Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Ideal heavenly World-picture of the Seven Penitential Trumpets. (Ch. 7)
General.—The Invisible Church here and beyond: here, the sealed—militant conquerors; beyond, blessed conquerors. The Sealing, and its doctrinal import (δοκιμή characterized by James as δικαιοῦν; Rom. 5:4; James 2:21). The neglect of the distinction between justification and sealing has resulted in a sad obscuration of the evangelic fundamental doctrine of justification, especially in three great theological school-circles. According to the idea of the Apostle James, Abraham was justified, Gen. 15, and sealed, Gen. 22. Since justification always takes place in a forum of justice, and since there are different sorts of forums (see the Art. by TERSTEEGEN in Herzog’s Encyklopädie), James could speak of justification as an imputation of faith as righteousness, and apply the term of δικαιοῦν to sealing. In the one case, the court of conscience was intended, in the other the forum of the Church was contemplated (“and he was called the friend of God”). Seethe Lange Com. on James 2. [and on Rom. 5],—The Sealing has reference not solely to the last time, but, through the whole succession of the New Testament time (which is, indeed, in a general sense denominated the last time), to the assurance of saints in face of the temptations of this world. That is, the Sealing in Rev 7 relates to the Trumpets in Rev 8. That which the four Angels are stationed on the four corners of the earth to accomplish—namely, to loose the four winds of the earth, the spirit of the world in all its ground-forms, upon the earth and the sea, to injure them: upon the theocratic Divine institution, or the Church, and upon national life, to purge them through great temptations—this, we repeat, is fulfilled in the judgments of the Trumpets. In reference, however, to these temptations, which shake and imperil the visible Church, the invisible Church is represented as assured—assured, partly through the sealing effected here and partly through the entry of the blessed into the Church Triumphant beyond. When it is declared that the Angels may not loose the winds of temptation until the sealing is consummated, in the priority of the time of the sealing the priority of strength in the sealed is expressed. They are established through the gift of the grace of steadfastness. In chap. 14 we learn that their approval was conditioned by uprightness, purity, and the avoidance of false-hood, but we must first know that their sealing is entirely a work of grace.—On the import of the four winds from the four corners of the earth, the earth itself, the sea, the trees, the rising of the sun, the injuring, the number 144,000, see the EXEG. NOTES.
We have already demonstrated that the literal interpretation of the twelve Tribes of Israel as having reference to the Jewish nation in the last time, is utterly untenable. The symbolic designation of the chosen servants of God by the name of the spiritual Israel, is, however, sufficient guaranty for the fact that the Apostle has in view the general hope of a restoration of Israel at the same time that he contemplates a more extended class of elect persons. For as the symbolic name of Israel does not exclude believers from the Gentiles, neither does it shut out believing Jews, or the hope that Israel, as a people, will yet exercise faith in their long neglected Messiah. The well-known Judaistic apprehension of the Sealing—discussed by us in the Exegetical Division—bears upon it not only the exegetical stain of gross literalness, but also the blot of dogmatical error, in maintaining that in the end of the times Israel could again possess national prerogatives in the Kingdom of God, when it was precisely on account of its pretensions to such prerogatives in the midst of the ages that the nation incurred rejection.
Furthermore, the architectonics and symmetry of the table of the sealed plead for its symbolical character. The special duodecenary, running through the general duodecenary and multiplied invariably by the æonic number 1000, is the ever recurring expression of sacred fullness, sacred completeness. Again, the free arrangement and modification of the list of the twelve Tribes (see EXEG. NOTES) are in favor of this symbolical character; and it is no less supported by the perfect coördination of individual Tribes in respect of the number selected from each. We must here repeat the statement previously made elsewhere, namely, that the selection does not exclude further circles of blessed ones. The same literal exegesis which, on the one hand, so exceptionally favors Judaism, would, on the other hand, inflict most serious detriment upon it if it were proposed to apprehend the text as declaring that many Jews should, in the last times, become believers, but that their number, however, should not exceed 144,000. The sealed are the true stand-holders of the living Church throughout the ages of the Church, the pillars, against which many who are weak lean for support.
This truth is immediately expressed by the second part of the vision, the vision of the innumerable throng of blessed ones. These are characterized by the following items: 1. They form a countless throng; in antithesis to doctrinal particularism. 2. They are from all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues; in antithesis to exegetical particularism, which stamps the Apocalypse with a Judaistic tendency. 3. They are perfected: they stand before the Throne of God and the Lamb, clothed in white robes—the adornment of holiness—and palms—as tokens of victory, peace and festival—in their hands; in antithesis to hierarchic particularism, which treats of an immediate entry into blessedness in conformity with mediæval ideas (confining the privilege to martyrs, monks, priests, ascetics who have built up a holiness of works, and calendar saints). 4. Their cry: The salvation is with our God, etc.;—thoroughly evangelic; it is even a protest against all righteousness of works and doctrine. With our God and the Lamb: in antithesis both to pietistic-exclusive and deistic-exclusive forms of belief. 5. The Amen and the song of praise of the whole angel or spirit world.
The great Heaven-picture of the perfected is accompanied by heavenly instructions concerning the origin of the blessed, their endless train, their character and destiny. Even the faith of a John failed to grasp the origin of these innumerable throngs of blessed ones and the height at which they had arrived. But one of the Elders, to whom the depths of the history of the Kingdom are no secret, vouchsafes him an explanation: He explains (1) whence they have come—viz. out of great tribulation. All come from unknown depths of suffering, of conflict—not simply from visible martyr-sufferings (see Rom. 6). They have all washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. With the depth of their experience of suffering, corresponds the depth of their experience of salvation: they all recognize and confess the world-reconciling Atonement. But, again, with these depths, corresponds the height of their goal. Thus we have (2) an explanation as to whither they have arrived—viz. before the Throne of God, to a blessed priestly service, after the type of life in the Temple; to the perfect satisfaction of every longing, and to freedom from all heat, after the image of a life of business, toil and wandering (Ps. 23); to the full and comfortable discovery of the joyful harvest of the seed of tears, yea, to the discovery of the heavenly pearl to which every tear has turned (see EXEG. NOTES).
Special.—[Rev 7:1] Various forms of the spirit of the world and its temptations.—Temptations as Divine dispensations.—Limited as to time, place and degree.—Their design.—[Rev 7:2, 3] Different moments in the development of salvation—especially sealing.—The awakened may fall; but it is the distinction of the sealed that they have made good their faith in the battle of life, particularly in moments of great sacrifice.—Men in Christ.—[Rev 7:4-8] The heroes of Israel, the heroes of David, as types of God’s heroes.—Chosen stones, flowers, animals, men, Christians.—The Twelve Tribes as types of the charisms.—Consecration of a natural gift to a gracious gift, through the gift of the Spirit.—Both gifts are gifts of grace in the broader sense of the term—the first as a gift of unmerited creative favor, the second as a gift of unmerited redemptive salvation.—The Twelve Tribes types of the fullness of the charisms in the Kingdom of God.—The choice of them, a type of the personally and historically chosen.—The number 1,000 as a figure of the continual presence of Christ in His Church through the whole æon.—Comparison of particular characteristic Tribes: Judah and Joseph; Simeon and Levi; Joseph and Benjamin.—[Rev 7:9.] The visible and the invisible Church.—The two spheres of the invisible Church, in this world and in the Beyond.—In the visible Church, the visible appearance of the Church may be greatly obscured. If the visible Church becomes invisible as the Church, the invisible Church emerges into visibility. This remark applies to every time, but is particularly true of the last time.—The heavenly Festival of Palms.—[Rev 7:10] The heavenly confession of the blessed.—Their song.—[Vers.11, 12.] The song of praise of all spirits concerning the consummation of the blessed.—Doxologies of men and angels.—[Rev 7:13.] The catechism of John which the Elder institutes, compared with the catechism of Peter (John 21).—[Rev 7:14] Humility of the great Apostle as manifested in his answer to the question of the Elder.—The great, eternal, pilgrim and festal procession of blessed souls from earth to the heavenly Home.—[Rev 7:15] The Throne.—Service in the Temple.—The glory of God over them.—Analogous passages: Is. 25:4 sqq.; 49:10; Pss. 23, 91, 126; Is. 66. 13.
STARKE: God has numbered His elect, but their number is known to Him alone. If He has counted the hairs of the faithful, He has surely counted their persons.—The same number in each Tribe, when there were some Tribes that were more numerous than others, shows that God bears the same gracious will to all believers, of whatsoever race or people they be. (The text, however, has reference to sealed persons, and the numbers are symbolical.)
Rev 7:13. The best and fittest mode of instruction—especially for those who are young and simple—is by question and answer, Gen. 3:9; Luke 2:46, 47 (!).
A. H. W. BRANDT, Anleitung zum Lesen der Offenb. Joh. (see p. 73): The sealed. John does not see them even in spirit; much less are they to be seen with the bodily eye in their substantiality on earth. Nevertheless they are a people of God on earth, having His Spirit, and numbered by Him, in the sense of Matt. 10:30. They are described, in prophetic wise, by their Old Testament type, whose names and Tribes are presented not in the single 12, but by 12x12, and multiplied by thousands. It is the true Israel, baptized with the Spirit and consisting of all (?) the servants of God who are born of the Spirit.
Rev 7:9–12. And behold! A great multitude. This excites the astonishment of the Seer, which was not the case with the preceding occurrence; he, indeed, did not see the sealed, but this multitude visibly appears in Heaven. (A highly significant contrast. Concerning the sealed on earth he learns only the tribal characters and numbers by an auricular wonder; the blessed, on the other hand, are presented to his contemplation in personal distinctness by an ocular wonder.)
[From M. HENRY: Rev 7:3. God has particular care and concern for His own servants in times of temptation and corruption, and He has a way to secure them from the common infection: He first establishes them, and then He tries them; He has the timing of their trials in His own hand.
Rev 7:9. Before the throne, and before the Lamb. In acts of religious worship we come nigh to God, and are to conceive ourselves as in His special presence; and we must come to God by Christ; the throne of God would be inaccessible to sinners, were it not for a Mediator.
Rev 7:13–17. Here we have a description of the honor and happiness of those who have faithfully served the Lord Jesus Christ, and suffered for Him. Note, 1. The low and desolate state they had formerly been in. The way to heaven lies through many tribulations; but tribulation, how great soever, shall not separate us from the love of God. 2. The means by which they had been prepared for the great honor and happiness they now enjoyed; they had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is not the blood of the martyrs themselves, but the blood of the Lamb, that can wash away sin, and make the soul pure and clean in the sight of God. 3. The blessedness to which they are now advanced, being thus prepared for it. They are happy, (1) In their station, for they are before the throne of God night and day, and He dwells among them; they are in that presence where there is fullness of joy. (2) In their employment, for they serve God continually, without weakness, drowsiness, or weariness; heaven is a state of service, though not of suffering; of rest, but not of sloth; it is a praising, delightful rest. (3) In their freedom from all the inconveniences of this present life; a. From all want, and sense of want; They hunger and thirst no more. b. From all sickness and pain; they shall never be scorched by the heat of the sun anymore. 4. In the love and conduct of the Lord Jesus; He shall feed them, He shall lead them to living fountains of waters. (5) In being delivered from all sorrow, or occasion of it; God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.]
The Seven Penitential Trumpets. Earth-picture. (Chaps. 8:1–9:21)
General.—Since there is an increase of disagreement in the different expositions of this eighth chapter, and, by consequence, an augmented insecurity attaching to any exposition of it hitherto offered, there is an increased demand for caution in the theoretic and practical application of it.
Many, for instance, consider Rev 7 as an episode, and affirm an immediate connection of Rev 8 with Rev 6. We, on the contrary, regard Rev 7 as the heavenly phase of the Earth-picture which follows it in the vision of the Trumpets. Or, in other words, the Seven Trumpets are a loosing of the four winds from the four corners of the earth, in order to the injury of the Church and national life (earth and sea). In accordance with this view, we have to do altogether with darkenings of the visible Church, with spiritual occurrences presented under cosmical forms. These darkenings are, agreeably to the conditions of the Church, judgments; for individual Christians, they are temptations [or testings]; as dispensations of the Lord, they are admonitions and arousing summonses to repentance and to combat—and, hence, Trumpets.
The silence in Heaven for the space of half an hour denotes that heavenly bracing and arming for which the whole great hour of temptation [Rev 3:10] gives occasion.
Even the Seven Angels with the Trumpets must restrain themselves and wait for the right moment, like the Four Angels in the preceding chapter. Their waiting has a common purpose with that of the Four Angels. The latter waited for the accomplishment of the Divine work of sealing; the former wait for the consummation of the human prayers of the saints, which correspond with the work of sealing. Thus the spirit of prayer must constitute the Church’s defence against the coming temptations. The prayers which ascend from earth must, however, be completed in Heaven. Their purification from earthly passion—e. g., of confessionalism or nationalism—is first represented in the form of a supplementing with incense, which an Angel with a golden censer, in which much incense is given him for the heavenly altar of incense, adds to the prayers of the saints. In accordance with Scripture, this figure can be understood solely of the heavenly intercession of the Spirit of Christ. Next the other function of the Angel is represented—the emptying of the censer, previously filled with fire from the altar, upon the earth. This is indicative, without doubt, of the missions of the high-priestly Spirit of Christ from Heaven, the effects of which missions are figuratively represented in voices, thunders, lightnings, and earthquake (see the EXEG. NOTES). The two-fold continuance of Christ’s work, in His eternal Spirit, consists in a direction towards God in intercession, and a direction towards the Church on earth in the outpourings of His Spirit, accompanied by the glowing coals of His high-priestly temper of love and sacrifice.
The First Four Trumpets (see EXEG. NOTES). [Rev 8:7] The first darkening of the Church owes its origin to fanaticism; this appears as a judgment upon the lack of inward devotion and sincerity.—[Rev 8:8, 9.] The second great temptation [or trial] is the spread of fanaticism, in which a great mountain, a theocratic, ecclesiastico-political institution, begins to burn and plunges into the sea—Christian national life.—[Rev 8:10, 11] This calls forth the reactions of embitterment—deviations [or dissents], apostasies, indicated by the burning star which falls upon the rivers and fountains.—[Rev 8:12] A result of these three destructive and corruptive agencies, which, with all their contrasts, work together, is the great spiritual diminution of the sunlight of revelation, the moonlight of natural revelation (which, amid all the advances of natural science, may still become obscured), and the light which proceeds from spiritual stars in the Church.
The Last Three Trumpets. These are distinguished from the first four Trumpets and raised above them, primarily in that they are heralded by an Eagle, which flies through the midst of Heaven and proclaims their approach, and secondly by the Eagle’s designation of them as three woes upon those who dwell on the earth. We remark here, by way of addition, that the scope of the first woe is accurately defined as the sphere of the Fifth Trumpet (Rev 9:1–11). No less definite is the determination of the sphere of the second woe as the sphere of the Sixth Trumpet (Rev 9:1–21). As chs. 10 and 11:1–14 relate to the seven sealed Thunders, and in a sense form a real episode between the Trumpets, it might be as well to regard the second woe under a formal aspect, as closed with Rev 9:21, as to conceive of it as continued through Rev 10,—in accordance with the material point of view to which we adhered on p. 226, to the adoption of which we were particularly influenced by Rev 10:4. The lack of precision in the construction of this portion of the Apocalypse is owing to the fact that the Apocalyptist was in the main desirous of depicting, under the cycle of the Seven Thunders, only the activity of the Two Witnesses, but found occasion to communicate the issue of their history as well.
From the material point of view, the incipient apostasy, depicted Rev 11:1–14, certainly forms a supplement to the judgment of the Sixth Trumpet.
The Eagle’s cries of Woe upon the dwellers on the earth, are expressive of the fact that the Spirit of prophecy now, in lofty majesty, announces three universal temptations [trials] which are to come upon all men and which shall be so mighty as to make it manifest from the outset that the majority will fall when exposed to them, whilst the minority, constituted by the sealed, will have to undergo the sorest afflictions and persecutions.
In respect of the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets, we refer to the EXEGETICAL NOTES. Although, for our own part, we regard our view as thoroughly grounded (especially by the circumstances that the locusts of the Fifth Trumpet so torment men as to plunge them in despair, without killing them, and that the fiery horses of the Sixth Trumpet kill men—which must, doubtless, be understood as significant of a spiritual killing), it is requisite that the security of the foundation of this exegesis should be additionally manifested before any superstructure is erected upon it. The founding of homiletical and practical applications upon the traditional Church-historical exposition, e. g., upon the hypothesis that the locusts are Mohammedans and Apollyon the caliphs, and that the horses of the Sixth Trumpet are the second deluge of Mohammedans—the appearance of the Turks (Sander; according to Von Meyer, the locusts denote the mediæval priesthood, the horses being Oriental barbarians in general)—has, like kindred expositions, not such evidence in its favor as evangelical preaching and instruction demand.
Especially noteworthy, in our eyes, is the fundamental thought that the destructive agencies depicted in the Seven Trumpets, are set forth in plastic figures of disturbed nature—in part, of the most horrible unnaturalness. A rain of hail and fire, mingled with blood; a great mountain, plunging, burning, into the sea; a star falling from Heaven, and, burning like a torch, poisoning many rivers and fountains; sun, moon, and stars, shorn of a third of their brightness—all consternating images of a disturbance of nature. Under the Fifth Trumpet, however, the most terrific contradictions of nature are exhibited: locusts that eat no green thing, but, on the contrary, sting men after the manner of scorpions; having hair like the hair of women, and teeth like lions’ teeth, etc.; these make their appearance as a mere prelude to the fiery horses of the Sixth Trumpet, which seem to drag their riders along with them, which bite with their snake-like tails as with mouths and vomit from their mouths fire, smoke and brimstone. But not until the Seventh Trumpet is the contradiction of nature consummated in the figures of the Dragon, the Beast, and the Woman who rides upon the Beast. With a master-touch at which we can but marvel, evil is here throughout delineated in extravagant contradictions, as unnaturalness.
Special.—We note only such items as appear to us to be more or less firmly established.—Darkenings of the Church, judgments of God.—The Trumpets of God—Divine judgments upon the unfaithful—as summonses of the faithful to battle, and as calls to awakening and repentance for all.—[Rev 8:1] The silence in Heaven a sign of the great sympathy of the heavenly Church in its foreview of the trials of the Church on earth.—[Rev 8:3, 4] Completion of the prayers of believers by the intercession of Christ in Heaven.—[Rev 8:5] The fire of the health-bringing Spirit, falling from Heaven in order to the vitalizing of the Church, that the fire of judgment may not in the end fall upon her from Heaven.—[Rev 8:6] The series of Trumpets of judgment and repentance, a continual climactic succession, in accordance with the increasing development of mankind.—[Rev 8:7] Fanaticism, a mixture of frost and fire (icy coldness of heart and carnal heat of the imagination), mingled with blood.—[Rev 8:8] What can be understood, in a spiritual sense, by a burning mountain, falling into the sea?—[Rev 8:10, 11] Since Satan has been styled a star, falling from Heaven, we may designate the falling star called Wormwood, apostasy, that has its origin in embitterment.—Intellectual or spiritual rivers, currents and fountains in humanity; their destinations and manifold empoisonment.—[Rev 8:12] Darkening of intellectual or spiritual lights of Christendom, and the sins which must have preceded such darkening.—[Rev 8:13] The Eagle of prophecy.—Warning cry of the Spirit of prophecy, concerning the whole earth.—As a woecry, it has reference to the earthly-minded.—The great dispensations of woe upon the earth are, incontrovertibly, great general temptations (no cry of woe was heard at the forth-going of the three sombre horsemen).
[Rev 9:1] The abyss, as the middle region between Hades and hell.—[Rev 9:2–11] The soul-sufferings of humanity, accompanying its development, through the medium of Christianity, in the sphere of all spiritually unsound life.—All spiritual manifestations which, by reason of great internal contradictions, assume a monstrous character, judge themselves. They are, however, the means of the spiritual ruin of the blinded individuals who yield themselves up to them. Examples of such contradiction may be given in abundance, and consist, especially, of pretensions to high spiritual life, conjoined with enslaving ordinances (Montanism); pretensions to high Christian sanctity, conjoined with pitiless severity (Novatianism); pretensions to purity from the influence of world and state, conjoined with a system of robbery (Donatism), etc.—[Rev 9:13–19] Manifestations of unnaturalness in the religious and moral world are armies of corruptive and destructive agencies slaying spiritually and, indirectly, also physically.—The horses of corruption and destruction run away with their riders.—[Rev 9:20, 21.] Impenitence under the judgments of God, considered under the antithesis of bigotry and the service of sin (see chs. 20 and 21). Bigotry and sensuality are prominent features of the most modern forms of corruption.
STARKE: This author gives a singular interpretation of the silence in Heaven as a time immediately succeeding the great judgment and destruction of the Antichristian kingdom, viz. the thousand years (a half hour!). In commenting on the consecutive Trumpets, Starke cites, as usual, two adverse explanations, the one class given by those who regard the Trumpets as fulfilled, the other by those who look upon them as to come.
CHRISTOPH PAULUS, Blicke in die Weissagung, etc. (see p. 73): Only the first judgment at the time of the first Trumpet, and the last at the time of the seventh Vial of Anger are accomplished by hail; they alone, therefore (because hail comes from above?), appear as a result of immediate Divine interference, as an immediate demonstration of Divine power. All the other judgments, from the second to the last, bear the stamp of historical occurrences (?).—Judgment of the fourth Trumpet. No remarkable occurrence on earth, no historical event distinguishes the time of the fourth Trumpet; nothing of importance happens, but a condition is gradually brought about in which the brightness of all Divine authority on earth is obscured; Church, laws and magistrates lose a considerable portion of their reputation and influence.
Literature.—VETTER, Die sieben Posannen, Breslau, 1860 (see p. 75).
[From M. HENRY: Rev 8:3–5. Observe, 1. All the saints are a praying people; 2. Times of danger should be praying times, and so should times of great expectation; 3. The prayers of the saints themselves stand in need of the incense and intercession of Christ to make them acceptable and effectual, and there is provision made by Christ to that purpose; 4. The prayers of the saints come up before God in a cloud of incense; no prayer thus recommended was ever denied audience and acceptance; 5. These prayers that were thus accepted in heaven produced great changes upon earth in return to them.
Rev 9:7–12. Note, 1. When the gospel is coldly received and not permitted to have its proper effect upon heart and life, it is usually followed by dreadful judgments. 2. God gives warning to men of His judgments before He sends them; He sounds an alarm by the written word, by ministers, by men’s own consciences, and by the signs of the times; so that if a people be surprised, it is their own fault. 3. The anger of God against a people makes dreadful work with them; it embitters all their comforts, and makes even life itself bitter and burdensome. 4. God does not in this world stir up all His wrath, but sets bounds to the most terrible judgments. 5. Corruptions of doctrine and worship in the Church are themselves great judgments, and the usual causes and tokens of other judgments.—Rev 9:2. The Devil carries on his designs by blinding the eyes of men, by extinguishing light and knowledge, and promoting ignorance and error; he first deceives men, and then destroys them; wretched souls follow him in the dark, or they durst not follow him.
Rev 9:16. He Who is the Lord of hosts has vast armies at His command, to serve His own purposes.
[From VAUGHAN: Rev 9:2. If men will not have heaven open to them, if they will break off the connection between earth and heaven, they must expect to have that between earth and hell opened.]
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.SECTION THIRD
The Seven Penitential Trumpets, issuing from the Opening of the Seventh Seal
A.—IDEAL HEAVENLY WORLD-PICTURE OF THE SEVEN PENITENTIAL TRUMPETS. THE IDEAL, INVINCIBLE CHURCH. ITS ESTABLISHMENT AS THE CHURCH MILITANT BY THE SEALING OF THE ELECT IN THIS WORLD; ITS CONSUMMATION WITH THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT IN THE OTHER WORLD. PREPARATION FOR THE LOOSING OF THE SEVENTH SEAL
1And1 after these [this2] things [om. things] I saw four angels standing on [upon] the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should [may] not blow on [upon] the earth, nor on [upon] the sea, nor on [upon] any tree.3 2And I saw another angel ascending from the east [sun-rising], having the [a] seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud [great] voice to the four angels, [ins. those] to whom it was given to hurt [injure] the earth and the sea, 3saying, Hurt [Injure] not the earth, neither [nor] the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed4 the servants of our God in [upon] their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of them which were [om. them which were—ins. the] sealed: and there were sealed [om. and there were sealed] a hundred and forty and four thousand [ins. sealed] of all the tribes [out of every tribe] of the children [sons] of Israel. 5Of [Out of] the tribe of Juda were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand [ins. sealed5]. Of [; out of] the tribe of Reuben were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Gad were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve 6thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Aser were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Manasses were sealed [om, were sealed] 7twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Simeon were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Levi were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Issachar were sealed [om. were sealed] 8twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Zabulon were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Joseph were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand. Of [; out of] the tribe of Benjamin were sealed [om. were sealed] twelve thousand [ins. sealed].
9After this [these things] I beheld [saw], and, lo [behold]6, a great multitude, which no man [one] could number, of [out of] all nations, and kindreds [tribes], and people [peoples], and tongues, stood [standing]7 before the throne, and before 10the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and [ins. they] cried [cry] with a loud [great] voice, saying, [ins. The] salvation to [or, is with] our God which [who] sitteth upon the throne, and unto [or, is with] the Lamb. 11And all the angels stood [were standing8] round about om. about] the throne, [om.,] and about [om. about] the elders and the four beasts [Living-beings], and [ins. they] 12fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: [ins. the] blessing, and [ins. the] glory, and [ins. the] wisdom, and [ins. the] thanksgiving, and [ins. the] honor, and [ins. the] power, and [ins. the] might [strength], be [or om. be] unto our God for ever and ever [into the ages of the ages]. Amen.
13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are [om. What are] These which [who] are arrayed in white robes [ins., who are they]? and whence came they? 14And I said unto him, Sir [My9 lord], thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came [that come] out of [ins. the10] great tribulation, and [ins. they] have [om. have] washed their robes, and made them11 white in the blood 15of the Lamb. Therefore [On this account] are they before12 the throne of God, and [ins. they] serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them [σκηνώσει ἐπ’ αὐτούς, shall spread his tabernacle over 16them]13. They shall [ins. not] hunger no [any] more, neither [ins. shall they] thirst any more; neither [οὐδὲ μὴ]14 shall the sun light [πέσῃ, fall] on them, nor any heat [καῦμα, burning heat]. 17For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne [τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου] shall feed [shepherdize] them, and shall lead them unto living [om. living] fountains of waters [ins. of life15]: and God shall wipe away all tears [every tear] from their eyes.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
The literal, allegoristical exegesis, with its chronological interpretation, has covered this section [Revelation 7] in particular, together with the corresponding eighth and ninth chapters, with confusion and obscurity. It should be premised, first of all, that Revelation 7–9 constitute a whole, representing the essential form of the history of the Church in this world in respect of its spiritual aspect, in its connection with the history of the Kingdom of God, or the New Testament history of religion. [See p. 192 sq.] If the seven churches were, portraits of the Church in its spiritual and world-historical aspects; if, further, the seven seals were characteristic of the world-historical side of New Testament times; so now in the seven trumpets the New Testament history of religion, as the spiritual side of New Testament times, is exhibited, or, in other words, the Church is portrayed in its transcendent nature as militant and triumphant. It will appear, as we proceed, that the reference is purely to spiritual matters; let us meantime direct the attention of our readers to the characteristic of the section as presented in the concluding words Rev 9:20, 21. The dark side in the entire period is the worship of demons, devilish spirits, and this dark side is divided into religious idolatries and moral enormities. As the sections throughout the Apocalypse unfold into the antithesis of Heaven-pictures and earth pictures, so it is with the present one. If it be objected that the sealing of the 144,000 souls does not take place in Heaven, but on earth, we respond that to the Apocalyptist, Heaven and earth are not purely local terms, as is evident, moreover, from chaps. 12 and 21. Even the Son of Man Himself walks on earth, amid the candlesticks, according to Rev 1 We must, therefore, once for all, distinguish Heaven on earth from the earthly form of the Kingdom of God. And this Heaven on earth is in this case the kernel of the Church Militant, the plenary number of the sealed elect, from whose ranks are issuing, ever and anon, those victor-trains of parting souls that form the Church Triumphant in the world beyond the grave. Thus is framed the conception of the Heaven-picture of the ideal Church as a whole; as branching into the two stages of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant (Rev 7:1–8; 9–17). The contrasted earth picture of the Church is characterized by the trumpets themselves. We continue to designate these as penitential Trumpets, though prominence should also be given in the first place to the more general signification of the trumpetings, as figuring the sudden warlike or dramatic appearance of worldly spirits and spiritual errors, both of which, however, serve as an admonition to repentance, to the marrow of the Church. [See p. 212 sqq.]
With the chronological and literal conception referred to, correspond the most considerable misunderstandings which attach to this chapter. Above all, the chapter should not be regarded in the light of an episode. Neither should it be considered as a special promise to the Jewish people. If we hold fast to the idea of the organic completeness and unitedness of the Apocalyptic narration, such an episode, which would be destructive of all connection, is inconceivable. As, furthermore, the seventh chapter, as the basis of the seven Trumpets, must perfectly coincide with the following two chapters, it cannot be reduced to a section of the last time.
So far as the Jews are concerned, those commentators are entirely at odds with the text who teach that the Jews in a literal sense are intended here. As surely as the New Jerusalem of Rev 21 cannot denote a new Jewish city; as surely as the term Jews, as used in the seven epistles, denotes the very opposite of Judaists, namely, the true spiritual Israel; just so surely are the people of Israel, here, representative of the whole body of the people of God. It can be affirmed only that converts from Israel are included.
Or are the 144,000 souls, standing, according to Rev 14, on Mount Zion, other chosen ones, though those here mentioned likewise appear as sealed? Or are the former, also, only Jews after all? And being Jews, are they virgins in the literal sense, as Rothe maintains; celibates, such as are found so seldom amongst the Jews? And has the scene so far changed that, whilst in our passage the Church in this world consists purely of Jews, but in the other world is made up of all nations, Gentiles predominating, therefore,—in Rev 14, on the other hand, the Gentiles upon Mount Zion, i.e., in the same region in which they, in Rev 7, occupy the foreground, are displaced by the Jews?—In every case, we answer no.
Be it observed, moreover, that if the symbolical significance be lost sight of in the leading matter, the Twelve Tribes must also be taken literally; as also the 12,000 of every Tribe; the omission of the Tribe of Dan, and everything else. And this, apart from the essential absurdity that during this whole period of sealed Jewish Christians, there should be no account made of sealed Gentile Christians on earth.
And here arises the question, why the New Testament Church should be symbolized by the Jewish Tribes; its kernel by sealed individuals belonging to those Tribes. This question is at once satisfactorily settled if we do but glance back at the prophetic representation of the destiny of Israel. The people of Israel is the typical servant of God, His elect, whose office it is to disseminate His law amongst the Gentiles (Is. 42, 43, etc.), before the Servant of God in the truest and fullest sense of the term, the Messiah, is spoken of. The New Testament, again, takes up this typical import of Israel, but only decisively to transfer it to the spiritual Israel, the New Testament faithful people, or people of faith (Matt. 8:11; Rom. 2:28; Rev 4:11, 12; Gal. 4:26). In our passage there was abundant motive for going back to the symbolical name of Jews, and to the symbolical import of the Twelve Tribes in particular, since the position of the spiritual Israel in regard to spiritual heathendom—whose pressure into the Church the Apocalyptist foresaw—was to be marked.17 We would observe, in this connection, that John, in accordance with ideal theocratic notions, regarded even Judaistic forms of corruption as a special formation of heathenism. Precautionary measures were virtually taken against misunderstanding, in the fact that the Seer made those who were sealed in this world re-appear, in their consummation in the other world, as an innumerable throng out of all nations. [See p. 193.] What we have here, therefore, is not a special scene from the last time, but an entirely new cycle of the whole New Testament time which, as a whole, is eschatological;—a heavenly portrait of the ideal Church.
The vision begins with the apparition of the four Angels that stand upon the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that no wind may blow upon the earth, nor upon the sea, nor upon any tree.
We have recognized the earth as the theocratic order or institution; here it is the New Testament order of things, as presented, first, in the Church alone, branching out, subsequently, into ecclesiastical and political life. On the four corners of this earth, where it comes in contact with the old world—from the direction of heathenism, consequently—the four winds arise. The four winds are the fundamental forms of those worldly time-currents which threaten the ruin of the Church (Dan. 7:2; Eph. 4:14). These time-currents must be loosed when their time comes, for a particular work is appointed them; on this very account, however, they are, as Divine dispensations, held by Angels, that they may not break loose before their time and destroy the earth, i. e., the young Church; the sea, or Christian national life, which is not yet strong; or individual Christians that, like all sorts of trees of God (τὶ) have begun to grow up (Ps. 1). [See p. 187.]
When another Angel appears, forbidding the four Angels to injure the earth, or the sea, or individual trees, until he shall have sealed the servants of God, there is presented, in the antithesis of two chronological sections of time, in the antithesis of the bound and the loosed winds, a spiritual antithesis; that, namely, of the sealed, over whom the four winds have no power, as contrasted with the injured earth, the injured sea, and the injured trees. The temporal distinction, however, has likewise its own independent signification; the winds are never loosed until the kernel of the faithful is firmly established.
The nature of the other Angel, ascending from the rising of the sun, is determined by the idea of the sealing. Since the conception of justification has suffered such decay in the evangelical Church, it is not to be wondered at that our Theology has in still greater measure lost the idea of sealing, although the latter was prefigured in the Old Testament (Ezek. 9:4), whilst it appears distinctly in the New Testament as the idea of the eternal fixation of Christian character, to preserve it from the danger of apostasy (Rom. 5:4, δοκιμή; James 2:21; Eph. 1:13). [See. p. 186.]
With justification, the new life of faith is principially decided; it is necessary, however, that it should be historically proved and fixed, just as it was necessary that Abraham’s faith should be proved (see James 2:21; comp. Rev 7:23). Now this proving [or verification] is called, in its relation to the simple trials of life, proving; in its spiritual import, over against the temptations to apostasy, it is denominated sealing; Ezekiel symbolized it by a mark on the forehead. It is the mark of a spiritually quick and faithful confession, which the tempter, the spiritual murderer, passes timorously by.
It will hardly be supposed that the Apocalyptist had a lower conception of the sealing than the Apostle Paul; consequently, the Angel of sealing can be significant only of t he Holy Ghost. [See p. 187.] He ascends with the rising of the sun; i. e., the life of Jesus Christ, in His glorification, results in the sending of the Holy Ghost. His seal is the seal of the living God; no letter, no form, no fancy:—nothing but the life of the living God, Whose personal manifestation is consummated in the glorification of Christ, begets in pure and honest souls such a homogeneous Divine life as, in its matured form, victoriously withstands all the winds and storms of worldly history (1 John 5:4). For, after the sealing, all the four winds must have been suffered to sweep over them; otherwise it could not be said of them: they are come out of the great tribulation. Nay, sealing is itself a confirming against great temptation.
Again, this Angel has power, with a mighty voice to put his veto on an untimely loosing of the four winds. This is the power of mighty operations of the Spirit of God, checking for a while the currents of the spirit of this world; e. g., by this power heresies were restrained throughout the entire Apostolic age.
Then follows the sealing itself. This is too great and too extended for the Apocalyptist to describe the view of the acts themselves; he, therefore, hears the number of the sealed. And the mere number is a leading point; it is a predetermined plenary number, the whole harvest of God (Matt. 3:12), the whole inheritance of God. [See p. 193.] The winds may take their part, the chaff (Ps. 1; Matt. 3); the whole wheat harvest is secured to the Lord. We scarcely need remark that the predestination indicated corresponds with religious and moral conditions. If it were not so, the sealed must have brought the mark on their foreheads into the world with them.
The plenary number of the sealed is 144,000. For all charismatic ground-forms of the life of faith are represented by the Twelve Tribes; whilst the 12,000 souls out of every Tribe represent the whole ramification of each ground-form into its twelve modifications, and the whole harvest of this fullness of the Divine Spirit and human spirits, through the entire Christian course of the world, as symbolized by 1000 years. In proportion to the historical extension of the Tribes, the number 12,000 is exceedingly small; this fact, however, agrees with all the declarations of the New Testament [in regard to the proportion of the saved].
The order of the Tribes gives rise to several queries. Why is the Tribe of Dan wanting here, whilst in the blessing of Moses the Tribe of Simeon was left out? Why is Simeon here even set over Levi? Why is Manasseh distinguished from Joseph, and why is Ephraim merged in Joseph? It would almost seem as if the Tribes had been mingled together promiscuously, in order to ward off every Judaistic conception from the figure. At all events, the perfect equalization of the Tribes is itself not without significance. A Jew would have expected preference to be shown to the Tribe of Judah; he would, however, have anticipated that the Tribe of Levi would have the priority over all. Levi, however, is placed amongst the later Tribes; the prerogatives of the Old Testament priesthood are at an end (Bengel). We shall revert later to the Christian and Jewish traditions in regard to the omission of the Tribe of Dan. As this Tribe early left its inheritance (Jud. 18), and conquered the city of Laish, which, probably, was subsequently included in the domain of Naphthali, the Israelitish genealogy merged it in Naphthali (see 1 Chron. 4 sqq.); and the Tribe the rather lost its symbolical significance, since it had damaged it, not merely by the surrender of its tribal seat, but also in other ways (by idolatry). And yet from none of these things need we conclude that the future Antichrist is to issue from it, or that it has died out. In all New Testament times, the Twelve Tribes have been represented only by Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and remnants of the other Tribes, and it is not known exactly where the great mass of the Ten Tribes are. The thing which the Apocalyptist had in view was a symbolical twelve, on a historical basis. Possibly the motive for this substitution of the venerable name of Joseph for Ephraim was, that a disturbing allusion to the falling away of Israel might be avoided. Amid all the seeming confusion of the Tribes, in which no distinction is made between the sons of Jacob’s lawful wives and the sons of his concubines, it is still in harmony with the theocratic idea that Judah should head the list and Benjamin conclude it.
If we essay now to divide the entire table by the number three, as the number of spirit, into four times three, we have, first, two sons of Leah and one of her maid: Judah, Reuben, Gad; we have, secondly, Leah’s adopted son, Aser, Rachel’s adopted son, Nepthalim, and Manasseh, the first-born of Joseph; the third triad is formed by Leah’s sons, Simeon and Levi, and her adopted son, Issachar; in the fourth group, Zabulon is conjoined with Joseph and Benjamin, the late offspring of Leah with the late offspring of Rachel.
On a general survey, the thought forces itself upon our mind that the vision, in its symbolistic enumeration of the Twelve Tribes, has obliterated every semblance of a legal prerogative;—apart from Judah’s place of honor, which, again, was symbolically significant of the dignity of Christ.
In the 144,000 sealed ones, the assurance is given that the Church shall in all ages have a heart or kernel firm as a rock; an invisible congregation of sealed ones, against whom every power of temptation, or every storm of the four winds, must break. Our eyes are not permitted to behold this kernel, this choicest and innermost part; for this reason, among others,—because many apparent forms of Christian heroism are delusive and fall (the young men fall and the youths faint, etc.), whilst insignificant and humble characters, or such as are disguised in worldly forms, step into the breach at decisive moments. Furthermore, we do not readily recognize and honor God’s heroes in a strange attire, as, for instance, when they appear in the Middle Ages in monkish garb, or, in the eighteenth century, in the garment of critical humanism. Enough, the Rock is ever there, and though the gates of the abyss lift themselves up against it, they shall be confounded; and that Rock is Christ in His elect. The fact that these chosen ones are numbered, like the Einheriar [heroes] of Odin in the Northern mythology, points to the conclusion that the reference is not to all pious souls, indiscriminately, or in a body, but to those only who constitute the support of the Church, as is evident also from the description of the 144,000 in Rev 14, and from the second scene of our vision, the picture of the Church Triumphant.
It is tacitly assumed that the four winds have been loosed subsequently to the sealing. Their effect, however, is not described until we come to the seven Trumpets, and then the figures are changed. Yet it is declared of the triumphant throng: these are they that come ([or, the coming ones] οἱ ἐρχόμενοι) out of the great tribulation (Rev 7:14). The throng is not secluded in Heaven, but is constantly receiving new additions. We have here, therefore, no picture of the Church Triumphant in its perfection; we see it in the period of its growth, during the entire course of New Testament times. Hence, too, this Church Triumphant presents the most diverse contrasts to the sealed on earth. It is a multitude so great that none can number it; because, in the first place, it increases every instant by the arrival of those who have died in the Lord; and, further, because not only the sealed heroes of God, but all the blessed make their appearance here. It is a multitude out of all the nations and tribes and peoples and tongues. That there are blessed Israelites in this throng, is a matter of course; and it is just as evident that the name Jews, in the picture of the Church Militant, is the symbolical title of honor of the heroes of the New Testament people of God. They who compose this multitude appear as the antitype of the sealed, i. e., the invincible on earth; they have overcome. They have left the storms of earth behind them; they stand before the Throne, to whose Occupant they owe their general redemption from the woes of earth; and before the Lamb, to Whom they owe their specific redemption. The white robes, with which they are clothed, are significant of their victory; the palms in their hands denote the eternal festival that has begun for them. Their maturity is evidenced in part from the fact of their ascribing their whole salvation to the grace of God, glorifying not simply the government of the Father, but also that of the Lamb; not simply the government of the Lamb, but also that of the Father, and praising the latter first. Their song is a unitous, mighty harmony, at which the Angels in the grand circle surrounding the Elders and the Living-forms, fall upon their faces and worship. The Amen which they utter, proclaims the unison of the whole spirit-world with that redemption of which earth is the scene (Col. 1:20); and their present understanding of the great fact so long hid from their gaze (Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:12) is expressed in their doxology. In accordance with their universal stand-point, they merge the praise of the Lamb in the general praise of God. It is evident from the praise which they render, that the world of spirits and the world of blessed humanity have become one congregation of God. The sevenfoldness of their ascription of praise has been referred, not without reason, to the antithesis of the seven Thunders; at all events, the whole New Testament Divine week, the entire accomplishment of the work of redemption is herein symbolized. In the first two dicta lies the general verdict, the praise of the spirits, corresponding with the glory of God. The two following dicta are declarative, on the one hand, of the wisdom of God; and, on the other, of the thanksgiving of the spirits. In the following two, mention is made of the honor, the honorableness, which God has given to His people, and with it is extolled the power or majesty to which they owe this honor. That, however, which has finally snatched the redeemed out of all tribulation, is the eschatological mighty ruling of God. And for this He is worshipped, in accordance with all these terms, into the æons of the æons; all the ground-tones of the world’s history, and of the history of salvation form themselves into this eternal hymn, resounding henceforth without end throughout the æons.
The conversation next ensuing between one of the Elders and the Seer himself, reviews the spiritual career through which the blessed ones of Heaven passed on earth. The Elder seems to answer the question contained in the astonishment of the Seer by first questioning him as to whether he knows who the white-robed ones are and whence they come. Though the Seer himself cannot be uncertain in regard to the general facts of the case, he desires a heavenly assurance as to the earthly extraction of the blessed. He, therefore replies: Thou knowest. The response of the Elder embraces both questions: Who are they? and whence come they? For they are sufficiently characterized by the statement that they came out of the great tribulation of all earthly trials and temptations; that they have escaped from it; and that, with a full sense of the inherent natural impurity of their garments,—which are significant of their form of life—they have washed them—washed them and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. We cannot conceive of blood as making garments white, but in the conception of salvation, the Atonement in Christ makes them white as snow. Here, then, righteousness of faith and righteousness of life are evidently united. In accordance with this is their exaltation (διὰ τοῦτο; comp. Phil. 2:9). They are before the Throne of God, happy in the contemplation of His governance. They serve Him day and night in His Temple. This is the eternal, real Divine service of the priestly race; they have become absolutely devoid of will, and strong in will in their God. The glory of God is extended permanently over them, just as, in a typical manner, it was outspread over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. All their longings, all their needs are satisfied; their hunger and their thirst are forever appeased; i. e., they are in the enjoyment of all heavenly blessings, whilst they are free from every annoyance from the earthly sun and every heat of the day. They are thus complete negatively and positively. They have reached the highest point of that experience which falls to the lot of God’s people even on the earth, according to Ps. 23. The Lamb in the midst before the Throne is their Shepherd, Who feeds them and leads them to the water-springs of life. And, again, together with their positive felicity, their negative blessedness is expressed in a few glorious and comforting words: God Himself (their Leader through the vale of tears) shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. The highest heavenly consolation for every sad experience is theirs, in the warmest human form, as if consoling love were for them transformed into pure maternal tenderness. Every tear! Every tear of every sort! God shall wipe it away as a mother does with her child. The blessed, then, may come into the heavenly world with a tear in their eyes, a child-like question as to the way that God has led them.
[ABSTRACT OF VIEWS, ETC]
By the American Editor
[ELLIOTT says, concerning the two visions of this chapter, that they “together constitute the second part of the sixth Seal” (see p. 168). The period he places between the destruction of the political power of heathenism and the year 395. This period he sets forth as satisfying the symbols, in that it was one in which—1. “The threatening tempest of barbarians, which so soon subverted the Roman greatness, being just during the Constantinian era ‘repelled or suspended on the frontiers” (quoting Gibbon III. 97); 2. “The great mass of the professedly Christianized population of the Roman world” were “Christians in profession only;” 3. Through the instrumentality of faithful ministers, Jesus gathered an elect portion for Himself from the corrupt mass. The first vision (Rev 7:1–8) he regards as “figurative not of events cognizable in real life by mortal eyes, … but of certain invisible and spiritual actings by Jesus Christ, whereby to constitute and mark out for Himself an election of grace;” the second (Rev 7:9–17) as indicating that the view of Christ’s true Church … embraced the far future, … as well as the present; the perpetuation of this true Church in its integrity …; and, in fine, the realization by the whole collective body of its many successive generations, and by each and all of its individual members, of the blessedness of accomplished salvation and the glory of the beatific vision.”
BARNES agrees with Elliott, substantially, as to the period of the first vision, carrying it on, however, to the sack of Rome, A. D. 410. By the sealing he understands the affixing “some mark, sign or token” (1) “by which they who were the people of God would be known;” (2) “that would be conspicuous or prominent, as if it were impressed on the forehead;” (3) “appointed by God Himself;” (4) that “would be a pledge of safety.” What this sealing is, he does not directly state. His language is such as to induce the belief, that he regarded it as, possibly, two-fold: (1)Christian profession, in view of which multitudes were saved in the destruction of Rome by Alaric, and (2) the “influence” “of the doctrines of grace” selecting and designating those who were “the ‘true servants of God’ among the multitudes who professed to be His followers.” The process of sealing he regards “as continued throughout the long night of Papal darkness.” The second vision (Rev 7:9–17) he regards as “an episode having no immediate connexion with what precedes or with what follows.” “The scene is transferred to Heaven, and there is a vision of all the redeemed—not only of the 144,000, but of all who would be rescued and saved from a lost world.”
STUART regards Rev 7 as an episode indicating the care of God for His people, and their safety in the time of destruction.
WORDSWORTH treats of the whole chapter as an episode, without directly declaring that it is so. He regards the first vision as relating to “the ‘blessed company of all faithful people’ gathered together from all parts of the world and constituting the Church universal, redeemed by Christ’s blood, and sealed by His Spirit,” etc.; the second vision he regards as relating to the same Church glorified and triumphant.
ALFORD directly declares that the whole chapter is an episode; the first vision representing “the sealing of the elect on earth;” the second, “the great final assemblage of the saints in Heaven.” Concerning the first vision, he declares that it “stands in closest analogy with Matt. 24:31. … The judgment of the great day is in fact going on in the background.” Concerning the nature of the sealing, he expresses no opinion; as to its intent, he argues that (1) “it was to exempt those sealed from the judgments which were to come on the unbelieving,” and (2) “it appropriates to God those upon whom it has passed.”
LORD connects the visions with the sixth Seal. Under his comments on this Seal, he writes: “Betwixt that fall (of Bonaparte in 1815) and the final subversion of the governments of the earth, denoted by the passing away of the heavens, a period intervenes during which the sealing symbolized by the next vision is to take place.” In this vision (Rev 7:1–8), he regards the “winds” as indicating “multitudes and nations roused to passion, and uniting in a violent demolition of political and social institutions;” the symbol of the sealing as denoting “that the servants of God, ere the whirlwind of ruin begins, are to be led to assume a new attitude towards the apostate Church, and usurping civil rulers, by which, and in a manner never before seen, they are to be shown to be indubitably His true people. … The sealed and the witnesses (Rev 11:13) are undoubtedly the same.” The scene of the second vision he declares to be the Divine presence. “The innumerable multitude stand before the throne of God and the Lamb, and are undoubtedly the redeemed raised from the dead, publicly accepted and exalted to the station of heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ in His Kingdom” (the resurrection here referred to is the first—that of “the holy dead”).—E. R. C.]
EXPLANATIONS IN DETAIL
To regard Rev 7 as an episode, with Eichhorn and others, and even Düsterdieck, is almost as incorrect as to assume, in accordance with Vitringa, that it constitutes the second and third parts of the sixth Seal; according to this view, the true contents of the sixth Seal, as described in Rev 6, would form but the third of it.
The discussions relative to the purpose of the sealing show the obscurity that has crept over the idea of sealing—an idea so familiar to the New Testament, and introduced even by the Old Testament. Düsterdieck justly combats the view of many exegetes (especially à-Lapide, Ebrard), according to which the sealing here denotes an insurance against threatening penal judgments. The New Testament sealing secures against that temptation to apostasy which is enwrapped in the penal judgments, and thus conditionally, we admit, annuls the penal judgments so far as the sealed are concerned, although they pass through them. And hence the signs, σημεῖα, Ex. 12 and Ezek. 9, have a typical relation to this passage; a fact which Düsterdieck denies, notwithstanding his correct apprehension of the idea of sealing (p. 280).
[Is not the sealing the impressing upon believers the name, i. e., the image of God the Father and the Son (comp. Rev 14:1), or, in other words, is it not their sanctification? This interpretation well agrees with all the instances in the New Testament, in which it is said that believers are sealed (see 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Barnes writes: “It would be something that would be conspicuous or prominent, as if it were impressed upon the forehead. It would not be. merely some internal sealing, or some designation by which they would be known to themselves and to God, but it would be something apparent, as if engraved on the forehead.” Sanctification, although internal as to its origin, becomes apparent in the whole carriage of the man; it shines forth from him. No figure of it, as apparent, could be more striking than that of a seal placed upon the forehead—the noblest and most prominent portion of the physical man.
[The intent of sealing is, first, to make manifest the fact of ownership, and, secondly, to secure. Both these ends are effected by the sealing, as interpreted above; and furthermore, it may be remarked, the safety of that portion of the sealed who may remain on earth during the period of the great tribulation is insured, whether we regard that tribulation as resulting from special judgments, inflicted by personal ministers of God, or from the influx of fearful temptations. In the former case, it is secured, as was that of the Israelites in the last great judgment inflicted upon the Egyptians, by the sprinkled blood of the paschal lamb; in the latter, by the spiritual strength inwrought by the Spirit of sanctification.—E. R. C.]
With the manifold misapprehension of the sealing, a non-appreciation of the universal import of this section is connected. Hence have arisen false specializations, as e. g.: the flight of the Christians to Pella (Grot. and others). All the Jews down to the final judgment (Heinrich). All the servants of God at the end of the days (De Wette). Hengstenberg, however, interprets the passage more correctly than would appear from Düsterdieck’s notice of his views (p. 277). He writes as follows: “The sealing, as a symbolical act, is enclosed in a particular epoch of time; it takes place, once for all, before the commencement of the plagues with which the godless world is judged. The root idea, however, is this: that God protects His own in the midst of all the judgments that sweep over the godless world.—The sealing has reference to the entire duration of the Christian Church, until its final consummation; to the entire duration of the world, to its final destruction (?). It has, therefore, not yet lost its significance.”
The relation of the second part of the chapter (from Rev 7:9 to the close) to the first part has been defined in harmony with the individualization of the section. The innumerable multitude of Christians, Rev 7:9, has reference to the Christians in Syria, according to Grotius. It forms a portion of the 144,000; a portion that have perished despite the sealing, according to Heinrich. It is also declared to be identical with the 144,000. Düsterdieck makes an ingenious attempt to answer the question why only believing Jews (as he supposes) are represented as sealed. If, however, it were really true that sealed Jewish Christians were alone intended here, the charge of Volkmar and others, that the Book is Judaistic, would not be so easily set aside. Ebrard affirms, that Israel alone is spoken of here, “not because the Gentile Christians then existing together with it are excluded from this congregation of Israel, but because they must be conceived of as adopted into it.” This reminds us of a generally diffused school-idea, according to which Israel is, at the end, yet to obtain legal prerogatives; though it was to its pretension to such prerogatives that its apostasy was owing. The simple antithesis of the elect, as the kernel of the Church in this world, and the innumerable blessed, as the constituents of the continually increasing Church in the other world, is entirely overlooked. Even Düsterdieck limits the 144,000 to Jews. A special reason for this is the fact, that the Twelve Tribes are mentioned by name. As if the very Tribes had not a typical or symbolical meaning! Let the full consequence of Israel’s symbolical import be gathered from the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostolic writings, and Düsterdieck’s arguments in favor of Bengel’s view—viz., that in Rev 7:1–8 only Israelitish believers are intended, whilst Rev 7:9 has reference to blessed spirits from all nations, from the Gentiles and the Jews—will excite nothing but astonishment. On special distinctions see Düsterdieck, p. 280.
Rev 7:1. Four angels.—These are neither four world-kingdoms (Bede), nor ostensible Angels of Nature (De Wette), nor bad Angels (Calov.), nor distinct personal Angels, but symbolical angelic forms, like the Cherubs at the entrance of Paradise; denoting here all God’s providential arrangements in regard to the forth-breaking of the spirit or winds of temptation.18 “In the Angels who restrain and loose the winds, the idea that the salvation of the elect and the perdition of the wicked (?) come from God alone has, as it were, assumed flesh and blood. Comp. the similar symbolical representation in Rev 9:14, 15” (Hengstenberg). The commentator just quoted also shows that the winds in Scripture are symbols of Divine judgments (p. 177); and it is thus that he apprehends them here. In the New Testament, however, they are also symbols of opinions, of false doctrines, Eph. 4:14 (comp. Hos. 8:7), and this meaning is by far the more probable one here.19 Ebrard truly remarks, that the conception of the four corners of the earth does not necessitate the idea that the earth is a four-cornered plane. The four corners characterize the whole earth-world in respect of its spiritually dark side, the heathen earth. The Seer is already accustomed, like the Christian Church at a later period, to conjoin the idea of heathenism (Paganism) with the idea of a coming from the uttermost corners of the earth. And in this Ezekiel preceded him with his prophecy concerning Gog and Magog—a prophecy which John himself takes up (Rev 20). According to Hengstenberg, the four winds denote, “that the storms of Divine judgments are to burst upon the earth from all sides.” Düsterdieck maintains that the winds are to be taken simply as actual storm-winds, just as in Rev 6:12 a real earthquake should be understood. Misunderstanding is driven to its utmost stretch when it is proposed to take the figures of an allegorical book literally, and when, on the other hand, the law-abiding explanation of these allegorical figures is denominated allegorical interpretation. With equal justice might it be said, that the sower of Matt. 13 is a real sower, and that the spiritual interpretation of him is allegorical exposition. However abortive most of the interpretations of such allegorical figures may be, they are so only because they have not sufficiently regarded the key which is offered by the poetical and prophetico-symbolical style of expression. Our remark applies, for instance, to Bengel’s explanation of the earth as Asia; the sea as Europe; the trees as Africa. Yet other interpretations see in Düsterdieck. Hengstenberg quite rightly understands the sea as denoting the sea of nations. Here, however, the sea should be apprehended in the better sense of the term, as symbolizing Christian national life, because it is possible for it to be injured; it cannot thus be understood, however, in cases where the harm proceeds from it, as Dan. 7:2 and Rev. 13. Hengstenberg thinks that the trees denote kings or magnates; trees and grass, the lofty and the lowly. We prefer, in this passage, to apprehend the trees in accordance with Psalm 1, the grass in accordance with Psalm 23, since it is not neutral things that are spoken of as being injured, but positively good things.
[May there not be here a double symbolization—the storm directly significant of a convulsion that is to shake the real earth and sea, and that symbolic of convulsion in the whole fabric of human society? Our Lord connects together storms in the physical and social worlds as preceding His Coming (Luke 21:25–28), and the whole imagery of the Apocalypse leads to the idea that such storms will be connected in reality—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:2. And I saw another angel.—Vitringa, with perfect justice, regarded this other Angel as significant of the Holy Ghost. Düsterdieck considers it too great a digression from the text to regard him even as an Archangel (Stern), or as Christ (Calov., Hengstenb.). The term certainly is ἄγγελος, and not Holy Ghost; but outside of Apocalyptic symbolism, it is the Holy Ghost Who seals. [The Holy Ghost, doubtless, is the efficient sealer; but may not the Angel be a symbol of the instrumentalities by which He seals?—E.R.C.] This Angel undoubtedly says in Rev 7:3, the servants of our God; but he must, necessarily, speak as an Angel and he also includes with himself, as Hengstenberg correctly reminds us, the four Angels first spoken of. [The inclusion is possible, but not necessary.—E. R. C.]
Ascending from the sun-rising.—Even this, we are told, contains nothing but the “significant” intimation, “that the Angel who comes on an errand of blessing, with the guarantee of life eternal” (Angels, then, are possessed of such power!), “rises from the side whence light and life are brought by the earthly sun.” Düsterdieck, with reference to Hengstenberg (?), Ebrard, Volkmar and others. The words, then, contain a modern poetical figure, and nothing more, though Scripture speaks of the rising of the Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2; comp. Luke 1:78; Hengstenberg, p. 382 sqq.). Düsterdieck rejects a number of interpretations similar to his own (p. 284).
A seal of the Living God.—This term does not denote merely that the “seal belongs to the living God;” it means, rather, that it secures a life corresponding to the living God—the new life of believers. Hence God is termed the living God. According to De Wette, the expression means that God is the true God, and hence that His seal is the valid one. According to Hengstenberg, Düsterdieck and others, the meaning is, that God, as the Living One, is also the bestower of life. Our passage treats of the insurance of a life already given, as is always the case when sealing is spoken of. Together with the idea of insuring, the idea of property is included. These two conceptions really cannot be separated; he who seals anything, secures it to himself. Without this reference of insurance to ownership—of which Hengstenberg can find no certain example in Scripture—sealing, as such, would have merely the import of a mechanical fastening. But even a lock is not purely and simply a mechanical impediment.
“According to the hypothesis of several exegetes, the seal bore the name of Jehovah. Such commentators refer to Rev 14:1, where the elect are described as having the Name of God written on their foreheads, etc. It is to be observed, that Ezekiel (Rev 9:4) merely speaks of a mark, without further qualification. This fact alone should prevent us from going beyond what is expressly stated in the text” (HENGSTENBERG). Others have conjectured that the seal bore the sign of the cross. Düsterdieck, on the other hand, concludes, from the omission of the definite article, that we are at liberty to suppose that God has different seals for different purposes. The Apostle Paul, however, seems to know of but one purpose in the sealing of the servants of God.20
And he cried with a great voice.—This, according to Hengstenberg, denotes the decidedness of the command. Other interpretations see in Düsterdieck, p. 286. We understand by it the mighty counter-working of apostolic Christianity against the incipient breaking loose of spiritual heathenism upon the Church.
To whom it was given.—We find no pluperfect in ἐδόθη; for it is not until the sealing that such power is given them. Previous to the sealing, the four Angels were just as much designed for the restraining of the winds as they afterwards were for the loosing of them, for they were the angelic purpose and the angelic measure of the winds themselves (Ps. 104:4)
To injure the earth.—̓Αδικεῖν is to be apprehended in the more general sense of doing harm to.21 A strange perversion of the sense is shown in the interpretations of Bengel, Herder and Rinck, according to whom the holding of the winds should be regarded as an injury, because they have a cooling or a dispersing effect. The ἄχρι in Rev 7:3, irrespective of anything else, decides in regard to the meaning. It even precludes the assumption that harm would result only in case the winds were loosed too soon. After the sealing, the injuring really ensues; though the loosing of the storms is not literally narrated, it is actually accomplished with the sounding of the seven Trumpets.
Till we have sealed.—The general apprehension of the plural as indicating that the Angel has assistants who are not mentioned, may have another direction given to it in the assumption, that the four Angels themselves are the assistants of the Angel who issues the command. This view is justly upheld by Hengstenberg, though Düsterdieck opposes it. For the repression and limitation, as well as the cooperation of temptation, of trial, of tribulation from without, are alike necessary in order that man may inwardly attain to his sealing. As, however, a certain degree of temptation is the condition of sealing, so there are also degrees of temptation which would be irresistible, were it not for the previous sealing. And this is the idea presented here. Hence the four Angels must first take a negative part in the sealing by holding the four winds in check for a time. Calovius’ application of the plural to the Trinity, see noticed by Düsterdieck.
The servants of our God.—In the Old Testament all the pious are, in a general sense, servants of God, in accordance with His Thorah [law]. In a special sense, however, the people of Israel, or pious Israelites, are His servants, being organs of God, designed for the diffusion of His light, His law and His salvation over the whole earth (Is. 42:1). In the most special sense, therefore, the Messiah is His Servant (Is. 53). On account of the contrast of son-ship and the slavish servitude of legalists (Rom. 6.), the term servant occupies a less conspicuous place in the New Testament. The διάκονος of God is a servant who is familiar with his Master’s purpose, and serves voluntarily. The high and honorable name of δοῦλος, however, gradually and significantly re-appears, and the δοῦλος of Christ is also the δοῦλος of God (Tit. 1:1; Rev. 1:1). The true servants of God are those in whom Israel’s destiny is fulfilled; those who, in and with Christ, represent, as the kernel of the Church, God’s light and law on the earth.22 And these, some exegetes would fain persuade us, are Jewish Christians exclusively! “De Wette,” says Ebrard, “wrongly refers to Rev 14:1 in proof of the incorrectness of the view which makes the sealed ones of Rev 7 Jewish Christians. In his opinion the 144,000 sealed ones of Rev 7 re-appear in Rev 14, being generally designated in Rev 7:3 as redeemed from the earth.—We shall see, in due time, that the 144,000 introduced in the latter chapter have nothing whatever to do with those of Rev 7.”23 And yet in each case the number and qualification [the mark on the forehead] are the same! The identity of individuals is, of course, not the material point: what we contend for is the identity of the idea: viz. of the 144,000 as the stand-holders of the people of God, the pillars of the Temple.
On their foreheads.—Düsterdieck: “The mark received by the servants of the Beast is—like the mark of slaves in ordinary life—impressed upon the right hand or the forehead (Rev 13:16; 14:9; 20:4); the servants of God bear the seal and the name of their Lord on their foreheads alone. The fact that this is the most conspicuous place (Aret., Bengel, Stern and others) is a sufficient reason only in the case of the servants of the Beast; with the servants of God, the material point is, rather, that the noblest part of the body should bear the sacred mark.” Again, there is no recourse to the Scriptural bases of the idea. Why does Aaron bear the name of Jehovah upon his frontlet (Ex. 39:30; 28:36), and upon his breast-plate the name of the children of Israel? The breast encloses the secret of faith; but the forehead manifests the confession, the stand-point, the symbol, the colors and standard (Rom. 10:10). When it is said of the house of Israel: It hath hard foreheads and obdurate hearts ([they are stiff of forehead and hard of heart] Ezek. 3:7), not only is the like substance of unbelief expressed, but also an antithesis of form. The expression: Thy forehead against their forehead, is precisely a case in point. The symbolical sense of the words is unmistakable (see Ez. 3:8, 9).
Rev 7:4–8. As the loosing of the storms is not described further on, neither is the very act of sealing now depicted. John heard the number of the sealed. Why “probably from the other Angel” (De Wette, Ebrard)? The visional hearing is the finest sensorium for the most secret and profound revelation (see 2 Cor. 12:4). And there are here but three general points: Israel; the number, 144,000; each Tribe furnishing a twelfth of this number. On the number itself, see the Introduction, p. 16. The equality of the number 12,000 for each Tribe is, according to Düsterdieck, expressive of the idea that all have an equal share in the Divine gift of grace—none, however, of right. But if the Twelve Tribes, like the Twelve Apostles, be significant, as an organic totality, of the manifold-ness of the different gifts of grace, the meaning of this equality will be, that the round sum and plenitude of every species of churchly gifts of grace is assured to the eternal Kingdom of God.
The enumeration of Levi amongst the Twelve Tribes has been pertinently explained by Bengel as follows: “The Levitic ceremonies being done away with, Levi is again placed on an equal footing with his brethren.” Now if, Levi being included, Manasseh and Ephraim—the latter under the name of Joseph—retain their places in the catalogue, the result must be thirteen Tribes. In order to avoid this, the vision omits the Tribe of Dan.
On violences against the text, see Düsterdieck, p. 289. As also on the play upon the name of Manasseh; the ancient conjecture, that Antichrist is to come out of Dan (with reference to the figure of the serpent, Gen. 49:17!); the reference to the idolatry of the Danites; also the reference to the Jewish tradition, representing the Tribe as being extinct, with the exception of a single family. Düsterdieck himself thinks that the omission of Dan is to be explained on the ground of the Tribe’s having become extinct. We refer to the general view of the chapter presented above.24 The Tribe of Simeon was also in danger of being left out on account of its partial emigration and its partial fusion with Judah (see 1 Chron. 4.; comp., with reference to Simeon, Deut. 33. According to Düsterdieck, Issachar, too, is here left out).
On the promiscuous order of the sons of the different wives, and its design, as expressive of the co-ordination of all believers, see Hengst., p. 398 sqq.
For a table of the different occasions when, the Twelve Tribes are mentioned, see Ebrard, p. 266 (Gen. 29:30; Gen. 49:; Num. 1; Num. 2; Deut. 27; Deut. 33; Ezek. 48)
On an error in the Cod. Sin. see Düsterdieck, p. 290. [Gad and Simeon are omitted; Joseph and Benjamin, transposed.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:9. As a matter of course,—De Wette to the contrary, notwithstanding—the section which now follows forms, in connection with the preceding section, one general picture.25
[“The vision seems to be transferred from earth to Heaven; for the multitudes which he saw appeared BEFORE THE THRONE, i. e., before the Throne of God in Heaven. The design seems to be to carry the mind forward quite beyond the storms and tempests of earth—the days of error, darkness, declension and persecution—to that period when the (entire) Church should be triumphant in Heaven.” BARNES.—E. R. C.]
A great multitude.—The elect in this world are numbered; the blessed in the other world are innumerable. This one antithesis makes a rent both in the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and in the system of its antagonists, which fails to recognize the element of truth in the doctrine of election. It might be supposed, that the distinction consists in the fact that the 144,000 sealed ones are significant merely of the last Christian generation, whilst the blessed are congregated out of all generations. But even the sealed denote the whole sum of steadfast Christians out of the most diverse Christian ages.
An antithesis must have been formed in the Seer's perception by the fact, that he only heard on earth of a host whose ranks were closed, whose number was complete, whilst in Heaven he actually saw a whole train of constantly augmenting masses. The constituent element of the contrast can, however, lie only in the distinction between the chosen servants of God who have to withstand the storms of the kingdom of darkness on this earth, and the whole fullness of blessed souls, amongst whom there are also children, who have entered into bliss. In Rev 14. this antithesis again makes its appearance; and that in stronger terms and as continuing in Heaven itself, without detriment to the blessedness of all.
According to Düsterdieck, the difference is contained in the circumstance, that the sealed are of Israel exclusively, whilst the great multitude are gathered out of all nations. According to Ebrard, the distinction consists in the fact, that the former are the Christians still on earth in the last time, being, therefore, pre-eminently Jewish Christians; whilst the latter are all the blessed in the other world, being, therefore, pre-eminently Gentile Christians. According to De Wette, the distinction consists in the fact, that the former are representative of an elect number, in antithesis to the rejected, whilst in the latter case there is no such antithesis.26
Standing before the Throne.—The nominative ἐστῶτες27 remarkable in connection with the accusative περιβεβλημένους [see TEXT, AND GRAM.], seems, together with ὄχλος, to be dependent upon ἰδού, thus supporting the reading indicated; it may be explained, however, by the irregularity of the Apocalyptic style.
Standing before the Throne, and before the Lamb.—Contemplation of the two-fold and yet unitous source of their felicity, in God’s providence and Christ’s suffering; this contemplation is at once the continuance and the perfection of their bliss.
[“Of all nations.—Not only of the Jews; not only of the nations which in the time of the sealing vision had embraced the Gospel, but of all the nations of the earth. And kindreds—φυλῶν.—This word properly refers to those who are descended from a common ancestry, and here denotes a race, lineage, kindred.…And peoples—λαῶν.—This word refers properly to a people or community as a mass, without reference to its origin or any of its divisions. And tongues—languages.—This word would refer also to the inhabitants of the earth with respect to the fact, that they speak different languages not as divided into nations; not with reference to their lineage or clanship; and not as a mere mass without reference to any distinction, but as divided by speech. The meaning of the whole is, that persons from all parts of the earth, as contemplated in these points of view, would be among the redeemed.” BARNES.—E. R. C]
The white robes are the attire of victory. [“The emblems of innocence or righteousness, uniformly represented as the raiment of the inhabitants of Heaven.” BARNES. Comp. chs. 3:4; 6:11; and especially Rev 7:14, where the symbol is explained.—E. R. C.] The palms are signs of peace and festivity. From these the inference has been drawn that a heavenly Feast of Tabernacles or harvest is indicated (Züllig, Hengstenberg, p. 403, with reference to Zech. 14:16). “The palms, as a symbol of victory, attribute an activity to the redeemed which is not pertinent here, where everything subserves to the praise of God’s transcendent redeeming grace” (Hengstenberg). As if any principial contradiction were involved therein! It cannot be disputed, however, that the Israelitish Feast of Tabernacles might form the point of departure for the present figurative representation. [The palm was the symbol of victory amongst the Greeks, but not amongst the Hebrews. With the latter (in the Feast of Tabernacles) it was the memento of trials from which they had been delivered—it was the symbol of salvation (comp. Lev. 23:39–44.). The remarks of Trench on Rev 2:17 (the last quoted), p. 85, are applicable here.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:10–12. With a great voice.—Now follows the doxology of the Church Triumphant, rejoicing in its deliverance from the great tribulation of the Church Militant. The mighty voice is the expression of the great, common, unitous feeling of all the redeemed at their complete redemption. Σωτηρία denotes the whole redemptive salvation, as principial and final σωτηρία [deliverance from sin (comp. Matt. 1:21) and woe.—E. R. C.]. “Grotius erroneously interprets ἡ σωτηρία metonymically (=gratias ob acceptam salutem). The thanksgiving consists rather in the fact, that the σεσωσμένοι ascribe the σωτηρία given them to their God as the σωτήρ” (Düsterdieck). This, then, is, after all, equivalent to converting the σωτηρία into a thank-offering.28 The Apocalyptic doxologies have in all cases a similar profound meaning. They give back to God in thanks and praise that which He has first bestowed.
Rev 7:11. And all the Angels.—Here personal Angels are spoken of. Whilst the symbolical Angels are restraining the storms on earth, it is said of this heavenly choir: all the Angels.
Were standing.—The celebration of the fact of redemption summons them all around the Throne. They first ratify the song of praise raised by the throng of blessed human spirits, by their deep adoration and their Amen. Then they also give expression to their angelic stand-point in contemplating the redemption. We apprehend their doxology from the Christological point of view, so that three harmonious antitheses form a group of six, which, with a mighty finale, becomes a septenary. See the SYNOPTICAL VIEW.
Rev 7:13–17. The ensuing explanation of the foregoing vision reminds us of a similar scene which occurs in Rev 17:7. The conversation here, manifestly, serves to give additional distinctness and effectiveness to the hortatory and consolatory idea of the vision.
Rev 7:13. And one of the Elders answered.—An Elder speaks; what he says is an answer according to Hebrew usage. No explicit question preceded his reply; it had, however, an interrogative cause, consisting, doubtless, in the question enwrapped in the astonishment of the Seer. An Elder, as a representative of redeemed humanity, is the fittest interpreter of the scene depicted.29 “The dialogistic form, with its distinctness and liveliness, serves to mark the point in question” (Düsterdieck).
These who are arrayed In white robes, who are they? and whence came they?—He does not mention the token of the palms—a circumstance which demonstrates more clearly his desire to give prominence to the great marvel: so many men of a sinful race—countless men—in the garb of innocence. Yes, countless holy men! How is it possible? Here the question qui genus? unde domo? (see Düsterdieck) acquires quite a unique significance.
Rev 7:14. Lord, thou knowest.—This mode of address—lord or sir—is, in its more general sense, a term of respect. Thou knowest. Ebrard: “I, indeed, know; but thou knowest far better.” Düsterdieck and others: “I know not, but I should like thee to tell me.”
Both, of course, are aware that these blessed ones are men, and that they come from earth. Even John knows great things concerning the redemption and its effect. But notwithstanding this, it continues to be a question with him, what the nature of this vision of innumerable sanctified human beings, clad in snow-white raiment, is. He is battling with sin, like Elijah of old, and though it is with a New Testament experience of salvation that he is waging this conflict, still the view of the Elder is on a higher plane than his own, just as the voice that told of the seven thousand faithful Israelites was exalted above the conception entertained by Elijah. The wealth of the heavenly fruits of the Gospel passes even the ethical conception of a John.
The train of the blessed is an endless festal line; they come and come. Hence the answer:
These are they that come [Lange:—These are the ones coming].—And the answer to the question, Whence come they? is at the same time a reply to the inquiry as to who they are. All who suffered, fought and conquered in the great tribulation through which every Christian, from the beginning of the ages of the Cross down to the end, has to pass. According to Düsterdieck, the great tribulation of the last days is alone intended. He also thinks that the comers are to be regarded as “on earth as yet.”
Out of the great tribulation.—This expression has, doubtless, an eschatological bearing; not, however, in the sense which Düsterdieck attributes to it, citing Ebrard in support of his view, though the last-named commentator says: “The great tribulation can be only that general one, which had begun in John’s time, and which is to continue until the ἐκδίκησις at Christ’s return.” On the other hand, Bengel’s interpretation of the great tribulation, as significant of all the Adamic trouble and toil of Earth, is, undoubtedly, too general, or, rather, it is altogether wrong, since the tribulation begins only with the conflicts of faith. This is the first historical fundamental feature of the blessed: they have passed happily through this great tribulation. The historical conflict, however, is based upon the inward fact:
And they washed their robes, etc—Quite characteristically Johannean is this more definite apprehension of the Atonement in the innermost centre of the expiation. Equally characteristic the Catholic mediæval idea, held by Bede and Lyra, of the purifying power of the blood of the martyrs; Ewald himself, in his earlier publication, espoused this view (see Düst., p. 295). “Hengstenberg’s distinction of the washing from the making white, and his application of the former to the forgiveness of sins and of the latter to sanctification, is contrary to the nature of the figure. A washing whereby the garments have become white, is denoted” (Düsterdieck).
[NOTE ON THE GREAT TRIBULATION.—Daniel (11:1) prophesied of a “trouble” (θλῖψις) to occur in the last days in the following language: (LXX.) καὶ ἔσται καιρὸς θλίψεως, θλῖψις οἳα οὐ γέγονεν ἀφ̓ οὗ γεγένηται ἔθνος ἐν τῇ γῇ, ἔως τοῦ καιροῦ ἐκείνου. He also declared “at that time thy people shall be delivered (σωθήσεται).” The evident implication of the Prophet is that this θλῖψις shall not be visited upon the people of God, but upon men of the world. Our Lord (manifestly referring to this prophecy, for He uses its very phraseology) speaks of the same θλῖψις, describing it as great. His language is (Matt. 24:21): ἔσται γὰρ τότε θλῖψις μεγάλη, οἴα οὐ γέγονεν ἀπ̓ ἀρχῆς κόσμου ἔως τοῦ νῦν, οὐδ’ οὐ μὴ γένηται. This θλῖψις immediately precedes the Coming of the Son of Man (Rev 7:30); and there can be no doubt that the period thereof is that of the vengeance predicted Luke 21:22, whose special woes the disciples were exhorted to labor to escape by faithfulness (Rev 7:36). In the Epistle to the Church of Philadelphia, the same tribulation, doubtless, was alluded to as “the hour of temptation (πειρασμός),” which should “try them that dwell upon the Earth” (worldlings), but from which the faithful should be “kept” (Rev. 3:10). It seems hardly possible to avoid the conclusion, that when, in connexion with the Coming of the Lord, a tribulation was spoken of to John, which, in the very words of Jesus, is emphasized as “the tribulation, the great one” (οἱ ερχόμενοι ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης), the Seer must have understood by it the very tribulation predicted by Jesus. Two objections, possibly, may be urged against this view, viz.: that (1) the redeemed are said to come out of (ἐκ) the tribulation; (2) this interpretation involves that the innumerable white-robed throng consists only of those who were on earth at the beginning of the tribulation. Concerning the former of these, it may be said, that the force of ἐκ not necessarily that the delivered should have been actual participators in, or sufferers from, that from which they are delivered, see chs. 2:11; 3:10; 18:4; John 10:39; Acts 15:29; 2 Cor. 1:10; Gal. 2:13; 2 Tim. 4:17; 2 Pet. 2:9, etc. The second objection disappears on the supposition, that the winds, which are to bring on the great tribulation, have been threatening, but are withheld, throughout the entire preceding period, until the sealing and gathering of the elect; on this supposition, all the redeemed who have died throughout the preceding ages have gone up from that which is constantly threatening (see under Rev 3:10, and also Additional Note, on p. 193).
[There can be little doubt that the prophecy of our Lord, Matt. 22:15–22; Luke 21:20–24, found its first or typical fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem; it should be remembered, however, that, previous to that destruction, “the Christians, remembering the Lord’s admonition, forsook Jerusalem and fled to the town of Pella,… …where King Herod Agrippa II.… … opened to them a safe asylum” (Schaff’s Hist. Ap. Ch., p. 391). It may be asked, if the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the destruction of Jerusalem, are not types of the great tribulation, and if the deliverance of Noah, of Lot, and of the Church of Jerusalem, are not, at the same time, types of the deliverance of the Saints (comp. 2 Pet. 2:5–9)?—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:15. On this account are they before the throne.—[They are in Heaven; see the extract from Barnes, p. 185.—E. R. C.] Perfectly Johannean: 1 John 3:2. And all this Grotius soberly refers to the Christians in Pella!
And serve Him day and night.—The heavenly life has itself become a priestly service of God, being, moreover, as a spiritual life, elevated above the change of day and night (Rev 4:8; 5:8; 22:3). [The heavenly life is not one of mere enjoyment, but of continued, active service.—E. R. C.]
And He that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them [Lange: shall settle abidingly over them].—Σκηνώσει is difficult to translate. Hengstenberg’s translation: to tabernacle, is objected to by Ebrard on philological grounds. The expression μετ̓ αὐτῶν, Rev 21:3, is different from the present term ἐπ̓ αὐτούς. In Rev 21:22 it is declared concerning the City of God: I saw no Temple in it: God Himself is its Temple. There is, then, a development of blessedness in the other world. Whatever interpretation we may give to the passages in question, it is a thought of unique grandeur, that the glory or Shekinah of God, once veiled by the pillar of cloud and fire, and, outside of distinct prophetic manifestations, regularly revealed only in a figurative form to the High Priest in the Holy of Holies (of the Tabernacle), is now, in a permanent and apparent glory, to sink down from the Throne upon the blessed and spread itself out over them. See Matt. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:12; comp. Lev. 26:11; Is. 4:5; Ezek. 37:27. [“It is exceedingly difficult to express the sense of these glorious words, in which the fulfillment of the O. T. promises, such as Levit. 26:11; Isa. 4:5, 6; Ezek. 37:27, is announced. They give the fact of the dwelling of God among them, united with the fact of His protection being over them, and assuring to them the exemptions next to be mentioned.” ALFORD.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:16. They shall not hunger any more.—Ps. 17:15.
Thirst.—Is. 55:1; Ps. 107:9.
Hunger and thirst, and the satisfaction of both these needs, are, throughout the Scriptures, the fixed figures of spiritual circumstances. As the body is a fixed symbol of the soul, so the conditions of bodily existence and satisfaction are a fixed symbol of the corresponding spiritual conditions. [If the vision was of the post-resurrection condition of the Saints, there was more than the figure of spiritual supply in these words. The bodies raised from the dead shall experience no want or pain.—E. R. C.]
The sun.—Ps. 121:6; Ps. 90 and other passages. The oriental sun, in its overpowering effects; a type, also, of overpowering reality in daily life.
Any burning heat, (καῦμα.)—Heat of the hot wind, of the burden of the day, of fever, etc.
For the Lamb.—Is. 49:10. “He that hath mercy on them.” [“Ihr Erbarmer” their Compassionator.] From Him that shows mercy, or that pities, comes the Spirit of mercy; He perfects His manifestation in the spirit of the Lamb, personal and complete meekness, and founds a congregation of infinitely deep and firm peace. On the expression: τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου, comp. Düsterdieck, p. 297. The meaning is probably this: that Christ, by His invincible meekness, has risen to the centre of the Divine government. As the meek are to possess the kingdom of the earth, so the Meek One par excellence has attained the sovereignty over Heaven and earth at the right hand of the Father and in His Name, Matthew 28:18; Phil. 2.
Shallshepherdize them.—Ps. 23; John 10.
And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.—Is. 25:8; Rev. 21:4.
[ADDITIONAL NOTE ON THE VISIONS OF REV 7.]
By the American Editor
[That chap. 7 is independent of what precedes (although, of course, related to it), is evident from the disjunctive phrase, μετὰ τοῦτο εἶδον, with which it commences (see footnote, p. 190); and that it consists of two independent visions, is also evident from the similar phrase with which the second vision is introduced, Rev 7:9. These visions are here introduced as proper to this stage of the complex narrative. They do not, properly speaking, constitute an Episode, because they enter as materially into the revelation of things future as do the events under the Seals. They are not placed under the Seals, because the matters set forth were not concealed from the heavenly hosts (the withholding of the tempest of wrath, the sealing, and the gathering of the redeemed in bliss), but had been in process of development for a long time, possibly from the days of Abraham or even those of Abel.30
The 144,000 of the first vision the writer identifies with those of Rev 14; in his judgment the number and the almost certain reference to the Seal upon the forehead in Rev 14:1, place this beyond a peradventure. But if this identification be correct, then the Sealed constitute a peculiar portion of the redeemed, eminent for faithfulness and nearness to Christ: “They are the first-fruits, the ἀπαρχή, unto God and to the Lamb” (Rev 14:3–5). This fact seems also to be indicated by the number, which is one of perfection, which may well indicate, not merely completeness as to number, but the peculiar excellence, both in character and condition, of the whole body. They are selected from the tribes, the denominations, of the nominal Israel, the visible Church of God (possibly the Jewish as well as the Christian—the latter being the legitimate successor of the former, Rom. 11:17, 18). By the sealing the writer understands (probably) a peculiar Christ-likeness impressed upon the sealed by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost (see p. 186). The period of the sealing he regards as extending throughout the whole Christian dispensation, and possibly back to the institution of the visible Church in Abraham, during the whole of which periods the winds of Divine wrath were restrained.31
The second vision contemplated, not (or not merely) the ἀπαρχή, but the whole body of the redeemed (probably exclusive of the ἀπαρχή). This innumerable company was composed of individuals of all ages—ante as well as post-diluvian; of all races: it included, probably, that innumerable host of infants (more than one half of the entire human family), and those others amongst the nations, who, influenced by the Spirit by modes unknown to us, have been renewed and saved by the blood of the Atonement.
The manifest points of difference between the two companies have already been alluded to; they may, however, be arranged as follows: the one was innumerable, from all nations, the whole body of the redeemed; the other was a (comparatively) small, definite number, from Israel (the Church), the first-fruits. It may be asked, if another point of difference is not suggested by the ἐστῶτες of Rev 7:9; there the general throng are represented as standing before the Throne, but the promise to the faithful of the Church is that they themselves shall be enthroned with Jesus (comp. chs. 3:21; 20:4).—E. R. C]
Rev 7:1. The Καὶ uncertain. [Words, and Tisch. give it with א. B*. P.; Lach. omits with A. C., Vulg.; Alf. and Treg. bracket.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:1. The reading τοῦτο preponderates. [Critical Editors read τοῦτο with א. A. B*. C.; Cod. P., Vulg., etc., give ταῦτα.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:1. Τι δένδρον, more significant than πᾶν δένδρον. [Gries., Words., Lach., Treg., Tisch. (Ed. 1859) read τι with B*. C., Vulg.; Tisch. (8th Ed.) gives πᾶν with א. P.; Alford brackets τι.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:3. [The reading σφραγίζωμεν is without authority. All the Critical Editors with א. A. B*. C. P., etc., σφραγίσωμεν—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:5. In the best Codd. ἐσφραγισμένοι is given only at the beginning and at the close (Rev 7:5 and 8).
Rev 7:9. The Καὶ ἰδοὺ is doubtful. In a material aspect also, inasmuch as the whole chapter treats of one general vision. [Words., Alf., Treg., Tisch., give καὶ ἰδοὺ with א. B*. P.; Lach. omits with A., Vulg.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:9. [Words. and Alf. read ἑστῶτας with B*.; Cod. C. gives ἑστώτων; Lach., Treg., Tisch. (and Lange, see in loc.), With א. A. P., etc., ἑστῶτες.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:11. Different readings see in Düst. [Lach., Alf., Treg., Tisch. give εἱστήκεισαν with א. A. B*. P. (א. A. P., however, give ἱστ-, א. also gives -κισαν, and B*. -κησαν.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:14. There is a μου after κύριε according to B*. C., etc. [Μου is given by Words., Alf., Treg., Tisch., with א. B*. C. P., Vulg., etc.; it is omitted by A. 1, etc.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:14. The article is significant. The reading of Lachmann omits it. [Words., Alf., Treg., Tisch., give ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγ., with א. B*. P., etc.; Lach. gives ἀπὸ θλίψ. μεγ., with A. (Tisch. does not mention A. as presenting this reading).—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:14. “Their robes” [τὰς στολὰς αὐτῶν] in accordance with minuscules.
Rev 7:15. [Tisch. (Ed. 1859) gave ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ with B*.; Cod. א. A. P., etc. (according to Treg. and Tisch.) give ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου; Words., Alf., Treg., Tisch. (8th Ed.) give ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου, the ἐνώπιον being apparently without authority. (Alf. claims for it א. and A., and cites P. as agreeing with B*. The Am. Ed. cannot but suggest that the true reading is as given by א. A. P., the ἐπί (with the genitive) having the force of before or near (see ROBINSON’S Lex. under Ἐπί, I. a. (β), and Winer, § 47, g. (c)).—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:15. [Lange translates “will settle abidingly (in His glory of manifestation) over them.” See EXPLANATIONS IN DETAIL, p. 192., and also a most valuable note by Schaff in the Lange Comm. on John (TEXT. AND GRAM.) 1:14, p. 71. The idea here seems to be that God will spread His own special dwelling-place over them; this includes the idea that He will dwell among them.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:16. [Alford and Tisch. (1859) read οὐδ̓ οὐ μὴ; Tisch., Treg., with א. A. P., etc., read as above.—E. R. C.]
Rev 7:17. The reading ζωῆς. [So all modern Critical Editors, with א. A. B*. P., Vulg., etc—E. R. C.]
[Additions may be found under EXPLANATIONS IN DETAIL.—E. R. C.]
[See foot-note † on p. 27.—E. R. C.]
 [LORD regards the Angels as (Classical) Symbols of “the authors and propagators of those (disorganizing) opinions; the fomentors and directors of the violences to which they excite.” There is nothing in this opinion inconsistent with the fact that they are under the direction of God, since the wicked are His hand, and He restrains the remainder of wrath (comp. Ps. 17:14; 76:10).
[ALFORD remarks: “This (that they are simply Angels) is all that is declared to us in the text, and it is idle to inquire beyond it. All allegorizing and all individualizing interpretations are out of the question.”—E. R. C.]
[See preceding foot-note.—E. R. C.]
[The Apostle Paul, when he wrote of sealing, was writing, not as a prophet, but of a matter then existent. The fact that but one kind of sealing (or a sealing having but one purpose) then existed, or may exist throughout the greater portion of the Christian era, does not exclude the possibility that in “the last days” another kind may be employed.—E. R. C.]
[The use of ἀδικεῖν, the proper meaning of which before an accusative is to do wrong to (comp. Matt. 20:13; Acts 7:26, 27, etc.) favors the idea of Lord, that the four Angels are symbolic of evil men, or, at least, the idea that they signify evil agencies. No valid objection can be urged against this opinion from the fact, that “it was given” to them to injure, since it is the prerogative of God to use even the evil as His instruments; that which is a wrong from them, is no wrong from Him Who permits, uses and restrains them (comp. Acts 2:23).—E. R. C.]
 [Therefore no less than six words in the Greek Testament which in the German Version are rendered Knecht, and in the English (with one additional) servant. The word generally and correctly so rendered is δοῦλος, the ordinary LXX. rendering of עכד. It cannot with propriety be said, that it occupies a less conspicuous place in the New Testament than its equivalent in the Old. In the Gospels, in direct address to the disciples and in descriptive parables, our Lord used it more than fifty times; it is applied twenty-five times to Christians in other portions of the New Testament. It is a term generally employed by the Apostles in the introductions to their Epistles as descriptive of their own relation to Christ; see Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1; Jas. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Rev. 1:1. With still less propriety can it be affirmed, that there was any relinquishment of the term because of “the contrast of sonship and the slavish servitude of legalists.” In the very chapter to which our Author refers as presenting that contrast (Rom. 6.) δοῦλος is employed as a generic term applicable to both the righteous and the wicked (Rev 7:16), and the verb δουλόω is twice applied to Christians (Rev 7:18, 22); and in the beginning of that very Epistle Paul styled himself a δοῦλος.
[In the primitive sense of the term, all creatures are the δοῦλοι of God; as applicable to Christ and Christians, it carries with it the idea of voluntary subjection to Him as Master, Owner (comp. Eph. 6:16). Ordinarily, this subjection implies ministration (in the ordinary sense of that word), because God commands His δοῦλοι (having the opportunity) to minister. It is not implied, however, in the use of the term δοῦλος, nor is it always implied in fact: God sometimes calls His δοῦλοι to serve by patient acquiescence in circumstances which forbid them to minister—“they also serve who only stand and wait.” The position of Lange is based upon the altogether unauthorized (occasional) translation of διάκονος by the German Knecht (=the English servant). Not only are these words radically distinct as to meaning, but in the New Testament one is never used as exegetical of the other, and, still further, never are Christians, as such, styled the διάκονοι of Christ. The only instance which can be, even apparently, adduced as negativing the last assertion is John 12:26; but even there, manifestly, the idea present to the mind of our Lord was personal ministration. For a full discussion of the terms δοῦλος and διάκονος see Cremer’s Biblico-Theological Lexicon of N. T. Greek (translated from the German); Edinburgh (T. & T. Clark), 1872—a most valuable work.—E. R. C.]
[For a counter statement see Additional Note, p. 193.—E. R. C.]
[“He must have had an important special reason for leaving out the Tribe of Dan; and this could only be a theological one. We find the key in such passages as Rev 14:4, where it is said of the 144,000: ‘These are they who have not defiled themselves with women (i e., sins [or rather idolatry=spiritual adultery]), for they are virgins,’ Rev 21:27; Rev 22:14. Almost the only remarkable fact which is to be found in the history of the Danites is, that after having got possession of the land, they introduced into their territory a false worship (Judges 18.), which continued through centuries.” HENGSTENBERG.—E. R. C.]
[Why “as a matter of course,” when separated from the preceding section by the strong disjunctive phrase, μετὰ ταῦτα ει̇͂δον? See on Rev 4:1 (and foot-note), p. 150; also Additional Note, p. 193.—E. R. C.]
[See Additional Note, p. 193.—E. R. C.]
[See Additional Note, p. 193.—E. R. C.]
[The ascription, according to the view of Düsterdieck, implies thanks; but is not thereby converted into a mere thank-offering. It implies thanks, because it is an ascription of praise in view of benefits conferred.—E. R. C.]
[See foot-note† on p.152.—E. R. C.]
[The Seals symbolize the concealment from angelic and human view of certain (not all) events in future history. Probably, at the date of the Apocalypse, both Angels and men expected the immediate return of Christ to earth. The eschatological predictions of our Lord (Matt. 24, etc.) up to the point of His promised appearing seemed to have been fulfilled (and typically they had been fulfilled) in the destruction of Jerusalem. It is probable that neither Angels nor men dreamed that centuries, or even months, of false Christs, wars, famines, pestilences, persecutions, would intervene before the earthly establishment of the promised Kingdom; and hence the importance of the unloosing of the Seals. But however these things might be hidden, the sealing of believers and the gathering of departed Saints in Heaven were not concealed from any. These were events that for years (or centuries) had been going on, and their continuance until the resurrection (whenever, or after whatsoever events, that might be) was revealed and secured by the open promise of God. In the visions of Rev 14, the Seer had a view of what had been openly progressing under the view of Angels, and the fact of whose future progress had already been revealed.—E. R. C.]
[If by the sealed the first-fruits are meant, they cannot be regarded as consisting merely of those who shall be on Earth just before the great tribulation. Not only is it repugnant to reason and sensibility to shut out from that glorious company the Apostles and Martyrs, but we are expressly taught, that the primitive Christians formed a portion of the ἀπαρχή (Jas. 1:18), and the Apostle Paul assures us, that those who are alive at the Coming of the Lord shall not take precedence of those who sleep (1 Thess. 4:14–17). Nor does it seem proper to exclude from the company of the faithful the Father of the faithful and that noble host described in Heb. 11, of whom it is impliedly declared that, though without us they are not made perfect, with us they shall be perfected (Heb. 11:40).—E. R. C.]