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The intermission scene (between sixth and seventh seals) --7: 1-17.
Six seals have been opened, revealing the signs of impending events. The first four seals depict scenes of terror and tragedy never exceeded in the course of human history --the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, the details of which fulfill these visions of the horrorifying inflictions, of its duration, and of the subsequent tribulations in its wake. It should not be even momentarily overlooked that all of these calamities were included in the narration of Mat_24:1-51 , accompanied by the explicitly plain announcement by Jesus that the calamities would come upon that generation and fulfilled in it ( Matthew . 23:36 ; Mat_24:34 ). “All these things shall come upon this generation.”
After the disclosures of war, famine, pestilence and mortality in the pageantry of the four horses and riders, the fifth seal discloses the call of the martyrs for avenging judgment, followed by the answer of the sixth seal to their cry in the symbols of the descending wrath of the One on the throne and of the Lamb upon the persecutors and their accomplices.
The immediate opening of the seventh seal would expectedly follow, but instead an interlude is projected into the vision as an enlargement of the martyr scene, expanded to include their “fellowservants and brethren,” previously mentioned as “partakers in the tribulation” yet on the earth.
This recess between the sixth and seventh seal signifies a lapse between the announcements of judgment and the execution of them, and corresponds to the period of escape promised the disciples by Jesus, in Matthew 2.4:15-25 and Luk_21:18-19 , in his descriptions of the siege of Jerusalem; and it was fulfilled in the withdrawal of the Roman armies, under the command of the Roman general, Titus, after the siege had commenced. It is described by Josephus, an eyewitness to the embattled scenes of the destruction of Jerusalem, with additional evidence from the Roman historian Pliny, to which further reference will be made in the following analysis of this interlude and its succeeding scenes.
And I saw four angels--7:1.
The four angels were the imperial agents, not the heavenly messengers, as shown by the contrast with “another” angel of verse 2, which countermanded the orders of the four angels to hold back the winds. These four angels were the agents of Rome intercepting the word of God-- holding the winds --hindering the messengers of the gospel -- that they should not blow --that is, preventing the spread of the gospel, or Christianity. The old word “hold” meant “hinder,” as in Rom_1:18 , “who hold (hinder) the truth.”
The four corners of the earth is a common expression to denote the four points of the compass, meaning the whole earth. It signified the universal sway of the Roman government, hence, the significance of “the four angels,” the Roman agents “standing on the four corners of the earth,” exercising dominion over the whole world. The four winds were the messengers of Christ to execute his will, signified by the wind blowing, contrasting “blow” and “not blow,” the affirmative and negative opposites. The phrase, on earth, sea nor tree , were the three things that sum up physical objects against which the wind blows, and signify that the acts of the four angels in holding back the wind proscribed the preaching of the word, and in so doing the result was universal, having effect on all peoples of the earth.
The designation on the earth referred particularly to Palestine where the Jews resided and where the gospel originated. The designation on the sea extends the restraining order to other parts of the world separated by the sea from the land of the Jews. The statement nor any tree emphasizes that the word of God was being restrained everywhere men were found.
And I saw another angel--7:2.
Here is the symbol of the heavenly messenger who suspended the restraining order of the four angels-- Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God in the foreheads . This angel was seen ascending from the east, from the eastern horizon, from the direction of the rising sun, a symbol consistent with his mission of suspending, or preventing, the mandate of the four angels to put out the light of God’s word over all the world. By the authority of God the angel of the east said to the four angels hurt not the earth. It had been “given” to the four angels to “hurt” the earth, by the war on Jerusalem, and to enforce the mandate that “the wind should not blow,” that is, to restrain the word of God.
Hurt not the earth--7:3.
“Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”
This was the counter command of the angel of the rising sun to the four angels. The purpose of this sealing , as later seen, is to preserve the holy seed, the true Israel of God, from the judgments about to come upon the earth. It was not exemption from suffering, but from the judgments about to be announced in the opening of the seventh seal. It was a suspension period before the break of fury, signifying the divine protection of the faithful seed, the assurance that no force could bring them ultimate harm.
The sealing in their foreheads was a symbol of an insignia or a mark to save them from slaughter, but not from tribulation, for chapter 2:10 said “thou shalt suffer tribulation ten days.” But they would survive it; they would be preserved in the midst of it, by a mark to distinguish the true Israel, the holy seed, from old Israel, the fleshly Jew. The old Israel was soon to perish, the new Israel to be preserved; the old Jerusalem was soon destroyed by impending judgments, the new Israel to be sealed for preservation, to survive and flourish as Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of the firstborn, sealed on earth and enrolled in heaven. A similar imagery is employed by Jeremiah in foretelling the captivity of Israel in Babylon. ( Eze_9:4 )
Its history repeats itself in these visions of tribulation in the final destruction of Jerusalem, and of Israel’s nation. It is noteworthy that in this imagery there was the mark that sealed the servants of God in their foreheads , who worshipped not the beast, in contrast with what was later called the mark of the beast, also received upon their foreheads and in their hands, by those who submitted to the beast--to the decree of the emperor against the worship of the Lamb, and for the worship of the emperor, as set forth in the second series of symbols surrounding the church the Bride of the Lamb. In a similar figure Paul carried the mark of his Lord. ( Gal_6:17 )
The number of the sealed was computed with the tabulation of twelve times twelve, on the basis of the twelve tribes instead of the twelve apostles, as in chapter 4; but here it is expanded to the basic number of thousand for each tribe, as a full and complete company rather than persons equal in number to the patriarchs and apostles, as in case of the twenty-four elders. In the first the symbol was added; in the second it was multiplied. It signified the whole faithful church, the total number of the redeemed, “the holy seed,” preserved from the pronouncements of judgment. This multiplied number was mentioned again in chapter 14, discussion of which is reserved for that exposition.
In the names that head the twelve tribes, Judah stands first, significant of relation sustained to “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” from which the Lord sprang. ( Heb_7:14 ) The spiritual, figurative, use of the twelve tribes elsewhere in the New Testament designated the whole church, the spiritual Israel, as in the Old Testament they represented the whole of fleshly Israel. ( Mat_18:28 ; Act_26:7 ; Jam_1:1 )
This 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel was an apocalypse of the holy seed of Isa_6:13 ; and the remnant of Jacob of Isa_10:21-23 ; and the remnant according to election of Rom_9:27-28 ; Rom_11:5 ; and the innumerable company (the church) of Heb_12:22 . They stood for the new Israel. The proclamation of “the angel of the east” to the four angels standing on the four corners of the “earth” to “hurt not the earth till we have sealed the servants of our God,” signified that God would not permit them to destroy Old Jerusalem until he had sealed a representative number for the New Jerusalem, the church, which was figuratively said to be “the twelve tribes” of the dispersion. ( Jam_1:1 )
The “loud voice” of this angel commanded that the “wind blow,” that the gospel should be preached to the four corners by the sealed servants . It was parallel to the Lord’s declaration that after the destruction of Jerusalem his angels (emissaries) would carry the gospel to the four winds. ( Mat_24:31 )
Following the visions of the sealed number there was the heavenly scene of the great multitude robed in white, coming out of tribulation, composed of the angels, the elders, and the beings, who were before the throne; who were washed in blood; who served in his temple; who hungered and thirsted no more; who should suffer no heat of the sun; whom the Lamb should feed and lead; and whose tears God would wipe away.
The full or unlimited understanding of all the signs with a precise explanation of all the symbols of these visions is not required in order to know the general import, and application to the period of these persecutions. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the objects of these visions were immediate and present with them while they are separated and remote from us. It should further be observed that there were spiritually gifted teachers in each church to impart the meanings to the members, whereas we have the teaching of the text itself, with the current history of the context, to follow. The course of history did not run contrary to the context nor does the language of the text contradict the events of history. The misinterpretations of false teachers and the misapplications of others arise from the anachronisms of assigning these events to the wrong periods of time, by referring them to future centuries, rather than applying the signs to the impending events of the time.
The correlation in the symbolic arrangement of the contents, without the historical gaps and the fragmentary dislocations of the future theories identify them with the current history then transpiring. The entire genius of the book justifies the conviction that it was designed for the comfort and encouragement of the early apostolic churches.
The innumerable multitude--7:9-10.
In this coordination of the apocalypse, the angel’s proclamation concerning the hundred and forty-four thousand was immediately followed by the heavenly scene in verses nine to seventeen. The vision here expands the hundred forty-four thousand of all the tribes of Israel , as the nucleus of the New Israel, the holy seed, the remnant according to grace --into the innumerable multitude. The revelation does not end with “the number of them that were sealed” in verse 4.
Verse 9 continues the vision with the words “after this I beheld and, lo, a great multitude which no man could number of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues.” It is the same company as “the number of them that were sealed,” the hundred forty-four thousand which were “of all the tribes of Israel.” But the multitude in verse 9 were of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues ,” which signified that the new Israel was not the fleshly seed of the twelve tribes of Israel; but the spiritual seed -- the holy seed --of all nations “which no man could number.” This was the symbol of innumerable multitude. It was identical with that “innumerable company” mentioned in Heb_12:22-23 , designated “the general assembly and church of the firstborn.” It identified the hundred forty-four thousand of Rev_7:4 , and Rev_14:1 , with this great multitude and innumerable company of Rev_7:9 and Heb_12:22-23 . So parallel are these passages that strong evidence is adduced from it that the Hebrew passage is an allusion to this Revelation scene of chapter 7, virtually equivalent to a direct quotation. This is assuredly possible in the premises of the prior date of Revelation, in which chronology it antedates the Hebrew epistle. The same evidential relation of other epistles to the apocalypse is indicated in other references and examples, all of which are internal evidences that Revelation is by no means the last book of the New Testament canon, but quite to the contrary-it bears an earlier date than several others, including Hebrews, Galatians, Second Peter (if not first), and even of the other epistles of John.
The multitude of verses 9-10 were clothed in the white robes of victory, displaying palms of praise. There were the emblems of a triumphant march. ( Joh_12:13 ) With a loud voice the vocal unison of the great company ascribed salvation to our God , from whom the salvation proceeded and unto the Lamb , by whom it was procured.
This salvation was not in the gospel sense of salvation from sin or in pardon or remission of sins, but was the state of deliverance and blessing. The Greek texts give the article which the English translations dropped, and in them it reads: “the salvation of our God,” a specific reference to coming out of the trials of persecution into the scenes of the throne.
The angelic proclamation--7:11-12.
In the acknowledgment of this salvation all of the angels were standing about the throne and about the twenty-four elders and the four creature-beings. Together encircling the throne they prostrated their angelic forms before it, and said Amen, to the voice of the multitude which had ascribed salvation unto God and unto the Lamb.
Reference to “all the angels” does not mean all angels in heaven, but all the angels in this vision, beginning in the fourth chapter. After saying Amen to the acknowledgments of salvation by the multitude, they repeated the doxology of chapter 5:12, with the exception of the omission of “riches,” inserting thanksgiving and substituting might for “strength.” For comments on the seven-fold attributes thus ascribed to God and to the Lamb refer to Rev_5:11-13 .
The white-robed throng--7:13-14.
“And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The interrogative of verse 13 brought the answer of verse 14 and identified the multitude as the survivors of tribulation. It was an advance scene and corresponded to “the hour of trial,” chapter 3:10; the “tribulation” of chapter 2:10; and to the Lord’s language in Mat_24:21 , after which he would gather his elect “from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other”--verse 31. The preservation of the true seed of Israel, the success of the cause of Christ, the victory of the church, and the universal sway, of Christianity in the expansion of the gospel, were the parallels in all of the visions; and they covered in each instance the same events, and alike defined the period of these afflictions. The apocalypse belonged to that time.
The company which emerged from tribulation were described as having washed their robes in blood. This was not the washing away of sins in baptism, of Act_22:16 ; nor the washing of water by the word of Eph_5:26 ; nor having our bodies washed with pure water of Heb_10:22 . It was the washing of their robes--it was the blood bath of tribulation, symbolically in the blood of the Lamb who Himself shed his blood for the cause for which they also suffered.
The reward of the redeemed--7:15-16.
These who were before the throne of God and in his temple, renewed the dual kingdom-priesthood character of the church, it is said of both in chapter 1:6, 5:10. The demolition of the old temple only gave place to the new ( Act_7:47-49 ); and his priests then would serve in his temple day and night , and would be always before his throne , continually with none to make them afraid; and their God would dwell there. ( 2Co_6:16 )
In this new temple-state, having emerged from tribulation, they should hunger and thirst no more; neither sun nor heat would light on them (afflict them)--figures of speech to denote the calamities during the period of persecution as symbolized in the seals. The famine , pestilence and plagues, which prevailed during the period of persecution would all cease. The absence of all of these signified a state of victory over persecution.
The living fountains of water--7:17.
These figures of speech signified that their tribulations were over. They were avenged by the overthrow of their persecutors. Henceforth the Lamb would feed them ; the opposite to the symbols of want in tribulation. He would lead them unto living fountains of waters-- no longer amid the dangers of the persecuting powers, but where provender, peace, refreshment and satisfaction were unrestrained. It is the apocalyptic version of the twenty-third psalm.
Finally, the ultimate in the symbols of victory: God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes --the persecutions had ended, the tribulations were over. Here the visions and scenes all merge into one company, the victorious church of Christ.
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 7". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany