And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth…
And after these things, etc. The text points to a judgment that is overhanging the world, entrusted to angels for its execution, and who are restrained in their work by a special messenger from heaven on account of the godly tenants of the earth. This is a view of the passage which scarcely admits of any data for a different opinion. From the words we see -
I. THE WORLD EXPOSED TO JUDGMENT. It is represented as exposed to "the four winds of the earth." Winds are the symbols of judgment. Thus in Jeremiah 49:36, 37 we read, "And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come. For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, and before them that seek their life: and I will bring evil upon them, even my fierce anger, saith the Lord; and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them." And in the prophecy of Daniel 7:2 we have these words, "I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea." The four winds indicate the universality of the judgment. They were to come from the four points of the compass - north, south, east, west. Whether this universal judgment refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, or some other judicial event that is passed, or points to some future period of retribution in the history of the world, I stay not to inquire. One thing is certain, that there is a universal judgment impending over this earth. It hangs over "every corner of the earth." Its winds will rush in fearful tornadoes from all the points of the compass. Conscience, providence, and the Bible all point to this universal judgment.
II. THE JUDGMENT ENTRUSTED TO ANGELS. The words speak of "four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea." Angels are the ministers of God. He employs them to execute his judgments.
1. They appeared amidst the terrors of Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy 33:2, "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery Law for them." Again in Psalm 68:17 we read, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place."
2. They appeared with our Saviour in the destruction of Jerusalem. (Matthew 24:30, 31.)
3. Angels have been frequently engaged in executing Divine judgment on this earth. They acted in connection with the destruction of Sodom, and an angel dealt out judgment to the Egyptians in the destruction of their firstborn (Exodus 12:22). An angel wreaked vengeance on the people of Jerusalem on account of the sin of David (2 Samuel 24:16, 17). An angel destroyed the mighty army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35).
4. Angels are represented as active in the final day of retribution. (Matthew 13:39-41; Matthew 25:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.)
III. THE ANGELS RESTRAINED BY A MEDIATOR. "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." Observe:
1. The glorious origin of this angel. He ascended "from the east;" from the fountain of glory - the east, whence the stars appear, and the glorious sun comes forth to flood the world with light.
2. The Divine credentials of this angel. "Having the seal of the living God."
3. The great earnestness of this angel. "Cried with a loud voice." Who is this angel? Who is represented in this particular case I know not. But I know that the great angel of the covenant answers well this description. He came from the orient depths of glory with Divine credentials and with great earnestness, in order to stay the angels of retribution from executing their terrible commission. Our great Redeemer holds back the hand of the destroying angel, and the burden of his intercession is, "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea." To Christ we owe the postponement of the judgment.
IV. THE MEDIATOR RESTRAINING BECAUSE HIS WORK IS UNFINISHED. Why does this intercessory angel, rising from the glorious east, interpose to prevent the judicial angels from discharging their dread commission? Because there was a work to be done. The servants of God were to be "sealed in their foreheads." The image of the sealing is derived from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:2-6, 11). Its object was to mark out certain persons as belonging to God, and thus to save them from the miseries of the impending judgment. The effect of the seal visible in the forehead would be like that of the blood on the door posts of the Israelites in the last terrible plague of the Egyptians. "When he seeth it he will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you." Two thoughts are suggested.
1. That there are men who are yet to receive the seal of God. Thousands in ages gone by have had his likeness impressed upon them, and thousands are being impressed in this age, but there are millions more to be sealed in future times. There are men from unborn generations who are to be sealed.
2. That the judgment is delayed until the number of the sealed ones is complete. "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed," etc. Thus our blessed Mediator is keeping up the world until all his disciples are gathered into his fold, and his purposes of mercy realized. In the majesty of infinite mercy he stands as it were in the midst of the universe. He sees the storm of judgment brooding in the heavens. He sees the angels of justice quartered in every part of the firmament, ready to execute their terrible commission. He waves his hand, and bids them halt. "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." Let not even such a breath of judgment pass from your hand as shall wake a ripple on the "sea," or stir a leaf on the "trees." Let mercy reign supreme until my work is finished. Then, when all my redeemed ones are sealed with the seal of God "on their foreheads" and made secure, then let loose your awful winds. Let them rush with their tornadoes of fire, and roar with their thunders of retribution, and destroy this earth; for the mystery of God will be finished.
"Accuse not Heaven's delay; if loth to strike,
Its judgments, like the thunder-gather'd storm,
Are but the greater."
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.