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Barnes' New Testament Notes
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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 7 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER VII

 

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 accomplished—that 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, Re 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 accomplished—that is, until the servants of God could be sealed in their foreheads, Re 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 known—as 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, Re 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 Israel—Levi 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, Re 7:9-17. The scene is transferred to heaven, and there is a vision of all the redeemed—not 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 robes— emblems of purity; they have palms in their hands—emblems of victory, Rev 7:9.

(b) They are engaged in ascribing praise to God, Re 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, Re 7:11,12.

(d) A particular inquiry is made of the seer—evidently to call his attention to it—respecting those who appear there in white robes, Re 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, Re 7:14.

(f) Then follows a description of their condition and employment in heaven, Re 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 here—while the impending judgments of the sixth seal are suspended, and before the seventh is opened—to 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 (Re 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, (Re 7:9-17,) and indeed is of general applicability in the exposition of this book.

Verse 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 points—north, 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 Barnes 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 classes—Zephyrus, Boreas, Notus, and Eurus—considered as under the control of a king, AEolus. See Esehenburg, Man. Class. Lit. % 78, comp. % 108. The angels here are represented as "holding" the winds—kratountav. 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. Nowhere—neither 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 Da 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 to—after the opening of the sixth seal and before the opening of the seventh—there 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 themselves—any of these things would be an obvious fulfilling of the meaning of the symbol.

{a} "four winds" Da 7:2

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