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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Revelation 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1. τέσσαρας ἀγγέλους. Presumably the Angels of the four winds, as we have other elemental Angels in Revelation 14:18, Revelation 16:5. Cf. Psalms 104 [103]:4, ὁ ποιῶν τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ πνεύματα.

ἐπὶ τὰς τέσσαρας γωνίας τῆς γῆς. Probably the four cardinal points, the extreme north, south, east, and west of it. It is hardly likely that the “four winds of the earth” should be conceived as NE., SW., SE., and NW.: in the climate of the Levant, there would not be as much physical truth in such a classification as in our own, and the usage of nomenclature, in Greek and still more in Hebrew, proves that the four winds are N., E., S., W. We therefore cannot argue from the “four corners” that St John conceives the earth is a rectangle—for it would be most unnatural to conceive it as set corner-wise: in Jeremiah 49:36 the four winds blow from the four ἄκρα of heaven. But it appears that the machinery, so to speak, throughout the vision does imply that the earth is conceived as a plane. St John is in Heaven, and is able to look down (or even to go down) to the earth, which he sees spread beneath him like a map, from Euphrates to Rome and very likely further. We have somewhat similar language in Enoch xviii. 2, 3, καὶ τὸν λίθον ἴδον τῆς γωνίας τῆς γῆς· ἴδον τοὺς τεσσάρους ἀνέμους τὴν γῆν βαστάζοντας καὶ τὸ στερέωμα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. But St John does not, like Pseudo-Enoch, put forward his imagery as absolute physical truth.

ἵνα μὴ πνέῃ ἄνεμος. Every one will remember Keble’s beautiful illustration of this image, by the natural phenomenon of the “All Saints’ Summer.” But the next v. shews that it is by the Angels’ action that the winds blow, as well as that they are restrained from blowing: we are not to conceive the winds (as in Od. X., Aen. I.) as wild expansive forces, that will blow if not mechanically confined.


Verses 1-3

Revelation 7:1-3.

THE VISION OF THE FOUR ANGELS OF THE FOUR WINDS


Verse 2

2. ἀναβαίνοντα. Probably the Heaven from which St John looks down on the earth formed a vault over it, or at least rested on walls surrounding the earth; cf. Enoch xviii. 5, ἴδον πέρατα τῆς γῆς τὸ στήριγμα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. This Angel, then, mounted up the eastern side of this vault or circling wall (probably flying up, just outside it), till he was high enough to see and to be heard by all the four Angels, even the one on the extreme western side of the earth.

ἔχοντα σφραγῖδα. Perhaps this marks this Angel as one specially favoured and trusted: see Genesis 41:42; Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2. But there seems no good reason for the notion, popular in modern times, that this Angel, or any other, is to be taken as representative of Christ. He appears, when He does appear, either in His own person, or under a symbol that is obviously symbolic: it would be out of harmony with the scope of this Book, and indeed with New Testament theology generally, to obscure the distinction between Him and created Angels. The words “our God” in the next v. mark this Angel as a fellow-servant both of the other four, and of the elect on earth. It is far better to illustrate this vision by Matthew 24:31, as we have seen the earlier images of that chapter reproduced under the former seals. This Angel’s office, however, is the marking, not the gathering of the elect; he represents and effectuates God’s love in its individual, not in its comprehensive aspect.

οἶς ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς. Cf. Revelation 3:8.

ἀδικῆσαι, by loosing the four winds—for something far beyond common storms. No parallel is yet known to this sign of the end: “the Great Tribulation” certainly begins when the four winds are loosed.


Verse 3

3. ἄχρι σφραγίσωμεν. The object of the sealing is twofold: [1] to mark them as God’s own, beyond the risk of loss; we may almost certainly infer, from this chapter compared with Revelation 14:1, that the inscription of the seal is the Name of God and of the Lamb; and [2] to mark them as to be saved from the judgements that the other angels are to execute upon the world. Hence we are to compare this sealing, on the one hand with the mark (a less careful and indelible one than here—a cross marked with ink, not a name stamped with a seal) set on the protesting remnant in Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 9:6 (R. V[280]): on the other hand, with 2 Timothy 2:19; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30. It is scarcely likely indeed that St John refers consciously to these passages in St Paul, but it is likely that the image of the seal was the common property of the Apostolic Church; ἡ σφραγὶς was certainly an early name for Baptism, e.g. Hermas Sim. ix. 16 ἡ σφραγὶς οὖν τὸ ὕδωρ ἐστίν, and passim; later it was applied especially to that part of the rite, which, when detached from Baptism, was known in the West as Confirmation.


Verse 4

4. ἑκατὸν τεσσεράκοντα τέσσαρες χιλιάδες. As there are twelve tribes, so in each tribe there are to be twelve thousands: possibly with a reminiscence of the primitive political and military organisation, when a “thousand” was a recognised subdivision of a tribe. See Judges 6:15; Micah 5:2. Any way, we are probably to understand that each portion of Israel is a miniature likeness of the whole.

ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ. It is one of the most controverted of the minor questions of interpretation of this Book, whether Israel is here to be understood in the literal or the spiritual sense. This vision of a certain number of Israelites, and the next of an innumerable multitude of all nations, are certainly correlative to each other: and the most obvious way of understanding them is, that among God’s elect there will be many faithful Israelites, and yet few comparatively to the number of faithful Gentiles. It certainly seems as if the 144,000 are to be preserved from “the great tribulation” and the great multitude converted by enduring it. Others however understand these 144,000, and the innumerable multitude of Revelation 7:9, to represent the same persons regarded in two different aspects. To God they are all His own people, all duly numbered and organised and marshalled as His army, and everyone known to Him by name: on the other hand, from a human point of view they belong to all nations, and are too many to be counted. Lastly, in Revelation 14:1 we hear of a company of 144,000 whom (not from their number only) it is natural to identify with these: and it appears that those represent, not the whole multitude of the elect, but a group specially faithful and specially favoured, even among them. It seems worth asking, whether the true solution be not a combination of the first and last, whether we are to understand that Christ’s nearest and dearest ones still come from God’s old people, who are still “beloved for the fathers’ sake,” though they attain such nearness to Him, not by virtue of their descent, but by graces of the same kind as sanctify Gentile saints also.


Verses 4-8

4–8. THE SEALING OF THE 144,000


Verse 5

5. δώδεκα χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι. The uncials repeat ἐσφρ. at the beginning and end. Primas[270] only has it at the beginning, aeth[271] only at end; 1 in the first three places and the last; Text. Rec[272] everywhere with Vg[273] and arm[274]

Γάδ. א omits this tribe; several cursives seem to have turned it into Δάν. 1 has δᾱδ (=Δαυείδ).


Verses 5-8

5–8. ἐσφραγισμένοι. It is a question whether there is any principle in the order of the names. Judah is no doubt named first, as the tribe of David and of the Son of David: then Reuben as the eldest son of Israel, while Joseph and Benjamin, the two youngest, come last. Gad and Asher, Simeon and Levi, Issachar and Zebulun are also mentioned in pairs, according to their parentage and the order of their births: but the pairs themselves are not grouped either in order of age or of the dignity of the mother. It is curious, and has never been really satisfactorily accounted for, that while we have Joseph given under that name, instead of Ephraim, we have Manasseh mentioned coordinately as one of the twelve tribes: room being made for him, not as in many O.T. enumerations, by the omission of Levi, who had no part nor inheritance with his brethren, but by the omission of Dan, about which copyists evidently hesitated. (In Ezekiel 48:3-4 Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, succeed each other as here.) Numbers 13:11 is some sort of analogy for the name of Joseph being appropriated to one of the two tribes descended from him: for the omission of Dan, the nearest analogy is the omission of Simeon in the blessing of Moses, Deuteronomy 33. The traditional view is, that Dan is omitted because Antichrist will come of that tribe: but the grounds for that opinion are very slight; it rests mainly on this omission itself, for no one would naturally understand Genesis 49:17 as implying that Dan would be an evil power. Others have suggested that Dan is omitted because they early fell into idolatry (Judges 1:18); but all Israel fell into worse idolatry, sooner or later: others again imagine that this tribe had been long extinct, because it is omitted in the enumeration of the tribes in the early chapters of Chronicles: but Zebulun is also omitted there, though both tribes were powerful in David’s time, 1 Chronicles 12:33; 1 Chronicles 12:35. The case is not quite parallel where, in Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:14, we have only room for the names of twelve tribes and twelve apostles: it will follow from Ezekiel 48:31-34 that Dan is there included, and that Joseph only counts as one: and though either the name of St Paul or St Matthias (probably the former) must be omitted to keep the number of the apostles down to twelve, yet the omission is not pointed or express. We have no occasion to ask there why St Paul is omitted, while here we cannot help asking why Dan is; probably there is a reason, but we had better confess we do not know it.


Verse 6

6. ΄ανασσῆ. If written ΄αν. this might be a corruption of Δάν. Origen remarks on the omission of Dan; so the Coptic version, which has Dan instead of Manasse, cannot have preserved a continuous tradition.


Verse 7

7. Συμεών. א omits this tribe, cf. Deuteronomy 33:6-7.


Verse 9

9. μετὰ ταῦτα. The “great tribulation” itself is designedly not shown in the vision: “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels in heaven.” It is not too much to say that the description of the terrors which herald its approach taxes human powers to their limits; it was the most the Seer or the Church could receive, more would have weakened the impression. Instead of describing a picture of the Great Tribulation we have the pause, in which the inner circle of the elect is sealed for safety, and the world forgets its fears; and then comes a glimpse of the bliss without end.

ὃν ἀριθμῆσαι αὐτόν. Revelation 3:8.

ἐκ παντὸς ἔθνους καὶ φυλῶν καὶ λαῶν καὶ γλωσσῶν Cf. Revelation 5:9 n.

ἑστῶτες is of course in apposition to ὄχλος πολύς, though supported by documents which read ὄχλον πολύν.

περιβεβλημένους is in apposition to the imaginary ὄχλον which might have been dependent on εἶδον: so is φοίνικας, if we take the accusative with Tischendorf.

στολὰς λευκάς. Cf. Revelation 3:5, Revelation 6:11.

φοίνικες. Opinions differ as to the meaning of this image, whether we are to compare the Pagan use of the palm-branch as a symbol of victory, given e.g. to winners at the public games; or the Israelite custom of bearing branches of palm, as of other sacred trees, at the Feast of Tabernacles: see Leviticus 23:40, and cf. St John 12:13. The palm-branch occurs frequently on the coins of the Herods; and the palm-tree on the Roman coins commemorating JUDAEA CAPTA (Madden’s Jewish Coinage): and although Jewish rather than Gentile imagery is to be expected in this book, the former view seems on the whole more reasonable, as it gives a more obvious and a more appropriate meaning to the symbol.


Verses 9-17

9–17. THE PRAISE OF THE GREAT MULTITUDE OF THE REDEEMED


Verse 10

10. ἡ σωτηρία. The word “salvation” has the article, so that perhaps the sense is, “The glory of our salvation belongs to Him.” If not, we must remember that “salvation” is in the Bible a positive conception—not only being saved from some evil, but being placed in a state of positive blessedness: and these words will thus be a confession that such blessedness not only is of God, but belongs by right to God.


Verse 12

12. ἡ εὐλογία καὶ ἡ δόξα κ.τ.λ. The seven words of praise have each the article: see on chap. Revelation 5:13.


Verse 13

13. ἀπεκρίθη. Perhaps because his question is suggested by the wonder of the Seer. Cf. Matthew 11:25; Deuteronomy 25:9, in both of which passages it is easier to see the force of the word.


Verse 14

14. εἴοηκα. The perfect here is only less difficult than εἴληφεν, Revelation 5:7 (where see note) because it stands alone.

Κύριέ μου. Cf. Daniel 10:16-17; Zechariah 4:5; Zechariah 4:13. In the latter place we nave, as here, the heavenly interlocutor apparently assuming that the Seer ought to understand the vision without explanation.

σὺ οἶδας. Cf. Ezekiel 37:3.

οἱ ἐρχόμενοι, “which come,” i.e. which are to come, cf. τὸ θηρίον τὸ ἀναβαῖνον, Revelation 11:7.

τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης: the article is strongly emphasised. It probably means “the great tribulation foretold by the Lord,” St Matthew 24:21 : cf. Daniel 12:1. For a similar use of the art. cf. ch. Revelation 1:7, “the clouds.”

ἐλεύκαναν αὐτὰς ἐν τῷ αἵματι. A paradox something like that of Revelation 6:16 fin. For the image, cf. perhaps Revelation 1:5 (but see note): certainly Revelation 22:14 (true text), and probably St John 1 Ephesians 1:7. Hebrews 9:14, which is sometimes quoted, is less closely parallel: there the image seems to be taken from ritual rather than physical cleansing. Tert[281] Scorp. xii. has a curious view that the washing corresponds to baptism, and the making white to martyrdom.


Verse 15

15. ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου. Perhaps in a more favoured position than is given to all, even among Saints: as we have similar language about the most favoured Angels, Matthew 18:10; Luke 1:19.

λατρεύουσιν αὐτῷ. The sense would be clearer if the word were rendered “worship”: it does not mean that they have active work to do for Him, but that they do what is the appropriate service of His Temple, though it is to be remembered that the service of the earthly Temple was arranged to represent the service of the Palace of an invisible King: His lamps were lit, His table spread, and the like.

σκηνώσει ἐπʼ αὐτούς. Lit. “shall tabernacle over them”: in Revelation 21:3 the verb is the same, but there the construction is μετʼ αὐτῶν. The word is used in the N.T., and in Hellenistic writers generally, to express the dwelling of the Divine Presence in any of its manifestations: see esp. St John’s Gospel, Revelation 1:14. The word σκηνὴ was the more readily used in this sense because of its assonance with the late Hebrew word Shĕchînêh for “the cloud of glory shadowing the Mercy-seat.” Here perhaps the thought is rather of that manifestation of God’s Presence than of the fuller and later Presence in the Incarnation.


Verse 16-17

16, 17. Taken from Isaiah 49:10. We have again the solemn paradox, that the Lamb is Shepherd (of course we are reminded of St John 10, but we ought to remember Psalms 23 as well, and its many O.T. imitations, including Isa. l.c., in all of which the Shepherd is the Lord God of Israel), and the men are His flock—cf. Ezekiel 34:31; Ezekiel 36:37-38.

τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου. See on Revelation 5:6.

ζωῆς πηγὰς ὑδάτων. The order of the words is very strange even for this Book. The slight change in the Textus Receptus enabled A. V[282] to preserve the order of the words, which is perhaps more important than the construction preserved in R. V[283], “fountains of waters of life,” cf. Revelation 22:1.

ἐξαλείψει ὁ θεός. From Isaiah 25:8.


Verse 17

17. ζωῆς. Text. Rec[279] ζώσας with 1.

The two Visions in this Chapter, 1–8, 9–17, each introduced by the same phrase “After this,” seem to belong (the former perhaps does belong) to the interval between the openings of the Sixth Seal and the Seventh, and so to extend this interval very considerably beyond the others. Both are really episodical.

 


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Revelation 7:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/revelation-7.html. 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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