The symbols here presented, were seen immediately subsequent to the exhibition of the preceding ones. This alone would not prove that the events symbolized follow in order, but it is indicated by their being a continuation of the symbolization under the sixth seal, and before the opening of the seventh.
In the sixth chapter, the great men and rich men, as well as bond-men, are aware of the proximity of the day of the Lord, and seek for a refuge from the face of the Lamb. The next events in consecutive order, would be the resurrection of the righteous dead, the change of the living, their ascension to meet the Lord in the air, and the infliction of the wrath of God on the wicked.
After the wicked seek to escape from God's presence, the righteous are still unchanged upon the earth. But before the wrath of God is poured upon his enemies, the winds of heaven are to be holden while the angel of the living God seals his servants in their foreheads. The holding of the winds and the sealing are, consequently, subsequent to the terror of the wicked, at the appearance of the Saviour.
The four winds are the winds coming from all directions; and symbolize strife, war, and commotion among men, analogous to the violent action of the winds of heaven.
In Dan.7:2, the striving of the four winds upon the great sea preceded the rising of the four beasts: in other words, the various contests and strifes among the different people and tongues of earth resulted in the establishment of the successive empires which have arisen to universal dominion. The blowing of the wind seems to be any influence exerted upon men. In Ezek.37:9 the breathing of the wind revives the dead; and in Zech.5:9 it symbolizes the removal of the wickedness of the Jews.
The angels holding the winds, consequently, must symbolize the agencies which have the power to excite or quell these disturbing influences. They do the bidding of the Lord in restraining or exerting the influences which should produce the effect symbolized. The holding of them indicates the proximity and certainty of their blowing unless they are restrained. The earth, sea, and trees, which would be hurt by the blowing of the wind, evidently symbolize the different classes of inhabitants of the earth, on whom an effect would be produced by the blowing of the winds, analogous to the effect produced on those elements by a violent tempest, or hurricane. The storm here symbolized is evidently that of which the Scriptures speak. "On the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest," Psa.11:6. "Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire," Isa.29:6. "The Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail, and a destroying storm, as flood of waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand," Ib. 28:2.
The sealing of the servants of God in their foreheads, designates them, but does not constitute them such; for none are sealed, only those who are previously his. This is in allusion to the ancient custom of stamping with a hot iron the name of the owner on the forehead or shoulder of his slave. Before the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, Ezekiel saw in vision a man clothed in linen, with a writer's ink-horn by his side, who was commissioned to go through the midst of Jerusalem and set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And the destroying angels who were commanded to slay all, both old and young, to spare not, nor to have pity, were expressly told to "come not near any man upon whom is the mark," Ezek.9:2-6. When the destroying angel passed through Egypt, on the night of the Passover, "to slay all the first-born of that nation, the houses of the Israelites were indicated by the blood of the Paschal Lamb sprinkled on their lintels and door-posts; and by these the angels passed," Ex.12:23. Thus in the present instance, before the descent of the impending storm, the servants of the Lord are to be indicated by the seal of the living God in their foreheads, and will be spared the horrible tempest which will "hurt" all those on whom it shall fall.
The 144,000, -- the whole number sealed, is a perfect number, -- an appropriate symbol of all the living righteous on the earth. The twelve tribes, then, would symbolize all the branches of Christ's mystical body in which the servants of God are found. The pious dead would need no mark indicative of their acceptance, having previously, in the white robes given them, received the symbols of their justification, 6:11. That their resurrection and the changing of the living, immediately succeeded, is evident from: