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.
Verse 1. - And after these things. Μετὰ τοῦτο, or, as some cursives read, μετὰ ταῦτα, is generally regarded as denoting the close of the sixth seal and the commencement of a new subject, interjected by way of episode between the sixth and seventh seals. But, even if not looked upon as an integral part of the revelations made under the sixth seal, the connection is so close that the two must be regarded practically as one. The incidents of the seventh chapter are evidently the complement of those narrated in the closing verses of the sixth. They take up the question with which that chapter closes, "Who is able to stand?" and afford comfort and help to those suffering Christians who were so sorely in need of a renewed assurance of the certainty of their final reward. It seems better, therefore, on the whole, to consider the sixth seal to extend to the end of Revelation 7. Vitringa takes this view, which appears to be supported also by Wordsworth. Alford, while separating Revelation 7. from Revelation 6, as "two episodes," remarks, "The great day of the Lord's judgment is not described; it is all but brought before us under the sixth seal, and is actually going on in the first of these episodes." I saw four angels. Of the nature of these angels we are told nothing. They are evidently ministers of God's will, and the mention of them following immediately upon the preceding description seems to connect the whole account more closely with Matthew 24:29, 30, where the angels gather the elect from the four winds. It does not seem probable that "evil angels" are meant as understood by some writers, since what they do is apparently done at the command of God. Standing on the four corners of the earth. That is, standing in the four opposite directions, and thus controlling all the earth (cf. Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 20:8). The number four is the symbol of universality and of creation (see on Revelation 5:9). Holding the four winds of the earth (cf. Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:2; Matthew 24:31). The angels may have been the "angels of the winds," just as in Revelation 14:18 an angel has power over fire, and in Revelation 16:5 we read of the "angel of the waters." The winds have been interpreted in two ways, neither of which seems strictly correct. The first is to give a literal meaning (as Dusterdieck) to the winds, and to understand literal windstorms as part of the judgment upon the earth. The second method interprets the winds as symbols of the judgments of the first six seals, which are held in suspension, while the elect are sealed. The truth probably is that the winds, like the earthquake, the rolling up of the heaven as a scroll, etc., are part of the figurative description of the destruction of the world at the judgment day; which destruction, like that of Sodom, is delayed for the preservation of God's elect. That the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. Πᾶν δένδρον, "every tree," is read in א, P, l, 36, Andreas, etc. The earth, the sea, the trees, are mentioned as things likely to be affected by the action of the winds; the two former, of course, embracing those things situated upon them, and the last being specially mentioned, perhaps, as a class of things which are peculiarly liable to destruction from wind. Wordsworth and others, interpreting symbolically, consider that the blasts of wind on the earth typify earthly powers, opposed to those of heaven, while the sea is emblematic of nations in a state of agitation against God, and the trees represent the great ones of this world. This interpretation, therefore, regards the objects mentioned as the enemies of God, which, by his command, are preserved from destruction and allowed to flourish in ease and apparent security, until the time of the sealing of God's servants has been accomplished. But it seems better to regard the winds as forming part of the general description by which God's judgment is foreshadowed. It is not unusual in the Bible for the wind to be mentioned in connection With destruction and judgment (cf. 1 Kings 19:11; Job 1:19; Job 21:18; Job 30:15; Psalm 1:4; Psalm 147:18; Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 27:8; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 22:22: Daniel 2:35; Daniel 7:2).
And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
Verse 2. - And I saw another angel ascending from the east; from the rising of the sun. Again no individual angel is particularized, though an archangel may be intended, as he has authority over the first four. He proceeds from that quarter whence comes light; and, like the Sun of Righteousness, he rises with healing in his wings; for his mission is to render secure the servants of God. Wordsworth thinks Christ, or a messenger from Christ, is meant - a view shared by Hengstenberg; Vitringa says the Holy Ghost; Victorinus, the Prophet Elijah. That this angel was of like nature with the first four appears probable from the words in ver. 3, "till we have sealed the servants of our God." Having the seal of the living God. The sealing instrument with which they seal God's servants. Of its nature we are told nothing beyond what is contained in ver. 3. He is specially referred to as "the living God," since, by this sealing, life is imparted. We have here the shorter expression, "the living God," not, as in all ether places of the Apocalypse, "him that liveth forever and ever" (see Revelation 4:9; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 10:6; Revelation 15:7). And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels (cf. Revelation 1:10; Revelation 5:2; Revelation 6:10) to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea; that is, by letting loose the winds, as shown by vers. 1 and 3. Bengel and Rinck, looking only at the immediate context, thought that the hurt was done by preventing the winds from blowing on the earth and cooling it in the scorching plagues which follow (Revelation 8:7). The trees are not mentioned, being included in the earth; and this appears to indicate that the expression, "the earth, the sea, and the trees" (vers. 1 and 3), signifies the world in general, without being intended to represent individual parts, as the great men, etc. (see on Revelation 5:1).
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
Verse 3. - Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees. Hurt not, by loosing the four winds, as stated on ver. 2. The destruction prepared for the guilty world is not allowed to fall until God's elect have been gathered in, and preserved free from danger (cf. Matthew 24:31, where immediately after the appearance of the Son of man, his elect are gathered from the four winds). (For the signification of the earth, the sea, and the trees, see on vers. 1 and 2.) Till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. The angel associates himself with the first four, as being on an equality with them in this work, although he alone is stated to possess the seal (ver. 2). Of the nature of the sealing nothing more is indicated. The forehead is naturally mentioned as being the most conspicuous part of man, as well as that which we are accustomed to regard as the noblest and most vital part. The idea may be compared with that in Ezekiel 9:4, 6. It is remarkable, too, that the word in Ezekiel rendered "mark" is the name of the Hebrew letter tau, of which the ancient form was a cross (cf. the sign of the cross in baptism; also Revelation 3:12, "I will write upon him the Name of my God... and my new Name;" and Revelation 14:1, "Having his Father s Name written in their foreheads"). "The servants of our God," says Bengel, is a title which especially belongs to holy men in Israel (cf. Genesis 1:17; Deuteronomy 32:36; Isaiah 61:6). Those who hold the preterist view believe that the Christians who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem are indicated by this expression. The sealed are probably these referred to by our Lord in Matthew 24:22, 24, 31, as "the elect."
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
Verse 4. - And I heard the number of them which were sealed. The description of the actual operation of sealing is omitted (cf. Ezekiel 9, where it is also omitted). And there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand. Omit "and there were." This number - the square of 12 multiplied by 1000 - is typical of a large and perfect number. No one has ever said that the number should be taken literally; and there are evident reasons why it could not be so intended. We have, therefore, to inquire what is its symbolical signification. The number 12 is always typical, in the Apocalypse and elsewhere, of a complete and perfect number. It is formed of 4 multiplied by 3. Four is generally representative of the created universe, and 3 of the Godhead (see Revelation 5:9). 4 plus 3, that is 7; and 4 multiplied by 3, that is 12, indicate a perfect number - a number which includes and embraces everything. And thus 12 multiplied by 12 denotes the most exhaustive and perfect completion. The number 1000 is generally used to denote a large and complete, but somewhat uncertain, number (cf. Revelation 14:1; Revelation 20:2; Revelation 21:16, etc.). Thus the square of 12 multiplied by 1000 has the signification of a large number not definitely fixed, but nevertheless perfect; that is to say, not omitting a single one of those who should be included in the number. We are therefore taught that at the judgment day, before the destruction of the world is allowed to take place, a large number, consisting of those who have proved themselves to be God's servants, will be preserved and set apart; and that, although the number may be large, yet it will be perfect, not one of those who are worthy to be selected being overlooked or forgotten. This number subsequently is increased, being included in the "great multitude which no man could number" of ver. 9, and which is formed by the whole company of the redeemed. Of all the tribes of the children of Israel. The Authorized Version here appears to give the correct sense of πᾶς, "every." The number is made up not necessarily by an equal number from each tribe, but by a number from the twelve tribes viewed as a whole. As explained above, the number one thousand, though signifying "completeness," is not a definite number. Here, as elsewhere, it is the spiritual Israel which is signified. In support of this view, we may remark:
(1) The constant use in the Apocalypse of the terms" Israel," "Jew," "Jerusalem," etc., in the spiritual sense; and it seems scarcely credible that the writer of the book, who throughout insists on the fulfilment in the Christian religion of all things Jewish, should in this place, for no apparent reason, deliberately make a distinction between Jew and Gentile. The terms are constantly used to denote the spiritual Israel, the spiritual Jerusalem, etc., except where allusion is made to some historical fact, as in Revelation 2:14; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 22:16; Revelation 15:3 (cf. Jews, Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9; Israel, Revelation 21:12; Jerusalem, Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 21:2, 10; Babylon, Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 18:2, 10, 21; Sodom and Egypt, Revelation 11:8; Euphrates, Revelation 9:14; Revelation 16:12; Sion, Revelation 14:1; Jezebel, Revelation 2:20; David, Revelation 3:7; Gentiles, Revelation 11:2).
(2) The improbability of the omission of the tribe of Dan, if the literal Israel were meant.
(3) The general testimony of ancient commentators, which is the view of those who appointed this passage for use in the Liturgy on All Saints' Day. Some, however, have considered that the hundred and forty-four thousand are distinct from, and not included in, the multitude of ver. 9. They believe the former indicates the converted from among the Jews, and the latter those saved from the Gentiles. Thus Bengel, Dusterdieck, Ebrard, Grotius, etc. But it may be remembered that in Revelation 14:3, 4, the hundred and forty-four thousand redeemed from the earth and from among men is not confined to Jews. By other commentators the number has been thought to denote converts in the age of Constantine, etc.
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
Verse 5. - Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. There are various lists of the tribes in the Old Testament, no two of which present the same names in the same order. It does not seem probable that any special design underlies the selection and arrangement here. First, with regard to the selection, we observe that Dan and Ephraim are omitted, the number being completed by inserting Levi, Joseph, and Manasseh. Although Ephraim and Manasseh are sometimes inserted instead of Joseph and Levi, and sometimes omitted, there seems only one example of a list in which any one of the others is omitted, viz. that in Deuteronomy 33, where no mention is made of Simeon. It has been thought that Simeon was purposely passed over by Moses on account of his ill conduct (see Genesis 34.) - conduct for which, unlike Levi, he afterwards made no sufficient atonement. This has led many commentators (Hengstenberg, Wordsworth, etc.) to conclude that Dan finds no place here because of the idolatrous worship of the tribe (Judges 18.). Many ancient writers (Bede, Andreas, etc.) account, somewhat similarly, for the omission by supposing that, in accordance with a very commonly received opinion, antichrist would arise from this tribe - an opinion probably originated by a comparison of the "serpent" of Genesis 49:17 with Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2. A third group, amongst whom are Ebrard, Dusterdieck, De Wette, Grotius, referring to an ancient Jewish tradition that the tribe of Dan had become extinct, and relying on the omission of this tribe in 1 Chronicles 4-7. - though Hushim (1 Chronicles 7:12) may be the sons of Dan (see Genesis 46:23) - believe that the children of Dan no longer existed, and were therefore omitted. In the insertion of the name Manasseh (i.e. "Forgetting") Bengel sees an intended allusion to the omission of Dan, who is, he thinks, omitted for some mysterious reason. Ewald believes that St. John wrote ΔΑΝ, and that MAN., the abbreviated form of "Manasses," was substituted by error; and he appeals to manuscripts 9, 13, which, however, have "Dan" in place of "Gad." Moreover, Irenaeus, Origen, Arethas, have "Manasseh," and state plainly that Dan was omitted. It is certainly curious in connection with this conjecture that, if it were true, that is to say, if "Dan" should be read in place of "Manasseh," we should have a more intelligible order of arrangement. In that case, speaking generally, the elder sons would come first, the younger last; all the pairs of brothers are kept together (only that, in the case of the six brothers, there is a division into two lots); Judah naturally is placed first before Reuben, owing to the prominent place held by him in the Apocalypse in connection with our Lord. The order would then be - sons of Leah.
Juda, Reuben Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon sons of Zilpah.
Gad, Aser sons of Bilhah.
Nepthalim, [Dan,] sons of Rachel.
Joseph, Benjamin Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. As remarked above, Judah probably precedes Reuben from the greater importance he would possess in the mind of the writer of the Apocalypse, who continually exalts Christ, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5). Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
Verse 6. - Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. (For the insertion of Manasses and the omission of Dan, as well as the order of the names of the tribes, see on ver. 5)
Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
Verse 7. - Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Though Levi was excluded in the partition of the earthly Canaan, he is included among the partakers of the heavenly Canaan.
Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
Verse 8. - Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand, Ephraim is omitted, while Manasses is inserted. Wordsworth considers that this is on account of the rebellions character of the tribe of Ephraim (see 1 Kings 12:25; Isaiah 7:9, 17; Hosea 5, etc.). But Ephraim is sometimes identical with Joseph (cf. Psalm 78:67; Ezekiel 37:16), who here finds a place among the twelve.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
Verse 9. - After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number; after these things, I saw, and behold a great multitude, etc. Here, as in ver. 1, a fresh phase of the vision occurs. indicated by μετὰ ταῦτα, "after these things;" but not, perhaps, commencing (as so many writers think) an entirely new and disconnected vision. It is the immediate prelude to the opening of the seventh seal (see on Revelation 8:1). Revelation 6. recounts the terrors of God's judgments on the wicked, and especially those of the final judgment; but lest the godly should be dismayed and ask, "Who is able to stand" (Revelation 6:17) on that great day? it is revealed that the faithful are first selected and preserved. This occupies the first eight verses of Revelation 7. But all is not yet quite ready for the opening of the seventh and last seal. There is, besides those sealed on the last day, an innumerable company with whom the former are joined in one body; and a glimpse is afforded of their conjoint adoration and of that supreme bliss which is entered upon, but not described, under the seventh seal. The "great multitude which no man could number" includes, therefore, the hundred and forty-four thousand of ver. 4. They have escaped the terror of the final judgment of the world (see ver. 3), but have formerly experienced tribulation (see ver. 14). Of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues; out of every nation and [all] tribes and peoples and tongues. The classification, as in Revelation 5:9, is fourfold, symbolical of completeness in matters of creation (see on Revelation 5:9; 4:6, etc.). Stood before the throne, and before the Lamb; standing before, etc. We are carried back to the description given in Revelation 4:1-4 and Revelation 5:6-11. Clothed with white robes; arrayed in (Revised Version). See on Revelation 4:4 and Revelation 6:2 for white - the emblem of victory and righteousness. And palms in their hands. Φοίνιξ, "palm," occurs in the New Testament only in this place and in John 12:13. Trench states that no symbol of heathen origin is used in the Apocalypse; and he connects the palm-bearing multitude with the celebration of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Wordsworth and Hengstenberg take the same view; and there is much to be said in favour of it, though Alford and others connect the image rather with the Greek and Roman sign of victory. In the first place, the word is used by St. John in John 12:13, where doubtless it is connected with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Secondly, the use of such an image would more naturally occur to one so familiar with Jewish customs and ritual as the writer of the Apocalypse; and, moreover, the idea commemorated by this feast - that of the enjoyment of rest and plenty, the possession of the promised Canaan after toil and delay - is peculiarly applicable to the condition of those here described. Thirdly, the idea seems carried on in the mind of the writer, and referred to in ver. 15 in the words, "shall spread his tabernacle over them" (see Revised Version).
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Verse 10. - And cried with a loud voice; and they cry, etc. The present tense expresses the unceasing nature of their occupation (Alford). Saying, Salvation to our God; that is, "The praise and honour due for our salvation belongs to God, since he is the Cause of our salvation." Note the similarity to the "Hosanna" of the palm-bearing multitude of the Feast of Tabernacles (see John 12:13; 2 Macc. 10:6, 7; Psalm 118:25). Which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. To the Triune God, and to the Lamb (see on Revelation 4:2; cf. Revelation 5:13; Revelation 12:10).
And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
Verse 11. - And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts; were standing... the four living beings. (For a consideration of the positions here indicated, see on Revelation 5:11.) The throne in the centre with the four living beings was surrounded by the elders, having the Lamb in the midst, between the throne and the elders. Forming a circle round the whole were the angels. (On the elders as representing the Church, and the four living creatures as symbolical of creation, see on Revelation 4:4, 6.) And fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God. As in Revelation 5:14 and Revelation 11:16, 17, praise is accompanied by adoration and worship.
Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Verse 12. - Saying, Amen. In Revelation 5:14 the four living creatures respond "Amen" to the praises uttered by the angels; here, in response to the praise offered by the redeemed in ver. 10, the angels utter "Amen," preparatory to joining in the universal adoration. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen. The blessing, etc.; that is, "all blessing," etc. (see on Revelation 4:11). The terms of the ascription are the same as those in Revelation 5:12, except that we have here εὐχαριστία, "thanksgiving," substituted for πλοῦτος, "riches" (see on Revelation 5:12). The sevenfold character of the ascription of praise denotes its universal and all-embracing character (see on Revelation 1:4; 5:1).
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
Verse 13. - And one of the elders answered. The elder speaks because he is typical of the Church, concerning which the exposition which he delivers is to be made (see on Revelation 4:4). Where an explanation is made of visions which refer to the Church, the active part is taken by the elders, while angels introduce visions of which the signification is unexplained (cf. Revelation 5:2; Revelation 7:1, 2; Revelation 8; Revelation 10:1, 3, etc.; and Revelation 5:5). Saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? The elder questions that he may teach (Bede).
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Verse 14. - And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest; and I say unto him, My lord (Revised Version). The expression denotes the utmost respect and reverence, which afterwards induce the seer to worship the angel (see Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8). The structure of this part of the vision recalls Ezekiel 37:3, "And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest" (cf. Zechariah 4:2, 4, 5; John 12:21). And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation; which come out of the great tribulation (Revised Version). The repeated article is especially emphatic. The question arises What is "the great tribulation" referred to? Probably all the tribulation which has been passed through by the redeemed, all that which pertained to the life though which they have passed. This tribulation is now completed and past, and is therefore referred to as "the great tribulation." "These are they which have passed through the great tribulation of their life on earth." This is the view taken by Alford. Dusterdieck refers the expression to the last great trial of the saints before the coming of the Lord. Some point to particular persecutions as the reference intended, and others consider that "the last great trial to be expected under the seventh seal" is meant. And have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; and they washed, etc. That is, during their past life, while they were experiencing the great tribulation, they washed their robes (cf. Revelation 3:4, 5, where those who have "not defiled their garments" and those "that overcome" are to be clothed in white). Those that overcome and are undefiled, therefore, are those who have washed themselves in the blood of the Lamb, through which only their victory is possible or effective. Arethas, Bede, De Lyra, consider that the robes are washed of those who have endured martyrdom, and that they are washed in the blood of the Lamb, because it is the blood of his members.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
Verse 15. - Therefore are they before the throne of God. That is, because they have been washed, and have their robes made white, they are before the throne (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27, "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it,... that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle," etc.). And serve him day and night in his temple. As described in Revelation 4:8, 11; Revelation 5:8-14; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 11:15, etc. Temple (ναός) is here, as in Revelation 3:12, the "dwelling place, the shrine, of God, i.e. heaven. Thus are the redeemed made "pillars" in his temple (Revelation 3:12). And he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them; shall spread his tabernacle over them (Revised Version). The same verb that occurs in John 1:14; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:6; Revelation 21:3. The allusion (not an uncommon one with St. John) is to the Shechinah which overshadowed the mercy seat. God's presence among them, co-dwelling with them, is the happiness of his people (cf. John 17:24, "Father, I will that they also be with me," etc.; 1 John 3:2, "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is ").
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
Verse 16. - They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; shall the sun strike upon them (Revised Version). The passage is evidently founded upon Isaiah 49:10 (cf. the punishment of the fourth vial, Revelation 16:8).
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Verse 17. - For the Lamb which is in the midst-of the throne shall feed them; shall be their Shepherd. Compare the description of the position of the Lamb given in Revelation 5:6. The position here indicated is the same as that there described. The Lamb is between the throne and those surrounding it, towards the middle of the throne. Christ is set forth in the character of Shepherd, as in John 10:11 and John 21:16. And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life (Revised Version). "Of life" is an addition to the passage as found in Isaiah (cf. John 7:37-39, where the expression is used of the Holy Spirit). And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. A reference to the tribulation of ver. 14.