The Comfort of the Church in Spiritual Afflictions. Rev. 7, 1-17.

The sealing of God's servants: V.1. And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. V.2. And I saw another angel ascending from the east having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, v.3. saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. The seventh chapter contains the description of a vision, by which the prophet was to be prepared for the events which were to follow the opening of the seventh seal. It shows in what way the Lord protects those whom He has chosen in the midst of the spiritual tribulations of the latter times. A sin many other pictures, we are able to follow only the general trend of the thought and cannot, in the absence of prophetical explanation, make specific application to certain historical events. The seer writes: And after this I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, lest the wind blow upon the earth or upon the sea or upon any tree. Four angels are named according to the four cardinal points of the compass, thus signifying that the destruction which should be wrought upon the earth would be universal. Their intention seems to have been to destroy earth and sea and all that they contained, not only the unbelievers and godless, but also the believers, the elect of God. They were evil angels, and by withholding the winds from the earth they wanted to work harm for all creatures. The prince of this world has the purpose of hindering the growth and the course of the Gospel, and therefore he inspires false teachers to hold back the breath and the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel.

But God promptly intervened: And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun having the seal of the living God, and he called with a mighty voice to the four angels to whom permission had been given to injure the earth and the sea, saying, Do not injure the earth nor the sea nor the trees until we shall seal the servants of our God on their foreheads. Here is comfort and encouragement for the believers of all times. From the east, from the source of light and life, a fifth angel appears, a servant of the most high God, perhaps the Messenger of the Covenant Himself, Mal. 3, 1. He bore the seal of the living God, which gave Him authority to carry out God’s commands without hindrance. His word, therefore, as He called out to the four evil angels not to injure the earth and the sea and all they contained until they should be given further leave, was at once obeyed. With God’s permission the evil angels are often enabled to work harm in the world, thus incidentally carrying out God’s decrees of punishment; but they must stay their hands at the first word from Him. In this case God intended first of all to have His servants, His believers, His elect, to be sealed upon their foreheads, to bear in this conspicuous place the names of God and of the Lamb, chap. 14, 1; 22, 4, to serve for their protection amid the spiritual afflictions of the last days, Matt. 24, 24. No man can pluck them out of His hand, John 10, 28. 29.

The total number of the sealed: V.4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed; and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. V.5. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. V.6. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. v.7. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. V.8. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. Note that the tribe of Judah is mentioned first, since the fourth son of Jacob became the bearer of the Messianic promise and the forefather of the Messiah. After an interval, during which the sealing is supposed to have taken place, the total number of those that were sealed with the protective mark of God is announced. John did not do the counting himself, but only heard the number, for only the Lord knows them that are His. It is evidently a collective, stereotyped number, intended to include all those that belong to the true Israel, to the congregation of the believers, of all tongues and nations. The enumeration of the tribes is also made simply to get the number twelve, in accordance with the ancient way of figuring. It is for this reason that Joseph is substituted for Ephraim, and that Dan is omitted; Levi is mentioned with the rest, because in the Church of Christ there is no distinctive priesthood, but all belong to the royal priesthood. The seal of the Lord was placed upon the definite number of those whom He had chosen unto eternal life.

The doxology of the countless multitude: V.9. After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands; v.10. and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God, which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. V.11. And all the angels stood round about the throne and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God, v.12. saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might be unto our God forever and ever. Amen. Here is a scene of victory and triumph: After this I saw, and, behold, a great multitude which no man was able to count, out of every nation and from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white garments and palms in their hands. Here is the antitype of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Christian Church in the vestments of victory, ready to celebrate the joyous festival of the final entrance into glory. When the end of all tribulation will be at hand and the Kingdom of Glory will be revealed, then the innumerable multitude of the blessed, from every nation and tribe and people and language will be assembled before the throne of God. There they will stand, erect, confident, triumphant. For they will not appear in the garments of their own righteousness, but in the white vestments of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them by faith, Is. 61, 10. In their hands they will hold palms, tokens of joy and of victory, all in honor of the Lord and of the Lamb, Ps. 16, 11.

John heard also their hymn of praise: And they shouted with a mighty voice, saying, Salvation to our God, that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb. Here is the great chorus of the saints in bliss, not that of a quiet anthem, but that of a mighty shout, breaking forth from innumerable hearts that are filled with emotion. They ascribe their salvation, the bliss which they enjoyed, altogether and alone to God the Father, whose counsel of love prepared the salvation of the world, and to the Lamb, whose vicarious suffering earned salvation for the world. It is the eternal “All Glory Be to God on High” that here is brought out, the hymn of praise which will rise with unabated power, world without end.

When the praise of God is sung, the angels cannot remain silent: And all the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living beings, and fell down before the throne upon their faces and worshiped God, saying, Amen, praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever, Amen. As in chap. 5, 11, the angels are pictured as surrounding the throne and the elders and the cherubs, a great cloud of witnesses of the heavenly bliss. When the doxology of the perfected saints had come to an end, these blessed spirits took up the refrain and, with irrepressible ecstasy, enlarged upon it. With their Amen they agreed to the song of the elect, for it is one Spirit that lives in the congregation of Christ and in the hosts of the heavenly halls. As they praised the Lord before the opening of the seals, so their voices are raised in glorious harmony now that the fate of mankind has been unfolded. The divine wisdom was shown in the means devised by the Triune God to redeem fallen mankind; the divine power and might brought about the deliverance of mankind through the instrumentality of the Savior; and so thanksgiving, praise, and glory must be given to Him by the multitude of the perfected believers in bliss, by the hosts of heaven, throughout all eternity. This is most certainly true.

The bliss of the saints in white robes: V.13. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? V.14. And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. V.15. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. V.16. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat. V.17. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. An interesting conversation is now reported by John: And there answered one of the elders, saying to me, These that are clothed in white robes, who are they and whence came they? Undoubtedly the elder saw the interest and the curiosity of John depicted on his face, and intended to stimulate this interest and direct it into the right channels. Therefore he pointed to the great multitude of the white-robed saints, asking, not concerning their number, but regarding their origin and character.

John’s answer showed the eagerness of his heart: And I said to him, Sir, thou knowest. It was the respectful address of the inferior to one whom he regarded as his superior. Cp. Ezek. 37, 3. He received the information which he sought: And he said to me, These are they that have come out of the great distress, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The great distress was the period of persecution and martyrdom to which reference had been made in chap. 6, 11. These people had overcome, they had conquered, they had been faithful unto death, and therefore the Lord had rescued them, had brought them to the haven of eternal safety. There was no merit on their part in this transaction, for all their righteousness were as filthy rags in the sight of God, Is. 64, 6. But all the filth of their own garments had been washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which cleanses us from all sins, Is. 1, 16; 1 John 1, 7. The white robes are the righteousness of Jesus Christ which they received through the means of grace, to which they clung unto the end.

The blessed state of the elect saints is further described: For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple, and He that sits upon the throne shall overshadow them. For this reason, not for any merit on their part, but because they accepted the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the white garment of His perfect merit, the perfected saints occupy that place of glory and honor before the throne of God. They are not only new creatures, but they are priests before God, performing the work of their worship before Him in all eternity, without ceasing, since the difference between day and night will then be eliminated. And just as the Shechinah, the cloud of the covenant, hovered over the Tabernacle and over the mercy-seat in the Old Testament with intimate care, thus the presence of God will overshadow the elect in heaven, in order to be united with them in intimate fellowship and to satisfy them with the rich gifts of His house, Ps. 36, 9; Is. 49, 10.

And still more will pertain to the bliss of heaven: They shall no more hunger or thirst, nor shall there strike them the sun or any heat, for the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, will be their Shepherd and will direct their way to fountains of living waters; and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. These assertions are made with the greatest emphasis. For those that are gathered before the throne of the Lamb hunger and thirst, the time of distress and affliction, are past forever, Is. 49, 10. He that has mercy on them shall lead them; even by the springs of water shall He guide them. Never again will the burning rays of the sun, never again will the scorching heat of affliction make their spirits weary. For Jehovah Himself, the Lamb that occupies with the Father the very midst of the heavenly throne, will be the Shepherd that will guide them to the rich pastures of the heavenly blessings; He Himself will lead them beside the still waters of eternal life. He Himself is the bread, the manna, and the water of life, John 4, 14. 15; 6, 35; 7, 38. He it is that satisfies all hunger and thirst forever. What they have received here on earth in the means of grace, Is. 55, 1, they now obtain in richest, endless measure as they see God face to face, as they are partakers of the glory which the Savior gained for them by His redeeming work. Never again will there be a cause for tears in the heavenly home. The last tear that may have remained on their eyelashes, due to the pains of death or martyrdom, will be wiped away, without a trace to show their former misery, Is. 25, 8. That is the wonderful, the certain future that awaits the persecuted Church of God when the doors of eternity open. Oh, that this glorious comfort were living in the heart of every believer!

Summary. In the sealing of the servants of God, whose typical number is given, in the scene presenting the countless multitude praising the Lord, in the chorus of the angels, and in the description of the bliss of the saints in heaven the prophet offers the best and most lasting comfort to all believers in all afflictions of this life.