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Thursday, May 30th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 7

Light & Truth: Bible Thoughts and Themes on RevelationBonar on Revelation

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Verses 1-3

Pent-Up Judgment.

Revelation 7:1-3.

The scenes in the sixth chapter are scenes of judgment, ending with the great day of the wrath of the Lamb—no interval of blessedness between—no millennium before the great and dreadful day. The seventh chapter is in vision after the sixth, but not necessarily in fulfillment; for both in the Old Testament and New we find a vision running on to the Advent, and then the next coming back and going over the same period for another purpose—so that ’after these things’ refers generally to the sequence of the vision, not of the fulfillment.

The seventh chapter, then, does not take up the events at the close of the sixth. ’After these things’ refers simply to the order of vision, not of execution; that execution or fulfillment may go back over the whole events of the previous chapter. Without, however, attempting to determine this more minutely, we take the seventh chapter as describing a time (1) of pent-up judgment; (2) of sealing; (3) of ingathering.

I. Pent-up judgment.Righteousness produces judgment, and grace restrains it. Grace does not nullify or cancel judgment—it simply suspends it. The history of our earth is one of suspended judgment. In the case of every sin, righteousness calls for a sentence against it, and for the execution of that sentence. The sinner who accepts the Substitute obtains complete and immediate remission, by the transference of his guilt and sentence to the Sin-bearer. He who refuses the Substitute braves the sentence, and takes his risk of the vengeance. In his case the sentence is not immediately executed; the wrath is treasured up; the judgment is pent up; the cup is allowed to overflow. But sooner or later the vengeance comes. It may be long pent up, but it comes at last. Of this judgment, we may say that it is—

(1) SLOW.When it comes, it comes swiftly. But meanwhile it is slow of foot—not rash, nor precipitate. This slowness often deludes the sinner.

(2) SILENT.It makes no sign. The fermenting elements are noiseless. There are often no thunderclouds, but a calm, blue sky.

(3) SURE. It will not miss its mark, nor mistake its victim, nor forget its time. Its slowness and silence contribute to its certainty.

(4) TERRIBLE.The blow, when it comes, is overwhelming. The pent-up torrent, when it breaks its barrier, carries all before it. The lightning comes noiselessly—and irresistibly. So God’s vengeance is infinitely dreadful. Who can stand before it?

The pent-up judgment for the earth, or for a kingdom, is like the above. The storm gathers, but the four angels hold it in, until it can be restrained no longer. Frequently it tries to break out, but is restrained by the ’four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth.’ We hear of wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes in different places. These are the judgments breaking through their barriers, and then forced back again. The storm is pent up. It gets a little vent, as if one of the four angels had for a moment lost his hold; and then it is restrained, for the time is not yet come. We are living in a day of pent-up judgment—the fire ready to descend, the storm ready to burst forth. How solemn to all! How startling to the sinner! How rousing to the saint! The end of all things is at hand—be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.

II. The sealing.In the chapter before us it is a Jewish multitude that is specially named as sealed; but as in verse third it is the ’servants of God’ that are said to be sealed, we may infer that by that expression both Gentile and Jew are meant. The sealing seems (as in Ezekiel 4) to intimate exemption from the earthly judgments of a particular time. I do not dwell on this further than to point out God’s care for His own in days of trouble—as in Noah’s days, in Lot’s days, in Ezekiel’s days, in the time of Jerusalem’s great siege. I would remind you of the 91st Psalm also, which is specially written for evil days. It is true that in general the good as well as the evil suffer in times of pestilence, or war, or trial; but still it will be found that there is oftentimes alleviation (sometimes an exemption) of the believers from the evils of the evil day.

In all cases and times, God’s care for His own is abundantly manifest. He covers them with His feathers, and under His wings He bids them hide. He is their shield and shield. As He protected Israel in the day of the slaughter of Egypt’s first-born, so does He still. In that day the blood was His seal set on Israel; and other such seals He has for every evil day. He sends His angels to seal His servants, that the evil may not come near them. Why are you so fearful, O you of little faith? Trust in the Lord forever. Sealed and safe! Is not this blessedness—whatever may be coming on the earth?

III. The ingathering.It is not simply for temporal protection that God stays His judgments—but for salvation. A time of pent-up judgment is a time of ’ingathering’. A time of judgment may also be so—but a time of ’suspended judgment’ still more so. For at such a time God is in earnest—in earnest in His grace, in earnest in His righteousness. He is not slumbering nor sleeping. He is urging us to repent, saying, O that they would hearken to my commandments! Turn! Turn! Why will you die? He is yearning over us with his ’How shall I give you up?’ He is weeping over us with His ’O that you had known!’ His patience is salvation—and His patience is eternal life. He pities to the last. Fury is not in Him. Judgment is his ’strange’ work.

As such a time the gospel comes with peculiar power. When we tell men that they are living under a fiery cloud of ’suspended wrath’; when we cry aloud to them of coming doom and ’stored-up vengeance’—we are approaching them with the strongest motive of fear. And when we tell them of infinite love, of divine long-suffering, of the patience and forbearance of that God who wills not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, we approach them with the strongest argument that can win a human heart. We entreat them to flee from the wrath to come. We point them to the cross, and ask them to look and be healed. We beseech them, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God; for now is the accepted time—the day of vengeance is at hand!

Verses 9-10

The Great Multitude.

Revelation 7:9-10.

The vision of pent-up judgment begins this chapter—then the sealing and the ingathering. Our text is the result of the ingathering, as seen in heaven. The process of taking out this people, this election, from Jew and Gentile, may be almost invisible, attended also with labor, and grief, and persecution; but the result is glorious—visible in heaven! The sower has been doing his work in weeping, but the sheaves are plenteous, and the harvest one of everlasting joy. Let us look at this heavenly vision.

I. The NUMBERS.’A great multitude which no man could number.’ The 3,000 at Pentecost were a large number, but this is greater. The hundreds and thousands, both in Judea and throughout the Gentile world, at Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and other places, were specimens of the great ingathering—but here we have the aggregate, the summing up of all. Like Israel, they cannot be numbered for multitude. They are like the stars of heaven, or the sand which is by the sea-shore. The ’little flock’ shall have multiplied into the innumerable company—and the few drops shall become the mighty ocean. What a difference between the then, and the now!

II. The NATIONALITIES.This is not the harvest of Israel, but of the world. The word has gone out from Jerusalem into all the earth. All nations hear the gospel, and some out of each of them obey it, and turn to the Lord. Every people furnishes its quota to this great assembly; every tribe has its representatives here; every region, every color, every language, every kingdom, every people, every age and century. It is the general assembly and Church of the First-born. How various the company in face, in speech, in manners, in dress, in habitation! Here all nationalities meet in one great heavenly nationality—without jealousy or distrust—all one in Him who redeemed them by His blood! Now it is seen that God has made of one blood all nations of the earth, and that under the shadow of the one great Sacrifice all these find shelter—sinners, yet pardoned—lost, but saved—vile, but washed white in the blood of the Lamb!

III. The POSTURE.’Standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.’ ’He who sits on the throne’ and ’the Lamb’ are distinguished the one from the other. This mighty multitude stands before both. They ’stand.’ It is the posture of triumph and honor; ’having done all, they stand’ (Ephesians 6:13). Not bowed down, nor kneeling, nor prostrate—the erect posture indicates the high position to which they have been brought; and especially is this honor apparent when we see them standing ’before the throne, and before the Lamb;’ in the very presence of the eternal King! To stand before the throne is, next to sitting on it, the highest elevation. Both the sitting and the standing are connected with glory; and it would seem as if these ’redeemed’ ones sometimes occupied the throne, and sometimes stood before it. Their shame and distance are at an end—glory and nearness are now their portion forever. They stand before the King, and not before base men.

IV. The CLOTHING.They are ’clothed with white robes.’ Christ’s transfiguration-clothing was white, shining as the sun—so is theirs! They are like Him in this, as in all else. Their old earthly garments are gone; they have received the glorious clothing which assimilates them outwardly (as they are already inwardly) to their Lord. ’My beloved is white and ruddy’ (Song of Solomon 5:10).

(1) It is the clothing of heaven.Not only is it Christ’s robe, but it is that of angels. When they come down to earth, they appear in white, shining garments (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Acts 1:12); even the seven angels of vengeance are clothed in ’pure and white linen’ (Revelation 15:6). When Christ appears to John, His ’head and hair are white like wool, as white as snow’ (Revelation 1:14). The ’stone’ is white (Revelation 2:17); the horses are white (Revelation 19:14); the cloud is white (Revelation 14:14); the throne is white (Revelation 20:2). Whiteness,as the combination of all that is beautiful and perfect in color, is the hue of heaven, and with this the redeemed are invested—’clothed with white robes.’

(2) It is the clothing of purityand perfection.It is the fitting clothing of those who are ’blameless’ (Philippians 2:15); ’faultless’ (Judges 1:24); ’unblameable and unreproveable’ (Colossians 1:22); ’without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing’ (Ephesians 5:27). No other hue could express the perfect purity of the redeemed. The false Church—the ’mother of harlots,’ has her scarlet, and purple, and gold, and gems (Revelation 17:4). But the true and pure Church has her ’fine linen, clean and white’ (Revelation 19:8, Revelation 19:14). ’There is no spot in you!’ (Song of Solomon 4:7).

(3) It is the clothing of triumph.It is given to him who overcomes (Revelation 3:5). Purple might be the robe of the Roman victor, but Christ’s victorious warriors are arrayed in white (Revelation 19:14)—as their Captain goes forth on the white horse, ’conquering and to conquer’ (Revelation 6:2).

(4) It is the bridal dress.’White’ is the invariable color used both by the bride and the bridesmaids. So we find it at the marriage of the Lamb. The clothing of the bride is white—at her marriage she wears the robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Her dress is connected with the cross. She knows what it is to be ’justified by His blood’ (Romans 5:9).

(5) It is the festal dress.At the marriage-supper this is the clothing provided—the bride sits down at the table in the King’s pavilion ’arrayed in fine linen, clean and white’ (Revelation 19:8). How glad that marriage-day and marriage-feast! How glorious the Bridegroom and the bride!

V. The BADGE.They had ’palms in their hands.’ The palm is the symbol of gladness and of victory. Here it is specially used in reference to the feast of tabernacles, the gladdest of all Israel’s festivals (Leviticus 23:40). The true feast of the tabernacles, the memorial of our desert sojourn and earthly pilgrimage ended forever, the believers shall celebrate in the New Jerusalem. Their heavenly palms carried in their glorified hands shall have a meaning then and there unknown before. The days of their mourning shall be ended—their everlasting joy begun!

VI. The SHOUT.They ’cry with a loud voice—Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ It is not a song they sing; no measured melody. No harp, nor flute, nor dulcimer are here. It is the irresponsible shout rising and bursting forth from rescued men, from conquerors on a hard-fought field, that have as yet no time to throw their feelings into elaborate song or harmony. What a thrilling shout! ’Salvation!’ We are saved at last! We are landed on the shore at last! We are in the New Jerusalem, and before the throne at last! Who would not desire to be there, to join in that ’cry’ that ’loud voice,’ that multitudinous shout, that shall fill both earth and heaven! In that day, shall we not be ’satisfied’ (Psalms 17:15); no, more than satisfied?

Verse 13

The Earthly and the Heavenly.

Revelation 7:13.

1 John 3:2.

1 Corinthians 15:49.

’These in white robes—who are they?’ They are sons of Adam. ’Where did they come from?’ From the horrible pit and the miry clay. ’We shall be like Him.’ When? Not just yet, but when He shall appear; then He shall change our vile body, that it may be like His own glorious body.

’We shall be like Him.’ In what?In all things in which it is possible for the created to be like Jesus. Even now are we the sons of God, but then shall we really be, in all respects, soul and body, what we are now only by title.

’We shall be like Him.’ Who?Those who are His! Those who have received this crucified and risen Christ as their Lord and God. He who believes on Him now, shall wear His likeness when He appears.

’We shall be like Him.’ How long?Forever! No losing of that likeness in the process of the ages. No feature nor line of a feature becoming effaced—but ever deepening and deepening—likeness to Jesus becoming greater—perfection becoming more perfect—throughout eternity.

’Resurrection’ is presented to us as the consummation of our hope; and yet there is blessedness even before it comes. Not until then is the likeness complete; but there are white robes before. Resurrection perfects the transformation of the earthly into the heavenly—but we read of ’the spirits of the just made perfect.’

In a dying world like ours, it soothes and cheers to think of resurrection. Yes, resurrection! How bright the thought and dear the word! But what is that to be to us? For there are two resurrections. Is ours to be the resurrection of the just—the resurrection unto life? The two lasts of these three passages speak of the latter; for they refer to those who belong to the risen Head. They are the ’we’ to whom he refers—they whom the Son of man came to save, died to quicken, lives to glorify. The white robes are theirs, and likeness to their Lord is theirs.

I. We have borne the image of the earthly man.This image or likeness is something which we ’bear’ or carry about with us. It is not a casual or occasional thing, but something cleaving to us; inherent in us—evil, carnal, low, unholy. What then is this image of the earthly man? It is something pertaining to spirit, soul, and body—it is of the earth, earthly.

(1) It is human.We are flesh and blood as he was; born of the flesh; as thoroughly human as was our first father—for that which is born of the flesh is flesh.

(2) It is sinful.The image is not that of uprightness and perfection—but of his sinfulness. Sin pervades us, actuates, us, fills us.

(3) It is mortal.Death reigns in us, as well as over us. Mortality was Adam’s lot—it is ours. Dust we are, and unto dust we return. Corruption, disease, pain, decay, imperfection of every kind—make up the sad image.

This was our lot by birth; it is still in part our lot, though we have been born again. Sad lot! Sad image! Do we not shudder at it? Do we not shrink from ourselves? We are earthly, not heavenly! We are like him who is earthly—no, we are his sons! We bear his image on us, all over!

II. We shall bear the image of the Man from heaven.The ’as’ declares (1) the certainty, (2) the completeness of the resemblance. As certainly and as completely as we have borne the one image, we shall bear the other. The ’Man from heaven’ is of course the last Adam, the Lord from heaven, who was made a quickening Spirit for us. ’We shall be like Him’ hereafter. We begin to be like Him now, as soon as we are begotten again. The outline of His image is traced upon us at conversion; our life is to be the filling up of this; the consummation is when He comes again, to raise and glorify us.

Two processes go on—

1. The erasing all the lines of the first Adam’s portrait in us—the effacing of our former selves.

2. The becoming more and more unlike the earthly man—and more and more like the heavenly Man. Line by line, feature by feature, the latter takes its place. Intermixed they often are—the one contending for mastery with the other, like dissolving views—but in the end the heavenly predominates and prevails; the carnal and grosser elements are struck out or chiseled away, and nothing remains but what is spiritual and celestial. This image, after which we are modeled, is—

(1) Divine.We were created ’in the image of God’—and the new creation restores this lost image—no, adds to it, intensifies it, establishes it forever. We are made partakers of the divine nature; and thus we take on the image of the heavenly Man. We are ’born of the Spirit;’ ’born from above;’ made sons of God; heirs of God; conformed to the image of His Son—we are in Christ, and He in us. All that can be communicated of the divine and the celestial, belongs to our regenerated nature. We are raised to a higher level; and while not less truly human, we are yet more identified with the divine.

(2) Holy.We take on unholiness at our first conception—’Behold, we were shaped in iniquity.’ We begin to part with this, and to take on the holiness, at our being begotten again; for ’of His own will begat He us.’ We are ’born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible.’ Sin, like the troops of a conquered city, begins to evacuate our conquered being; and holiness, like the troops of the victorious army, enters in to fill up all the room. Sin, all sin, of every form and name, is cast out—holiness, all holiness, of every name and form, in word and deed, takes its place in us. It is after the image of the Holy One that we are modeled.

(3) Immortal.The heavenly Adam is immortal. He died once, but He dies no more—and His immortality is for us. By it we are made immortal—not, indeed, now or here—but in the ages to come, when death is swallowed up in victory. He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like His glorious body. When we awake, we shall be satisfied with His likeness. Resurrection will complete the conformity to the image of the heavenly. Perfection of body as well as soul! No suffering and no sinning!

Is not this hope glorious? Does it not (1) stimulate, (2) sanctify, (3) comfort? Should it not quicken prayer and watchfulness? Such a prospect should not be idle or vain!

In connection with all this, let me notice the apostle’s words in another place—’When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away’ (1 Corinthians 13:10)—where we have the imperfect present, contrasted with the perfect future.

We love to contrast things. We cannot help doing it—the past and the present, the present and the future, yesterday and today, winter and summer, old-age and youth, last year and this. Sometimes the contrast is between evil and good, or of death and life. Sometimes it is between the perfect and imperfect, as when we speak of the increase of knowledge. Sometimes it is between the part and the whole, as when we compare the seed and the tree, infancy and old-age, the progress of a year, and the progress of a thousand years. These contrasts are profitable. They reprove, or they quicken, or they comfort.

The apostle’s object here is to quicken and to comfort. His comparison or contrast is between the present and the future, and this in one special aspect. The present is the imperfect—the future is the perfect; the present the fragmentary—the future the complete. It is not a comparison between the sin of the one and the holiness of the other; between the sorrow of the one and the joy of the other. It is the comparison between the part and the whole; between infancy and manhood; between the blossom and the fruit; between the small fountain and the mighty lake into which its waters expand.

It is of divine revelation, or of our knowledge of it, that the apostle is speaking; and he contrasts the imperfection of our knowledge here, with the perfection of our knowledge hereafter. ’We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be down away.’

All that we have here are but fragments; perfect in their way and measure—but still fragments. The Bible is but a fragment—perfect in its different parts, perfect in truth and language, but still a fragment; and if the fragment be so glorious, what will the whole be? It is like photographs or pictures of the different parts of Palestine; each is faithful, but still it is only a part. You have Bethany, or Bethel, or Shiloh, or Nazareth; but these are not the land itself. It is like chips from the temple-wall; true pieces of the very temple; yet mere fragments; not the mighty temple itself.

John says that he gave but a few of the events of his Master’s life, telling us that the world could not contain the books that would be written, if the whole story were told. So is it with revelation in general. All we get here is but a drop; a little light, a little truth, a little knowledge; but we wait for more. And how excellent will that coming fullness be, if the fragments which we have at present be so divinely excellent! O how eagerly should we press forward to this glorious perfection!

I. There is perfection—Blessed thought! Perfection in—wisdom, light, holiness, love, and glory! Men speak of the ideal, as if perfection were only to be found there; but the perfection announced by the apostle is real. It is perfect reality, and it is real perfection. We only get glimpses of it now—but it exists. We see so much evil here, and this is such a broken world, that we sometimes ask—Is perfection possible? It is possible! It is; it shall be—as truly as there is perfection in and with God, so surely is there perfection for us—perfection for heaven and earth—perfection for the universe.

2. It will come in due time—God does not mean to keep it for Himself—nor to withhold it from us. He means to give it—fully, truly, everlastingly. That which is perfect shall come! It may not come immediately, or at once, but in due time it shall. This is God’s assurance. Each revolving sun brings it nearer. Nothing shall be able to hinder its arrival and revelation.

3. That which is ’in part’ shall be done away—The partial, the fractional, the fragmentary, is a necessary part of the present. But it shall cease, and all shall be complete, full-summed, and perfect—in the glorious future. Nothing of the imperfect shall be carried into the world to come. No vile body there, but the incorruptible, the immortal, the glorified. No dim eye, or dull ear, or falling hands, or feeble knees, or fainting limbs. No ignorance, nor unbelief, nor unteachableness, nor weariness of spirit, nor slowness of comprehension. No haltings, nor stumblings, nor uncertainties, nor doubtings. All that is ’in part’ shall be done away. No half-light, nor half-love, nor half-knowledge, nor half-faith, nor half-desires. All that is ’in part’ shall be done away.

All that we know here we know imperfectly; then shall we know as we are known. Truth we know but in part. Christ we know but in part. His person, His work, His blood, His kingdom, we know but in part. All the things of God, both the natural and the spiritual, we know but in part. But all this is to end. These parts shall become wholes. These beams shall become suns. These drops shall become seas. These fragments of scattered blue in our cloudy sky shall become a glorious sky. That which is in part shall be done away. No more dimness, or cloud, or vagueness, or guessing, or groping. All shall be fullness, and perfection, and glory forever!

What blessedness is in this prospect! How it cheers! How it makes us content with weakness and imperfection for a time! How it quickens us to press forward to the perfect and the glorious!

What misery to miss all this—to come short of such perfection; no, to lie down in darkness and sorrow! To have sin, and imperfection, and uncertainty, and weariness, and misery, for our eternal portion!

Bibliographical Information
Bonar, Horatius. "Commentary on Revelation 7". "Light & Truth: Bible Thoughts and Themes on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bch/revelation-7.html.
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