Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
Re 7:1-17. Sealing of the Elect of Israel. The Countless Multitude of the Gentile Elect.
1. And—so B and Syriac. But A, C, Vulgate, and Coptic omit "and."
after these things—A, B, C, and Coptic read, "after this." The two visions in this chapter come in as an episode after the sixth seal, and before the seventh seal. It is clear that, though "Israel" may elsewhere designate the spiritual Israel, "the elect (Church) on earth" [Alford], here, where the names of the tribes one by one are specified, these names cannot have any but the literal meaning. The second advent will be the time of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, when the times of the Gentiles shall have been fulfilled, and the Jews shall at last say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." The period of the Lord's absence has been a blank in the history of the Jews as a nation. As then Revelation is the Book of the Second Advent [De Burgh], naturally mention of God's restored favor to Israel occurs among the events that usher in Christ's advent.
earth … sea … tree—The judgments to descend on these are in answer to the martyrs' prayer under the fifth seal. Compare the same judgments under the fifth trumpet, the sealed being exempt (Re 9:4).
on any tree—Greek, "against any tree" (Greek, "epi ti dendron": but "on the earth," Greek, "epi tees gees").
And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
2. from the east—Greek, "the rising of the sun." The quarter from which God's glory oftenest manifests itself.
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
3. Hurt not—by letting loose the destructive winds.
till we have sealed the servants of our God—parallel to Mt 24:31, "His angels … shall gather together His elect from the four winds." God's love is such, that He cannot do anything in the way of judgment, till His people are secured from hurt (Ge 19:22). Israel, at the eve of the Lord's coming, shall be found re-embodied as a nation; for its tribes are distinctly specified (Joseph, however, being substituted for Dan; whether because Antichrist is to come from Dan, or because Dan is to be Antichrist's especial tool [Aretas, tenth century], compare Ge 49:17; Jer 8:16; Am 8:14; just as there was a Judas among the Twelve). Out of these tribes a believing remnant will be preserved from the judgments which shall destroy all the Antichristian confederacy (Re 6:12-17), and shall be transfigured with the elect Church of all nations, namely, 144,000 (or whatever number is meant by this symbolical number), who shall faithfully resist the seductions of Antichrist, while the rest of the nation, restored to Palestine in unbelief, are his dupes, and at last his victims. Previously to the Lord's judgments on Antichrist and his hosts, these latter shall destroy two-thirds of the nation, one-third escaping, and, by the Spirit's operation through affliction, turning to the Lord, which remnant shall form the nucleus on earth of the Israelite nation that is from this time to stand at the head of the millennial nations of the world. Israel's spiritual resurrection shall be "as life from the dead" to all the nations. As now a regeneration goes on here and there of individuals, so there shall then be a regeneration of nations universally, and this in connection with Christ's coming. Mt 24:34; "this generation (the Jewish nation) shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled," which implies that Israel can no more pass away before Christ's advent, than Christ's own words can pass away (the same Greek), Mt 24:35. So exactly Zec 13:8, 9; 14:2-4, 9-21; compare Zec 12:2-14; 13:1, 2. So also Eze 8:17, 18; 9:1-7, especially Eze 9:4. Compare also Eze 10:2 with Re 8:5, where the final judgments actually fall on the earth, with the same accompaniment, the fire of the altar cast into the earth, including the fire scattered over the city. So again, Re 14:1, the same 144,000 appear on Zion with the Father's name in their forehead, at the close of the section, the twelfth through fourteenth chapters, concerning the Church and her foes. Not that the saints are exempt from trial: Re 7:14 proves the contrary; but their trials are distinct from the destroying judgments that fall on the world; from these they are exempted, as Israel was from the plagues of Egypt, especially from the last, the Israelite doors having the protecting seal of the blood-mark.
foreheads—the most conspicuous and noblest part of man's body; on which the helmet, "the hope of salvation," is worn.
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
4. Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000. A thousand implies the world perfectly pervaded by the divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God.
of all the tribes—literally, "out of every tribe"; not 144,000 of each tribe, but the aggregate of the twelve thousand from every tribe.
children—Greek, "sons of Israel." Re 3:12; 21:12, are no objection, as Alford thinks, to the literal Israel being meant; for, in consummated glory, still the Church will be that "built on the foundation of the (Twelve) apostles (Israelites), Jesus Christ (an Israelite) being the chief corner-stone." Gentile believers shall have the name of Jerusalem written on them, in that they shall share the citizenship antitypical to that of the literal Jerusalem.
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
5-8. Judah (meaning praise) stands first, as Jesus' tribe. Benjamin, the youngest, is last; and with him is associated second last, Joseph. Reuben, as originally first-born, comes next after Judah, to whom it gave place, having by sin lost its primogeniture right. Besides the reason given above (see on Re 7:2), another akin for the omission of Dan, is, its having been the first to lapse into idolatry (Jud 18:1-31); for which same reason the name Ephraim, also (compare Jud 17:1-3; Ho 4:17), is omitted, and Joseph substituted. Also, it had been now for long almost extinct. Long before, the Hebrews say [Grotius], it was reduced to the one family of Hussim, which perished subsequently in the wars before Ezra's time. Hence it is omitted in the fourth through eighth chapters of First Chronicles. Dan's small numbers are joined here to Naphtali's, whose brother he was by the same mother [Bengel]. The twelve times twelve thousand sealed ones of Israel are the nucleus of transfigured humanity [Auberlen], to which the elect Gentiles are joined, "a multitude which no man could number," Re 7:9 (that is, the Church of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, in which the Gentiles are the predominant element, Lu 21:24. The word "tribes," Greek, implies that believing Israelites are in this countless multitude). Both are in heaven, yet ruling over the earth, as ministers of blessing to its inhabitants: while upon earth the world of nations is added to the kingdom of Israel. The twelve apostles stand at the head of the whole. The upper and the lower congregation, though distinct, are intimately associated.
Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
9. no man—Greek, "no one."
of all nations—Greek, "OUT OF every nation." The human race is "one nation" by origin, but afterwards separated itself into tribes, peoples, and tongues; hence, the one singular stands first, followed by the three plurals.
people—Greek, "peoples." The "first-fruits unto the Lamb," the 144,000 (Re 14:1-4) of Israel, are followed by a copious harvest of all nations, an election out of the Gentiles, as the 144,000 are an election out of Israel (see on Re 7:3).
white robes—(See on Re 6:11; also Re 3:5, 18; 4:4).
palms in … hands—the antitype to Christ's entry into Jerusalem amidst the palm-bearing multitude. This shall be just when He is about to come visibly and take possession of His kingdom. The palm branch is the symbol of joy and triumph. It was used at the feast of tabernacles, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when they kept feast to God in thanksgiving for the ingathered fruits. The antitype shall be the completed gathering in of the harvest of the elect redeemed here described. Compare Zec 14:16, whence it appears that the earthly feast of tabernacles will be renewed, in commemoration of Israel's preservation in her long wilderness-like sojourn among the nations from which she shall now be delivered, just as the original typical feast was to commemorate her dwelling for forty years in booths or tabernacles in the literal wilderness.
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
10. cried—Greek, "cry," in the three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic. It is their continuing, ceaseless employment.
Salvation—literally, "THE salvation"; all the praise of our salvation be ascribed to our God. At the Lord's entry into Jerusalem, the type, similarly "salvation" is the cry of the palm-bearing multitudes. Hosanna means "save us now"; taken from Ps 118:25, in which Psalm (Ps 118:14, 15, 21, 26) the same connection occurs between salvation, the tabernacles of the righteous, and the Jews' cry to be repeated by the whole nation at Christ's coming, "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
11. The angels, as in Re 5:11, in their turn take up the anthem of praise. There it was "many angels," here it is "all the angels."
stood—"were standing" [Alford].
Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
12. Greek, "The blessing, the glory, the wisdom, the thanksgiving, the honor, the power, the might [the doxology is sevenfold, implying its totality and completeness], unto the ages of the ages."
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
13. answered—namely, to my thoughts; spoke, asking the question which might have been expected to arise in John's mind from what has gone before. One of the twenty-four elders, representing the Old and New Testament ministry, appropriately acts as interpreter of this vision of the glorified Church.
What, &c.—Greek order, "These which are arrayed in white robes, WHO are they?"
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
14. Sir—Greek, "Lord." B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic versions, and Cyprian read, "My Lord." A omits "My," as English Version.
thou knowest—taken from Eze 37:3. Comparatively ignorant ourselves of divine things, it is well for us to look upward for divinely communicated knowledge.
came—rather as Greek, "come"; implying that they are just come.
great tribulation—Greek, "THE great tribulation"; "the tribulation, the great one," namely, the tribulation to which the martyrs were exposed under the fifth seal, the same which Christ foretells as about to precede His coming (Mt 24:21, great tribulation), and followed by the same signs as the sixth seal (Mt 24:29, 30), compare Da 12:1; including also retrospectively all the tribulation which the saints of all ages have had to pass through. Thus this seventh chapter is a recapitulation of the vision of the six seals, Re 6:1-17, to fill up the outline there given in that part of it which affects the faithful of that day. There, however, their number was waiting to be completed, but here it is completed, and they are seen taken out of the earth before the judgments on the Antichristian apostasy; with their Lord, they, and all His faithful witnesses and disciples of past ages, wait for His coming and their coming to be glorified and reign together with Him. Meanwhile, in contrast with their previous sufferings, they are exempt from the hunger, thirst, and scorching heats of their life on earth (Re 7:16), and are fed and refreshed by the Lamb of God Himself (Re 7:17; 14:1-4, 13); an earnest of their future perfect blessedness in both body and soul united (Re 21:4-6; 22:1-5).
washed … robes … white in the blood of … Lamb—(Re 1:5; Isa 1:18; Heb 9:14; 1Jo 1:7; compare Isa 61:10; Zec 3:3-5). Faith applies to the heart the purifying blood; once for all for justification, continually throughout the life for sanctification.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
15. Therefore—because they are so washed white; for without it they could never have entered God's holy heaven; Re 22:14, "Blessed are those who wash their robes (the oldest manuscripts reading), that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city"; Re 21:27; Eph 5:26, 27.
before—Greek, "in the presence of." Mt 5:8; 1Co 13:12, "face to face."
throne … temple—These are connected because we can approach the heavenly King only through priestly mediation; therefore, Christ is at once King and Priest on His throne.
day and night—that is, perpetually; as those approved of as priests by the Sanhedrim were clothed in white, and kept by turns a perpetual watch in the temple at Jerusalem; compare as to the singers, 1Ch 9:33, "day and night"; Ps 134:1. Strictly "there is no night" in the heavenly sanctuary (Re 22:5).
in his temple—in what is the heavenly analogue to His temple on earth, for strictly there is "no temple therein" (Re 21:22), "God and the Lamb are the temple" filling the whole, so that there is no distinction of sacred and secular places; the city is the temple, and the temple the city. Compare Re 4:8, "the four living creatures rest not day and night, saying, Holy," &c.
shall dwell among them—rather (Greek, "scenosei ep' autous"), "shall be the tabernacle over them" (compare Re 21:3; Le 26:11, especially Isa 4:5, 6; 8:14; 25:4; Eze 37:27). His dwelling among them is to be understood as a secondary truth, besides what is expressed, namely, His being their covert. When once He tabernacled among us as the Word made flesh, He was in great lowliness; then He shall be in great glory.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
16. (Isa 49:10).
hunger no more—as they did here.
thirst any more—(Joh 4:13).
the sun—literally, scorching in the East. Also, symbolically, the sun of persecution.
neither … light—Greek, "by no means at all … light" (fall).
heat—as the sirocco.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
17. in the midst of the throne—that is, in the middle point in front of the throne (Re 5:6).
feed—Greek, "tend as a shepherd."
living fountains of water—A, B, Vulgate, and Cyprian read, (eternal) "life's fountains of waters." "Living" is not supported by the old authorities.