William Kelly Major Works 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.Revelation Chapter 7
After this, so far is the great day of His wrath from being come that we find (in the parenthesis of chap. 7) God accomplishing mighty works of saving mercy. More signal and severe judgments impend and are to be next predicted. But in this intervening episode God tells us of a numbered complement for His seal from every tribe of Israel, and of a Gentile crowd in numbers numberless to be saved, comforted, and blessed. The first is the sealing of 144,000 out of the twelve tribes of Israel by an angel of singular authority that ascends from the sun-rising. "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascend from the sun-rising, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a great voice to the four angels to whom it was given to injure the earth and the sea, saying, Injure not the earth and the sea nor the trees, till we shall have scaled the servants of our God upon their foreheads. And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred [and] forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel: out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed; out of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Naphthali twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Manasseh 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 Zebulun twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand sealed." That pious men should doubt Israel as a fact here is strange, especially with a crowd of saved Gentiles immediately following. One can understand Ephraim "joined to idols" omitted, as well as Dan for similar guilt: one of the great horrors of Christendom, as this book points out. Levi and Joseph take their place.
Next there is vouchsafed to the prophet the sight of a crowd of Gentiles. "After these things I saw, and, behold, a great crowd which no one could number, out of every nation, and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation to our God that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne upon their faces, and did homage to God, saying, Amen: the blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honour, and the power, and the strength to our God, unto the ages of ages. Amen. And one out of the elders answered saying to me, These that are clothed with the white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And I said to him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him by day and by night in his temple, and he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, nor shall they thirst more; neither shall the sun at all strike upon them, nor any heat. For the Lamb that [is] in the midst of the throne shall tend them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters of life; and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Here they do not sing like the elders, but they ascribe "salvation to God" in the quality of sitting on the throne (we have seen in this book, His judicial throne), and to the Lamb. In other words, the ascription could not have been made before Rev. 4. Its tenor supposes the vast change for the risen saints to have taken place. It is not the fruit of a testimony during the past or the present. All this is merely men's imagination, without the smallest foundation in scripture So far from its being a picture of the redeemed of all times, it is expressly said to be a countless throng out of Gentiles distinguished from Israel; and this not now or of old, but in relation to God as He governs judicially at a future time It is not universal therefore. These Gentiles stand in manifest contrast with the sealed out of Israel; but they are no less distinct from the elders or glorified saints. They do not even sing a (or as a) new song, like the Jewish remnant on mount Zion (Revelation 14:3); but like them they are quite distinct from the glorified saints represented by the elders. With joy they wave palms.
Here we read that one of the elders talked about the Gentile crowd, and explained who they were to the prophet, as he evidently without this would have been at fault. If the elders mean the glorified saints, these Gentiles cannot. Most assuredly they are not all the saints, because the hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel we have seen expressly distinguished from them; and so are the Jewish remnant in Rev. 14. Who are they and what? They are a crowd of Gentiles to be preserved by God's gracious power in these last days. Not a word implies that here they were glorified; there is no reason to doubt that they were still in their natural bodies. If they are said to be "before the throne," this cannot overthrow the many proofs that they are alive on the earth. Thus the woman, for instance (in Rev. 12), is also described as seen in heaven; but this is only where the prophet saw her in the vision. Why are we necessarily to gather that these Gentiles belong to heaven? The seer saw them there, but whether "before the throne" means that they are actually in heaven is another question, to be decided by the evidence as a whole.
In this case it is plain from other statements that they are not heavenly; and to it are weighty objections. First of all they are definitely contra-distinguished from Israel, who clearly are on earth, and thus naturally this company would be on earth too, the one Jewish, and the other Gentile. Next they "come out of the great tribulation." Far from its being a general body in respect to all time, this proves that it is a future and peculiar though countless group; for it consists only of Gentiles preserved and blessed of God as coming out of "the great tribulation."
In the millennial time there will be a great ingathering of the Gentiles; but those before us precede that day. They are saints from among the Gentiles at the great crisis, called to the knowledge of God by the preaching of the "gospel of the kingdom," or the "everlasting gospel," of which we hear respectively in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Revelation. The Lord Himself tells the disciples that "this gospel of the kingdom" shall be "preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations" (or all the Gentiles); "and then shall the end come." Is not this the very time spoken of here? It is clearly not a general summary of what God is doing now, but a description of what is yet to be, specially just before the end, when "the great tribulation" bursts out. John saw the fruit of divine grace even then in this vast crowd from among the Gentiles. The details of the description fall in with and confirm this inference. But the unparalleled tribulation is to fall on the Jews, as we are also told. This is far wider, and not so severe.
Attention has been already drawn to the fact that they are distinguished from the elders. If these represent the glorified saints, those are not the same company. If we admit that the elders represent. those caught up, the inference seems plain and certain that this Gentile throng cannot. The same body might be represented at different times by a different symbol, but hardly by two symbols at the same time, or by a symbolic and a literal description together.
Thus we may have Christians set forth by a train of virgins at one time, and by the bride at another; but the same parable carefully avoids the confusion. Such an incongruous mixture is foreign to scripture. It is not even found amongst sensible men, leaving out the word of God. The prophet tells us that one of the elders answers his own inquiry, "What are these that are clothed in white robes? and whence came they?" "These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." They are saints, though quite distinct from the elders. They are restricted to the time of "the great tribulation," and therefore after the glorified were taken to heaven. "Therefore are they before the throne of God" is a description, not of their local place, but of their moral position; they stand in view of, and in connection with, God that sits on the throne. This, as already seen, restricts the crowd to the transition period; and they stand related to God governmentally acting, not in this day of grace.
Unmistakably, be it observed, there is nothing vague or general, as is often supposed. For the throne here differs from what it is now, as the millennial throne will differ from both. 'I hat very aspect of the throne may he called its Apocalyptic character, to distinguish it from what went before or will come after. The elder describes it as a crowd entirely distinct from his own company, and, like the sealed of Israel, peculiar to that future day. They are saved Gentiles of that time. They are never said to be "around the throne," still less to be enthroned themselves. Further, not only are they before the throne of God, but it is added, "and serve him day and night in his temple." But this severs them from the bride or new Jerusalem wherein is no temple, and no night there. They will he highly favoured in nearness to God, but on earth, though distinct from the millennial nations, as being in relation with God and the Lamb before that day. Compare the blessed of the nations in Matthew 25:34-40.
Again it is said, "He that sitteth on the throne shall" - not exactly "dwell among them," but - "spread his tabernacle over them." It is the gracious shelter of God's care and goodness that is set forth. This is of importance; because, though God now dwells by the Holy Ghost in the church as His habitation through the Spirit, it will not be so when these Gentiles will be called to the enjoyment of His favour. He will vouchsafe what is more suited to their character and state - His protection. Of old God had His pillar of cloud, a defence and a canopy over the camp of Israel (though He also dwelt in their midst). Here too He graciously promises it, not to the sealed of Israel that are to know His care, but to these hitherto besotted Gentiles. It is added that "they shall not hunger any more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun at all fall on them, nor any heat." Can any one question that such a solace is much more adapted to a people about to be relieved and blessed on the earth, than to men in a glorified state above? Where would be the propriety of a promise to risen men on high, that they shall hunger or thirst no more! If to a people on earth, we can all understand the comfort of its assurance. "For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall tend them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes." We must not let traditional misapplication deprive us of other truth, of God's mercy even in that terrible day to both the sealed out of Israel and to these countless Gentiles for blessing on the earth, itself to be then reconciled.
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,
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
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.
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.
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;
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
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,
Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came 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.
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.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
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.