Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The four angels holding the four winds of heaven, Rev 7:1. The angel with the seal of the living God, and sealing the servants of God out of the twelve tribes, whose number amounted to one hundred and forty-four thousand, Rev 7:2-8. Besides these, there was an innumerable multitude from all nations, who gave glory to God and the Lamb, Rev 7:9-12. One of the elders shows who these are, and describes their most happy state, Rev 7:13-17.
And after these things - Immediately after the preceding vision.
I saw four angels - Instruments which God employs in the dispensation of his providence; we know not what.
On the four corners of the earth - On the extreme parts of the land of Judea, called ἡ γη, the land, or earth, by way of eminence.
Holding the four winds - Preventing evil from every quarter. Earth - sea, nor on any tree; keeping the whole of the land free from evil, till the Church of Christ should wax strong, and each of his followers have time to prepare for his flight from Jerusalem, previously to its total destruction by the Romans.
The seal of the living God - This angel is represented as the chancellor of the supreme King, and as ascending from the east, απο ανατολης ἡλιου, from the rising of the sun. Some understand this of Christ, who is called ανατολη, the east, Luk 1:78.
Four angels, to whom it was given to hurt - Particular agents employed by Divine providence in the management of the affairs of the earth; but whether spiritual or material we know not.
Till we have sealed the servants of our God - There is manifestly an allusion to Eze 9:4 here. By sealing we are to understand consecrating the persons in a more especial manner to God, and showing, by this mark of God upon them, that they were under his more immediate protection, and that nothing should hurt them. It was a custom in the east, and indeed in the west too, to stamp with a hot iron the name of the owner upon the forehead or shoulder of his slave.
It is worthy of remark that not one Christian perished in the siege of Jerusalem; all had left the city, and escaped to Pella. This I have often had occasion to notice.
I heard the number of them which were sealed - In the number of 144,000 are included all the Jews converted to Christianity; 12,000 out of each of the twelve tribes: but this must be only a certain for an uncertain number; for it is not to be supposed that just 12,000 were converted out of each of the twelve tribes.
Of the tribe of Juda, etc. - First, we are to observe that the tribe of Levi is here mentioned, though that tribe had no inheritance in Israel; but they now belonged to the spiritual priesthood. Secondly, That the tribe of Dan, which had an inheritance, is here omitted; as also the tribe of Ephraim. Thirdly, That the tribe of Joseph is here added in the place of Ephraim. Ephraim and Dan, being the principal promoters of idolatry, are left out in this enumeration.
A great multitude - This appears to mean the Church of Christ among the Gentiles, for it was different from that collected from the twelve tribes; and it is here said to be of all nations, kindreds, people, and tongues.
Clothed with white robes - As emblems of innocence and purity. With palms in their hands, in token of victory gained over the world, the devil, and the flesh.
Salvation to our God - That is, God alone is the author of the salvation of man; and this salvation is procured for and given to them through the Lamb, as their propitiatory sacrifice.
All the angels, etc. - As there is joy in the presence of God among these holy spirits when one sinner repents, no wonder that they take such an interest in the gathering together of such innumerable multitudes who are fully saved from their sins.
Saying, Amen - Giving their most cordial and grateful assent to the praises attributed to God and the Lamb.
Blessing, and glory, etc. - There are here seven different species of praise attributed to God, as in Rev 5:12 (note).
One of the elders answered - A Hebraism for spoke. The question is here asked, that the proposer may have the opportunity of answering it.
Sir, thou knowest - That is, I do not know, but thou canst inform me.
Came out of great tribulation - Persecutions of every kind.
And have washed their robes - Have obtained their pardon and purity, through the blood of the Lamb.
Their white robes cannot mean the righteousness of Christ, for this cannot be washed and made white in his own blood. This white linen is said to be the righteousness of the saints, Rev 19:8, and this is the righteousness in which they stand before the throne; therefore it is not Christ's righteousness, but it is a righteousness wrought in them by the merit of his blood, and the power of his Spirit.
Therefore - Because they are washed in the blood of the Lamb, are they before the throne - admitted to the immediate presence, of God.
And serve him day and night - Without ceasing; being filled with the spirit of prayer, faith, love, and obedience.
Shall dwell among them - He lives in his own Church, and in the heart of every true believer.
They shall hunger no more - They shall no longer be deprived of their religious ordinances, and the blessings attendant on them, as they were when in a state of persecution.
Neither shall the sun light on them - Their secular rulers, being converted to God, became nursing fathers to the Church.
Nor any heat - Neither persecution nor affliction of any kind. These the Hebrews express by the term heat, scorching, etc.
The Lamb - The Lord Jesus, enthroned with his Father in ineffable glory.
Shall feed them - Shall communicate to them every thing calculated to secure, continue, and increase their happiness.
Living fountains of water - A spring in the Hebrew phraseology is termed living water, because constantly boiling up and running on. By these perpetual fountains we are to understand endless sources of comfort and happiness, which Jesus Christ will open out of his own infinite plenitude to all glorified souls. These eternal living fountains will make an infinite variety in the enjoyments of the blessed. There will be no sameness, and consequently no cloying with the perpetual enjoyment of the same things; every moment will open a new source of pleasure, instruction, and improvement; they shall make an eternal progression into the fullness of God. And as God is infinite, so his attributes are infinite; and throughout infinity more and more of those attributes will be discovered; and the discovery of each will be a new fountain or source of pleasure and enjoyment. These sources must be opening through all eternity, and yet, through all eternity, there will still remain, in the absolute perfections of the Godhead, an infinity of them to be opened! This is one of the finest images in the Bible.
God shall wipe away - In the most affectionate and fatherly manner, all tears from their eyes - all causes of distress and grief. They shall have pure, unmixed happiness. Reader, this is the happiness of those who are washed from their sins. Art thou washed? O, rest not till thou art prepared to appear before God and the Lamb.
If these saints had not met with troubles and distresses, in all likelihood they had not excelled so much in righteousness and true holiness. When all avenues of worldly comfort are shut up, we are obliged to seek our all in God; and there is nothing sought from him that is not found in him.