may refer here, also, to that work of Augustine as illustrating the passage before us. In book i. ch. 2, he defends this position, that "there never was war in which the conquerors would spare them whom they conquered for the gods they worshipped" - referring particularly to the sacking of Troy; in chapter 3 he appeals to the example of Troy; in chapter 4 he appeals to the sanctuary of Juno, in Troy; in chapter 5 he shows that the Romans never spared the temples of those cities which they destroyed; and in chapter 6 he maintains that the fact that mercy was shown by the barbarians in the sacking of Rome, was "through the power of the name of Jesus Christ." In illustration of this he says, "Therefore, all the spoil, murder, violence, and affliction, that in this fresh calamity came upon Rome, were nothing but the ordinary effects following the custom of war. But what was so unaccustomed, that the savage nature of the barbarians should put on a new shape, and appear so merciful that it would make choice of great and spacious churches to fill with such as it meant to show pity on, from which none should be baled to slaughter or slavery, in which none should be hurt, to which many by their courteous foes should be conducted, and out of which none should be led into bondage; this is due to the name of Christ, this is due to the Christian profession; he that seeth not is blind; he that seeth and praiseth it not is unthankful; he that hinders him that praiseth it is mad" (City of God, p. 11; London, 1620). Such a preservation of Christians; such a suspension of judgments, when all things seemed to be on the verge of ruin, would not be inappropriately represented by winds that threatened to sweep over the world; by the staying of those winds by some remarkable power, as by an angel; and by the special interposition which spared the church in the tumults and terrors of a siege, and of the sacking of a city.
(b) There may have been a reference to another class of divine interpositions at about the same time, to designate the true servants of God. It has been already remarked, that from the time when Constantine took the church under his patronage, and it became connected with the state, there was a large accession of nominal professors in the church, producing a great corruption in regard to spiritual religion, and an extended prevalence of error. Now the delay here referred to, between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, may have referred to the fact, that during this period the true doctrines of Christianity would be vindicated and established in such a way that the servants of God would be "sealed" and designated in contradistinction from the great mass of the professed followers of Christ, and from the numerous advocates of error. From that mass a certain and definite number was to be sealed - implying, as we have seen, that there would be a selections, or that there would be something which would discriminate them from the multitudes as the true servants of God. This is represented by an angel coming from the east: the angel representing the new heavenly influence coming upon the church; and the coming from the east - as the east is the quarter where the sun rises - denoting that it came from the source and fountain of light - that is, God. The "sealing" would denote anything in this new influence or manifestation which would mark the true children of God, and would be appropriately employed to designate any doctrines which would keep up true religion in the world; which would preserve correct views about God, the way of salvation, and the nature of true religion, and which would thus determine where the church of God really was.
If there should be a tendency in the church to degenerate into formality; if the rules of discipline should be relaxed; if error should prevail as to what constitutes spiritual religion; and if there should be a new influence at that time which would distinguish those who were the children of God from those who were not, this would be appropriately represented by the angel from the east, and by the sealing of the servants of God. Now it requires but a slight knowledge of the history of the Roman empire, and of the church at the period supposed here to be referred to, to perceive that all this occurred. There was a large influx of professed converts. There was a vast increase of worldliness. There was a wide diffusion of error. Religion was fast becoming mere formalism. The true church was apparently fast verging to ruin. At this period God raised up distinguished people - as if they had been angels ascending from the east - who came as with the "seal of the living God" - the doctrines of grace, and just views of spiritual religion - to designate who were, and who were not, the "true servants of God" among the multitudes who professed to be his followers.
Such were the doctrines of Athanasius and Augustine - those great doctrines on which the very existence of the true church has in all ages depended. The doctrines thus illustrated and defended were suited to make a broad line of distinction between the true church and the world, and this would be well represented by the symbol employed here - for it is by these doctrines that the true people of God are sealed and confirmed. On this subject compare Elliott, i. 279-292. The general sense here intended to be expressed is, that there was at the period referred to, after the conversion of Constantine, a decided tendency to a worldly, formal, lax kind of religion in the church; a very prevalent denial of the doctrine of the Trinity and of the doctrines of grace; a lax mode of admitting members to the church, with little or no evidence of true conversion; a disposition to attribute saving grace to the ordinances of religion, and especially to baptism; a disposition to rely on the outward ceremonies of religion, with little acquaintance with its spiritual power; and a general breaking down of the barriers between the church and the world, as there is usually in a time of outward prosperity, and especially when the church is connected with the state.
At this time there arose another set of influences well represented by the angel coming from the east, and sealing the true servants of God, in illustration and confirmation of the true doctrines of Christianity - doctrines on which the spirituality of the church has always depended: the doctrines of the Trinity, the atonement, the depravity of man, regeneration by the agency of the Holy Spirit, justification by faith, the sovereignty of God, and kindred doctrines. Such doctrines have in all ages served to determine where the true church is, and to designate and "seal" the servants of the Most High.
(c) This process of "sealing" may be regarded as continued during the long night of papal darkness that was coming upon the church, when error would abound, and the religion of forms would be triumphant. Even then, in places obscure and unknown, the work of sealing the true servants of God might be going forward - for even in those times of gloomy night there were those, though comparatively few in number, who loved the truth, and who were the real servants of God. The number of the elect was filling up, for even in the darkest times there were those who loved the cause of spiritual religion, and who bore upon them the impress of the "seal of the living God." Such appears to have been the intent of this sealing vision: a staying of the desolation that, in various forms, was sweeping over the world, in order that the true church might be safe, and that a large number, from all parts of the church, might be sealed and designated as the true servants of God. The winds that blowed from all quarters were stayed as if by mighty angels.
A new influence, from the great source of light, came in to designate those who were the true servants of the Most High, as if an angel had come from the rising sun with the seal of the living God, to impress it on their foreheads. A selection was made out of a church filling up with formalists, and in which the true doctrines of spiritual religion were fast fading away, of those who could be designated as the true servants of God. By their creed, and their lives, and their spirit, and their profession, they could be designated as the true servants of God, as if a visible mark were impressed on their foreheads. This selection was confined to no place, no class, no tribe, no denomination. It was taken from the whole of Israel, in such numbers that it could be seen that none of the tribes were excluded from the honor, but that, wherever the true spirit of religion was, God was acknowledging these tribes - or churches - as his, and there he was gathering a people to himself. This would be long continued, until new scenes would open, and the eye would rest on other developments in the series of symbols, revealing the glorious host of the redeemed emerging from darkness, and in countless numbers triumphing before the throne.
After this - Greek," After these things" - Μετὰ ταῦτα Meta tauta: that is, after I saw these things thus represented I had another vision. This would undoubtedly imply, not only that he saw these things after he had seen the sealing of the hundred and forty-four thousand, but that they would occur subsequently to that. But he does not state whether they would immediately occur, or whether other things might not intervene. As a matter of fact, the vision seems to be transferred from earth to heaven - for the multitudes which he saw appeared "before the throne" Rev 7:9; that is, before the throne of God in heaven. The design seems to be to carry the mind forward quite beyond the storms and tempests of earth - the scenes of woe and sorrow - the clays of error, darkness, declension, and persecution - to that period when the church should be triumphant in heaven. Instead, therefore, of leaving the impression that the hundred and forty-four thousand would be all that would be saved, the eye is directed to an innumerable host, gathered from all ages, all climes, and all people, triumphant in glory. The multitude that John thus saw was not, therefore, I apprehend, the same as the hundred and forty-four thousand, but a far greater number the whole assembled host of the redeemed in heaven, gathered there as vistors, with palmbranches, the symbols of triumph, in their hands. The object of the vision is to cheer those who are desponding in times of religious declension and in seasons of persecution, and when the number of true Christians seems to be small, with the assurance that an immense host shall be redeemed from our world, and be gathered triumphant before the throne.
I beheld - That is, he saw them before the throne. The vision is transferred from earth to heaven; from the contemplation of the scene when desolation seemed to impend over the world, and when comparatively few in number were "sealed" as the servants of God, to the time when the redeemed would be triumphant, and when a host which no man can number would stand before God.
And, lo - Indicating surprise. A vast host burst upon the view. Instead of the comparatively few who were sealed, an innumerable company were presented to his vision, and surprise was the natural effect.
A great multitude - Instead of the comparatively small number on which the attention had been fixed.
Which no man could number - The number was so great that no one could count them, and John, therefore, did not attempt to do it. This is such a statement as one would make who should have a view of all the redeemed in heaven. It would appear to be a number beyond all power of computation. This representation is in strong contrast with a very common opinion that only a few will be saved. The representation in the Bible is, that immense hosts of the human race will be saved; and though vast numbers will be lost, and though at any particular period of the world hitherto it may seem that few have been in the path to life, yet we have every reason to believe that, taking the race at large, and estimating it as a whole, a vast majority of the whole will be brought to heaven. For the true religion is yet to spread all over the world, and perhaps for many, many thousands of years, piety is to be as prevalent as sin has been; and in that long and happy time of the world's history we may hope that the numbers of the saved may surpass all who have been lost in past periods, beyond any power of computation. See the notes on Rev 20:3-6.
Of all nations - Not only of Jews; not only of the nations which, in the time of the sealing vision, had embraced the gospel, but of all the nations of the earth. This implies two things:
(a) that the gospel would be preached among all nations; and,
(b) that even when it was thus preached to them they would keep up their national characteristics.
There can be no hope of blending all the nations of the earth under one visible sovereignty. They may all be subjected to the spiritual reign of the Redeemer, but still there is no reason to suppose that they will not have their distinct organizations and laws.
And kindreds - φυλῶν phulōn. This word properly refers to those who are descended from a common ancestry, and hence denotes a race, lineage, kindred. It was applied to the tribes of Israel, as derived from the same ancestor, and for the same reason might be applied to a clan, and thence to any division in a nation, or to a nation itself - properly retaining the notion that it was descended from a common ancestor. Here it would seem to refer to a smaller class than a nation - the different clans of which a nation might be composed.
And people - λαῶν laōn. This word refers properly to a people or community as a mass, without reference to its origin or any of its divisions. The former word would be used by one who should look upon a nation as made up of portions of distinct languages, clans, or families; this word would be used by one who should look on such an assembled people as a mere mass of human beings, with no reference to their difference of clanship, origin, or language.
And tongues - Languages. This word would refer also to the inhabitants of the earth, considered with respect to the fact that they speak different languages. The use of particular languages does not designate the precise boundaries of nations - for often many people speaking different languages are united as one nation, and often those who speak the same language constitute distinct nations. The view, therefore, with which one would look upon the dwellers on the earth, in the use of the word "tongues" or "languages," would be, not as divided into nations; not with reference to their lineage or clanship; and not as a mere mass without reference to any distinction, but as divided by speech. The meaning of the whole is, that persons from all parts of the earth, as contemplated in these points of view, would be among the redeemed. Compare the notes on Dan 3:4; Dan 4:1.
Stood before the throne - The throne of God. See the notes on Rev 4:2. The throne is there represented as set up in heaven, and the vision here is a vision of what will occur in heaven. It is designed to carry the thoughts beyond all the scenes of conflict, strife, and persecution on earth, to the time when the church shall be triumphant in glory - when all storms shall have passed by; when all persecutions shall have ceased; when all revolutions shall have occurred; when all the elect - not only the hundred and forty-four thousand of the sealed, but of all nations and times - shall have been gathered in. There was a beautiful propriety in this vision. John saw the tempests stayed, as by the might of angels. He saw a new influence and power that would seal the true servants of God. But those tempests were stayed only for a time, and there were more awful visions in reserve than any which had been exhibited - visions of woe and sorrow, of persecution and of death. It was appropriate, therefore, just at this moment of calm suspense - of delayed judgments - to suffer the mind to rest on the triumphant close of the whole in heaven, when a countless host would be gathered there with palms in their hands, uniting with angels in the worship of God. The mind, by the contemplation of this beautiful vision, would be refreshed and strengthened for the disclosure of the awful scenes which were to occur on the sounding of the trumpets under the seventh seal. The simple idea is, that, amidst the storms and tempests of life - scenes of existing or impending trouble and wrath - it is well to let the eye rest on the scene of the final triumph, when innumerable hosts of the redeemed shall stand before God, and when sorrow shall be known no more.
And before the Lamb - In the midst of the throne - in heaven. See the notes on Rev 5:6.
Clothed with white robes - The emblems of innocence or righteousness, uniformly represented as the raiment of the inhabitants of heaven. See the notes on Rev 3:4; Rev 6:11.
And palms in their hands - Emblems of victory. Branches of the palm-tree were carried by the victors in the athletic contests of Greece and Rome, and in triumphal processions. See the notes on Mat 21:8. The palm-tree - straight, elevated, majestic - was an appropriate emblem of triumph. The portion of it which was borne in victory was the long leaf which shoots out from the top of the tree. Compare the notes on Isa 3:26. See Eschenberg, Manual of Class. Literally, p. 243, and Lev 23:40; "And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees," etc. So in the Saviour's triumphal entry into Jerusalem Joh 12:12-13 - "On the next day much people took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna."
And cried with a loud voice - Compare Zac 4:7. This is expressive of the greatness of their joy; the ardor and earnestness of their praise.
Salvation to our God - The word rendered "salvation" - σωτηρία sōtēria - means properly "safety, deliverance, preservation"; then welfare or prosperity; then victory; then, in a Christian sense, deliverance from punishment and admission to eternal life. Here the idea seems to be that their deliverance from sin, danger, persecution, and death, was to be ascribed solely to God. It cannot be meant, as the words would seem to imply, that they desired that God might have salvation; but the sense is, that their salvation was to be attributed entirely to him. This will undoubtedly be the song of the released forever, and all who reach the heavenly world will feel that they owe their deliverance from eternal death, and their admission to glory, wholly to him. Prof. Robinson (Lexicon) renders the word "victory" here. The fair meaning is, that whatever is included in the word "salvation" will be due to God alone - the deliverance from sin, danger, and death; the triumph over every foe; the resurrection from the grave; the rescue from eternal burnings; the admission to a holy heaven - victory in all that that word implies will be due to God.
Which sitteth upon the throne - notes on Rev 4:2.
And unto the Lamb - notes on Rev 5:6. God the Father, and He who is the Lamb of God, alike claim, the honor of salvation. It is observable here that the redeemed ascribe their salvation to the Lamb as well as to Him who is on the throne. Could they do this if he who is referred to as the "Lamb" were a mere man? Could they if he were an angel? Could they if he were not equal with the Father? Do those who are in heaven worship a creature? Will they unite a created being with the Anointed One in acts of solemn adoration and praise?
And all the angels stood round about the throne - notes on Rev 5:11.
And about the elders - notes on Rev 4:4.
And the four beasts - notes on Rev 4:6. The meaning is, that the angels stood in the outer circle, or outside of the elders and the four living creatures. The redeemed, it is manifest, occupied the inner circle, and were near the throne, though their precise location is not mentioned. The angels sympathize with the church redeemed and triumphant, as they did with the church in its conflicts and trials, and they now appropriately unite with that church in adoring and praising God. They see in that redemption new displays of the character of God, and they rejoice that that church is rescued from its troubles, and is now brought triumphant to heaven.
And fell before the throne on their faces - The usual position of profound adoration, Rev 4:10; Rev 5:8.
And worshipped God - notes on Rev 5:11-12.
Saying, Amen - See the notes on Rev 1:7. The word "Amen" here is a word strongly affirming the truth of what is said, or expressing hearty assent to it. It may be uttered, as expressing this, either in the beginning or end of a sentence. Thus, wills are commonly commenced, "In the name of God, Amen."
Blessing, and glory, ... - Substantially the same ascription of praise occurs in Rev 5:12. See the notes on that verse. The general idea is, that the highest kind of praise is to be ascribed to God; everything excellent in character is to be attributed to him; every blessing which is received is to be traced to him. The order of the words indeed is changed, but the sense is substantially the same. In the former case Rev 5:12 the ascription of praise is to the Lamb - the Son of God; here it is to God. In both instances the worship is described as rendered in heaven; and the use of the language shows that God and the Lamb are regarded in heaven as entitled to equal praise. The only words found here which do not occur in Rev 5:12 are thanksgiving and might - words which require no particular explanation.
And one of the elders - See the notes on Rev 4:4. That is, as there understood, one of the representatives of the church before the throne.
Answered - The word "answer," with us, means "to reply to something which has been said." In the Bible, however, the word is not infrequently used in the beginning of a speech, where nothing has been said - as if it were a reply to something that might be said on the subject; or to something that is passing through the mind of another; or to something in the case under consideration which suggests an inquiry. Compare Isa 65:24; Dan 2:26; Act 5:8. Thus it is used here. John was looking on the host, and reflecting on the state of things; and to the train of thought passing through his mind the angel answered by an inquiry as to a part of that host. Prof. Stuart renders it accosted me.
What are these which are arrayed in white robes? - Who are these? The object evidently is to bring the case of these persons more particularly into view. The vast host with branches of palm had attracted the attention of John, but it was the object of the speaker to turn his thoughts to a particular part of the host - the martyrs who stood among them. He would seem, therefore, to have turned to a particular portion of the immense multitude of the redeemed, and by an emphasis on the word these - "Who are these" - to have fixed the eye upon them. All those who are before the throne are represented as clothed in white robes Rev 7:9, but the eye might be directed to a particular part of them as grouped together, and as having something special in their position or appearance. There was a propriety in thus directing the mind of John to the martyrs as triumphing in heaven in a time when the churches were suffering persecution, and in view of the vision which he had had of times of darkness and calamity coming upon the world at the opening of the sixth seal. Beyond all the scenes of sorrow and grief, he was permitted to see the martyrs triumphing in heaven.
Arrayed in white robes - See the notes on Rev 7:9.
And whence came they? - The object is to fix the attention more distinctly on what is said of them, that they came up out of great tribulation.
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest - The word "sir" in this place - κύριέ kurie, "lord" - is a form of respectful address, such as would be used when speaking to a superior, Gen 43:20; Mat 13:27; Mat 21:30; Mat 27:63; Joh 4:11, Joh 4:15, Joh 4:19, Joh 4:49; Joh 5:7; Joh 12:21; Joh 20:15. The simple meaning of the phrase "thou knowest" is, that he who had asked the question must be better informed than he to whom he had proposed it. It is, on the part of John, a modest confession that he did not know, or could not be presumed to know, and at the same time the respectful utterance of an opinion that he who addressed this question to him must be in possession of this knowledge.
And he said unto me - Not offended with the reply, and ready, as he had evidently intended to do, to give him the information which he needed.
These are they which came out of great tribulation - The word rendered "tribulation" - θλίψις thlipsis - is a word of general character, meaning "affliction," though perhaps there is here an allusion to persecution. The sense, however, would be better expressed by the phrase great trials. The object seems to have been to set before the mind of the apostle a view of those who had suffered much, and who by their sufferings had been sanctified and prepared for heaven, in order to encourage those who might be yet called to suffer.
And have washed their robes - To wit, in the blood of the Lamb.
And made them white in the blood of the Lamb - There is some incongruity in saying that they had made them white in the blood of the Lamb; and the meaning therefore must be, that they had cleansed or purified them in that blood. Under the ancient ritual, various things about the sanctuary were cleansed from ceremonial defilement by the sprinkling of blood on them - the blood of sacrifice. In accordance with that usage, the blood of the Lamb - of the Lord Jesus - is said to cleanse and purify. John sees a great company with white robes. The means by which it is said they became white or pure is the blood of the Lamb. It is not said that they were made white as the result of their sufferings or their afflictions but by the blood of the Lamb. The course of thought here is such that it would be natural to suppose that, if at any time the great deeds or the sufferings of the saints could contribute to the fact that they will wear white robes in heaven, this is an occasion on which there might be such a reference.
But there is no allusion to that. It is not by their own sufferings and trials, their persecutions and sorrows, that they are made holy, but by the blood of the Lamb that had been shed for sinners. This reference to the blood of the Lamb is one of the incidental proofs that occur so frequently in the Scriptures of the reality of the atonement. It could be only in allusion to that, and with an implied belief in that, that the blood of the Lamb could be referred to as cleansing the robes of the saints in heaven. If he sheds his blood merely as other people have done; if he died only as a martyr, what propriety would there have been in referring to his blood more than to the blood of any other martyr? And what influence could the blood of any martyr have in cleansing the robes of the saints in heaven? The fact is, that if that were all, such language would be unmeaning. It is never used except in connection with the blood of Christ; and the language of the Bible everywhere is such as would be employed on the supposition that he shed his blood to make expiation for sin, and on no other supposition. On the general meaning of the language used here, and the sentiment expressed, see the Heb 9:14 note and Jo1 1:7 note.
Therefore are they before the throne of God - The reason why they are there is to be traced to the fact that the Lamb shed his blood to make expiation for sin. No other reason can be given why anyone of the human race is in heaven; and that is reason enough why any of that race are there.
And serve him day and night in his temple - That is, continually or constantly. Day and night constitute the whole of time, and this expression, therefore, denotes constant and uninterrupted service. On earth, toil is suspended by the return of night, and the service of God is intermitted by the necessity of rest; in heaven, as there will be no weariness, there will be no need of intermission, and the service of God, varied doubtless to meet the state of the mind, will be continued forever. The phrase, "to serve him in his temple," refers undoubtedly to heaven, regarded as the temple or holy dwelling-place of God. See the notes on Rev 1:6.
And he that sitteth on the throne - God. See the notes at Rev 4:2.
Shall dwell among them - σκηνώσει skēnōsei. This word properly means, "to tent, to pitch a tent"; and, in the New Testament, to dwell as in tents. The meaning here is, that God would dwell among them as in a tent, or would have his abode with them. Perhaps the allusion is to the tabernacle in the wilderness. That was regarded as the special dwelling-place of God, and that always occupied a central place among the tribes of Israel. So in heaven there will be the consciousness always that God dwells there among his people, and that the redeemed are gathered around him in his own house. Prof. Stuart renders this, it seems to me, with less beauty and propriety, "will spread his tent over them," as meaning that he would receive them into intimate connection and union with him, and offer them his protection. Compare Rev 21:3.
They shall hunger no more - A considerable portion of the redeemed who will be there, were, when on earth, subjected to the evils of famine; many who perished with hunger. In heaven they will be subjected to that evil no more, for there will be no want that will not be supplied. The bodies which the redeemed will have - spiritual bodies Co1 15:44 - will doubtless be such as will be nourished in some other way than by food, if they require any nourishment; and whatever that nourishment may be, it will be fully supplied. The passage here is taken from Isa 49:10; "They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them." See the notes on that passage.
Neither thirst any more - As multitudes of the redeemed have been subjected to the evils of hunger, so have multitudes also been subjected to the pains of thirst. In prison; in pathless deserts; in times of drought, when wells and fountains were dried up, they have suffered from this cause - a cause producing as intense suffering perhaps as any that man endures. Compare Exo 17:3; Psa 63:1; Lam 4:4; Co2 11:27. It is easy to conceive of persons suffering so intensely from thirst that the highest vision of felicity would be such a promise as that in the words before us - "neither thirst anymore."
Neither shall the sun light on them - It is hardly necessary, perhaps, to say that the word "light" here does not mean to enlighten, to give light to, to shine on. The Greek is πέσῃ pesē - "fall on" - and the reference, probably is to the intense and burningheat of the sun, commonly called a sunstroke. Excessive heat of the sun, causing great pain or sudden death, is not a very uncommon thing among us, and must have been more common in the warm climates and burning sands of the countries in the vicinity of Palestine. The meaning here is, that in heaven they would be free from this calamity.
Nor any heat - In Isa 49:10, from which place this is quoted, the expression is שׁרב shaaraab, properly denoting heat or burning, and particularly the mirage, the excessive heat of a sandy desert producing a vapor which has a striking resemblance to water, and which often misleads the unwary traveler by its deceptive appearance. See the notes on Isa 35:7. The expression here is equivalent to intense heat; and the meaning is, that in heaven the redeemed will not be subjected to any such suffering as the traveler often experiences in the burning sands of the desert. The language would convey a most grateful idea to those who had been subjected to these sufferings, and is one form of saying that, in heaven, the redeemed will be delivered from the ills which they suffer in this life. Perhaps the whole image here is that of travelers who have been on a long journey, exposed to hunger and thirst, wandering in the burning sands of the desert, and exposed to the fiery rays of the sun, at length reaching their quiet and peaceful home, where they would find safety and abundance. The believer's journey from earth to heaven is such a pilgrimage.
For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne - notes on Rev 5:6. He is still the great agent in promoting the happiness of the redeemed in heaven.
Shall feed them - Rather, shall exercise over them the office of a shepherd - ποιμανεῖ poimainō. This includes much more than mere feeding. It embraces all the care which a shepherd takes of his flock - watching them, providing for them, guarding them from danger. Compare Psa 23:1-2, Psa 23:5; Psa 36:8. See this fully illustrated in the notes on Isa 40:11.
And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters - Living fountains refer to running streams, as contrasted with standing water and stagnant pools. See the notes on Joh 4:10. The allusion is undoubtedly to the happiness of heaven, represented as fresh and everflowing, like streams in the desert. No image of happiness, perhaps, is more vivid, or would be more striking to an Oriental, than that of such fountains flowing in sandy and burning wastes. The word "living" here must refer to the fact that that happiness will be perennial. These fountains will always bubble; these streams will never dry up. The thirst for salvation will always be gratified; the soul will always be made happy.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes - This is a new image of happiness taken from another place in Isaiah Isa 25:8, "The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces." The expression is one of exquisite tenderness and beauty. The poet Burns said that he could never read this without being affected to weeping. Of all the negative descriptions of heaven, there is no one perhaps that would be better adapted to produce consolation than this. This is a world of weeping - a vale of tears. Philosophers have sought a brief definition of man, and have sought in vain. Would there be any better description of him, as representing the reality of his condition here, than to say that he is one who weeps? Who is there of the human family that has not shed a tear? Who that has not wept over the grave of a friend; over his own losses and cares; over his disappointments; over the treatment he has received from others; over his sins; over the follies, vices, and woes of his fellow-men?
And what a change would it make in our world if it could be said that henceforward not another tear would be shed; not a head would ever be bowed again in grief! Yet this is to be the condition of heaven. In that world there is to be no pain, no disappointment, no bereavement. No friend is to lie in dreadful agony on a sick-bed; no grave is to be opened to receive a parent, a wife, a child; no gloomy prospect of death is to draw tears of sorrow from the eyes. To that blessed world, when our eyes run down with tears, are we permitted to look forward; and the prospect of such a world should contribute to wipe away our tears here - for all our sorrows will soon be over. As already remarked, there was a beautiful propriety, at a time when such calamities impended over the church and the world - when there was such a certainty of persecution and sorrow - in permitting the mind to rest on the contemplation of these happy scenes in heaven, where all the redeemed, in white robes, and with palms of victory in their hands, would be gathered before the throne. To us also now, amidst the trials of the present life - when friends leave us; when sickness comes; when our hopes are blasted; when calumnies and reproaches come upon us; when, standing on the verge of the grave, and looking down into the cold tomb, the eyes pour forth floods of tears - it is a blessed privilege to be permitted to look forward to that brighter scene in heaven, where not a pang shall ever be felt, and not a tear shall ever be shed.