Attention! has pledged to build one church a year in Uganda. Help us double that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 7

Verses 1-99


The two Visions in this Chapter, 1 8, 9 17, each introduced by the same phrase “After this” extend the opening of the Sixth Seal very considerably beyond that of the others; but are really episodical.

The Vision of the Four Angels of the Four Winds. Chap. 7 vv. 1 3

1. four angels ] Presumably the Angels of the four winds, as we have other elemental Angels in 14:18, 16:5. Cf. Psalms 104:4 , of which the probable sense is, “Who maketh His Angels winds,” i.e. sends them into the air to cause the wind to blow, so that the wind is the manifestation of their presence.

on the four corners of the earth ] 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 ends of the earth. 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. 3, “I also beheld the four winds which bear up the earth and the firmament of heaven.” But St John does not, like Pseudo-Enoch, put forward his imagery as absolute physical truth.

that the wind should not blow ] 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.

2. ascending ] 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. 8, “I saw, from the end of the earth, the firmament of the heaven which rests upon it.” 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.

having the seal ] 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. marks 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.

to hurt the earth , &c.] viz., by letting the winds forth, to blow and produce storms.

3. till we have sealed ] 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 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.): 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, perhaps that the name was already applied, as in later times, to the rite which we call confirmation.

The Sealing of the 144,000, vv. 4 8

4. an hundred and forty and four thousand ] 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.

of all the tribes of the children of Israel ] 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. Others however understand these 144,000, and the innumerable multitude of v. 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 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 these 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.

5 8. Were sealed is not genuine except in the first and last clauses: and even then it is strictly a participle, not a verb: read “ of the tribe of Judah, 12,000 sealed, of the tribe of Reuben, 12,000, of the tribe of Gad, 12,000, &c.… of the tribe of Benjamin 12,000 sealed .” 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. 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 33:0 . 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 18:0 ); 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 21:12, 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. It is worth noticing that in v. 7 there is some authority for the reading Isaschar the name is always so spelt in the O. T., though traditionally pronounced as in the A. V.

The Praise of the Great Multitude of the Redeemed, vv. 9 17

9. of all nations, and kindreds , &c.] Lit. out of every nation, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues .

white robes ] Cf. 3:5, 6:11.

palms ] 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 . 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.

10. Salvation to our God ] The word “salvation” has the article, according to Hebrew usage, as, e.g. Psalms 3:8 [Hebrews 9:0 ], where the article may denote either “the promised salvation” or the salvation in all its fulness including victory . We must remember that “salvation” is in the Bible a positive conception net 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 righet to God.

12. Blessing, and glory &c.] The seven words of praise have each the article: see on ch. 5:13.

13. one of the elders ] See on 5:5. We have similarly “one (no matter which) of the seven Angels” in 17:1, 21:9.

14. Sir ] Read, My lord : cf. Daniel 10:16 , Daniel 10:17 ; Zechariah 4:5 , Zechariah 4:13 . In the latter place we have, as here, the heavenly interlocutor apparently assuming that the Seer ought to understand the vision without explanation.

thou knowest ] Cf. Ezekiel 37:3 .

which came ] More accurately, which come .

great tribulation ] Should be, the great tribulation : the article is strongly emphasised. It probably means, “ the great tribulation foretold by the Lord,” St Matt. 24:21: cf. Daniel 12:1 . For a similar use of the art. cf. ch. 1:7, “ the clouds.”

made them white in the blood ] A paradox something like that of 6:16 fin. For the image, cf. perhaps 1:5 (but see note there); certainly 22:14 (true text), and probably St John Ep. I. 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.

15. before the throne ] 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 .

serve Him ] Cf. 22:3. 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.

shall dwell among them ] Rather, as R. V., shall spread his tabernacle over them : in 21:3 the verb is the same, but there the preposition “with” is right. 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, 1:14. The Greek word for “tabernacle,” scênê , was the more readily used in this sense because of its assonance with the late Hebrew word Shěchînêh 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.

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 10:0 , but we ought to remember Psalms 23:0 as well, and its many O. T. imitations, including Is. l.c., in all of which the Shepherd is the Lord God of Israel), and the men are His flock cf. Ezekiel 34:31 , 36:37, 38.

that is in the midst of the throne ] See on 5:6.

living fountains of waters ] Lit., fountains of waters of life , cf. 22:1: but the A. V. is right, in keeping the order of the words rather than the construction.

God shall wipe &c.] From Isaiah 25:8 .

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 7". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.