Revelation Part 5: The Seven-Sealed Scroll, Part 2 (Revelation 6-7)
(New American Standard Bible, 1995):
Rev. 6:1 ¶ Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, "Come."
Rev. 6:2 I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
Rev. 6:3 ¶ When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come."
Rev. 6:4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.
Rev. 6:5 ¶ When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.
Rev. 6:6 And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine."
Rev. 6:7 ¶ When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come."
Rev. 6:8 I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Rev. 6:9 ¶ When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;
Rev. 6:10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
Rev. 6:11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
Rev. 6:12 ¶ I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood;
Rev. 6:13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.
Rev. 6:14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
Rev. 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;
Rev. 6:16 and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb;
Rev. 6:17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"
Rev. 7:1 ¶ After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
Rev. 7:2 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea,
Rev. 7:3 saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads."
Rev. 7:4 ¶ And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
Rev. 7:5 ¶ From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,
Rev. 7:6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,
Rev. 7:7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,
Rev. 7:8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
Rev. 7:9 ¶ After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;
Rev. 7:10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,
¶ "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
Rev. 7:11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
Rev. 7:12 saying,
¶ "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
Rev. 7:13 ¶ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?"
Rev. 7:14 I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev. 7:15 "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
Rev. 7:16 "They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;
Rev. 7:17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
Novum Testamentum Graece (New Testament in Greek)
Nestle-Aland, 27th Edition, prepared by Institut für neutestamentliche Testforschung Münster/Westfalen, Barbara and Kurt Aland (Editors). Copyright © 1898 and 1993 by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart.
Used by permission.
Morphological tagging by William D. Mounce and Rex A. Koivisto
Copyright © 2003 William D. Mounce.
Copyright © 2006 OakTree Software, Inc.
All rights reserved.
(You must have the Helena font installed in order to see the Greek text rendered correctly; it can be obtained here: http://www.accordancebible.com/)
Rev. 6:1 ¼ Kai« eidon o¢te h¡noixe to\ aÓrni÷on mi÷an ek tw×n sfragidwn, kai« h¡kousa eno\ß ek tw×n tessa¿rwn zw¿wn le÷gontoß, wJß fwnhvß bronthvß, Ercou kai« ble÷pe.
Rev. 6:2 kai« eidon, kai« idou/, iºppoß leuko/ß, kai« oJ kaqh/menoß ep aujtw× e¶cwn to/xon: kai« edo/qh aujtw× ste÷fanoß, kai« exhvlqe nikw×n, kai« iºna nikh/shØ.
Rev. 6:3 ¼ Kai« o¢te h¡noixe th\n deute÷ran sfragida, h¡kousa touv deute÷rou zw¿ou le÷gontoß, Ercou kai« ble÷pe.
Rev. 6:4 kai« exhvlqen aýlloß iºppoß purro/ß: kai« tw× kaqhme÷nw ep aujtw× edo/qh aujtw× labein th\n eirh/nhn aÓpo\ thvß ghvß, kai« iºna aÓllh/louß sfaxwsi: kai« edo/qh aujtw× ma¿caira mega¿lh.
Rev. 6:5 ¼ Kai« o¢te h¡noixe th\n tri÷thn sfragida, h¡kousa touv tri÷tou zw¿ou le÷gontoß, Ercou kai« ble÷pe, kai« eidon, kai« idou/, iºppoß melaß, kai« oJ kaqh/menoß ep aujtw× e¶cwn zugo\n en thØv ceiri« aujtouv.
Rev. 6:6 kai« h¡kousa fwnh\n en me÷sw tw×n tessa¿rwn zw¿wn le÷gousan, Coinix si÷tou dhnari÷ou, kai« treiß coi÷nikeß kriqhvß dhnari÷ou: kai« to\ e¶laion kai« to\n oinon mh\ aÓdikh/shØß.
Rev. 6:7 ¼ Kai« o¢te h¡noixe th\n sfragida th\n teta¿rthn, h¡kousa fwnh\n touv tetartou zw¿ou le÷gousan, Ercou kai« ble÷pe.
Rev. 6:8 kai« eidon, kai« idou/, iºppoß clwro/ß, kai« oJ kaqh/menoß epa¿nw aujtouv, o¡noma aujtw× oJ qa¿natoß, kai« oJ adhß aÓkolou/qei met aujtouv. kai« edo/qh aujtoiß exousi÷a aÓpokteinai epi« to\ te÷tarton thvß ghvß en rJomfai÷a kai« en limw×× kai« en qana¿tw, kai« uJpo\ tw×n qhri÷wn thvß ghvß.
Rev. 6:9 ¼ Kai« o¢te h¡noixe th\n pe÷mpthn sfragida, eidon uJpoka¿tw touv qusiasthri÷ou ta»ß yuca»ß tw×n esfagme÷nwn dia» to\n lo/gon touv Qeouv, kai« dia» th\n marturi÷an h§n eicon,
Rev. 6:10 kai« e¶kraxan fwnhØv mega¿lhØ, le÷gonteß, ðEwß po/te, oJ despo/thß, oJ agioß kai« oJ aÓlhqino/ß, ouj kri÷neiß kai« ekdikeiß to\ aima hJmw×n aÓpo\ tw×n katoikou/ntwn epi« thvß ghvß;
Rev. 6:11 kai« edo/qhsan eka¿stoiß sto/lai leukai÷, kai« erre÷qh aujtoiß iºna aÓnapau/swntai e¶ti cro/non mikro/n, eºwß ou plhrw¿sontai kai« oi su/ndouloi aujtw×n kai« oi aÓdelfoi« aujtw×n, oi me÷llonteß aÓpokteine÷sqai wJß kai« aujtoi÷.
Rev. 6:12 ¼ Kai« eidon o¢te h¡noixe th\n sfragida th\n eºkthn, kai« idou/, seismo\ß me÷gaß ege÷neto, kai« oJ h¢lioß ege÷neto me÷laß wJß sa¿kkoß tri÷cinoß, kai« hJ selh/nh ege÷neto wJß aima,
Rev. 6:13 kai« oi aÓste÷reß touv oujranouv e¶pesan eiß th\n ghvn, wJß sukhv ba¿llei tou\ß ojlu/nqouß aujthvß, uJpo\ mega¿lou aÓne÷mou seiome÷nh.
Rev. 6:14 kai« oujrano\ß aÓpecwri÷sqh wJß bibli÷on eilisso/menon, kai« pa×n o¡roß kai« nhvsoß ek tw×n to/pwn aujtw×n ekinh/qhsan.
Rev. 6:15 kai« oi basileiß thvß ghvß, kai« oi megista×neß, kai« oi plou/sioi, kai« oi cili÷arcoi, kai« oi dunatoi÷, kai« pa×ß douvloß kai« pa×ß eleu/qeroß, e¶kruyan eautou\ß eiß ta» sph/laia kai« eiß ta»ß pe÷traß tw×n ojre÷wn,
Rev. 6:16 kai« le÷gousi toiß o¡resi kai« taiß petraiß, Pe÷sete ef hJma×ß, kai« kru/yate hJma×ß aÓpo\ prosw¿pou touv kaqhme÷nou epi« touv qro/nou, kai« aÓpo\ thvß ojrghvß touv aÓrni÷ou:
Rev. 6:17 o¢ti hlqen hJ hJme÷ra hJ mega¿lh thvß ojrghvß aujtouv, kai« ti÷ß du/natai staqhvnai;
Rev. 7:1 ¼ Kai« meta» tauvta eidon te÷ssaraß aÓgge÷louß estw×taß epi« ta»ß te÷ssaraß gwni÷aß thvß ghvß, kratouvntaß tou\ß te÷ssaraß aÓne÷mouß thvß ghvß, iºna mh\ pne÷hØ aýnemoß epi« thvß ghvß, mh/te epi« thvß qala¿sshß, mh/te epi« pa×n de÷ndron.
Rev. 7:2 kai« eidon aýllon aýggelon aÓnabai÷nonta aÓpo\ aÓnatolhvß hJli÷ou, e¶conta sfragida Qeouv zw×ntoß: kai« e¶kraxe fwnhØv mega¿lhØ toiß te÷ssarsin aÓgge÷loiß, oiß edo/qh aujtoiß aÓdikhvsai th\n ghvn kai« th\n qa¿lassan,
Rev. 7:3 le÷gwn. Mh\ aÓdikh/shte th\n ghvn, mh/te th\n qa¿lassan, mh/te ta» de÷ndra, aýcriß ou sfragi÷swmen tou\ß dou/louß touv Qeouv hJmw×n epi« tw×n metw¿pwn aujtw×n.
Rev. 7:4 kai« h¡kousa to\n aÓriqmo\n tw×n esfragisme÷nwn, rmdá cilia¿deß, esfragisme÷noi ek pa¿shß fulhvß uiw×n Israh/l.
Rev. 7:5 ¼ ek fulhvß Iou/da, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß ÔRoubh/n, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Ga¿d, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi:
Rev. 7:6 ¼ ek fulhvß Ash/r, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Nefqalei÷m, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Manasshv: ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi:
Rev. 7:7 ¼ ek fulhvß Sumew¿n, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Leui, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Isaca¿r, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi:
Rev. 7:8 ¼ ek fulhvß Zaboulw¿n, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Iwsh/f, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi: ¼ ek fulhvß Beniami÷n, ibá cilia¿deß esfragisme÷noi.
Rev. 7:9 ¼ Meta» tauvta eidon, kai« idou/, o¡cloß polu/ß, o§n aÓriqmhvsai aujto\n oujdei«ß hjdu/nato, ek panto\ß e¶qnouß kai« fulw×n kai« law×n kai« glwssw×n, estw×teß enw¿pion touv qro/nou kai« enw¿pion touv aÓrni÷ou, peribeblhme÷noi stola»ß leuka»ß, kai« foi÷nikeß en taiß cersi«n aujtw×n:
Rev. 7:10 kai« kra¿zonteß fwnhØv mega¿lhØ le÷gonteß, ÔH swthri÷a tw× Qew× hJmw×n tw× kaqhme÷nw epi« touv qro/nou, kai« tw× aÓrni÷w.
Rev. 7:11 kai« pa¿nteß oi aýggeloi esth/kesan ku/klw touv qro/nou kai« tw×n presbute÷rwn kai« tw×n tessa¿rwn zw¿wn, kai« e¶peson enw¿pion touv qro/nou epi« pro/swpon aujtw×n, kai« proseku/nhsan tw× Qew×,
Rev. 7:12 le÷gonteß, Amh/n: hJ eujlogi÷a kai« hJ do/xa kai« hJ sofi÷a kai« hJ eujcaristi÷a kai« hJ timh\ kai« hJ du/namiß kai« hJ iscu\ß tw× Qew× hJmw×n eiß tou\ß aiw×naß tw×n aiw¿nwn. aÓmh/n.
Rev. 7:13 ¼ Kai« aÓpekri÷qh eiß ek tw×n presbute÷rwn, le÷gwn moi, Outoi oi peribeblhme÷noi ta»ß stola»ß ta»ß leuka»ß, ti÷neß eisi÷, kai« po/qen hlqon;
Rev. 7:14 kai« ei¶rhka aujtw×, Ku/rie, su\ oidaß. kai« eipe÷ moi, Outoi÷ eisin oi erco/menoi ek thvß qli÷yewß thvß mega¿lhß, kai« e¶plunan ta»ß stola»ß aujtw×n, kai« eleu/kanan aujta»ß en tw× aiºmati touv aÓrni÷ou.
Rev. 7:15 dia» touvto/ eisin enw¿pion touv qro/nou touv Qeouv, kai« latreu/ousin aujtw× hJme÷raß kai« nukto\ß en tw× naw× aujtouv: kai« oJ kaqh/menoß epi« touv qro/nou skhnw¿sei ep aujtou/ß.
Rev. 7:16 ouj peina¿sousin e¶ti, oujde« diyh/sousin e¶ti, oujde« mh\ pe÷shØ ep aujtou\ß oJ h¢lioß, oujde« pa×n kauvma:
Rev. 7:17 o¢ti to\ aÓrni÷on to\ aÓna» me÷son touv qro/nou poimanei aujtou/ß, kai« oJdhgh/sei aujtou\ß epi« zw¿saß phga»ß uJda¿twn, kai« exalei÷yei oJ Qeo\ß pa×n da¿kruon aÓpo\ tw×n ojfqalmw×n aujtw×n.
Revelation 6-7: The Opening of Seals 1-6
This is the second half of a two-part study of "The Seven Sealed Scroll," chapters 4-7. There is a definite break in the scripture between chapters 3 and 4; the futurist view holds that chapters 1-3 were fulfilled during John's time, while 4-21 will be fulfilled in a compacted length of time at some date in the future. Chapter 4 and 5 serve as an introduction to the extended and primary set of revelations seen in chapters 6-20.
The "four living creatures" spoken of from the beginning of this passage are cherubim, one of the exalted orders of angels.
The sealed scroll, handed down to Christ in Rev. 5, details how He will reclaim his earthly creation from the evil that is "walking back and forth" upon it. (Job 1:7, 2:2) The opening of this scroll is thought by some commentators to represent the period of the Great Tribulation, that period Jesus spoke of in his Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), and by Paul in 1 Thessalonians, as well as references by OT prophets; Jer. 30:7, Isa. 34:1-4, and Daniel 9, for just a few examples.
The first four seals opened represent the "birth pains" Jesus spoke of in the Olivet Discourse. The time is not immediate for the end of the world, but it is approaching fast as the intensity of God's judgment increases.
John MacArthur talks about something quite fascinating about the first rider (the pale horse), who is usually, and mistakenly, identified as Christ Himself. He points out that the rider has a bow but no arrows to shoot from it, and has a crown that was freely given to him. This indicates it is someone freely elected how ends up bringing destruction, not someone who seizes power by force. He goes on to mention one prominent example of this already happening in the secular world, Adolf Hitler, who was freely elected to power by the German people in 1932, even after writing a book (in 1923) that outlined in detail precisely what he intended to do.
The "Day of the Lord" is mentioned 23 times in scripture (19 OT, 4 NT), an event that seems to actually come in 2 parts separated by the Millennial Reign of Christ (1 Thess 5:2 and 2 Pet 3:10), and to come as a complete surprise to all on earth. The 6th Seal is one part of this, God himself acting instead of through intermediaries. Each seal opened represents increasingly disastrous events for those on earth, and each is more and more obviously the work of the Lord. However, due to the actions of the Antichrist and his followers in the false religion he sets up around him, most unbelievers will refuse to believe this is so, and will continue to insist that what is happening is the result of "Mother Nature" or man's own efforts. Think about the current debates about "global warming," and its adherents insisting that men not only have the potential power to "destroy" the earth, they are actively engaged in doing so at the moment.
While there are many, many explanations about what these judgments represent (probably as many opinions as there have been commentaries written about Revelation), let me suggest that most of these great disasters are not entirely merely a punishment from God, but a partial outpouring of His wrath on evil combined with a measured attempt to bring the remaining lost to a saving knowledge of Christ. Why else would He do this? If His intent was to bring about the Tribulation destruction at a time when He had determined that all who would come to Him already had, then why bring such wrath and tortures on those who He foreknew would not?
This is why I am beginning to see a clear path in scripture that there may not be a pretribunal rapturing of the church. God uses various means to bring men to an understanding of the Creator, and to a saving knowledge of his Son. I suggest that these initial Seal wraths are God's final warnings, so to speak, increasing in volume and intensity so that by the 6th Seal they are very obviously products of a metaphysical and omnipotent God. God never once promised to take His faithful children out of danger or away from hardship; His consistent promise is that He will always walk with you through toil and danger. Who better, then, to leave in place during these most troubling of times, than the saints who through their faith and witness, can lead those "last to go" on to a saving faith in Jesus Christ?
That said, when I consider just how difficult these times promise to be, I very much hope I am wrong, and those called by His name for His purposes will indeed be raptured up out of the way!
Dr. Constable's Charts
IVP-Hard Sayings of the Bible
7:4 Who Are the 144,000?
The doorbell rings on a Saturday morning and two people stand on the porch offering literature about the return of Christ. If questioned, they might reveal that they are Jehovah's Witnesses. Their motives for their door-to-door activity are not simply to gain converts for the movement, but rather to gain merit for themselves through their exemplary zeal. Their hope (faint though it may be, given the number of Witnesses worldwide) might be to become one of the 144,000 who will reign with Christ. While there are certainly a number of more important places at which orthodox Christians would take issue with these Witnesses in terms of doctrine, what they say about the 144,000 remains troubling, not because it is believed, but because we ourselves do not know what this number means.
The problem with the number is that it is clearly symbolic, but the question is, Symbolic of what? Three major scholarly options have been given. The first is that this figure is symbolic of a group of Jews whom God will redeem at the end of the age. The second is that this is symbolic of a group of martyrs whom God preserves for martyrdom. The third is that this number is symbolic of the whole of the church, which God will protect through the tribulation at the end of the age. Only an examination of the data will show which of these is most likely to be correct.
John's picture draws on two Old Testament images. The first is that of Passover (Ex 12:1213), during which the blood on the doorposts of the Hebrews' homes was a sign protecting them from the judgment that the Egyptians were receiving. The significant elements in Exodus are that the world around the Hebrews was experiencing judgment and a God-given sign protected the people of God from this judgment. The second Old Testament image is that of Ezekiel's man with an ink horn (Ezek 9). Again, the context is one of judgment. Again the people true to God are marked to be spared. In this case "a man clothed with linen who had a writing kit at his side" goes through the city and marks a Hebrew taäw, which in those days was an x or a +, on the forehead of each person faithful to God.
There may also be a New Testament background for John's picture. In 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13 and Ephesians 4:30, Paul writes that Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit. While the Spirit is not said to protect believers from anything, the image is one of security. Likewise, "the Lord knows those who are his" stands as a seal in 2 Timothy 2:19. While there is no evidence that John had read any of these books, the fact that Paul used sealing language implies that it was used around the church before John wrote.
In the picture in Revelation 7 the judgment of God announced in Revelation 6 is held back until the sealing is complete. The sealed are identified as "the servants of our God." The image is that of Ezekiel, both in the placement of the seal on the forehead and in the idea of only a remnant (in Ezekiel a remnant of Israel) being sealed from the judgment. This theme is picked up again in Revelation 9:4 in the fifth of the trumpet judgments, in which the "locusts" are to hurt only those "who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads." The sealed are protected in the midst of judgment all around them.
In Revelation 14 the 144,000 are "the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth." They are described as celibate virgins, which in Revelation means that they have not been seduced by the forces of evil nor made a compromise with idolatry. They are also totally truthful. "They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb" (Rev 14:4). The firstfuit picture appears in James 1:18 for all Christians in relation to the world and in Romans 11:16 for Gentile believers in relation to the full repentance of Israel.
Who are these 144,000, then? The theory that they are the martyrs of the last days is attractive, but in the end unconvincing because nothing is said in these passages of their being martyrs. Instead it appears that all of the "servants of God" are sealed. These "servants" are part of a larger group that is not serving God. That many of these folk might become martyrs is reasonable, given the persecution described in Revelation 13, but John says nothing to make us think that they are exclusively martyrs.
The theory that they are the Jewish believers of the end time is also attractive since the tribes of Israel are named. However, there are also problems here. Both the order of the tribal list and the names included are unusual. For example, both Manasseh and his father, Joseph, are included (Joseph apparently standing for Ephraim). Dan is missing, although he is present in Ezekiel's end-time list (Ezek 48). Thus John appears to indicate that the list stands for something other than any known form of Israel. Yet another problem is that most of "Israel" is not saved (that is, is not in the 144,000), while Paul's expectation (Rom 11:26) is that "all Israel will be saved." If both John and Paul have versions of Christian expectation about the Jews, there must have been two competing expectations in the early church. Finally, in Revelation 7 these folk are called simply the "servants of God," which is not a term unique to Jewish believers. Likewise the description of them in Revelation 14 could fit any believer who is faithful to God and does not compromise with the "beast" and the "false prophet." In Revelation 9 all who are not sealed are tormented. Does this mean that Gentile believers are tormented while Jewish ones are not? And doesn't a Jew-Gentile distinction within the church run counter to all of Paul's arguments about God's breaking down the walls between the races? These reasons persuade me that this cannot be the correct explanation.
The 144,000, then, stand for God's faithful people, Jew or Gentile. They are, just as the text says, "the servants of our God." The image of Israel is probably drawn from the picture in Ezekiel 9. Just as all of the tribes of Israel present in Jerusalem (the last stand of Judaism before the exile) were included then, so all of the tribes of humanity will be included in the end. The 12 X 12 X 1000 stresses the completeness of this number; all of God's servants from all of humanity are sealed. The purpose of their sealing is to protect them not from temptation or martyrdom, but from the judgment of God. This is God's church of the end times, when God's judgment is coming to a peak. Since they are faithful, there is no reason for judgment to fall upon them. In Revelation 7 the image of the 144,000 protected on earth is coupled with a parallel image of the church in heaven, an encouragement to persevere. In Revelation 14 the 144,000 are in heaven, for in the same chapter is the harvest of the earth. The final judgments, which will destroy everything and everyone in their path, are about to begin. No wonder that the church is withdrawn before that final curtain comes down.
What does this image say to the church today? On the assumption that we live in the last days (which in New Testament thought runs from the time of Christ to the end), our Jehovah's Witness friends are right to wish to be numbered in the 144,000. The sad thing is that they are going about it the wrong way. It is not a limited number to which one gains entrance by merit, but the complete number of God's faithful servants. One is counted in that number if he or she does not compromise the faith by going after the idols of the world and does not live in falsehood, but speaks and lives in truth. Another way of putting it is that "they follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Rev 14:4). In the context of Revelation this means that they follow him in heaven (and perhaps in his conquest of earth in Rev 19), but they do so in heaven because they have already been his followers on earth, whatever the cost.
IVP-New Bible Commentary
6:1-8:5 The seven seals
Many complex elements flow together to form the panorama which the prophet now describes. The conviction that judgments will precede the coming of the kingdom of God is rooted in the teaching of the OT prophets concerning the day of the Lord (see e.g. Is. 13, 34; Je. 4-7; Ezk. 7, 25; Am. 5:18-29; Zp. 1-3). John has elaborated and schematized them in a unique manner, but the division of the Messianic woes into several sets of sevens may well be inspired by the doom prophecy of Lv. 26, where it is stated four times, I will punish you for your sins seven times over' (18, 21, 24, 28). The discourse on the end times in the gospels (Mt. 24; Mk. 13, Lk. 21) contains the seven judgments enumerated in Rev. 6, but the form of the opening four judgments reflects the vision of four chariots and horses in Zechariah (cf. Zc. 1:7-17), adapted by John to convey his message. Note that while the opening of the seals brings judgments, these are but the precursors of the final kingdom of God. The scroll represents God's covenant to give humanity the kingdom of salvation.
6:1-2 The first seal
The command Come!' is directed to the rider who appears at the opening of the seal (the same is true in vs 3, 5, 7). Many interpreters regard the conquering horseman as Christ and link the passage with the vision of the returning Lord in 19:11-12. The only element in common in the two pictures, however, is the white horse, a symbol of victory. Others hold that the rider represents the triumph of the gospel, and cite Mk. 13:10. (2 Thes. 2:7 is also interpreted in this light.) Nevertheless, in view of the evident similarity of the four horsemen, it seems more natural to interpret all four as symbolizing judgments. This rider appears to signify an overwhelmingly powerful military force.
6:3-4 The second seal
The rider on the fiery red horse also denotes a warring power. If it is to be asked how he differs from the first, the language suggests that the first rider represents an army invading other countries; the second a general confusion of strife, including hostilities between countries, and perhaps even civil war (...to make men slay each other). Note the double reference to war in Mk. 13:7-8 and parallels.
6:5-6 The third seal
The rider on a black horse denotes famine. The balance in his hand suggests scarcity of food, the prices quoted are prohibitive. The NIV rightly paraphrases the term denarius as a day's wages' (cf. Mt. 20:1-2). A quart of wheat would suffice for a man's daily ration, leaving nothing, however, for his family. Three quarts of barley would go further, but it would still remain a bare subsistence allowance. On the other hand, do not damage the oil and wine reflects a concern to give priority to such for those who could afford them. In AD 92, shortly before the writing of Revelation, an acute shortage of cereals, together with an abundance of wine in the empire, caused Domitian to order the restriction of wine cultivation and an increase of corn growing; the order created such a furore it had to be abandoned. The text may have such a situation in mind.
6:7-8 The fourth seal
The fourth rider is named Death, but it is likely that it represents a special kind of death, namely pestilence. Ezekiel tells of God's four sore acts of judgment: sword, famine, evil beasts and pestilence (Ezk. 4:21), and the Greek translation renders the last by the term death (possibly John does the same in 2:23, and certainly in 18:8). That Hades was following close behind is a reminder that death does not end life's story; judgment awaits sinners (cf. Heb. 9:27-28).
6:9-11 The fifth seal
The souls of the martyrs were under the altar because they had been, as it were, sacrificed' (cf. Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). The thought was beloved by the Jews. Rabbi Akiba taught: He who is buried in the land of Israel is as if he were buried beneath the altar, for the whole land of Israel is appropriated for the altar; he who is buried beneath the altar is as if he were buried beneath the throne of glory.' In the light of 12:17 the testimony the martyrs had maintained is the testimony of Jesus (see also 1:2 and 19:10).
10-11 The white robe given to them is likely to be a representation of their justification through Christ in face of their condemnation by the world, and so a sign and pledge of the glory which is to be theirs in the first resurrection' (20:4-6). This vision of the martyrs is viewed as an integral part of the judgments of the Lord, for the prayer for justice (10) is answered, and the end thereby hastened.
6:12-27 The sixth seal
The description of the cosmic signs at the end of the age is drawn from a number of OT passages that speak of the day of the Lord (for a great earthquake as a sign of the end, cf. Ezk. 38:19-20; for the sun turning black like sackcloth and the moon blood red see Is. 13:10; Ezk. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; 3:15; for the falling stars and the rolling up of the sky like a scroll see Is. 34:4; for the hiding in the rocks see Is. 2:10; and for prayer to [p. 1435] the mountains see Ho. 10:8). These signs' are indications not that the end is drawing near but that it has arrived (so v 17, the great day of their wrath has come). They originally were pictorial expressions of the terror of the universe before the majesty of the Creator as he steps forth in judgment and deliverance (see especially Hab. 3:6-11), and so served to magnify the awesomeness of the Lord in his theophany.
15-17 These verses give a sevenfold classification of humankind, ranging from the kings of the earth to every slave and every free man. Their cry in vs 16-17 is a counterpart to that of the martyrs beneath the altar. The last day reveals the identity of him who has ultimate authority over the universe and the irresistible judgment of the Lamb; but the end of their exercise of authority and judgment is the triumph of the kingdom of grace and glory (see 21:1-22:5).
7:1-17 An interlude between the sixth and seventh seals
The sixth seal heralded the end of history in the coming of God and the Lamb. One expects the seventh seal to be opened now and the kingdom of glory to be revealed. Instead John recounts two visions of God's people in the last days. The first relates to the period prior to the judgments described in ch. 6; the second reveals the redeemed in the glory that follows them. John's purpose is to assure his Christian readers (and hearers!; 1:3) that they have no need to dread the judgments of the last times since God will protect them.
It is often thought that the two halves of the chapter relate to two different companies of people, so that vs 1-8 show God's care for Israel in the last times, or at least for Jewish Christians, whereas vs 9-17 depict the saved of the nations of the world. This is a doubtful interpretation. If the sealing' of the first vision portrays God's protection from the destructive judgments coming on the earth, then all God's people will need that, not a limited section of them (and that is done; see 9:4). Moreover, the expression the servants of our God, who are sealed (3) occurs elsewhere in Revelation, and regularly denotes the whole company of the redeemed (see 2:20; 11:18; 19:2, 5; 22:3, 6). It is likely that John was guided to employ a prophecy that originally was intended to assure Jews of the certainty of their inheritance in the kingdom of God. He applied it to the church as the new Israel, since its symbolism thereby comes to perfect realization (for the church as the new Israel see Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:29; 6:16; Phil. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9).
1 After this marks a new vision; it is not a note of time in relation to the events narrated in ch. 6 but introduces a fresh revelation given to John. The four angels... holding back the four winds of the earth are an alternative symbol of the four horsemen of the previous chapter (so in Zc. 6:5). The destructive fury of the winds represents the whole manifestation of judgment symbolized by the seals, trumpets and cups of wrath. 2-3 The picture of the seal of the living God applied to the servants of God goes back to Ezekiel's vision of the man with a writing kit, who is told to go through Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the righteous that they may be spared by the agents of destruction (Ezk. 9:1-6).
4-8 The enumeration of the tribes one by one serves to emphasize the completeness of the number of God's saints for whom he cares during the coming trials. The list is unusual in several respects. Judah comes first, instead of Reuben, Jacob's firstborn (Gn. 29:32; cf. Nu. 13:4-15; Dt. 33:6); this doubtless is due to the recognition that Judah is the tribe of the Messiah. Dan is omitted, but Manasseh appears, although the latter is included in Joseph. This is certainly deliberate. Jewish teachers persistently associated Dan with idolatry. In The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs' Dan is told, Your prince is Satan'. From Irenaeus on it was maintained among Christians that Dan's name was omitted because the antichrist was to come from his tribe. This was, of course, the view of Jews, but in reality the representations of the antichrist in Revelation are irreconcilable with it.
9 The vision of the 144,000 sealed against the effects of trial is replaced by that of a great multitude that noone could count, standing before God and the Lamb in the glory of the kingdom. A. M. Farrer considered that this contrast gives expression to two complementary themes of the Scriptures: on the one hand that God knows the number of his elect, and on the other, that those who inherit the blessing of Abraham are numberless as the stars (The Revelation of St. John the Divine [Clarendon, 1964], p. 110). Their white robes signify purity and resurrection glory, the palm branches victory and joy after war.
10 Salvation belongs to our God... and to the Lamb echoes Ps. 3:8 (see also Rev. 19:1). The victors ascribe their redemption to God and the Lamb. 12 The praise of the angelic orders reflects the praise of the redeemed multitude.
13-14 John's answer to the elder's question implies, I also would like to know'. The great tribulation out of which the multitude has come is not a general designation of the trials which are the Christian's normal lot, but the tribulation that occurs at the close of this age. The vision depicts the scene after the cessation of the [p. 1436] judgments of the Lord within history and the sufferings of Christians at the hands of the opponents of God, and so has in view the last generation. Yet the elder's statement in vs 14b-17 describes the blessedness of the whole church. The difficulty is relieved if we remember that John prophesies of a day that to him is almost on the horizon; it was not given to him to see the period that intervened before the end. The last persecution may come at any time. Those who have gone before, having witnessed a good confession, are of course included in this throng, but it was superfluous to state that. The church of the present is the subject in view, and its situation fills John's canvas. For us, nearly two millennia later, the church is mainly in heaven, but we may know that all believers, including ourselves, will be among that throng.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb is a symbolic expression of the forgiveness of sins through faith in the Christ who died for all. The phrase the blood of the Lamb is a shorthand expression for the death of Christ viewed as a sacrifice for sins, hence the imagery of v 14 depicts the effectiveness of the Lord's redemption in the lives of his people. It includes the overcoming of sin in life by virtue of the power of Christ's atonement and so covers the whole of life's pilgrimage, as well as the event of conversion. Vs 16-17 use language drawn from Is. 29:8 and 49:10: Christ assuages people's thirst by providing in himself the antidote to their restlessness, the complete counterpart to their unsatisfied desires. The springs of living water in the final vision of the city of God turn out to be a river of living water (22:1-2)more than enough for the needs of all!
The Four Horsemen
The imagery is adapted from the angelic horsemen sent by God to patrol the earth in Zechariah 1:8-11 and 6:1-8, though used in a different way. (Some scholars suggest that the horsemen portray angels of judgment, others symbols for Christ coming in judgments, and still others simply symbols for judgments in general.) Although divine judgments in history are a major Old Testament theme, pagans also recognized and would have understood John's point; most cultures in history have recognized the existence of divine judgments. Jewish apocalyptic traditions associated some of these judgments, such as war and famine, with the time just preceding the end of the age; cf. Matthew 24:6-8.
6:1. A document could not be opened until all the seals were broken (i.e., in Revelation, after 8:1); the seals (in this case judgments) witness the validity of the document's contents. (Perhaps, as in the Old Testament covenant, heaven and earth are called to witness; cf. Deut 30:19; Ps 50:4.)
6:2. The very image of an archer on a white horse would strike terror into the heart of a pro-Roman reader. The only mounted archers of antiquity were the Parthians, whose tactics and skills had made them Rome's most feared enemies; old Persian armies, whose heirs the Parthians were, always included sacred white horses. Although the Old Testament uses the "bow" as a symbol of judgment by battle more generally, Roman readers would think of this eastern nation that had defeated them in some recent wars; Parthians' skill as archers was common knowledge. Other contemporary apocalyptic writers (Similitudes of Enoch) also suggested a dreaded Parthian invasion, hence ancient readers would have readily understood that this horseman meant conquest and war.
6:3-4. The "sword" was often a symbol of judgment by war in the Old Testament and later literature, and red was the color most associated with war and bloodshed (hence the "red planet" is named Mars for the Roman god of war). The bloody unrest of A.D. 68-69, when three emperors were successively killed, would have been one illustration of the principle here.
6:5-6. The "scales" indicate rationing, or at least the caution of merchants to get every cent the food is worth. Barley and wheat were basic staples. Because a quart of wheat was a day's sustenance, and a denarius was a day's wage, a man with a family would have to buy the cheaper barley instead. Even then, three quarts of barley was hardly enough daily food for a whole family to subsist on; in the many peasant families with large numbers of children, several children would die. The famine also created a high inflation rate: this wheat costs more than ten times the average price of wheat.
Oil and wine were widely used, but not essential like wheat or barley. Oil was especially used for anointing the head, washing the body and lighting lamps; wine was mixed with water (one part wine for two to three parts water) for meals. The selective continuance of such items of relatively secondary importance while staples were barely obtainable would reinforce the reality of divine judgment. Because inflation was high at the end of the first century and some readers were no doubt aware of Domitian's unpopular restriction of land for vineyards in the provinces, readers would have readily resonated with the terror such prophecies implied. Asia Minor was hit especially hard by economic troubles during Domitian's reign.
6:7-8. This final specter may resemble the angel of death of Jewish tradition. Lists of judgments such as this horseman brought are common in the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Jer 14:12; 24:10; 27:8; Ezek 6:11; 7:15; 12:16) and, less related in form, some judgment lists in the Sibylline Oracles; this list is closest to Ezekiel 14:21.
The Fifth Seal
Comfortable people may not like the language of this passage, but oppressed and suffering people who trust God can resonate with the promise of vindication, as in the Old Testament and often throughout history.
6:9. The blood of sacrifices was poured out at the base of the altar (Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 34; 5:9; 8:15; 9:9); the martyrs are thus viewed as sacrifices, like the Passover lamb of Revelation 5:6. (Paschal lambs had come to be viewed as sacrificial in some sense. Martyrs were also viewed as sacrifices in, e.g., 4 Maccabees and Phil 2:7.) Souls were "visible" to recipients of apocalypses, due to the seers' visionary state.
6:10. The very fact of their shed blood (6:9) cries out for the vindication of retribution (Gen 4:10; see comment on Mt 23:35); as in the Old Testament, a prayer for vengeance for corporate sin was ultimately a prayer for the vindication of the righteous and of God's name. Justice could ultimately be done, and the oppressed delivered, only when God arose to judge the earth. "How long?" was common in Old Testament prayers of entreaty (e.g., Ps 6:3; 13:1; 80:4), including prayers for vindication (e.g., Ps 79:5, 10; Zech 1:12); it also could address the duration of a judgment (Is 6:11; Jer 47:6).
6:11. Other Jewish texts also include prayers for vengeance and protests over delays (6:10); the souls of the righteous in 4 Ezra (probably from the same decade as Revelation) ask how long until the end and are told that they must wait until the full number of righteous dead is completed. Jesus and Paul had also earlier stressed that the good news must be preached to all nationswith the attendant suffering for witnesses involved in such proclamationbefore the end. On white robes see comment on 4:4.
The Sixth Seal
Although cosmic, cataclysmic language is sometimes used for God's judgments in history (e.g., an already-fulfilled judgment in Sibylline Oracles; cosmic exaggerations of Sinai phenomena in Pseudo-Philo; cf. Ps 18; Jer 4:20-28), the language of this passage lends itself most naturally to the view that it, like the sixth and seventh trumpets and vials, represents the end of the age (as cosmic destruction generally does in the Old Testament prophets and Jewish literature).
6:12-13. An Old Testament prophecy associated the end of the age with a powerful earthquake (Zech 14:4-5; cf. Ezek 38:20; Amos 8:8); because severe earthquakes had wrought devastation in first-century Asia Minor, this announcement would have special impact on the readers. Darkness was also an Old Testament judgment (Ex 10:21-23; Is 50:3), especially the judgment of the end (Is 13:9-10; 24:23; Ezek 32:7-8; Amos 5:18; 8:9; cf. 4 Ezra). The stars may symbolize angelic hosts (12:4; Is 24:21; Dan 8:10; 10:13), but in this context they probably depict simply the cosmic scope of the judgment (Is 34:4). The graphic language is not meant as literal astronomy: disappearing or shaken stars were used as poetic language for great devastations such as wars (Sibylline Oracles, Petronius; cf. Is 13:10, 17).
6:14. A reader would unroll a scroll with the right hand to read, rolling up again the part just read with the left; the language here reflects Isaiah 34:4, which is also echoed in other Jewish judgment oracles (Sibylline Oracles). This sort of language was normally reserved for the end of the age.
6:15-16. The Old Testament and apocalypses also speak of judgment across social classes; the readers could be encouraged that God would ultimately vindicate them against the emperor and his governors who now judged them. Hiding in the rocks and crying for the mountains to conceal them from God's wrath reflects Hosea 10:8; cf. Isaiah 2:10 and 19-20.
6:17. This verse reflects especially Joel 2:11; cf. Malachi 3:2, referring to the day of judgment.
The Sealing of 144,000 Servants
One can take the 144,000 either consistently literally (literally twelve thousand male Jewish virgins from each tribe- 14:4) or consistently symbolically (the spiritual people of God, not literally 144,000). (Those who take the number but not the ethnicity, gender and sexual history literally are inconsistent.) Against taking it literally is Revelation's usage elsewhere of "servants" (1:1; 6:11), suggesting that they constitute the whole of the saved community (7:3-4). But whether they represent the innumerable multitude of 7:9 or the restored remnant of ethnic Israel remains debated.
"After this I saw" (7:1) means that this vision follows the preceding one, not necessarily that the events it describes do (see comment on 4:1); if 6:12-17 represents the end of the age, 7:1-8 must precede that event chronologically (7:3), perhaps concurrent with the whole of 6:1-11.
7:1. Gentiles often personified the elements of nature themselves or recognized gods attached to them; Jewish people believed that God had delegated his authority over various features of nature (including winds) to angels under his command (e.g., in Jubilees; cf. Ps 148:1-12). "Four corners" of the earth was meant figuratively, even in ancient times. A few people thought that the world was spherical, but most people viewed it as circular; "four corners" was nevertheless conventional speech, as was the idea of four winds from the four directions of heaven (probably viewed as angels even in Zech 6:5). The winds had both positive and negative effects in ancient sources. According to some views, the wind carried along the sun and moon chariots (1 Enoch 72:5; 73:2), or God founded the heavens on the winds (1 Enoch, Joseph and Asenath), and the stoppage of winds could signal the advent of a new age (Sibylline Oracles, on the postdiluvian era). Like writers today, the biblical writers used the language conventional to the genre in which they were writing; this could include, as here, symbolic imagery.
7:2. In the most popular ancient conception, Helios drove his sun-chariot in a regular course above the earth, rising from the gates of the east and descending into the west to return by its path under the earth; the earth-circle was surrounded on all sides by the river Oceanus. Jewish people naturally modified the sun god into an angel; but any angel that would rise in the orbit of the sun would have been recognized as superior to the greatest of the kings of the earth.
"Seal" refers to the impress of a signet ring; an official who wished to delegate his authority for a task to a representative would allow that subordinate to use his signet ring.
7:3. Like documents or merchandise sealed and stamped to guarantee their contents and prevent tampering, God's servants were to be marked off as his (cf. Is 44:5). God had previously protected his people in Goshen during the plagues (Ex 8:28; 9:4; 11:7; see comment on Rev 5:6); the idea of a protecting sign is also an Old Testament image (Gen 4:15; Is 66:19). Here it is taken directly from Ezekiel 9:4-6, where judgment could not begin until the foreheads of the righteous (those who mourned over the sin of their land) were marked. The forehead and the hand (Ex 13:9, 16; 28:38; Deut 6:8; 11:18) were the most natural and obvious parts of the body for this marking because they were most directly exposed to view.
With the possible exception of Genesis 4:15, all these Old Testament passages probably meant the sign symbolically (despite more literal postexilic Jewish practice of tefillin, phylacteries); Ezekiel 9:6 certainly did not mean a humanly visible mark, and Revelation presumably means it in the same sense as Ezekiel. In Hebrew, Ezekiel's mark was the Hebrew letter tav; in ancient script it looked like, and rabbis compared it with, the Greek letter chi -similar to English x -which some Christian commentators have compared (perhaps wishfully) with the cross sign. Comparisons have also been made with branding animals; with the occasional but well-documented tattooing of slaves and, later, soldiers; with religious tattooing (e.g., in Mithraism); with spiritual circumcision (circumcision was called a seal; and with the divine imprint on humans (Philo), here applied specifically to those who live according to that image. See comment on Revelation 13:16-18 and on Galatians 6:17; cf. 4 Ezra 6:5; 10:23; Psalms of Solomon 15:6-9; and Testament of Job 5:2.
7:4. Because this is the full number of God's servants (7:3), the righteous (1:1; 2:20; 22:6), the number and ethnic designation may be meant figuratively for true followers of Israel's God (followers of Jesus; cf. 2:9; 3:9; 21:2, 14). Whether this number is meant figuratively or literally, however, the allusion is clearly to the Old Testament and universal Jewish conception of Israel's restoration, which is pictured, as generally, in terms of the restoration of the remnant (survivors) of the twelve tribes.
7:5-8. The normal Jewish understanding was that the twelve tribes would inherit the land together (Ezek 48). Yet by counting Joseph and Manasseh (the tribe of Joseph was usually broken down into two tribes, represented by his sons Manasseh and Ephraim) without omitting Levi, Revelation has to omit one of the tribes, and omits Dan, the first in Ezekiel's list (48:1), in order to maintain the number twelve. (Jewish commentators as early as the second century associated Dan with idolatry, but no emphasis on that special association can be documented this early. Dan's sins [ Judg 18:30; 1 Kings 12:29; Amos 8:14; cf. Jubilees 44:28-29] are not the only ones mentioned in the Old Testament, and the association with the serpent [ Gen 49:16-17 ] is too remote here.) This omission may underline the symbolic nature of John's point in the whole passage; one tribe may be omitted to indicate the danger of apostasy even among the people of God (cf. Jn 6:70; 1 Jn). The sequence of tribes itself is probably not significantit varied considerably in the Old Testament.
The twelve tribes no longer existed as separate entities in the first century; with few exceptions, only Judah, Benjamin and Levi were recognized as ancestors, and today even most of those distinctions are no longer certain. The exact number, twelve thousand from each tribe, is another indication of the symbolic nature of the passage-twelve was the number of the people of God in Jewish texts (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls), and 144,000 is 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10. Symbolic numbers were standard fare in Jewish views of the future. (Some numerical improbabilities worked their way into novels, too, e.g., the seven virgins who waited on Asenath, all born the same night she was; but symbolic numbers were standard in apocalyptic texts; see especially comment on the times of Revelation 12.)
The Multitude of Overcomers Before the Throne
This section may represent a different group than the one pictured in 7:1-8, or another picture of the same group now in heaven (double versions of visions sometimes occur in the Old Testament, too; cf. Gen 41:25-27; interpretations of visions also appear, e.g., in Daniel, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch).
7:9-12. White robes were appropriate for worship in the temple and were also used for the worship of gods in Asia Minor. Palm branches were especially used in the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the future, the remnant of all nations would go up to Jerusalem to worship at the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech 14:16); as in apocalyptic texts, the earthly future realm is in some sense presently fulfilled in heaven. Palm branches celebrated the victory of Israel's exodus from Egypt, and the feast commemorated God's faithfulness to them during their wanderings in the wilderness, when they were totally dependent on him.
Some scholars have suggested that these multitudes are the martyrs or martyr church of 6:11, viewed from another perspective. "Innumerable" meant that the crowd was huge, too many to countnot infinite (3 Maccabees 4:17; it could also represent a number so great that it could be pictured as the sands of the sea in number, as in Judith 2:20).
7:13-14. Jewish teachers sometimes asked questions they knew their disciples could not answer; the disciples then responded by asking for the answer. The same teaching technique is employed here. Jewish apocalypses and their occasional Roman analogues often included angelic guides (e.g., 1 Enoch and 3 Baruch) who asked the mortal observer rhetorical questions to guide him to a truer understanding (e.g., 4 Ezra and Testament of Abraham; cf. Dan 8:13-14; 12:6-7); in other texts confused visionaries simply had to ask to begin with (Dan 7:16; 12:8; 4 Ezra) or wait for an interpretation (Dan 8:16).
"The great tribulation " refers to Daniel 12:1, the period of great suffering that God's people were to experience before the end of the age. Making robes white with blood is clearly a ritual rather than visual image: sacrificial blood purified utensils for worship in the Old Testament (see comment on Heb 9:21-22), and white was the color of robes required for worship in the New Testament period.
7:15-16. God's tabernacle as a refuge over them directly echoes Isaiah 4:5-6, which in turn alludes to a new exodus of salvation in the future time. When God redeemed his people from Egypt and they wandered in the wilderness (the time commemorated in the Feast of Tabernacles; see comment on Rev 7:9-12), he made such a cloud over them as Isaiah describes. Revelation also borrows the language of Isaiah 49:10 (again the salvation of the future age); cf. Psalm 121:5-6. On God's throne room in heaven being portrayed as a temple, see comment on Revelation 4:6-7.
7:17. This verse alludes to Isaiah 25:8 (in the context of the messianic banquet at the resurrection at the end of the age) and 49:10 (in the age to come). For the imagery of the shepherd (here graphically juxtaposed with the lamb), see the introduction to John 10:1-18.
Revelation 6:1-17. THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SIX OF THE SEVEN SEALS.
Compare Note, see note on Revelation 5:1. Many (MEDE, FLEMING, NEWTON, etc.). hold that all these seals have been fulfilled, the sixth having been so by the overthrow of paganism and establishment of Christianity under Constantine's edict, A.D. 312. There can, however, be no doubt that at least the sixth seal is future, and is to be at the coming again of Christ. The great objection to supposing the seals to be finally and exhaustively fulfilled (though, probably, particular events may be partial fulfilments typical of the final and fullest one), is that, if so, they ought to furnish (as the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ's prophecy, does) a strong external evidence of Revelation. But it is clear they cannot be used for this, as hardly any two interpreters of this school are agreed on what events constitute the fulfilment of each seal. Probably not isolated facts, but classes of events preparing the way for Christ's coming kingdom, are intended by the opening of the seals. The four living creatures severally cry at the opening of the first four seals, "Come," which fact marks the division of the seven, as often occurs in this sacred number, into four and three.
1. one of the seals The oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac read, "one of the seven seals." noise The three oldest manuscripts read this in the nominative or dative, not the genitive, as English Version, "I heard one from among the four living creatures saying, as (it were) the voice (or, as with the voice ) of thunder." The first living creature was like a lion (Revelation 4:7): his voice is in consonance. Implying the lion-like boldness with which, in the successive great revivals, the faithful have testified for Christ, and especially a little before His coming shall testify. Or, rather, their earnestness in praying for Christ's coming. Come and see One oldest manuscript, B, has "And see." But A, C, and Vulgate reject it. ALFORD rightly objects to English Version reading: "Whither was John to come? Separated as he was by the glassy sea from the throne, was he to cross it?" Contrast the form of expression, Revelation 10:8. It is much more likely to be the cry of the redeemed to the Redeemer, "Come" and deliver the groaning creature from the bondage of corruption. Thus, Revelation 6:2 is an answer to the cry, went (literally, "came") forth corresponding to "Come." "Come," says GROTIUS, is the living creature's address to John, calling his earnest attention. But it seems hard to see how "Come" by itself can mean this. Compare the only other places in Revelation where it is used, Revelation 4:1; 22:17. If the four living creatures represent the four Gospels, the "Come" will be their invitation to everyone (for it is not written that they addressed John ) to accept Christ's salvation while there is time, as the opening of the seals marks a progressive step towards the end (compare Revelation 22:17). Judgments are foretold as accompanying the preaching of the Gospel as a witness to all nations (Revelation 14:6-11; Matthew 24:6-14). Thus the invitation, "Come," here, is aptly parallel to Matthew 24:14. The opening of the first four seals is followed by judgments preparatory for His coming. At the opening of the fifth seal, the martyrs above express the same (Revelation 6:9, 10; compare Zechariah 1:10). At the opening of the sixth seal, the Lord's coming is ushered in with terrors to the ungodly. At the seventh, the consummation is fully attained (Revelation 11:15).
2. Evidently Christ, whether in person, or by His angel, preparatory to His coming again, as appears from Revelation 19:11, 12. bow (Psalms 45:4, 5). crown Greek, "stephanos," the garland or wreath of a conqueror, which is also implied by His white horse, white being the emblem of victory. In Revelation 19:11, 12 the last step in His victorious progress is represented; accordingly there He wears many diadems (Greek, "diademata "; not merely Greek, "stephanoi," "crowns" or "wreaths"), and is personally attended by the hosts of heaven. Compare Zechariah 1:7-17; 6:1-8; especially Revelation 6:10 below, with Zechariah 1:12; also compare the colors of the four horses. and to conquer that is, so as to gain a lasting victory. All four seals usher in judgments on the earth, as the power which opposes the reign of Himself and His Church. This, rather than the work of conversion and conviction, is primarily meant, though doubtless, secondarily, the elect will be gathered out through His word and His judgments.
3. and see omitted in the three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, and Vulgate.
4. red the color of blood. The color of the horse in each case answers to the mission of the rider. Compare Matthew 10:24-36, "Think not I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword." The white horse of Christ's bloodless victories is soon followed, through man's perversion of the Gospel, by the red horse of bloodshed; but this is overruled to the clearing away of the obstacles to Christ's coming kingdom. The patient ox is the emblem of the second living creature who, at the opening of this seal, saith, "Come." The saints amidst judgments on the earth in patience "endure to the end." that they should kill The Greek is indicative future, "that they may, as they also shall, kill one another."
5. Come and see The two oldest manuscripts, A, C, and Vulgate omit "and see." B retains the words. black implying sadness and want. had Greek, "having." a pair of balances the symbol of scarcity of provisions, the bread being doled out by weight.
6. a voice Two oldest manuscripts, A, C, read, "as it were a voice." B reads as English Version. The voice is heard "in the midst of the four living creatures" (as Jehovah in the Shekinah-cloud manifested His presence between the cherubim); because it is only for the sake of, and in connection with, His redeemed, that God mitigates His judgments on the earth. A measure "A chaenix." While making food scarce, do not make it so much so that a chaenix (about a day's provision of wheat, variously estimated at two or three pints) shall not be obtainable "for a penny" (denarius, about twenty cents, probably the day's wages of a laborer). Famine generally follows the sword. Ordinarily, from sixteen to twenty measures were given for a denarius. The sword, famine, noisome beasts, and the pestilence, are God's four judgments on the earth. A spiritual famine, too, may be included in the judgment. The "Come," in the case of this third seal, is said by the third of the four living creatures, whose likeness is a man indicative of sympathy and human compassion for the sufferers. God in it tempers judgment with mercy. Compare Matthew 24:7, which indicates the very calamities foretold in these seals, nation rising against nation (the sword), famines, pestilences (Revelation 6:8), and earthquakes (Revelation 6:12). three measures of barley for a penny the cheaper and less nutritious grain, bought by the laborer who could not buy enough wheat for his family with his day's wages, a denarius, and, therefore, buys barley. see thou hurt not the oil, and the wine the luxuries of life, rather than necessaries; the oil and wine were to be spared for the refreshment of the sufferers.
7. and see supported by B; omitted by A, C, and Vulgate. The fourth living creature, who was "like a flying eagle," introduces this seal; implying high-soaring intelligence, and judgment descending from on high fatally on the ungodly, as the king of birds on his prey.
8. pale "livid" [ALFORD]. Death personified. Hell Hades personified. unto them Death and Hades. So A, C read. But B and Vulgate read, "to him." fourth part of the earth answering to the first four seals; his portion as one of the four, being a fourth part. death pestilence; compare Ezekiel 14:21 with the four judgments here, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts; the famine the consequence of the sword; pestilence, that of famine; and beasts multiplying by the consequent depopulation. with the beasts Greek, "by"; more direct agency. These four seals are marked off from the three last, by the four living creatures introducing them with "Come." The calamities indicated are not restricted to one time, but extend through the whole period of Church history to the coming of Christ, before which last great and terrible day of the Lord they shall reach highest aggravation. The first seal is the summary, Christ going forth conquering till all enemies are subdued under Him, with a view to which the judgments subsequently specified accompany the preaching of the Gospel for a witness to all nations.
9. The three last seals relate to the invisible, as the first four to the visible world; the fifth, to the martyrs who have died as believers; the sixth, to those who have died, or who shall be found at Christ's coming, unbelievers, namely, "the kings . . . great men . . . bondman . . . freeman"; the seventh, to the silence in heaven. The scene changes from earth to heaven; so that interpretations which make these three last consecutive to the first four seals, are very doubtful. I saw in spirit. For souls are not naturally visible. under the altar As the blood of sacrificial victims slain on the altar was poured at the bottom of the altar, so the souls of those sacrificed for Christ's testimony are symbolically represented as under the altar, in heaven; for the life or animal soul is in the blood, and blood is often represented as crying for vengeance (Genesis 4:10). The altar in heaven, antitypical to the altar of sacrifice, is Christ crucified. As it is the altar that sanctifies the gift, so it is Christ alone who makes our obedience, and even our sacrifice of life for the truth, acceptable to God. The sacrificial altar was not in the sanctuary, but outside; so Christ's literal sacrifice and the figurative sacrifice of the martyrs took place, not in the heavenly sanctuary, but outside, here on earth. The only altar in heaven is that antitypical to the temple altar of incense. The blood of the martyrs cries from the earth under Christ's cross, whereon they may be considered virtually to have been sacrificed; their souls cry from under the altar of incense, which is Christ in heaven, by whom alone the incense of praise is accepted before God. They are under Christ, in His immediate presence, shut up unto Him in joyful eager expectancy until He shall come to raise the sleeping dead. Compare the language of 2 Maccabees 7:36 as indicating Jewish opinion on the subject. Our brethren who have now suffered a short pain are dead under (Greek ) God's covenant of everlasting life. testimony which they held that is, which they bore, as committed to them to bear. Compare Revelation 12:17, "Have (same Greek as here) the testimony of Jesus."
10. How long Greek, "Until when?" As in the parable the woman (symbol of the Church) cries day and night to the unjust judge for justice against her adversary who is always oppressing her (compare below, Revelation 12:10); so the elect (not only on earth, but under Christ's covering, and in His presence in Paradise) cry day and night to God, who will assuredly, in His own time, avenge His and their cause, "though He bear long with them." These passages need not be restricted to some particular martyrdoms, but have been, and are receiving, and shall receive partial fulfilments, until their last exhaustive fulfilment before Christ's coming. So as to the other events foretold here. The glory even of those in Paradise will only be complete when Christ's and the Church's foes are cast out, and the earth will become Christ's kingdom at His coming to raise the sleeping saints. Lord Greek, "Master"; implying that He has them and their foes and all His creatures as absolutely at His disposal, as a master has his slaves; hence, in Revelation 6:11, "fellow servants," or fellow slaves follows. holy Greek, "the Holy one." avenge "exact vengeance for our blood." on Greek, "from them." that dwell on the earth the ungodly, of earth, earthly, as distinguished from the Church, whose home and heart are even now in heavenly places.
11. white robes The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, read, "A white robe was given." every one of One oldest manuscript, B, omits this. A and C read, "unto them, unto each," that is, unto them severally. Though their joint cry for the riddance of the earth from the ungodly is not yet granted, it is intimated that it will be so in due time; meanwhile, individually they receive the white robe, indicative of light, joy, and triumphant victory over their foes; even as the Captain of their salvation goes forth on a white horse conquering and to conquer; also of purity and sanctity through Christ. MAIMONIDES says that the Jews used to array priests, when approved of, in white robes; thus the sense is, they are admitted among the blessed ones, who, as spotless priests, minister unto God and the Lamb. should So C reads. But A and B, "shall rest." a little season One oldest manuscript, B, omits "little." A and C support it. Even if it be omitted, is it to be inferred that the "season" is short as compared with eternity? BENGEL fancifully made a season (Greek, "chronus," the word here used) to be one thousand one hundred and eleven one-ninth years, and a time (Revelation 12:12, 14, Greek, "kairos ") to be a fifth of a season, that is, two hundred and twenty-two two-ninths years. The only distinction in the Greek is, a season (Greek, "chronus ") is a sort of aggregate of times. Greek, "kairos," a specific time, and so of short duration. As to their rest, compare Revelation 14:13 (the same Greek, "anapauomai "); Isaiah 57:2; Daniel 12:13. until their . . . brethren . . . be fulfilled in number. Until their full number shall have been completed. The number of the elect is definitely fixed: perhaps to fill up that of the fallen angels. But this is mere conjecture. The full blessedness and glory of all the saints shall be simultaneous. The earlier shall not anticipate the later saints. A and C read, "shall have been accomplished"; B and a read, "shall have accomplished (their course)."
12. As Revelation 6:4, 6-8, the sword, famine, and pestilence, answer to Matthew 24:6, 7; Revelation 6:9, 10, as to martyrdoms, answer to Matthew 24:9, 10; so this passage, Revelation 6:12, 17, answers to Matthew 24:29, 30, "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven; . . . then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming"; imagery describing the portents of the immediate coming of the day of the Lord; but not the coming itself until the elect are sealed, and the judgments invoked by the martyrs descend on the earth, the sea, and the trees (Revelation 7:1-3). and, lo So A reads. But B and C omit "lo." earthquake Greek, "shaking" of the heavens, the sea, and the dry land; the shaking of these mutable things being the necessary preliminary to the setting up of those things which cannot be shaken. This is one of the catchwords [WORDSWORTH] connecting the sixth seal with the sixth trumpet (Revelation 11:13) and the seventh vial (Revelation 16:17-21); also the seventh seal (Revelation 8:5). sackcloth One kind, made of the "hair" of Cilician goats, was called "cilicium," or Cilician cloth, and was used for tents, etc. Paul, a Cilician, made such tents (Acts 18:3). moon A, B, C, and oldest versions read, "the whole moon"; the full moon; not merely the crescent moon. as blood (Joel 2:31).
13. stars . . . fell . . . as a fig tree casteth her . . . figs (Isaiah 34:4; Nahum 3:12). The Church shall be then ripe for glorification, the Antichristian world for destruction, which shall be accompanied with mighty phenomena in nature. As to the stars falling to the earth, Scripture describes natural phenomena as they would appear to the spectator, not in the language of scientific accuracy; and yet, while thus adapting itself to ordinary men, it drops hints which show that it anticipates the discoveries of modern science.
14. departed Greek, "was separated from" its place; "was made to depart." Not as ALFORD, "parted asunder "; for, on the contrary, it was rolled together as a scroll which had been open is rolled up and laid aside. There is no "asunder one from another" here in the Greek, as in Acts 15:39, which ALFORD copies. mountain . . . moved out of . . . places (Psalms 121:1, Margin; Jeremiah 3:23; 4:24; Nahum 1:5). This total disruption shall be the precursor of the new earth, just as the pre-Adamic convulsions prepared it for its present occupants.
15. kings . . . hid themselves Where was now the spirit of those whom the world has so greatly feared? [BENGEL]. great men statesmen and high civil officers. rich men . . . chief captains The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, transpose thus, "chief captains . . . rich men." mighty The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, and C read, "strong" physically (Psalms 33:16). in literally "into"; ran into, so as to hide themselves in. dens "caves."
16. from the face (Psalms 34:16). On the whole verse, compare Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30.
17. Literally, "the day, the great (day)," which can only mean the last great day. After the Lord has exhausted all His ordinary judgments, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts, and still sinners are impenitent, the great day of the Lord itself' shall come. Matthew 24:6-29 plainly forms a perfect parallelism to the six seals, not only in the events, but also in the order of their occurrence: Matthew 24:3, the first seal; Matthew 24:6, the second seal; Matthew 24:7, the third seal; Matthew 24:7, end, the fourth seal; Matthew 24:9, the fifth seal, the persecutions and abounding iniquity under which, as well as consequent judgments accompanied with gospel preaching to all nations as a witness, are particularly detailed, Matthew 24:9-28; Matthew 24:29, the sixth seal. to stand to stand justified, and not condemned before the Judge. Thus the sixth seal brings us to the verge of the Lord's coming. The ungodly "tribes of the earth" tremble at the signs of His immediate approach. But before He actually inflicts the blow in person, "the elect" must be "gathered "out.
Revelation 7:1-17. SEALING OF THE ELECT OF ISRAEL. THE COUNTLESS MULTITUDE OF THE GENTILE ELECT.
1. And so B and Syriac. But A, C, Vulgate, and Coptic omit "and." after these things A, B, C, and Coptic read, "after this." The two visions in this chapter come in as an episode after the sixth seal, and before the seventh seal. It is clear that, though "Israel" may elsewhere designate the spiritual Israel, "the elect (Church) on earth" [ALFORD], here, where the names of the tribes one by one are specified, these names cannot have any but the literal meaning. The second advent will be the time of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, when the times of the Gentiles shall have been fulfilled, and the Jews shall at last say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." The period of the Lord's absence has been a blank in the history of the Jews as a nation. As then Revelation is the Book of the Second Advent [DE BURGH], naturally mention of God's restored favor to Israel occurs among the events that usher in Christ's advent. earth . . . sea . . . tree The judgments to descend on these are in answer to the martyrs' prayer under the fifth seal. Compare the same judgments under the fifth trumpet, the sealed being exempt (Revelation 9:4). on any tree Greek, "against any tree" (Greek, "epi ti dendron ": but "on the earth," Greek, "epi tees gees ").
2. from the east Greek, "the rising of the sun." The quarter from which God's glory oftenest manifests itself.
3. Hurt not by letting loose the destructive winds. till we have sealed the servants of our God parallel to Matthew 24:31, "His angels . . . shall gather together His elect from the four winds." God's love is such, that He cannot do anything in the way of judgment, till His people are secured from hurt (Genesis 19:22). Israel, at the eve of the Lord's coming, shall be found re-embodied as a nation; for its tribes are distinctly specified (Joseph, however, being substituted for Dan; whether because Antichrist is to come from Dan, or because Dan is to be Antichrist's especial tool [ARETAS, tenth century], compare Genesis 49:17; Jeremiah 8:16; Amos 8:14; just as there was a Judas among the Twelve). Out of these tribes a believing remnant will be preserved from the judgments which shall destroy all the Antichristian confederacy (Revelation 6:12-17), and shall be transfigured with the elect Church of all nations, namely, 144,000 (or whatever number is meant by this symbolical number), who shall faithfully resist the seductions of Antichrist, while the rest of the nation, restored to Palestine in unbelief, are his dupes, and at last his victims. Previously to the Lord's judgments on Antichrist and his hosts, these latter shall destroy two-thirds of the nation, one-third escaping, and, by the Spirit's operation through affliction, turning to the Lord, which remnant shall form the nucleus on earth of the Israelite nation that is from this time to stand at the head of the millennial nations of the world. Israel's spiritual resurrection shall be "as life from the dead" to all the nations. As now a regeneration goes on here and there of individuals, so there shall then be a regeneration of nations universally, and this in connection with Christ's coming. Matthew 24:34; "this generation (the Jewish nation) shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled," which implies that Israel can no more pass away before Christ's advent, than Christ's own words can pass away (the same Greek ), Matthew 24:35. So exactly Zechariah 13:8, 9; 14:2-4, 9-21; compare Zechariah 12:2-14; 13:1, 2. So also Ezekiel 8:17, 18; 9:1-7, especially Ezekiel 9:4. Compare also Ezekiel 10:2 with Revelation 8:5, where the final judgments actually fall on the earth, with the same accompaniment, the fire of the altar cast into the earth, including the fire scattered over the city. So again, Revelation 14:1, the same 144,000 appear on Zion with the Father's name in their forehead, at the close of the section, the twelfth through fourteenth chapters, concerning the Church and her foes. Not that the saints are exempt from trial: Revelation 7:14 proves the contrary; but their trials are distinct from the destroying judgments that fall on the world; from these they are exempted, as Israel was from the plagues of Egypt, especially from the last, the Israelite doors having the protecting seal of the blood-mark. foreheads the most conspicuous and noblest part of man's body; on which the helmet, "the hope of salvation," is worn.
4. Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000. A thousand implies the world perfectly pervaded by the divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God. of all the tribes literally, "out of every tribe"; not 144,000 of each tribe, but the aggregate of the twelve thousand from every tribe. children Greek, "sons of Israel." Revelation 3:12; 21:12, are no objection, as ALFORD thinks, to the literal Israel being meant; for, in consummated glory, still the Church will be that "built on the foundation of the (Twelve ) apostles (Israelites), Jesus Christ (an Israelite) being the chief corner-stone." Gentile believers shall have the name of Jerusalem written on them, in that they shall share the citizenship antitypical to that of the literal Jerusalem.
5-8. Judah (meaning praise ) stands first, as Jesus' tribe. Benjamin, the youngest, is last; and with him is associated second last, Joseph. Reuben, as originally first-born, comes next after Judah, to whom it gave place, having by sin lost its primogeniture right. Besides the reason given above (see note on Revelation 7:2), another akin for the omission of Dan, is, its having been the first to lapse into idolatry (Judges 18:1-31); for which same reason the name Ephraim, also (compare Judges 17:1-3; Hosea 4:17), is omitted, and Joseph substituted. Also, it had been now for long almost extinct. Long before, the Hebrews say [GROTIUS], it was reduced to the one family of Hussim, which perished subsequently in the wars before Ezra's time. Hence it is omitted in the fourth through eighth chapters of First Chronicles. Dan's small numbers are joined here to Naphtali's, whose brother he was by the same mother [BENGEL]. The twelve times twelve thousand sealed ones of Israel are the nucleus of transfigured humanity [AUBERLEN], to which the elect Gentiles are joined, "a multitude which no man could number," Revelation 7:9 (that is, the Church of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, in which the Gentiles are the predominant element, Luke 21:24. The word "tribes," Greek, implies that believing Israelites are in this countless multitude ). Both are in heaven, yet ruling over the earth, as ministers of blessing to its inhabitants: while upon earth the world of nations is added to the kingdom of Israel. The twelve apostles stand at the head of the whole. The upper and the lower congregation, though distinct, are intimately associated.
9. no man Greek, "no one." of all nations Greek, "OUT OF every nation." The human race is "one nation" by origin, but afterwards separated itself into tribes, peoples, and tongues; hence, the one singular stands first, followed by the three plurals. kindreds Greek, "tribes." people Greek, "peoples." The "first-fruits unto the Lamb," the 144,000 (Revelation 14:1-4) of Israel, are followed by a copious harvest of all nations, an election out of the Gentiles, as the 144,000 are an election out of Israel (see note on Revelation 7:3). white robes (See note on Revelation 6:11; also Revelation 3:5, 18; 4:4). palms in . . . hands the antitype to Christ's entry into Jerusalem amidst the palm-bearing multitude. This shall be just when He is about to come visibly and take possession of His kingdom. The palm branch is the symbol of joy and triumph. It was used at the feast of tabernacles, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when they kept feast to God in thanksgiving for the ingathered fruits. The antitype shall be the completed gathering in of the harvest of the elect redeemed here described. Compare Zechariah 14:16, whence it appears that the earthly feast of tabernacles will be renewed, in commemoration of Israel's preservation in her long wilderness-like sojourn among the nations from which she shall now be delivered, just as the original typical feast was to commemorate her dwelling for forty years in booths or tabernacles in the literal wilderness.
10. cried Greek, "cry," in the three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic. It is their continuing, ceaseless employment. Salvation literally, "THE salvation"; all the praise of our salvation be ascribed to our God. At the Lord's entry into Jerusalem, the type, similarly "salvation" is the cry of the palm-bearing multitudes. Hosanna means "save us now"; taken from Psalms 118:25, in which Psalm (Psalms 118:14, 15, 21, 26) the same connection occurs between salvation, the tabernacles of the righteous, and the Jews' cry to be repeated by the whole nation at Christ's coming, "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
11. The angels, as in Revelation 5:11, in their turn take up the anthem of praise. There it was "many angels," here it is "all the angels." stood "were standing" [ALFORD].
12. Greek, "The blessing, the glory, the wisdom, the thanksgiving, the honor, the power, the might [the doxology is sevenfold, implying its totality and completeness], unto the ages of the ages."
13. answered namely, to my thoughts; spoke, asking the question which might have been expected to arise in John's mind from what has gone before. One of the twenty-four elders, representing the Old and New Testament ministry, appropriately acts as interpreter of this vision of the glorified Church. What, etc. Greek order, "These which are arrayed in white robes, WHO are they?"
14. Sir Greek, "Lord." B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic versions, and CYPRIAN read, "My Lord." A omits "My," as English Version. thou knowest taken from Ezekiel 37:3. Comparatively ignorant ourselves of divine things, it is well for us to look upward for divinely communicated knowledge. came rather as Greek, "come"; implying that they are just come. great tribulation Greek, "THE great tribulation"; "the tribulation, the great one," namely, the tribulation to which the martyrs were exposed under the fifth seal, the same which Christ foretells as about to precede His coming (Matthew 24:21, great tribulation ), and followed by the same signs as the sixth seal (Matthew 24:29, 30), compare Daniel 12:1; including also retrospectively all the tribulation which the saints of all ages have had to pass through. Thus this seventh chapter is a recapitulation of the vision of the six seals, Revelation 6:1-17, to fill up the outline there given in that part of it which affects the faithful of that day. There, however, their number was waiting to be completed, but here it is completed, and they are seen taken out of the earth before the judgments on the Antichristian apostasy; with their Lord, they, and all His faithful witnesses and disciples of past ages, wait for His coming and their coming to be glorified and reign together with Him. Meanwhile, in contrast with their previous sufferings, they are exempt from the hunger, thirst, and scorching heats of their life on earth (Revelation 7:16), and are fed and refreshed by the Lamb of God Himself (Revelation 7:17; 14:1-4, 13); an earnest of their future perfect blessedness in both body and soul united (Revelation 21:4-6; 22:1-5). washed . . . robes . . . white in the blood of . . . Lamb (Revelation 1:5; Isaiah 1:18; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; compare Isaiah 61:10; Zechariah 3:3-5). Faith applies to the heart the purifying blood; once for all for justification, continually throughout the life for sanctification.
15. Therefore because they are so washed white; for without it they could never have entered God's holy heaven; Revelation 22:14, "Blessed are those who wash their robes (the oldest manuscripts reading), that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city"; Revelation 21:27; Ephesians 5:26, 27. before Greek, "in the presence of." Matthew 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:12, "face to face." throne . . . temple These are connected because we can approach the heavenly King only through priestly mediation; therefore, Christ is at once King and Priest on His throne. day and night that is, perpetually; as those approved of as priests by the Sanhedrin were clothed in white, and kept by turns a perpetual watch in the temple at Jerusalem; compare as to the singers, 1 Chronicles 9:33, "day and night"; Psalms 134:1. Strictly "there is no night" in the heavenly sanctuary (Revelation 22:5). in his temple in what is the heavenly analogue to His temple on earth, for strictly there is "no temple therein" (Revelation 21:22), "God and the Lamb are the temple" filling the whole, so that there is no distinction of sacred and secular places; the city is the temple, and the temple the city. Compare Revelation 4:8, "the four living creatures rest not day and night, saying, Holy," etc. shall dwell among them rather (Greek, "scenosei ep' autous "), "shall be the tabernacle over them" (compare Revelation 21:3; Leviticus 26:11, especially Isaiah 4:5, 6; 8:14; 25:4; Ezekiel 37:27). His dwelling among them is to be understood as a secondary truth, besides what is expressed, namely, His being their covert. When once He tabernacled among us as the Word made flesh, He was in great lowliness; then He shall be in great glory.
16. (Isaiah 49:10). hunger no more as they did here. thirst any more (John 4:13). the sun literally, scorching in the East. Also, symbolically, the sun of persecution. neither . . . light Greek, "by no means at all . . . light" (fall). heat as the sirocco.
17. in the midst of the throne that is, in the middle point in front of the throne (Revelation 5:6). feed Greek, "tend as a shepherd." living fountains of water A, B, Vulgate, and CYPRIAN read, (eternal) "life's fountains of waters." "Living" is not supported by the old authorities.
Analysis of the Chapter
THIS chapter contains an account of the opening of six of the seven seals. It need hardly be said to any one who is at all familiar with the numerousnot to say numberlessexpositions of the Apocalypse, that it is at this point that interpreters begin to differ, and that here commences the divergence towards those various, discordant, and many of them wild and fantastic theories, which have been proposed in the exposition of this wonderful book. Up to this point, though there may be unimportant diversities in the exposition of words and phrases, there is no material difference of opinion as to the general meaning of the writer. In the epistles to the seven churches, and in the introductory scenes to the main visions, there can be no doubt, in the main, as to what the writer had in view, and what he meant to describe. He addressed churches then existing, (chaps. i.iii.,) and set before them their sins and their duties; and he described scenes passing before his eyes as then present, (chaps. iv., v.,) which were merely designed to impress his own mind with the importance of what was to be disclosed, and to bring the great actors on the stage, and in reference to which there could be little ground for diversity in the interpretation. Here, however, the scene opens into the future, comprehending all the unknown period until there shah be a final triumph of Christianity, and all its foes shall be prostrate. The actors are the Son of God, angels, men, Satan, storms, tempests, earthquakes, the pestilence and fire; the scene is heaven, earth, hell. There is no certain designation of places; there is no mention of namesas there is in Isaiah (Isa. 45:1) of Cyrus, or as there is in Daniel (Dan. 8:21; 10:20; 11:2) of the "king of Grecia ;" there is no designation of time that is necessarily unambiguous; and there are no characteristics of the symbols used that make it antecedently certain that they could be applied only to one class of events. In the boundless future that was to succeed the times of John there would be, of necessity, many events to which these symbols might be applied, and the result has shown that it has required but a moderate share of pious ingenuity to apply them, by different expositors, to events differing widely from each other in their character, and in the times when they would occur. It would be too long to glance even at the various theories which have been proposed and maintained in regard to the interpretation of the subsequent portions of the Apocalypse, and wholly impossible to attempt to examine those theories. Time, in its developments, has already exploded many of them; and time, in its future developments, will doubtless explode many more, and each one must stand or fall as in the disclosures of the future it shall be found to be true or false. It would be folly to add another to those numerous theories, even if I had any such theory, (see the Preface,) and perhaps equal folly to pronounce with certainty on any one of those which have been advanced. Yet this seems to be an appropriate place to state, in few words, what principles it is designed to pursue in the interpretation of the remainder of the book.
(1.) It may be assumed that large portions of the book relate to the future; that is, to that which was future when John wrote. In this all expositors are agreed, and this is manifest indeed on the very face of the representation. It would be impossible to attempt an interpretation on any other supposition, and somewhere in that vast future the events are to be found to which the symbols here used had reference. This is assumed, indeed, on the supposition that the book is inspired: a fact which is assumed all along in this exposition, and which should be allowed to control our interpretation. But assuming that the book relates to the future, though that supposition will do something to determine the true method of interpretation, yet it leaves many questions still unsolved. Whether it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, on the supposition that the work was written before that event, or to the history of the church subsequent to that; whether it is designed to describe events minutely, or only in the most general manner; whether it is intended to furnish a syllables of civil and ecclesiastical history, or only a very general outline of future events; whether the times are so designated that we can fix them with entire certainty; or whether it was intended to furnish any certain indication of the periods of the world when these things should occur;all these are still open questions, and it need not be said that on these the opinions of expositors have been greatly divided.
(2.) It may be assumed that there is meaning in these symbols, and that they were not used without an intention to convey some important ideas to the mind of John and to the minds of his readersto the church then, and to the church in future times. Comp. Note on Rev. 1:3.
The book is indeed surpassingly sublime. It abounds with the highest flights of poetic language. It is Oriental in its character, and exhibits everywhere the proofs of a most glowing imagination in the writer. But it is also to be borne in mind that it is an inspired book, and this fact is to determine the character of the exposition. If inspired, it is to be assumed that there is a meaning in these symbols; an idea in each one of them, and in all combined, of importance to the church and the world. Whether we can ascertain the meaning is another question; but it is never to be doubted by an expositor of the Bible that there is a meaning in the words and images employed, and that to find out that meaning is worthy of earnest study and prayer.
(3.) Predictions respecting the future are often necessarily obscure to man. It cannot be doubted, indeed, that God could have foretold future events in the most clear and unambiguous language, he who knows all that is to come as intimately as he does all the past, could have caused a record to have been made, disclosing names, and dates, and places, so that the most minute statements of what is to occur might have been in the possession of man as clearly as the records of the past now are. But there were obvious reasons why this should not occur, and in the prophecies it is rare that there is any such specification. To have done this might have been to defeat the very end in view; for it would have given to man, a free agent, the power of embarrassing or frustrating the Divine plans. But if this course is not adopted, then prophecy must, from the nature of the case, be obscure. The knowledge of any one particular fact in the future is so connected with many other facts, and often implies so much knowledge of other things, that without that other knowledge it could not be understood. Suppose that it had been predicted, in the time of John, that at some future period some contrivance should be found out by which what was doing in one part of the world could be instantaneously known in another remote part of the world, and spread abroad by thousands of copies in an hour to be read by a nation. Suppose, for instance, that there had been some symbol, or emblem representing what actually occurs now, when in a morning newspaper we read what occurred last evening at St. Louis, Dubuque, Galena, Chicago, Cincinnati, Charleston, New Orleans. It is clear that at a time when the magnetic telegraph and the printing-press were unknown, any symbol or language describing it that could be employed must be obscure, and the impression must have been that this could be accomplished only by miracleand it would not be difficult for one who was disposed to scepticism to make out an argument to prove that this could not occur. It would be impossible to explain any symbol that could be employed to represent this until these wonderful descriptions should become reality, and in the mean time the book in which the symbols were found might be regarded as made up of mere riddles and enigmas; but when these inventions should be actually found out, however much ridicule or contempt had been poured on the book before, it might be perfectly evident that the symbol was the most appropriate that could be used, and no one could doubt that it was a Divine communication of what was to be in the future. Something of the same kind may have occurred in the symbols used by the writer of the book before us.
(4.) It is not necessary to suppose that a prophecy will be understood in all its details until the prediction is accomplished. In the case just referred to, though the fact of the rapid spread of intelligence might be clear, yet nothing would convey any idea of the mode or of the actual meaning of the symbols used, unless the inventions were themselves anticipated by a direct revelation. The trial of faith in the ease would be the belief that the fact would occur, but would not relate the mode in which it was to be accomplished, or the language employed to describe it. There might be great obscurity in regard to the symbols and language, and yet the knowledge of the fact be perfectly plain. When, however, the fact should occur as predicted, all would be clear. So it is in respect to prophecy. Many recorded predictions that are now clear as noon-day, were once as ambiguous and uncertain in respect to their meaning as in the supposed case of the press and the telegraph. Time has made them plain; for the event to which they referred has so entirely corresponded with the symbol as to leave no doubt in regard to the meaning. Thus many of the prophecies relating to the Messiah were obscure at the time when they were uttered; were apparently so contradictory that they could not be reconciled; were so unlike anything that then existed, that the fulfilment seemed to be impossible; and were so enigmatical in the symbols employed, that it seemed in vain to attempt to disclose their meaning. The advent of the long-promised Messiah, however, removed the obscurity, and now they are read with no uncertainty as to their meaning, and with no doubt that those predictions, once so obscure, had a Divine origin.
The view just suggested may lead us to some just conceptions of what is necessary to be done in attempting to explain the prophecies. Suppose then, first, that there had been, say in the dark ages, some predictions that claimed to be of Divine origin, of the invention of the art of printing and of the magnetic telegraph. The proper business of an interpreter, if he regarded this as a Divine communication, would have consisted in four things:
(a) to explain, as well as he could, the fair meaning of the symbols employed, and the language used;
(b) to admit the fact referred to, and implied in the fair interpretation of the language employed, of the rapid spread of intelligence in that future period, though he could not explain how it was to be done;
(c) in the meantime it would be a perfectly legitimate object for him to inquire whether there were any events occurring in the world, or whether there had been any, to which these symbols were applicable, or which would meet all the circumstances involved in them;
(d) if there were, then his duty would be ended; if there were not, then the symbols, with such explanation as could be furnished of their meaning, should be handed on to future times to be applied when the predicted events should actually occur. Suppose then, secondly, the case of the predictions respecting the Messiah, scattered along through many books, and given in various forms, and by various symbols. The proper business of an interpreter would have been, as in the other case,
(a) to explain the fair meaning, of the language used, and to bring together all the circumstances m one connected whole, that a distinct conception of the predicted Messiah might be before the mind;
(b) to admit the facts referred to, and thus predicted, however incomprehensible and apparently contradictory they might appear to be;
(c) to inquire whether any one had appeared who combined within himself all the characteristics of the description; and
(d) if no one had thus appeared, to send on the prophecies, with such explanations of words and symbols as could be ascertained to be correct, to future times, to have their full meaning developed when the object of all the predictions should be accomplished, and the Messiah should appear. Then the meaning of all would be plain; and then the argument from prophecy would be complete. This is obviously now the proper state of the mind in regard to the predictions in the Bible, and these are the principles which should be applied in examining the book of Revelation.
(5.) It may be assumed that new light will be thrown upon the prophecies by time, and by the progress of events. It cannot be supposed that the investigations of the meaning of the prophetic symbols will all be in vain. Difficulties, it is reasonable to hope, may be cleared up; errors may be detected in regard to the application of the prophecies to particular events; and juster views on the prophecies, as on all other subjects, will prevail as the world grows older. We become wiser by seeing the errors of those who have gone before us, and an examination of the causes which led them astray may enable us to avoid such errors in the future. :Especially may it be supposed that light will be thrown on the prophecies as they shall be in part or wholly fulfilled. The prophecies respecting the destruction of Babylon, of Petra, of Tyre, of Jerusalem, are now fully understood; the prophecies respecting the advent of the Messiah, and his character and work, once so obscure, are now perfectly clear. So, we have reason to suppose, it will be with all prophecy in the progress of events, and sooner or later the world will settle down into some uniform belief in regard to the design and meaning of these portions of the sacred writings. Whether the time has yet come for this, or whether numerous other failures are to be added to the melancholy catalogue of past failures on this subject, is another question; but ultimately all the now unfulfilled prophecies will be as clear as to their meaning as are those which have been already fulfilled.
(6.) The plan, therefore, which I propose in the examination of the remaining portion of the Apocalypse is the following:
(a) To explain the meaning of the symbols; that is, to show, as clearly as possible, what those symbols properly express, independently of any attempt to apply them. This opens, of itself, an interesting field of investigation, and one where essential service may be done, even if nothing further is intended. Without any reference to the application of those symbols, this, of itself, is an important work of criticism, and, if successfully done, would be rendering a valuable service to the readers of the sacred volume.
(b) To state, as briefly as possible, what others who have written on this book, and who have brought eminent learning and talent to bear on its interpretation, have supposed to be the true interpretation of the symbols employed by John, and in regard to the times in which the events referred to would occur. It is in this way only that we can be made acquainted with the real progress made in interpreting this book, and it will be useful at least to know how the subject has struck other minds, and how and why they have failed to perceive the truth. I propose therefore to state, as I go along, some of the theories which have been held as to the meaning of the Apocalypse, and as to the events which have been supposed by others to be referred to. My limits require, however, that this should be briefly done, and forbid my attempting to examine those opinions at length.
(c) To state, in as brief and clear a manner as possible, the view which I have been led to entertain as to the proper application of the symbols employed in the book, with such historical references as shall seem to me to confirm the interpretation proposed.
(d) Where I cannot form an opinion as to the meaning, to confess my ignorance. He does no service in a professed interpretation of the Bible who passes over a difficulty without attempting to remove it, or who, to save his own reputation, conceals the fact that there is a real difficulty; and he does as little service who is unwilling to confess his ignorance on many points, or who attempts an explanation where he has no clear and settled views. As his opinion can be of no value to any one else unless it is based on reasons in his own mind that will bear examination, so it can usually be of little value unless those reasons are stated. It is as important for his readers to have those reasons before their own minds as it is for him; and unless he has it in his power to state reasons for what he advances, his opinions can be worth nothing to the world. He who lays down this rule of interpretation may expect to have ample opportunity in interpreting such a book as the Apocalypse to confess his ignorance; but he who interprets a book which he believes to be inspired may console himself with the thought that what is now obscure will be clear hereafter, and that he performs the best service which he can if he endeavours to explain the book up to the time in which he lives. There will be developments hereafter which win make that clear which is now obscure; developments which will make this book, in all past ages apparently so enigmatical, as clear as any other portion of the inspired volume, as it is now, even with the imperfect view which we may have of its meaning, beyond all question one of the most sublime books that has ever been written.
This chapter describes the opening of the first six seals.
(1.) The first discloses a white horse with a rider armed with a bow. A crown is given to him, symbolical of triumph and prosperity, and he goes forth to conquer, Rev. 6:1, 2.
(2.) The second discloses a red-coloured horse with a rider. The emblem is that of bloodof sanguinary war. Power is given him to take peace from the earth, and a sword is given himemblem of war, but not of certain victory. Triumph and prosperity are denoted by the former symbol; war, discord, bloodshed by this, Rev. 6:3, 4.
(3.) The third discloses a black horse with a rider. He has a pair of balances in his hand, as if there were scarcity in the earth, and he announces the price of grain in the times of this calamity, and a command is given not to hurt the oil and the wine, Rev. 6:5, 6. The emblem is that of scarcityas if there were oppression, or as a consequence of war or discord, while at the same time there is care bestowed to preserve certain portions of the produce of the earth from injury.
(4.) The fourth discloses a pale horse with a rider. The name of this rider is Death, and Hell, or Hades, follows himas if the hosts of the dead came again on the earth. Power is given to the rider over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and with wild beasts. This emblem would seem to denote war, wide-wasting pestilence, famine, and desolationas if wild beasts were suffered to roam over lands that had been inhabited: something of which paleness would be an emblem. Here ends the array of horses; and it is evidently intended by these four symbols to refer to a series of events that have a general resemblancesomething that could be made to stand by themselves, and that could be grouped together.
(5.) The fifth seal opens a new scene. The horse and the rider no longer appear. It is not a scene of war, and of the consequences of war, but a scene of persecution. The souls of those who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they held are seen under the altar, praying to God that he would avenge their blood. White robes are given themtokens of the Divine favour, and emblems of their ultimate triumph; and they are commanded to "rest for a little season, till their fellow-servants and their brethren that should be killed as they were should be fulfilled:" that is, that they should be patient until the number of the martyrs was filled up. In other words, there was
(a) the assurance of the Divine favour towards them;
(b) vengeance, or the punishment of those who had persecuted them, would not be immediate; but
(c) there was the implied assurance that just punishment would be inflicted on their persecutors, and that the cause for which they had suffered would ultimately triumph, Rev. 6:9-11.
(6.) The opening of the sixth seal, Rev. 6:12-17. There was an earthquake, and the sun became dark, and the moon was turned to blood, and the stars fell, and all kings and people were filled with consternation. This symbol properly denotes a time of public commotion, of revolution, of calamity; and it was evidently to be fulfilled by some great changes on the earth, or by the overturning of the seats of power, and by such sudden revolutions as would fill the nations with alarm.
1. And I saw. Or, I looked. He fixed his eye attentively on what was passing, as promising important disclosures. No one had been found in the universe who could open the seals but the Lamb of God, (Rev. 5:2-4) and it was natural for John, therefore, to look upon the transaction with profound interest.
When the Lamb opened one of the seals. See Note on Rev. 5:1, seq. This was the first or outermost of the seals, and its being broken would permit a certain portion of the volume to be unrolled and read. See Note on Rev. 5:1.
The representation in this place is, therefore, that of a volume with a small portion unrolled, and written on both sides of the parchment.
And I heard, as it were the noise of thunder. One of the four living creatures speaking as with a voice of thunder, or with a loud voice.
One of the four beasts. See Notes on Rev. 4:6, Rev. 4:7.
The particular one is not mentioned, though what is said in the subsequent verses leaves no doubt that it was the first in order as seen by John-the one like a lion, Rev. 4:7. In the opening of the three following seals, it is expressly said that it was the second, the third, and the fourth of the living creatures that drew near, and hence the conclusion is certain that the one here referred to was the first.
If the four living creatures be understood to be emblematic of the Divine providential administration, then there was a propriety that they should be represented as summoning John to witness what was to be disclosed. These events pertained to the developments of the Divine purposes, and these emblematic beings would therefore be interested in what was occurring.
Come and see. Addressed evidently to John. He was requested to approach and see with his own eyes what was disclosed in the portion of the volume now unrolled. He had wept much (Rev. 5:4) that no one was found who was worthy to open that book, but he was now called on to approach and see for himself. Some have supposed (Lord, in loc.) that the address here was not to John, but to the horse and his rider, and that the command to them was not to "come and see," but to come forth, and appear on the stage, and that the act of the Redeemer in breaking the seal, and unrolling the scroll, was nothing more than an emblem signifying that it was by his act that the Divine purposes were to be unfolded. But, in order to this interpretation, it would be necessary to omit from the received text the words kai blepe"and see." This is done indeed by Hahn and Tittman, and this reading is followed by Professor Stuart, though he says that the received text has "probability" in its favour, and is followed by some of the critical editions. The most natural interpretation, however, is that the words were addressed to John. John saw the Lamb open the seal; he heard the loud voice; he looked and beheld a white horsethat is, evidently, he looked on the unfolding volume, and saw the representation of a horse and his rider. That the voice was addressed to John is the common interpretation, is the most natural, and is liable to no real objection.
2. And I saw, and behold. A question has arisen as to the mode of representation here: whether what John saw in these visions was a series of pictures, drawn on successive portions of the volume as one seal was broken after another; or whether the description of the horses and of the events was written on the volume, so that John read it himself or heard it read by another; or whether the opening of the seal was merely the occasion of a scenic representation, in which a succession of horses was introduced, with a written statement of the events which are referred to. Nothing is indeed said by which this can be determined with certainty; but the most probable supposition would seem to be that there was some pictorial representation in form and appearance, such as he describes in the opening of the six seals. In favour of this it may be observed
(1) that, according to the interpretation of Rev. 6:1, it was something in or on the volumesince he was invited to draw nearer, in order that he might contemplate it.
(2.) Each one of the things under the first five seals where John uses the word "saw," is capable of being represented by a picture or painting.
(3.) The language used is not such as would have been employed if he had merely read the description, or had heard it read.
(4.) The supposition that the pictorial representation was not in the volume, but that the opening of the seal was the occasion merely of causing a scenic representation to pass before his mind, is unnatural and forced. What would be the use of a sealed volume in that case? What the use of the writing within and without? On this supposition the representation would be that, as the successive seals were broken, nothing was disclosed in the volume but a succession of blank portions, and that the mystery or the difficulty was not in anything in the volume, but in the want of ability to summon forth these successive scenic representations. The most obvious interpretation is, undoubtedly, that what John proceeds to describe was in some way represented in the volume; and the idea of a succession of pictures or drawings better accords with the whole representation than the idea that it was a mere written description. In fact, these successive scenes could be well represented now in a pictorial form on a scroll.
And behold a white horse. In order to any definite understanding of what was denoted by these symbols, it is proper to form in our minds, in the first place, a clear conception of what the symbol properly represents, or an idea of what it would naturally convey. It may be assumed that the symbol was significant, and that there was some reason why that was used rather than another; why, for instance, a horse was employed rather than an eagle or a lion; why a white horse was employed in one case, and a red one, a black one, a pale one in the others; why in this case a bow was in the hand of the rider, and a crown was placed on his head. Each one of these particulars enters into the constitution of the symbol; and we must find something in the event which fairly corresponds with eachfor the symbol is made up of all these things grouped together. It may be farther observed, that where the general symbol is the sameas in the opening of the first four sealsit may be assumed that the same object or class of objects is referred to; and the particular things denoted, or the diversity in the general application, is to be found in the variety in the representationthe colour, etc., of the horse, and the arms, apparel, etc., of the rider. The specifications under the first seal are four:
(1) the general symbol of the horsecommon to the first four seals;
(2) the colour of the horse;
(3) the fact that he that sat on him had a bow; and
(4) that a crown was given him by some one as indicative of victory. The question now is, what these symbols would naturally denote.
3. And when he had opened the second seal. So as to disclose another portion of the volume. See Note on Rev. 5:1.
I heard the second beast say. The second beast was like a calf or an ox. See Note on Rev. 4:7.
It cannot be supposed that there is any special significancy in the fact that the second beast addressed the seer on the opening of the second seal, or that, so far as the symbol was concerned, there was any reason why this living creature should approach on the opening of this seal rather than on either of the others. All that seems to be designed is, that as the living creatures are intended to be emblems of the providential government of God, it was proper to represent that government as concerned in the opening of each of these four seals indicating important events among the nations.
Come and see. See Note on Rev. 6:1.
4. And there went out another horse. In this symbol there were, as in the others, several particulars which it is proper to explain in order that we may be able to understand its application. The particular things in the symbol are the following:
(a) The horse. See Note on Rev. 6:2.
(b) The colour of the horse: another horse that was red. This symbol cannot be mistaken. As the white horse denoted prosperity, triumph, and happiness, so this would denote carnage, discord, bloodshed. This is clear, not only from the nature of the emblem, but from the explanation immediately added: "And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another," On the colour, compare Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. lib. ii. c. vii. p. 104. See also Zech. 1:8. There is no possibility of mistaking this, that a time of slaughter is denoted by this emblem.
(c) The power given to him that sat on the horse: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. This would seem to indicate that the condition immediately preceding this was a condition of tranquillity, and that this was now disturbed by some cause producing discord and bloodshed. This idea is confirmed by the original wordsthn eirhnhn"the peace;" that is, the previously existing peace. When peace in general is referred to, the word is used without the article: Matt. 10:34, "Think not that I came to send peacebalein eirhnhn the earth." Compare Luke 1:79; 2:14; 19:38; Mark 5:34; John 14:27; 16:33
Acts 7:26; 9:31, et al. in the Greek. In these cases, the word peace is without the article. The characteristics of the period referred to by this, are
(a) that peace and tranquillity existed before;
(b) that such peace and tranquillity were now taken away, and were succeeded by confusion and bloodshed; and
(c) that the particular form of that confusion was civil discord, producing mutual slaughter: "that they should kill one another."
(d) The presentation of a sword: and there was given unto him a great sword. As an emblem of what he was to do, or of the period that was referred to by the opening of the seal. The sword is an emblem of war, of slaughter, of authority, (Rom. 13:4) and is here used as signifying that that period would be characterized by carnage. Compare Isa. 34:5; Rev. 19:17-18; Lev. 26:25; Gen. 27:40; Matt. 10:34; 26:52.
It is not said by whom the sword was presented, but the fact is merely referred to, that the rider was presented with a sword as a symbol of what would occur.
In inquiring now into the period referred to by this symbol, we naturally look to that which immediately succeeded the one which was represented by the opening of the first seal; that is, the period which followed the accession of Commodus, A.D. 180. We shall find, in the events which succeeded his accession to the empire, a state of things which remarkably accords with the account given by John in this emblemso much so, that if it were supposed that the book was written after these events had occurred, and that John had designed to represent them by this symbol, he could not have selected a more appropriate emblem. The only authority which it is necessary to refer to here is Mr. Gibbon; who, as before remarked, seems to have been raised up by a special Providence to make a record of those events which were referred to by some of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible. As he had the highest qualifications for an historian, his statements may be relied on as accurate; and as he had no belief in the inspiration of the prophetic records, his testimony will not be charged with partiality in their favour. The following particulars, therefore, will furnish a full illustration of the opening of the second seal:
(a) The previous state of peace. This is implied in the expression, "and power was given to him to take peace from the earth." Of this we have had a full confirmation in the peaceful reign of Hadrian and the Antonines. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the accession of Commodus to the imperial throne, says that he "had nothing to wish, and everything to enjoy. The beloved son of Marcus [Commodus] succeeded his father amidst the acclamations of the senate and armies; and when he ascended the throne, the happy youth saw around him neither competitor to remove, nor enemies to punish. In this calm elevated station, it was surely natural that he should prefer the love of mankind to their detestation; the mild glories of his five predecessors to the ignominious fate of Nero and Domitian," i. 51. So again, on the same page, he says of Commodus, "His graceful person, popular address, and undisputed virtues, attracted the public favour; the honourable peace which he had recently granted to the barbarians diffused an universal joy." No one can doubt that the accession of Commodus was preceded by a remarkable prevalence of peace and prosperity.
(b) Civil war and bloodshed: to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. Of the applicability of this to the time supposed to be represented by this seal, we have the fullest confirmation in the series of civil wars commencing with the assassination of the emperor Commodus, A.D. 193, and continued with scarcely any intervals of intermission for eighty or ninety years. So Sismondi, on the fall of the Roman empire, (i. 36,) says, "With Commodus' death commenced the third and most calamitous period. It lasted ninety-two years, from 193 to 284. During that time, thirty-two emperors, and twenty-seven pretenders to the empire, alternately hurried each other from the throne, by incessant civil warfare. Ninety-two years of almost incessant civil warfare taught the world on what a frail foundation the virtue of the Antonines had reared the felicity of the empire." The full history of this period may be seen in Gibbon, i. pp. 50197. Of course, it is impossible in these Notes to present anything like a complete account of the characteristics of those times. Yet the briefest summary may well show the general condition of the Roman empire then, and the propriety of representing it by the symbol of a red horse, as a period when peace would be taken from the earth, and when men would kill one another. Commodus himself is represented by Mr. Gibbon in the following words: "Commodus was not, as he has been represented, a tiger borne with an insatiate thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions. Nature had formed him of a weak rather than a wicked disposition. His simplicity and timidity rendered him the slave of his attendants, who gradually corrupted his mind. His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the ruling passion of his soul," i. 51. During the first three years of his reign, "his hands were yet unstained with blood," (ibid.,) but he soon degenerated into a most severe and bloody tyrant, and "when Commodus had once tasted human blood, he was incapable of pity or remorse," i. 52. "The tyrant's rage," says Mr. Gibbon, (i. 62,) "after having shed the noblest blood of the senate, at length recoiled on the principal instrument of his cruelty. While Commodus was immersed in blood and luxury he devolved the detail of public business on Perennis, a servile and ambitious minister, who had obtained his post by the murder of his predecessors," etc. "Every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in the mind of Commodus," i. 55. After detailing the history of his crimes, his follies, and his cruelties, Mr. Gibbon remarks of him: "His cruelty proved at last fatal to himself. He had shed with impunity the best blood of Rome: he perished as soon as he was dreaded by his own domestics. Marcia, his favourite concubine, Eclectus, his chamberlain, and Laetus, his pretorian prefect, alarmed by the fate of their companions and predecessors, resolved to prevent the destruction which every hour hung over their heads, either from the mad caprice of the tyrant, or the sudden indignation of the people. Marcia seized the occasion of presenting a draught of wine to her lover, after he had fatigued himself with hunting some wild beasts. Commodus retired to sleep; but while he was labouring with the effects of poison and drunkenness, a robust youth, by profession a wrestler, entered his chamber, and strangled him without resistance," i. 57. The immediate consequence of the assassination of Commodus was the elevation of Pertinax to the throne, and his murder eighty-six days after.Decline and Fall, i. 60. Then followed the public setting-up of the empire to sale by the pretorian guards, and its purchase by a wealthy Roman senator, Didius Julianus, or Julian, who, "on the throne of the world, found himself without a friend and without an adherent," i. 63. "The streets and public places in Rome resounded with clamours and imprecations." "The public discontent was soon diffused from the centre to the frontiers of the empire," i. 63. In the midst of this universal indignation, Septimius Severus, who then commanded the army in the neighbourhood of the Danube, resolved to avenge the death of Pertinax, and to seize upon the imperial crown. He marched to Rome, overcame the feeble Julian, and placed himself on the throne. Julian, after having reigned sixty-six days, was beheaded in a private apartment of the baths of the palace, i. 67. "In less than four years, Severus subdued the riches of the East, and the valour of the West. He vanquished two competitors of reputation and ability, and defeated numerous armies provided with weapons and discipline equal to his own," i. 68. Mr. Gibbon then enters into a detail of "the two civil wars against Niger and Albinus"rival competitors for the empire, (i. 68-70,) both of whom were vanquished, and both of whom were put to death "in their flight from the field of battle." Yet he says, "Although the wounds of civil war were apparently healed, its mortal poison still lurked in the vitals of the constitution," i. 71. After the death of Severus, then follows an account of the contentions between his sons, Geta and Caracalla, and of the death of the former by the instigation of the latter, (i. 77;) then of the remorse of Caracalla, in which it is said that "his disordered fancy often beheld the angry forms of his father and his brother rising into life to threaten and upbraid him," (i. 77;) then of the cruelties which Caracalla inflicted on the friends of Geta, in which "it was computed that, under the vague appellation of the friends of Get, above twenty thousand persons of both sexes suffered death," (i. 78;) then of the departure of Caracalla from the capital, and his cruelties in other parts of the empire, concerning which Mr. Gibbon remarks, (i. 78, 79;) that "Caracalla was the common enemy of mankind. Every province was by turns the scene of his rapine and cruelty. In the midst of peace and repose, upon the slightest provocation, he issued his commands at Alexandria in Egypt for a general massacre. From a secure post in the temple of Serapis, he viewed and directed the slaughter of many thousand citizens, as well as strangers, without distinguishing either the number or the crime of the sufferers," etc. Then follows the account of the assassination of Caracalla, (i. 80;) then, and in consequence of that, of the civil war which crushed Macrinus, and raised Elagabalus to the throne, (i. 83;) then of the life and follies of that wretched voluptuary, and of his massacre by the pretorian guards, (i. 86;) then, after an interval of thirteen years, of the murder of his successor, the second Severus, on the Rhine; then of the civil wars excited against his murderer and successor, Maximin, in which the two emperors of a daythe Gordians, father and sonperished in Africa, and Maximin himself, and his son, in the siege of Aquileia; then of the murder at Rome of the two joint emperors, Maximus and Balbinus; and quickly after that an account of the murder of their successor in the empire, the third and youngest Gordian, on the banks of the river Aboras; then of the slaughter of the next emperor Philip, together with his son and associate in the empire, in the battle near Verona:and this state of things may be said to have continued until the accession of Diocletian to the empire, A. D. 284. See Decline and Fall, i. 110-197. Does any portion of the history of the world present a similar period of connected history that would be so striking a fulfilment of the symbols used here of "peace being taken from the earth," and "men killing one another?" In regard to this whole period it is sufficient, after reading Mr. Gibbon's account, to ask two questions:
(1.) If it were supposed that John lived after this period, and designed to represent this by an expressive symbol, could he have found one that would have characterized it better than this does?
(2.) And if it should be supposed that Mr. Gibbon designed to write a commentary on this "seal," and to show the exact fulfilment of the symbol, could he have selected a better portion of history to do it, or could he have better described facts that would be a complete fulfilment? It is only necessary to observe further,
(c) that this is a marked and definite period. It has such a beginning, and such a continuance and ending, as to show that this symbol was applicable to this as a period of the world. For it was not only preceded by a state of peace, as is supposed in the symbol, but no one can deny that the condition of things in the empire, from Commodus onward through many years, was such as to be appropriately designated by the symbol here used.
5, 6. And when he had opened the third seal. Unfolding another portion of the volume. See Note on Rev. 5:1.
I heard the third beast say, Come and see. See Note on Rev. 4:7.
It is not apparent why the third beast is represented as taking a particular interest in the opening of this seal, (See Note on Rev. 6:3) nor is it necessary to show why it was so. The general design seems to have been, to represent each one of the four living creatures as interested in the opening of the seals, but the order in which they did this does not seem to be a matter of importance.
And I beheld, and lo, a black horse. The specifications of the symbol here are the following:
(a) As before, the horse.
(b) The colour of the horse: lo, a black horse. This would properly denote distress and calamityfor black has been regarded always as such a symbol. So Virgil speaks of fear as black: "atrumque timorem."AEn, ix. 619. So again, Georg. iv. 468:
"Caligantem nigra formidine Iucum."
So, as applied to the dying Acca, AEn. xii. 823:
"Tenebris nigrescunt omnia circum."
Black, in the Scriptures, is the image of fear, of famine, of death. Lam. 5:10: "Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine." Jer. 14:2: "Because of the drought Judah mourneth, and tile gates thereof languish; they are in deep mourning [literally, black] for the land." Joel 2:6: "All faces shall gather blackness." Nahum 2:10: "The knees smite together, and there is great pain in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness." Compare Rev. 6:12; Ezek. 32:7. See also Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. lib. ii. c. vii. pp. 106, 107. From the colour of the horse here introduced, we should naturally look for some dire calamity, though the nature of the calamity would not be designated by the mere use of the word black. What the calamity was to be, must be determined by what follows in the symbol. Famine, pestilence, oppression, heavy taxation, tyranny, invasionany of these might be denoted by the colour of the horse.
(c) The balances: and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. The original word, here rendered a pair of balances, is zugon. This word properly means a yoke, serving to couple anything together, as a yoke for cattle. Hence it is used to denote the beam of a balance, or of a pair of scalesand is evidently so used here. The idea is, that something was to be weighed, in order to ascertain either its quantity or its value. Scales or balances are the emblems of justice or equity, (compare Job 31:6; Psa. 62:9; Prov. 11:1; 16:11) and when joined with symbols that denote the sale of corn and fruit by weight, become the symbol of scarcity. Thus "bread by weight" (Lev. 26:26) denotes scarcity. So in Ezek. 4:16, "And they shall eat bread by weight." The use of balances here as a symbol would signify that something was to be accurately and carefully weighed out. The connexion leads us to suppose that this would appertain to the necessaries of life, and that it would occur either in consequence of scarcity, or because there would be an accurate or severe exaction, as in collecting a revenue on these articles. The balance was commonly the symbol of equity and justice; but it was also, sometimes, the symbol of exaction and oppression, as in Hos. 12:7: "The balance of deceit is in his hands: he loveth to oppress." If the balances stood alone, and there were no proclamation as to what was to occur, we should look, under this seal, to a time of the exact administration of justice, as scales or balances are now used as emblems of the rigid application of the laws and of the principles of justice in courts, or in public affairs. If this representation stood alone, or if the black horse and the scales constituted the whole of the symbol, we should look for some severe administration, or perhaps some heavy calamity under a rigorous administration of laws. The reference, however, to the "wheat and barley," and to the price for which they were to be weighed out, serves still further to limit and define the meaning of the symbol as having reference to the necessaries of lifeto the productions of the landto the actual capital of the country. Whether this refers to scarcity, or to taxation, or both, must be determined by the other parts of the symbol.
(d) The proclamation: And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say. That is, from the throne, Rev. 4:6. The voice was not that of one of the four beasts, but it seemed to come from among them. As the rider went forth, this was the proclamation that was made in regard to him; or this is that which is symbolized in his going forth, to wit, that there would be such a state of things that a measure of wheat would be sold for a penny, etc. The proclamation consists essentially of two thingsthat which refers to the price or value of wheat and barley, and that which requires that care shall be taken not to injure the oil and the wine. Each of these demands explanation.
A measure of wheat for a penny. See Rev. 9:4. The word rendered measurecoinix, choenixdenotes an Attic measure for grain and things dry, equal to the forty-eighth part of the Attic medimnus, or the eighth part of the Roman modius, and consequently was nearly equivalent to one quart English.Rob. Lex. The word rendered penny, dhnarionLat. denariuswas of the same value as the Greek dracmh, drachme, and was equivalent to about fourteen cents of our money. This was the usual price of a day's labour, Matt. 20:2, 9. The choenix, or measure of grain here referred to, was the ordinary daily allowance for one man.Odyss. xix. 27, 28. See Stuart, in loc. The common price of the Attic medimnus of wheat was five or six denarii; but here, as that contained forty-eight choenixes, or quarts, the price would be augmented to forty-eight denariior it would be about eight times as dear as ordinary; that is, there would be a scarcity or famine. The price of a bushel of wheat at this rate would be about four dollars and a half of our moneya price which would indicate great scarcity, and which would give rise to much distress.
And three measures of barley for a penny. It would seem from this that barley usually bore about one-third the price of wheat. It was a less valuable grain, and perhaps was produced in greater abundance. This is not far from the proportion which the price of this grain usually bears to that of wheat, and here, as in the case of the wheat, the thing which would be indicated would be scarcity. This proclamation of "a measure of wheat for a penny" was heard either as addressed to the horseman, as a rule of action for him, or as addressed by the horseman as he went forth. If the former is the meaning, it would be an appropriate address to one who was going forth to collect tributewith reference to the exact manner in which this tribute was to be collected, implying some sort of severity of exaction; or to one who should distribute wheat and barley out of the public granaries at an advanced price, indicating scarcity. Thus it would mean that a severe and heavy taxrepresented by the scales and the scarcityor a tax so severe as to make grain dear, was referred to. If the latter is the meaning, then the idea is that there would be a scarcity, and that grain would be dealt out by the government at a high and oppressive price. The latter idea would be as consonant with the symbol of the scales and the price mentioned as the other, if it were not for the additional injunction not to "hurt the oil and the wine"which cannot be well applied to the idea of dealing out grain at a high price. It can, however, be connected, by a fair interpretation of that passage, with such a severity of taxation that there would be a propriety in such a commandfor, as we shall see, under the explanation of that phrase, such a law was actually promulgated as resulting from severity of taxation. The idea, then, in the passage before us would seem to be,
(a) that there would be a rigid administration of the law in regard to the matter under considerationthat pertaining to the productions of the earthrepresented by the balances; and
(b) that that would be connected with general scarcity, or such an exercise of this power as to determine the price of grain, so that the price would be some three times greater than ordinary.
And see that thou hurt not the oil and the wine. There has been a great variety of interpretations proposed of this passage, and it is by no means easy to determine the true sense. The first inquiry in regard to it is, to whom is it addressed? Perhaps the most common impression on reading it would be, that it is addressed to the horseman with the balances, commanding him not to injure the oliveyards and the vineyards. But this is not probably the correct view. It does not appear that the horseman goes forth to destroy anything, or that the effect of his going forth is directly to injure anything. This, therefore, should not be understood as addressed to the horseman, but should be regarded as a general command to any and all not to injure the oliveyards and vineyards; that is, an order that nothing should be done essentially to injure them. If thus regarded as addressed to others, a fair and congruous meaning would be furnished by either of the following interpretations:either
(a) considered as addressed to those who were disposed to be prodigal in their manner of living, or careless as to the destruction of the crop of the oil and wine, as they would now be needed; or
(b) as addressed to those who raised such productions, on the supposition that they would be taxed heavily, or that large quantities of these productions would be extorted for revenue, that they should not mutilate their fruit-trees in order to evade the taxes imposed by the government. In regard to the things specified hereoil and wineit may be remarked, that they were hardly considered as articles of luxury in ancient times. They were almost as necessary articles as wheat and barley. They constituted a considerable part of the food and drink of the people, as well as furnished a large portion of the revenue, and it would seem to be with reference to that fact that the command here is given that they should not be injured; that is, that nothing should be done to diminish the quantity of oil and wine, or to impair the productive power of oliveyards and vineyards. The state of things thus described by this seal, as thus interpreted, would be,
(a) a rigid administration of the laws of the empire, particularly in reference to taxation, producing a scarcity among the necessary articles of living;
(b) a strong tendency, from the severity of the taxation, to mutilate such kinds of property, with a view either of concealing the real amount of property, or of diminishing the amount of taxes; and
(c) a solemn command from some authoritative quarter not to do this. A command from the ruling power not to do this would meet all that would be fairly demanded in the interpretation of the passage; and what is necessary in its application, is to find such a state of things as would correspond with these predictions; that is, such as a writer would have described by such symbols on the supposition that they were referred to.
Now, it so happens that there were important events which occurred in the Roman empire, and connected with its decline and fall, of sufficient importance to be noticed in a series of calamitous events, which corresponded with the symbol here, as above explained. They were such as these:
(a) The general severity of taxation, or the oppressive burdens laid on the people by the emperors. In the account which Mr. Gibbon gives of the operation of the Indictions, and Superindictions, though the specific laws on this subject pertained to a subsequent period, the general nature of the taxation of the empire and its oppressive character may be seemDecline and Fall, i. 357-359. A general estimate of the amount of revenue to be exacted was made out, and the collecting of this was committed to the Pretorian prefects, and to a great number of subordinate officers. "The lands were measured by surveyors who were sent into the provinces; their nature, whether arable, or pasture, or woods, was distinctly reported; and an estimate made of their common value, from the average produce of five years. The number of slaves and of cattle constituted an essential part of the report; an oath was administered to the proprietors which bound them to disclose the true state of their affairs; and their attempts to prevaricate or elude the intention of the legislature were severely watched, and punished as a capital crime, which included the double guilt of treason and of sacrilege. According to the different nature of lands, their real produce in the various articles of wine or oil, corn or barley, wood or iron, was transported by the labour or at the expense of the provincials to the imperial magazines, from whence they were occasionally distributed for the use of the court or of tile army, and of the two capitals, Rome and Constantinople," i.p. 358. Comp. Lactant. de Mort. Persecut. c. 23.
(b) The particular order, under this oppressive system of taxation, respecting the preservation of vineyards and oliveyards, may be referred to, also, as corresponding to the command sent forth under this rider, not to "hurt the oil and the wine." That order was in the following words: "If any one shall sacrilegiously cut a vine, or stint the fruit of prolific boughs, and craftily feign poverty in order to avoid a fair assessment, he shall immediately on detection suffer death, and his property be confiscated."Cod. Theod. 1. xiii. lib. xi. seq.; Gibbon, i. 358, note. Mr. Gibbon remarks, "Although this law is not without its studied obscurity, it is, however, clear enough to prove the minuteness of the inquisition and the disproportion of the penalty."
(c) Under this general subject of the severity of taxationas a fact far-spreading and oppressive, and as so important as to hasten the downfall of the empire, may be noticed a distinct edict of Caracalla as occurring more directly in the period in which the rider with the balances may be supposed to have gone forth. This is stated by Mr. Gibbon, (i. 91,) as one of the important causes which contributed to the downfall of the empire. "The personal characters of the emperors, their victories, laws, and fortunes," says he, "can interest us no farther than they are connected with the general history of the decline and fall of the monarchy. Our constant attention to that object will not suffer us to overlook a most important edict of Antoninus Caracalla, which communicated to all the free inhabitants of the empire the name and privileges of Roman citizens. His unbounded liberality flowed not, however, from the sentiments of a generous mind: it was the sordid result of avarice," etc. He then proceeds, at length, to state the nature and operations of that law, by which a heavy tax, under the pretence of liberality, was in fact imposed on all the citizens of the empirea fact which, in its ultimate results, the historian of the Decline and Fall regards as so closely connected with the termination of the empire. See Gibbon, i. pp. 91-95. After noticing the laws of Augustus, Nero, and the Antonines, and the real privileges conferred by them on those who became entitled to the rank of Roman citizensprivileges which were a compensation in the honour, dignity, and offices of that rank for the measure of taxation which it involved, he proceeds to notice the fact that the title of "Roman citizen" was conferred by Caracalla on all the free citizens of the empire, involving the subjection to all the heavy taxes usually imposed on those who sustained the rank expressed by the title, but with nothing of the compensation connected with the title when it was confined to the inhabitants of Italy. "But the favour," says he, "which implied a distinction, was lost in the prodigality of Caracalla, and the reluctant provincials were compelled to assume the vain title, and the real obligations, of Roman citizens. Nor was the rapacious son of Severus [Caracalla] contented with such a measure of taxation as had appeared sufficient to his moderate predecessors. Instead of a twentieth, he exacted a tenth of all legacies and inheritances; and during his reign he crushed alike every part of the empire under the weight of his iron sceptre," i. 95. So again, (ibid.,) speaking of the taxes which had been lightened somewhat by Alexander, Mr. Gibbon remarks, "It is impossible to conjecture the motive that engaged him to spare so trifling a remnant of the soil; but the noxious weed, which find not been totally eradicated, again sprung up with the most luxuriant growth, and in the succeeding age darkened the Roman world with its deadly shade. In the course of this history, we shall be too often summoned to explain the land-tax, the capitation, and the heavy contributions of corn, wine, oil, and meat, which were exacted of the province for the use of the court, the army, and the capital." In reference to this whole matter of taxation as being one of the things which contributed to the downfall of the empire, and which spread woe through the falling empirea woe worthy to be illustrated by one of the sealsa confirmation may be derived from the reign of Galerius, who, as Caesar, acted under the authority of Diocletian; who excited Diocletian to the work of persecution, (Decline and Fall, i. 317, 318;) and who, on the abdication of Diocletian, assumed the title of Augustus.- Decline and Fall, i. 222. Of his administration in general, Mr. Gibbon (i. 226) remarks: "About that time, the avarice of Galerius, or perhaps the exigencies of the state, had induced him to make a very strict and rigorous inquisition into the property of his subjects for the purpose of a general taxation, both on their lands and on their persons. A very minute survey appears to have been taken of their real estates; and wherever there was the slightest concealment, torture was very freely employed to obtain a sincere declaration of their real wealth." Of the nature of this exaction under Galerius; of the cruelty with which the measure was prosecutedparticularly in its bearing on Christians, towards whom Galerius cherished a mortal enmity, (Decline and Fall, i. 317;) and of the extent and severity of the suffering among Christians and others, caused by it, the following account of Lactantius (De Mort. Persecut. c. 23) will furnish a painful but most appropriate illustration:"Swarms of exactors sent into the provinces and cities filled them with agitation and terror, as though a conquering enemy were leading them into captivity. The fields were separately measured, the trees and vines, the flocks and herds numbered, and an examination made of the men. In the cities, the cultivated and rude were united as of the same rank. The streets were crowded with groups of families, and every one required to appear with his children and slaves. Tortures and lashes resounded on every side. Sons were gibbeted in the presence of their parents, and the most confidential servants harassed that they might make disclosures against their masters, and wives that they might testify unfavourably of their husbands. If there were a total destitution of property, they were still tortured to make acknowledgments against themselves, and, when overcome by pain, inscribed for what they did not possess. Neither age nor ill-health was admitted as an excuse for not appearing. The sick and weak were borne to the place of inscription, a reckoning made of the age of each, and years added to the young and deducted from the old, in order to subject them to a higher taxation than the law imposed. The whole scene was filled with wailing and sadness. In the mean time individuals died, and the herds and the flocks diminished, yet tribute was none the less required to be paid for the dead, so that it was no longer allowed either to live or die without a tax. Mendicants alone escaped, where nothing could be wrenched, and whom misfortune and misery had made incapable of farther oppression. These the impious wretch affecting to pity, that they might not suffer want, ordered to be assembled, borne off in vessels, and plunged into the sea." See Lord on the Apoc. pp. 128, 129. These facts in regard to the severity of taxation, and the rigid nature of the law enforcing it; to the sources of the revenue exacted in the provinces, and to the care that none of those sources should be diminished; and to the actual and undoubted bearing of all this on the decline and fall of the empire, are so strikingly applicable to the symbol here employed, that if it be supposed that it was intended to refer to them, no more natural or expressive symbol could have been used; if it were supposed that the historian meant to make a record of the fulfilment, he could not well have made a search which would more strikingly accord with the symbol. Were we now to represent these things by a symbol, we could scarcely find one that would be more expressive than that of a rider on a black horse with a pair of scales, sent forth under a proclamation which indicated that there would be a most rigid and exact administration of severe and oppressive laws, and with a special command, addressed to the people, not for the purposes of concealment, or from opposition to the government, to injure the sources of revenue.
6. See Note on Rev. 6:5
7. And when he had opened the fourth seal. See Note on Rev. 5:1.
I heard the voice of the fourth beast say. The flying eagle. See Note on Rev. 4:7.
As in the other cases, there does not appear to have been any particular reason why the fourth of the living creatures should have made this proclamation rather than either of the others. It was poetic and appropriate to represent each one in his turn as making proclamation.
Come and see. See Note on Rev. 6:1.
8. And I looked, and behold a pale horseippoß clwroß. On the horse, as an emblem, See Note on Rev. 6:2.
The peculiarity of this emblem consists in the colour of the horse, the rider, and the power that was given unto him. In these there is entire harmony, and there can be comparatively little difficulty in the explanation and application. The colour of the horse was paleclwroß. This word properly means pale-green, yellowish-green, like the colour of the first shoots of grass and herbage; then green, verdant, like young herbage, Mark 6:39; Rev. 8:7; Rev. 9:4; and then pale, yellowish.Rob. Lex. The colour here would be an appropriate one to denote the reign of Deathas one of the most striking effects of death is palenessand, of course, of death produced by any cause, famine, pestilence, or the sword. From this portion of the symbol, if it stood with nothing to limit and define it, we should naturally look for some condition of things in which death would prevail in a remarkable manner, or in which multitudes of human beings would be swept away. And yet, perhaps, from the very nature of this part of the symbol, we should look for the prevalence of death in some such peaceful manner as by famine or disease. The red colour would more naturally denote the ravages of death in war; the black, the ravages of death by sudden calamity; the pale would more obviously suggest famine or wasting disease.
And his name that sat on him was Death. No description is given of his aspect; nor does he appear with any emblemas sword, or spear, or bow. There is evident scope for the fancy to picture to itself the form of the Destroyer; and there is just that kind of obscurity about it which contributes to sublimity. Accordingly, there has been ample room for the exercise of the imagination in the attempts to paint "Death on the pale horse," and the opening of this seal has furnished occasion for some of the greatest triumphs of the pencil. The simple idea in this portion of the symbol is, that Death would reign or prevail under the opening of this sealwhether by sword, by famine, or by pestilence, is to be determined by other descriptions in the symbol.
And Hell followed with him. Attended him as he went forth. On the meaning of the word here rendered helladhßhades, See Notes on Luke 16:23; Job 10:21; Isa. 14:9.
It is here used to denote the abode of the dead, considered as a place where they dwell, and not in the more restricted sense in which the word is now commonly used as a place of punishment. The idea is, that the dead would be so numerous at the going forth of this horseman, that it would seem as if the pale nations of the dead had come again upon the earth. A vast retinue of the dead would accompany him; that is, it would be a time when death would prevail on the earth, or when multitudes would die.
And power was given unto them. Marg., to him. The common Greek text is autoißto them. There are many MSS., however, which read autwto him. So Professor Stuart reads it. The authority, however, is in favour of them as the reading; and, according to this, death and his train are regarded as grouped together, and the power is considered as given to them collectively. The sense is not materially varied.
Over the fourth part of the earth. That is, of the Roman world. It is not absolutely necessary to understand this as extending over precisely a fourth part of the world. Compare Rev. 8:7-10, 12; 9:15, et al. Undoubtedly we are to look in the fulfilment of this to some far-spread calamity; to some severe visitations which would sweep off great multitudes of men. The nature of that visitation is designated in the following specifications.
To kill with sword. In war and discordand we are, therefore, to look to a period of war.
And with hunger. With famineone of the accompaniments of warwhere armies ravage a nation, trampling down the crops of grain; consuming the provisions laid up; employing in war, or cutting off the men who would be occupied in cultivating the ground; making it necessary that they should take the field at a time when the grain should be sown or the harvest collected; and shutting up the people in besieged cities to perish by hunger. Famine has been not an unfrequent accompaniment of war; and we are to look for the fulfilment of this in its extensive prevalence.
And with death. Each of the other forms"with the sword and with hunger"imply that death would reign; for it is said that "power was given to kill with sword and with hunger." This word, then, must refer to death in some other formto death that seemed to reign without any such visible cause as the "sword" and "hunger." This would well denote the pestilencenot an unfrequent accompaniment of war. For nothing is better fitted to produce this than the unburied bodies of the slain; the filth of a camp; the want of food; and the crowding together of multitudes in a besieged city: and, accordingly, the pestilence, especially in Oriental countries, has been often closely connected with war. That the pestilence is referred to here, is rendered more certain by the fact that the Hebrew word rRbR;d pestilence, which occurs about fifty times in the Old Testament, is rendered qanatoß, death, more than thirty times in the Septuagint.
And with the beasts of the earth. With wild beasts. This, too, would be one of the consequences of war, famine, and pestilence. Lands would be depopulated, and wild beasts would be multiplied. Nothing more is necessary to make them formidable than a prevalence of these things; and nothing, in the early stages of society, or in countries ravaged by war, famine, and the pestilence, is more formidable. Homer, at the very beginning of his Iliad, presents us with a representation similar to this. Compare Ezek. 14:21: "I send my sore four judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence," rRbR;dSept., as here, qanaton. See also 2 Kings 17:26.
In regard to the fulfilment of this there can be little difficulty, if the principles adopted in the interpretation of the first three seals are correct. We may turn to Gibbon, and, as in the other cases, we shall find that he has been an unconscious witness of the fidelity of the representation in this seal. Two general remarks may be made before there is an attempt to illustrate the particular things in the symbol.
(a) The first relates to the place in the order of time, or in history, which this seal occupies. If the three former seals have been located with any degree of accuracy, we should expect that this would follow, not very remotely, the severe laws pertaining to taxation, which, according to Mr. Gibbon, contributed so essentially to the downfall of the empire. And if it be admitted to be probable that the fifth seal refers to a time of persecution, it would be most natural to fix this period between those times and the times of Diocletian, when the persecution ceased. I may be permitted to say, that I was led to fix on this period without having any definite view beforehand of what occurred in it, and was surprised to find in Mr. Gibbon what seems to be so accurate a correspondence with the symbol.
(b) The second remark is, that the general characteristics of this period, as stated by Mr. Gibbon, agree remarkably with what we should expect of the period from the symbol. Thus speaking of this whole period, (A.D. 243-268,) embracing the reigns of Decius, Gallus, AEmilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus, he says, "From the great secular games celebrated by Philip to the death of the emperor Gallienus, there elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune. During this calamitous period, every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the wearied empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution," i. 135.
In regard to the particular things referred to in the symbol, the following specifications may furnish a sufficient confirmation and illustration:
(a) The killing with the sword. A fulfilment of this, so far as the words are concerned, might be found indeed in many portions of Roman history, but no one can doubt that it was eminently true of this period. It was the period of the first Gothic invasion of the Roman empire; the period when those vast hordes, having gradually come down from the regions of Scandinavia, and having moved along the Danube towards the Ukraine and the countries bordering on the Borysthenes, invaded the Roman territories from the East, passed over Greece, and made their appearance almost, as Mr. Gibbon says, within sight of Rome. Of this invasion, Mr. Gibbon says, "This is the first considerable occasion [the fact that the emperor Decius was summoned to the banks of the Danube, A.D. 250, by the invasion of the Goths] in which history mentions that great people, who afterwards broke the Roman power, sacked the capital, and reigned in Gaul, Spain, and Italy. So memorable was the part which they acted in the subversion of the Western empire, that the name of GOTHS is frequently, but improperly, used as a general appellation of rude and warlike barbarism," i. p. 136. As one of the illustrations that the "sword" would be used by "Death" in this period, we may refer to the siege and capture of Philippolis. "A hundred thousand persons are reported to have been massacred in the sack of that great city."Decline and Fall, i. 140. "The whole period," says Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, "was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity. The Roman empire was, at the same time, and on every side, attacked by the blind fury of foreign invaders, and the wild ambition of domestic usurpers," i. 144. "Such were the barbarians," says Mr. Gibbon, in the close of his description of the Goths at this period, and of the tyrants that reigned, "and such the tyrants, who, under the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, dismembered the provinces, and reduced the empire to the lowest pitch of disgrace and ruin, from whence it seemed impossible that it should ever emerge," i. 158.
(b) Famine: "Shall kill with hunger." This would naturally be the consequence of long-continued wars, and of such invasions as those of the Goths. Mr. Gibbon says of this period, "Our habits of thinking so fondly connect the order of the universe with the fate of man, that this gloomy period of history has been decorated with inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies, fictitious or exaggerated. But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present, and the hope of future harvests," i. p. 159. Prodigies, and preternatural darkness, and earthquakes, were not seen in the vision of the opening of the sealbut war and famine were; and the facts stated by Mr. Gibbon are such as would be now appropriately symbolized by Death on the pale horse.
(c) Pestilence: "And shall kill with death." Of the pestilence which raged in this period, Mr. Gibbon makes the following remarkable statement, in immediate connexion with what he says of the famine: "Famine is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year 250 to the year 265, raged without interruption in every province, every city, and almost every family in the Roman empire. During some time, five thousand persons died daily at Rome; and many towns that had escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely depopulated," i. 169.
(d) Wild beasts: "And shall kill with the beasts of the earth." As already remarked, these are formidable enemies in the early stages of society, and when a country becomes from any cause depopulated. They are not mentioned by Mr. Gibbon as contributing to the decline and fall of the empire, or as connected with the calamities that came upon the world at that period. But no one can doubt that in such circumstances they would be likely to abound, especially if the estimate of Mr. Gibbon be correct, (i. 169,) when, speaking of these times, and making an estimate of the proportion of the inhabitants of Alexandria that had perishedwhich he says was more than one-halfhe adds, "Could one venture to extend the analogy to the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed in a few years the moiety of the human species." Yet, though not adverted to by Mr. Gibbon, there is a record pertaining to this very period, which shows that this was one of the calamities with which the world was then afflicted. It occurs in Arnobius, Adv. Gentes, lib. i. p. 6. Within a few years after the death of Gallienus, (about A.D. 300,) he speaks of wild beasts in such a manner as to show that they were regarded as a sore calamity. The public peril and suffering on this account were so great, that, in common with other evils, this was charged on Christians as one of the judgments of heaven which they brought upon the world. In defending Christians against the general charge that these judgments were sent from heaven on their account, he adverts to the prevalence of wild beasts, and shows that they could not have been sent as a judgment on account of the existence of Christianity, by the fact that they had prevailed also in the times of heathenism, long before Christianity was introduced into the empire. "Quando cum feris bella, et proelia cum leonibus gesta sunt? Non ante nos? Quando pernicies populis venenatis ab anguibus data est? Non ante nos?" "When were wars waged with wild beasts, and contests with lions? Was it not before our times? When did a plague come upon men poisoned by serpents? Was it not before our times?" In regard to the extent of the destruction which these causes would bring upon the world, there is a remarkable confirmation in Gibbon. To say, as is said in the account of the seal, that "a fourth part of the earth" would be subjected to the reign of death by the sword, by famine, by pestilence, and by wild beasts, may seem to many to be an improbable statementa statement for the fulfilment of which we should look in vain to any historical records. Yet Mr. Gibbon, without expressly mentioning the plague of wild beasts, but referring to the three others"war, pestilence, and famine"goes into a calculation, in a passage already referred to, by which he shows that it is probable that from these causes half the human race was destroyed. The following is his estimate: "We have the knowledge of a very curious circumstance, of some use perhaps in the melancholy calculation of human calamities. An exact register was kept at Alexandria of all the citizens entitled to receive the distribution of corn. It was found that the ancient number of those comprised between the ages of forty and seventy had been equal to the whole sum of the claimants, from fourteen to fourscore years of age, who remained alive after the death of Gallienus. Applying this authentic fact to the most correct tables of mortality, it evidently proves that above half of the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy to other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed in a few years the moiety of the human species," i. 159. The historian says that it might be "suspected" from these data that one-half of the human race had been cut off in a few years, from these causes; in the Apocalyptic vision it is said that power was given over one "fourth" of the earth. We may remark
(a) that the description in the symbol is as likely to be correct as the "suspicion" of the historian; and
(b) that his statement that in this period "a moiety of the race," or one-half of the race, perished, takes away all improbability from the prediction, and gives a most graphic confirmation of the symbol of Death on the pale horse. If such a desolation in fact occurred, there is no improbability in the supposition that it might have been prefigured by the opening of a prophetic seal. Such a wide-spread desolation would be likely to be referred to in a series of symbols that were designed to represent the downfall of the Roman power, and the great changes in human affairs that would affect the welfare of the church.
9-11. And when he had opened the fifth seal. See Notes on Rev. 5:1; Rev. 6:1.
I saw under the altar. The four living creatures are no longer heard as in the opening of the first four seals. No reason is given for the change in the manner of the representation; and none can be assigned, unless it be, that having represented each one of the four living creatures in their turn as calling attention to the remarkable events about to occur, there seemed to be no necessity or propriety in introducing them again. In itself considered, it cannot be supposed that they would be any less interested in the events about to be disclosed than they were in those which preceded. This seal pertains to martyrsas the former successively did to a time of prosperity and triumph; to discord and bloodshed; to oppressive taxation; to war, famine, and pestilence. In the series of woes, it was natural and proper that there should be a vision of martyrs, if it was intended that the successive seals should refer to coming and important periods of the world; and accordingly we have here a striking representation of the martyrs crying to God to interpose in their behalf and to avenge their blood. The points which require elucidation are
(a) their position-under the altar;
(b) their invocationor their prayer that they might be avenged;
(c) the clothing of them with robes; and
(d) the command to wait patiently a little time.
(1.) The position of the martyrs: under the altar. There were in the temple at Jerusalem two altarsthe altar of burnt sacrifices, and the altar of incense. The altar here referred to was probably the former. This stood in front of the temple, and it was on this that the daily sacrifice was made. See Note on Matt. 5:23, seq. We are to remember, however, that the temple and the altar were both destroyed before the time when this book was written, and this should, therefore, be regarded merely as a vision. John saw these souls as if they were collected under the altar at the place where the sacrifice for sin was madeoffering their supplications. Why they are represented as being there is not so apparent; but probably two suggestions will explain this:
(a) The altar was the place where sin was expiated, and it was natural to represent these redeemed martyrs as seeking refuge there; and
(b) it was usual to offer prayers and supplications at the altar, in connexion with the sacrifice made for sin, and on the ground of that sacrifice. The idea is, that they who were suffering persecution would naturally seek a refuge in the place where expiation was made for sin, and where prayer was appropriately offered. The language here is such as a Hebrew would naturally use; the idea is appropriate to any one who believes in the atonement, and who supposes that that is the appropriate refuge for those who are in trouble. But while the language here is such as a Hebrew would use, and while the reference in the language is to the altar of burnt sacrifice, the scene should be regarded as undoubtedly laid in heaventhe temple where God resides. The whole representation is that of fleeing to the atonement, and pleading with God in connexion with the sacrifice for sin.
The souls of them that were slain. That had been put to death by persecution. This is one of the incidental proofs in the Bible that the soul does not cease to exist at death, and also that it does not cease to be conscious, or does not sleep till the resurrection. These souls of the martyrs are represented as still in existence; as remembering what had occurred on the earth; as interested in what was now taking place; as engaged in prayer; and as manifesting earnest desires for the Divine interposition to avenge the wrongs which they had suffered.
For the word of God. On account of the word or truth of God. See Note on Rev. 1:9.
And for the testimony which they held. On account of their testimony to the truth, or being faithful witnesses of the truth of Jesus Christ. See Note on Rev. 1:9.
(2.) The invocation of the martyrs, Rev. 6:10: And they cried with a loud voice. That is, they pleaded that their blood might be avenged.
Saying, How long, Lord, holy and true. They did not doubt that God would avenge them, but they inquire how long the vengeance would be delayed. It seemed to them that God was slow to interpose, and to check the persecuting power. They appeal therefore to him as a God of holiness and truth; that is, as one who could not look with approval on sin, and in whose sight the wrongs inflicted by the persecuting power must be infinitely offensive; as one who was true to his promises, and faithful to his people. On the ground of his own hatred of wrong, and of his plighted faithfulness to his church, they pleaded that he would interpose.
Dost thou not judge and avenge our blood. That is, dost thou forbear to judge and avenge us; or dost thou delay to punish those who have persecuted and slain us. They do not speak as if they had any doubt that it would be done, nor as if they were actuated by a spirit of revenge; but as if it would be proper that there should be an expression of the Divine sense of the wrongs that had been done them. It is not right to desire vengeance or revenge; it is to desire that justice should be done, and that the government of God should be vindicated. The word "judge" here may either mean "judge us," in the sense of "vindicate us," or it may refer to their persecutors, meaning "judge them." The more probable sense is the latter: "How long dost thou forbear to execute judgment on our account on those that dwell on the earth?" The word avengeekdikewmeans to do justice; to execute punishment.
On them that dwell on the earth. Those who are still on the earth. This shows that the scene here is laid in heaven, and that the souls of the martyrs are represented as there. We are not to suppose that this literally occurred, and that John actually saw the souls of the martyrs beneath the altarsfor the whole representation is symbolical; nor are we to suppose that the injured and the wronged in heaven actually pray for vengeance on those who wronged them, or that the redeemed in heaven will continue to pray with reference to things on the earth; but it may be fairly inferred from this that there will be as real a remembrance of the wrongs of the persecuted, the injured, and the oppressed, as if such prayer were offered there; and that the oppressor has as much to dread from the Divine vengeance as if those whom he has injured should cry in heaven to the God who hears prayer, and who takes vengeance. The wrongs done to the children of God; to the orphan, the widow, the down-trodden; to the slave and the outcast, will be as certainly remembered in heaven as if they who are wronged should plead for vengeance there, for every act of injustice and oppression goes to heaven and pleads for vengeance. Every persecutor should dread the death of the persecuted as if he went to heaven to plead against him; every cruel master should dread the death of his slave that is crushed by wrongs; every seducer should dread the death and the cries of his victim; every one who does wrong in any way should remember that the sufferings of the injured cry to heaven with a martyr's pleadings, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?"
(3.) The robes that were given to the martyrs: And white robes were given unto every one of them. Emblems of purity or innocence. See Note on Rev. 3:5.
Here the robes would be an emblem of their innocence as martyrs; of the Divine approval of their testimony and lives, and a pledge of their future blessedness.
(4.) The command to wait: And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season. That is, that they must wait for a little season before they could be avenged as they desired, Rev. 6:10. They had pleaded that their cause might be at once vindicated, and had asked how long it would be before it should be done. The reply is, that the desired vindication would not at once occur, but that they must wait until other events were accomplished. Nothing definite is determined by the phrase "a little season," or a short time. It is simply an intimation that this would not immediately occur, or was not soon to take place. Whether it refers to an existing persecution, and to the fact that they were to wait for the Divine interposition until that was over, and those who were then suffering persecution should be put to death and join them; or whether to a series of persecutions stretching along in the history of the world, in such a sense that the promised vengeance would take place only when all those persecutions were passed, and the number of the martyrs completed, cannot be determined from the meaning of their words. Either of these suppositions would accord well with what the language naturally expresses.
Until their fellow-servants also. Those who were then suffering persecution, or those who should afterwards suffer persecution, grouping all together.
And their brethren. Their brethren as Christians, and their brethren in trial: those then living, or those who would live afterwards and pass through similar scenes.
Should be fulfilled. That is, till these persecutions were passed through, and the number of the martyrs was complete. The state of things represented here would seem to be, that there was then a persecution raging on the earth. Many had been put to death, and their souls had fled to heaven, where they pleaded that their cause might be vindicated, and that their oppressors and persecutors might be punished. To this the answer was, that they were now safe and happythat God approved their course, and that in token of his approbation, they should be clothed in white raiment; but that the invoked vindication could not at once occur. There were others who would yet be called to suffer as they had done, and they must wait until all that number was completed. Then, it is implied, God would interpose, and vindicate his name. The scene, therefore, is laid in a time of persecution, when many had already died, and when there were many more that were exposed to death; and a sufficient fulfilment of the passage, so far as the words are concerned, would be found in any persecution, where many might be represented as having already gone to heaven, and where there was a certainty that many more would follow. We naturally, however, look for the fulfilment of it in some period succeeding those designated by the preceding symbols. There would be no difficulty, in the early history of the church, in finding events that would correspond with all that is represented by the symbol; but it is natural to look for it in a period succeeding that represented, under the fourth seal, by death on the pale horse. If the previous seals have been correctly interpreted, we shall not be much in danger of erring in supposing that this refers to the persecution under Diocletian; and perhaps we may find in one who never intended to write a word that could be construed as furnishing a proof of the fulfilment of the prophecies of the New Testament, what should be regarded as a complete verification of all that is represented here. The following particulars may justify this application:
(a) The place of that persecution in history: or the time when it occurred. As already remarked, if the previous seals have been rightly explained, and the fourth seal denotes the wars, the famine, and the pestilence, under the invasion of the Goths, and in the time of Valerian and Gallienus, then the last great persecution of the church under Diocletian would well accord with the period in history referred to. Valerian died in A.D. 260, being flayed alive by Sapor, king of Persia; Gallienus died in A.D. 268, being killed at Milan. Diocletian ascended the throne A.D. 284, and resigned the purple A.D. 304. It was during this period, and chiefly at the instigation of Galerius, that the tenth persecution of the Christians occurredthe last under the Roman power; for, in A. D. 306, Constantine ascended the throne, and ultimately became the protector of the church.
(b) The magnitude of this persecution under Diocletian is as consonant to the representation here as its place in history. So important was it, that, in a general chapter on the persecutions of the Christians, Mr. Gibbon has seen fit, in his remarks on the nature, causes, extent, and character of the persecutions, to give a prominence to this which he has not assigned to any others, and to attach an importance to it which he has not to any other. See vol. i. pp. 317-322. The design of this persecution, as Mr. Gibbon expresses it, (i. 318,) was "to set bounds to the progress of Christianity;" or, as he elsewhere expresses it, (on the same page,) "the destruction of Christianity." Diocletian, himself naturally averse from persecution, was excited to this by Galerius, who urged upon the emperor every argument by which he could persuade him to engage in it. Mr. Gibbon says in regard to this, "Galerius at length extorted from him [Diocletian] the permission of summoning a council, composed of a few persons, the most distinguished in the civil and military department of the state. It may be presumed that they insisted on every topic which might interest the pride, the piety, the fears of their sovereign in the destruction of Christianity," i. 318. The purpose, evidently, in the persecution, was, to make a last and desperate effort through the whole Roman empire for the destruction of the Christian religion; for Mr. Gibbon (i. 320) says, that "the edict against the Christians was designed for a general law of the whole empire." Other efforts had failed. The religion still spread, notwithstanding the rage and fury of nine previous persecutions. It was resolved to make one more effort. This was designed by the persecutors to be the last, in the hope that then the Christian name would cease to be: in the Providence of God it was the lastfor then even these opposing powers became convinced that the religion could not be destroyed in this mannerand as this persecution was to establish this fact, it was an event of sufficient magnitude to be symbolized by the opening of one of the seals.
(c) The severity of this persecution accorded with the description here, and was such as to deserve a place in the series of important events which were to occur in the world. We have seen above, from the statement of Mr. Gibbon, that it was designed for the "whole empire," and it in fact raged with fury throughout the empire. After detailing some of the events of local persecutions under Diocletian, Mr. Gibbon says, "The resentment or the fears of Diocletian at length transported him beyond the bounds of moderation, which he had hitherto preserved, and he declared, in a series of edicts, his intention of abolishing the Christian name. By the first of these edicts, the governors of the provinces were directed to apprehend all persons of the ecclesiastical order; and the prisons destined for the vilest criminals were soon filled with a multitude of bishops, presbyters, deacons, and exorcists. By a second edict, the magistrates were commanded to employ every method of severity which might reclaim them from their odious superstition, and oblige them to return to the established worship of the gods. This rigorous order was extended, by a subsequent edict, to the whole body of Christians, who were exposed to a violent and general persecution. Instead of those solitary restraints, which had required the direct and solemn testimony of an accuser, it became the duty as well as the interest of the imperial officers to discover, to pursue, and to torment the most obnoxious among the faithful. Heavy penalties were denounced against all who should presume to save a proscribed sectary from the just indignation of the gods, and of the emperors," i. 322. The first decree against the Christians, at the instigation of Galerius, will show the general nature of this fiery trial of the church. That decree was to the following effect: "All assembling of the Christians for the purposes of religious worship was forbidden; the Christian churches were to be demolished to their foundations; all manuscripts of the Bible should be burned; those who held places of honour or rank must either renounce their faith or be degraded; in judicial proceedings the torture might be used against all Christians, of whatever rank; those belonging to the lower walks of private life were to be divested of their rights as citizens and as freemen; Christian slaves were to be incapable of receiving their freedom, so long as they remained Christians."Neander, Hist. of the Church, Torrey's Trans. i. 148. This persecution was the last against the Christians by the Roman emperors; the last that was waged by that mighty Pagan power. Diocletian soon resigned the purple, and after the persecution had continued to rage, with more or less severity, under his successors, for ten years, the peace of the church was established. "Diocletian," says Mr. Gibbon, (i. 322,) "had no sooner published his edicts against the Christians, than, as if he had been committing to other hands his work of persecution, he divested himself of the imperial purple. The character and situation of his colleagues and successors sometimes urged them to enforce, and sometimes to suspend, the execution of these rigorous laws; nor can we acquire a just and distinct idea of this important period of ecclesiastical history, unless we separately consider the state of Christianity in the different parts of the empire, during the space of ten years which elapsed between the first edicts of Diocletian and the final peace of the church."
For this detail, consult Gibbon, i. 322-329, and the authorities there referred to; and Neander, Hist. of the Church, i. 147-156. Respecting the details of the persecution, Mr. Gibbon remarks, (i. 326,) "It would have been an easy task, from the history of Eusebius, from the declaration of Lactantius, and from the most ancient acts, to collect a long series of horrid and disgustful pictures, and to fill many pages with racks and scourges, with iron-hooks, and red-hot beds, and with the variety of tortures which fire and steel, savage beasts, and more savage executioners, could inflict on the human body." It is true that Mr. Gibbon professes to doubt the truth of these records, and attempts to show that the account of the number of the martyrs has been greatly exaggerated; yet no one, in reading his own account of this persecution, can doubt that it was the result of a determined effort to blot out the Christian religion, and that the whole of the imperial power was exerted to accomplish this end. At length, the last of the imperial persecutions ceased, and the great truth was demonstrated that Christianity could not be extinguished by power, and that "the gates of hell could not prevail against it." "In the year 311," says Neander, (i. 156,) "the remarkable edict appeared which put an end to the last sanguinary conflict of the Christian church and the Roman empire." This decree was issued by the author and instigator of the persecution, Galerius, who, "softened by a severe and painful disease, the consequence of his excesses, had been led to think that the God of the Christians might, after all, be a powerful being, whose anger punished him, and whose favour he must endeavour to conciliate." This man suspended the persecution, and gave the Christians permission "once more to hold their assemblies, provided they did nothing contrary to the good order of the Roman state." "Ita ut ne quid contra disciplinam agant."Neander, ibid.
10. See Note on Rev. 6:9
11. See Note on Rev. 6:9
12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal.
See Note on Rev. 5:1.
And, lo, there was a great earthquake. Before endeavouring to ascertain to what the sixth seal was designed to refer, it is proper, as in the previous cases, to furnish a particular explanation of the meaning of the symbols. See Note on Rev. 6:13, seq. All the symbols represented in the opening of this seal denote consternation, commotion, changes; but still they are all significant, and we are to suppose that something would occur corresponding with each one of them. It cannot be supposed that the things here described were represented on the part of the roll or volume that was now unfolded in any other way than that they were pictures, or that the whole was a species of panoramic representation made to pass before the eyes. Thus understood, it would not be difficult to represent each one of these things in a painting: as the heaving groundthe agitated foreststhe trembling hillsthe falling cities and housesthe sun blackened, and the moon turned to blood.
(a) The earthquake: There was a great earthquake. Rev. 6:12. The word here used denotes a shaking or agitation of the earth. The effect, when violent, is to produce important changesopening chasms in the earth; throwing down houses and temples; sinking hills, and elevating plains; causing ponds and lakes to dry up, or forming them where none existed; elevating the ocean from its bed, rending rocks, etc. As all that occurs in the opening of the other seals is symbolical, it is to be presumed that this is also, and that for the fulfilment of this we are not to look for a literal earthquake, but for such agitations and changes in the world as would be properly symbolized by this. The earthquake, as a symbol, would merely denote great agitations or overturnings on the earth. The particular character of those changes must be determined by other circumstances in the symbol that would limit and explain it. There are, it is said, but three literal earthquakes referred to in the Scripture: that mentioned in 1 Kings 19:11; that in Uzziah's time, Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5. and that which took place at the Saviour's death. All the rest are emblematical or symbolicalreferring mostly to civil commotions and changes. Then in Hag. 2:6-7: "Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." That is, there would be great agitations in the world before he came. See Note on Heb. 12:26-28.
So also great changes and commotions are referred to in Isa. 24:19-20: "The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage." An earthquake, if there were no other circumstances limiting and explaining the symbol, would merely denote great agitation and commotionas if states and empires were tumbling to ruin. As this is here a mere symbol, it is not necessary to look for a literal fulfilment, or to expect to find in history actual earthquakes to which this had reference, any more than when it is said that "the heavens departed as a scroll" we are to expect that they will be literally rolled up; but if, in the course of history, earthquakes preceded remarkable political convulsions and revolutions, it would be proper to represent such events in this way.
The darkening of the sun: And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. Sackcloth was a coarse black cloth, commonly, though not always, made of hair. It was used for sacks, for strainers, and for mourning garments; and as thus worn it was not an improper emblem of sadness and distress. The idea here is, that the sun put on a dark, dingy, doleful appearance, as if it were in mourning. The general image, then, in this emblem, is that of calamityas if the very sun should put on the robes of mourning. We are by no means to suppose that this was literally to occur, but that some great calamity would happen of which this would be an appropriate emblem. See Notes on Isa. 13:10, Matt. 24:29.
Compare Isa. 24:23; 34:4. Isa. 50:3; 60:19-20; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; 3:15-16
Amos 8:9. What is the particular nature of the calamity is to be learned from other parts of the symbol.
The discolouration of the moon: And the moon became as blood. Red like bloodeither from the smoke and vapour that usually precedes an earthquake, or as a mere emblem. This also would betoken calamity, and perhaps the symbol may be so far limited and modified by this as to denote war, for that would be most naturally suggested by the colourred. See Note on Rev. 6:4.
But any great calamity would be appropriately represented by thisas the change of the moon to such a colour would be a natural emblem of distress.
See Note on Rev. 6:13, seq.
13. The falling of the stars: And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth. This language is derived from the poetic idea that the sky seems to be a solid concave in which the stars are set, and that, when any convulsion takes place, that concave will be shaken, and the stars will be loosened and fall from their places. See this language explained in See Note on Isa. 34:4.
Sometimes the expanse above us is spoken of as a curtain that is spread out and that may be rolled up; sometimes as a solid crystalline expanse in which the stars are fixed. According to either representation, the stars are described as falling to the earth. If the expanse is rolled up, the stars, having nothing to support them, fall; if violent tempests or concussions shake the heavens, the stars, loosened from their fixtures, fall to the earth. Stars, in the Scriptures, are symbols of princes and rulers, (see Dan. 8:10; Rev. 8:10-11; 9:1) and the natural meaning of this symbol is, that there would be commotions which would unsettle princes, and bring them down from their throneslike stars falling from the sky.
Even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs. Marg., green; Gr., olunqouß. This word properly denotes winter-figs, or such as grow under the leaves, and do not ripen at the proper season, but hang upon the trees during the winter.Rob. Lex. This fruit seldom matures, and easily falls off in the spring of the year.Stuart, in loc. A violent wind shaking a plantation of fig-trees would of course cast many such figs to the ground. The point of the comparison is, the ease with which the stars would seem to be shaken from their places, and hence the ease with which, in these commotions, princes would be dethroned.
See Note on Rev. 6:14, seq.
14. The departing of the heavens: And the heaven departed as a scroll. That is, as a book or volumebiblionrolled up. The heavens are here described as spread out, and their passing away is represented by the idea that they might be rolled up, and thus disappear. See See Note on Isa. 34:4.
This too is a symbol, and we are not to suppose that it will literally occur. Indeed, it never can literally occur; and we are not, therefore, to look for the fulfilment of this in any physical fact that would correspond with what is here said. The plain meaning is, that there would be changes as if such an event would happen; that is, that revolutions would occur in the high places of the earth, and among those in power, as if the stars should fall, and the very heavens were swept away. This is the natural meaning of the symbol, and this accords with the usage of the language elsewhere.
The removal of mountains and islands: And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. This would denote convulsions in the political or moral world, as great as would occur in the physical world if the very mountains were removed, and the islands should change their places. We are not to suppose that this would literally occur, but we should be authorized from this to expect that, in regard to those things which seemed to be permanent and fixed on an immovable basis, like mountains and islands, there would be violent and important changes. If thrones and dynasties long established were overthrown; if institutions that seemed to be fixed and permanent were abolished; if a new order of things should rise in the political world, the meaning of the symbol, so far as the language is concerned, would be fulfilled.
15. The universal consternation: And the kings of the earth, etc. The design of this and the following verses, (Rev. 6:15-17) in the varied language used, is evidently to denote universal consternation and alarmas if the earth should be convulsed, and the stars should fall, and the heavens should pass away. This consternation would extend to all classes of men, and fill the world with alarm, as if the end of all things were coming.
The kings of the earth. Rulersall who occupied thrones.
The great men. High officers of state.
And the rich men. Their wealth would not secure them from destruction, and they would be alarmed like others.
And the chief captains. The commanders of armies, who tremble like other men when God appears in judgment.
And the mighty men. Men of great prowess in battle, but who feel now that they have no power to withstand God.
And every bondman. Servantdouloß. This word does not necessarily denote a slave, compare Notes on Eph. 6:5; 1 Tim. 6:1; 1 Tim. 1:16, but here the connexion seems to demand it, for it stands in contrast with freeman. There were, in fact, slaves in the Roman empire, and there is no objection in supposing that they are here referred to. There is no reason why they should not be filled with consternation as well as others; and as this does not refer to the end of the world, or the day of judgment, the word here determines nothing as to the question whether slavery is to continue on the earth.
And every freeman. Whether the master of slaves or not. The idea is, that all classes of men, high and low, would be filled with alarm.
Hid themselves in the dens. Among the caves or caverns in the mountains. See See Note on Isa. 2:19.
These places were resorted to for safety in times of danger. Compare 1 Sam. 13:6; 1 Sam. 24; Judg. 6:2; Jer. 41:9, and Jos. Ant. book xiv chapter xv, Jewish Wars, book i chapter 16.
And in the rocks of the mountains. Among the crags or the fastnesses of the mountainsalso natural places of refuge in times of hostile invasion or danger. See Note on Isa. 2:21.
See Note on Rev. 6:16, seq.
16. And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, etc.. This language is found substantially in Hos. 10:8: "And they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us." It is also used by the Saviour as denoting the consternation which would occur at his coming: "Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us," Luke 23:30. It is language denoting consternation, and an awful fear of impending wrath. The state of mind is that where there is an apprehension that God himself is coming forth with the direct instruments of his vengeance, and where there is a desire rather to be crushed by falling rocks and hills than by the vengeance of his uplifted arm.
From the face of him that sitteth on the throne. The face of Godfor he seems to be coming forth with the displays of his vengeance. It is not said that God would actually come forth in a visible form, but their consternation would be as great as if he were to do this; the state of mind indicated by this was an apprehension that it would be so.
And from the wrath of the Lamb. The Lamb of God; the Lord Jesus. See Note on Rev. 5:6.
There seems to be an incongruity between the words wrath and Lamb; but the word Lamb here is so far a proper name as to be used only to designate the Redeemer. He comes forth to execute wrath, not as a Lamb, but as the Son of God, who bore that name. It would seem from this that they who thus dreaded the impending terrors were aware of their source, or had knowledge enough to understand by whom they were to be inflicted. They would see that these were Divine judgments, and would apprehend that the end of the world drew near.
17. For the great day of his wrath is come. The threatening judgments would be so severe and awful that they would suppose that the end of the world was coming.
And who shall be able to stand? To stand before him, or to withstand his judgments.
Analysis of the Chapter
THE state of things represented in this chapter is, that where there had been awful consternation and alarm, as if the end of the world were coming, and where the signs of the approaching consummation of all things are, as it were, held back until there should be an opportunity of sealing the number that was to be saved. This is symbolized by four angels standing in the four quarters of the earth, and holding the winds and the storms that they should not blow on the earth, until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. The idea is that of sudden destruction about to burst on the world, which, if unrestrained, would apparently bring on the consummation of all things, but which is held back until the purposes of God in regard to his people shall be accomplishedthat is, until those who are the true servants of God shall be designated by some appropriate mark. This furnishes an opportunity of disclosing a glorious vision of those who will be saved, alike among the Jews and the Gentiles. The fact, as seen in the symbol, is, that the end of the world does not come at the opening of the sixth seal, as it seemed as if it would, and as it was anticipated in the time of the consternation. The number of the chosen was not complete, and the impending wrath was therefore suspended. God interposes in favour of his people, and discloses in vision a vast number from all lands who will yet be saved, and the winds and storms are held back as if by angels.
The points, then, that are apparent in this chapter, without any reference now to the question of the application, are the following:
(1.) The impending ruin that seemed about to spread over the earth, apparently bringing on the consummation of all things, restrained or suspended, Rev. 7:1. This impending ruin is symbolized by the four winds of heaven that seemed about to sweep over the world; the interposition of God is represented by the four angels who have power over those winds to hold them back, as if it depended on their will to let them loose and to spread ruin over the earth or not.
(2.) A suspension of these desolating influences and agents until another important purpose could be accomplishedthat is, until the servants of God could be sealed in their foreheads, Rev. 7:2, 3. Another angel, acting independently of the four first seen, and having power to command, appears in the east, having the seal of the living God; and he directs the four angels, having the four winds, not to let them loose upon the earth until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. This obviously denotes some suspension of the impending wrath, and for a specific purpose, that something might be done by which the true servants of God would be so marked as to be publicly knownas if they had a mark or brand to that effect imprinted on their foreheads. Whatever would serve to designate them, to determine who they were, to ascertain their number, would be a fulfilment of this act of the sealing angel. The length of time during which it would be done is not designated; the essential thing is, that there would be a suspension of impending judgments in order that it might be done. Whether this was to occupy a longer or a shorter period is not determined by the symbol; nor is it determined when the winds thus held back would be suffered to blow.
(3.) The number of the sealed, Rev. 7:4-8. The seer does not represent himself as actually beholding the process of sealing, but he says that he heard the number of those who were sealed. That number was an hundred and forty-four thousand, and they were selected from the twelve tribes of the children of IsraelLevi being reckoned, who was not usually numbered with the tribes, and the tribe of Dan being omitted. The number from each tribe, large or small, was the same; the entire portion selected being but a very small part of the whole. The general idea here, whatever may be the particular application, is, that there would be a selection, and that the whole number of the tribe would not be embraced; that the selection would be made from each tribe, and that all would have the same mark and be saved by the same means. It would not be in accordance with the nature of symbolic representation to suppose that the saved would be the precise number here referred to; but some great truth is designed to be represented by this fact. We should look, in the fulfilment, to some process by which the true servants of God would be designated; we should expect that a portion of them would be found in each one of the classes here denoted by a tribe; we should suppose that the true servants of God thus referred to would be as safe in the times of peril as if they were designated by a visible mark.
(4.) After this, another vision presents itself to the seer. It is that of a countless multitude before the throne, redeemed out of all nations, with palms in their hands, Rev. 7:9-17. The scene is transferred to heaven, and there is a vision of all the redeemednot only of the hundred and forty-four thousand, but of all who would be rescued and saved from a lost world. The design is doubtless to cheer the hearts of the true friends of God in times of gloom and despondency, by a view of the great numbers that will be saved, and the glorious triumph that awaits the redeemed in heaven. This portion of the vision embraces the following particulars:
(a) A vast multitude, which no man can number, is seen before the throne in heaven. They are clad in white robesemblems of purity; they have palms in their handsemblems of victory, Rev 7:9.
(b) They are engaged in ascribing praise to God, Rev. 7:10.
(c) The angels, the elders, and the four living creatures, fall down before the throne, and unite with the redeemed in ascriptions of praise, Rev. 7:11, 12.
(d) A particular inquiry is made of the seerevidently to call his attention to itrespecting those who appear there in white robes, Rev. 7:13.
(e) To this inquiry it is answered that they were those who had come up out of great tribulation, and who had washed their robes, and had made them pure in the blood of the Lamb, Rev. 7:14.
(f) Then follows a description of their condition and employment in heaven, Rev. 7:15-17. They are constantly before the throne; they serve God continually; they neither hunger nor thirst; they are not subjected to the burning heat of the sun; they are provided for by the Lamb in the midst of the throne; and all tears are for ever wiped away from their eyes.This must be regarded, I think, as an episode, having no immediate connexion with what precedes or with what follows. It seems to be thrown in herewhile the impending judgments of the sixth seal are suspended, and before the seventh is openedto furnish a relief in the contemplation of so many scenes of woe, and to cheer the soul with inspiring hopes from the view of the great number that would ultimately be saved. While these judgments, therefore, are suspended, the mind is directed on to the world of triumph, as a view fitted to sustain and comfort those who would be partakers in the scenes of woe. At the same time it is one of the most touching and beautiful of all the representations of heaven ever penned, and is eminently adapted to comfort those, in all ages, who are in a vale of tears.
In the exposition, it will be proper (Rev. 7:1-8) to inquire into the fair meaning of the language employed in the symbols; and then to inquire whether there are any known facts to which the description is applicable. The first inquiry may and should be pursued independently of the other; and, it may be added, that the explanation offered on this may be correct, even if the other should be erroneous. The same remark, also, is applicable to the remainder of the chapter, (Rev. 7:9-17,) and indeed is of general applicability in the exposition of this book.
1. And after these things. After the vision of the things referred to in the opening of the sixth seal. The natural interpretation would be, that what is here said of the angels and the winds occurred after those things which are described in the previous chapter. The exact chronology may not be always observed in these symbolical representations, but doubtless there is a general order which is observed.
I saw four angels. He does not describe their forms, but merely mentions their agency. This is, of course, a symbolical representation. We are not to suppose that it would be literally fulfilled, or that, at the time referred to by the vision, four celestial beings would be stationed in the four quarters of the world, for the purpose of checking and restraining the winds that blow from the four points of the compass. The meaning is, that events would occur which would be properly represented by four angels standing in the four quarters of the world, and having power over the winds.
Standing on the four corners of the earth. This language is, of course, accommodated to the prevailing mode of speaking of the earth among the Hebrews. It was a common method among them to describe it as a vast plain, having four corners, those corners being the prominent pointsnorth, south, east, and west. So we speak now of the four winds, the four quarters of the world, etc. The Hebrews spoke of the earth, as we do of the rising and setting of the sun, and of the motions of the heavenly bodies, according to appearances, and without aiming at philosophical exactness. Compare Note on Job 26:7.
With this view they spoke of the earth as an extended plain, and as having boundaries or corners, as a plain or field naturally has. Perhaps also they used this language with some allusion to an edifice, as having four corners; for they speak also of the earth as having foundations. The language which the Hebrews used was in accordance with the prevailing ideas and language of the ancients on the subject.
Holding the four winds of the earth. The winds blow in fact from every quarter, but it is convenient to speak of them as coming from the four principal points of the compass, and this method is adopted, probably, in every language. So among the Greeks and Latins, the winds were arranged under four classesZephyrus, Boreas, Notus, and Eurusconsidered as under the control of a king, AEolus. See Esehenburg, Man. Class. Lit. % 78, comp. % 108. The angels here are represented as "holding" the windskratountaß. That is, they held them back when about to sweep over the earth, and to produce far- spread desolation. This is an allusion to a popular belief among the Hebrews, that the agency of the angels was employed everywhere. It is not suggested that the angels had raised the tempest here, but only that they now restrained and controlled it. The essential idea is, that they had power over those winds, and that they were now exercising that power by keeping them back when they were about to spread desolation over the earth.
That the wind should not blow on the earth. That there should be a calm, as if the winds were held back.
Nor on the sea. Nowhereneither on sea nor land. The sea and the land constitute the surface of the globe, and the language here, therefore, denotes that there would be a universal calm. Nor on any tree. To injure it. The language here used is such as would denote a state of profound quiet; as when we say that it is so still that not a leaf of the trees moves.
In regard to the literal meaning of the symbol here employed there can be no great difficulty; as to its application there may be more. The winds are the proper symbols of wars and commotions. Compare Dan. 8:2. In Jer. 49:36-37, the symbol is both used and explained: "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." So in Jer. 51:1-2, a destroying wind is an emblem of destructive war: "I will raise up against Babylon a destroying wind, and will send unto Babylon farmers, that shall fan her, and shall empty her land." Compare Horace, Odes, b, i. 14. The essential ideas, therefore, in this portion of the symbol, cannot be mistaken. They are two:
(1) that at the period of time here referred toafter the opening of the sixth seal and before the opening of the sevenththere would be a state of things which would be well represented by rising tempests and storms, which if unrestrained would spread desolation afar; and
(2) that this impending ruin was held back as if by angels having control of those winds; that is, those tempests were not suffered to go forth to spread desolation over the world. A suspended tempest; calamity held in check; armies hovering on the borders of a kingdom, but not allowed to proceed for a time; hordes of invaders detained, or stayed in their march, as if by some restraining power not their own, and from causes not within themselvesany of these things would be an obvious fulfilling of the meaning of the symbol.
2. And I saw another angel. Evidently having no connexion with the four, and employed for another purpose. This angel, also, must have been symbolic; and all that is implied is, that something would be done as if an angel had done it.
Ascending from the east. He appeared in the east, and seemed to rise like the sun. It is not easy to determine what is the special significancy, if any, of the east here, or why this quarter of the heavens is designated rather than the north, the south, or the west. It may be that as light begins in the east, this would be properly symbolic of something that could be compared with the light of the morning; or that some influence in "sealing" the servants of God would in fact go out from the east; or perhaps no special significance is to be attached to the quarter from which the angel is seen to come. It is not necessary to suppose that every minute thing in a symbol is to receive a complete fulfilment, or that there will be some particular thing to correspond with it. Perhaps all that is meant here is, that as the sun comes forth with splendour from the east, so the angel came with magnificence to perform a taskthat of sealing the servants of Godcheerful and joyous like that which the sun performs. It is certain that from no other quarter of the heavens would it be so appropriate to represent an angel as coming forth to perform a purpose of light and mercy and salvation. It does not seem to me, therefore, that we are to look, in the fulfilment of this, for any special influence setting in from the east as that which is symbolized here.
Having the seal of the living God. Bearing it in his hands. In regard to this seal the following remarks may be made:
(a) The phrase "seal of the living God" doubtless means that which God had appointed, or which he would use; that is, if God himself came forth in this manner, he would use this seal for these purposes. Men often have a seal of their own, with some name, symbol, or device, which designates it as theirs, and which no other one has a right to use. A seal is sometimes used by the person himself; sometimes entrusted to a high officer of state; sometimes to the secretary of a corporation; and sometimes, as a mark of special favour, to a friend. In this case it was entrusted to an angel who was authorized to use it, and whose use of it would be sanctioned, of course, wherever he applied it, by the living God, as if he had employed it himself.
(b) As to the form of the seal, we have no information. It would be most natural to suppose that the name "of the living God" would be engraven on it, so that that name would appear on any one to whom it might be affixed. Compare Note on 2 Tim. 2:19.
It was customary in the East to brand the name of the master on the forehead of a slave, (Grotius, in loc.;) and such an idea would meet all that is implied in the language here, though there is no certain evidence that there is an allusion to that custom. In subsequent times, in the church, it was common for Christians to impress the sign of the cross on their foreheads.Tertullian de Corona; Cyrill. lib. vi. See Grotius. As nothing is said here, however, about any mark or device on the seal, conjecture is useless as to what it was.
(c) As to what was to be designated by the seal, the main idea is clear, that it was to place some such mark upon his friends that they would be known to be his, and that they would be safe in the impending calamities. There is perhaps allusion here to Ezek. 9:4-6, where the following direction to the prophet occurs: "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry, for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark." The essential ideas in the sealing, in the passage before us, would therefore seem to be,
(1.) that there would be some mark, sign, or token, by which they who were the people of God would be known; that is, there would be something which would answer, in this respect, the same purpose as if a seal had been impressed upon their foreheads. Whether this was an outward badge, or a religious rite, or the doctrines which they would hold and by which they would be known, or something in their spirit and manner which would characterize his true disciples, may be a fair subject of inquiry. It is not specifically designated by the use of the word.
(2.) It would be something that would be conspicuous or prominent, as if it were impressed on the forehead. It would not be merely some internal sealing, or some designation by which they would be known to themselves and to God, but it would be something apparent, as if engraved on the forehead. What this would be, whether a profession, or a form of religion, or the holding of some doctrine, or the manifestation of a particular spirit, is not here designated.
(3.) This would be something appointed by God himself. It would not be of human origin, but would be as if an angel sent from heaven should impress it on the forehead. If it refers to the doctrines which they would hold, they could not be doctrines of human origin; if to the spirit which they would manifest, it would be a spirit of heavenly origin; if to some outward protection, it would be manifest that it was from God.
(4.) This would be a pledge of safety. The design of sealing the persons referred to seems to have been to secure their safety in the impending calamities. Thus the winds were held back until those who were to be sealed could be designated, and then they were to be allowed to sweep over the earth. These things, therefore, we are to look for in the fulfilment of the symbol.
And he cried with a loud voice. As if he had authority to command, and as if the four winds were about to be let forth upon the world.
To whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea. Who had power committed to them to do this by means of the four winds.
3. Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, etc. Let the winds be restrained until what is here designated shall be done. These destroying angels were commanded to suspend the work of destruction Until the servants of God could be rendered secure. The division here, as in Rev. 7:1, of the "earth, the sea, and the trees," seems to include everythingwater, land, and the productions of the earth. Nothing was to be injured until the angel should designate the true servants of God.
Till we have sealed the servants of our God. The use of the plural "we" seems to denote that he did not expect to do it alone. Who were to be associated With him, whether angels or men, he does not intimate; but the work was evidently such that it demanded the agency of more than one.
In their foreheads. See Note on Rev. 7:2; compare Ezek. 9:4-5. A mark thus placed on the forehead would be conspicuous, and would be something which could at once be recognised if destruction should spread over the world. The fulfilment of this is to be found in two things:
(a) in something which would be conspicuous or prominentso that it could be seen; and
(b) in the mark being of such a nature or character that it would be a proper designation of the fact that they were the true servants of God.
4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed. He does not say where he heard that, or by whom it was communicated to him, or when it was done. The material point is, that he heard it; he did not see it done. Either by the angel, or by some direct communication from God, he was told of the number that would be sealed, and of the distribution of the whole number into twelve equal parts, represented by the tribes of the children of Israel.
And there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. In regard to this number, the first and the main question is, whether it is meant that this was to be the literal number, or whether it was symbolical; and, if the latter, of what it is a symbol.
I. As to the first of these inquiries, there does not appear to be any good reason for doubt. The fair interpretation seems to require that it should be understood as symbolical, or as designed not to be literally taken; for
(a) the whole scene is symbolicalthe winds, the angels, the sealing.
(b) It cannot be supposed that this number will include all who will be sealed and saved. In whatever way this is interpreted, and whatever we may suppose it to refer to, we cannot but suppose that more than this number will be saved.
(c) The number is too exact and artificial to suppose that it is literal. It is inconceivable that exactly the same numberprecisely twelve thousandshould be selected from each tribe of the children of Israel.
(d) If literal, it is necessary to suppose that this refers to the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. But on every supposition this is absurd. Ten of their tribes had been long before carried away, and the distinction of the tribes was lost, no more to be recovered, and the Hebrew people never have been, since the time of John, in circumstances to which the description here could be applicable. These considerations make it clear that the description here is symbolical. But,
II. Of what is it symbolical? Is it of a large number, or of a small number? Is it of those who would be saved from among the Jews, or of all who would be saved in the Christian churchrepresented as the "tribes of the children of Israel?" To these inquiries we may answer,
(1.) that the representation seems to be rather that of a comparatively small number than a large one, for these reasons:
(a) The number of itself is not large.
(b) The number is not large as compared with those who must have constituted the tribes here referred tothe number twelve thousand, for example, as compared with the whole number of the tribe of Judah, of the tribe of Reuben, etc.
(c) It would seem from the language that there would be some selection from a much greater number. Thus, not all in the tribes were sealed, but those who were sealed were "of all the tribes"ek pashß fulhß; that is, out of these tribes. So in the specification in each tribeek fulhß iouda, roubhn, etc. Some out of the tribe, to wit, twelve thousand, were sealed. It is not said of the twelve thousand of the tribes of Judah, Reuben, etc., that they constituted the tribe, but that they were sealed out of the tribe, as a part of it preserved and saved. "When the preposition ek, or out of, stands after any such verb as sealed, between a definite numeral and a noun of multitude in the genitive, sound criticism requires, doubtless, that the numeral should be thus construed, as signifying, not the whole, but a part taken out."Elliott, i. 237. Compare Exod. 32:28; Numb. 1:21; 1 Sam. 4:10.
The phrase, then, would properly denote those taken out of some other and greater numberas a portion of a tribe, and not the whole tribe. If the reference here is to the church, it would seem to denote that a portion only of that church would be sealed.
(d) For the same reason the idea would seem to be, that comparatively a small portion is referred toas twelve thousand would be comparatively a small part of one of the tribes of Israel; and if this refers to the church, we should expect to find its fulfilment in a state of things in which the largest proportion would not be sealed: that is, in a corrupt state of the church in which there would be many professors of religion, but comparatively few who had real piety.
(2.) To the other inquirywhether this refers to those who would be sealed and saved among the Jews, or to those in the Christian churchwe may answer,
(a) that there are strong reasons for supposing the latter to be the correct opinion. Long before the time of John all these distinctions of tribe were abolished. The ten tribes had been carried away and scattered in distant lands, never more to be restored; and it cannot be supposed that there was any such literal selection from the twelve tribes as is here spoken of, or any such designation of twelve thousand from each. There was no occasioneither when Jerusalem was destroyed, or at any other timeon which there were such transactions as are here referred to occurring in reference to the children of Israel.
(b) The language is such as a Christian, who had been by birth and education a Hebrew, would naturally use if he wished to designate the church. Compare Note on James 1:1.
1. Accustomed to speak of the people of God as "the twelve tribes of Israel," nothing was more natural than to transfer this language to the church of the Redeemer, and to speak of it in that figurative manner. Accordingly, from the necessity of the case, the language is universally understood to have reference to the Christian church. Even Professor Stuart, who supposes that the reference is to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, interprets it of the preservation of Christians, and their flight to Pella, beyond Jordan. Thus interpreted, moreover, it accords with the entire symbolical character of the representation.
(c) The reference to the particular tribes may be a designed allusion to the Christian church as it would be divided into denominations, or known by different names; and the fact that a certain portion would be sealed from every tribe would not be an unfit representation of the fact that a portion of all the various churches or denominations would be sealed and saved. That is, salvation would be confined to no one church or denomination, but among them all there would be found true servants of God. It would be improper to suppose that the division into tribes among the children of Israel was designed to be a type of the sects and denominations in the Christian church, and yet the fact of such a division may not improperly be employed as an illustration of that; for the whole church is made up not of any one denomination alone, but of all who hold the truth combined, as the people of God in ancient times consisted not solely of any one tribe, however large and powerful, but of all combined. Thus understood, the symbol would point to a time when there would be various denominations in the church, and yet with the idea that true friends of God would be found among them all.
(d) Perhaps nothing can be argued from the fact that exactly twelve thousand were selected from each of the tribes. In language so figurative and symbolical as this, it could not be maintained that this proves that the same definite number would be taken from each denomination of Christians. Perhaps all that can be fairly inferred is, that there would be no partiality or preference for one more than another; that there would be no favouritism on account of the tribe or denomination to which any one belonged; but that the seal would be impressed on all, of any denomination, who had the true spirit of religion. No one would receive the token of the Divine favour because he was of the tribe of Judah or Reuben; no one because he belonged to any particular denomination of Christians. Large numbers from every branch of the church would be sealed; none would be sealed because he belonged to one form of external organization rather than to another; none would be excluded because he belonged to any one tribe, if he had the spirit and held the sentiments which made it proper to recognise him as a servant of God. These views seem to me to express the true sense of this passage. No one can seriously maintain that the writer meant to refer literally to the Jewish people; and if he referred to the Christian church, it seems to be to some selection that would be made out of the whole church, in which there would be no favouritism or partiality, and to the fact that, in regard to them, there would be something which, in the midst of abounding corruption or impending danger, would designate them as the chosen people of God, and would furnish evidence that they would be safe.
5-8. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. That is, a selection was made, or a number sealed, as if it had been made from one of the tribes of the children of Israelthe tribe of Judah. If the remarks above made are correct, this refers to the Christian church, and means, in connexion with what follows, that each portion of the church would furnish a definite part of the whole number sealed and saved. We are not required to understand this of the exact number of twelve thousand, but that the designation would be made from all parts and branches of the church as if a selection of the true servants of God were made from the whole number of the tribes of Israel. There seems to be no particular reason why the tribe of Judah was mentioned first. Judah was not the oldest of the sons of Jacob, and there was no settled order in which the tribes were usually mentioned. The order of their birth, as mentioned in Gen. 29:1; 30:1, is as follows: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin. In the blessing of Jacob, Gen. 49:1, this order is changed, and is as follows: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin. In the blessing of Moses, Deut. 33:1, a different order still is observed: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali, Asher; and in this last, moreover, Simeon is omitted. So again in Ezek. 48:1, there are two enumerations of the twelve tribes, differing from each other, and both differing from the arrangements above referred to: viz., in Ezek. 48:31-34, where Levi is reckoned as one, and Joseph as only one; and in Ezek. 48:1-27, referring to the division of the country, where Levi, who had no heritage in land, is omitted, and Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as two tribes.Professor Stuart, ii. 172, 173. From facts like these, it is clear that there was no certain and settled order in which the tribes were mentioned by the sacred writers. The same thing seems to have occurred in the enumeration of the tribes which would occur, for example, in the enumeration of the several States of the American Union. There is indeed an order which is usually observed, beginning with Maine, etc., but almost no two writers would observe throughout the same order; nor should we deem it strange if the order should be materially varied by even the same writer in enumerating them at different times, thus, at one time, it might be convenient to enumerate them according to their geographical position; at another, in the order of their settlement; at another, in the order of their admission into the Union; at another, in the order of their size and importance; at another, in the order in which they are arranged in reference to political parties, etc. Something of the same kind may have occurred in the order in which the tribes were mentioned among the Jews. Perhaps this may have occurred also of design, in order that no one tribe might claim the precedence or the pre-eminence by being always placed at the head of the list. If, as is supposed above, the allusion in this enumeration of the tribes was to the various portions of the Christian church, then perhaps the idea intended to be conveyed is, that no one division of that church is to have any preference on account of its locality, or its occupying any particular country, or because it has more wealth, learning, or numbers than others; but that all are to be regarded, where there is the true spirit of religion, as on a level.
There are, however, three peculiarities in this enumeration of the tribes which demand a more particular explanation. The number indeed is twelve, but that number is made up in a peculiar manner.
(1.) Joseph is mentioned, and also Manasseh. The matter of fact was, that Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, (Gen. 48:1) and that these two sons gave name to two of the tribes, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. There was, properly speaking, no tribe of the name Joseph. In Numb. 13:1 the name Levi is omitted, as it usually is, because that tribe had no inheritance in the division of the land; and in order that the number twelve might be complete, Ephraim and Joseph are mentioned as two tribes, Rev. 7:8, 11. In verse 11, the writer states expressly that by the tribe Joseph he meant Manasseh"Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh," etc. From this it would seem that, as Manasseh was the oldest, (Gen. 48:14) the name Joseph was sometimes given to that tribe. As Ephraim, however, became the largest tribe, and as Jacob in blessing the two sons of Joseph (Gen. 48:14) laid his right hand on Ephraim, and pronounced a special blessing on him, (Gen. 48:19-20) it would seem not improbable that, when not particularly designated, the name Joseph was given to that tribe, as it is evidently in this place. Possibly the name Joseph may have been a general name which was occasionally applied to either of these tribes. In the long account of the original division of Canaan, in Joshua 13-19, Levi is omitted, because he had no heritage, and Ephraim and Manasseh are mentioned as two tribes. The name Joseph in the passage before us (Rev. 7:8) is doubtless designed, as remarked above, to refer to Ephraim.
(2.) In this list (Rev. 7:7) the name of Levi is inserted among the tribes. As already remarked, this name is not commonly inserted among the tribes of the children of Israel, because that tribe, being devoted to the sacerdotal office, had no inheritance in the division of the country, but was scattered among the other tribes. See Josh. 14:3-4; 18:7. It may have been inserted here, if this refers to the Christian church, to denote that the ministers of the gospel, as well as other members of the church, would share in the protection implied by the sealing; that is, to denote that no class in the church would be excluded from the blessings of salvation.
(3.) The name of one of the tribesDanis omitted; so that by this omission, and the insertion of the tribe of Levi, the original number of twelve is preserved. There have been numerous conjectures as to the reason why the tribe of Dan is omitted here, but none of the solutions proposed are without difficulty. All that can be known, or regarded as probable, on the subject, seems to be this:
(a) As the tribe of Levi was usually omitted in an enumeration of the tribes, because that tribe had no part in the inheritance of the Hebrew people in the division of the land of Canaan, so there appear to have been instances in which the names of some of the other tribes were omitted, the reason for which is not given. Thus, in Deuteronomy 33, in the blessing pronounced by Moses on the tribes just before his death, the name Simeon is omitted. In 1 Chronicles 4-8, the names of Zebulun and Dan are both omitted. It would seem, therefore, that the name of a tribe might be sometimes omitted without any particular reason being specified.
(b) It has been supposed by some that the name Dan was omitted because that tribe was early devoted to idolatry, and continued idolatrous to the time of the captivity. Of that fact there can be no doubt, for it is expressly affirmed in Judg. 18:30; and that fact seems to be a sufficient reason for the omission of the name. As being thus idolatrous, it was in a measure separated from the people of God, and deserved not to be reckoned among them; and in enumerating those who were the servants of God, there seemed to be a propriety that a tribe devoted to idolatry should not be reckoned among the number. This will account for the omission without resorting to the supposition of Grotius, that the tribe of Dan was extinct at the time when the Apocalypse was writtena fact which also existed in regard to all the ten tribes; or to the supposition of Andreas and others, that Dan is omitted because Antichrist was to spring from that tribea supposition which is alike without proof and without probability. The fact that Dan was omitted cannot be supposed to have any special significancy in the case before us. Such an omission is what, as we have seen, might have occurred at any time in the enumeration of the tribes.
In reference to the application of this portion of the book, (Rev. 7:1-8) or of what is designed to be here represented, there has been, as might be expected, a great variety of opinions. From the exposition of the words and phrases which has been given, it is manifest that we are to look for a series of events like the following:
(1.) Some impending danger, or something that threatened to sweep everything awaylike winds that were ready to blow on the earth.
(2.) That tempest restrained or held back, as if the winds were held in check by an angel, and were not suffered to sweep over the world.
(3.) Some new influence or power, represented by an angel coming from the eastthe great source of lightthat should designate the true church of Godthe servants of the Most High.
(4.) Some mark or note by which the true people of God could be designated, or by which they could be knownas if some name were impressed on their foreheads.
(5.) A selection or election of the number from a much greater number who were the professed, but were not the true servants of God.
(6.) A definite, though comparatively a small number thus designated out of the whole mass.
(7.) This number taken from all the divisions of the professed people of God, in such numbers, and in such a manner, that it would be apparent that there would be no partiality or favouritism; that is, that wherever the true servants of God were found, they would be sealed and saved. These are things which lie on the face of the passage, if the interpretation above given is correct, and in its application it is necessary to find some facts that will properly correspond with these things.
If the interpretation of the sixth seal proposed above is correct, then we are to look for the fulfilment of this in events that soon succeeded those which are there referred to, or at least which had their commencement at about that time; and the inquiry now is, whether there were any events that would accord properly with the interpretation here proposed: that is, any impending and spreading danger; any restraining of that danger; any process of designating the servants of God so as to preserve them; anything like a designation or selection of them from among the masses of the professed people of God? Now, in respect to this, the following facts accord so well with what is demanded in the interpretation, that it may be regarded as morally certain that they were the things which were thus made to pass in vision before the mind of John. They have at least this degree of probability, that if it were admitted that he intended to describe them, the symbols which are actually employed are those which it would have been proper to select to represent them.
I. The impending danger, like winds restrained, that threatened to sweep everything away, and to hasten on the end of the world. In reference to this, there may have been two classes of impending dangerthat from the invasion of the Northern hordes, referred to in the sixth seal, (chapter 6) and that from the influx of error, that threatened the ruin of the church.
(a) As to the former, the language used by John will accurately express the state of things as it existed at the period supposed at the time of the sixth sealthe series of events introduced, now suspended, like the opening of the seventh seal. The idea is that of nations pressing on to conquest; heaving like tempests on the borders of the empire; overturning everything in their way; spreading desolation by fire and sword, as if the world were about to come to an end. The language used by Mr. Gibbon in describing the times here referred to is so applicable, that it would seem almost as if he had the symbols used by John in his eye. Speaking of the time of Constantine, he says, "The threatening tempest of barbarians, which so soon subverted the foundations of Roman greatness, was still repelled, or suspended on the frontiers," i. 362. This language accurately expresses the condition of the Roman world at the period succeeding the opening of the sixth seal; the period of suspended judgments in order that the servants of God might be sealed. See Note on Rev. 6:12-17.
The nations which ultimately spread desolation through the empire hovered around its borders, making occasional incursions into its territory; even carrying their arms, as we have seen in some in stances, as far as Rome itself, but still restrained from accomplishing the final purpose of overthrowing the city and the empire. The church and the state alike were threatened with destruction, and the impending wrath seemed only to beheld back as if to give time to accomplish some other purpose.
(b) At the same time, there was another class of evils which threatened to sweep like a tempest over the churchthe evils of error in doctrine that sprang up on the establishment of Christianity by Constantine. That fact was followed with a great increase of professors of religion, who, for various purposes, crowded into a church patronized by the statea condition of things which tended to do more to destroy the church than all that had been done by persecution had accomplished. This effect was natural; and the church became filled with those who had yielded themselves to the Christian faith from motives of policy, and who, having no true spiritual piety, were ready to embrace the most lax views of religion, and to yield themselves to any form of error. Of this period, and of the effect of the conversion of Constantine in this respect, Mr. Gibbon makes the following remarks, strikingly illustrative of the view now taken of the meaning of this passage: "The hopes of wealth and honour, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the departments of a palace. The cities which signalized a forward zeal, by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives; and the new capital of the East gloried in the singular advantage, that Constantinople was never profaned by the worship of idols. As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it be true that, in one year, twelve thousand men were baptized at Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children, and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert," i. 425. At a time, therefore, when it might have been supposed that, under the patronage of a Christian emperor, the truth would have spread around the world, the church was exposed to one of its greatest dangersthat arising from the fact that it had become united with the state. About the same time, also, there sprang up many of those forms of error which have spread farthest over the Christian world, and which then threatened to become the universal form of belief in the church. Of this class of doctrine were the views of Arius, and the views of Pelagiusforms of opinion which there were strong reasons to fear might become the prevailing belief of the church, and essentially change its character. About this time, also, the church was passing into the state in which the Papacy would arisethat dark and gloomy period in which error would spread over the Christian world, and the true servants of God would retire for a long period into obscurity. "We are now but a little way off from the commencement of that noted periodobscurely hinted at by Daniel, plainly announced by Johnthe twelve hundred and sixty prophetic days or years, for which preparations of a very unusual kind, but requisite, doubtless, are made. This period was to form the gloomiest, without exception, in the annals of the worldthe period of Satan's highest success, and of the church's greatest depression; and lest she should become during it utterly extinct, her members, never so few as then, were all specially sealed. The long night passes on, darkening as it advances; but the sealed company are not visible; they disappear from the Apocalyptic stage, just as they then disappeared from the observation of the world; for they fled away to escape the fire and the dungeons of their persecutors, to hide in the hoary caves of the earth, or to inhabit the untrodden regions of the wilderness, or to dwell beneath the shadow of the Alps, or to enjoy fellowship with God, emancipated and unknown, in the deep seclusion and gloom of some convent."The Seventh Vial, London, 1848, pp. 27, 28. These facts seem to me to show, with a considerable degree of probability, what was designated by the suspense which occurred after the opening of the sixth sealwhen the affairs of the world seemed to be hastening on to the great catastrophe. At that period, the prophetic eye sees the tendency of things suddenly arrested; the winds held back, the church preserved, and a series of events introduced, intended to designate and to save from the great mass of those who professedly consutured the "tribes of Israel," a definite number who should be in fact the true church of God.
II. The facts, then, to which there is reference in checking the tendency of things, and sealing the servants of God, may have been the following:
(a) The preservation of the church from extinction during those calamitous periods when ruin seemed about to sweep over the Roman world. Not only as a matter of fact was there a suspension of those impending judgments that seemed to threaten the very extinction of the empire by the invasion of the Northern hordes, (See Note on Rev. 4:1 and following) but there were special
acts in favour of the church, by which these fierce barbarians appeared not only to be restrained from destroying the church, but to be influenced by tenderness and sympathy for it, as if they were raised up to preserve it when Rome had done all it could to destroy it. It would seem as if God restrained the rage of these hordes for the sake of preserving his church; as if he had touched their hearts that they might give to Christians an opportunity to escape in the impending storm. We may refer here particularly to the conduct of Alaric, king of the Goths, in the attack on Rome already referred to; and, as usual, we may quote from Mr. Gibbon, who will not be suspected of a design to contribute anything to the illustration of the Apocalypse. "At the hour of midnight," says he, (vol. ii. pp. 260, 261,) "the Salarian gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the imperial city, which had subdued and civilized so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia. The proclamation of Alaric, when he forced his entrance into the vanquished city, discovered, however, some regard for the laws of humanity and religion. He encouraged his troops boldly to seize the rewards of valour, and to enrich themselves with the spoils of a wealthy and effeminate people; but he exhorted them at the same time to spare the lives of the unresisting citizens, and to respect the churches of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul as holy and inviolable sanctuaries. While the barbarians roamed through the city in quest of prey, the humble dwelling of an aged virgin, who had devoted her life to the service of the altar, was forced open by one of the powerful Goths. He immediately demanded, though in civil language, all the gold and silver in her possession; and was astonished at the readiness with which she conducted him to a splendid hoard of massy plate, of the richest materials and the most curious workmanship. The barbarian viewed with wonder and delight this valuable acquisition, till he was interrupted by a serious admonition, addressed to him in the following words: These,' said she, are the consecrated vessels belonging to St. Peter; if you presume to touch them, the sacrilegious deed will remain on your consciences: for my part, I dare not keep what I am unable to defend.' The Gothic captain, struck with reverential awe, despatched a messenger to inform the king of the treasure which he had discovered; and received a peremptory order from Alaric, that all the consecrated plate and ornaments should be transported, without damage or delay, to the church of the apostle. From the extremity, perhaps, of the Quirinal hill, to the distant quarter of the Vatican, a numerous detachment of the Goths, marching in order of battle through the principal streets, protected, with glittering arms, the long train of their devout companions, who bore aloft on their heads the sacred vessels of gold and silver; and the martial shouts of the barbarians were mingled with the sound of religious psalmody. From all the adjacent houses, a crowd of Christians hastened to join this edifying procession; and a multitude of fugitives, without distinction of age or rank, or even of sect, had the good fortune to escape to the secure and hospitable sanctuary of the vatican." In a note, Mr. Gibbon adds: "According to Isidore, Alaric himself was heard to say, that he waged war with the Romans, and not with the apostles." He adds also, (p. 261), "The learned work concerning the City of God was professedly composed by St. Augustine to justify the ways of Providence in the destruction of the Roman greatness. He celebrates with peculiar satisfaction this memorable triumph of Christ; and insults his adversaries by challenging them to produce some similar example of a town taken by storm, in which the fabulous gods of antiquity had been able to protect either themselves or their deluded rotaries." We may refer here, also, to that work of Augustine as illustrating the passage before us. In book i., chapter, 2, he defends this position, that "there never was war in which the conquerors would spare them whom they conquered for the gods they worshipped"referring particularly to the sacking of Troy; in chapter 3, he appeals to the example of Troy; in chapter 4, he appeals to the sanctuary of Juno, in Troy; in chapter 6, he shows that the Romans never spared the temples of those cities which they destroyed; and in chapter 6, he maintains that the fact that mercy was shown by the barbarians in the sacking of Rome was "through the power of the name of Jesus Christ." In illustration of this, he says, "Therefore, all the spoil, murder, violence, and affliction, that in this fresh calamity came upon Rome, were nothing but the ordinary effects following the custom of war. But that which was so unaccustomed, that the savage nature of the barbarians should put on a new shape, and appear so merciful, that it would make choice of great and spacious churches, to fill with such as it meant to show pity on, from which none should be haled to slaughter or slavery, in which none should be hurt, to which many by their courteous foes should be conducted, and out of which none should be led into bondage; this is due to the name of Christ, this is due to the Christian profession; he that seeth not is blind; he that seeth and praiseth it not is unthankful; he that hinders him that praiseth it is mad."City of God, p. 11, London, 1620. Such a preservation of Christians; such a suspension of judgments, when all things seemed to be on the verge of ruin, would not be inappropriately represented by winds that threatened to sweep over the world; by the staying of those winds by some remarkable power, as by an angel; and by the special interposition which spared the church in the tumults and terrors of a siege, and of the sacking of a city.
(b) There may have been a reference to another class of Divine interpositions at about the same time, to designate the true servants of God. It has been already remarked, that from the time when Constantine took the church under his patronage, and it became connected with the state, there was a large accession of nominal professors in the church, producing a great corruption in regard to spiritual religion, and an extended prevalence of error. Now, the delay here referred to, between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, may have referred to the fact that, during this period, the true doctrines of Christianity would be vindicated and established in such away that the servants of God would be "sealed" and designated in contradistinction from the great mass of the professed followers of Christ, and from the numerous advocates of error. From that mass, a certain and definite number was to be sealedimplying, as we have seen, that there would be a selection, or that there would be something which would discriminate them from the multitudes as the true servants of God. This is represented by an angel coming from the east: the angel representing the new heavenly influence coming upon the church; and the coming from the eastas the east is the quarter where the sun risesdenoting that it came from the source and fountain of lightthat is, God. The "sealing" would denote anything in this new influence or manifestation which would mark the true children of God, and would be appropriately employed to designate any doctrines which would keep up true religion in the world; which would preserve correct views about God, the way of salvation, and the nature of true religion, and which would thus determine where the church of God really was. If there should be a tendency in the church to degenerate into formality; if the rules of discipline should be relaxed; if error should prevail as to what constitutes spiritual religion; and if there should be a new influence at that time which would distinguish those who were the children of God from those who were not, this would be appropriately represented by the angel from the east, and by the sealing of the servants of God. Now it requires but a slight knowledge of the history of the Roman empire, and of the church, at the period supposed here to be referred to, to perceive that all this occurred. There was a large influx of professed converts. There was a vast increase of worldliness. There was a wide diffusion of error. Religion was fast becoming mere formalism. The true church was apparently fast verging to ruin. At this period God raised up distinguished menas if they had been angels ascending from the eastwho came as with the "seal of the living God"the doctrines of grace, and just views of spiritual religion-to designate who were, and who were not, the "true servants of God" among the multitudes who professed to be his followers. Such were the doctrines of Athanasius and Augustinethose great doctrines on which the very existence of the true church has in all ages depended. The doctrines thus illustrated and defended were fitted to make a broad line of distinction between the true church and the world, and this would be well represented by the symbol employed herefor it is by these doctrines that the true people of God are sealed and confirmed. On this subject, comp. Elliott, i. 279-292. The general sense here intended to be expressed is, that there was at the period referred to, after the conversion of Constantine, a decided tendency to a worldly, formal, lax kind of religion in the church; a very prevalent denial of the doctrine of the Trinity and of the doctrines of grace; a lax mode of admitting members to the church, with little or no evidence of true conversion; a disposition to attribute saving grace to the ordinances of religion, and especially to baptism; a disposition to rely on the outward ceremonies of religion, with little acquaintance with its spiritual power; and a general breaking down of the barriers between the church and the world, as there is usually in a time of outward prosperity, and especially when the church is connected with the state. At this time there arose another set of influences well represented by the angel coming from the east, and sealing the true servants of God, in illustration and confirmation of the true doctrines of Christianitydoctrines on which the spirituality of the church has always depended: the doctrines of the Trinity, the atonement, the depravity of man, regeneration by the agency of the Holy Spirit, justification by faith, the sovereignty of God, and kindred doctrines. Such doctrines have in all ages served to determine where the true church is, and to designate and "seal" the servants of the Most High.
(c) This process of "sealing" may be regarded as continued during the long night of Papal darkness that was coming upon the church, when error would abound, and the religion of forms would be triumphant. Even then, in places obscure and unknown, the work of sealing the true servants of God might be going forwardfor even in those times of gloomy night there were those, though comparatively few in number, who loved the truth, and who were the real servants of God. The number of the elect were filling up, for even in the darkest times there were those who loved the cause of spiritual religion, and who bore upon them the impress of the "seal of the living God." Such appears to have been the intent of this sealing vision: a staying of the desolation that, in various forms, was sweeping over the world, in order that the true church might be safe, and that a large number, from all parts of the church, might be sealed and designated as the true servants of God. The winds, that blowed from all quarters, were stayed as if by mighty angels. A new influence, from the great source of light, came in to designate those who were the true servants of the Most High, as if an angel had come from the rising sun with the seal of the living God, to impress it on their foreheads. A selection was made out of a church filling up with formalists, and in which the true doctrines of spiritual religion were fast fading away, of those who could be designated as the true servants of God. By their creed, and their lives, and their spirit, and their profession, they could be designated as the true servants of God, as if a visible mark were impressed on their foreheads. This selection was confined to no place, no class, no tribe, no denomination. It was taken from the whole of Israel, in such numbers that it could be seen that none of the tribes were excluded from the honour, but that, wherever the true spirit of religion was, God was acknowledging these tribesor churchesas his, and there he was gathering a people to himself. This would be long continued, until new scenes would open, and the eye would rest on other developments in the series of symbols, revealing the glorious host of the redeemed emerging from darkness, and in countless numbers triumphing before the throne.
9. After this. Gr., "After these things"meta tauta: that is, after I saw these things thus represented, I had another vision. This would undoubtedly imply, not only that he saw these things after he had seen the sealing of the hundred and forty-four thousand, but that they would occur subsequently to that. But he does not state whether they would immediately occur, or whether other things might not intervene. As a matter of fact, the vision seems to be transferred from earth to heavenfor the multitudes which he saw appeared "before the throne," (Rev. 7:9) that is, before the throne of God in heaven. The design seems to be to carry the mind forward quite beyond the storms and tempests of earththe scenes of woe and sorrowthe days of error, darkness, declension, and persecution into that period when the church should be triumphant in heaven. Instead, therefore, of leaving the impression that the hundred and forty-four thousand would be all that would be saved, the eye is directed to an innumerable host, gathered from all ages, all climes, and all people, triumphant in glory. The multitude that John thus saw was not, therefore, I apprehend, the same as the hundred and forty- four thousand, but a far greater numberthe whole assembled host of the redeemed in heaven, gathered there as victors, with palm-branches, the symbols of triumph, in their hands. The object of the vision is to cheer those who are desponding in times of religious declension and in seasons of persecution, and when the number of true Christians seems to be small, with the assurance that an immense host shall be redeemed from our world, and be gathered triumphant before the throne.
I beheld. That is, he saw them before the throne. The vision is transferred from earth to heaven; from the contemplation of the scene when desolation seemed to impend over the world, and when comparatively few in number were "sealed" as the servants of God, to the time when the redeemed would be triumphant, and when a host which no man can number would stand before God.
And, lo. Indicating surprise. A vast host burst upon the view. Instead of the comparatively few who were sealed, an innumerable company were presented to his vision, and surprise was the natural effect.
A great multitude. Instead of the comparatively small number on which the attention had been fixed.
Which no man could number. The number was so great that no one could count them, and John, therefore, did not attempt to do it. This is such a statement as one would make who should have a view of all the redeemed in heaven. It would appear to be a number beyond all power of computation. This representation is in strong contrast with a very common opinion that only a few will be saved. The representation in the Bible is, that immense hosts of the human race will be saved; and though vast numbers will be lost, and though at any particular period of the world hitherto it may seem that few have been in the path to life, yet we have every reason to believe that, taking the race at large, and estimating it as a whole, a vast majority of the whole will be brought to heaven. For the true religion is yet to spread all over the world, and perhaps for many, many thousands of years, piety is to be as prevalent as sin has been; and in that long and happy time of the world's history we may hope that the numbers of the saved may surpass all who have been lost in past periods, beyond any power of computation. See Note on Rev. 20:3, and through verse 6.
Of all nations. Not only of Jews; not only of the nations which in the time of the sealing vision had embraced the gospel, but of all the nations of the earth. This implies two things:
(a) that the gospel would be preached among all nations; and
(b) that even when it was thus preached to them they would keep up their national characteristics. There can be no hope of blending all the nations of the earth under one visible sovereignty. They may all be subjected to the spiritual reign of the Redeemer, but still there is no reason to suppose that they will not have their distinct organizations and laws.
And kindredsfulwn This word properly refers to those who are descended from a common ancestry, and hence denotes a race, lineage, kindred. It was applied to the tribes of Israel, as derived from the same ancestor, and for the same reason might be applied to a clan, and thence to any division in a nation, or to a nation itselfproperly retaining the notion that it was descended from a common ancestor. Here it would seem to refer to a smaller class than a nationthe different clans of which a nation might be composed.
And peoplelawn. This word refers properly to a people or community as a mass, without reference to its origin or any of its divisions. The former word would be used by one who should look upon a nation as made up of portions of distinct languages, clans, or families; this word would be used by one who should look on such an assembled people as a mere mass of human beings, with no reference to their difference of clanship, origin, or language.
And tongues. Languages. This word would refer also to the inhabitants of the earth, considered with respect to the fact that they speak different languages. The use of particular languages does not designate the precise boundaries of nationsfor often many people speaking different languages are united as one nation, and often those who speak the same language constitute distinct nations. The view, therefore, with which one would look upon the dwellers on the earth, in the use of the word tongues or languages, would be, not as divided into nations; not with reference to their lineage or clanship; and not as a mere mass without reference to any distinction, but as divided by speech. The meaning of the whole is, that persons from all parts of the earth, as contemplated in these points of view, would be among the redeemed. Compare Notes on Dan. 3:4; Dan. 4:1.
Stood before the throne. The throne of God.
See Note on Rev. 4:2.
The throne is there represented as set up in heaven, and the vision here is a vision of what will occur in heaven. It is designed to carry the thoughts beyond all the scenes of conflict, strife, and persecution on earth, to the time when the church shall be triumphant in glorywhen all storms shall have passed by; when all persecutions shall have ceased; when all revolutions shall have occurred; when all the electnot only the hundred and forty-four thousand of the sealed, but of all nations and timesshall have been gathered in. There was a beautiful propriety in this vision. John saw the tempests stayed, as by the might of angels. He saw a new influence and power that would seal the true servants of God. But those tempests were stayed only for a time, and there were more awful visions in reserve than any which had been exhibited revisions of woe and sorrow, of persecution and of death. It was appropriate, therefore, just at this moment of calm suspenseof delayed judgmentsto suffer the mind to rest on the triumphant close of the whole in heaven, when a countless host would be gathered there with palms in their hands, uniting with angels in the worship of God. The mind, by the contemplation of this beautiful vision, would be refreshed and strengthened for the disclosure of the awful scenes which were to occur on the sounding of the trumpets under the seventh seal. The simple idea is, that, amidst the storms and tempests of lifescenes of existing or impending trouble and wrathit is well to let the eye rest on the scene of the final triumph, when innumerable hosts of the redeemed shall stand before God, and when sorrow shall be known no more.
And before the Lamb. In the midst of the thronein heaven. See Note on Rev. 5:6
Clothed with white robes. The emblems of innocence or righteousness, uniformly represented as the raiment of the inhabitants of heaven. See Notes on Rev. 3:4; Rev. 6:11.
And palms in their hands. Emblems of victory. Branches of the palm-tree were carried by the victors in the athletic contests of Greece and Rome, and in triumphal processions. See Note on Matt. 21:8.
The palm-treestraight, elevated, majesticwas an appropriate emblem of triumph. The portion of it which was borne in victory was the long leaf which shoots out from the top Of the tree. See Eschenberg, Manual of Class. Lit. p. 243, and Lev. 23:40: "And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees," etc. So in the Saviour's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, (John 12:12-13) "On the next day much peopletook branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna."
10. And cried with a loud voice. Compare Zech. 4:7. This is expressive of the greatness of their joy; the ardour and earnestness of their praise.
Salvation to our God. The word rendered salvationswthriameans properly safety, deliverance, preservation; then welfare or prosperity; then victory; then, in a Christian sense, deliverance from punishment and admission to eternal life. Here the idea seems to be, that their deliverance from sin, danger, persecution, and death, was to be ascribed solely to God. It cannot be meant, as the words would seem to imply, that they desired that God might have salvation; but the sense is, that their salvation was to be attributed entirely to him. This will undoubtedly be the song of the released for ever, and all who reach the heavenly world will feel that they owe their deliverance from eternal death, and their admission to glory, wholly to him. Professor Robinson (Lex.) renders the word here victory. The fair meaning is, that whatever is included in the word salvation will be due to God alonethe deliverance from sin, danger, and death; the triumph over every foe; the resurrection from the grave; the rescue from eternal burnings; the admission to a holy heavenvictory in all that that word implies will be due to God.
Which sitteth upon the throne. See Note on Rev. 4:2.
And unto the Lamb. See Note on Rev. 5:6.
God the Father, and He who is the Lamb of God, alike claim the honour of salvation. It is observable here, that the redeemed ascribe their salvation to the Lamb as well as to Him who is on the throne. Could they do this if he who is referred to as the "Lamb" were a mere man? Could they if he were an Could angel? they if he were not equal with the Father? Do those who are in heaven worship a creature? Will they unite a created being with the Anointed One in acts of solemn adoration and praise?
11. And all the angels stood round about the throne. See Note on Rev. 5:11.
And about the elders. See Note on Rev. 4:4
And the four beasts. See Note on Rev. 4:6.
The meaning is, that the angels stood in the outer circle, or outside of the elders and the four living creatures. The redeemed, it is manifest, occupied the inner circle, and were near the throne, though their precise location is not mentioned. The angels sympathize with the church redeemed and triumphant, as they did with the church in its conflicts and trials, and they now appropriately unite with that church in adoring and praising God. They see, in that redemption, new displays of the character of God, and they rejoice that that church is rescued from its troubles, and is now brought triumphant to heaven.
And fell before the throne on their faces. The usual position of profound adoration, Rev. 4:10; 5:8.
And worshipped God. See Notes on Rev. 5:11; Rev. 5:12.
12 Saying, Amen. See Note on Rev. 1:7.
The word Amen here is a word strongly affirming the truth of what is said, or expressing hearty assent to it. It may be uttered, as expressing this, either in the beginning or end of a sentence. Thus wills are commonly commenced, "In the name of God, Amen."
Blessings and glory, etc. Substantially the same ascription of praise occurs in Rev. 5:12. See Note on Rev. 5:12.
The general idea is, that the highest kind of praise is to be ascribed to God; everything excellent in character is to be attributed to him; every blessing which is received is to be traced to him. The order of the words indeed is changed, but the sense is substantially the same. In the former case (Rev. 5:12) the ascription of praise is to the Lambthe Son of God; here it is to God. In both instances the worship is described as rendered in heaven; and the use of the language shows that God and the Lamb are regarded in heaven as entitled to equal praise. The only words found here which do not occur in Rev. 5:12 are thanksgiving and mightwords which require no particular explanation.
13. And one of the elders. See Note on Rev. 4:4.
That is, as there understood, one of the representatives of the church before the throne.
Answered. The word answer, with us, means to reply to something which has been said. In the Bible, however, the word is not unfrequently used in the beginning of a speech, where nothing has been saidas if it were a reply to something that might be said on the subject; or to something that is passing through the mind of another; or to something in the case under consideration which suggests an inquiry. Compare Isa. 65:24; Dan. 2:26; Acts 5:8.
Thus it is used here. John was looking on the host, and reflecting on the state of things; and to the train of thought passing through his mind the angel answered by an inquiry as to a part of that host. Professor Stuart renders it accosted me.
What are these which are arrayed in white robes? Who are these? The object evidently is to bring the case of these persons more particularly into view. The vast host with branches of palm had attracted the attention of John, but it was the object of the speaker to turn his thoughts to a particular part of the hostthe martyrs who stood among them. He would seem, therefore, to have turned to a particular portion of the immense multitude of the redeemed, and by an emphasis on the word these"Who are these?"to have fixed the eye upon them. All those who are before the throne are represented as clothed in white robes, (Rev. 7:9) but the eye might be directed to a particular part of them as grouped together, and as having something peculiar in their position or appearance. There was a propriety in thus directing the mind of John to the martyrs as triumphing in heaven, in a time when the churches were suffering persecution, and in view of the vision which he had had of times of darkness and calamity coming upon the world at the opening of the sixth seal. Beyond all the scenes of sorrow and grief, he was permitted to see the martyrs triumphing in heaven.
Arrayed in white robes. See Note on Rev. 7:9.
And whence came they? The object is to fix the attention more distinctly on what is said of them, that they came up out of great tribulation.
14. And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. The word sir in this placekurie, lordis a form of respectful address, such as would be used when speaking to a superior, Gen. 43:20; Matt. 13:27; Matt. 21:30; 27:63; John 4:11, 15, 19, 49; 5:7; 12:21; 20:15.
The simple meaning of the phrase "thou knowest" is, that he who had asked the question must be better informed than he to whom he had proposed it. It is, on the part of John, a modest confession that he did not know, or could not be presumed to know, and at the same time the respectful utterance of an opinion that he who addressed this question to him must be in possession of this knowledge.
And he said unto me. Not offended with the reply, and ready, as he had evidently intended to do, to give him the information which he needed.
These are they which came out of great tribulation. The word rendered tribulationqliqißis a word of general character, meaning affliction, though perhaps there is here an allusion to persecution. The sense, however, would be better expressed by the phrase great trials. The object seems to have been to set before the mind of the apostle a view of those who had suffered much, and who by their sufferings had been sanctified and prepared for heaven, in order to encourage those who might be yet called to suffer.
And have washed their robes. To wit, in the blood of the Lamb.
And made them white in the blood of the Lamb. There is some incongruity in saying that they had made them white in the blood of the Lamb; and the meaning therefore must be, that they had cleansed or purified them in that blood. Under the ancient ritual, various things about the sanctuary were cleansed from ceremonial defilement by the sprinkling of blood on themthe blood of sacrifice. In accordance with that usage the blood of the Lambof the Lord Jesusis said to cleanse and purify. John sees a great company with white robes. The means by which it is said they became white or pure is the blood of the Lamb. It is not said that they were made white as the result of their sufferings or their afflictions, but by the blood of the Lamb. The course of thought here is such that it would be natural to suppose that, if at any time the great deeds or the sufferings of the saints could contribute to the fact that they will wear white robes in heaven, this is an occasion on which there might be such a reference. But there is no allusion to that. It is not by their own sufferings and trials, their persecutions and sorrows, that they are made holy, but by the blood of the Lamb that had been shed for sinners. This reference to the blood of the Lamb is one of the incidental proofs that occur so frequently in the Scriptures of the reality of the atonement. It could be only in allusion to that, and with an implied belief in that, that the blood of the Lamb could be referred to as cleansing the robes of the saints in heaven. If he shed his blood merely as other men have done; if he died only as a martyr, what propriety would there have been in referring to his blood more than to the blood of any other martyr? And what influence could the blood of any martyr have in cleansing the robes of the saints heaven? The fact is, that if that were all, such language would be unmeaning. It is never used except in connexion with the blood of Christ; and the language of the Bible everywhere is such as would be employed on the supposition that he shed his blood to make expiation for sin, and on no other supposition. On the general meaning of the language used here, and the sentiment expressed, See Notes on Heb. 9:14; 1 John 1:7.
15. Therefore are they before the throne of God. The reason why they are there is to be traced to the fact that the Lamb shed his blood to make expiation for sin. No other reason can be given why any one of the human race is in heaven; and that is reason enough why any of that race are there.
And serve him day and night in his temple. That is, continually or constantly. Day and night constitute the whole of time, and this expression, therefore, denotes constant and uninterrupted service. On earth, toil is suspended by the return of night, and the service of God is intermitted by the necessity of rest; in heaven, as there will be no weariness, there will be no need of intermission, and the service of God, varied doubtless to meet the state of the mind, will be continued for ever. The phrase "to serve him in his temple" refers undoubtedly to heaven, regarded as the temple or holy dwelling-place of God. See Note on Rev. 1:6.
And he that sitteth on the throne. God. See Note on Rev. 4:2.
Shall dwell among themskhnwsei. This word properly means, to tent, to pitch a tent; and, in the New Testament, to dwell as in tents. The meaning here is, that God would dwell among them as in a tent, or would have his abode with them. Perhaps the allusion is to the tabernacle in the wilderness. That was regarded as the peculiar dwelling-place of God, and that always occupied a central place among the tribes of Israel. So in heaventhere will be the consciousness always that God dwells there among his people, and that the redeemed are gathered around him in his own house. Professor Stuart renders this, it seems to me with less beauty and propriety, "will spread his tent over them," as meaning that he would receive them into intimate connexion and union with him, and offer them his protection: Compare Rev. 21:3.
16. They shall hunger no more. A considerable portion of the redeemed who will be there, were, when on the earth, subjected to the evils of famine; many who perished with hunger. In heaven, they will be subjected to that evil no more, for there will be no want that will not be supplied. The bodies which the redeemed will havespiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:44)will doubtless be such as will be nourished in some other way than by food, if they require any nourishment; and whatever that nourishment may be, it will be fully supplied. The passage here is taken from Isa. 49:10: "They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them." See Note on Isa. 49:10.
Neither thirst any more. As multitudes of the redeemed have been subjected to the evils of hunger, so have multitudes also been subjected to the pains of thirst. In prison; in pathless deserts; in times of drought, when wells and fountains were dried up, they have suffered from this causea cause producing as intense suffering perhaps as any that man endures. Compare Exod. 17:3; Psa. 63:1; Lam. 4:4; 2 Cor. 11:27.
It is easy to conceive of persons suffering so intensely from thirst that the highest vision of felicity would be such a promise as that in the words before us"neither thirst any more."
Neither shall the sun light on them. It is hardly necessary, perhaps, to say that the word light here does not mean to enlighten, to give light to, to shine on. The Greek is peshfall onand the reference, probably, is to the intense and burning heat of the sun, commonly called a sun-stroke. Excessive heat of the sun, causing great pain or sudden death, is not a very uncommon thing among us, and must have been more common in the warm climates and burning sands of the countries in the vicinity of Palestine. The meaning here is, that in heaven they would be free from this calamity.
Nor any heat. In Isa. 49:10, from which place this is quoted, the expression is: bDrDv sharab, properly denoting heat or burning, and particularly the mirage, the excessive heat of a sandy desert producing a vapour which has a striking resemblance to water, and which often misleads the unwary traveller by its deceptive appearance. See Note on Isa. 35:7.
The expression here is equivalent to intense heat; and the meaning is, that in heaven the redeemed will not be subjected to any such suffering as the traveller often experiences in the burning sands of the desert. The language would convey a most grateful idea to those who had been subjected to these sufferings, and is one form of saying that, in heaven, the redeemed will be delivered from the ills which they suffer in this life. Perhaps the whole image here is that of travellers who have been on a long journey, exposed to hunger and thirst, wandering in the burning sands of the desert, and exposed to the fiery rays of the sun, at length reaching their quiet and peaceful home, where they would find safety and abundance. The believer's journey from earth to heaven is such a pilgrimage.
17. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne. See Note on Rev. 5:6.
He is still the great agent in promoting the happiness of the redeemed in heaven.
Shall feed them. Rather, shall exercise over them the office of a shepherdpomanei. This includes much more than mere feeding. It embraces all the care which a shepherd takes of his flockwatching them, providing for them, guarding them from danger. Compare Psa. 23:1-2, 6; 36:8.
See Note on Isa. 40:11
And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters. Living fountains refer to running streams, as contrasted with standing water and stagnant pools. See Note on John 4:10.
The allusion is undoubtedly to the happiness of heaven, represented as fresh and ever-flowing, like streams in the desert. No image of happiness, perhaps, is more vivid, or would be more striking to an Oriental, than that of such fountains flowing in sandy and burning wastes. The word living here must refer to the fact that that happiness will be perennial. These fountains will always bubble; these streams will never dry up. The thirst for salvation will always be gratified; the soul will always be made happy.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. This is a new image of happiness taken from another place in Isaiah, (Isa. 25:8) "The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces." The expression is one of exquisite tenderness and beauty. The poet Burns said that he could never read this without being affected to weeping. Of all the negative descriptions of heaven, there is no one perhaps that would be better adapted to produce consolation than this. This is a world of weepinga vale of tears. Philosophers have sought a brief definition of man, and have sought in vain. Would there be any better description of him, as representing the reality of his condition here, than to say that he is one who weeps? Who is there of the human family that has not shed a tear? Who that has not wept over the grave of a friend; over his own losses and cares; over his disappointments; over the treatment he has received from others; over his sins; over the follies, vices, and woes of his fellow-men? And what a change would it make in our world if it could be said that hence forward not another tear would be shed; not a head would ever be bowed again in grief! Yet this is to be the condition of heaven. In that world there is to be no pain, no disappointment, no bereavement. No friend is to lie in dreadful agony on a sick bed; no grave is to be opened to receive a parent, a wife, a child; no gloomy prospect of death is to draw tears of sorrow from the eyes. To that blessed world, when our eyes run down with tears, are we permitted to look forward; and the prospect of such a world should contribute to wipe away our tears herefor all our sorrows will soon be over. As already remarked, there was a beautiful propriety, at a time when such calamities impended over the church and the worldwhen there was such a certainty of persecution and sorrowin permitting the mind to rest on the contemplation of these happy scenes in heaven, where all the redeemed, in white robes, and with palms of victory in their hands, would be gathered before the throne. To us also now, amidst the trials of the present lifewhen friends leave us; when sickness comes; when our hopes are blasted; when calumnies and reproaches come upon us; when, standing on the verge of the grave, and looking down into the cold tomb, the eyes pour forth floods of tearsit is a blessed privilege to be permitted to look forward to that brighter scene in heaven, where not a pang shall ever be felt, and not a tear shall ever be shed.
Jewish New Testament Commentary
The breaking of the first four seals releases the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse," who represent, respectively, (1) war in its aspect of subjecting peoples one to another, (2) war in its aspect of hate between nations and individuals, (3) inequitable economic distribution (or, less likely, general scarcity of goods), and (4) the death which results from the first three (war, wild animals = hate, famine = inequitable distribution) and from disease (= plagues).
This section is apparently related to Leviticus 16:14-26 and Ezekiel 14:12-20, which speak of similar judgments. Compare also the ravagers at Jeremiah 15:3, 24:10, 29:17; Ezekiel 5:17, 14:21; and the four horses at Zechariah 6:2-3. The four living beings were introduced at 4:6 above.
Some consider the rider on the white horse to be the Messiah depicted as a conqueror (as at 19:11ff.) in the sense that his Gospel conquers the world. But this makes him only one rider among many; moreover, the rest of the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" bring judgment, not relief. Better to see this rider as bringing judgment in the form of war and conquest.
The rich are cushioned by their wealth from the effects of economic inequality and scarcity; but the poor, who must pay a day's wages (literally, "a denarius"; see Mt 20:2) for starvation rations, are brusquely ordered not to meddle with (or "damage") the olive oil or the wine, now luxuries far beyond their means.
Yechiel Lichtenstein (see MJ 3:13N) comments:
"Weighing the bread is a sign of a curse, according to Leviticus 26:26, They shall dole out your bread by weight; you will eat, but you will not be satisfied.'"
(Commentary to the New Testament, ad loc.)
A pallid, sickly-looking horse (or: "a green horse"). Lichtenstein comments,
"The greenness is a sign of death. Death causes the face to turn green, as it says in the Talmud, referring to the angel of death: ...they throw in the mouth of the dying the drop which caused his death, and his skin and face become green' (Avodah Zarah 26b)."
Underneath the altar the souls. This odd image should be understood in the light of rabbinic literature. According to a work attributed to the second-century Rabbi Natan HaBavli,
"HaKadosh ["the Holy One"], blessed be he, took the soul of Moses and stored it under the Throne of Glory.... Not only the soul of Moses is stored under the Throne of Glory, but the souls of the righteous are also stored there.
"Rabbi Akiva used to say,... Whoever is buried beneath the altar is as though he were buried beneath the Throne of Glory.' "(Avot diRabbi Natan 12:4, 26:2)
According to the Talmud, the third-century Rabbi Abba Arikha, known as Rav, taught that the archangel Michael offers a sacrifice on the heavenly altar in the heavenly temple (M'nachot 110a). The Tosafot, medieval commentators on the Talmud, said about this passage that this sacrifice consists of the souls of the righteous, of Torah-scholars. Similarly Shabbat 152b. On the altar itself, see 8:3N.
Put to death... for bearing witness. The Greek word for "witness" is "marturia," from which is derived the English word "martyr." See Ac 7:59-60N on the Jewish concept of death al kiddush HaShem ("to sanctify the Name" of God).
HaKadosh,... how long... before you... avenge our blood? People who oppose vengeance on principle can appeal to both Yeshua's example and his teaching (Mt 5:42, 26:51-54; Lk 23:34). Yet the Scriptures make room for vengeance. The martyrs recognize that while vengeance is not properly within the human domain, it is a proper function of God. As Ro 12:19 puts it,
"Never seek revenge, my friends; instead, leave that to God's anger; for in the Tanakh it is written, Adonai says, "Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay." ' [Deuteronomy 32:25]"
Moreover, just as the voice of Abel's blood cries out to God from the ground (Genesis 4), righteousness demands payment (vengeance) for murder or wrongful death. Psalm 79:10 and Lk 18:7-8a suggest that the martyrs here are praying for vindication rather than vengeance. But a similar prayer in the Pseudepigraphic book 1 Enoch 47:1- 4 is for vengeance.
White robe. See 3:4-5aN.
The description of the breaking of the sixth seal alludes to descriptions of the end of the world found in Isaiah 2:10-12, 2:19, 13:10, 34:4, 50:3; Jeremiah 4:23-29; Joel 3:4(2:31), 4:15 3:15); Nahum 1:5-6; Haggai 2:6 (compare Mt 24:29, Lk 23:30).
The fury of the Lamb will be fearful because the Lamb is also a Lion (see 5:5-6&NN). According to Yn 5:22, Ac 17:31, Ro 2:16 and 2C 5:10 God has entrusted judgment to this Lion/Lamb. It will take place on the Great Day, also known as the Day of the Lord (1:10 &N above, 2 Th 2:2, 2 Ke 3:10, and more than a dozen places in the Tanakh), the Day of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (1C 1:8), the Day of our Lord Yeshua (2C 1:14), the Day of the Messiah (Pp 1:10), the Great Day of Adonai-Tzva'ot (16:14 (below, Isaiah 2:12, Jeremiah 46:10), the Day of Anger (Ro 2:5; Zephaniah 1:18, 2:2-3; Lamentations 2:22), and the Day of Judgment (Mt 10:15, 2 Ke 2:9, 1 Yn 4:17 and five other places in the New Testament).
On the Great Day... who can stand? Those of the world who glory in their power will realize that it was all an illusion. Even weak people who manipulate and try to gain power in small ways will be revealed for what they are. Only those who restrict "praise, honor, glory and power" to God and the Lamb 5:13), will survive their fury.
The servants of our God are sealed on their foreheads so that certain plagues, such as the one from the fifth trumpet (9:4), will not affect them. Yechiel Lichtenstein writes, "From 14:1 it seems that on the seal was written the name of the Lamb and of his Father." See also Ezekiel 9:4, where a mark is set on the foreheads of those who oppose the abominations done in Jerusalem.
144,000. Whether this number is to be taken literally or figuratively, the obvious question is: why exactly this number? The answer is usually along these lines: there are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve emissaries; there are Ten Commandments; squaring the former and cubing the latter bespeaks perfection, the perfection and fullness of Israel. Yechiel Lichtenstein (MJ 3:13N) offers an intriguing explanation:
"Israel numbered 7,200,000 at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. The t'rumah [the offering to cohanim from the firstfruits] is normally one fiftieth (Mishna, T'rumot 4:3), which here comes to 144,000. At Ro 11:16 Paul remarked that if the challah offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole loaf.' Thus the meaning is that if the firstfruits of Israel, the 144,000 Messianic Jews who put their trust in Yeshua, is holy, then the whole loaf, all of Israel, is holy. Therefore Paul continues, In this way all Israel will be saved. As the Tanakh says, "Out of Zion will come the Redeemer; he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Ro 11:26).' This is in accordance with my comment on 1:7, which says that when the sign of the son of man is seen in heaven, the children of Israel will repent, recognize the Messiah, and mourn because they pierced him unjustly. That is when all Israel will be saved. Yet the condition for this is the prior salvation of 144,000." (Commentary to the New Testament, on Rv 7:9)
Although there is no way of knowing exactly how many Jews there were in 70 C.E., scholars agree that the number was between five and ten million. The number of Messianic Jews then, as now, was surely in six figures (see Ac 21:20N), but it would be sheer speculation to fix it at 144,000.
From every tribe of the people of Israel. The plain sense, the p'shat, of this phrase is "from among the entire Jewish people." But many commentators say it refers to the Church. In Ro 2:28-29N I suggest that even where the p'shat of a text refers to Jews, there may be a midrashic application to the entire Body of the Messiah. Moreover, at Ga 6:16 and Ep 2:11-13 (see notes there and at Ro 11:26a), "Israel" is used in a way that does include saved Gentiles, new creations formerly distant but now brought near and grafted in (Ro 11:17-24). However, the case that the 144,000 from every tribe of the people of Israel means "the Church" is harder to make here; because v. 9 below speaks of "a huge crowd, too large for anyone to count, from every nation, tribe, people and language." Apparently, this innumerable crowd of saved Gentiles is to be contrasted with the delimited number of saved Jews in the present verse. Furthermore, to emphasize the fact that these 144,000 are Jews, vv. 5-8 lists the twelve tribes; this would have no immediate relevance to the Church. See also 14:1-5&NN, where the number 144,000 reappears.
One objection sometimes made to interpreting these 144,000 as Jews is that there is supposedly no reason why Jews would be singled out for special protection. Such thinking contradicts the whole of salvation history as set forth in the Tanakh and reflects an unawareness on the part of Gentile Christian commentators that they have been joined to Israel, that is, to the Jewish people. God, by his grace, has singled out the Jewish people for special protection for thousands of years. After centuries of dispersion and persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, we would not exist at all without such protection. This protection is promised over and over by the Prophets, even when Israel becomes sinful and breaks covenant; though it is not always promised to the entire people, but rather only to a remnant (see Ro 9:27-29, 11:1-32) such as the 144,000. Moreover, the sealing of the Jewish people from judgment corresponds specifically to God's promise at Zechariah 9:14-16 (see 8:2N on "shofars").
The Jehovah's Witnesses used to claim that their adherents constituted the 144,000. When their membership came to exceed this number, they simply revised their theology! Such a blatant appeal to pride at being among the supposed spiritual elite is a favorite tactic of cults.
No matter who the 144,000 are, there is a problem with these verses, in that the listing of the twelve tribes is very strange: (1) Dan is missing, (2) Efrayim is missing but included in Yosef, who was Efrayim's father, (3) M'nasheh is counted twice, since Yosef was also his father, (4) Y'hudah, not Re'uven, is mentioned first, and (5) L'vi is included, even though this tribe is sometimes not counted, since it was not assigned a portion in the Land. Efrayim and M'nasheh were the two sons of Yosef, and their descendants were at first counted as half-tribes; but over time they became elevated to the status of tribes because Yosef, after saving his family from starvation, was treated like the firstborn and given a double portion (Genesis 48:22).
On these verses Yechiel Lichtenstein writes in his Commentary to the New Testament:
"Rabbi Yitzchak of Troki's Chizzuk-Emunah accused Yochanan of not knowing the number of the tribes. This is nonsense, since Yochanan in his book demonstrates wonderful knowledge of the Tanakh.
"Some say Dan is excluded because he sinned by worshipping idols (Judges 18:30, 2 Kings 10:29); as proof they quote 1 Chronicles 2-7, where the tribe of Dan is not mentioned. But this is not a valid proof, because Z'vulun is not mentioned there either; and the reason in both cases is that the author, Ezra, wrote in his book only what he found in the scrolls available to him. This is why the subjects there often follow one another without logical connection there are missing links.
"Concerning Dan, Yaakov, when blessing his sons, said, Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel' (Genesis 49:16). Moreover, Ezekiel 48:32 attributes one gate to Dan, one to Yosef, since Joseph includes Efrayim and M'nasheh in respect to the heritage, and one to L'vi."
Here is Lichtenstein's solution to the problem:
"It seems to me that a scribal error was made when the book of Revelation was being prepared for transmission to the world. Instead of M'nasheh' we should read Dan.' Yochanan also mentioned Y'hudah before Re'uven, because the Messiah came out of Y'hudah (see 1 Chronicles 2-7, where Y'hudah is also mentioned first, and the Jewish commentators on it). Next he mentions Re'uven, because he was the firstborn of the tribal patriarchs. But after this Yochanan paid no more attention to the subject."
In other words, when Yochanan proofread the manuscript of his book he failed to notice anomalies in the tribal listing. It is always tempting to attribute a difficult reading to scribal error, but I am not sure this explanation should be invoked so quickly here.
Shimon is missing from Moses' blessing of the tribes in Deuteronomy 33. There too corruption of the manuscript is offered as a possible reason, although a more specific one is that his tribe had no extended area of its own his inheritance of 19 cities was spread through the territory of Y'hudah (Joshua 19:2-9).
It is suggested that Dan is absent from the present list because the Anti-Messiah is to come from this tribe. This idea can be found in the second-century church father Irenaeus; in Jewish tradition it can be traced back to the Pseudepigraphic Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, written around 100 B.C.E., where Dan is told:
"In the last days you will depart from the Lord.... For I have read in the book of Enoch the righteous that your prince is Satan." (Testament of Dan 5:4-7)
But for this idea there is no biblical evidence.
Another reason for Dan's omission might be this tribe's poor reputation due to its weakness for idol-worship. The Midrash Rabbah explains Numbers 2:25, "The standard of the camp of Dan is to be on the north side," thusly:
"The north.' From there comes darkness [since the sun is in the south]. Why is this relevant to Dan? Because Dan darkened the world by idolatry. For [King] Jeroboam made two calves of gold. And idolatry is darkness, as it is said, Their works are in the dark' (Isaiah 29:15). Jeroboam went about all over Israel, but they would not receive his teaching, except for the tribe of Dan, as it is said, The king took counsel, made two calves of gold... and set the one in Dan' (1 Kings 12:28-29). This is why the Holy One commanded that Dan should set up his camp on the north." (Numbers Rabbah 2:10)
If it is meant literally that 12,000 from each tribe are to be selected, it can be objected that no one will know who belongs to which tribe, since genealogies no longer exist. One answer: God, who will be doing the choosing, will know.
A huge crowd... dressed in white robes. See vv. 13-17. From every nation, tribe, people and language. See 5:9b-13N.
Victory. Greek sôtêria usually means "salvation" or "deliverance," but KJV's "Salvation to our God..." is awkward, since God does not need to be saved. Here (and at 12:10, 19:1) the sense is as at Psalm 98:2: "His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him [God] the victory." The Hebrew word there is the verb related to "yeshuah" ("salvation").
"Amen" always refers back to something said previously (Mt 5:18N). The first "Amen" of the elders and the four living beings in v. 12 is their response to the shout of the crowd at v. 10. The second one is a signal to that crowd to respond by affirming the elders' and living beings' own words of praise (see Ro 9:5N).
To our God. Or: "come from our God." See v. 10N.
The Great Persecution (KJV, "great tribulation"); compare Daniel 12:1, also Mt 24:21-22&N. Verses 14-17 offer comfort to any believer undergoing persecution.
They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb. The metaphor, which only gains power from being contradictory when taken literally, means that those who did not capitulate under persecution have become clean and are regarded by God as sinless (compare Isaiah 1:18) because they have remained faithful to Yeshua, who shed his blood for them (see 1:7&N).
His Temple. According to Jewish tradition, God has a temple in heaven. Compare the book of Messianic Jews, in which Yeshua is presented as a cohen serving God in heaven. See also MJ 8:2-6a&N, which refers to the Tent (Tabernacle) in heaven and gives references in Exodus.
Will put his Sh'khinah upon them. Or: "will spread his tent over them," giving protection. The Greek word "skênôsei" ("will spread his tent, will dwell") is related to the Hebrew words "mishkan" ("tent, tabernacle") and "Sh'khinah" ("dwelling," used in rabbinic Judaism to mean "God's manifest glory dwelling with mankind"; see MJ 1:2-3N). Compare Ezekiel 37:27, where, in the valley of dry bones, God says, "V'hayah mishkani aleihem" ("and my tent will be upon them").
The Lamb can be at the center of the throne because he is identified with God. Springs of living water. See 21:6N. Wipe away every tear. See 21:4N.
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament
1. Of the seals. Add seven.
And see. Omit.
2. White horse. For white, see on Luke 19:29. Horse, see Zechariah 1:711; 6:18. All the figures of this verse are those of victory. The horse in the Old Testament is the emblem of war. See Job 39:25; Psalms 76:6; Proverbs 21:31; Ezekiel 26:10. So Virgil:
"But I beheld upon the grass four horses, snowy white,
Grazing the meadows far and wide, first omen of my sight.
Father Anchises seeth, and saith: New land and bear'st thou war?
For war are horses dight; so these war-threatening herd-beasts are.'"
"Aeneid," iii., 537.
So Turnus, going forth to battle:
"He spake, and to the roofed place now swiftly wending home,
Called for his steeds, and merrily stood there before their foam
E'en those that Orithyia gave Pilumnus, gift most fair,
Whose whiteness overpassed the snow, whose speed the winged air."
"Aeneid," xii., 8183.
Homer pictures the horses of Rhesus as whiter than snow, and swift as the winds ("Iliad," x., 436, 437); and Herodotus, describing the battle of Plataea says: "The fight went most against the Greeks where Mardonius, mounted on a white horse, and surrounded by the bravest of all the Persians, the thousand picked men, fought in person" (ix., 63). The horses of the Roman generals in their triumphs were white.
Bow (to/xon). See Psalms 45:4, 5; Hebrews 3:8, 9; Isaiah 41:2; Zechariah 9:13,14, in which last passage the figure is that of a great bow which is drawn only by a great exertion of strength, and by placing the foot upon it. Compare Homer's picture of Telemachus' attempt to draw Ulysses' bow:
"And then he took his place
Upon the threshold, and essayed the bow;
And thrice he made the attempt and thrice gave o'er."
"Odyssey," xxi., 12425.
The suitors propose to anoint the bow with fat in order to soften it.
"Bring us from within
An ample roll of fat, that we young men
By warming and anointing may make soft
The bow, and draw the cord and end the strife."
"Odyssey," xxi., 17880.
A crown (ste÷fanoß). See on chapter 4:4.
3. And see. Omit.
Had opened (h¡noixen). Rev., rendering the aorist mow literally, opened.
4. Red (purjrJo/ß). From puvr fire. Flame-colored. Compare 2 Kings 3:22; Zechariah 1:8. Only here and chapter 12:3.
To take peace from the earth. Compare Matthew 10:34; 24:7.
Kill (sfa¿xwsin). See on chapter 5:6.
Sword (ma¿caira). Compare Matthew 10:34. In Homer, a large knife or dirk, worn next the sword-sheath, and used to slaughter animals for sacrifice. Thus, "The son of Atreus, having drawn with his hands the knife (ma¿cairan) which hung ever by the great sheath of his sword, cut the hair from the heads of the lambs. ... He spake, and cut the lambs' throats with the pitiless brass" ("Iliad," iii., 271292). It is used by the surgeon Machaon to cut out an arrow ("Iliad," xi., 844). Herodotus, Aristophanes, and Euripides use the word in the sense of a knife for cutting up meat. Plato, of a knife for pruning trees. As a weapon it appears first in Herodotus: "Here they (the Greeks) defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords, using them (vii., 225) Later of the sabre or bent sword, contrasted with the xi÷foß or straight sword. Aristophanes uses it with the adjective mia× single, for a razor, contrasted with ma¿caira diplhv, the double knife or scissors. This and rJomfai÷a (see on Luke 2:35) are the only words used in the New Testament for sword. Xi÷foß (see above) does not occur. In Septuagint ma¿caira of the knife of sacrifice used by Abraham (Genesis 22:6,10).
5. Come and see. Omit and see.
Black. The color of mourning and famine. See Jeremiah 4:28; 8:21; Malachi 3:14, where mournfully is, literally, in black.
Pair of balances (zugo\n). Rev., a balance. Properly, anything which joins two bodies; hence a yoke (Matthew 11:29; Acts 15:10). The cross-beam of the loom, to which the warp was fixed; the thwarts joining the opposite sides of a ship; the beam of the balance, and hence the balance itself. The judgment of this seal is scarcity, of which the balance is a symbol, representing the time when food is doled out by weight. See Leviticus 26:26; Ezekiel 4:16.
6. Measure (coinix). Choenix. Only here in the New Testament. A dry measure, according to some, a quart; to others a pint and a half. Herodotus, speaking of the provisions for Xerxes' army, assigns a choenix of corn for a man's daily supply, evidently meaning a minimum allowance (vii., 187); and Thucydides, speaking of the terms of truce between the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians, mentions the following as one of the provisions: "The Athenians shall permit the Lacedaemonians on the mainland to send to those on the island a fixed quantity of kneaded flour, viz., two Attic quarts (coi÷nikaß) of barley-meal for each man" (iv., 16). Jowett ("Thucydides") says that the choenix was about two pints dry measure. So Arnold ("Thucydides"), who adds that the allowance of two choenixes of barley-meal daily to a man was the ordinary allowance of a Spartan at the public table. See Herodotus, vi., 57.
For a penny (dhnari÷ou). See on Matthew 20:2.
8. Pale (clwro\ß). Only in Revelation, except Mark 6:39. Properly, greenish-yellow, like young grass or unripe wheat. Homer applies it to honey, and Sophocles to the sand. Generally, pale, pallid. Used of a mist, of sea-water, of a pale or bilious complexion. Thucydides uses it of the appearance of persons stricken with the plague (ii., 49). In Homer it is used of the paleness of the face from fear, and so as directly descriptive of fear ("Iliad," x., 376; xv., 4). Of olive wood ("Odyssey," ix., 320, 379) of which the bark is gray. Gladstone says that in Homer it indicates rather the absence than the presence of definite color. In the New Testament, always rendered green, except here. See Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; 9:14.
Hell. Properly, Hades. The realm of the dead personified, See on Matthew 16:18.
Power (exousi÷a). See on Mark 2:10; 2 Peter 2:11. Rev., better, authority.
With the sword (en rJomfai÷a). Another word for sword. Compare verse 4, and see on Luke 2:35.
With death (ei qana¿tw). Or pestilence. The Hebrew rRb®;d, pestilence, is rendered by the Greek word for death in the Septuagint. See Jeremiah 14:12; 21:7. Compare the term black-death applied to an Oriental plague which raged in the fourteenth century.
With the beasts (uJpo\ tw×n qhri÷wn). Rev., by. The preposition uJpo/ by is used here instead of en in or with, indicating more definitely the actual agent of destruction; while en denotes the element in which the destruction takes place, and gives a general indication of the manner in which it was wrought. With these four judgments compare Ezekiel 14:21.
9. Altar (qusiasthri÷ou). See on Acts 17:23. The altar of sacrifice, as is indicated by slain; not the altar of incense. The imagery is from the tabernacle. Exodus 39:39; 40:29.
Souls (yuca»ß). Or lives. See on 3 John 2. He saw only blood, but blood and life were equivalent terms to the Hebrew.
Slain (esfagme÷nwn). See on chapter 5:6. The law commanded that the blood of sacrificed animals should be poured out at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering (Leviticus 4:7).
They held (eicon). Not held fast, but bore the testimony which was committed to them.
10. They cried (e¶krazon). See on Mark 5:5.
How long (eºwß po/te). Lit., until when. Compare Zechariah 1:12.
O Lord (oj despo/thß). See on 2 Peter 2:1. Only here in Revelation. Addressed to God rather than to Christ, and breathing, as Professor Milligan remarks, "the feeling of Old Testament rather than of New Testament relation." Compare Acts 4:24; Jude 4.
True (aÓlhqino\ß). See on John 1:9; Revelation 3:7.
Judge (kri÷neiß). Originally the verb means to separate; thence the idea of selection: to pick out, and so to discriminate or judge.
Avenge (ekdikeiß). Compare Luke 18:3; Romans 12:19.
On the earth (epi« thvß ghvß). Earth, in Revelation, is generally to be understood of the ungodly earth.
11. White robes were given unto every one of them (edo/qhsan eka¿stoiß stolai« leukai«). The best texts read edo/qh aujtoiß eka¿stw stolh\ leukh/ there was given them to each one a white robe. So Rev. Stolh\ is properly a long, flowing robe; a festive garment. Compare Mark 16:5; Luke 15:22; 20:46.
Should rest (aÓnapau/swntai). See on Matthew 11:28; 1 Peter 5:14; compare chapter 14:13; Daniel 12:13. Not merely rest from their crying for vengeance, but rest in peace.
Fellow-servants. See Master in verse 10.
Should be fulfilled (plhrw¿sontai). Completed in number. See Colossians 2:10. Some texts read plhrw¿swsin shall have fulfilled their course.
12. The sixth seal. "The Apocalypse is molded by the great discourse of our Lord upon the last things' which has been preserved for us in the first three Gospels (Matthew 24:4; 25.; Mark 13:537; Luke 21:836; compare 17:2037). The parallelism between the two is, to a certain extent, acknowledged by all inquirers, and is indeed, in many respects, so obvious, that it can hardly escape the notice of even the ordinary reader. Let any one compare, for example, the account of the opening of the sixth seal with the description of the end (Matthew 24:29, 30), and he will see that the one is almost a transcript of the other. It is remarkable that we find no account of this discourse in the Gospel of St. John; nor does it seem as sufficient explanation of the omission that the later Evangelist was satisfied with the records of the discourse already given by his predecessors" (Milligan).
Earthquake (seismo\ß). Lit., shaking. Used also of a tempest. See on Matthew 8:24, and compare Matthew 24:7. The word here is not necessarily confined to shaking the earth. In Matthew 24:29, it is predicted that the powers of the heavens shall be shaken (saleuqh/sontai, see on Luke 21:26). Here also the heaven is removed (verse 14). Compare Hebrews 12:26, where the verb sei÷w to shake (kindred with seismo\ß) is used.
Black as sackcloth of hair (me÷laß wÓß sa¿kkoß). Compare Matthew 24:29; Isaiah 50:3; 13:10; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Joel 2:31; 3:15; Amos 8:9, 10; Micah 3:6. For sackcloth, see on Luke 10:13.
The moon (hj selh/nh). Add o¢lh whole. Rev., the whole moon.
13. Untimely figs (ojlu/nqouß). Better, as Rev., unripe. Compare Matthew 24:32; Isaiah 34:4. Only here in the New Testament.
14. Departed (aÓpecwri÷sqh). The verb means to separate, sever. Rev., was removed.
Scroll (bibli÷on). See on Luke 4:17. Compare Isaiah 34:4.
Mountain and island. Compare Matthew 24:35; Nahum 1:5.
15. Of the earth. See on verse 10.
Great men (megista×neß). Rev., princes. See on high captains, Mark 6:21
Chief captains (cili÷arcoi). See on Mark 6:21, and on centurion, Luke 7:2.
The mighty (oi dunatoi«). The best texts read oi iscuroi«. Rev., the strong. For the difference in meaning, see on the kindred words du/namiß and iscu/ß might and power, 2 Peter 2:11.
Every free man. Omit every, and read as Rev., every bondman and free man.
In the dens (eiß ta» sph/laia). Rev., caves. The preposition eiß into implies running for shelter into.
Rocks (pe÷traß). See on Matthew 16:18.
16. Said (le÷gousin). Lit., say. So Rev.
Fall on us. Compare Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30.
Wrath (ojrghvß). Denoting a deep-seated wrath. See on John 3:36.
17. The great day (hj hJme÷ra hj mega¿lh). Lit., the day, the great (day). For the construction, see on 1 John 4:9.
Is come (hlqen). Lit., came.
Shall be able to stand (du/natai staqhvnai). Rev., rightly, is able. Compare Nahum 1:6; Malachi 3:2.
1. These things (tauvta). Read touvto this.
Holding (kratouvntaß). Holding fast or firmly. See on Mark 7:3; Acts 3:11.
2. East (aÓnatolhvß hjli÷ou). Rev., more literally, the sunrising. See on Matthew 2:2; Luke 1:78. Compare Ezekiel 43:2.
The four angels. Compare Matthew 24:31.
3. In their foreheads. Compare Exodus 28:3; 638; Ezekiel 9:4.
4. An hundred and forty and four thousand. Not literally, but the number symbolical of fixedness and full completion (12 x 12). The interpretations, as usual, vary greatly, dividing generally into two great classes: one holding that only Jews are meant, the other including the whole number of the elect both Jew and Gentile. Of the former class some regard the sealed as representing Jewish believers chosen out of the literal Israel. Others add to this the idea of these as forming the nucleus of glorified humanity to which the Gentiles are joined. Others again regard them as Jews reserved by God until Antichrist comes, to maintain in the bosom of their nation a true belief in Jehovah and His law, like the seven thousand in the days of Elijah.
The interpretation of the latter class seems entitled to the greater weight. According to the Apocalyptic usage, Jewish terms are "christianized and heightened in their meaning, and the word "Israel" is to be understood of all Christians, the blessed company of all faithful people, the true Israel of God." See Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6, 7; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:3. The city of God, which includes all believers, is designated by the Jewish name, New Jerusalem. In verse 3, the sealed are designated generally as the servants of God. In chapter 14 the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed are mentioned after the description of the enemies of Christ, who have reference to the whole Church of Christ; and the mention of the sealed is followed by the world-wide harvest and vintage of the earth. The one hundred and forty-four thousand in chapter 14., have the Father's name written in their foreheads; and in chapter 22:4, all the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are so marked. In chapter 21:12, the twelve tribes include all believers. The mark of Satan which is in the forehead, is set upon all his servants without distinction of race. See chapter 13:16, 17; 14:9; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4. The plagues threaten both Jews and Gentiles, as the sealing protects all.
9. I saw. This vision belongs to heaven, while the sealing took place on earth.
Arrayed (peribeblhme÷noi). See on chapter 3:5.
Robes. See on chapter 6:11.
"The ancient scriptures and the new
The mark establish, and this shows it me,
Of all the souls whom God hath made His friends.
Isaiah saith that each one garmented
In His own land shall be with twofold garments, [Note: Dante's reference is to Isaiah 61:7, where, however, there is no reference to garments, but merely to a double compensation.]
And his own land is this delightful life.
Thy brother, too, [Note: John.] far more explicitly,
There where he treateth of the robes of white,
This revelation manifests to us."
Dante, "Paradiso," xxv., 8896.
Palms (foi÷nikeß). Properly, palm-trees, but used here of palm-branches. Not a heathen but a Jewish image drawn probably from the Feast of Tabernacles. See on John 7:2.
10. Cried. The correct reading is kra¿zousin they cry. So Rev.
Salvation. The praise of salvation, ascribing salvation to God.
11. Stood (esth/kesan). Rev., more correctly, were standing. The tense is the pluperfect, used in this verb as an imperfect.
12. Blessing, etc. On the doxologies, see on chapter 1:6.
13. Answered. In the sense of taking up speech in connection with some given occasion, as Matthew 11:25. See also on John 2:18.
What are these, etc. The Rev., properly, follows the Greek order, which places first "These which are arrayed in the white robes, who are they?" emphatic and indicating the natural order of the thought as it presents itself to the inquirer. For what, render who, as Rev.
14. I said (ei¶rhka). Lit., I have said. Rev., renders by the present, I say. See on cried. John 1:15.
Sir (ku/rie). Add mou my, and render, as Rev., my Lord. An address of reverence as to a heavenly being. See on Matthew 21:3.
Which came (oi erco/menoi). The present participle. Hence, as Rev., which come.
Out of great tribulation (ek thvß qli÷yewß thvß mega¿lhß). Lit., out of the tribulation, the great (tribulation). Rev., properly, gives the force of the article, "the great." See on Matthew 13:21.
Have washed (e¶plunan). The aorist tense. Rev., correctly, they washed. Only here and Luke 5:2, on which see note. For the New Testament words for washing, see on Acts 16:33.
Made them white. Compare Isaiah 1:18; Psalms 51:7; Mark 9:3. Milligan remarks that robes are the expression of character, and compares the word habit used of dress.
15. Therefore. Because of this washing.
Before the throne. Compare Ephesians 5:27.
Serve (latreu/ousin). See on Luke 1:74. In scripture the verb never expresses any other service but that of the true God, or of the gods of heathenism.
Temple (naw×). Or sanctuary. See on Matthew 4:5.
Dwell (skhnw¿sei). From skhnh/ a tent or tabernacle. Hence better, as Rev., shall spread His tabernacle. See on John 1:14, and compare Leviticus 26:11; Isaiah 4:5, 6; Ezekiel 37:27.
16. They shall hunger no more, etc. Compare Isaiah 49:10.
Heat (kauvma). In Isaiah 49:10, the word kau/swn the scorching wind or sirocco is used. See on Matthew 20:12; James 1:11.
17. In the midst (aÓna¿ me÷son). See on chapter 5:6.
Shall feed (poimanei). See on shall be shepherd of, Matthew 2:6; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2. Compare Psalms 23:1.
Shall lead (oJdhgh/sei). See on Luke 6:39.
Living fountains of waters (zw¿saß phga»ß uJda¿twn). For the participle living, read zwhvß of life, and render as Rev., fountains of waters of life. Compare Psalms 23:2. In the Greek order, of life stands first as emphatic.
All tears (pa×n da¿kruon). Rev., correctly, every tear. (Compare Isaiah 25:8.
Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 52a: Revelation 1-5, Volume 52b: Revelation 6-16 & Volume 52c: Revelation 17-22, David E. Aune
Barnes' Notes on the New Testament: Revelation of St. John the Divine, Albert Barnes
The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 and The Book of Ezekiel: Chapter 25-48: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Damiel I. Block
An Introduction to the New Testament, D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo
Dr. Constable's Notes on Revelation, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary (his class notes)
Revelation: Four Views. A Parallel Commentary, Steve Gregg
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 1871 Edition, Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, Dennis E. Johnson
Revelation Unveiled, Tim LaHaye
Macarthur New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation 1-11, Revelation 12-22, John MacArthur
The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Robert H. Mounce
The Preacher's Commentary: 1,2 & 3 John/Revelation, Earl F. Palmer
Exploring Revelation: Am Expository Commentary, John Phillips
The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, Vern S. Poythress
"Behold, He Cometh": A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Revelation, John R. Rice
Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Marvin R. Vincent
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Revelation, Michael Wilcock
IVP Pocket Dictionaries:
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzke and Cherith Fee
Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta -
Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of
Religion, Stephen Evans -
Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament
Greek, Matthew S. DeMoss Intervarsity Press' New Testament Commentary Intervarsity Press' New Bible Commentary Intervarsity Press' Hard Sayings of the Bible
IVP Pocket Dictionaries:
- Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzke and Cherith Fee Nordling
- Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta
- Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion, Stephen Evans
- Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek, Matthew S. DeMoss
Intervarsity Press' New Testament Commentary
Intervarsity Press' New Bible Commentary
Intervarsity Press' Hard Sayings of the Bible
Back to the main page...