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The Sealing of the Servants of God
Summary —The Four Winds Held. The Sealing of the One Hundred and Forty Four Thousand. The Great Multitude with the Palms of Victory. They with White Robes About the Throne.
The symbolism which represents the opening events of the sixth seal has been given in chapter 6, verses 12–17. These, however, only show forth the great revolution in the world's history with which the seal opened in chapter 8, verse 1. Hence, all the symbolism of chapter 7 represents events which belong to the sixth seal, or at least are not completed before it closes.
1–3. After this. After the opening of the sixth seal. I saw four angels. The vision that appears before his eyes is that of four angels at the four points of the compass, holding four winds to prevent them from rushing in destruction upon the earth. These certainly represent four destructive powers which are held back for a time from the land, the sea, and the vegetation of the earth. 2. I saw another angel. The picture is that of an angel having the seal of the living God. The object of this seal is indicated in verse 3. The seal was a mark of ownership. The seal of God on the forehead would mark those sealed at God's. The seal mark on the forehead would be visible to everyone; hence the seal in the forehead has been understood to be the public confession and profession of Christ. This angel would thus symbolize a great and successful movement to evangelize the race. 3. Hurt not, etc. The four winds are forbidden to do their work of destruction until the sealing has been accomplished; or in other words, until the preaching of the gospel has wrought a certain result.
4–8. And I heard the number of them which were sealed. The number first named is one hundred and forty-four thousand, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These numbers are not to be taken literally, but only signify that a great number, not a countless number, but a part of each tribe of Israel, accepted the gospel. Of the tribes Ephraim appears under the name of Joseph, and Dan is entirely omitted, a fact possibly due to the early falling away of Dan into idolatry The number twelve is preserved by counting Levi. For another appearance of the one hundred and forty-four thousand, see 14:1.
9–10. After this I beheld. First he saw the vast company of those of the blood of Abraham who had been saved, and then he sees another company, not numbered, because they were so great that no man could number them. Of all nations and kindreds. The first multitude represented the Jews saved through Christ; the second, the countless multitude, represented the saved of all nations, the Gentile saints. Before the throne. In the vision they seem to stand before the throne and before the Lamb, to whom they ascribe the praises of their salvation. White robes. Victorious, triumphant. Palms in their hands. The symbol of joy. The palm branch was used at the feast of Tabernacles, the feast of thanksgiving. 10. Salvation to our God. The praise of our salvation be given to God and to the Lamb.
11, 12. All the angels. In chapter 5 the elders, four living creatures, the angels about the throne, and every creature join in the praises. Here again all are named, and the angels worship and join in praising God for the blessed scene they have just beheld.
13–17. What are these? The questions are asked by the elder that he may teach. “These” refer to the vast multitude described in verse 9. 14. Thou knowest. “I do not know but thou dost.” These are they which came out of the great tribulation. See Revision. Some great period of trial of the church is meant. They have stood the trial, and been true. Washed their robes. Have made themselves spotless by trust in the blood of Christ. 15. Therefore are they before the throne of God. They are exalted to heaven. 16. They shall hunger no more. Their sorrows are over forever. 17. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them. God and the Lamb shall bestow upon them every blessing and remove every sorrow.
The Meaning. —What do the symbols of this vision signify? It is evident that they indicate that four destructive agencies were to be checked and restrained until some great work of the gospel was accomplished. The work to be wrought is symbolized by two multitudes, one numbered, the other countless, both of them saved and praising God for salvation. The first company is composed of Jews, while the second and larger company is composed of Gentiles. In the fourteenth chapter we find again a company of one hundred and forty-four thousand with the Lamb upon Mt. Zion, evidently, from the same number, to be associated with these. We are there told that they were “virgins,” a term whose spiritual signification is that they had never been defiled by idolatry, and they were “the first fruits” unto the Lamb These marks, as well as the literal statement here that they were of the tribes of Israel, identify them as the Jewish members of the Church. These had never been guilty of idolatrous fornication, and had been the first fruits of Christianity. Jews were the original first fruits, and they were represented by the Jewish Christian element. The thought, as it appears to me, is to bring before the mind that at this period of triumph there were the Jewish and the Gentile elements. I am aware that many commentators have held that the one hundred and forty-four thousand refers to spiritual Israel. All Christians belong to this spiritual Israel, but it is evident that a different meaning is intended here. 1. Those sealed are taken out of the tribes of Israel. They are a remnant, while the great body of the membership of the tribes is left unsealed. 2. The Gentile Christians are named immediately after. Observe the marks of the countless multitude of the Gentiles saved: 1. They are clothed in white robes. White robes are the mark of triumph. 2. They have palms in their hands. Palms belong to victors. 3. They join in a song of praise to the Lamb as the author of their salvation. This is evidently a heavenly picture, representing a great triumph of the saints immediately after the events last described. The subsequent portion of the chapter is in harmony. “Who are these,” it asked, “arrayed in white garments?” The reply shows these, who have come through the (there is an article in the Greek) great tribulation of a suffering and persecuted church, are permitted to witness its justification and victory. The whole is a picture of a great triumph of the church, triumphant on earth, and its triumphant sufferers enjoying the final reward on high. The meaning is that those who have suffered and wrought during the long period of tribulation covering the first three centuries of the church have won their triumph on earth, in the victory of the church, and the final reward in heaven.
It only remains to ask, whether before the “four winds” were loosed and after the great persecution of the fifth seal, such a triumph was won. I have already shown that the opening of the sixth seal refers to the overthrow of the old Paganism. I will state briefly that at the end of the third century Paganism was dominant, persecuting, seeking to “abolish the Christian name.” At the end of the fourth century the civilized world was Christian.
The Four Winds. —I have already indicated that I regard the Four Angels with the Four Winds which are held back from hurting the earth until this great sealing is effected, four mighty agencies of destruction which were soon to sweep in fury upon the Roman Empire, “the earth” of John's vision. This will be explained more fully in the next chapter. Until this sealing, the mighty triumph, is effected, the four winds are held. It is significant that we will find following close upon the triumph of Christianity the Roman Empire utterly overthrown by four agencies, symbolized when four angels blow their trumpets under the seventh seal. It was part of the providence of God that these agencies should be restrained until the empire was converted to Christianity. Indeed, to this providence we may attribute the fact that Europe at this day and for a thousand years, as well as the descendants of Europeans in America, acknowledge the Christian faith. Had the overwhelming hordes of northern barbarians rushed down upon the civilized world before the new faith had been firmly planted, it could hardly have survived the wreck of empires and civilization; but, deeply rooted in the hearts of the vanquished, when all else was lost, Christianity rose above the ruins of the past and pointed the ferocious invaders to the Cross of Christ. The conquerors, in their new lands, laid aside the Paganism of their fathers and accepted a new religion from those whom they had vanquished. The new nations that emerge from the darkness of the Middle Ages, seated in the vast boundaries of the old Roman Empire, all acknowledge the Christian faith.
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