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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter VII
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





This entire chapter is interposed between the sixth seal and the seventh, interrupting for the time the regular succession of the scenes disclosed by the opening of the seals. We may call this as many have done, an "episode;" but the name is of small account. The simple fact is that the successive seals disclose in order the judgments to be sent by God on some great persecuting power. This is their theme and this only. But here is a revelation, not of judgments on the guilty but of blessings, first upon those Jewish converts who having accepted Christ by faith are marked for exemption from the judgments coming on their land; and next upon Gentile converts considered as "coming out of great tribulation." They have their sublimely glorious reward around the throne of God and the Lamb.—More than one high moral purpose was to be answered by the revelations of this chapter. (1.) It lifted a great burden of solicitude from hearts trembling for the ark of God lest the almost omnipresent influence of persecution and the almost resistless power lodged in persecuting hands should quench the gospel's light and prevent the conversion of men to Christ. To Christians, suffering and terror-stricken, nothing would be more natural than this feeling of discouragement under which Satan might tempt them to despair of their cause. To all such, this revelation would be at once timely and precious.—(2.) This chapter purposely brings out near its close the ineffable blessedness of those who have "gone before" through fire and lame to a martyr's death and a martyrs reward. We can be at no loss as to the moral purpose of these special revelations of the bliss of heaven which we find interposed repeatedly in this book amid the predictions of judgment on persecutors. They bring down the grand motive power of the heavenly rest to brace the tried and tempted souls of the persecuted to Christian heroism and patient endurance, sinking the agony and terror of a martyr's death out of sight under the glories of that other world so near.

1. And after these things I saw four angels standing on he 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.

"After these things" [meta tauta], here as always in the sense, very soon, or perhaps immediately after.—The scene would impress the beholder with a sense of God's supreme control over all the harmful as well as the wholesome agencies of the material world, suggesting also his use of angelic power to any extent at his own wise discretion whenever he might have occasion to deviate little or much from his own established laws of nature. This is no doubt a great fact in the providential government of God over the universe of matter and to some extent of mind also, and pertinently brought out in the disclosures of this book for its bearings upon the resources of God for the protection of his friends and for the destruction of his enemies.

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 sea,

3. Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.

Another angel now appears, having the great seal of God to place upon his redeemed ones to mark them for protection against the destructive agencies soon to be let loose upon the land. He commands the angels of the four winds to delay their work of devastation till his work among God's people is done.—Why this angel is seen coming from the east is not said, and is therefore a question of pure speculation. We let such things pass.

4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

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.

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.

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.

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.

It will be seen that these sealed ones are Jews—It is due to the order and method of these visions that the number from each tribe is the same. There is no occasion to press this to a literal precision.—In the names of the tribes it is not strange that Judah stands first, nor that idolatrous Dan is omitted, and Manasseh included along with Joseph to make up the number twelve. The sins of Ephraim during the age of the revolt may have ruled his name out of the list.—As to the historic fact here predicted, there can be no rational doubt that these are the fruits, of the gospel among the Jews prior to the fall of their city and the desolation of their land. We readily recall the abundant proofs of God's purpose to give his own covenant people the offers of gospel Salvation through their own Messiah, and to press them to accept, long, patiently, earnestly, before he should cut short their day of salvation and bring on their night of doom. We remember how John, the precursor, lifted his voice throughout all the thousands of Judah, preaching repentance, preparing the way; of the Lord; enjoining the people to believe on the greater One to come after him. We remember how Jesus preached in all the cities of Galilee, Samaria, and last of all in Judah and Jerusalem; how he sent forth his chosen twelve to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel;" how, on the eve of his ascension, he enjoined them to commence their world-wide gospel mission by "beginning at Jerusalem;" and how the apostles exhorted their Jewish hearers to repent and save themselves from that untoward generation and its near impending doom. The comfort of our passage lies in the assurance it gives that many were thus sealed unto salvation.—(See also Acts 21: 20.) Like the households of Israel marked with the blood of sprinkling on the night of the first passer in Egypt, so these thousands of Israel are marked for the passing over of the fearful plagues of the Almighty when his angels of desolation should let up their restraining hand, and give free range to every agency of storm, tempest, lightning, hail and rain upon that guilty and doomed people.—It might be suggested also that this sealing [marking] in their foreheads has also in view the scene in Ezek. 9, where the man clothed in linen [white] sets a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for the abominations of Jerusalem.

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;

10. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

"After this"i. e., as usual, immediately after.—Plainly this multitude are not Israelites, for they are of all nations, kindreds, etc. Comprehensive they are Gentiles, and of course are converts to Christ—saved Gentiles, corresponding to the saved Jews already shown in this vision. There was no occasion to represent them as sealed in their foreheads, to be spared when the destroying angels should go forth, for, as here thought of, these angels are destined against the land of Israel only. Hence the things to be shown as to them were their equal participation in the purity and the blissful rewards of heaven, their equally full and joyous ascription of their salvation to the same God on the great central throne and to the Lamb. Precisely this we have here.—The moral purposes of this scene seem to be the joy to Christian hearts that this class of the saved are a countless multitude, and that they are made welcome to the full blessedness of the heavenly world.—It scarcely need be said that the import of their song, "Salvation to our God," etc., is not that God is saved, but that he saves lost men—is not that salvation goes to him, but that it comes from him. The glory of our salvation be unto God and to the Lamb for evermore!

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,

12. Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen.

All the angels, forming the outer circle and inclosing the great throne, the four living ones and the twenty-four elders, now manifest their perfect sympathy and their profound interest. The seven-fold ascription, the staple of their song, corresponds remarkably with the similar seven-fold ascription from the same angelic host as it appears in 5: 12, yet differing in the order of arrangement and in the substitution of "thanksgiving" here for "riches" there.—What a song! No wonder Peter should say (1 Eps. L: 12) of the magnificent themes of gospel salvation—"which things the angels desire [bend over from the battlements of the heavenly city] to look into." And now when these matters are unfolded in the prophetic visions shown in heaven itself, and illustrated by the arrival there of saved myriads, both Jew and Gentile, why should not their heart's love and adoration be poured forth in glorious song?

13. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?

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.

This question by one of the elders was intended to fix the prophet's attention, and thus make a deeper moral impression. He would prepare the prophet's mind for his own answer. They "came out of great tribulation;" they have seen sorrow, trial, torture and blood unto death: but those white robes are not precisely the crown of their martyrdom; that whiteness is due to the blood of the Lamb!—Here we must pause to think of the striking combination of elements in this figure—washing to a snow whiteness in blood. Was not blood, simple blood, in that age as in this, red, and not white? defiling, and not cleansing? Yet there is both fitness and force in this marvelous figure, and both inspired men on earth and their representatives in heaven recognize it promptly. The cleansing is moral, not physical; and in the blood of the Lamb there is untold, not to say infinite, moral power for the cleansing of souls from sin. Only by that blood comes pardon for the guilty; only through the fact and the sense of pardon comes that wondrous moral transformation by which trust, gratitude and love take the place in depraved souls of distrust, fear and rebellion.

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.

16. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.

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.

Such are the heavenly joys of the saved, especially of the holy martyred dead. "Serving him day and night in his temple" is imagery of Jewish cast, the favored and honored men under the Mosaic economy being those whose service lay nearest the holy of holies, evermore around the Shechinah, his manifested presence. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, Lord of Hosts!"—"Shall dwell among them" still has the ancient earthly system for its figurative ground-work—the verb "dwell" meaning precisely, shall spread his tent or tabernacle over them. It is implied that he too abides in the same tent with them. How blissful!—Comprehensively there can be but two main sources of illustration here in our earthly prison life for setting before us the blessedness of the heavenly state. Both are drawn upon largely in this passage: (1.) Negatively; the denial to it of all the forms of suffering so well known on earth: (2.) Positively; the manifested presence, sympathy and love of the Infinite Father, of the Son, and of all the holy in that world of love. The negations appear in vs. 16, 17: "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." No torrid heats shall light on them; no tears shall ever dim their eyes again!—Of course this list of negations does not attempt to name all the ills of life; these are specimen cases to cover all.—It should be noted that this method of teaching us heaven comes down to our easy and perfect comprehension. It lies quite within the field of our positive knowledge. Some of us have felt the pains of human frailty; we have also seen the sad indications of pain in the dear ones we love. But there be no more of it there!—Nor let, us fail to note how exquisitely tender are the last words of this wonderful passage—"God shall wipe away all tears" [Greek, "every tear"] "from their eyes." Observe it is not precisely that all tears shall be wiped away; is not that they shall wipe away their own tears; is not that they shall wipe away each other's fears; is not that the angels shall wipe away the tears of weeping saints as of their younger brethren; it is not even that Jesus shall wipe away their tears (though this might doubtless have been said); but it is that the Great Father puts down his own tender hand and wipes every tear away! After this, what could he said more!—But we will not disparage the other points so tenderly put in this matchless passage. The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne, appearing still as the Lamb of Calvary for the scenes of that great sacrifice have left their enduring impression on all the life and joy of heaven—Jesus, their once crucified Redeemer, is still as ever their Shepherd, and shall feed them, and he shall lead them unto living fountains of waters. Food for their mental and moral nature—thought, knowledge, truth, such revelations of God and of God's works as will minister to the endless growth of sinless minds around the throne of God shall be supplied to them by their well-known Shepherd. Does he not know every want of their being? Has he not constituted that being, social, intellectual and moral, and has he not nurtured each and all of its growing powers on such scale as the scenes of earth admit, so that with infinite facility he can resume their education and carry it on from one stage of progress to another, all along the march of heaven's eternal ages? Well, all this and more may be included and implied in the simple words—"The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters."

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