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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Revelation 7

Verse 1

Revelation 7:1 . As on the synoptic scheme (Matthew 25:31 ), physical convulsions and human terrors are followed by a pause during which the saints are secured. It is impossible and irrelevant to determine whether the winds’ blast and the sealing were already conjoined in the fragment or oral traditions which lay before this editor, or whether their combination is due to himself. They reflect the tradition underlying the synoptic apocalypse (Mark 13:24-27 , etc., cf. Revelation 6:12 to Revelation 7:3 ), but here the safeguarding of the elect comes before, instead of alter, the advent, and the four winds are agents of destruction instead of mere geographical points; besides, the role of messiah is omitted altogether. It is assumed not merely that these angels are the spirits of the four winds (Zechariah 6:5 , and repeatedly in Enoch, e.g. , lxix. 22, “the spirits of the waters and of the winds and of all zephyrs”), but that some onset of the winds is imminent (Revelation 7:2 , cf. En. xviii. 22), as part of the horrors of the last catastrophe (for punitive winds, see Sir 39:28 ). Stray hints proving the existence of such a tradition ( cf. Daniel 7:2 ) have been collected ( cf S. C. 323 f.; A.C. 246, 247) e.g. , from Sibyll. viii. 203 f., etc., where a hurricane is to sweep the earth previous to the resurrection of the dead (trees being here singled out as most exposed to a storm’s ravages). If such allusions are not mere echoes of the present passage, they would appear to indicate a runlet of eschatological tradition flowing behind more important ideas. Or are the saints like trees of God (Ps. Sol. 14:2, 3) never to be uprooted by a wind or onset of foes ( ibid. viii. 6)? It is no longer possible to be sure. In En. Revelation 18:1 f. by a semi-Babylonian touch, the four winds are identified with the four pillars of the heaven and the foundations of the earth; in Apoc. Bar. vi. 4, 5, four angels with lamps are restrained by another angel from lighting them ( cf. also E. Bi. 5303). There seems to be no allusion to the notion of a blast (from the sea) as a form of mortal fate ( e.g. , Oed. Col. 1659, 1660; Iliad , vi. 345 f.); on the contrary, the idea goes back to Zechariah 6:8 (LXX), whence the prophet had already developed Revelation 6:1-8 . As Revelation 14:1 f. roughly answers to Revelation 7:9 f., so the appearance of wild beasts out of the agitated sea of the nations (in Daniel 7:1-8 ) corresponds to the sequence of Revelation 7:1-4 ; Revelation 13:1 f.

The earth is a rectangular plane or disc on which John looks down from heaven’s dome resting on it, to observe (Revelation 7:2 ) a fifth angel “ascending” from the sun-rising (the east as the source of light, cf. on Revelation 16:20 , the site of paradise, the sphere of divine activity?). ζῶντος , here (as in Revelation 15:7 ; cf. Hebrews 10:31 ) in O.T. sense ( cf Deuteronomy 32:39 f.; Ezekiel 20:33 ; Jeremiah 10:10 , etc.) of vitality to succour and to punish, God’s “life” being manifested in his effective preservation of the saints and chastisement of their enemies or of the world in general. He lives and keeps alive. Here, as in the parent passage, Ezekiel 9:4-6 ( cf. Exodus 12:13 f. and the “Egyptian” character of the plagues in chap, 8.), the true δοῦλοι of God are distinguished by a mark denoting God’s ownership. Before the crisis good and evil must be discriminated (Spitta, 80 f.). Cf. Ps. Sol. 15:6 f. on the immunity of the righteous, ὅτι τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ δικαίους εἰς σωτηρίαν , λιμὸς καὶ ῥομφαία καὶ θάνατος μακρὰν ἀπὸ δικαίων : where as these plagues hunt down the wicked, τὸ γὰρ σημεῖον τῆς ἀπωλείας ἐπὶ τοῦ μετώπου αὐτῶν . This royal, sacred sign, which in Ezekiel is the cross or Tau as the symbol of life and is here probably ליהוה authenticates the bearers as God’s property ( cf. Herod, ii. 113, vii. 233) and places them beyond risk of loss. It identifies them with his worship and also ( cf. on Revelation 2:17 ) serves to protect them as an amulet against harm (see Deissm. 351, 352 on φυλακτήρια as protective marks and amulets). In Test. Sol. (tr. Conybeare, Jew. Quart. Rev. 1898, p. 34) an evil spirit declares he will be destroyed by the Saviour “whose number ( στοιχεῖον ), if anyone shall write it on his forehead, he will defeat me”. Mr. Doughty also describes ( Ar. Des. i. 171) a false Christ in Syria who declared he had God’s name sculptured between his eyebrows; i.e. the wrinkles resembled the Arabic hieroglyph for Allah. For the religious significance of such tattooing as a mark of divine ownership see R. S. 316; and, for the connection of Revelation 6:12 f. and Revelation 7:1 f., the basal passage in Daniel 11:40 ; Daniel 11:44 ; Daniel 12:1 . The parallel device of Antichrist later on (Revelation 13:16 , etc.) shows that this sealing is something special, baptism or the possession of the Spirit (as in Paul) is the guarantee of destined bliss. A contemporary expression of the idea occurs in Clem. Rom. lix., lx.: “We will ask that the Creator of all things preserve intact to the end the appointed number of his elect throughout all the world, etc”. As Revelation 6:1-8 ; Revelation 6:12 f. are free reproductions, with a special application, of the ideas underlying Mark 13:7-8 ; Mark 13:24-25 , so Revelation 7:1 f. is an imaginative sketch on the lines of Mark 13:27 . The Apocalypse, however, has no room for the false messiahs of Mark 13:6 ; Mark 13:22 , etc. ( cf. on Revelation 13:11 f.) as a peril. See further 4 Ezra 6:5 , “Ere they were sealed who laid up the treasure of faith,” and Melito (Otto ix. 432, 476) the apologist, who preserves a dual tradition of the end, including wind as well as fire = et selecti homines occisi sunt aquilone uehementi, et relicti sunt iusti ad demonstrationem ueritatis, (whilst at the deluge of fire) seruati sunt iusti in area lignea iussu dei. But the Apocalypse like Philo, stands severely apart from the current Stoic notion, adopted in Sib. iv. 172 f.; 2 Peter, etc., of a destruction of the world by means of a final conflagration.

Verse 4

Revelation 7:4 . After a pause, in which the sealing is supposed to have taken place, the writer hears that the number of the sealed is the stereotyped 144,000, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (a “thousand” being the primitive subdivision of a clan or tribe, like the English shire into “hundreds”). The enumeration of these tribes (Revelation 7:5-8 ) contains two peculiarities, ( a ) the substitution of Joseph for Ephraim, a variation to which we have no clue, and ( b ) the omission of Dan. The latter reflects the growing disrepute into which Dan fell; it either stands last ( e.g. in [912] .; Joshua 19:40 f.; Judges 1:34 ) or drops out entirely, while it is curiously connected in the Talmud as already in Test. XII. Patr. (Daniel 5:0 )’ with Beliar, and in Irenæus (5:30, 32) as in Hippolytus ( de Antichr . 5, 6) with the origin of Antichrist. This sinister reputation ( cf. A.C. 171 174, Selwyn 200 204, Erbes 77 f.), current long before Irenæus’ day, rested on the haggadic interpretation of passages like Genesis 49:17 ; Deuteronomy 33:22 ; and Jeremiah 8:16 . Andreas, commenting on Revelation 16:12 , thinks that Antichrist will probably come from Persia, ἔνθαφυλὴ τοῦ Δάν .

[912] Codex Porphyrianus (sæc. ix.), at St. Petersburg, collated by Tischendorf. Its text is deficient for chap. Revelation 2:13-16 .

Verse 9

Revelation 7:9 . ἔθν . κ . φ . curious and irregular change from singular to plural. ἑστῶτες = erect, confident, triumphant. For the white robes, see on Revelation 6:2 (the number of the martyrs being now completed). Certain religious processions in Asia Minor consisted of boys robed in white and bearing crowns of leafy boughs (Deissm. 368 f.); and in some Asiatic inscriptions νίκη is associated with the palm branch, which in one case is placed alongside of the meta or goal ( C. B. P. ii. 496). The carrying of palm-branches was a sign of festal joy in the Greek and Roman (= victory at the games Liv. x. 47, Verg. Aen. ver 109), as well as in the Jewish world ( 1Ma 13:51 ; 2Ma 10:7 ), accompanied by the wearing of wreaths of green leaves. For the robes, see Liv. xxiv. 10: “Hadriae aram in coelo, speciesque hominum circum earn cum candida ueste visas esse”. Here = “scilicet de antichristo triumphales” (Tertullian). For the numberless multitude, see Enoch xxxix. 6, where “the righteous and the elect shall be for ever and ever without number before” the messiah, in the mansions of bliss; white raiment and crowns of palm in Herm. Sim. viii. 2 4.

Verse 10

Revelation 7:10 . “Salvation” (or, if ἡ be pressed, the salvation we enjoy) be ascribed “to our God and to the Lamb”. The subordinate nature of the seven spirits (Revelation 1:4 , Revelation 4:5 ) is shown by the fact that no praise is offered to them throughout the Apocalypse, although in Iranian theology (Bund. xxx. 23): “all men become of one voice and praise aloud Aûharmazd and the archangels in the renovated universe”.

Verses 11-12

Revelation 7:11-12 . The angels standing around once again adore God, catching up the previous praise with “Amen,” and uttering a sevenfold ascription of praise upon their own behalf, closed with another “Amen”. The article is repeated before each substitute, as in Revelation 5:13 . The divine “wisdom” is shown in the means devised by the divine power to redeem (Revelation 5:12 ) and deliver (Revelation 7:14 ) men, in straits where no human prudence could prevail. See Clem. Rom. 60. and Ps. Sol. 17:25.

Verse 13

Revelation 7:13 . “And one of the elders addressed me, saying”; for similar openings of a dialogue, see Jeremiah 1:11 , Zechariah 4:2 . Perhaps, like Dante ( Parad. iv. 10 12), John although silent showed desire painted on his face. The form of inquiry resembles Homer’s τίς πόθεν εἶς ἀνδρῶν ; πόθι τοι πόλις or Vergil’s qui genus? unde domo?, more closely still the similar sentences which recur in Hermas. See throughout, Zechariah 4:1 ; Zechariah 4:6 , and Asc. Isa. ix. 25, 26 (and I said to the angel “For whom are these robes and thrones and crowns reserved?” And he said to me: “They shall be missed by many who believe the words of him of whom I told thee [ i.e. , Antichrist]”; also 11:40, uos autem uigilate in sancto spiritu ut recipiatis stolam uestram et thronos et coronas gloriae in caelo iacentes). It is the origin and character, not the number, of the company which interests the prophet.

Verse 14

Revelation 7:14 . κύριέ μου (“Sir”) the respectful address of an inferior to his superior in age or station, the πρεσβύτεροι being conceived as angelic beings (as in Daniel 10:17 ; Daniel 10:19 ; Daniel 10:4 Ezra 4:3 , etc.) “Thou knowest” (and I fain would know also). The great distress is plainly the period of persecution and martyrdom (Revelation 6:11 ) predicted ( e.g. , Matthew 24:21 , from Daniel 12:1 ) to herald the final catastrophe. It is still expected by Hermas ( Vis. ii. 2. 7, iv. 2. 5, 3. 6); but he less religiously attributes the white garments ( i.e. , purity of soul) to the virtues. As the crisis with its outcome ol faith and loyalty in all nations (Revelation 7:9 ) is to be world-wide, this passage seems to imply, altnougn in a characteristically vague and incidental fashion ( cf. Revelation 5:9 , Revelation 14:6 , etc.), the idea of Mark 8:10 . But the situation of the Apocalypse is so acute, that mission operations are at a standstill. Instead of the gospel invading and pervading the pagan world, the latter has closed in upon the churches with threatening power, and in the brief interval before the end practically nothing can be looked for except the preservation of the faithful. Those who come out of the great distress” are further described as having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; which portrays their character and conduct and at the same time explains the secret of their triumphant endurance. “Mehr gedacht als geschaut ist das Bild” (J. Weiss). The great thing is not to emerge from trial, but to emerge from it with unstained faith and conscience. And this is possible, not to man’s unaided efforts, but to the sacrificial power of Christ, the experience of which forms the last line of defence in the struggle. The confessors and martyrs owed their moral purity to what they obtained through the sacrifice of Jesus. But moral purity became in this case something more intense (as the context and the emphatic language of this verse imply) than the normal Christian experience of forgiveness and holiness. By a turn of thought which is developed later by Ignatius and Tertullian ( Scorp. xii. sordes quidem baptismate abluuntur, maculae uero martyrio candidantur), it is suggested that in their martyrdom ( cf. Daniel 12:10 ) these saints were able to make the redeeming power of Jesus peculiarly their own; the nature of their cruel sufferings identified them especially with their Lord. It is noticeable that the mystic union of the individual Christian with Christ mainly comes forward ward in the Apocalypse ( cf. Revelation 14:13 ) when the martyrs and confessors are mentioned, as if the writer held that such an experience alone could yield the deepest consciousness of communion with One who was conceived essentially as a Lamb who had been slain, a faithful witness , etc. ( cf. Titius, 216, 217). On the high respect for martyrs, of which this forms an early trace, see Weinel, 142 144. At the same time it is to the blood of the Lamb , not to their own blood, that they owe their bliss and triumph; redemption, not martyrdom, is the essential basis of their deliverance. People might be redeemed without becoming martyrs; as, for example, either recreant Christians or those who happened to die a natural death. But no one could be a martyr without having the strength of redemption behind him.

Verse 15

Revelation 7:15 . Ritual as well as pastoral traits from the O.T. fill out the conception of this final bliss with its favoured position ( ἐνώπ . θρόν .). Note the singular tenderness of the oxymoron he that sitteth on the throne (the majestic almighty God) shall overshadow them with a presence of brooding, intimate, care; followed by ποιμανεῖ here (as opposed to Revelation 2:27 ) in its literal sense of tender shepherding on the part of Jesus. The messiah as shepherd was an ancient and familiar conception. This verse is partly adapted from Enoch 45:4 6. Unlike John 1:14 , it reflects a Christian fulfilment of the Jewish anticipation ( cf. Revelation 13:6 , Revelation 21:3 ; Zechariah 2:10 f.; Sir 24:8 f.) that the Shekinah would return in the era of final bliss.

Verse 16

Revelation 7:16 . οὐ μή with both fut. indicative and subjunctive (= Revelation 2:11 ), in emphatic assertions. For the absence of scorching as a trait of the Hellenic Utopia, cf. Dieterich, 31 33. If καῦμα corresponds here to the sense of the Isaianic equivalent καύσων , the reference is to the scorching sirocco. So the Egyptian dead yearned for a cooling breeze in the next world “Let me be placed by the edge of the water with my face to the north, that the breeze may caress me, and my heart be refreshed from its sorrows” (see Maspero, Dawn of Civil , p. 113).

Verse 17

Revelation 7:17 . ζωῆς goes with ὑδάτων (“living waters”) though prefixed for emphasis, like σαρκὸς in 1 Peter 3:21 ( cf. Revelation 16:3 πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς ); a favourite Johannine idea. In Enoch xlii, xlviii, the fountains contain wisdom which is drunk by all the thirsty, though in the centre there is also “a fountain of righteousness which was inexhaustible”; elsewhere in the division of Sheol assigned to the spirits of the righteous there is “a bright spring of the water of life” (Revelation 22:9 ) in accordance with the Pythagorean belief that the dead suffered from thirst in the underworld (Luke 16:24 , cf. Dieterich, 97 f.). In the familiar vignette of ancient Egyptian eschatology, the deceased kneels before Osiris who pours out to him the water of life (the motto being that the soul may live ); cf. Renouf’s “Hibb. Lect.,” p. 141, and for “living” waters as divine, R. S. 127. In the ideal realm of the good Shepherd-King Yima, Iranian belief saw neither hunger nor thirst for the faithful, and found no place for death ( cf. Revelation 21:4 ) or falsehood (Revelation 21:8 ) of any kind (passages and parallels in Böklen, 133 f.). ὁδηγήσει , a touch of local colour for Asiatic Christians, since sheep and shepherds were a common feature in the Lycos valley ( C. B. P. i. 40 42); but the heaven of the Apocalypse is, in Semitic fashion, pastoral or civic, with touches of Babylonian splendour, unlike some later apocalypses, e.g. , that of Peter (15 f.) where the Hellenic conception of Gods garden in the next world predominates (Dieterich, 19 f.). Briggs explains the variants σκηνώσει ἐπʼ αὐτούς (Revelation 7:15 ) and σκ . μετʼ αὐτῶν (Revelation 21:3 ), ἀπὸ τῶν ὀφθ . (Revelation 21:4 ) and ἐκ τῶν ὀφθ . (Revelation 7:17 ) as variant translations of בקרבם ישׁכן and מציניהם ; but, like ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον (Revelation 13:16 ), ἐπὶ τῶν μετώπ . (Revelation 7:3 , etc.), these are probably nothing more than rhetorical variations. Unlike the synoptic tradition ( e.g. , Matthew 2:6 ) and the fourth Gospel (John 10:1 ; John 10:18 ), the Apocalypse confines Christ’s shepherding to the future life (see also Revelation 2:26-27 ). In Isaiah 53:6-7 , the wayward roving habits of sheep express the temper of God’s people, whilst the patient submissiveness of a lamb for sacrifice denotes the function of God’s servant; in the Apocalypse, the latter (not the former) occurs. The saints are God’s flock in heaven, not on earth (contrast 1 Peter 2:25 ; 1 Peter 5:2 f.).

Whatever elements have been employed in the following series (Revelation 7:8-11 .) of trumpet-visions, no adequate data exist to prove that John has edited a Jewish or Jewish-Christian source here any more than in 6. The vision, which forms the result of the breaking of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1-2 ), opens, after a prelude (Revelation 7:2-5 ), in Revelation 8:6 and does not close till Revelation 11:19 ( cf. Revelation 8:5 ).

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 7". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.