Revelation 7:2, 3
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…
This chapter tells of a time of suspended judgment. All things were ready. The awful calamities told of when the sixth seal was broken are on the point of descending upon the earth. "But a whole chapter intervenes. Might it not be apprehended that amidst convulsions so terrific the Church itself might founder? Who shall secure Christ's servants against being involved in that catastrophe? Such is the misgiving to which the particular revelation now before us would minister." A season of suspense is commanded; destruction is to be delayed until the servants of God be sealed. The command comes from that quarter whence Christ himself, the Day spring from on high, the Morning Star, came on his mission of mercy and of hope. The four winds are the symbols of God's judgments (cf. Jeremiah 49:36, 37). The angels who are about to let them loose are bidden pause. Like as, ere the last judgment came upon Egypt, there was time given to enable the people of God to sprinkle the lintel and door posts of their houses with the blood of the Paschal lamb, which was God's seal of preservation for them. And like, too, to that remarkable parallel, from which, indeed, the imagery of our text is derived, which we find in Ezekiel 9:2-6, 11. As was the object of the sealing there, so it is here. Now, whether we take the primary reference of the impending judgments, which for a while were delayed in their execution, to be those, as we think, which were then about to fall upon Jerusalem and the apostate Church of Israel; or those which at the time of Constantine, through the threatened overwhelming of the empire, were imminent on her frontiers; or those which corruption, venality, and hypocrisy, engendered by Constantine's having made Christianity the court religion, were about to bring upon the Church; or - which is probably the most correct way to understand St. John - we include all these, and all other similar ones, not omitting the last great judgment of all, which at any time may have hung or shall hang over nations, Churches, and communities - however we interpret this revelation, it is as true as the judgments them selves that the merciful Lord does grant seasons of suspense, his judgments are delayed until his servants are marked, proclaimed as his own, and secured from real evil by his own sovereign and sacred seal. For historical illustrations of this sealing we may wisely turn to the pages of Josephus and of Gibbon, the historians of the Jewish war and of the fall of Rome. And so exact are oftentimes the correspondences between authentic history and these visions of St. John, that we can hardly be surprised that not a few have declared that what is called the historical interpretation of the hook is the only true, reasonable, and reliable one. It certainly is fascinating for its interest, but as for its reliableness, that may he admitted when its advocates can show anything like near agreement amongst themselves. It is better, therefore, to take the broader view, which admits all these correspondences, and the applicability thereto of these various visions, but which refuses to limit their meaning and application to anything less than all like correspondences which have occurred since St. John wrote, and which shall occur to the end of time. Now, to a thoughtful observer, it can hardly be a question but what our own days are days of suspended judgment, and days also in which the sealing of the servants of God is going on. For man's sin, as ever, clamours for judgment from God, and righteousness wronged and slain upon the earth cries, like the blood of Abel, unto God that he should avenge it. And the judgment will one day come. The history of nations and Churches is scattered over with the records of such judgments, and will be so again, until men learn wisdom and turn unto the Lord. But our security, whenever they come, is in the seal of God, told of here. Let us think, then, of this seal, the sealed, and the sealing. And -
I. THE SEAL.
1. What is it? With the Scriptures in our hand, we can have no doubt that the Holy Spirit of God is meant (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22; Ephesians 4:30). The work that he does in and upon his people is the sure sign and seal that they are his. "The Holy Spirit is God's seal. Where he is there is safety. Where he is God sees his mark, his own possession, one who belongs to him, one over whom he watches, one whom he will keep in that 'hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.'"
2. And this seal is the holy character which the Spirit of God creates in and impresses upon a man. The Spirit does other and blessed work upon us besides this. It is by him we are led to put our trust in Christ; by him we are assured that we are Christ's, and that he is ours, that we are pardoned, accepted, saved; by him also we are comforted and sustained under trial, and made possessors of the peace of God which passeth all understanding; and by him, hope, the blessed hope of eternal life, the onlook to things eternal, which is so full of joy, is created and preserved and strengthened more and more. But all this is within the man; the seal is that which is impressed on him, is that which we call the man's character. And it is a holy character, such as the Holy Spirit would of necessity produce.
3. And it is the seal of the living God. It belongs to him, his sign and mark. There is none other like it, nor has been, nor can be. Holy character can come but from the grace of God alone, from the operation of the Holy Spirit given by God in response to earnest desire. We cannot produce it in ourselves by any mere act of will, by any moral discipline, by any rules or regulations we may devise or adopt. Except a man be born of the Spirit he cannot become a member of the kingdom of God. Holy character - that which shone pre-eminently in the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as none other, was "holy, harmless, and undefiled," who "knew no sin" - is the result of the grace of God, is the impress of the seal of the living God, which is the Holy Spirit of God.
4. And it is a visible thing. The seal being "on their foreheads" is meant to teach this fact. And holy character is a visible thing. If invisible it assuredly does not exist. Men may prate forever about their experiences and their feelings, but if there be no manifest holy character, then the seal of the living God is not there. Have we this seal? Is it plain and conspicuous as would be the impress of a seat upon our forehead? It is fatal to be without it; for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Therefore to quicken our own self inquiry in this matter, let us consider -
II. THE SEALED. And we observe concerning them:
1. They are not numerous. But twelve thousand out of each tribe - a very few compared with those left unsealed. A mere handful, but a "remnant saved."
2. And they are out of, not coextensive with, the professing Church of God. Not all Israel are of Israel (Romans 9:6). They all professed loudly to be of the seed of Abraham, but their entire history shows how little they, as a people, possessed the Spirit. To be a professed member of the Church may be quite another thing from being one of the sealed of God.
3. And they are from no one part of the Church. Twelve tribes are told of, not any one or two. "Nulla salus extra Ecclesiam," by which Rome means her Church and none other, for other she would affirm there is none. And the like sectarian exclusiveness is chargeable against not Rome alone. But wherever it is found, the fact told of here, that the sealed come from all sections of the Church, plainly condemns it. We ought to rejoice that in all Churches the sealed ones are to be found, and are limited to none. Indeed, those tribes which loomed largest in the eyes of men, such as Ephraim and Judah, furnished no more of these sealed ones than did those who were least, such as "little Benjamin," and other like smaller tribes. Many who were first should be last, and the last first. And it often is so still.
4. Portions of the Church may become so corrupt as to furnish none of the sealed. The tribe of Dan is left out. It first fell into idolatry, and was for centuries one of the headquarters of that calf worship whereby "Jeroboam made Israel to sin." This may account for its omission in this list of the tribes, and if so suggests the reason wherefore none of the chosen of God were found amongst its people. And there may be Churches and congregations now without one earnest godly person amongst them. Let us ask how is it with the Church or congregation to which we belong.
5. They do not suffer from not belonging to any specially privileged portion of the Church. If any tribe was specially privileged it was that of Levi. They were regarded as the Lord's portion; the priesthood belonged to them. They were deemed too sacred to be classed with the other more secular tribes. But here they have no advantage; they are with the rest, and no more of God's chosen come from them than from any other tribe. We might have thought it would have been otherwise; but it is not so, and it suggests the truth that the working of God's Spirit in and upon men is independent of what we call privilege. It is good and blessed to have means of grace, aids to worship and faith; but, if the soul will yield itself up to God, he wilt not let it suffer loss for the lack of these things when, as is often the case, they may not be had.
6. The Lord knoweth them all. "The foundation of the Lord standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." In keeping with this we find the number of the sealed that which denotes fixedness and completeness. They are all there, all delivered, not from earthly trials, but from Divine judgments; not one of them is lost. Blessed are they on whom this seal of the living God is found. For note -
III. THE SEALING. What was its purpose and intents? These were various according to those whom it was designed should he affected by it. The sealed ones themselves.
(1) The sealing should assure them that God would ever keep a people for his Name in the midst of the earth. As they saw the seal of God upon here one and there another, and as they remembered how it had ever been so, they would be saved from the despair which fell upon Elijah, who thought he alone was left to stand up for God. But God showed him the seven thousand sealed ones, and so comforted him. And as we behold them now we are assured that such shall never be wanting.
(2) It would mutually encourage them. It would show them that they were not alone; the joy and strength which come from the communion of saints would be theirs.
(3) It would be full of help to themselves; for as a seal attests validity and genuineness in that to which it is attached, so this seal would prove that their title to be called children of God and heirs of eternal life was valid and true. And as a seal is a mark of ownership - like our government broad arrow on all its property - so this seal was God's declaration they were his; and blessed is that soul that is assured of this. And as a seal secures and guards, as the tomb of our Lord was sealed, so this seal is the guarantee of deliverance and safety amid all possible ill. It was this seal which made Paul break forth into that paean of exultant praise with which the eighth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans concludes. And similar gladness shall it give to all upon whom this seal is found. But:
2. To the unsealed this sealing has intent and purpose. To lead them to confess the beauty of holiness. This has ever been the mighty converting force. The holy character wrought by the Spirit of God has made such impression upon the minds of ungodly men that they have been constrained to gaze at it, to admire, to confess its excellence and goodness, and to feel the wretched contrast of their own lives, and to long after the like seal of God for themselves. And so it has won many to inquire, to repent, to believe, and to be saved. "Let your light so shine," etc. (Matthew 5:16).
3. To the ministers of his judgments. That they might spare the sealed ones. They do. The retreat of the Christians to Pella ere Jerusalem fell, the protection granted to the Church at Rome - Augustine tells of it - in the midst of the havoc that Alaric and his Huns wrought upon the rest of Rome, are illustrations. The passing over of the houses of Israel has been repeated again and again in like circumstances, and will be repeated whensoever such circumstances recur. As the badge of the white cross secures immunity in the midst of war to those who wear it, for it is known that they are ministers of mercy, go where they will, so the seal of the living God, the holy, beautiful, Christ-like lives of his people, have often made men love and honour them, prize and preserve them amid horrors of battle, or of famine, or of pestilence, or aught beside. And at the last great judgment day, when the angels of wrath see the seal of the living God, they will pass over those on whom it is found. What urgency, then, does all this lead to St. Paul's well-known words, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption!" - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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,