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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Revelation 7



Other Authors
Verses 1-17

Chapter 7

RESCUE AND REWARD (Revelation 7:1-3)

7:1-3 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that the wind might not blow upon the earth, or upon the sea, or against any tree. And I saw another angel going up from where the sun rises, with a seal which belonged to the living God, and he shouted with a great voice to the four angels to whom was given power to harm the earth and the sea: "Do not harm the earth and the sea or the trees until we seal the servants of our God upon their foreheads."

Before we deal with this chapter in detail, it is better to set out the general picture behind it.

John is seeing the vision of the last terrible days aid in particular the great tribulation which is to come, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19). In this coming tribulation there was to be a final assault by every evil power and a final devastation of the earth. It is to play their part in this devastation that the winds are waiting and from which for a little while they are being held in check.

Before this time of terror and devastation comes, the faithful are to be sealed with the seal of God in order that they may survive it. It is not that they are to be exempt from it but that they are to be brought safely through it.

This is a terrible picture; even if the faithful are to be brought through this terrible time, they none the less must pass through it, and this is a prospect to make even the bravest shudder.

In Revelation 7:9 the range of the seer's vision extends still further and he sees the faithful after the tribulation has passed. They are in perfect peace and satisfaction in the very presence of God. The last time will bring them unspeakable horrors, but when they have passed through it they will enter into equally unspeakable joy.

There are really three elements in this picture. (i) There is a warning. The last unparalleled and inconceivable time of tribulation is coming soon. (ii) There is an assurance. In that time of destruction the faithful will suffer terribly, but they will come out on the other side because they are sealed with the seal of God. (iii) There is a promise. When they have passed through that time, they will come to the blessedness in which all pain and sorrow are gone and there is nothing but peace and joy.

THE WINDS OF GOD (Revelation 7:1-3 continued)

This vision is expressed in conceptions of the world which were the conceptions of the days in which John wrote.

The earth is a square, flat earth; and at its four corners are four angels waiting to unleash the winds of destruction. Isaiah speaks of gathering the outcasts of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12). The end is come upon the four corners of the earth in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 7:2).

It was the belief of the ancient peoples that the winds which came from due north, south, east and west were all favourable winds; but that those which blew diagonally across the earth were harmful. That is why the angels are at the corners of the earth. They are about to unleash the winds which blow diagonally. It was the common belief that all the forces of nature were under the charge of angels. So we read of the angel of the fire (Revelation 14:18) and the angel of the waters (Revelation 16:5). These angels were called "The Angels of Service." They belonged to the very lowest order of angels, because they had to be continually on duty and, therefore, could not keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. Pious Israelites who faithfully observed the Law of the Sabbath were said to rank higher than these angels of service.

The angels are bidden to restrain the winds until the work of sealing the faithful should be completed. This idea has more than one echo in Jewish literature. In Enoch the angels of the waters are bidden by God to hold the waters in check until Noah had built the ark (Enoch 66:1, 2). In 2Baruch the angels with the flaming torches are bidden to restrain their fire, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians, until the sacred vessels of the Temple could be hidden away and saved from the looting of the invaders (Baruch 6:4). More than once we see the angels restraining the forces of destruction until the safety of the faithful has been made secure.

One of the interesting and picturesque ideas of the Old Testament is that of the winds as the servants and the agents of God. This was specially so of the Sirocco, the dread wind from the south-east, with the blast like hot air from a furnace which withered and destroyed all vegetation. Zechariah has the picture of the chariots of the winds, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth (Zechariah 6:1-5). Nahum speaks of the Lord who has his way in the whirlwind (the Sirocco) and the storm (Nahum 1:3). The Lord goes with the whirlwinds of the south (Zechariah 9:14). The winds are God's chariots (Jeremiah 4:13). God comes with his chariots like a whirlwind (Isaiah 66:15). The wind is the breath of God (Job 37:9-10). The wind rends the mountains (1 Kings 19:11) and withers the grass (Isaiah 40:7; Isaiah 40:24) and dries up the stream, the river and the sea (Nahum 1:4; Psalms 18:15).

So terrible was the effect of the Sirocco that it gained a place in the pictures of the last days. One of the terrors which was to precede the end was a terrible storm. God would destroy his enemies as stubble before the wind (Psalms 83:13). God's day would be the day of the whirlwind (Amos 1:14). The whirlwind of the Lord goes forth in its fury and falls on the head of the wicked (Jeremiah 23:19; Jeremiah 30:23). The wind of the Lord, the Sirocco, will come from the wilderness and destroy the fertility of the land (Hosea 13:15). God will send his four winds upon Elam and scatter the people (Jeremiah 49:36).

This is difficult for many of us to understand; the dweller in the temperate countries does not know the terror of the wind. But there is something here more far-reaching than that and more characteristic of Jewish thought, the Jews knew nothing of secondary causes. We say that atmospheric conditions, variations in temperature, land and mountain configurations, cause certain things to happen. The Jew ascribed it all to the direct action of God. He simply said, God sent the rain; God made the wind to blow; God thundered; God sent his lightning.

Surely both points of view are correct, for we may still believe that God acts through the laws by which his universe is governed.

THE LIVING GOD (Revelation 7:1-3 continued)

Before the great tribulation smites the earth the faithful ones are to be marked with the seal of God. There are two points to note.

(i) The angel with the seal comes from the rising of the sun, from the East. All John's pictures mean something and there may be two meanings behind this: (a) It is in the East that the sun, the supreme earthly giver of light and life, rises; and the angel may stand for the life and the light that God gives his people even when death and destruction are abroad. (b) It is just possible that John is remembering something from the story of the birth of Jesus. The wise men come to Palestine searching for the king who is to be born, for "We have seen his star in the East" (Matthew 2:2). It is natural that the delivering angel should rise in the same part of the sky as the star which told of the birth of the Saviour.

(ii) The angel has the seal which belongs to the living God. The living God is a phrase in which the writers of Scripture delight and when they use it, there are certain things in their minds.

(a) They are thinking of the living God in contra-distinction to the dead gods of the heathen. Isaiah has a tremendous passage of sublime mockery of the heathen and their dead gods whom their own hands have made (Isaiah 44:9-17). The smith takes a mass of metal and works at it with the hammer and the tongs and the coals, sweating and parched at his task of manufacturing a god. The carpenter goes out and cuts down a tree. He works at it with line and compass and plane. Part of it he uses to make a fire to warm himself; part of it he uses to make a fire to bake his bread and roast his meat; and part of it he uses to make a god. The heathen gods are dead and created by men; our God is alive and the creator of all things.

(b) The idea of the living God is used as an encouragement. In the midst of their struggles Joshua reminds the people that with them there is the living God and that he will show his strength in their conflicts with their enemies (Joshua 3:10). When a man is up against it, the living God is with him.

(c) Only in the living God is there satisfaction. It is the living God for whom the soul of the psalmist longs and thirsts (Psalms 42:2). Man can never find satisfaction in things but only in fellowship with a living person; and he finds his highest satisfaction in the fellowship of the living God.

(d) The biblical writers stress the privilege of knowing and belonging to the living God. Hosea reminds the people of Israel that once they were not a people, but in mercy they have become children of the living God (Hosea 1:10). Our privilege is that there is open to us the friendship, the fellowship, the help, the power and the presence of the living God.

(e) In the idea of the living God there is at one and the same time a promise and a threat. Second Kings vividly tells the story of how the great king Sennacherib sent his envoy Rabshakeh to tell Hezekiah that he proposed to wipe out the nation of Israel. Humanly speaking, the little kingdom of Judah had no hope of survival, if the might of Assyria was launched against it. But with Israel there was the living God and he was a threat to the godlessness of Assyria and a promise to the faithful of Israel (2 Kings 18:17-37).

THE SEAL OF GOD (Revelation 7:4-8)

7:4-8 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand were sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. Of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand.

Those who are to be brought safely through the great tribulation are sealed upon their foreheads. The origin of this picture is very likely in Ezekiel 9:1-11 . In Ezekiel's picture, before the final slaughter begins, the man with the inkhorn marks the forehead of those who are faithful and the avengers are told that none so marked must be touched (Ezekiel 9:1-7).

The idea of the king's seal would be very meaningful in the East. Eastern kings wore a signet ring whose seal was used to authenticate documents as really coming from the king's hand and to mark that which was the king's personal property. When Pharaoh appointed Joseph his prime minister and representative, he gave him his signet ring in token of the authority which had been delegated to him (Genesis 41:42). So Ahasuerus gave his signet ring, first to Haman and then, when Haman's wicked schemes were unmasked, to Mordecai (Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2). The stone which shut Daniel into the lion's den was sealed (Daniel 6:17), as was the stone with which the Jews sought to make the tomb of Jesus secure (Matthew 27:66).

Very commonly a seal indicated source or possession. A merchant would seal a Package of goods to certify that it belonged to him; and the owner of a vineyard would seal jars of wine to show that they came from his vineyard and with his guarantee.

So here the seal was a sign that these people belonged to God and were under his power and authority.

In the early church this picture of sealing was specially connected with two things. (a) It was connected with baptism which was regularly described as sealing. It is as if, when a person was baptized, a mark was put upon him to show that he had become the property and the possession of God. (b) Paul regularly talks about the Christian being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The possession of the Holy Spirit is the sign that a man belongs to God. The real Christian is marked out by the seal of the Spirit which enables him to have the wisdom and the strength to cope with life in a way beyond the attainment of others.

THE NUMBER OF THE FAITHFUL (Revelation 7:4-8 continued)

There are certain quite general things to be noted here which will greatly help towards the interpretation of this passage.

(i) Two things are to be said about the number 144,000. (a) It is quite certain that it does not stand for the number of the faithful in every day and generation. The 144,000 stands for those who in the time of John are sealed and preserved from the great tribulation which at that moment was coming upon them. In due time, as we see in Revelation 7:9, they are to be merged with the great crowd beyond all counting and drawn from every nation. (b) The number 144,000 stands, not for limitation but for completeness and perfection. It is made up of 12 multiplied by 12--the perfect square--and then rendered even more inclusive and complete by being multiplied by 1,000 This does not tell us that the number of the saved will be very small; it tells us that the number of the saved will be very great.

(ii) The enumeration in terms of the twelve tribes of Israel does not mean that this is to be read in purely Jewish terms. One of the basic thoughts of the New Testament is that the Church is the real Israel, and that the national Israel has lost all its privileges and promises to the Church. Paul writes: "He is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God" (Romans 2:28-29). "Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel," says Paul (Romans 9:6-7). If a man is Christ's, then is he Abraham's seed and an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). It is the Church which is the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). It is Christians who are the real circumcision, those who worship God in the spirit, who rejoice in Christ Jesus and who have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). Even if this passage is stated in terms of the twelve tribes of Israel, the reference is still to the Church of God, the new Israel, the Israel of God.

(iii) It would be a mistake to place any stress on the order in which the twelve tribes are given, because the lists of the tribes are always varying in their order. But two things stand out. (a) Judah comes first, thus supplanting Reuben, who was the eldest son of Jacob. That is simply explained by the fact it was from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah came. (b) Much more interesting is the omission of Dan. But there is also an explanation of that. In the Old Testament Dan does not hold a high place and is often connected with idolatry. In Jacob's dying speech to his sons, it is said: "Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels, so that his rider falls backward" (Genesis 49:17). In Judges the children of Dan are said to have set up a graven image ( 18:30). The golden calves, which became a sin, were set up in Bethel and in Dan (1 Kings 12:29). There is more. There is a curious saying in Jeremiah 8:16 : "The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan; at the sound of the neighing of their stallions the whole land quakes. They come and devour the land and all that fills it." That saying came to be taken as referring to Antichrist, the coming incarnation of evil; and it came to be believed among the Jewish Rabbis that Antichrist was to spring from Dan. Hippolytus (Concerning Antichrist 14) says: "As the Christ was born from the tribe of Judah, so will the Antichrist be born from the tribe of Dan." That is why Dan is missed out from this list and the list completed by the including of Manasseh, who is normally included in Joseph.

THE GLORY OF THE MARTYRS (Revelation 7:9-10)

7:9-10 After this I saw, and, behold, a great crowd, so great that none could count its number, drawn from every race and from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palms in their hands. And they shouted with a great voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated upon the throne and to the Lamb."

Here we have the beginning of the vision of the future blessedness of the martyrs.

(i) There is encouragement. There is coming upon the faithful a time of terror such as the world has never seen; and John is telling them that, if they endure to the end, the glory will be worth all the suffering. He is setting out how infinitely worthwhile it is in the long run to accept everything involved in the martyrdom which fidelity must undergo.

(ii) The number of the martyrs is beyond all counting. This may well be a memory of the promise that God made to Abraham that his descendants would one day be as the number of the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), and as the sand of the seashore (Genesis 32:12); at the last the number of the true Israel will be beyond all reckoning.

(iii) John uses a phrase of which he is very fond. He says that God's faithful ones will come from every race and tribe and people and tongue (compare Revelation 5:9; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15). H. B. Swete speaks of "the polyglot cosmopolitan crowd who jostled one another in the agora or on the quays of the Asian sea-port towns." In any Asian harbour or market-place there would be gathered people from many lands, speaking many different tongues. Any evangelist would feel his heart afire to bring the message of Christ to this assorted crowd of people. Here is the promise that the day will come when all this motley crowd of many nations and many tongues will become the one flock of the Lord Christ.

(iv) It is in victory that the faithful finally arrive in the presence of God and of the Lamb. They appear, not weary, battered and worn, but victorious. The white robe is the sign of victory; a Roman general celebrated his triumph clothed in white. The palm is also the sign of victory. When, under the might of the Maccabees, Jerusalem was freed from the pollutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, the people entered in with branches and fair boughs and palms and psalms (2 Maccabees 10:7).

(v) The shout of the triumphant faithful ascribes salvation to God. It is God who has brought them through their trials and tribulations and distresses; and it is his glory which now they share. God is the great saviour, the great deliverer of his people. And the deliverance which he gives is not the deliverance of escape but the deliverance of conquest. It is not a deliverance which saves a man from trouble but one which brings him triumphantly through trouble. It does not make life easy, but it makes life great. It is not part of the Christian hope to look for a life in which a man is saved from all trouble and distress; the Christian hope is that a man in Christ can endure any kind of trouble and distress, and remain erect all through them, and come out to glory on the other side.

THE PRAISE OF THE ANGELS (Revelation 7:11-12)

7:11-12 And all the angels stood in a circle round the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell upon their faces before the throne, and worshipped God, saying:

"So let it be. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength belong to our God for ever and for ever. Amen."

The picture is of a series of great concentric circles of the inhabitants of heaven. On the outer ring stand all the angels. Nearer the throne are the twenty-four elders; still nearer are the four living creatures; and before the throne are the white-robed martyrs. The martyrs have just sung their shout of praise to God and the angels take that song of praise and make it their own. "So let it be," say the angels; they say "Amen" to the martyrs' praises. Then they sing their own song of praise and every word in it is meaningful.

They ascribe blessing to God; and God's creation must always be blessing him for his goodness in creation and in redemption and in providence to all that he has created. As a great saint put it: "Thou hast made us and we are thine; thou hast redeemed us and we are doubly thine."

They ascribe glory to God. God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords; therefore, to him must be given glory. God is love but that love must never be cheaply sentimentalized; men must never forget the majesty of God.

They ascribe wisdom to God. God is the source of all truth, the giver of all knowledge. If men seek wisdom, they can find it by only two paths, by the seeking of their minds and by waiting upon God--and the one is as important as the other.

They offer thanksgiving to God. God is the giver of salvation and the constant provider of grace; he is the Creator of the world and the constant sustainer of all that is in it. It was the cry of the psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Psalms 103:2). Shakespeare said that it was sharper than a serpent's tooth to have a thankless child. We must see to it that we are never guilty of the ugliest and the most graceless of sins, that of ingratitude.

They ascribed honour to God. God is to be worshipped. It may be that sometimes we come to think of him as some one to be used; but we ought not to forget the claims of worship, so that we not only ask things from him but offer ourselves and all we have to him.

They ascribe power to God. God's power never grows less and the wonder is that it is used in love for men. God works his purposes out throughout the ages and in the end his kingdom will come.

They ascribe strength to God. The problem of life is to find strength for its tasks, its responsibilities, its demands. The Christian can say: "I will go in the strength of the Lord."

There is no greater exercise in the life of devotion than to meditate on the praise of the angels and, to appropriate to ourselves everything in it.

WASHING FROM SIN (Revelation 7:13-14)

7:13,14 And one of the elders said to me: "Do you know who these are who are clothed in white robes and where they came from?" I said to him: "Sir, you know." He said to me: "These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation, and who have washed their robes, and have made them white through the power of the blood of the Lamb."

One thing is to be noted before we go on to deal with this passage in detail. The King James Version generalizes the meaning by translating: "These are they who came out of great tribulation." But the Revised Standard Version correctly translates: "These are they who came out of the great tribulation." The seer is convinced that he and his people are standing at the end time of history and that that end time is to be terrible beyond all imagining. The whole point of his vision is that beyond that terrible time glory will follow. It is not tribulation in general of which he is speaking but of that tribulation which Jesus foretold when he said, "In those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be" (Mark 13:19; Matthew 24:21). Nowadays we read this passage as speaking about tribulation in general and in that sense find it very precious; and we are right to read it so because the promises of God are for ever. At the same time it is right to remember that originally it referred to the immediate circumstances of the people to whom John was writing.

This passage has two pictures which are very common in the Bible. We first look at these pictures separately and then we put them together in order to find the total meaning of the passage.

The great crowd of the blessed ones are in white robes. The Bible has much to say both about white robes and about soiled robes. In the ancient world this was a very natural picture, for it was forbidden to approach a god with robes which were unclean. The picture was still further intensified by the fact that often when a Christian was baptized he was dressed in new white robes. These robes were taken to symbolize his new life and to soil them was the symbolic way of expressing failure to be true to the baptismal vows.

Isaiah says: "We have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6). Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua clothed in filthy garments and hears God say: "Remove the filthy garments from him... Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel" (Zechariah 3:1-5). In preparation for the receiving of the commandments from God, Moses orders the people wash their garments (Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14). The Psalmist prays to God to wash him thoroughly from his iniquity, to purge him with hyssop, to wash him until he is whiter than snow (Psalms 51:1-7). The prophet hears the promise that the sins which are as scarlet will be as white as snow and those that were red like crimson will be as wool (Isaiah 1:18). Paul reminds his people in Corinth that they have been washed and sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Here is a picture which is present all through scripture, of the man who has stained his garments with sin and who has been cleansed by the grace of God. It is of the greatest importance to remember that this love of God does not only forgive a man his stained garments, it makes them clean.

THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST (Revelation 7:13-14 continued)

This passage speaks of the blood of the Lamb. The New Testament has much to say about the blood of Jesus Christ. We must be careful to give this phrase its full meaning. To us blood indicates death, and certainly the blood of Jesus Christ speaks of his death. But to the Hebrews the blood stood for the life. That was why the orthodox Jew never would--and still will not--eat anything which had blood in it (Genesis 9:4). The blood is the life and the life belongs to God; and the blood must always be sacrificed to him. The identification of blood and life is not unnatural. When a man's blood ebbs away, so does his life. When the New Testament speaks about the blood of Jesus Christ, it means not only his death but his life and death. The blood of Christ stands for all Christ did for us and means for us in his life and in his death. With that in our minds let us see what the New Testament says about that blood.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ which is cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It is the blood of Jesus Christ which makes expiation for us (Romans 3:25), and it is through his blood that we are justified (Romans 5:9). It is through his blood that we have redemption (Ephesians 1:7), and we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19). It is through his blood that we have peace with God (Colossians 1:20). His blood purges our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).

There are four ideas here, the first being the main idea from which the others spring.

(i) The main idea is based on sacrifice. Sacrifice is essentially something designed to restore a lost relationship with God. God gives man his law; man breaks that law; that breach of the law interrupts the relationship between God and man; and sacrifice is designed to atone for the breach and to restore the lost relationship. The great work of Jesus Christ in his life and in his death is to restore the lost relationship between God and man.

(ii) This work of Christ has something to do with the past. It wins for man forgiveness for past sins and liberates him from his slavery to sin.

(iii) This work of Christ has something to do with the present. It gives a man here and now, upon earth, in spite of failure and of sin, a new and intimate relationship with God, in which fear is gone and in which love is the bond.

(iv) This work of Christ has something to do with the future. It frees a man from the power of evil and enables him to live a new life in the time to come.


Let us now unite the two ideas of which we have been thinking. The blessed ones have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Let us try to express as simply as possible what that means.

The white robes always stand for two things. They stand for purity, for the life cleansed from the taint of past sin, the infection of present sin and the attack of future sin. They stand for victory, for the life which has found the secret of victorious living. Put at its very simplest, this means that the blessed ones have found the secret of purity and the secret of victory in all that Jesus Christ did for them in his life and in his death.

Now let us try to see the meaning of in the blood of the Lamb. There are two possibilities.

(i) It may mean in the power of the blood of the Lamb or at the cost of the blood of the Lamb. This would then be a vivid way of saying that this purity and victory were won in the power and at the cost of all that Jesus did for men in his life and in his death.

(ii) But it may be even more probable that the picture is to be taken literally; and that John conceives of the blessed ones as having washed their robes in the blood which flows from the wounds of Jesus Christ. To us that is a strange and perhaps even repulsive picture; and it is paradoxical to think of robes becoming white when washed in the scarlet of blood. But it would not seem strange to the people of John's day; to many of them it would be literally familiar. The greatest religious force of the time was the Mystery Religions. These were dramatic religions which by deeply moving ceremonies offered to men a rebirth and a promise of eternal life. Perhaps the most famous was Mithraism, at whose centre was the god Mithra. Mithraism had its devotees all over the world; it was the favourite religion of the Roman army and even in Britain there are relics of the chapels of Mithra where the Roman soldiers met for worship. The most sacred ceremony of Mithraism was the taurobolium, the bath of bull's blood. It is described by the Christian poet Prudentius. "A trench was dug, over which was erected a platform of planks, which were perforated with holes. Upon this platform a sacrificial bull was slaughtered. Below the platform knelt the worshipper who was to be initiated. The blood of the slaughtered bull dripped through on to the worshipper below. He exposed his head and all his garments to be saturated with blood; and then he turned round and held up his neck that the blood might trickle upon his lips, ears, eyes and nostrils; he moistened his tongue with the blood which he then drank as a sacramental act. He came out from this certain that he was renatus in aeternum, reborn for all eternity."

This may sound grim and terrible to us; but in the last analysis it is not the picture which matters but the truth behind the picture. And the great and unchanging truth is that through the life and death of Jesus Christ, there has come to the Christian that purity and victory which he could never achieve for himself.


One thing in this passage remains to be noted, and it is of the first importance. It is said of the blessed ones that "they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

Here is symbolically laid down man's part in his own salvation; the blessed ones washed their own robes. That is to say, the act of man's redemption is Christ's, but the effect is not passive and man has to appropriate it. There might be available to a man all the apparatus to cleanse his garments, but it remains ineffective until he uses it for himself.

How does a man avail himself of the sacrifice of Christ?

He does so through penitence. He must begin with sorrow for his sin and the desire for amendment. He does so through faith. He must believe with all his heart that Christ lived and died for us men and for our salvation, and that his sacrifice is mighty to save. He does so through using the means of grace. The Scriptures will awaken his penitence and his faith and kindle his heart; prayer will keep him ever close to Christ and daily increase his intimacy with him; the Sacraments will be channels through which by faith renewing grace will flow to him. He does so through daily loyalty and vigilance and living with Christ.

THE SERVICE IN THE GLORY (Revelation 7:15)

7:15 That is why they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will spread the covering of his glory over them.

Those who have been faithful will have the entry into the very presence of God. Jesus said: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

There is a very significant fact hidden here. Serving God day and night was part of the task of the Levites and the priests (1 Chronicles 9:33). Now those who are before the throne of God in this vision are, as we have already seen in Revelation 7:9, drawn from every race and tribe and people and tongue. Here is a revolution. In the earthly Temple in Jerusalem no Gentile could go beyond the Court of the Gentiles on pain of death. An Israelite could pass through the Court of the Women and enter into the Court of the Israelites, but no further. Beyond that was the Court of the Priests, which was for priests alone. But in the heavenly temple the way to the presence of God is open to people of every race. Here is a picture of heaven with the barriers down. Distinctions of race and of status exist no more; the way into the presence of God is open to every faithful soul.

There is one other half-hidden fact here. In Revelation 7:15 the King James Version has it that he who sits upon the throne shall dwell among them. That is a perfectly correct translation, but there is more in it than meets the eye. The Greek for to dwell is skenoun (Greek #4637), from skene (Greek #4633) which means a tent. It is the same word as is used when John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Jews always connected this with a certain Hebrew word which was somewhat similar in sound although quite unrelated in meaning. This was the word shechinah (compare Hebrew #7931), the visible presence of the glory of God. Usually that presence took the form of a luminous cloud. So when the Ten Commandments were given, "the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days.... And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain" (Exodus 24:16-18). It was the same with the Tabernacle. The cloud covered the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter into the Tabernacle because of the glory of the Lord. This was the cloud which guided the Israelites by day and the fire that guided them by night (Exodus 40:34-38). At the dedication of Solomon's temple the glory of the Lord filled it so that the priests could not enter (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).

Skenoun (Greek #4637) always turned the thoughts of a Jew to shechinah (compare the Hebrew verb, shakan, Hebrew #7931, to dwell): and to say that God dwelt in any place was to say that his glory was there.

This was always so for a Jew, but as time went on it became more and more so. The Jews came to think of God as increasingly remote from the world. They did not even think it right to speak of him as being in the world; that was to speak in terms which were too human; and so they took to substituting the shechinah (compare Hebrew #7931), for the name of God. We read Jacob's words at Bethel: "Surely the Lord is in this place" (Genesis 28:16); the Rabbis changed that to: "The shechinah (compare Hebrew #7931) is in this place." In Habbakuk we read: "The Lord is in his holy temple" (Habakkuk 2:20); but the later Jews said: "God was pleased to cause his shechinah (compare Hebrew #7931) to dwell in the temple." In Isaiah we read: "My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5); the later Jews altered it to: "Mine eyes have seen the shechinah (compare Hebrew #7931), of the King of the world."

No Jew would hear the word skenoun (Greek #4637) without thinking of shechinah; and the real meaning of the passage is that God's blessed ones would serve and live in the very sheen of his glory.

It can be so on earth. He who faithfully works and witnesses for God has always the glory of God upon his work.

THE BLISS OF THE BLESSED (Revelation 7:16-17)

7:16,17 They will not hunger any more, nor will they thirst any more; the sun will not fall on them, nor any heat; because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

It would be impossible to number the people who have found comfort in this passage in the house of mourning and in the hour of death.

There is spiritual promise here, the promise of the ultimate satisfying of the hunger and the thirst of the human soul. This is a promise which occurs again and again in the New Testament, and especially in the words of Jesus. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). Jesus said: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger; and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). Jesus said: "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37). God has made us for himself, as Augustine said, and our hearts are restless till they rest in him. As the hymn has it:

O Christ, in thee my soul has found,

And found in thee alone,

The peace, the joy, I sought so long,

The bliss till now unknown.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,

None other name for me!

There's love, and life, and lasting joy,

Lord Jesus, found in thee.

But it may well be that we should not entirely spiritualize this passage. In the early days many of the Church's members were slaves. They knew what it was to be hungry all the time; they knew what thirst was; they knew what it was for the pitiless sun to blaze down upon their backs as they toiled, forbidden to rest. Truly for them heaven would be a place where hunger was satisfied and thirst was quenched and the heat of the sun no longer tortured them. The promise of this passage is that in Christ is the end of the world's hunger, the world's pain, and the world's sorrow.

We do well to remember that John found the origin of this passage in the words of Isaiah: "They shall not hunger or thirst; neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them; for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will lead them" (Isaiah 49:10). This is a supreme example of an Old Testament dream finding its perfect fulfilment in Jesus Christ.

THE DIVINE SHEPHERD (Revelation 7:16-17 continued)

Here is the promise of the loving care of the Divine Shepherd for his flock.

The picture of the shepherd is something in which both the Old and New Testament delight.

"The Lord is my shepherd," begins the best loved of all the psalms (Psalms 23:1). "O Shepherd of Israel," begins another (Psalms 80:1). Isaiah pictures God feeding his flock like a shepherd, holding the lambs in his arms and carrying them in his bosom (Isaiah 40:11). The greatest title that the prophet can give to the Messianic king is shepherd of his people (Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24).

This was the title that Jesus took for himself. "I am the good shepherd," (John 10:11; John 10:14). Peter calls Jesus the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), and the writer to the Hebrews speaks of him as that great shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).

This is a precious picture in any age; but it was more meaningful in Palestine than it can ever be to those who live in cities. Judaea was like a narrow plateau with dangerous country on either side. It was only a very few miles across, with on one side the grim cliffs and ravines leading down to the Dead Sea and on the other the drop to the wild country of the Shephelah. There were no fences or walls and the shepherd had to be ever on the watch for straying sheep. George Adam Smith describes the eastern shepherd. "With us sheep are often left to themselves; I do not remember to have seen in the East a flock without a shepherd. In such a landscape as Judaea, where a day's pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced track, covered with delusive paths, still frequented by wild beasts, and rolling into the desert, the man and his character are indispensable. On some high moor, across which at night hyenas howl, when you met him sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people's history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice."

Here we have the two great functions of the Divine Shepherd. He leads to fountains of living waters. As the psalmist had it: "He leads me beside still waters" (Psalms 23:2). "With thee is the fountain of life" (Psalms 36:9). Without water the flock would perish; and in Palestine the wells were few and far between. That the Divine Shepherd leads to wells of water is the symbol that he gives us the things without which life cannot survive.

He wipes the tear from every eye. As he nourishes our bodies so he also comforts our hearts; without the presence and the comfort of God the sorrows of life would be unbearable, and without the strength of God there are times in life when we could never go on.

The Divine Shepherd gives us nourishment for our bodies and comfort for our hearts. With Jesus Christ as Shepherd nothing can happen to us which we cannot bear.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 7:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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