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Revelation 7

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

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Verses 1-8

Lecture 15

(Revelation 7:1-8)


Revelation 7:1-8. (Revised Text.) After this I saw four angels standing over the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that wind might not blow upon the earth, nor upon the sea, nor upon any tree.

And I saw another angel going up from the sunrising, having a seal of the living God; and he was crying with a great voice to the four angels to whom it was given to injure the earth and the sea, saying: Injure ye not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.

And I heard the number of the sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand [were] sealed, out of every tribe of the children [rather, sons] of Israel; out of the tribe of Juda, twelve thousand [were] sealed; out of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Aser, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Nepthalim, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Manasses, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Zabulon, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand [were] sealed.

These words describe the continuation of the action and course of events signified by the breaking of the sixth seal. It is, therefore, still the period of the judgment with which we here have to do. But in the midst of wrath, God remembers mercy. With all the fearful physical prodigies which mark the first shock under this seal, and the terror and dismay of mankind in general in view of those prodigies, the material universe remains, the earth continues in its place, and gracious operations still go on among its remaining populations. Though the heavens and the earth are terrifically shaken, and the whole system of nature is thrown into commotion, as if on the verge of utter ruin, there is a lull in the storm; the angels who have charge of the disturbing blasts are commanded to hold them back for a season; and a scene of calm, and of gracious manifestation to certain of the children of men, ensues, before the great and terrible day of the Lord advances to its meridian. The judgment has begun, and has progressed through a number of its most important stages, but still Divine compassion lingers, grace has not entirely departed, and the merciful act of the sealing of the 144,000 has to be completed before another step in the succession of judicial wonders can occur. And this sealing, it is, which is to occupy our attention this evening. We may consider,




And to this end, may God help us with the illumination and guidance of his Holy Spirit!

I. Who, then, are these 144,000 sealed ones? This is a vital question, in the right interpretation of this part of holy writ. But very conflicting and uncertain have been the answers generally given to it. Many writers are so perplexed and confounded with it, that they scarcely presume to answer it, and seek to quiet inquiry by saying that the subject is too difficult for man to handle. Did people only keep themselves to the plain reading of the words as they are, without subjecting them to chemical treatment to bring them into affinity with radically false conceptions of the Apocalypse, they would save themselves much perplexity, and their readers much confusion.

So long as men will keep thinking of the present Church, and the location of these events in the past, or in what is now transpiring; just so long they will remain bewildered in the fog, and fail to find any solid way through these wonderful revelations. If we only take to heart, that, when John writes "children of Israel," he means "children of Israel"-the blood descendants of the patriarch Jacob,--and that, when he mentions "the tribe of Juda," "the tribe of Reuben," "the tribe of Gad," "the tribe of Aser," "the tribe of Nepthalim," "the tribe of Manasses," "the tribe of Simeon," "the tribe of Levi," "the tribe of Issachar," "the tribe of Zabulon," "the tribe of Joseph," and "the tribe of Benjamin," he verily means what he says, we will at once have the subjects of this apocalyptic sealing unmistakably identified. But many are so morbidly prejudiced against everything Jewish, that it is concluded in advance, that anything merciful, referring to the Israelitish race, must needs be understood some other way than as the words are written. Though all the prophets were Jews, and Jesus was a Jew, and the writer of this Apocalypse was a Jew, and all the Apostles were Jews, and salvation itself is of the Jews, and the Jews as a distinct people are everywhere spoken of as destined to continue to the world's end, it is regarded as the next thing to apostasy from the faith, to apply anything hopeful, that God has said, to this particular race. Though Paul says, that, to his "kinsmen according to the flesh," "the promises" pertain; that "God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew;" "that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," but only "in part," and only until then; and that God's unchanging covenant still has something favourable for them in reserve; even many otherwise enlightened Christians become impatient, and will not at all hear us, when we presume to pronounce God's own words as if He really meant what He has said.

No wonder, therefore, that they cannot find a consistent interpretation of a vision of grace which is predicated of Jacob's literal seed, in contradistinction from all others. Nor is there a vice or device of sacred hermeneutics, which so beclouds the Scriptures, and so unsettles the faith of men, as this constant attempt to read Church for Israel, and Christian peoples for Jewish tribes. As I read the Bible, when God says "children of Israel," I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood, be they Christians or not; and when He speaks of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob, and gives the names of the tribes, it is impossible for me to believe that He means the Gentiles, in any sense or degree, whether they be believers or not. And this would seem to be so plain and self-evident a rule of interpretation, that I can conceive of no legitimate variation from it, except in such case as the Holy Ghost Himself may explain to the contrary.

There is a sense in which a man may be a Jew outwardly, and yet not be one according to the spiritual calling of the Jews; and there is a sense in which even Gentiles, if they be true believers, are "Abraham's seed;" but I know of no instance in which the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel include the Gentiles, or in which, what is discoursed specifically of persons out of the tribes of Juda, Reuben, Gad, Aser, Nepthalim, Manasses, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon, Joseph, and Benjamin, is to be understood only of "the blessed company of all faithful people, gathered together from all parts of the world, and constituting the Church universal." Above all, would such a way of interpreting the Scriptures be out of place in a book in which more is said about "the church," strictly as such, than in any other sacred book, and in which it is particularly shown that the Church's judgment has begun, and to a large extent already gone into effect, before what is thus written of the tribes of the sons of Jacob takes place.

It is also to be remembered, that the crowned Elders and the Living ones are a part, and a very conspicuous part, of "the glorified company of the whole Church;" yet, in Revelation 14:3, they appear in connection with the 144,000, but as a wholly distinct body. The sealed ones are one company, complete in itself; and the Elders and Living ones are another company complete in itself. John beholds them both at the same time, the one in the presence of the other, but each with its own separate place, character, and blessedness. The 144,000 therefore can by no possibility "represent the glorified company of the whole church." There is no proof that they represent any body but themselves, or that they are at all a part of the Church, properly so called. Everything shows that they are a class of the saved, separate and distinct from all others.

They are also described as being "the first fruits unto God and the Lamb." But they cannot be the first fruits of all saints; for the Elders and Living ones are glorified, and have received their golden crowns, before these 144,000 have even been sealed on earth. They must therefore be the first fruits of another calling and order, after the present period of the Church, strictly so called, has run its course.

And when we take along with us the apostolic commentary upon the ancient covenants, to wit: that, after the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, the scales are to drop from the eyes of Israel's blinded descendants, and a fresh current of salvation is to set in towards them; the argument seems to me conclusive and overwhelming, that these 144,000 are just what John says they are--Jews, descendants of the sons of Israel--the first fruits of that new return of God to deal mercifully with the children of His ancient people for their father's sakes.

If we look a little further on in the chapter, we find another company described, whose nationalities are also distinctly given. They are "out of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues." Literal nationalities are therefore an important element in the whole chapter. And as those said to be out of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues cannot be Jews only, so those said to be out of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel cannot be Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately.

Some have inferred the necessity of taking these Jewish tribes in a mystic sense, from the omission of the names of Dan and Ephraim, and the substitution of the names of Levi and Joseph in their stead. But these are circumstances from which I infer the exact contrary. If it were the common body of all believers that is meant, the proper symbol would be the complement of the common twelve tribes, as historically known. But here is a new enumeration, and quite a different order developed, so far as respects this sealing. It is, therefore, a new and original thing to itself, in which one of the historical tribes appears to be omitted altogether, and a double number taken out of another. Besides, if we are to take these tribes mystically of the whole Church, it is impossible to find anything to correspond to it in all the history of the Church, past, present, or to come. On that theory, the vision has never been and cannot be explained. Hence, we are driven back upon the literal sense, which was the accepted sense in the time of Irenaeus, and which introduces no such embarrassing difficulty. The tribes mentioned by name, are the tribes meant. So, at any rate, I read the sacred account; and if I err, I err with "many," and err on the side of the most direct and plainest sense of the word, as God has caused it to be written. Nor have I ever yet seen the argument for any other acceptation, which does not seem to me to torture and browbeat all the records that bear upon the case, set aside all safe laws of exegesis, and bring the whole Apocalypse into inextricable confusion.[58]

[58] Alford remarks on the passage: "By many, and even by the most recent commentator, Dusterdieck, these sealed ones are taken to represent Jewish believers; the chosen out of the actual children of Israel." Among these we may note Irenæus, Bullinger, Grotius, Bossuet, Bengel, Eichorn, Heinrichs, Maitland, Züllig, Hoffman, B. W. Newtton, Kelly, "Matheetees," and others.

But these 144,000 are not simply Jews, for there are many of Jewish blood, and even of the saved among them, who are not of this number. They are Jews of a particular class, singled out from the Israelitish populations on account of spiritual attainments and character not found in the rest. They are not only descendants of the Hebrew patriarchs, living in the time of the judgment, but such of those descendants as shall then correspond in their characteristics to the signification of the several tribal names by which they are designated.

In Genesis 5:1-32, we have the names of the antediluvian patriarchs, from Adam to Noah. In the meaning of those names, taken in the order in which they stand, we have a singular epitome of the history of the race, and of the principal teachings of holy Scripture from first to last. Taking these tribal names of the 144,000 in the same way, we also find a very striking indication of their personal character, on the ground of which their peculiar honours are based. All Jewish names are significant, and the meaning of those which here are given, is not hard to trace. Juda means confession or praise of God; Reuben, viewing the Son; Gad, a company; Aser, blessed; Nepthalim, a wrestler or striving with; Manasses, forgetfulness; Simeon, hearing and obeying; Levi, joining or cleaving to; Issachar, reward, or what is given by way of reward; Zabulon, a home or dwelling-place; Joseph, added or an addition; Benjamin, a son of the right hand, a son of old age. Now put these several things together in their order, and we have described to us: Confessors or praisers of God, looking upon the Son, a band of blessed ones, wrestling with forgetfulness, hearing and obeying the word, cleaving unto the reward of a shelter and home, an addition, sons of the day of God's right hand, begotten in the extremity of the age.

This certainly is very remarkable, and cannot be taken as mere accident, particularly as the order of the names, and some of the names themselves, are changed from the enumerations of the twelve tribes found in other places. The same will also account for the omission of the names of Dan and Ephraim, and the substitution of the names of Levi and Joseph in their stead. Those names are not of the right import to describe these 144,000. Dan means judging, or the exercise of judicial Prerogatives; but these 144,000 are not judges, and never become such. Ephraim means increase, growth by multiplication; but these 144,000 are a fixed company, with none of the same class going before them, and none of the same class ever to come after them. The idea of increase or multiplication is altogether foreign to them. "They are virgins." These names are therefore unsuitable, and are superseded by others better adapted to describe the parties to whom they are applied.

These 144,000, then, are Israelites, living in the period of the judgment, who are only then brought to be confessors and praisers of God, whilst the most of their kindred continue in unbelief and rebellion. Viewing the Son, as their fathers never would view Him, they acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Judge. As Jews, they thus constitute a distinct company to themselves, and are blessed. As the result of their conversion, they are also very active in practical righteousness. They strive and wrestle against their own and their nation's long obliviousness to the truth as it is in Jesus, hearing and obeying now the voice of the Lord, cleaving unto the shelter and heavenly home promised by the prophets as the portion of those who call upon the name of the Lord even at that late hour. They are not of the Church proper; for their repentance comes too late for that. They are a superaddition to the Church--a supplementary body--near and precious to Christ, but made up after the proper Church has finished its course. As Paul in his apostleship was like one born out of due time, so they are in the position of children belated in their birth;--sons of God indeed, and destined to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth; but sons begotten in the day of God's right hand, in the period of His power and judgment, in the last extremity of this age. All this comes out naturally and distinctly, without the least straining of a single word.

As to the number of this company, there could not be a clearer or more definite announcement than that which is given. John says: "I heard the number of the sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand,"--twelve thousand out of each of the twelve tribes named,--twelve times twelve,--not a unit more, nor a unit less.

Owing to the fact that most of our expositors suppose this company to embrace all the saved of all the natural children of Jacob, or the whole Israel of God both Jewish and Gentile, they have generally taken these numbers as mystical-a definite number for an indefinite. Unwilling to believe, as they well might be, that only 144,000 of all the children of men, or of all the children of Abraham, are finally saved, they propose to understand a much greater number than the figures give. But such views of this body of sealed ones are thoroughly erroneous. These 144,000 are not all the saved, either from among the Jews and Gentiles together, or from among the Jews alone. They are a particular class of the saved, gathered up from among the seed of Jacob in and during the period of the Judgment. And with this made out, as I think it is most conclusively, every reason for taking these numbers in any but a literal sense entirely disappears. John heard the number of them announced as twelve times twelve thousand; and I know not by what right they are to be accounted any more or any less.

II. We come, then, to inquire into the nature of the sealing of which these 144,000 are the subjects.

1. It is manifest that the transaction takes place on earth, and in the case of people contemporaneously living in the flesh. It does not run coordinately with the entire Christian dispensation, for it only begins after the Judgment has begun, and has progressed beyond the opening of the sixth seal. It is also completed and finished before the opening of the seventh seal; for the opening of the seventh seal, with its trumpets and vials, is the letting loose of the four hurtful blasts which are commanded to be held back until the sealing is done. Under the sounding of the fifth trumpet particularly, we find these sealed ones living and moving among those upon whom the plague falls, and exempted from it by reason of their having been sealed. The sealing has therefore been finished before that time.

2. This sealing involved the impartation of a conspicuous and observable mark. A sealing is necessarily a marking of some sort. It is a common thing in God's administrations to have some fixed and understood token by which His people are distinguished. Under the Old Testament He set a visible mark in the flesh of His chosen. When He visited Egypt with death, He exempted the children of Israel by a mark which He commanded to be put upon their dwellings. When Jericho fell, He saved Rahab by the mark of the scarlet line which she was directed to bind about her window. Antichrist, in his mimicry of Christ, causes a mark to be put upon the right hand or forehead of his people, and will not permit any one to buy or sell who has not the mark. And we hence infer, that this sealing also involves the impressment of some manifest sign upon those who are the subjects of it.

Ezekiel describes a similar transaction, under similar circumstances, in which reference may be to precisely the same thing beheld in this vision. In the one case the executioners of vengeance appear with slaughter weapons in their hands, in place of the four angels with their hurtful blasts in this instance. But in that description also, a single sealer appears, who is sent out before the slaughterers, to "set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for the abominations," on account of which judgment impends. That mark was to be a visible means of identifying those who receive it, and of securing their safety in the midst of general destruction. And so these 144,000 have impressed upon them some manifest token, at least as conspicuous and prominent as a physical inscription upon their foreheads, if not, indeed, a physical mark. It is described as a sealing "in their foreheads," and as the "Father's name written in their foreheads." (Revelation 9:4; Revelation 14:1), and it cannot be otherwise than something particularly distinguishing."

3. It is something Divine. The seal with which the sealing is done, is "a seal of the living God." The affixing of a seal of God can only be by Divine authority and appointment. It is so intensely an official act, and connects so fully with the direct administrations and government of God, that it must needs be done by the hand or ordination of the Almighty himself. It so pledges Him, and to Him, that it must be regarded as His own Acts 4:1-37. The office of this sealing is in the hands of an Angel, who comes forth from the sunrising. He is a high officer of God. He carries a seal of the miracle-working God, and He gives commands to the angels of judgment. Many take Him to be the Lord Jesus himself. There is much to sustain this view. The star which heralded His nativity came from the East. He is himself called "the bright and morning star." Ezekiel beheld the Shekinah returning to the deserted temple from the East. His second coming is referred to as the lightning which shines from the East even unto the West. The promise to the Jews with reference to the judgment time is: "Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise;" which involves a going up from the East. And He is the sender of the Holy Ghost. With these representations the vision of this Angel well harmonizes. We may, therefore, readily regard this Sealer as verily the Jehovah-Angel, even the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who comes forth, invisibly it may be, for the sealing of the 144,000. That He appears as an Angel, that He speaks of God as his God, and that He alludes to the sealing as if other agencies were associated with Him in the work, does not at all interfere with this conclusion. Like language is found in the lips of Jesus in other portions of the Scriptures; and one of His most characteristic titles represents Him as the Messenger from God-the Angel of the Lord. He is here also very particularly distinguished from, and assigned an authority over, the four angels of judgment. It really does not alter the character of the matter whether this Sealer from the sunrising be Christ in person or not. It is, at any rate, a high officer of God who has charge of the work; and what he does proceeds from Christ's mediatorial achievements.

5. This sealing was moreover a moral, and not a mere arbitrary or external thing. Those who receive it are described as "the servants of our God," as contradistinguished from other classes of men. And from what is said of them in the fourteenth chapter, they are very eminently and very peculiarly God's servants. They are there described as having been entirely free from the adulterous and idolatrous defilements of mankind in general. "In their mouth was found no guile." And they finally come up faultless before the throne. The whole spirit of the record shows, that this their extraordinary sealing is connected with, and based upon, their extraordinary spiritual characteristics. This was also the case in the parallel instance in the ninth of Ezekiel. It was the men who sighed and who cried for the abominations that were done, upon whom the mark was set. And it is the common law of the Divine proceedings, that His special honours are never otherwise conferred than in connection with special dutifulness and fidelity under very special trials and difficulties. Every branch that bringeth forth fruit he purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit; and he who doth not profit by the talents bestowed, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. These were people who had humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God. They had learned rightly to interpret the signs of judgment enacting about them in the heavens above and in the earth beneath. They had learned, and effectually taken to heart, the true character of the times in which they were living, what God was doing in their day, and what place they occupied in the ongoing of the Divine purposes. And the fruit of all was a vigour of faith, confession, and holy consecration seldom attained among the children of men. All their idolatries, and sensualities, and unbeliefs, they had most solemnly abjured. They had now given up to know nothing but God and His service, in the most unfaltering trust in that Lion of the tribe of Judah under whose wondrous power the whole earth was trembling and smarting, as if in the agonies of dissolution. And because of this thorough spiritual transformation, and their holy sighing and crying for the abominations that cover the world, "the Angel of the covenant" comes up from the quarter of grace to honour their devotions, and to set apart and seal them for a peculiar destiny of favour and exaltation.

6. And from this we are enabled to get a still deeper glance into the nature of this peculiar sealing. The seal of God is the Spirit of God, particularly in His more unusual gifts. Thus Christ himself was sealed by the Father, when the Holy Ghost descended upon Him from heaven, marking Him out, and endowing Him for His wonderful career. (John 6:27.) Thus, also, Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:13): "After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance;" and besought them: "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30; also, 2 Corinthians 1:22.) We may, therefore, conceive of this sealing of the 144,000 as a special and extraordinary impartation of the Holy Ghost; which again connects this vision with particular Old Testament promises. By the mouth of Joel, the Lord said to Israel: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." This was indeed a general promise, but with it was coupled another, which is not so general, but particularly to Israel: "And your sons and your daughters [O Jews] shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and also upon the servants and upon the handmaidens in those days will I pour out my Spirit." Peter tells us that this began to be fulfilled in the miracle of Pentecost; but the fulfilment did not end there. There are also particulars in the passage which were not fulfilled upon the primitive Church-particulars which refer to the judgment times, and connect directly with the scenes to which this sealing of the 144,000 is related. "Wonders in heaven and earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke," are spoken of; and the turning of the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood; and all, directly on the eve of "the great and terrible day of the Lord." In this we distinctly recognize the occurrences under the red horseman of the second seal, the physical prodigies of the sixth seal, and the exact manifestations under the first and fifth trumpets. And in connection with these wonders, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call." (Joel 2:28-32.) Pre-eminent among this "remnant" are these 144,000. In them, therefore, is fulfilled above all what is foreshown of mercy and grace thus mixed up with the terrors of the judgment. They are the sons and daughters of the people whom the prophet addressed. They are the ones who, above others of their time, call upon the name of the Lord. They are related to Mount Zion and Jerusalem as none of the Gentiles are. And it is not too much to say, that their peculiar sealing at least embraces this selfsame miraculous endowment with the Spirit of God, which is so often referred to as the seal of God. They shall be made to dream God-begotten dreams, and to see God-shown visions. The Pentecostal Baptism from heaven shall be renewed in them with its original vigour. All the fruits and manifestations of the Holy Ghost, which characterized the apostles and early Christians at the beginning, shall reappear in them, perhaps with augmented power. And whether particular ceremonies connect with the thing or not, this is the chief element and essence of this sealing with "a seal of the living God." At any rate, those sealed, by virtue of their sealing, have the Father's name in them; and so in them, as to mark and distinguish them as though a visible inscription stood written upon their foreheads. And those who are so eminently and peculiarly the bearers of the Father's name, must needs be partakers, in very extraordinary degree, of the gifts and powers of the Holy Ghost. Besides, the title of "the living God" is seldom, if ever, used except in connection with some display of His power in the sphere of the miraculous.

7. Very various and diverse, hence would also be, the outward manifestations of this mark. It would show itself in the doctrines professed by the sealed ones, in the power with which they announce and defend them, perhaps in miraculous works wrought in proof of them, in a particularly holy, prayerful, and self-denying life, in a bravery and fearlessness before gainsayers which no earthly powers can daunt, and in a wisdom and heavenliness of demeanour, making them appear like beings from another world, and lighting up their very faces, perhaps, like the face of Moses when he came down from the mount, or like the face of Stephen in the midst of his murderers.

III. We come, now, to the intent and effect of this marvellous sealing.

It is agreed, on all hands, that it is a merciful and gracious act. Its first effect is to stay the blasts of judgment, and to produce a lull in the work of vengeance. Four angels, stationed over the earth at the four points of the compass, have already received power to hurt the earth and the sea. These four agents seem to be the same that act in connection with the first four trumpets, under which the whole system of the world is so fiercely smitten. Hail and fire, mingled with blood, there fall upon the earth, and the third part of what grows in the fields is destroyed. A great burning mountain is cast into the sea, and a burning star upon the rivers and fountains, turning the waters into blood or bitterness, and making havoc with all forms of life, both in the deep and on the land. Portentous and afflictive manifestations are also wrought in sun, moon, and stars. All these would seem to be, at least included in, the blasts with which these four angels had received power to blow upon the earth, the sea, and the trees. But the sealing Angel, with a great voice, commands them to hold back their blasts, until these servants of God are sealed.

And so it is ever. God's people are the salt of the earth. But for them, and God's gracious purposes toward them, judgment and ruin would instantly break over the globe. It is only for the elect's sake that the world stands, that the sun shines, that the fields yield their increase, and that men's greatest blessings are not at once turned into curses. It is only because God has bis servants in the world, and saints preparing for glory, and children among earth's populations who sigh and cry for the abominations that are done, that the chariots of destruction do not rush over all that is. Governments stand, society exists, the waters flow, the trees live, the sea retains its salubrity, the grasses grow upon the earth, and the death-blasts of the destroying angels are restrained, only because the Lord is engaged taking out from among the nations a people for His name, the number of which must first be made up. Ten righteous persons in Sodom would have put off the ruin of that sink of sin; and even when the terrific scenes of the great day have begun, and advanced to the very margin of their culmination, the whole process is made to delay till the 144,000 servants of God are sealed. O the compassion and forbearance of Jehovah, and the intensity of His faithfulness to them that call upon Him! Nor do the proud and haughty ones of this world begin to comprehend, neither can it be measured, how much they owe to those meek children of obscurity, whose faith, devotions, and concern about the judgment, they so often ridicule, and so much despise.

But this sealing was more particularly for the comfort, assurance, and security of the sealed ones themselves. In the parallel passages in Ezekiel and Joel, the preservation of the marked ones, and the deliverance of those who call upon the name of the Lord, are specifically asserted. Here also, in the general commission of the agents of destruction and torment against men in general, there is a reservation in favour of those who have the seal of God in their foreheads. (Revelation 9:4.) The nature of the sealing itself is such as to forewarn and empower those who receive it against the impending evils. The restraint upon the blasts until this sealing is completed, also shows a relation of this sealing to those blasts, implying securement against them. And all such Divine markings in every other case had protection and deliverance for their object. It was so in the case of the children of Israel in Egypt. It was so in the case of Rahab. And it is so in the case of Baptism now. Hence, as remarked by Wordsworth, "this action of sealing with the sea or signet of God, is equivalent to a declaration, that they, who are so sealed, appertain to God, and are distinguished as such from others who do not thus belong to Him, and are assured by Him of His protection against all evil." As the gift of the Holy Ghost certified and assured the apostles, of the Divinity of the cause they had espoused, of their acceptance as God's acknowledged ambassadors, of the certain fulfilment unto them of all that their Lord had promised, and of their everlasting life, triumph, and glory, no matter what men might do unto them, or what might happen; so this sealing with the seal of the living God certified and assured these 144,000 of the unmistakable character of their faith, of their election as a first fruits of incoming new administrations, and guaranteed unto them, not only security amid the blasts of heightening judgment upon earth, but also a peculiar and blessed portion with Jesus in His glory. And as the Baptism of the Spirit secured the safety of the primitive Christians when Jerusalem was overwhelmed, so this sealing secures the safety of the sealed ones as the judgment of the great day goes over the nations. They trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; and the Psalmist's words are fulfilled unto them: "When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it."

From this, then, we see, that God is not yet done with the Jews. Their national restoration is not necessarily involved in this text; though such a restoration in advance of this sealing, would admirably agree with the vision, and with other predictions relating to the same transactions. But it is involved that the Jews shall remain a distinct people upon earth up to the day of judgment; and that, before the final consummation, God will again turn Himself toward them, and begin to deal with them once more in mercy, as in the days that He brought them up out of the land of Egypt. Edom, and those who disbelieve with Edom in Jacob's birthright, may sneeringly ask:

"Watchman, what of the night?" But, there is a morning coming. A stormy morning it may be; but a morning nevertheless, and not without its sunshine and its rays of blessing. They err who tell us that all God's promises to Israel as a race are dead, never again to be revived. The Giver of them does not so speak. His inspired Apostle, even after Jerusalem had fallen, wrote, with regard to this very subject, that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;" and that for the selfsame Israel which has fallen, and been cast down, and broken off, there is a coming fulness, recovery, and grafting in again, when the Deliverer shall come. (See Romans 11:1-36.) And the visible pledge of something special yet in reserve for this marvellous race, is written in all their history, from the fall of Jerusalem to this hour. Else why the unparalleled preservation of this people, with such unwaning and ever-active life-energy, "against such overwhelming odds, through the storms of so many centuries, the vicissitudes and perils of so many generations, and amid the wrecks of so many buried empires?" Else why that undying presentiment, which throbs in the universal Jewish heart, and which no adversity can quench or prosperity entirely charm into quiet, of some future return to the high estate of their fathers? The very land itself, in its perpetual refusal to give peaceful and secure home to any of the Gentiles who have overrun it, throughout all its sad desolations, gives out its plaints and prayers that Jehovah would not forget his covenant with the house of Israel, and utters from every hill and valley, shore and sea, the prophecy of some future of hope and blessing which cannot be delayed forever. What that hope is, we need not here inquire. But linked in with it is the sealing of 144,000 out of the twelve tribes of the children of Jacob, to stand as God's servants and witnesses upon earth amid the ongoings of the judgment, and finally to take their places with the Lamb on the Mount Zion, amid the Halleluias and harpings of heaven, and to sing there a song, never sung before, and never to be sung by any but themselves.

Friends and brethren, it is not for us to be a part of this 144,000. But we have our calling also, and a much superior one. The Jehovah Angel from the sunrising is even now at work throughout the world, marking and sealing men for kinghoods and priesthoods far sublimer than all the honours of these 144,000. His proposal is made alike to all, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, bond or free: and that proposal is, by His word, sacraments and Spirit, to set a seal upon each of us, not only for our safety in the day of judgment, but for our admission into the royalties of heavenly empire. And it is only to allow time for the making up of the full number to reign with Him forever, that the blasts of vengeance are restrained, and the day of judgment tarries. Child of Adam, hast thou, then, the mark? Hast thou been set apart to God, and sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise?

I am addressing some who hope they have the seal of God. Baptized into His name, enrolled among His professing people, communing punctually at His table, lifting oft their hearts and voices unto Him as their stay and strength amid earth's trials, believing with all their soul in Jesus as their salvation, and with the desire ever burning in their breasts to be found of Him in peace, they promise well to be among the firstborn in heaven. But, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12.) No one of us is out of danger yet; and the word of the Master is: "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." (Revelation 3:11.)

But I am addressing others who have forfeited their right to any such hope. Though baptized, it is the same as if they had not been, except that they have vows upon them which they do not fulfil. Though outwardly grafted into the Church, no life-connection has been formed, and tonight they are mere dead branches, leafless, fruitless, unsightly, and ready for the burning. They are witnesses against themselves that they have chosen them the Lord to serve Him; but they have not done it. O ye backsliding children, remember whence ye are fallen, and repent, and do the first works, lest your Lord come in an hour when ye think not, and assign you place with hypocrites and unbelievers. Though you may never have run to the same excess of riot with many around you, if you have lived forgetful and neglectful of God and duty, it would be blasphemy for you to say that you are ready for the judgment. Up, then, and be doing; for your opportunities will soon be past.

And yet others are listening to me who have not so much as been baptized; whose names are nowhere on the records of the pious; who have hitherto been living without God and without hope in the world; and who are conscious that no saving mark is on their foreheads. Prayerless and careless, they have passed the precious hours in which they might have become the sons of God, and are tonight on the road to everlasting death. O sinful, self-deceiving mortal, to thee, once more, is the word of this salvation sent!

Jesus ready stands to save thee,
Full of pity joined with power.

With the seal of the living God in hand, He waits consent to stamp its saving impress on thy brow. Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and thou shalt find. But let not another day or hour be lost, lest there should be no more hope for thee.

Verses 9-17

Lecture 16

(Revelation 7:9-17)


Revelation 7:9-17. (Revised Text.) After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, out of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm-branches in their bands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, The salvation [be ascribed] to our God who sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels were standing around the throne, and the elders, and the four living ones, and they fell before the throne on their faces and worshipped God, saying, Amen, the blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honour, and the power, and the might, be to our God unto the ages of the ages. Amen.

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, These that are arrayed in the white robes, who are they? and whence came they? And I said unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said (to me), These are they that come out of the tribulation, the great [one]; and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. On this account they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne [Codex Sinaiticus: knows them] shall tabernacle over them. They shall not hunger any more, nor yet thirst any more; neither shall the sunlight on them, no, nor any scorching heat: because the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne is their shepherd, and shall lead them to fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.

Three visions are embraced in the results of the breaking of the sixth seal: first, the prodigious commotions which fill the world with consternation; second, the sealing of the 144,000; and here, the multitude of palm-bearers before the throne. The first two of this particular series relate to the earth and to people in the flesh; the one which we are now to consider relates to heaven and to people in heaven. What it presents is subsequent in time, both to the great shaking and the gracious sealing. The great and terrible Day of the Lord is not one ordinary day of twelve or twenty-four hours. All these seals, and the varied occurrences under them, belong to that day; but it is very manifest that each of them covers a continuous period of months and years. The vision now before us refers to one section in a series of successive judicial wonders.

The rapt apostle is in heaven. He was called thither at a very early stage of these successive visions, and from thence he contemplates all that he narrates after the beginning of the fourth chapter. It was from heaven that he beheld the shaking and the sealing; and from the same point of observation he sees this company of palm-bearers. They stand before the throne, and before the Lamb. They shout and praise God for their redemption. The angels form a grand circle around them; the throne, with the Living ones and the Elders, as described in the fourth chapter, being in the centre. They are arrayed in bright robes, are acknowledged as servants of God, and pronounced forever free from tribulation, and from whatever might distress them or interfere with their blessedness.

The picture would seem to be a very plain one, and one easy to be understood. There was also such a particular announcement of the history and character of the multitude in view, that there would appear to be no room for difficulty in this regard. And yet, on all the prevalent systems of Apocalyptic interpretation, the question of the Elder: "Who are they? and whence came they?" is still the great question to be decided. Indeed, there is scarcely one point with reference to these palm-bearers upon which expositors are agreed. It is generally acknowledged that they are, or represent, children of men, who had a deal of trouble in their day, and are some way related to the family of the redeemed; but whether people in the flesh on earth, or disembodied spirits in the intermediate state, or risen and glorified saints in their heavenly home, is matter of mere dreamy opinion, indifferently debated, and in no way settled. And from what I have seen upon the subject, I would take it as a crucial point to try the consistency of any proposed method of interpreting the Apocalypse, whether it has capacity satisfactorily to dispose of this palm-bearing multitude.

Some have taken these palm-bearers to be the early Christians, victorious over the sorrows and persecutions which afflicted the Church in the first ages. Others see in them a symbol of the prosperity which came to the Church by the conversion of the Emperor Constantine; or of the vast accessions which were made to the Church under his and subsequent reigns; or of the exalted and happy state of the Church in a fancied millennium yet to be realized in this world. Others take these palm-bearers to be the spirits of the redeemed, anterior to the resurrection; others, the 144,000 sealed ones of the preceding vision, exalted to their final glory; others, the whole body of the Church of all ages; others, the Church of the Gentiles; some the Church on earth; some the Church in resurrection glory; some the Church in some ceremony of recognition by Christ in heaven; and some a mere poetic adumbration of victory for the Gospel, without definite significance or application. A greater chaos of opinions and fancies is scarcely to be found on any other distinct subject presented in the Scriptures, than that which exists upon this. There is no alternative, therefore, if we would at all ascertain the truth, but to go back to first principles, and find out some method of explaining this whole Book, which will take in these palm-bearers, in the place at which they appear, in harmony with all the statements given concerning them, and with all that goes before and follows after.

On the plain and simple principles upon which we have conducted this exposition thus far, we cannot well fail to reach results of a definite and solid character, needing no far-fetched and doubtful substructure to bring us to them, and so direct that the plainest understanding may judge of their worthiness to be accepted as the real truth meant to be set forth.

It is sometimes profitable to consider questions negatively. It serves to narrow the inquiry, and to free and clear the subject for more direct solution and settlement. And this method seems to be called for in this case. In order, therefore, to decide rightly who these palm-bearers are, I will first show who they are not.

1. Evidently they are not the first and highest class of redeemed men. As we have seen in the fourth and fifth chapters, there is a body of ransomed ones, glorified, crowned, and promoted to preeminent dignity in heaven, where the apostle beheld and heard them before the book was taken, and hence in advance of all the judgment plagues developed under the seals. These are the Elders and the Living ones, redeemed out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation-the seniors in glory, and highest of all the saints-crowned with golden crowns, and related to the throne as none others. No sooner had John seen the judgment throne set, than he also saw other thrones around it, and these princely Elders seated on them, ready to take part in the solemn adjudications about to be visited upon the earth; and also Living ones conjoined with the throne, and sharing in the administration of its decrees. These same Elders and Living ones appear again in the vision before us, occupying the same nearness to the throne and the same royal dignity in which the seer first beheld them. They are distinguished in various particulars from the palm-bearing multitude. They sit; the palm-bearers stand. They have crowns and thrones; the palm-bearers have neither. They appeared in their places and received their rewards before the sorrows of judgment began; the palm-bearers only come to their place before the throne after the judgment has progressed to the sixth seal. The Elders were in heaven before "the hour of trial" came, being "accounted worthy to escape all these things;" the palm-bearers were in that "trial," and only reach heaven "out of the tribulation, the great one." The Elders and Living ones are "Kings and Priests;" the palm-bearers are connected with the same general company, but only in the capacity of servants. It is therefore, a great mistake to confound these palm-bearers with the highest order of saints.

2. Equally erroneous is it, to identify these palm-bearers with the sealed ones of the preceding vision. The sealed ones consist of a definite and ascertained number; but these palm-bearers are uncounted and numberless. The sealed ones are all Israelites, blood-descendants of the patriarch Jacob; but these palm-bearers are described as "out of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues." The sealing of the sealed ones had reference to their preservation through storms of judgment upon men on earth, which storms are only let loose under the seventh seal; but these palm-bearers are already in heaven before the seventh seal is touched. Besides, in a subsequent vision, in chap. 14, we find this particular 144,000 again, in their own distinct character, and only then, at that late period, introduced into their glorified estate. It is, therefore, most unreasonable, and forever irreconcilable with the record, to take these palm-bearers and the 144,000 sealed ones as one and the same body. They are as different as time, place, and characterizing circumstances can make two classes of people.

3. Neither do these palm-bearers represent the Church universal at the end of the great tribulation. We have that in the 20th chapter, in its own proper place, and including all these several separate classes of the redeemed. I have seen it put forth by an otherwise creditable writer, and upon the authority of the vision now before us, that there is no such thing as a rapture of the Church before the great tribulation; that these palm-bearers show us the Church in final salvation; and that they all pass under the great tribulation, and only come to glory through it. But he is sadly mistaken in every point of this statement. Where do the gold-crowned Elders and Living ones come from, if there is no rapture of the Church before the great tribulation? They are glorified saints, clearly identified as such, in Revelation 4:1-11 and Revelation 5:1-14; and they are glorified and crowned before the great judgment tribulation begins, being saved from that "hour of trial." And where is the proof that these palm-bearers represent the Church at all? They are not called the Church, or any part of it. The Church-the Ecclesia-in its proper New Testament acceptation, ends its earthly course with what was represented by "the seven churches," and is never heard of again in all the Apocalypse, after the third chapter, except as it appears in the Elders and Living ones in glory. There still are believers, saints, and witnesses for God, who subsequently attain to high and glorious places in the Divine Kingdom; but they are not "the Church of the firstborn,"--the only proper Church,-which receives its judgment, and whose true members are apportioned their heavenly dignities, before a single seal is broken, and hence some time before this palm-bearing multitude appears before the throne.

Besides, if there is no rapture of the Church until the final termination of the judgment troubles, and all the saints together only then are introduced into glory, how shall we account for John's mental questionings and uncertainties with reference to these palm-bearers? If they represent the finally complete Church, did he not know that the Church was to be thus exalted and glorified? Was he so ignorant of the character and destiny of that chosen body of which he was an apostle and a chief, as not to know it, or whence it came, upon encountering it in heaven? Would it not be a sorry impeachment of his apostolic character and enlightenment, besides very stupid and unreasonable, to proceed on such an assumption, or on anything which involves it? The manifest fact that he was perplexed and in doubt with reference to these palm-bearers, and that the Elder interfered to solve his questionings, proves that they are not the Church proper, but the Church of the after-born, if of the Church at all; that is, a body of saved ones, with a history and place peculiarly their own, and not as yet exactly understood by the apostle.

Still further, it is a false gloss upon the Elder's words, to understand them as if these palm-bearers had passed through the entire duration of the judgment troubles before reaching the position in which John beholds them. The language corresponds with the order of succession in these several visions, and suggests, if it does not imply, that these palm-bearers cease to be in the great tribulation before its final termination. It is not said that they pass through it, but that they come out of it, thus leaving it behind them to run on after they are gone.

Some argue, indeed, that "the great tribulation" is realized only under the seventh seal, during the murderous domination of the Beast and the False Prophet; and that as these palm-bearers "come out of the tribulation, the great one," we must necessarily throw this vision forward, and nearer to the extremity at which all tribulation ends. But this also is a mistake. That which the Scriptures describe as "the great tribulation," though inseparably linked with the Judgment, is made up of more than one blast. There is a tide in it, dividing it into sections. There was a prelibation of it in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state, as that was also a prelibation of the Judgment itself. And though the highest stress and fulness of the great tribulation are realized under the seventh seal with its trumpets and vials, we have the testimony of Christ himself, that mighty gusts of its power are expended before the opening of the sixth seal. The darkening of the sun, the obscuration of the moon, the falling of the stars, and the shaking of the whole system of nature, described in Matthew 24:29, and Mark 13:24, are precisely identical with the great physical prodigies which John beheld at the opening of the sixth seal, and are the great characteristics of the sixth seal. And yet, in both instances, these occurrences are located by the Saviour "after" and "immediately after," very sore and awful tribulation, which is necessarily embraced in, though it does not exhaust, that "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."[59] (Matthew 24:21.) We thus have it scripturally ascertained, that "the tribulation, the great one," partly precedes, as well as partly succeeds, the breaking of the sixth seal. These palm-bearers could therefore be in it and come out of it, and still be transferred to heaven before the last dregs of it are poured out upon the guilty world.

[59] It is manifest that the great and unequalled tribulation here described, is not viewed by the Saviour as finally ended before the occurrences of Matthew 24:20. This is proven from what is said in Matthew 24:30; for there he tells us that "then"--after the physical commotions of Matthew 24:29 --"shall all the tribes of the earth mourn." This universal mourning is certainly a part of what is summarily referred to in Matthew 24:21; but it is specifically said to come after the events which are confessedly coincident with the sixth seal. The manner in which Mark gives the same things, seems also distinctly to imply, that the tribulation preceding the disturbances in sun, moon, and stars, is only a part or section of the one great time of trouble. He represents the Saviour as saying, "after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened," &c., implying some other or further tribulation, which the record in Matthew 24:30, and the trumpets and vials of the Revelation show to be subsequent to these marked commotions, just as the first was before them.

It is quite untenable to assign the unequalled tribulation of Matthew 24:21 to the fall of Jerusalem, and the subsequent afflictions of the Jewish people, in any sense except as preliminary first fruits-a mere sample in advance; for in Daniel 12:1, this unparalleled time is unmistakably connected with the deliverance, not with the destruction, of that people. Properly, therefore, it relates to the ending of the times of the Gentiles, not to the beginning of them, as some have erroneously insisted

It is quite untenable to assign the unequalled tribulation of Matthew 24:21 to the fall of Jerusalem, and the subsequent afflictions of the Jewish people, in any sense except as preliminary first fruits-a mere sample in advance; for in Daniel 12:1, this unparalleled time is unmistakably connected with the deliverance, not with the destruction, of that people. Properly, therefore, it relates to the ending of the times of the Gentiles, not to the beginning of them, as some have erroneously insisted

Referring back to the second, third, fourth, and fifth seals-to the red horseman, taking peace from the earth and filling it with strife, havoc, and bloodshed-to the black horse of scarcity and famine-to the livid horse, with death-plague on his back and greedy hell at his heels, overrunning the world-and to the persecution and butchery of men for their faithful testimony for God under the fifth seal-we behold an accumulation of sufferings and horrors which, if they belong not to the Great Tribulation of the judgment times, I know not how to place or what to call. And as these palm-bearers do not appear upon the heavenly scene until after the opening of the sixth seal, they must needs have been partakers in these dreadful trials, and hence are rightly described as coming out of "the tribulation, the great one," though translated and in heaven before its last blasts smite the guilty world.

Our position thus stands firm, that these palm-bearers do not represent the Church general at the end of all tribulation, or anywhere else.

4. It is doubtful, even, whether there are any resurrected people at all among this multitude. There may be such, but there is no proof to that effect. There is nothing said about resurrection, and nothing which necessarily involves it. A rapture or translation, like that of Enoch or Elijah, is implied; for these people are in heaven, and have received their places and rewards; but it is not intimated that any of them had ever died. They are to hunger and thirst no more; but it is not added that they shall die no more. To those under the fifth seal, who had lost their lives for Christ, the word was that they must rest as disembodied souls under the altar, until others of their brethren should be slain as they had been. But we read of no more such slaying of witnesses for the truth before the opening of the seventh seal. This would seem to imply that no resurrection occurs between the fifth and the seventh seals. It is but a remote implication, and cannot be regarded as conclusive; but if correct, it precludes the possibility of any resurrected ones being among this palm-bearing multitude. At any rate, as all of them come "out of the tribulation, the great one," there can be no resurrected ones included, except such as died during the great tribulation time.

We thus find our inquiry greatly narrowed, and ourselves far on the way to a satisfactory understanding of the whole matter. I therefore proceed to state more positively who these palm-bearers are, and whence they come.

1. They are ransomed human beings. They were once sinners and sufferers on the earth, and members of its tribes and peoples. They were cleansed and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. They ascribe their salvation to God and to the Lamb. Whether they be rated with the Church proper, or not, they are by nature of the stock of Adam, and by grace of the family of the redeemed.

2. They are people who were living on the earth in the period of the Judgment. The great tribulation times are everywhere inseparably linked with the judgment times (see Daniel 12:1-13, Matthew 24:1-51, Mark 13:1-37, Revelation 1:7); and this whole multitude is made up of those who come out of the great tribulation. This is positively stated by the hierophant Elder, and so recorded by John. It is therefore true, and no man is at liberty to question it. There are other saved ones, of several classes, who subsequently come out of the afterparts of this great tribulation-the 144,000, for instance, the two witnesses, and those which refuse to worship the Beast or to receive his mark-but they are not of this particular company.

Some make a great deal of the allusion to the number of these palm-bearers, and might perhaps bring this forward against their being contemporaries in one particular period of the world's history. But Dr. Hengstenberg has well observed that, "this magnifying of the numbers here to something beyond all bounds," is not legitimate. The Jews constitute a very small fraction of the people now living, or that will be living when the judgment comes. And yet, the few elect and sealed from among them, as beheld in the preceding vision, make up a multitude which the Apostle did not pretend to count. He "heard the number" of them; otherwise, even that company would have been numberless to him. And if we add to that number, in proportion as all nations, peoples, kindreds, and tongues exceed the Jewish population, we will necessarily have a body sufficiently large to answer all the terms of the description before us. When John speaks of these palm-bearers as "a great multitude which no one could number," he speaks relatively, not absolutely. (Compare his language in John 21:25.) And if we add to the number of the sealed ones, but twenty-five for one, we will have more than 4,000,000 of people, who, if viewed in one congregation, as in this vision, would be vastly in excess of the capacity of one man to count, and hence "a great multitude which no one could number." And when we consider the import of the opening of the first seal, the moral and spiritual revolution which it sets forth in vast masses of mankind, and the continuous ongoing of these conquests, judgment-aided, under all the subsequent seals, there certainly is no just reason for hesitating to believe, that by the time the end of the sixth seal is reached, there will be people enough, won from the half-christianity, lukewarmness, unbelief, and sins in which the beginning of the judgment found them, to make up even "a great multitude which no man could number." At any rate, we are not to allow reasonings of our own, upon expressions altogether indefinite, to stand against the clear and positive Divine statement, that all these palm-bearers come out of the great tribulation, and hence must of necessity have lived upon the earth contemporaneously in the judgment time.

3. They are people whom the judgment found unprepared, and who consequently were "left" when the rapture of the Church took place. The Scriptures are everywhere very particular in forewarning us that the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night-that it will come as a snare on all them that dwell on the earth-that the great mass of men, and even of the professing Church, shall be overtaken by it unawares-and that, "in that night, there shall be two in one bed," one of whom "shall be taken, and the other left;" and "two grinding at the mill," one of whom "shall be taken, and the other left; "and two in the field, one of whom "shall be taken, and the other left." The representations are also very clear, that great will be the number of those who will thus be "left." Indeed, the intimations are, that so few will be found ready, and waiting for their Lord, that their removal will cause no very noticeable depletion in the population of the earth. The great body of the professed Church of that day will be "left," as well as the entire community not of the Church; for "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" And to all that are then found unready, and are "left," gone forever will be the privileges and honours of "the Church of the firstborn! "Gone, the crowns, the thrones, the princedoms of eternity, which are now so freely offered to every hearer of the Gospel! Gone, to return no more, all hope and opportunity of regaining the lost prize of immortal kingship and dominion! Grovelling worldlings, profane blasphemers, blinded sceptics, may not understand it, and, for the most part, go on in their sins; but, for millions upon millions, "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." In place of invitations to heavenly rulership, will be judgment pangs; and in place of the joyous day of God's long-suffering, will be the dark waves of the great tribulation.

But, even then, not yet everything will be lost. The crown will be gone, but salvation may still be attained. There will then be no more heavenly thrones to be distributed, but there will still be palms to be secured. The pains of the great tribulation will then have to be endured, but there will remain a possibility of coming out of it, before it culminates in eternal perdition. And many, whose repentance comes, alas, too late for eternity's higher glories, will turn themselves in sorrowful earnestness to that Saviour whose sublimer offers they let slip for this paltry and perishing world. "For when God's judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isaiah 16:9.)

Not by any means all, who are "left" when the Church is translated, will thus turn unto the Lord. The corrupt world will continue to be the same base and God-defiant world, until the waves of hell go over it forever. "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly." (Daniel 12:10.) As the calamities thicken and deepen, evil will become more out-breaking, and rush with giant strides to its final consummation. But, amid much painful disappointment, regretful tears, and great tribulation, Laodiceans, who thought they were rich, and increased in goods, and had need of nothing, will discover how wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked they were the while, and repent, and profit by their chastenings, and find salvation, though having lost their crowns; and many more, who would not give themselves to Jesus in order to be eternal Kings, will learn to think themselves happy to follow him in the fires of judgment, if they may only be servants in the kingdom of heaven. And these are they whom John here beholds "standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands."

All this is latently contained in what is recorded of these palm-bearers. "These are they that come out of the tribulation, the great one; and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. On this account they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple." Having been "left" when the elect were "taken," John would naturally be surprised to find them in heaven. Having come under the judgment pains, he would naturally infer that heaven was not for them. Hence his silent astonishment at beholding so large a company of after-comers exalted into the presence of God; and hence the special explanation of the Elder.

It is one of Christ's messages from heaven to his people on earth: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments." (Revelation 16:15.) The implication of the Elder's words is, that these people had failed to comply with these conditions, while the judgment delayed; but were worldly in their temper, had their "garments spotted by the flesh," and so were without right to the promises. Making themselves at home in the ways, and thinking, and emoluments of this world, of course they had no claim on heaven. The Apostle was, therefore, justly surprised to see them in heaven. But the Elder explains it. Having been cut off from the Church of the firstborn, and made to feel their failure by the fierceness of judgment sorrows, they came to a better mind. Their spotted garments they washed in the blood of the Lamb. Their false philosophizing they gave up for the simplicities of the faith; and the truths they once accounted fanaticism, they found to their sorrow and at length confessed to be realities. And by the depths of their penitence, amid the pains of the great tribulation, and by the sorrowful earnestness of their seeking unto Jesus in the last extremities, they obtained forgiveness, and were recovered from their sins. "On this account," the Elder says, they are saved, though out of the fires of judgment;-admitted into heaven, even though they have lost their places among the crowned ones;-permitted to stand "before the throne of God," though they have no thrones for themselves;-made servants in God's house, though not of the high order of royal sons.

Having, then, ascertained who these Palm-bearers are, the next point to be considered is their blessedness. We have not the time now for such a discussion of it as it deserves; but a few observations are demanded, before dismissing the subject.

1. They are in heaven. This is a great thing to say of any one. It is to be in the enjoyment of an estate, by the side of which all the exaltation, honour and glory this world can bestow, shrinks into utter nothingness. Lazarus in heaven, is a far sublimer picture than that of any rich man on earth, however royally clad, or sumptuously luxuriant in worldly possessions. "Oh, if I can only get to heaven! "is often the highest ejaculation of the noblest and purest hearts. And this goal of pious longing, these Palm-bearers have reached. They are where the gold-crowned Elders and the glorious Living ones are. They are where the holy angels stand round them in serried ranks of glory upon glory. They are where the Almighty's throne is located, where God is, and where the Lamb shows Himself in all His sublime benignity and power.

They are where the pure worship ascends forever in the presence of eternal Godhead, and the Amens to every strain of adoration come in from principalities and powers. They are in Heaven! True, they have no crowns, no thrones, no dominion. True, they stand while some others sit, and serve while others reign. True, they come in after all the royal places of the firstborn are filled. But still, they are in Heaven!-bright, beautiful, lovely, untainted, imperishable, Heaven!

2. They are "before the throne of God,"--that throne which John saw set in heaven, encircled with an iris of emerald, and filled by Him whose appearance is like crystalline and smokeless flame; that throne around which all other thrones are stationed, and out of which go forth the lightnings, and voices, and thunders of the eternal forces. They are not joined to the throne, as the Living ones; nor associated with its Occupant in subregencies, like the Elders; but they are in the presence of it, before it, near it;--nearer even than the angels. To be admitted into the presence of the King, to be permitted to stand before the throne when the King is there in the majesty and state of His eternal dominion, and to be allowed to remain in such a station permanently, is an honour not be despised. It was the high distinction of David to stand before King Saul, after that victory over Goliath. It is a privilege which is awarded to none but those who find favour in the King's sight. And these Palm-bearers "stand before the throne, and before the Lamb."

3. They are "clothed in white robes." They wear the garments of saints-they are attired in unspotted righteousness and faultless splendour, acquired through the Saviour's blood. They were sinners once, but they are holy now. They were naked once, but they are clothed now; and their clothing is the pure and shining raiment of heaven. To be free from sin!--to be sure that our hearts are clean!-to be released forever from the soils of earth and its corruptions!--to be clothed with the unsullied purity of the spiritually perfect!--is the deepest, greatest, heaviest sigh of every child of God! But these Palm-bearers realize what it is to have these yearnings satisfied. They have robes; and those robes are spotless bright, having been washed and whited in the blood of the Lamb.

4. They have "palm branches in their hands." The joy of the feast of tabernacles is theirs. God ordained for his ancient people that, after the harvest was gathered, they should take the branches of palm trees, and dwell in booths, and rejoice before Him, as the Lord that brought them up out of Egypt. And so we read in Nehemiah, that "all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity," as they found written in the law, fetched olive-branches, and palm-branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, and sat under the booths, "and there was very great gladness." These seasons were the most joyous, exultant and bright, observed by the Israelitish people. They were times when everything glittered and thrilled with deep, pure, and lively joy. And these palm-branches in the hands of this white-robed multitude connect with the ancient feast of tabernacles, and bespeak gladdest exultation over their deliverance. To this also answers the further description, which represents them as "crying with a great voice, saying, The Salvation [be ascribed] to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb; "whilst angels, and Elders, and Living ones fall down on their faces in reverent adoration, and answer: "Amen, the blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honour, and the power, and the might, be to our God, unto the ages of the ages. Amen."

5. They serve day and night in the temple of God. This shows them to be no longer subject to the clogs and weariness of mortal life, but glorified, and in the immortal state. John saw no temple in the New Jerusalem; but the New Jerusalem is not all of heaven. There is a celestial temple as well as an earthly one. Jesus, in this very Apocalypse, gives the promise: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." (Revelation 3:12.) And in that temple these Palm-bearers serve continually. In what their services consist, is not told us; but they are services befitting saints and the glory of heaven, and such as give ample exercise to all their glorified capacities and powers.

6. Nor are they without God's distinct and favourable acknowledgment. "He that sitteth on the throne knows them;" or, as in other copies of the text, He "shall spread his tent upon them," "tabernacle over them." As the Shekinah brooded over the pilgrim Hebrews by day and by night, the glorious symbol of the Divine presence, protection, and favour, so these Palm-bearers abide under the shadow of the Almighty. As in the final consummation the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them as their God; so shall His pavilion cover these Palm-bearers, and they shall be His people, and He will be their God.

7. "They shall not hunger any more, nor yet thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, no, nor any scorching heat." Oh, to be delivered from the straits, and wants, and painful necessities of mortal life!--to be released from these earthly burdens, vicissitudes, and deaths!-to find some blessed homestead, where these aching, wasting, dying natures may once know what it is to have abiding rest! Man's anguished spirit knows no intenser hunger and thirst then this. But what we all thus yearn for, is the everlasting possession of these saints. Once they felt the weight of famine, the plague of drought, the fires of trial, and the burdens of toil; but, gone forever, now, are all "the burdens that galled, and the cares that oppressed them."

And the reason why they fare so happily, as stated by the Elder, is, "because the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne is their shepherd, and shall lead them to fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes."

O the blessedness, the peace, the comfort, the everlasting satisfaction, which is the portion of these Palm-bearers! Our souls thrill with the mere contemplation of it! What must it then be to possess it-to feel it to be our own-to enjoy it without let or hindrance forever! A home so happy, a rest so glorious, a place so high, a bliss so exquisite and enduring, would not be too dearly purchased at a cost of all the pains of the great tribulation. It is verily the very mount of transfiguration to which we are carried by this theme. We feel ourselves overshadowed with the cloud of brightness. We cannot open even our drowsy eyes to the scene, but our lips mutter: "Lord, it is good for us to be here." Fain would we set up our tabernacles where we might ever contemplate the blaze of living glory. Here we would sit forever viewing bliss so great, so true, so high. This glorious Lamb! This glorious throne! These glorious ones with their glorious crowns! This effulgence of gracious Godhead! These sinless splendours! These eternal consolations! These holy services! These smiles of favour beaming from the King! These never-withering palms! These eve'r-shining robes! These ever-thrilling songs! These ever-flowing springs of never-failing life! These joy-speaking eyes which never weep, and singing lips which never thirst, and uplifted hands which never tire, and comforts from God as a mother would comfort the child she loves, and sorrow and sighing forever fled away! O blessed, blessed, blessed contemplation!

And yet, this is only an inferior part of Heaven. There are higher dignities and sublimer joys. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be;" but, as golden crowns exceed palm-branches, and kings are above servants, and the possession of a throne is more than to stand before one, even by so much is the heavenly estate held out to us greater than that of these Palm-bearers.

I know not, O I know not,

What royal joys are there!

What radiancy of glory,

What light beyond compare!

And when I fain would sing them,

My spirit fails and faints;

And vainly would it imago

The possessions of the saints.

But, from these high scenes, we must go down again into the common world, where tears, sin and death still hold dominion. Duties, and pains, and trials await us there; and often we may grow faint and weary under them. Let us, then, go to them, humbler, wiser, and better men, determined to do, and bear, and wait, and watch, till the Master says, It is enough. But, let us not omit to carry with us the strengthening, quickening, and purifying inspiration of what we have seen and learned this night. These Palm-bearers reached their blessedness through the pains of the great tribulation; but to us is offered a better and higher portion than theirs, and without the judgment sorrows which they were made to feel. If we will but keep our garments, and the word of Christ's patience, and work, and watch, and pray, as He has given command, His word is out to keep us from the hour of trial which shall come upon the lukewarm, the worldly-minded, and the unbelieving in that day, now so near at hand. Let us then know and improve our privileges, and ever press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling; remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said: "Behold, I come quickly; hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown."

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 7". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/revelation-7.html.
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