The scenes portrayed by varied symbols in this chapter, are by some considered as a continuation of the sixth seal. We think they may with more propriety be viewed as relating to the events under the four which precede; while they are obviously preparatory to the opening of the last seal in the next chapter.
1. 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.
V. 1.—The "four angels" represent the instruments of providence. The "four corners of the earth" intend all nations of the world, as then known in geography. (Ch. xx. 8, 9.) The "holding of the winds" is emblematical of the tranquillity consequent upon the accession of Constantine to the imperial throne, ..... the temporary cessation of desolating wars and persecutions,—the "rest" for which the martyrs prayed. "Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee." (Ps. lxxxi. 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.
3. Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
Vs. 2, 3.—"Another angel . . . having the seal of the living God," can be none other but the Lord Christ. His people are "sealed unto the day of redemption with that Holy Spirit of promise, or promised Holy Spirit. (2 Cor. i. 22; Eph. i. 13.) He came from the east. There the Son of righteousness arose upon a dark world, and his beams enlightened the kingdoms of Europe, in which multitudes were effectually called during this tranquil period, (ch. xiv. 1.) This angel, as having sovereign authority over "earth and sea," and from whom the "four angels" had their commission, now commands them not to "hurt the earth and the sea," till He and the ministers,—the instruments of his grace,—had "sealed the servants of God." This "sealing," while symbolizing baptism, signifies especially the saving work of the eternal Spirit, by which its subjects are to be, and actually are, preserved from apostacy in future and trying times. We shall meet with them again, (ch. xiv. 1.)
The favour shown by Constantine to Christian ministers and converts, induced multitudes to make a profession of Christianity, and of course filled the church with hypocrites. The flattery of those in power has often proved as detrimental to the church's spiritual prosperity as their frowns. (Dan. xi. 32.) Still, the special design of this sealing seems to be the preservation of a chosen remnant, the witnesses, during the period of the trumpets, when Antichrist should be fully organized.
4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand, of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
5. 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.
6. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
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.
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.
Vs. 4—8.—The number sealed was "a hundred forty and four thousand;" of "each tribe twelve thousand." These numbers are not to be taken literally, but comparatively, as contradistinguished from another company, (v. 9.) Neither do we suppose, with many expositors, that Jews by nation are here exclusively intended. At the time referred to, in the fifth century, the "middle wall of partition" had been long removed. (Eph. ii. 14.) Jews and Gentiles were "all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. iii. 28.) There is no ground to suppose that exactly the same number would be sealed of every tribe. Besides, all the original tribes are not named. Dan is not among them, and Judah is first in order in Reuben's place. The gates of the heavenly Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, (ch. xxii. 12.) In a word, this sealed company is composed of Jews and Gentiles, representing the whole number of true believers, who were enabled by grace to hold fast their profession in trying times, and who experienced more special protection in perilous times. (Ezek. ix. 4—6.)
9. 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;
10. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
11. 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,
12. Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen
Vs. 9—12.—The "great multitude, which no man could number," are evidently distinguished from the number sealed. They are collected from all the nations known at that time. They "stood before the throne and before the Lamb," as accepted worshippers; ascribing "salvation," not to their own merit, but to the free grace of God the Father, and the oblation and intercession of the Lamb. They are now in a triumphant state, as indicated by the "palms in their hands," the usual emblems of victory. "White robes!' bespeak their justification. "All the angels" in heaven, signify their hearty assent to the praises of the redeemed by saying, "Amen." Then in an attitude of profoundest reverence, they celebrate the praises of God in strains proper, though not peculiar to themselves. As in ch. v. 11, the angels in this place are disposed and arranged in the outer circle of all the intelligent worshippers. Redeemed sinners stand nearest to the throne, in virtue of their union to Christ, while holy angels, without envy, contemplate, with rapturous emotions, the displays of the "manifold wisdom of God" in his dealings with the church. (Eph. iii. 10.) Thus we may learn to do the will of God on earth, as it is done by the angels in heaven.
13. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
17. 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.
Vs. 13—17.—"One of the elders" asks John,—not for information, but to engage his attention,—"What are these, . . . . . and whence came they?" Ministers may often receive instruction from the members of the church. This elder answers his own questions as the angel did to the prophet, (Zech. iv. 5, 6.) These are the "great multitude,"—probably the same whose "souls" John saw at the opening of the fifth seal, but now appearing in a new aspect for it is evident that they had been engaged in war. This appears by the "palms" of victory. They had been in "great tribulation" prior to the peaceful reign of Constantine, by Satan's temptations, the spoiling of their goods, imprisonment of their persons, and the sacrifice of their lives,—"not loving their lives unto the death." All these tribulations, however, could not separate them from the love of God. (Rom. viii. 37—39.) They had "washed their robes,"—not in penitential tears, their own martyr—blood, their doing or suffering in the cause of Christ; but their robes were "made white in the blood of the Lamb," who was "made of God unto them justification and sanctification." (1 Cor. i. 30.) Could the human mind conceive the idea of rendering linen garments white by washing them in blood? Never, unless as suggested by the doctrine of Christ crucified, whose "blood cleanseth from all sin." (1 John i. 7.) "Therefore are they before the throne of God,—without fault before his throne," (ch. xiv. 5.) Delivered from the tempestuous storms of war, and the scorching heat of persecution; they are safe in the haven of eternal rest
Not only are they for ever freed from the sensation of "hunger or thirst;" but they shall drink of the "living fountains of waters, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, (ch. xxii. 1.) In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (Ps. xvi. 11.) While this company, brought out of great tribulation, to which they had been subjected in the centuries before the time of Constantine, are represented as in possession of eternal blessedness, the other company of the "sealed" ones, are by this mark furnished with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, to enter the lists with the Dragon in a much more trying and prolonged contest. The latter company, although preceding the other, in the order of symbolic revelation; do really in the order of time, succeed them in continuation of the struggle with the powers of darkness. And here we make the general remark, That nearly throughout the Apocalypse the two parties whom we may call the powers of darkness and the children of light, often change their relative positions, and assume different aspects. And in this, there is nothing new, as appears, 2 Cor. xi. 14, 15; vi. 8, 9.