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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Revelation 7

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 7:1. After these things — After the former discoveries made to me, which represented the providence of God toward his church and the world, till the downfall of the heathen Roman empire, the state of the church and the world immediately to succeed was also represented to me in the manner following: — I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth — That is, the north, the south, the east, and the west; holding the four cardinal winds of the earth — Keeping them in a state of restraint; that the wind might not blow upon the earth — That there might be the most entire and complete calm, to represent the peaceful state of things which should succeed the tumultuous and distressing revolutions which had been last discovered to me. Winds are emblems of commotions, and very properly, as they are the natural causes of storms. Thus this figurative expression is used and explained by Jeremiah 49:36-37; Upon Elam will I bring the four winds, from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds, &c., for I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, &c. To hold the winds, therefore, that they should not blow, is a very proper prophetic emblem of a state of peace and tranquillity. This chapter, it must be observed, is still a continuation of the sixth seal, for the seventh seal is not opened till the beginning of the next chapter. It is a description of the state of the church in Constantine’s time, of the peace and protection that it should enjoy under the civil powers, and of the great accession that should be made to it, both of Jews and Gentiles. Eusebius is very copious upon this subject in several parts of his writings, and hath applied that passage of the psalmist in the version of the Seventy, (Psalms 46:8-9,) Come hither, and behold the works of the Lord, what wonders he hath wrought in the earth; he maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear asunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire; which things, saith he, being manifestly fulfilled in our times, we rejoice over them. Lactantius also saith, in the same triumphant strain, “Tranquillity being restored throughout the world, the church which was lately ruined riseth again. Now, after the violent agitations of so great a tempest, a calm air and the desired light become resplendent. Now God hath relieved the afflicted. Now he hath wiped away the tears of the sorrowful.” These are testimonies of contemporary writers. Medals of Constantine are still preserved, with the head of this emperor on one side, and this inscription, CONSTANTINUS AUG., and on the reverse, BEATA TRANQUILLITAS, Blessed Tranquillity.


Verse 2-3

Revelation 7:2-3. And I saw another angel ascending from the east — To intimate the progress which the gospel should make from the east to the west; having in his hand the seal of the living God — In order to impress a mark upon those who should believe and obey the gospel, and dedicate themselves to his service. And he cried with a loud voice — Thus showing the great importance of what he uttered; to the four angels to whom it was given — At present to restrain the winds, but afterward to loose them with great violence, and by them to hurt the earth and the sea — To injure them in a terrible manner; saying, Hurt not the earth, &c. — Execute not your commission with respect to punishing the inhabitants of the earth; till we have sealed the servants of God — Marked them out as such, and secured them from the impending calamities in a manner by which they shall be as clearly distinguished from the rest of mankind as if they were visibly marked on their foreheads. Bishop Newton thinks that this expression, sealing on the forehead, is used in allusion to the ancient custom of marking servants on their foreheads, to distinguish what they were, and to whom they belonged: and that as, among Christians, baptism was considered as the seal of the covenant between God and believers, so the sealing here spoken of signifies the admitting them into the visible church of Christ by baptism; and that their being said to be sealed on their foreheads can imply no less than that those who before, in times of persecution, had been compelled to worship God in private, should now make a free, open, and public profession of their religion, without any fear or danger of thereby exposing themselves to persecution. To this, however, must be added, that this sealing doubtless implies that very many should not only be baptized, and make a profession of Christianity, but should also be really converted to God, made new creatures in Christ; and, having believed in him, should, as the apostle observes, (Ephesians 1:13,) be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; that is, both stamped with God’s image, and assured of their sonship by the Spirit of adoption and regeneration; and should possess that Spirit, in his witness and fruits, till they should receive the redemption of the purchased possession.


Verses 4-8

Revelation 7:4-8. And I heard the number of them, a hundred and forty and four thousand — This single passage, says the bishop of Meaux, may show the mistake of those who always expect the numbers in the Revelation to be precise and exact; for is it to be supposed, that there should be in each tribe twelve thousand believers, neither more nor fewer, to make up the total sum of one hundred and forty-four thousand? It is not by such trifles and low sense the divine oracles are to be explained. We are to observe, in the numbers of the Revelation, a certain figurative proportion which the Holy Ghost designs to point out to observation. As there were twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles, twelve became a sacred number in the synagogue and in the Christian Church. This number of twelve, first multiplied into itself, and then by one thousand, makes one hundred and forty-four thousand. The bishop sees, in the solid proportion of this square number, the unchangeableness of the truth of God and his promises. Perhaps it may mean the beauty and stability of the Christian Church, keeping to the apostolical purity of faith and worship. Of the tribe of Juda, &c. — As the Church of Christ was first formed out of the Jewish Church and nation, so here the spiritual Israel is first mentioned. But the twelve tribes are not enumerated here in the same order as they are in other places of Holy Scripture. Judah hath the precedence, because from him descended the Messiah, and in this tribe the kingdom was established. Dan is entirely omitted, being the first tribe that fell into idolatry after the settlement of Israel in Canaan; and also being early reduced to a single family, which family itself seems to have been cut off in war before the time of Ezra. For in the Chronicles, where the posterity of the patriarchs is recited, Dan is wholly omitted. Ephraim also was a tribe that greatly promoted idolatry, and therefore is not mentioned by name, but the tribe is denominated that of Joseph. The Levitical ceremonies being abolished, Levi was again on a level with his brethren, and is here mentioned as a tribe instead of that of Dan. In this list the children of the bond-woman and of the free-woman are confounded together; for in Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free.


Verse 9

Revelation 7:9. After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude — This first refers to the happy and prosperous state of the church at the end of so many grievous persecutions and sufferings: for an innumerable multitude of all nations and tongues embraced the gospel, and are here represented as clothed with white robes, in token of their acceptance with God, and their sanctification through his Holy Spirit. And, as Sulpicius Severus says, it is wonderful how much the Christian religion prevailed at that time. The historians who have written of this reign relate how even the most remote and barbarous nations were converted to the faith, Jews as well as Gentiles. One historian in particular affirms, that at the time when Constantine took possession of Rome, after the death of Maxentius, there were baptized more than twelve thousand Jews and heathen, besides women and children. These converts from the tribes of Israel and from the Gentile nations are here represented as having finished their course, and as standing before the throne in robes of glory, and with palms in their hands as tokens of joy and victory; because if they were sincere converts, brought to possess, as well as profess, the religion of Jesus, and should continue in the faith grounded and settled, and not be moved away from the hope of the gospel, they would certainly be presented before the presence of the divine glory with exceeding joy, and obtain all the felicity here spoken of. Doddridge indeed supposes that only the sealing of these thousands expresses the progress of the gospel under Constantine; and that the innumerable multitude here spoken of were the spirits of good men departed out of this world, and then with God in glory: and especially those who had weathered the difficulties and persecutions with which the church had been tried during the first centuries of Christianity, when the civil power was generally active against it, and when probably many persecutions raged in various parts of the world, whose histories are not come down to us.


Verses 10-12

Revelation 7:10-12. And cried with a loud voice — In token of the intenseness of their devotion; saying, Salvation to our God — That is, Let the salvation which we have attained be ascribed to him; which sitteth upon the throne — And from thence has graciously regarded us, and exalted us to such dignity and happiness, mean and miserable as we once were. And unto the Lamb — Let it be also ascribed to the mediation and grace of the Lamb, who gave himself to be slain for our redemption. The salvation for which they praised God is a deliverance from sin and its consequences, and a restoration to the favour and image of God, and communion with him here, and the eternal enjoyment of him hereafter. It is described and exhibited in its blessed results and completion, Revelation 7:15-17 : that for which they praise God is described Revelation 7:15; that for which they praise the Lamb, Revelation 7:14; and both in the 16th and 17th verses. This vision, especially when compared with the former, in the fourth and fifth chapters, Lowman also thinks is to be understood of the church in heaven; because, as heaven seems to be the proper scene of the vision, so the innumerable company of saints, with whom the angels join in the following words, in the presence of God and the Lamb, is most naturally to be understood of those who, having been faithful unto death, have received the crown of immortal life in the state of heavenly happiness. And he questions whether the praises of the church on earth can answer this prophetic description, or the intention of the prophetic Spirit, in the great encouragement it designed to give to faithfulness and constancy. He thinks, to understand it of the heavenly church, is a natural sense of the expressions, and a sense proper to the design of the prophecy, as it represents the faithful martyrs and confessors, once so great sufferers on earth, now blessed saints in heaven. And all the angels stood — In waiting; round the throne, and the elders, and the four living creatures — That is, the living creatures next the throne, the elders round these, and the angels round them both; and fell before the throne — Of the Divine Majesty; on their faces — So do the elders once only, Revelation 11:16; and worshipped God — Joining in the same act of worship and thanksgiving with the saints; saying, Amen — So let it be! With this word all the angels confirm the praises and thanksgivings of the great multitude, and show their hearty consent with them and approbation of them, carrying likewise the praises much higher, saying, Blessing, and glory, &c., be unto our God for ever and ever — May all creatures for ever bless and give thanks to him, as originally and essentially possessed of supreme glory, complete wisdom, of irresistible and almighty power, and therefore worthy of all honour, though exalted above all praise. Before the Lamb began to open the seven seals, a seven-fold hymn of praise was brought him by many angels, Revelation 5:12. Now he is upon opening the last seal, and the seven angels are going to receive seven trumpets, in order to make the kingdoms of the world subject to God, all the angels give seven-fold praise to God.


Verses 13-17

Revelation 7:13-17. And one of the elders, &c. — What is here related, to Revelation 7:17, might have immediately followed the tenth verse; but that the praise of the angels, which was given at the same time with that of the great multitude, came in between: answered — That is, he answered St. John’s desire to know, not to any words the apostle spoke. Or, in order to give him a more exact information concerning the persons who were clothed in the white robes of purity, honour, and dignity, one of the elders led him on by a question to ask of him a fuller account of them. What are these which are arrayed in white robes? — And make such a splendid appearance; and whence came, or come, they? And, believing the question to be asked in order to quicken my attention to what he had to tell me concerning them, I said, Sir, thou knowest — Though I do not. And he said, &c. — These persons, whom you behold appearing in their state of honour and happiness, are they which came — Or come, as οι ερχομενοι rather signifies; out of great tribulation — They were very lately in a state of great affliction and suffering, for the sake of their faith and constancy; but, having kept the faith, they have received the blessings which Christ obtained by his blood for his church and faithful people. Yet these could not be all martyrs, for the martyrs could not be such a multitude as no man could number. But as all the angels appear here, so probably did all the souls of the righteous, who had lived from the beginning of the world. All these may be said, more or less, to come out of great tribulation,, of various kinds, wisely and graciously allotted by God to all his children; and have washed their robes — From all guilt; and made them white — In all purity and holiness; in, or by, the blood of the Lamb — Through which alone we obtain remission of sins, and the influences of the sanctifying Spirit, so that they are advanced to the state of glory and happiness in which you see them. Therefore — Because they came out of great affliction, and have washed their robes in Christ’s blood; are they before the throne of God — It seems even nearer than the angels; and serve him, day and night — Speaking after the manner of men; that is, continually; in his temple — In heaven; and he that sitteth on the throve shall dwell among them σκηνωσει επ αυτους, shall have his tent over them: shall spread his glory over them as a covering. They shall hunger no more — They shall be no more subject to any of their former infirmities, wants, or afflictions; neither shall the sun light on them, &c. — None of the natural or common evils of the world below shall reach them any more. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them — With eternal peace and joy, so that they shall hunger no more; and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters — The comforts of the Holy Spirit, so that they shall thirst no more; neither shall they grieve any more, for God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes — Every sorrow, with every cause of sorrow, shall be fully taken away for ever.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 7:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/revelation-7.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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