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SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THIS chapter is in the nature of an episode. Before the enemies of the gospel are finally destroyed, St. John sees the admission of believers to their blessedness in heaven. The vision has certainly the appearance of being supplementary to the preceding, and seems to refer to the visitation described under various seals, especially the third and sixth, and to represent their universality (“four corners of the earth,” “four winds of the earth”); their character, as providential, ordered and directed by God through His angels; their limitation, or suspension, or restriction, as the interests of God’s Church required (W. and W.). Godet treats the two visions of this chapter as anticipative. “The foresight of her own triumph is to inspire the Church with courage to face the formidable crises which still stand between her and the object of her hope.” He thinks the first vision concerns Jews (Israel); the second the Gentile Church. It is, however, better to take the earlystandpoint, and see the Christian Church as composed of two distinct, though closely related elements, the Judaic and the Gentile. The revelation is not addressed to Jews, nor does it concern them, save as they stand in some relation, hostile or helpful, to the Christian Church.
Revelation 7:1. After these things.—Not to be unduly pressed. The law of succession in time controls all forms of human thinking, even visions. Holding, etc.—By this figure the Divine care of the elect ones is intimated. Their safety is secured before the calamities indicated in the previous chapter are let loose. Winds, being a great cause of calamities, are taken as symbols of calamity.
Revelation 7:2. Ascending.—In the book of Enoch, which seems to have suggested some of the figures of this book, the east is the paradise of God, the place where the Lord of Glory dwells. There is the possible idea also that, as the angel came with the dawn, a long day’s work is intimated. Seal of the Living God.—Eastern kings signed documents, etc., by impressing the seal of the signet ring which they jealously kept on their finger. To entrust this seal to a person was to empower him to act on the king’s authority.
Revelation 7:3. Sealed the servants of God.—This act is illustrated in the salvation of Israel from the destroying angel, through the mark of the blood upon the door. The sealing does not preserve the Church from being affected by outward calamities, only from being overwhelmed by them.
Revelation 7:4. Hundred, forty and four thousand.—Clearly a symbolical number. A goodly number, from all the tribes, had become members of the Christian Church. Scripture gives no support to the notion of “Lost Tribes.”
Revelation 7:9. Could number.—The relativity of Gentile to Jewish members of the Christian Church is strikingly suggested by this fixed number for the Jewish, and limitless numbers for the Gentile, portions. White robes.—The sign of triumph in the conflict with evil. Palms.—The recognised symbol of victory.
Revelation 7:10. Salvation.—To be conceived as both a negative thing—deliverance from evil; and also a positive thing—attainment of holiness. To our God.—It is fitting that we go past all agencies to the final cause.
Revelation 7:13. What are these?—A question not asked in order to gain information, but in order to open the way for giving information.
Revelation 7:14. Tribulation.—A special time of trouble is referred to; probably that which was endured by the Church under the Pagan emperors. Washed … in the blood.—This very strange figure is perhaps not yet properly apprehended. The blood of Christ is used as a figure for His strenuous efforts, even unto death, in effecting His purpose of redemption. The champion from Edom with blood-dyed garments (Isaiah 63:1); the sweat-like blood-drops in Gethsemane; and the appeal in Hebrews, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin,” should guide us to the right thought. The idea may be this: Christ is highly exalted because, in the resistance of sin, He “poured out His soul unto death”; and these have the white robes because they, too, resisted sin, and bore their earth-burdens, and won the triumph of obedient submission, as He did, and in His strength. The figure of actually washing clothes or persons in blood is a very strained one, unless its symbolical character is clearly recognised.
Revelation 7:15. Dwell among them.—R.V. “Shall spread His tabernacle over them.” Dr. Tregelles compares this passage with Exodus 40:35, and suggests, as a true rendering, “He … shall be a covert over them.” In Alford’s revision we read, “shall spread His habitation over them.” The allusion, then, is to the manner in which the Israelites were, all through their wilderness journey, overshadowed by the cloud which represented God’s presence, so that He was not only with them, but they did, as it were, live in the Divine tabernacle, as they moved hither and thither. Compare John 1:14; Revelation 21:3.
Revelation 7:17. Feed them.—As a shepherd. It should be clearly apprehended that the vision blends what waking apprehension cannot. St. John saw a person as if He were a lamb. We should have to speak of Christ in the glory not as a lamb, but as “the lamb-like One.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 7:1-66.7.17
The Vision of the Redeemed.—
I. The great number of the redeemed (Revelation 7:9). All who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and who have died in the faith; all who shall believe on Him in the future ages; infants, dying in infancy; the great multitude who have come out of great tribulation. Many are the saved.
II. The eternal glory of the redeemed.—
1. The glory of their appearance.
(1) “Clothed with white robes.” They shine in the beauty of holiness.
(2) “With palms in their hands.” They are conquerors through Him that loved them.
2. The glory of their service.
(1) Their service of song; their song of salvation (Revelation 7:10); their song of eternal praise to God (Revelation 7:12).
(2) Their holy ministry (Revelation 7:15).
3. The glory of their eternal home.
(1) Their communion with God (Revelation 7:15). “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.”
(2) The heavenly provision (a) for their immortal nature: the Lamb “shall feed them”; He is their eternal Shepherd; (b) for their constant refreshment: the Lamb “shall lead them unto living fountains of waters”; (c) For their everlasting comfort, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
III. Our lessons from the redeemed.—
1. Once they were sufferers such as we, or more than any of us. They came “out of great tribulation.”
2. Once they were sinners such as we. They had need of cleansing. They “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The same fountain is open for us. Through the merits of the same Saviour we may enter into the same heaven, and enjoy the same blessedness and glory.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 7:4. Who are the “hundred and forty-four thousand?”—Very probably the believing Jews of this period—those of the house of Israel who, in an age of national apostasy and national punishment, acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah and Lord; who accepted the new covenant and passed under its seal, both outward and inward. They are the class who are emphatically termed by St. Paul “the election,” “the remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7); the predicted remnant which should be saved (Romans 9:27; Isaiah 10:20-23.10.22; Isaiah 65:8-23.65.9). This interpretation is sustained by the particularity with which the tribes are named, as if to fix attention upon the fact of a special reference to the actual descendants of the patriarchs. Otherwise there must be some spiritual significance in each particular tribe, which is hardly conceivable. The exact number denotes election (Jeremiah 3:14).—W. and W.
God’s Elect.—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.—W. H. Simcox, M.A.
Revelation 7:9. Universal Praise for Redemption.—Then the countless host of the redeemed, with palm branches of victory in their hands, the emblems of the Church’s triumph, unite in praising God, with all the angels, and elders, and living creatures. One universal symphony fills the heavenly world. Among this countless host stand conspicuous, in robes of white, the martyrs who have sealed their testimony by their own blood. The glory to which they are destined is brought distinctly into view in order that persecuted and suffering Christians, then “enduring the cross,” might, “on account of the joy set before them, despise the shame,” and attain at last to the same blessedness.—Moses Stuart.
Revelation 7:9-66.7.10. All Saints’ Day.—One, day is given to the commemoration of the great general idea of sainthood. It seems to gather in all the multitude of the holy in every age, and bids us think of their characters, and follow in their steps. What is there in the world for each one of us that would not be here if others had not lived before us—if we were the first generation that ever peopled this populous earth of ours? What are the legacies that the past sends down to us?
1. There are certain circumstances, things which men have gradually, in the course of ages, invented and worked out, and they are permanent, and have come down to us in their accumulation. Besides these, there are certain truths; all the knowledge that man has ever won, of physics, of metaphysics, of morals, of religion, of beauty—all this we have not to win over again for ourselves. Besides these, there is another gift—of certain inspirations which we find waiting for us in the world. Men have left behind them their examples, their enthusiasms, and their standards. The impulse and contagion of their work is waiting everywhere to breathe itself into ours. The power of this inspiration comes in various ways. In some degree it is the mere force of hereditation. Then there is the distinct power of example. Moreover, they have set up certain ideals of character, not reducible to precise rules of action, with which we enter into sympathy, and to whose likeness our lives almost unconsciously attempt to shape themselves. This power of influence may belong to all the past in general. From all the multitude of failures and successes rises up the picture of a true successful manhood—the perfect man. That is our leader. Or we see that power incorporate itself in some great man. Who can explain the subtle fascination that reaches everywhere and lays hold of all kinds of men, and turns their lives out of their course to follow his course; to be with him in some sympathy of purpose, and, if possible, to be like him in some similarity of nature? We may analyse the power of leadership that great men have. It may rest in either of three things:
(1) It may be in mere strength of personality;
(2) it may be in some truths that he teaches;
(3) or it may be in a certain thing which we call holiness, which we cannot define otherwise than that it is a larger and more manifest presence of God in the life of one man than other men have—more sympathetic nearness to Divinity—which makes men feel that he, more than they, embodies the Divine Spirit and utters the Divine will; that He shows God to them. This is the leadership of the saint. These are the leaders, the inspirers, of men—the hero, the teacher, the saint. We have reached, then, this distinctive definition of the saint. He is the man whose power comes of his holiness, his godlikeness. It is a special kind of power, and it is the strongest kind of power where it can be brought to bear at all. In the hero man feels that there is something of God’s power, but by no means, of necessity, any of God Himself. In the teacher, there is God’s truth, because all truth is God’s, but the teacher is only the glass through which it shines. But in the saint there is something of God Himself, a real, abiding presence of Divinity. The saint wins a sympathetic, loving awe. In our experience we have felt the power of such saintly souls. We may connect our whole notion of sainthood with this idea of power. True sainthood is the strong chain of God’s presence in humanity running down through all history, and making of it a unity, giving it a large and massive strength, able to bear great things and to do great things too. This unity which the line of sainthood gives to history is the great point that shows its strength. You go to your saint and find God, working and manifest, in him. But he got near to God through some saint who lived before him. And that saint lighted his fire at some flame before him; and so the power of the sainthoods animates and fills the world. So holiness and purity, and truth and patience, daring and tenderness, hope and faith, are kept constant and pervading things in our humanity. In this truth we get the corrective that we need of the continual tendency to solitariness and individuality in our religion. This church of all the saints is a great power in the world. Ever from out the past, from the old saints who lived in other times, from Enoch, David, Paul, and John, Augustine, Jerome, Luther, Leighton, there comes down the power of God to us. Take away holy example, and the inspiration of holy men, and you would depopulate heaven. Only one bold, supreme soul here and there would still be able to scale the height alone, and stand triumphant in the glorious presence of God. We ascend by one another. These saints were incorporations, not of the power, nor of the truth, but of the spirit or the character of God. But in God Himself all three—power, and truth, and character—must go together; and so they will, to some extent, in the saint, who is God’s copy—but not entirely. We must, however, clearly see the absence of power of miracle, or of authority in truth, in the saints of the Christian Church, because we must have some doctrine of sainthood which shall not for a moment dim or distort the leadership and perfect headship of the Christian and the Church, which rests in Christ alone. But Christ, as He leads us on to higher things, may still strengthen us with the company of those who have the same road to travel, and are walking it in the same strength. Are there no saints to-day? If sainthood means what we have said—the indwelling, the manifest indwelling, of God in man—then there must be many a very saintly saint in these late days of ours. There may be fewer supreme, pre-eminent saints, fewer out-reaching pinnacles of grace, in the long ranges of spiritual life. As all civilisation and human culture advances, great men become less common and less marked. Still, there are saints enough, if we only know how to find them. The old idea of sainthood demanded miracles of those whom it admitted to its calendar. It is the truer discrimination that recognises the presence of God in men, the saints that are in the world, not by the miracles they work, but by the miracles they are; by the way in which they bring the grace of God to bear on the simple duties of the household and the street. The saint is he in whom God dwells.—Phillips Brooks.
Revelation 7:13-66.7.14. The Redeemed in Glory.—The Bible opens and closes with conflict—between evil and good. Opens with man defeated, closes with man victorious. So it tells the whole story of humanity. The reason for the difference is given us in the song which the victors sing—“Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” He that was defeated has become victor, because God Himself has helped him, and won a first and inclusive triumph for him in the person of His Son. The association of the text is a great multitude in the attitude of victors through Christ. It is important to Christian living that our thought should be often lifted to that world towards which we are hastening. We need to keep heaven near. And yet it is but little more than a shadow to us. The terms under which heaven is represented are figurative; of its realities we can know nothing. Figurative language is an accommodation to the uncultured, imperfect mind. It is developed in the early history of nations. But how warm and bright and hopeful are the figures suggesting heaven! Mansions, or Homes. Wiping away tears. Rest. What holy joy and triumph are suggested by its crowns, and harps, and palms, and songs! What a glory is round about its throne!
I. Heaven is not merely another place and other circumstances.—We often cherish the notion that, if we could get away from present scenes, we should lose our troubles. In this hope we have made earthly changes; but did we thus lose the trouble? Many say, “Oh, to get my footsteps off this sinburdemd earth!” It is, therefore, needful to impress that heaven is, primarily, a change in ourselves. Heaven is character first, then place suited to character. White robes are but the expression of moral whiteness.
II. The glorified in heaven keep their individuality.—“Who are these?” Notice the minute account of the tribes, and the maintenance of tribal distinctions. This retention of our individuality is absolutely essential to a full and happy thought of heaven. Unity in variety—not in sameness—is the beauty of the earth. Single leaves; single faces. On the basis of individuality our friendships here are formed. If the redeemed have become merely spirits, our personal interest in them is almost gone. Illustrate by giving the dying hopes of Socrates.
III. In heaven the connection with earth is not lost sight of.—“Whence come they?” If christ remembers Bethlehem and Calvary, well may we. This connection is to be a material element in our bliss. Earth is our battle-ground, the sphere in which we win our victories; it is not merely our place of probation. On earth we learn to estimate the rest, and prepare to enjoy the triumph of heaven. Illustrate by visits to a nation’s battle-fields.
IV. In heaven all merely earthly distinctions are lost.—The angel says nothing about the host being rich or poor, noble or servile. The one characteristic is this: they are clothed in white robes, because blood-washed. The one qualification for heaven is personal interest in the work of Christ. There are two efficiencies in His work: He washes, and He sanctifies. Learn to look far deeper than earthly distinctions, and to value character. The title to the eternal feast is the wedding garment of sanctified character.
V. Heaven helps us to understand and bear present tribulation.—The white-robed came out of great tribulation. There is a direct connection between “tribulation” and “heaven.” Describe the old threshing sledge. Life in general, and life for each individual, has its forms of tribulation. We want to be sure of its relation to the white robes. The Christian has two things to learn experimentally here on earth.
1. How to get his garments washed.
2. How to keep his garments clean. When he has learned both, he is fit for heaven. But he could learn neither without passing through great tribulation. Compare the things talked of in the earthly and heavenly worlds. We talk of the battle for money and position; they talk of the battle for character. We talk of the fashion of the garments that clothe our mortality: they talk of the blood-washed robes of the soul. We talk of success, and worship success; they talk of sanctified tribulation. By cherishing more of their spirit now, we shall be preparing ourselves by-and-bye to share their society.
Revelation 7:13-66.7.17. The Redeemed in Heaven.—This passage exhibits to us, first, the condition of the redeemed in heaven. That condition is marked, on the one hand, by a cessation from all suffering. They have come out of great tribulation
1. They are beyond the reach of want. “They shall hunger no more.”
2. They are beyond the reach of harm. “The sun shall not light on them, nor any heat.” That condition is marked, on the other hand, by the perfection of all enjoyment. Their enjoyment is traceable to three sources.
(1) They stand in the immediate presence of God. “They are before the throne.”
(2) They are uninterruptedly engaged in His service. “They serve Him day and night.”
(3) They have access to sources of solid gratification. “The Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them,” etc. The Lamb is here said to lead the flock; the anomaly is unavoidable. The figure is imperfect, and is sacrificed to the sentiment. The passage also distinctly exhibits the ground on which that condition is enjoyed; which is, not their having come out of great tribulation, but their “having washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Here are two things implied: the forgiveness of sin, indicated by their being washed in the blood; and the renewal of the character, indicated by their having their robes washed—robes being emblematical of character. It is their being pardoned, or justified, that is the strict and only ground of their admission to the blessedness of heaven; whilst their being sanctified qualifies them to enjoy it.
Revelation 7:16. No Thirst in Heaven.—A poor mangled German one night crawled out of his hospital bed in the delirium of fever following amputation. Somebody found him in the village street, moaning and raving alternately, while he tried to drag his bleeding body over the frozen earth. A kind Frenchwoman took him in and put warm wine to his lips, which were burning, while the rest of his frame was so cold. “No, no!” the poor soldier murmured; “I am only thirsty for my home and children;” and so, with that thirst unassuaged, and that heart-touching explanation of his dark journey, he died.—“Daily Telegraph.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent