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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 7

 

 

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Verse 1

Counter picture of celestial reward of Saints, Revelation 7:1-17.

a. Winds are silenced, while OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS are sealed, 144,000, Revelation 7:1-8.

1. And—The six seals of chap. vi give the shady side of human history and destiny; this chapter gives the sunny side. During that darksome history there was a Church, sometimes struggling and sometimes triumphant, in the world. And now, to relieve the scene and to exhilarate the Christian heart, a picture of that Church is contrastively spread before us in its glory. It follows, that the complete history of the world is not profane and inglorious, nor a defeat of Christ’s atonement and headship of the race.

“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”

The angel of the seals bids the angels of the winds to hush every breeze while he stamps the servants of God, Revelation 7:1-3. One hundred and forty-four thousand are sealed from among the twelve tribes of Israel, Revelation 7:4-8. Then the great innumerable body redeemed from among all nations are seen standing before the theophanic throne, (amid a choir of angels circling around them,) and their paradisaic state is explained by one of the elders, Revelation 7:9-17.

It is a great question among commentators, who are the 144,000? and who the great multitude of Revelation 7:9? By our mode of interpretation, the reply seems clear and simple. They are, as may be fully shown in our notes, the Old Testament and the New Testament Church; and their redemption is here pictorially presented in contrast to the condemnation of the profane world, as presented in the six seals of the last chapter.

After these things—This contrasted half does not belong to the seal series, but is a contrastive counterpart.

Four angels—The creational number, indicating that they are a regular part of the system. In religious allegory they are nature-angels; in science they are the laws of nature; in truth they are the goings forth of the divine power in its established and regular methods.

Four corners—Phraseology based upon the four points of the compass.

Not blow—A divine quietude of the elements over earth, and sea, and tree, must await the sacred sealing process. All nature yields before the dispensations of heavenly grace.


Verses 1-10

IV. THE SEVEN TRUMPETS, Revelation 7:1 to Revelation 20:10.

Of the trumpets, the first four are mundane, or earthly; each of the four blasts draws down a judgment upon some creational point, as earth, sea, fountains and rivers; firmamental luminaries. It is the sins of men that draw down these bolts of wrath, rendering every point of creation hostile to our peace. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake,” (Genesis 3:17,) is the key-note. This sad status of humanity has existed through all past ages; but it is here represented to form a base from which the history of the renovation commences.

The first four—the earthly trumpets—are each brief as well as terrible; the spiritual, the fifth and sixth, expand into wider dimensions and rise to more spiritual interests; while the seventh trumpet rolls forth its series of events, through all the future scenes of retribution and redemption to the judgment.


Verse 2

2. Another angel—Not, as Hengstenberg, the Lord Jesus Christ in person, but the impersonation of his redeeming and authenticating power.

Ascending from the east—Literal Greek, from the rising of the sun. This quarter is designated as the source of redeeming light and glory. Notes on chap. 16 and Luke 1:78. So Malachi 4:2 : “To you that fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing [salvation] in his wings.”

Ascending—As if coming from a fountain of divine splendour at or beneath the horizon.

Seal—The purpose of a seal is first to secure a thing, as the closure of the door of Christ’s sepulchre; and second, to authenticate a thing as truly belonging to the sealer. So, a seal is affixed to a signature to indicate that it is the signer’s own signature, deliberately made. The justified soul is sealed at his justification; his name being written then in the book of life, and the adoption into the sonship of God being bestowed. This seal may be forfeited by apostasy, as said in Ephesians 4:30, where see note.


Verse 4

4. And I heard the number—Omitting the element of time, the present verse assumes the sealing as all done and the number reported. The whole number, not including the great multitude of Revelation 7:9; but the number of the sealed of all the tribes of… Israel is alone given.

A hundred and forty and four thousand—A decisive instance of an exact for an inexact number, and decisive proof that there are symbol-numbers as well as symbol-objects. The basis is the symbol tribal-number, twelve; it is squared and multiplied by the cube of the number of universality, ten. It is, therefore, the churchly number, raised by multiplication of itself to a seemly magnitude, with the decimal symbolizing the inclusion of an immense whole. See notes on Revelation 9:16; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 20:4.


Verses 5-8

5-8. Of… tribe—Wordsworth gives a table of the six catalogues of the twelve tribes in scripture. 1. The births of the twelve patriarchs, Genesis 29:32; Genesis 30:1-24; Genesis 35:16 to Genesis 20:2. in the blessing of Jacob, Genesis 49:1 to Genesis 29:3. The list of Exodus 1:4. The order of the twelve standards at the tabernacle, Numbers 2:5. Order of tribal inheritance; and 6. The present list in the order of sealing.

Here, 1. Judah, as the tribe of the Messiah, stands first, in place of Reuben, first in all other lists, as being the firstborn. 2. For ethical reasons, the idolatrous tribes of Ephraim and Dan are excluded. Their place is filled by Levi and Joseph; Levi having been, as the uninheriting priestly tribe, omitted from the distribution of tribal territory, and Joseph having been omitted as being represented by his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. 3. The order of birth and the division of names according to the concubine and legitimate mothers, is disregarded. These changes arise from the new view introduced by the gospel.


Verse 9

b. The number of NEW TESTAMENT SAINTS too great to be numbered, with song, Revelation 7:9-10.

9. A great multitude—The question is debated, what do the above twelve tribes and this great multitude symbolize? Dusterdieck makes the former signify the natural Israel; Alford, the saints alive at Christ’s coming; Hengstenberg and Wordsworth identify both tribes and multitude as being, in fact, one body, and that the one Christian Church. Our view, as above stated, is, that they are the one universal Church, yet viewed under Old Testament and New Testament aspects. It is thus the twenty-four elders are representatives of the two-fold one Church, and these tribes and multitude are the constituency in mass of those twenty-four representatives. St. John thus is loyal to the old Church, from whom Christ sprang, yet expands the scope so as to take in the Church universal. And in this great multitude we are inclined to include, not only the redeemed since Christ, but all the redeemed before Christ without the pale of circumcision, even the patriarchal Church before Abraham, who was, in fact, a Gentile until he was circumcised. We find in the New Jerusalem a parallel to the twenty-four elders in the twelve apostolic names on its foundations, and its twelve tribal gates, Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14, where see notes.

No man could number—The twelve tribes could be definitely, though symbolically, numbered; but the universal Church is innumerable. Bengel finely remarks, “The sealed were a great number, and the number of angels in Revelation 5:11 was greater, and of the horsemen in Revelation 9:16, where there are hundreds of millions; still, these companies were capable of being numbered; but the one before us could neither John nor any one number.” The idea that few are saved is probably true of the present age of the world, but not of the millennial ages, or of the whole final number. Note on Revelation 20:4.

Nations… tongues—The creational four.

Before the throne—The symbolic and temporary theophanic throne of this apocalypse, not the eternal throne of the eternal heavens. Yet this is symbolic of that, showing, in momentary exhibition, the eternal relations of things.

White robes—Emblems of spotless purity. Note on Revelation 3:4.

Palms—Usually held here as emblems of victory. To this Hengstenberg objects as a pagan symbolism, palms being the prize of victors in palestric games. He maintains that the allusion is to the palms of the feast of tabernacles, (Leviticus 23:40,) which were a token of harvest joy at the autumn ingathering. The yearly labour, at this feast, was done, the fruit was stored, and the ease and enjoyment of winter commenced. This feast also commemorated the taking possession of the Promised Land, after the journey through the wilderness. Hengstenberg’s finding the allusion to be drawn from the festal palms is right, and there is a double reference to the joy of the arrival in Canaan and to the yearly harvest. But this festal joy was also a joy of victory; victory over the foes and obstacles of the wilderness sojourn, and over the difficulties and dangers of agriculture. And so these palms betokened victory in the pilgrimage and battle of life. The Israelite use of festal palms was earlier than the pagan, and was doubtless appropriated by the latter from the Hebrews. The palm may still, therefore, be held in our Christian hymnology as symbol of heavenly triumph over foes.

I asked them whence their victory came;

They, with united breath,

Ascribed their conquest to the Lamb,

Their triumph to his death.Watts.


Verse 10

10. Cried—Greek present tense, they cry; it is a constant chant they raise.

Loud voice—Pealing through the air all over the uncovered temple enclosure. Salvation be ascribed to our God—As its primal source and author. And unto the Lamb—As its instrumental cause, by his sacrifice as symbolic lamb.


Verse 11

c. Surrounding circle of ANGELS with song, Revelation 7:11-12.

11. All the angels—Of Revelation 5:11.

Stood—Literally, Greek pluperfect, had stood; had been standing all the time while the seer was contemplating the great multitude, so that as he awakes from that reverie this angel throng break on his view as a sort of sublime surprise. The theophanic court is filled with the multitude, and then in larger circle the angel band surrounds the whole. It must have been with a very keen, intuitive eye that our seer could recognise the enfoldings of so many visions.

On their faces—It was no decorous bow, no solemn kneel, but a total prostration, with their foreheads touching the celestial ground.


Verse 12

12. Amen—Their profound assent to the loud voice of the great multitude.

Blessing—We have here the seven ascriptions; the first three headed by blessing, the remaining four by thanksgiving. The former refer more to the moral attributes of God—his glory and his wisdom; the latter to his physical attributes, his τιμη, preciousness or infinite worth; his power in manifestation, his intrinsic strength.

Be unto our God—Both in our ascription and in their intrinsic reality.


Verse 13

d. ELDER’S explanation, and glorious picture of their HEAVENLY STATE, Revelation 7:13-17.

13. One of the elders—It was fitting that one of the representatives of the Church should unfold the mysteries of the Church triumphant. Nor must we puzzle ourselves to know how one of the circle of elders, enveloped in the crowd of the great multitude, and that girt round with the circle of countless angels, could address an outsider, as John, who stands surveying the whole assemblage. Allow the freedom of a celestial vision. The inner circles within the outer circles can transparently be seen with the supernatural eye, for the outer circles are transparent, though visible to its glance. And in the spirit-land distance is no obstacle to utterance and hearing. Celestials (and John was now a pro tem. celestial) can converse without voice, by pure impartation of thought. See our note on 2 Corinthians 12:4.

Answered—He answered the unuttered questionings expressed in John’s eyes. So in Acts 3:12, Peter answered the “wondering” of the crowd in Solomon’s porch.

What—The angel answers by first stating John’s mental question. The Greek is more elegant than our English. These, the arrayed in robes white, who are they, and whence came they? “In this,” says Bede, “he interrogates that he may teach.” Often the most skilful interrogator is the wisest teacher. Wetstein remarks that these questions occur in both Homer and Virgil as the ordinary queries put by ancient hospitality to strangers. Such was the early habit in America, as foreign travellers often tauntingly reported. Yet one English traveller justly remarked, that such questions had a different sound in our Western wilds from similar ones in the streets of London.


Verse 14

14. Sir—The Greek is the original of our sir, and in modern Greek is used for that word. But Bengel, Hengstenberg, and Alford consider it here as a more reverent my Lord, approaching nigh to the attempt at worship in a future passage or two.

Thou knowest—The Greek thou, here expressly inserted, implies emphasis upon it. The knowledge to answer those questions is in thee, not in me. And the words imply a request for answer which the seer was too modest to make.

Out of great tribulation—The epithet great is emphatic, by being placed with its article after the noun, which our English idiom does not permit. Yet it is done with proper names, as Alexander the Great; and similarly this is tribulation the great. But what tribulation is here meant? Some say the “great tribulation” of Matthew 24:21, just preceding the judgment-day. But plainly, this company robed in white is that of Revelation 7:9, which embraces all the redeemed. The great tribulation is, therefore, the battle of probationary life under pressure of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those fine lines of Wesley, therefore,

Who are these arrayed in white,

Brighter than the noonday sun,

Foremost of the sons of light,

Nearest the eternal throne?

so far as they represent these as martyrs or special sufferers for Christ seem to be a mistake. All Christians are these martyrs.

Washed their robes—Purified their characters. This is a very vivid image of sanctification through the atonement. It illustrates how deep the doctrine of the atonement maintained in the apocalypse. But we must look through the intense imagery at the literal fact, and not allow our imagination to be lost in the imagery. There is no literal robe, no literal washing the robe in blood. What is true is, that Christ died for our sins, and through the merit of his atonement the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon us, giving us power to resist temptation, to repress our disordered affections, and bring all into obedience to the law of Christ. And that is sanctification.


Verse 15

15. Therefore—In the next three verses we have a brief, exquisite glimpse of a heavenly pastoral, where the redeemed are the sheep and the Lamb is the shepherd. The passage is cognate with 21 and 22, describing the final heaven of the blessed. It is, indeed, said in 21 that there is no temple, as is here mentioned; but it is said, Revelation 21:22, that the Lamb is the temple. The present passage might be congenially inserted between Revelation 22:21 and Revelation 22:22. With regard to the symbolic numbers of this passage Hengstenberg says: “The delineation of the blessedness is completed in a threefold three: they are before the throne, they serve, they are tented;—they hunger not, they thirst not, they suffer no heat;—the Lamb feeds them, leads them, wipes their tears.”

Therefore—Because of their purification through the sacrificial blood.

Before the throne of God—And not driven from his presence into the “lake of fire,” Revelation 20:15, the awful reverse of the celestial state.

Serve him… in his temple—As Stuart well explains, they are made priests unto God, and the ordinary phraseology regarding priests, they serve day and night in the temple, is applied to them.

Shall dwell among them—Literally, Greek, shall spread tent (or tabernacle) over them. Perhaps the meaning is, shall spread himself as tent over them.


Verse 16

16. They—We may render literally, They will hunger never more, nor thirst ever; no, nor ever will fall upon them the sun or heat-blast.


Verse 17

17. In the midst of the throne—In the central point of the circle comprehended in the more extended sense of the word throne. For the term seems to mean not the seat only, but the entire royal space.

Feed them—Will shepherd them, performing all the office of a shepherd to guard, protect, guide, fold, fodder, and water them.

Living fountains of waters—Greek, ζωης πηγας υδατων, life’s fountains of waters. In the New Jerusalem, Revelation 22:1, there flows “a river of the water of life… proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” But in the rural regions of the “new earth” are many springs of the water of life, where the Lamb shall shepherd his flock, watering them at the fountains of immortality.

All tears—When the fountain of immortality is opened the fountain of tears is closed. For, as in Revelation 21:4, where this promise is repeated, with death all pain, all sorrow disappear, and the eye forever forgets to weep. And he who thus forever banishes our tears is no less than our loving Father, God.

The application of this chapter to the establishment of Christianity under Constantine in the Roman empire, as made by the over-historical interpreters, as Newton and Elliott, seems scarce to need a refutation. It appears inapplicable, both in position and in nature. In position, for there is nothing in the train of the narrative to bring us to the event. The four first seals are plainly correlative, and, though following in time-order, are not chronological. Equally unchronological is the martyr-cry of the fifth seal, or the mundane dissolution of the sixth. We have no bridge to carry us over to the age of Constantine. Nor in nature, for it is a heavenly, not an earthly, scene. It is in the spirit-world, before the divine throne, and not at the court of Constantine. Standing where it does, if it be made to figure any earthly event, it is so little specific that it might just as well figure any other period of religious triumph as the age of Constantine; as, for instance, the Reformation, or Wesleyan and Whitefieldian revival. As a counter picture to the dark scenes of the six seals it has its perfect place and nature. Far distant in time as its literal fulfilment is, it is ever present to the eye of vivid faith. Amid the gain-sayings of a profane world and the trials of our earthly life, this vision dawns directly before the eye of our soul, with its consolations and its glory.

Thy saints in all this glorious war

Shall conquer, though they die;

They see the triumph from afar,

By faith they bring it nigh!

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-7.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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