Revelation 7:1-8

The sixth chapter, as we have seen, contains a description of the opening of the first six seals of the prophetic roll. We regarded these as presenting a synopsis of the history and experiences of the Church, from the beginning of the Christian era to the end of the world; the terminating one of the series containing a vivid, but unmistakable, description of the Day of Judgment. The cry had just fallen on the ears of John, from the terror-stricken myriads, "The great day of His wrath has come, and who shall be able to stand?" Can we wonder that, after such words and such a scene as this, the Apostle should feel himself awed and confounded? If such be the tremendous judgments on a guilty world, could he fail to have the question suggested to him, What as to the safety and security of believers—the Family of God? In the midst of that deluge of predicted wrath, could the ark be relied on to ride out the storm? Was there any sure provision made by the Church's great Head to shield and shelter His own people until the indignation be over and past?

There is a pause before the opening of the seventh seal—an episode or interlude, as it has been expressed, in the epic drama—in order to answer this question. The unsettled spirit of the spectator is calmed by a two-fold vision. Although the chapter commences with the words, "After these things," we are not to infer that what follows was intended as a historical continuation—a chronological sequence to the preceding revelations. That could not be, if we are correct in considering the Sixth seal as referring to the Judgment-day.

These six seals, in accordance with that interpretation, must be taken as complete in themselves, commencing with the picture of the crowned Conqueror riding forth on the white horse of triumph, and ending with that same majestic Being coming amid symbols of dreadful majesty to the great judgment day. With that closing catastrophe the series ends; and any visions subsequently given, can only be additional illustrations, by a new set of symbols, of the antecedent ones. Although, therefore, the two figures of the present chapter may point with a more special application to "the time of the end," and the judgments immediately preceding the Second Advent, their consolatory words embrace the whole existence of the Church. They are spoken for us, and for our age, as well as for the days of Augustine, or for the mysterious Armageddon era of an unrevealed future.

The First vision contains a representation of the security of the Church on earth. The Second, of the bliss of the Church in Heaven. In other words, the safety of the Church militant, and the glory of the Church triumphant. It is the first of the two which is now alone to occupy our thoughts.

The Security of the Church on Earth

John beheld "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." We shall come immediately to the figurative interpretation of these symbols: but we are not precluded, in the first instance, from accepting them in a literal sense, as representing the elements of nature delegated to the keeping of Angels. Winds, and earthquakes, and tempests are not the capricious outbreaks of unregulated mechanical force. The 'laws of nature' are, in the loftiest sense, the exponents and expressions of God's higher will. "He holds the winds in His fists." "He gathers the waters in the hollow of His hand." "He makes the clouds His chariot." "The Lord sits on the water-floods; yes, the Lord sits King forever." Let us not dethrone and undeify the great Maker and Sustainer, by substituting for His sovereign rule what are called the laws and sequences of nature. "In an instant, I, the Lord Almighty, will come against them with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and storm and consuming fire." Isaiah 29:6. God, indeed, works by law. He is a God of order—not of confusion. But the world's vast machinery, with all its varied and intricate movements, is not less under His supervision and control than higher moral agencies.

It was an elevating theme of comfort to the awe-struck Apostle, amid the moral hurricanes that were threatening to break forth, that even the forces of nature were under the governance and regulation of the great Lord of all. Though man sees them not, and science in her pride may smile at the fantasy, there are sentinel-angels—angels of repression and restraint—holding back the impatient winds, controlling the tempests, and calming angry seas; offering no hurricane to go forth on its mission of vengeance until He gives the word.

It offers a lesson of soothing consolation to many a stricken heart. That lightning which struck down my child was an arrow out of the quiver of God! That wave which swept him from the vessel's side! That hurricane which overthrew my dwelling, and buried loved ones in the ruins, had their pathway marked out by God. He brings forth the lightning out of His treasuries! He gives the sea its decree! He walks on the wings of the wind! And if we have been mercifully shielded from accident; if lightning and tempest have passed us by unscathed, and the waves that have submerged other boats have brought ours to the desired haven—without casting one doubt on the order and stability of physical laws, let us think of John's imagery as the true and ultimate cause of our safety—the angels of God, at His omnipotent bidding, holding back the winds of the earth, "that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree."

But if it be admissible, in the first instance, to give to the vision this natural and primary meaning, doubtless its language has a higher significance with reference to moral tempests, and the merciful subordination of these to the controlling will and purposes of the Most High. This interpretation is brought out with greater force and significancy in the verse which follows. John was attracted by the sight of "another Angel ascending from the east (or the sun-rising)." This new celestial visitant has been considered by some as only one of the many glorious hosts of the skies, though more glorious and honored than his fellows. But are we not abundantly warranted in according to him a loftier nature still? May we not rather recognize him, under another name and figure, as the crowned Conqueror of the opening seal—the great Angel of the Covenant? His place of advent is from "the sun-rising"—the region of glad hope and rejoicing; an emblem, moreover, more than once used in connection with Christ's Person and glory. Had not the father of the Baptist previously described his coming Savior as "the Day-spring from on high," giving light to the dwellers in darkness and in the shadow of death? Had not that Savior thus announced Himself, "I am the Light of the world?" And as the figure of 'ascending from the east' tells of life as well as light, had not the Apostle of Patmos asserted of Him in his opening Gospel, "In Him was Life, and the life was the Light of men?"

This mightiest of Angels—this mightier than angels—had in His hand "the seal of the living (or "the life-giving") God;" and He cried—as if claiming superiority over the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, "saying, do not hurt the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." If it be objected to such an interpretation, that the phraseology used, "our God," would be out of place in the lips of the co-equal Son—it is not really so. All throughout the Book of Revelation, in reference to the adorable Person of Christ, there is a beautiful blending of the Divine and the human—the majesty of Deity with the assumption of the true though sinless manhood. Were not these His own words in the days of His flesh—not in a moment of profound humiliation, but in the hour of glorious triumph, when the trophies of His great victory were lying scattered around the mouth of His sepulcher, "I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God?" The Apostle Paul too speaks of God as the God as well as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the same loud voice, then, which met us in the opening chapter of the Book, this magnificent Being utters His command to the four angels of the four winds. He calls on them to keep these in check until they receive His summons. Zechariah's Horseman in the midst of the myrtle-trees is again recalled, who had his angel-retinue behind him, so that no myrtle branch could be touched until they had His authority to do so. However scriptural and however comforting may be the thought of the ministry of angels, let us ever think of them as subservient to Him whose pleasure they fulfill. As in the case of Mary of old, these bright Beings are in themselves unable to dry a tear and take the load off a sorrowful heart; no answer can they give to the quest of the anxious soul, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." But, as it was in her experience also—when the great Redeemer whose deserted tomb they had been watching comes to her, as she stood weeping and disconsolate—the tears which angels fail to wipe away are wiped away by Him.

In our hours of trial, when we listen to the deep moan of the moral tempest—when all is brooding night around us—when in our darkened skies, star after star, it may be, of earthly hope has been quenched from sight, let us turn toward the eastern horizon, Heaven's own region of hope and consolation. Let us look for that "ascending Angel" of light and life, saying, "My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning; I say, more than those who do watch for the morning."

In Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," the window of the chamber called Peace, in which Christian lay, "opened toward the sun-rising." Steadfastly gazing on Him thus so appropriately symbolized, let us take the inspired words as alike a prophecy and a promise, and that too for a darkened heart as well as for a benighted world, "Unto you who fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with keeling in His beams."

There is a special purpose here spoken of in connection with the sudden advent of this Angel of the Dayspring. It was to repress judgment, only until a certain object was attained—until the true servants and people of had been "sealed on their foreheads." The language employed reminds us of those faithful few in the days of Ezekiel, who, when dreadful judgments were about to burst on Jerusalem, had a mark set on their foreheads by the man clothed in linen with the inkhorn at his side. John heard the number of those that were thus sealed. He minutely records them—12,000 of each tribe of the children of Israel. Israel being the figurative, representative name of the Christian Church: in all, 144,000—the number symbolic of completeness. The whole of the tribes too were included—the lowliest as well as the greatest—the crouching servile tribe of Issachar as well as the Lion tribe of Judah. What was this, but, under the most beautiful and expressive of figures, to proclaim that of the Church which Christ has redeemed, not one shall be missing—that "all Israel shall be saved?"

As in that most memorable of incidents in Old Testament story, when the Hebrew people stood on the shores of the Red Sea and made it echo to their song of triumph, there was not so much as a hoof left behind, not a child or infant that had perished amid the roar and heaving of the surging waters—all were saved with a great salvation! So is it with the true Israel of God in every age. The floods may have lifted up their waves and made a mighty noise; but "the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters—yes, than the mighty waves of the sea." Their experience is, "We went through the flood on foot; there we rejoiced in Him." A greater than Moses—the triumphant leader of His ransomed people—as He stands on the earthly shores of His stupendous victory, can say, "Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost!"

John, as we have seen, had just been the witness of terrific revelations, "the sea and the waves roaring, and men's hearts failing them for fear." He had beheld the earth moved, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea, the waters thereof roaring and troubled, the mountains shaking with the swelling thereof. He had seen direful invaders—Plague, Pestilence, Famine, Death—go forth on their baleful mission. He had heard the cry of innocent blood ascending from the base of the altar. He had seen dreadful signs in sun, and moon, and falling stars; and voices more appalling still, calling for shelter from Infinite wrath.

Oh! when upon the vision of the Apostle there bursts this aggregate of terror—terrors greater far than those which desolated of old the doomed cities of the plain—what does the great Covenant Angel say to His servant John, (the Lot of the Apocalypse)? It is in the spirit of the words which were uttered to that same dweller in Sodom, as the sun in his case too was rising upon the earth, "Hurry! For I can do nothing until you are there." (safe in 'Zoar', an emblem of heaven)

Not a bolt can descend upon the world to destroy it, until all the people of God be gathered in, and the number of His elect be accomplished. Individual trials—personal afflictions—the Church collectively, and believers individually, must and will endure; they have a heritage of tribulation: but their spiritual safety is unassailable. Every member of the tribe of true Israel is sealed on his forehead by the seal of the living God—God's own indelible mark of election and adoption—God's own pledge of inviolable security. The deluge may sweep as it may, but the Covenant Ark, containing its sacred 144,000, will rise buoyant on the waters. The Lord, as in the case of Noah's family, has 'shut them in;' and that Ark will do battle with the storm, until it is anchored on the top of the true Ararat—the Mount of everlasting 'rest'—surrounded by the new heavens and the new earth.

Let us rejoice in this covenant safety. Let us rejoice—not indeed that we are exempt from the trials of life, for that we are not, but that God will allow no trial to be sent but which is for our good. There was an Angel for every wind; there is a restraint on every judgment. He will not tempt us above that we are able to bear. Of that true "God of tempests," natural and moral, it is sublimely said, "He arrests His rough wind in the day of His east wind." If we have this SEAL, this mark of God upon us, it will form a mighty amulet (a charm) to dispel all real evil during life. It will be like the blood sprinkled on the lintels and door-posts of old, when the destroying Angel passes by. It will form a glorious passport in the hour of death into the regions of bliss. And, as if to make sure that none shall be missing on the great Day of Judgment, "He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

But, in closing our contemplation of this vision, let us bear in mind that the sealing, which has its precious lesson of security and safety, has also its solemn lesson of responsibility. Sealing indicates property, possession, appropriation, on the part of the sealer. As the sealed of God, we are the property of Christ. "You are not your own, you are bought with a price." The ancient seal contained the name of the king, who put his own mark on his slaves or servants. That seal of John's vision, set on the foreheads of His true Israel, has engraven on it, so to speak, the very name of God. Part of the promise to the Church of Philadelphia, in a preceding chapter, is this, "I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God." The writing of the name should indicate preparation and readiness to enter the celestial city. Is it so with us? Does our character correspond with our charter of heavenly citizenship, demanding as a qualification that "holiness without which no man can see the Lord?" Christ calls us here "the servants of our God." Have we risen to any true realization of the grandeur and the destiny of such a name as this?