REVELATION - CHAPTER 7
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
Chapter six presents a broad general view of the judgments that will ravage the earth during the Tribulation; but chapter seven is concerned with salvation during that same terrible time, reminding us that even in the midst of judgment God remembers mercy.
Chapter six concludes by disclosing the misery of the unconverted at the end of the Tribulation: they seek, too late, a hiding place from the wrath of the Lamb. Chapter seven, on the other hand, presents the blessedness of the redeemed at the conclusion of that same terrible time of judgment. They have found the Hiding Place, once despised, now sought in vain by those about to be banished into hell as the Millennium begins.
7:1. “After these things I (John) 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.”
Symbolically the wind (singular) represents the Holy Spirit, see e.g., Jn 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” See also Ac 2:2 where the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is likened to the sound “of a rushing mighty wind.” Winds (plural) on the other hand, represent the angels who do His bidding, but also the evil spirits who obey Satan, the context indicating which group is meant.
The repeated reference to the number four, the number of earth and testing, reminds us that the storm about to break is to test the earth dwellers. The fact that the winds are restrained declares that the activity described here precedes the unleashing of the judgments represented by the seals, trumpets, and bowls.
With regard to “the four corners of the earth,” the following is a quotation from a report prepared by scientists of Johns Hopkins University: “The ‘four corners of the earth’ are more than poetic fancy.... Satellites have detected the corners in the form of four plateau-like areas, so vast and subtle that ordinary means of measuring have left them unnoticed until now....” The report goes on to describe the unusual gravitational pull exerted by these areas.
In the activity of these four angels “holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow....” we see God restraining the judgmental activity (winds), which under the control of the Holy Spirit (the wind), will devastate the Tribulation-age earth, until the one hundred and forty-four thousand Israelites have been sealed. The repetition of the number four points to the coming testing of earth by means of the Tribulation judgments.
In the four horsemen of chapter six we have a picture of “God’s four sore judgments ... sword ... famine ... beast ... pestilence,” (Ez 14:21); and in Zechariah chapter six, the prophet saw four chariots drawn by horses colored red, black, white, and bay, emerging from between two mountains of brass (symbol of judgment). These chariots are described as, “the four spirits (lit., winds) of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth,” (Zec 6:5); but in (Re 1:4) the Holy Spirit, in the sevenfold fullness of His Divine power, is also described as being “before His throne.” Since there is no question that the Tribulation judgments will be by the direction of the Holy Spirit, it seems clear that Re 7:1 relates to the restraint of His judgmental activity for the interval between the rapture of the Church and the beginning of the Tribulation. (For some other Biblical references to the winds in connection with Divine judgment see Isa 66:15; Jer 49:36 and Jer 51:1).
“... that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.” Continuing to obey the law of sound exegesis, we must take the language literally, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that it may be also symbolic, in which case the sea represents the rebellious nations; the earth, the believing remnant of Israel; and the trees, individual men and women.
7:2. “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,”
7:3. “Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”
Since the east is always connected with sin and departure from God, it seems that in the present context the east represents the earth. This angel is ascending from an earth totally corrupted and ripe for judgment, to ensure the restraint of that judgment until the elect of Israel are sealed, his ascent from the earth portraying the end of the Holy Spirit’s work of restraining evil during the Tribulation. This is in keeping with 2 Th 2:7 which declares that His ministry of restraining sin will cease at the Rapture, “... He Who now letteth (restrains) will let (restrain), until He be taken out of the way.”
“... in their foreheads.” While this is to be taken literally, it doesn’t exclude the fact that it will be also related to the intellect. As in this age of grace the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we belong to God (giving us to understand or know that we belong to Him), so this sealing may refer to the work of the Holy Spirit in giving to these 144,000 newly converted Jewish believers, the assurance of salvation, i.e., the mental apprehension of the spiritual fact. The sealing of these 144,000 is to mark them as belonging to God, and also to preserve them alive through the Tribulation, their ministry during those seven years being to preach the Gospel to the whole earth. With the multitudes who will also be preserved alive through the Tribulation, they will remain on the earth to enjoy millennial blessings.
Incidentally it is that whole multitude, and not just the 144,000, who will be the believing remnant in the Tribulation era.
Relative to the activity of the Holy Spirit after the rapture of the Church it is to be remembered that He Himself will not be removed from the earth as some teach. Only His ministry of restraining sin will cease, but it is to be remembered also that salvation has never been possible in any age apart from His ministry of conviction and enlightenment. The Tribulation and millennial ages will be no different in that respect. In those ages He will continue to convict and enlighten sinners.
7:4. “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.”
There is no reason not to take this number literally, but whether literal or symbolic, the fact remains that twelve is the principal factor, and twelve is the Scriptural number associated with those under divine government, as ten is the number associated with God as the source of all government. As examples of those under divine government we have Israel’s twelve tribes; in this present age, the Church built upon the foundation of the doctrine taught by the (twelve) apostles and prophets; and in the Tribulation and Millennium, Israel converted and restored. That restoration will begin with the conversion of these 144,000 Israelites, following the rapture of the Church. This is another confirmation that the seven years of the Tribulation era are the final “week” (seven years) of Daniel’s seventy “weeks” (490 years), interrupted almost two thousand years ago at the end of the sixty-ninth “week” or four hundred and eighty-third year, by Israel’s rejection of Christ, but to be resumed after the removal of the Church. Following the rapture of the Church God will resume His dealings with Israel.
7:5. “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.”
7:6. “Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.”
7:7. “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.”
7:8. “Of the tribe of Zabulun were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.”
This tribal list is different from any other in Scripture, for first, two tribes are missing, and secondly, Judah heads the list. The prominence given to Judah is fitting. This is the beginning of the last phase of God’s program to restore the scepter to Judah, and promote Israel to her long-promised place of world supremacy.
The two names conspicuously absent are Dan and Ephraim. To say that the latter is included in Joseph is to leave unexplained the inclusion of Manasseh who was also Joseph’s son and Ephraim’s twin brother. To say, as some have argued, that Dan was only the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, is meaningless, for Naphtali was also Bilhah’s son, Ge 35:25.
Two of the more popular explanations for the omission of Dan are (1) This (allegedly) is the tribe from which the false prophet will come, (2) A copyist mistakenly read Dan as a contraction for Manasseh, and others perpetuated the error, But neither is satisfactory, for it leaves unexplained the exclusion of Ephraim. The answer is more likely to lie in there being a common reason for the exclusion of each, but I regret being unable to determine that reason.
The assertion that following the diaspora of A.D.70 all tribal identities have been lost, thus making impossible this marking of twelve thousand from each tribe, leaves God out of the reckoning. He is not dependent on earthly genealogical lists. He who numbers the hairs of our heads knows to which tribe each Jew belongs.
7:9. “And 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;”
There is general agreement that these are they who will be saved in the Tribulation, but expositors disagree as to whether they are Tribulation-age martyrs in heaven, or living survivors remaining on the earth following the outpouring of the Tribulation age judgments. Apart from the fact that the context seems to present them as being before the throne in heaven, there is the additional description of their being “clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,” and virtually every reference to believers thus clothed indicates that they are in heaven, so it would seem that they are in heaven, having died of natural causes or as martyrs, rather than survivors still on earth.
Whether on earth or in heaven, however, isn’t of crucial importance, for what is being emphasized here is the blessedness of their state. If the company is on earth those blessings will be on the transformed millennial earth; and if in heaven, the blessings will be heavenly and eternal; but since millennial believers will eventually inherit the same eternal blessings as those who will be in heaven during the Millennium, their blessings are ultimately the same.
7:10. “And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
These redeemed ones, whether on earth or in heaven, are occupied, not with their blessings, but with the Blesser, an attitude beautifully expressed by the one who wrote:
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face:
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace,
Not at the crown he giveth,
But on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory,
Of Immanuel’s land.”
7:11. “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,”
There is no mention of salvation in the worship of these prostrate angels. They worship God because of what He is, but only man can worship Him as Savior-God, for as far as can be determined from Scripture, salvation is exclusively for those of Adam’s fallen sons who will trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
7:12. “Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”
It is significant that included with the things which belong to God is thanksgiving, for all His attributes have been employed in the procuring of that “so great salvation” which evokes the thanksgiving and worship, not only of the redeemed, but also of the angels who are but the witnesses of it.
7:13. “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?”
7:14. “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.”
Some translations read “came out of the great tribulation,” which would place the emphasis on the final three and a half years, for those years are the “great tribulation” as distinct from the whole seven years which are simply called “the tribulation.” It is more likely, however, that this company consists of believers who will have been saved during the whole seven year era since there is no obvious reason to divide the Tribulation age believers into two groups: those saved in the first half, and others saved in the second half. That they will have died in the Tribulation (of natural causes or as martyrs), and are now in heaven, is indicated in their wearing white robes, for it doesn’t seem that believers receive their white robes until they are in heaven. The white robes are the righteousness of Christ which clothes every believer, the full display of that righteousness being reserved for the day when the believer stands in heaven with nothing of earth to mar the perfection of the state, which on earth, is his by divine imputation. There is nothing to indicate that believers on earth are given white robes, even in the Millennium.
7:15. “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.”
Some expositors allege that there is no temple in heaven, and insist therefore that these believers are on earth. It is to be noted, however, that there are many references to a temple in the heavenly Jerusalem prior to its descent to the new earth as described in chapter 21, e.g., Re 11:19; 14:15,17; 15:5,6,8; 16:1,17.
Since the Levitical priesthood will be responsible for the earthly temple services during the Millennium it is difficult to see how these redeemed ones out of the Tribulation could be serving in that earthly temple. “... He that sitteth on the throne,” is God the Father, and there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that He will be on the millennial earth, so that His dwelling among these redeemed ones would also seem to confirm that they are in heaven. All the evidence in fact seems to justify that conclusion.
7:16. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
7:17. “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.”
This seems to further confirm that they are in heaven, for clearly parts at least of this description can apply only to the heavenly state, e.g., the wiping away of all tears from their eyes, a blessing not promised those dwelling on the millennial earth. It is to be noted also that in the Millennium the government will be theocratic as it was in the reigns of David and Solomon: the Lord Jesus Christ will be ruling over the earth from the heavenly Jerusalem, while a literal descendant of David will occupy the earthly throne as His vicegerent. The Lord’s dwelling among them therefore does not necessarily imply that they are on earth.