Here is shown for the first time the Lamb presented distinctly and definitely in the scene. It was not so even in Rev. 4, where we have seen the display of the judicial glory of God in His various earthly or dispensational characters, save His full millennial one, but not His special revelation now as our Father. In itself we know that Jehovah God embraces and is said of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Yet here the Holy Ghost is seen not in His unity of person and working, but in His variety of governmental activity as the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth; and the Lord Jesus is not yet discriminated as such. The glorious vision of Him who sits on the throne may include therefore both the Father and the Son; it is rather God as such, than the revelation of each in the Godhead, the general or generic nature, not personal distinction.
But here in the opening verses a formal challenge is made which at once displays the glory, worth, and victory of the Lamb, the holy earth-rejected Sufferer, whose blood has bought for God those who were under sin, and indeed all creation. There is to be in consequence the full blessing of man and of the creature on God’s part; yea, saints not only delivered, but, even before the deliverance is displayed, led into full understanding of God’s mind and will. Christ is just as necessarily the wisdom of God as He is the power of God. Without Him no creature can apprehend His ways or purposes, any more than a sinner knows salvation without Him. We need, and how blessed that we have, Christ for everything! Thus, whatever the glory of the scene before the prophet in chap. iv., that which follows shows us the wondrous person and way in which man is brought into the consciousness of the blessing, and the appreciation of the divine plan and glory.
“And I saw on the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who [is] worthy to open the book, and to loose its seals? And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or underneath the earth, was able to open the book or to look on it. And I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look on it. And one of the elders saith to me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that [is] of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome, to open the book and its seven seals.” What creature could open these Seals? None anywhere. But the strong angel proclaims, and the Lord Jesus comes forward to answer the proclamation. He takes up the challenge after a sufficient space to prove the impotence of all others. The comfort assured to John by the elder is thus justified; for the elders understand. And he sees the Lion of the tribe of Judah to be the Lamb, despised on earth, exalted in heaven, who advances and takes the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. The Lamb is here described as the Root of David; at the close (22:16) He describes Himself as the Root and the Offspring of David. How great is His grace! Then they all, living creatures and elders together, fall down before the Lamb with a new song.
“And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took [it] out of the right hand of the sitter on the throne. And when he took the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall before the Lamb, having each a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy thou art to take the book, and to open its seals, because thou west slain and didst purchase to God with thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and madest them to our God a kingdom and priests; and they shall reign over the earth.” The Lamb is marked by perfect power and wisdom, but it is in the Spirit on high as before on earth (cp. Acts 1:2). And His own sing of His shed blood.
It is striking that after this, as we are told, “And I saw and heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and their number was ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands, saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing.” Here we have the angels, who are now distinctly named. How comes it that no angels appear in Rev. 4? And why have we them in Rev. 5? There is always the wisest reason in the ways of God of which scripture speaks, and we are encouraged by the Spirit to inquire humbly but trustfully. The inference it warrants seems to be this: that the assumption of the book into the hands of the Lamb, and His preparing to open the seals, marks a change of administration. Up to that point of time angels have held an executory ministry of power from God. Where judgments were in question, or other extraordinary intervention on His part, angels were the instruments; whereas from this time we gather the title to a marked change for the world to come in those that are Christ’s above.
The title of the glorified saints is thus asserted. We know for certain, as a matter of doctrine in Hebrews 2, that the inhabited world to come is to be put not under angels, but under Christ and those that are His in heavenly glory. Here the seer is admitted to a prophetic glimpse that falls in with the doctrine of St. Paul. In other words, when the Lamb is brought definitely into the scene, then and not before, we see the elders and the living creatures united in the new song. As one company they join in praising the Lamb. They sing, “Worthy art thou, because thou west slain and didst purchase.” Thus we have them combined in a new fashion; and, as a consequence, the angels are now definitely distinguished. Supposing that previously the administration of judgment was in the hand of angels, it is easily understood that they would not be distinguished from the living creatures in Rev. 4, because the living creatures set forth the agencies of God’s executory judgment. Whereas in Rev. 5, if there be a change in administration, and the angels that used to be the executors are no longer so recognised in view of the kingdom, but the power is to be in the hands of the glorified saints, it is simple enough that the angels fall back from the cherubim, being eclipsed by the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. If previously angels were seen in the living creatures, they henceforward retire from this dignity to their own place, and therefore no longer fall under that symbol.
From this it follows that the four living creatures might be at one time angels, at another saints. The symbol sets forth, not so much the persons that are entrusted with these judgments, as the character of the attributes in action. Scripture, however, affords elements to solve the question, here by the marked absence of angels, who, as we know, are the beings God employed in His providential dealings with the world, and this both in Old Testament times and still in the days of the New Testament. The church is only in course of formation; but when complete, the glorified saints are caught up, and the First-begotten is anew owned in His title, they too will be owned in theirs. For as the Lord is coming to take visibly the kingdom, we can readily understand that the change of administration is first made manifest in heaven before being displayed on earth. If this be admitted, the change is accounted for in Rev. 5. The general fact is in Rev. 4; this administrative change in Rev. 5. Hence the cherubim and the elders unite to sing.
All the results are anticipated for every creature when once the note is struck (vers. 13, 14). “And every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and which are on the sea and all things that [are] in them, heard I saying, To him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb, the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the might unto the ages of the ages. And the four living creatures said, Amen; and the elders fell down and did homage.”8
As a matter of fact, “the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). But their presence glorified on high, before that revelation, was so momentous as to call forth by the Spirit the ascription to the ear of heaven from every creature above or below before deliverance actually came. So the Lord said on earth, when the seventy reported the demons subject to them in His name, “I beheld Satan fallen from heaven.” All would follow duly the keynote then struck.
Next we come to the opening of the Seals. Revelation 6 has a character of completeness about it, with this only exception, that the seventh Seal is the introduction to the Trumpets in the beginning of Rev. 8. This does not call for many words. The Seals open to us God’s preparatory steps, but in this fixed order, and springing from natural causes. They were secret, and they needed to be opened. “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as a voice of thunder, Come. And I saw; and, behold, a white horse, and he that sat upon it having a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he came forth conquering and that he might conquer. And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, Come. And another, a red horse, came forth; and to him that sat upon it, to him it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another; and there was given to him a great sword. And when he opened the third seal, I heard the living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and, behold, a black horse, and he that sat upon it having a balance in his hand. And I heard as a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, A choenix of wheat for a denary, and three choenixes of barley for a denary; and the oil and the wine injure not. And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and, behold, a pale horse, and he that sat upon it, his name death, and hades followed with him; and authority was given to them over the fourth of the earth to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and by the beasts of the earth.”
Surely it is plain enough that we ought not to have here, and after the other three horses, the words “And see.” They are wanting in the best text9 for all these passages. In every one of the cases the sentence ought only to be “Come.” The difference comes to this, that “Come and see” would be addressed to John; whereas according to the better MSS. “Come” is addressed by the living creature to the rider upon the horse. Clearly this makes all possible difference. It is not the elders here; but one of the living creatures steps forward when the first Seal is opened, and says, Come; and at once comes forth a rider upon a white horse, etc. An elder explains as to Christ, or those that are His if liable to be misunderstood; a living creature acts from God for events in His providence. Let us inquire into the force of each Seal severally; but before we do, may we not notice the strange fancy that one of the living creatures saying “as a voice of thunder” could be a cry to the Lord Jesus to come? Not only would it be wholly incongruous with these cherubs, but quite out of harmony with the context.
“I saw, and, behold, a white horse: and he that sat upon it had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went (or, came) forth conquering and that he might conquer.” It is the answer to the call. The first then advances, and the character of his action is prosperity in conquest. Every trait shows this. It is the earliest state that the Spirit of God notices as then to be brought about in the world. A mighty conqueror shall appear here below. This has been applied to a great variety of things and persons. It has been held to mean the triumphs of the gospel! by some Christ’s coming again! by others Antichrist, and one knows not what. But we may safely gather from the first Seal that God judicially employs a conqueror who is to carry everything before him. A crown was given him. This would be the notable event among men, which is the first to happen on earth after the translation of the glorified to heaven at Christ’s coming, in fact after Rev. 4 and 5. How absurd to talk of it as “victory for God’s church and people”!
“And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, Come. And another came forth, a red horse; and to him that sat upon it, to him it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” The difference is here marked. It is necessarily by bloodshed in the second Seal, which implies carnage if not civil war. The rider is not on a white horse, the symbol of victory; but mounted on another, a red horse, with a great sword, he has a commission to kill. Aggressive power which subjugates is meant by the horse in every colour; but in the first case that power seems to subject men bloodlessly. He had a bow, emblematic of distant warfare, not close or hand to hand. The measures are so successful — the name itself carries such prestige with it — that it becomes one onward career of conquest without necessarily involving slaughter. But in the second Seal the great point is that the peace of the earth is taken away, and “that they should slay one another.” It may be the horror of civil warfare.
In the third Seal it is the colour of mourning. “And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and he that sat upon it having a balance in his hand. And I heard as a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, A choenix of wheat for a denary, and three choenixes of barley for a denary; and the oil and the wine do not injure.” A black horse is not an emblem of prosperity. The price was a rate of scarcity. The ordinary price not long before we know to have been incomparably less; for notoriously a denarius would have procured as much as fifteen choenixes. Now it is needless to say that so great a rise in the price of wheat would make a serious difference. However this may have been, the rate current in St. John’s day, or rather some time after, is not a question easily settled. Naturally rates differ. The increase of civilisation and other causes tend to make it somewhat fluctuating. That it is hard to ascertain with nicety the prices at the supposed epoch is plain, from the fact that men of ability and conscience have supported every variety of opinion; but is it worth while to spend more time on the point? The colour of the horse decisively proves what the nature of the case must be. Mourning would be strange if it were either a time of plenty or one governed by a just price; black suits a time of scarcity. Some will be surprised to hear that each of these views has had defenders. There are but three possible ways of taking it; and each one of these has had staunch support. There is no certainty in man. The word of God makes the matter plain to a simple mind.
The unlettered in this country or any other cannot know much details about the price of barley or wheat of old; but any one sees that the black colour is significant of gloom, especially as contrasted with white, that it is not indicative of joy or justice, but naturally of distress; and therefore one takes this with the other points to judge of the third horse and its rider.
“And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and, behold, a pale horse and he that sat upon him, his name death, and hades followed with him; and authority was given to him over the fourth of the earth to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” The fourth Seal shows a pale or livid horse, the hue of dissolution. It is a mixture of God’s ordinary chastisements, falling concurrently on the earth, in the last of these four Seals to a limited extent. It is apparent that all the four are homogeneous.
It is not three and four of the seven, as with the churches; the first four Seals have a common external character. The fifth bears on God’s people in suffering to blood, and thus introduces things deeper in His eyes; and so the four living creatures, active as to ordinary affairs in providence, are now silent.
“And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those that had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held; and they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O Sovereign, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on those that dwell on the earth? And there was given to them, to each one a white robe; and it was said to them that they should rest yet a little while, till both their fellow-bondmen and their brethren who were about to be killed as they too should be fulfilled.”
Under the altar are disclosed the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for their testimony; yet they cry aloud for vengeance to the Sovereign Master, and are vindicated before God, but must wait. Others, both their fellow-servants and their brethren, are about to be killed (as they were) ere that day comes. But they rest meanwhile. Many a person thinks that those in question are Christians. But if we look more closely into the passage, we may learn that this again confirms the antecedent removal of the church to heaven. Is theirs a prayer or desire according to the grace of the gospel? Reasoning is hardly needful on a point so manifest. He who understands the general drift of the New Testament, and the special prayers there recorded by the Holy Ghost for our instruction, would be satisfied but for a false bias. Take Stephen’s prayer, after our blessed Lord the pattern of all that is perfect. On the other hand we have similar language elsewhere: but where? In the Psalms and the Prophets. Thus we have all the evidence that can be required. The evidence of the New Testament proves that these are not the sanctioned prayers of the Christian; the evidence of the Old Testament, that just such were the prayers of persons whose feelings and experience and desires were founded on Israelitish hopes.
Does not this exactly fall in with what has been already seen? that once the glorified saints shall have passed out of the scene, God will be at work in the formation of a new testimony with its own peculiarities. It is not of course that the facts of the New Testament are obliterated, but the souls of the saints will be then led into what was revealed of old, because God is about to accomplish what was then predicted. For the time will be at hand for God to rule the earth under the Lord’s direct rule. Of this the Old Testament is full, the earth blessed under the reign of the heavens: as the N.T. views Christ as head of both. The earth, and the earthly people Israel, shall rejoice with the nations, all then enjoying the days of heaven here below. Accordingly these souls show us their condition and hopes; they pray for earthly judgments. They desire not, when suffering even to death, that their enemies should be converted, but that God would avenge their blood on them. Nothing can be simpler or surer than the inference.
The departed are told that they are not the only faithful to be given up to a violent end: others must follow later. Till then God does not appear for the accomplishment of that judgment for which they cried. They must wait therefore for the further and, as we know, more furious outburst of persecution. After that God will deal with the earth. Thus we have here the latest persecution in prospect, as well as the earlier one, of the Apocalyptic period distinctly given. The apostle Paul had spoken of himself as ready to be offered up: so these had been, and their souls are seen therefore under the altar in the vision. They were renewed indeed, and understood what Israel ought to do; but they were not on the ground of Christian faith and church intelligence as we ought to be. Of course it is a vision, but a vision with weighty and plain intimations to us. If they had not the indwelling Paraclete as we have, they had the Spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 19:10). Judgment yet lingers till the predicted final outpouring of man’s apostate rage, when the Lord will appear and put down all enemies for the establishing of God’s kingdom everywhere.
The next Seal lets us know that God was not indifferent meanwhile; for the sixth Seal may be regarded as a kind of immediate consequence on the foregoing cry. “And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree shaken by a great wind casteth its untimely figs. And the heaven was removed as a book (or, scroll) rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” This furnished the appearance before the seer in the vision We are not to suppose that heaven and earth will be physically confounded when the prediction is fulfilled. He saw all this before his eyes as signs, of which the meaning has to be considered. We have to find out by their symbolic use elsewhere what is intended here by the changes which passed over sun, moon, stars, and the earth in the vision.. The result of course depends on our just application of scripture by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. But no one is entitled to read into this Seal the Lord’s advent without one word from God to justify it. The context also renders the notion untenable and impossible, if we hold fast what is written. It dislocates the structure of the book.
To help us we have plain language, not figures. “And the kings of the earth, and the grandees, and the chiliarchs, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman, and [every] freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: because the great day of his wrath is come; and who is able to stand?” This it is well to heed, because it would be evident that if the heaven literally was removed as a scroll, and every mountain and island moved out of its place, there could be no place to hide in. Thus to take it as other than symbolic representation would be self-contradictory. Such then is not the true force. If heaven really disappear, and the earth be moved according to the import of these terms in a pseudo-literal way, how could the various classes of terrified men truly say to the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us”? Plainly therefore the vision, like its predecessors, is symbolical. The prophet indeed beheld these objects heavenly and earthly in utter confusion; but the meaning must be sought on the ordinary principles of interpretation. It is a complete revolution of authority high and low, an unexampled convulsion of all classes of mankind, within its own sphere; the effect of which is to overturn the foundations of power and authority for the world, and to fill men’s minds with the apprehension that the day of judgment is come.
It is not the first time indeed that people have so dreaded; but it will be again worse than it has ever been. Such is the effect of the sixth Seal when its judgment is accomplished, after the risen saints are taken to heaven, and indeed subsequent to a murderous persecution of the saints who follow us on earth. The persecuting powers and those subject to them will be visited judicially, and there will ensue a complete disruption of authority on the earth. The rulers will have misused their power, and now. a revolution on a vast scale takes place. Such seems to be the meaning of the vision. The effect on men, when they see the total overturning of all that is established in authority here below, will be that they imagine the day of the Lord is come. But it is an error to confound their saying so with God’s declaration of it. Not He but they say that the great day of the Lamb’s wrath is come.
There is no excuse for so mistaken an interpretation: it is only what these frightened men exclaim. The fact is that the great day does not arrive for a considerable space afterward, as the Revelation itself clearly proves. But men are so alarmed by this visitation that they think it must be His predicted day, and they say so. It is sure and evident that the great day of His wrath is not yet come. For a considerable time after this epoch our prophecy prepares for that day, revealing it in Rev. 14, 17, and describing it in Rev. 19. When it really comes, so infatuated are men in that day that they will fight against the Lamb; but the Lamb shall overcome them. Satan will have destroyed their dread when there is most ground for it.
After this, so far is the great day of His wrath from being come that we find (in the parenthesis of chap. 7) God accomplishing mighty works of saving mercy. More signal and severe judgments impend and are to be next predicted. But in this intervening episode God tells us of a numbered complement for His seal from every tribe of Israel, and of a Gentile crowd in numbers numberless to be saved, comforted, and blessed. The first is the sealing of 144,000 out of the twelve tribes of Israel by an angel of singular authority that ascends from the sun-rising. “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascend from the sun-rising, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a great voice to the four angels to whom it was given to injure the earth and the sea, saying, Injure not the earth and the sea nor the trees, till we shall have scaled the servants of our God upon their foreheads. And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred [and] forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel: out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed; out of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Naphthali twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand sealed.” That pious men should doubt Israel as a fact here is strange, especially with a crowd of saved Gentiles immediately following. One can understand Ephraim “joined to idols” omitted, as well as Dan for similar guilt: one of the great horrors of Christendom, as this book points out. Levi and Joseph take their place.
Next there is vouchsafed to the prophet the sight of a crowd of Gentiles. “After these things I saw, and, behold, a great crowd which no one could number, out of every nation, and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation to our God that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne upon their faces, and did homage to God, saying, Amen: the blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honour, and the power, and the strength to our God, unto the ages of ages. Amen. And one out of the elders answered saying to me, These that are clothed with the white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And I said to him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him by day and by night in his temple, and he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, nor shall they thirst more; neither shall the sun at all strike upon them, nor any heat. For the Lamb that [is] in the midst of the throne shall tend them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters of life; and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Here they do not sing like the elders, but they ascribe “salvation to God” in the quality of sitting on the throne (we have seen in this book, His judicial throne), and to the Lamb. In other words, the ascription could not have been made before Rev. 4. Its tenor supposes the vast change for the risen saints to have taken place. It is not the fruit of a testimony during the past or the present. All this is merely men’s imagination, without the smallest foundation in scripture So far from its being a picture of the redeemed of all times, it is expressly said to be a countless throng out of Gentiles distinguished from Israel; and this not now or of old, but in relation to God as He governs judicially at a future time It is not universal therefore. These Gentiles stand in manifest contrast with the sealed out of Israel; but they are no less distinct from the elders or glorified saints. They do not even sing a (or as a) new song, like the Jewish remnant on mount Zion (Rev. 14:3); but like them they are quite distinct from the glorified saints represented by the elders. With joy they wave palms.
Here we read that one of the elders talked about the Gentile crowd, and explained who they were to the prophet, as he evidently without this would have been at fault. If the elders mean the glorified saints, these Gentiles cannot. Most assuredly they are not all the saints, because the hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel we have seen expressly distinguished from them; and so are the Jewish remnant in Rev. 14. Who are they and what? They are a crowd of Gentiles to be preserved by God’s gracious power in these last days. Not a word implies that here they were glorified; there is no reason to doubt that they were still in their natural bodies. If they are said to be “before the throne,” this cannot overthrow the many proofs that they are alive on the earth. Thus the woman, for instance (in Rev. 12), is also described as seen in heaven; but this is only where the prophet saw her in the vision. Why are we necessarily to gather that these Gentiles belong to heaven? The seer saw them there, but whether “before the throne” means that they are actually in heaven is another question, to be decided by the evidence as a whole.
In this case it is plain from other statements that they are not heavenly; and to it are weighty objections. First of all they are definitely contra-distinguished from Israel, who clearly are on earth, and thus naturally this company would be on earth too, the one Jewish, and the other Gentile. Next they “come out of the great tribulation.” Far from its being a general body in respect to all time, this proves that it is a future and peculiar though countless group; for it consists only of Gentiles preserved and blessed of God as coming out of “the great tribulation.”
In the millennial time there will be a great ingathering of the Gentiles; but those before us precede that day. They are saints from among the Gentiles at the great crisis, called to the knowledge of God by the preaching of the “gospel of the kingdom,” or the “everlasting gospel,” of which we hear respectively in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Revelation. The Lord Himself tells the disciples that “this gospel of the kingdom” shall be “preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations” (or all the Gentiles); “and then shall the end come.” Is not this the very time spoken of here? It is clearly not a general summary of what God is doing now, but a description of what is yet to be, specially just before the end, when “the great tribulation” bursts out. John saw the fruit of divine grace even then in this vast crowd from among the Gentiles. The details of the description fall in with and confirm this inference. But the unparalleled tribulation is to fall on the Jews, as we are also told. This is far wider, and not so severe.
Attention has been already drawn to the fact that they are distinguished from the elders. If these represent the glorified saints, those are not the same company. If we admit that the elders represent. those caught up, the inference seems plain and certain that this Gentile throng cannot. The same body might be represented at different times by a different symbol, but hardly by two symbols at the same time, or by a symbolic and a literal description together.
Thus we may have Christians set forth by a train of virgins at one time, and by the bride at another; but the same parable carefully avoids the confusion. Such an incongruous mixture is foreign to scripture. It is not even found amongst sensible men, leaving out the word of God. The prophet tells us that one of the elders answers his own inquiry, “What are these that are clothed in white robes? and whence came they?” “These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They are saints, though quite distinct from the elders. They are restricted to the time of “the great tribulation,” and therefore after the glorified were taken to heaven. “Therefore are they before the throne of God” is a description, not of their local place, but of their moral position; they stand in view of, and in connection with, God that sits on the throne. This, as already seen, restricts the crowd to the transition period; and they stand related to God governmentally acting, not in this day of grace.
Unmistakably, be it observed, there is nothing vague or general, as is often supposed. For the throne here differs from what it is now, as the millennial throne will differ from both. ‘I hat very aspect of the throne may he called its Apocalyptic character, to distinguish it from what went before or will come after. The elder describes it as a crowd entirely distinct from his own company, and, like the sealed of Israel, peculiar to that future day. They are saved Gentiles of that time. They are never said to be “around the throne,” still less to be enthroned themselves. Further, not only are they before the throne of God, but it is added, “and serve him day and night in his temple.” But this severs them from the bride or new Jerusalem wherein is no temple, and no night there. They will he highly favoured in nearness to God, but on earth, though distinct from the millennial nations, as being in relation with God and the Lamb before that day. Compare the blessed of the nations in Matt. 25:34-40.
Again it is said, “He that sitteth on the throne shall” — not exactly “dwell among them,” but — “spread his tabernacle over them.” It is the gracious shelter of God’s care and goodness that is set forth. This is of importance; because, though God now dwells by the Holy Ghost in the church as His habitation through the Spirit, it will not be so when these Gentiles will be called to the enjoyment of His favour. He will vouchsafe what is more suited to their character and state — His protection. Of old God had His pillar of cloud, a defence and a canopy over the camp of Israel (though He also dwelt in their midst). Here too He graciously promises it, not to the sealed of Israel that are to know His care, but to these hitherto besotted Gentiles. It is added that “they shall not hunger any more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun at all fall on them, nor any heat.” Can any one question that such a solace is much more adapted to a people about to be relieved and blessed on the earth, than to men in a glorified state above? Where would be the propriety of a promise to risen men on high, that they shall hunger or thirst no more! If to a people on earth, we can all understand the comfort of its assurance. “For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall tend them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We must not let traditional misapplication deprive us of other truth, of God’s mercy even in that terrible day to both the sealed out of Israel and to these countless Gentiles for blessing on the earth, itself to be then reconciled.
At length comes the seventh Seal. This is important, because it guards us effectually against the idea that the sixth Seal goes down to the end, as many excellent men have imagined of old and in our day. But it is clearly incorrect. The seventh Seal is necessarily after the sixth. If there is an order in the others, we need not doubt that the seventh Seal introduces seven Trumpets which follow each other in succession like the Seals. These are described from Rev. 8 and onward, and, far more evidently than the Seals, are inflictions from God. “And when he opened the seventh seal, silence took place in the heaven about half an hour.” There was a brief pause of solemn expectancy, the lull that precedes the storm about to blow, only held down by the four angels, as we were told in Rev. 7:1. “And I saw the seven angels that stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them.” Heaven takes note of God’s ways. The silence was there, not on earth. Signal judgments impended for all creation. How strange to fancy that silence for about half an hour in heaven could prefigure the millennial rest! Yet the error naturally flows from the hypothesis entertained by not a few worthy men that the seventh Seal points to the millennial rest, and that the Trumpets go back and concurrently lead us to the same conclusion. Is it too much to say that the idea is wholly imaginative and without one solid reason for it?
Then we see the remarkable fact, even more than any already alluded to: an angel of peculiarly august character in priestly function. “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, that he might give (efficacy) to the prayers of all the saints at the golden altar which [was] before the throne.” Hence it follows that, while there are glorified saints above, saints are not wanting on earth who are objects of care to the great High Priest, however little their light or great their trial. We have the clear intimation that while the glorified are above, others will be in their natural bodies, yet accredited as saints here below. Yet it is not so much mercy and grace found of which we hear, but of judgments to fall on the wicked.
But it demands our special attention, that under the Trumpets the Lord Jesus assumes the angelic character. Angels are prominent at this juncture. We no longer hear of Him as the Lamb. As such He had opened the Seals; but here as the Trumpets were blown by angels, so the Angel of the covenant (who is the second person in the Trinity, commonly so called) falls back on that which was so familiar in the Old Testament presentation of Himself. Not of course that He divests Himself of His humanity: this could not be; and if any should imagine it, it would be contrary to all truth. The Son of God since the incarnation always abides the man Christ Jesus. From the time that He took manhood into union with His divine person, never will He divest Himself of it. But this evidently does not prevent His assuming whatever appearance is suited to the prophetic necessity of the case; and this is just what we find here under the Trumpets. It is observable that an increasingly figurative style of language is employed. All other objects become more distant in this series of visions than before; and so Christ Himself is seen more vaguely (i.e. not in His distinct human reality, but here angelically).
“And the smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints out of the angel’s hand before God. And the angel took the censer, and filled it out of the fire of the altar, and cast [it] unto the earth; and there took place voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” Further, in this new septenary we must prepare ourselves for even greater visitations of God’s judgments. There were lightnings and voices and thunders in Rev. 4, but there is more now. Besides those we find an earthquake added. The effect among men becomes more intense. The angels are employed in providential judgments, as in providence generally. We can understand such a character of ministration, when the saints no longer witness to death as under the Seals, but are merged in the world save to God’s eye: Rome’s boast, but His horror.
“And the first sounded trumpet, and there was hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast unto the earth.” This was a violent down-pouring of displeasure from God on the earth. Hail implies this. fire, we know, is the constant symbol of God’s consuming judgment, and here even mingled with blood, i.e. destruction to life in the point of view intended. We have to consider whether it be simple physical decease, or dissolution in some special respect; and here it appears to be deprivation of life spiritual or Godward, rather than natural death.
It will be noticed in these divine visitations that the third part is regularly introduced. What is the prophetic meaning of “the third “? The answer seems given us in Rev. 12 (i.e. the distinctively Roman or western empire). For we know that the dragon’s tail is to prevail over the leaders pre-eminently in the west, casting them down, as the figure runs, from the heaven to the earth. If this be so, “the third” would convey the varied consumption of the Roman empire in the west. Of course one cannot be expected in a brief sketch to enter on a discussion of the grounds for this view, any more than for other schemes which have been set up in its place. One able writer contends for the Greek or Eastern Empire, because the Macedonian was the third of the four great empires of Dan. 2, and Dan. 7. But “the third part” is quite another thought and phrase. It is enough now to state what one believes to be the fact.
Accordingly at least the earlier Trumpets (though not these only) are a specific visitation of judgment on the properly western empire. Not only was this visited, but “the third of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” This is notable. The dignitaries within that sphere were consumed, but there was also a universal interference with the prosperity of men. Any “pause of judgment” at this point is pure fancy: the word of God utterly ignores it. Of such an episode the prophet neither says nor implies the least trace. The only revealed “pause” is in verse 13, portending the still more tremendous Trumpets of woe.
“And the second angel sounded trumpet, and as a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third of the sea became blood; and the third of the creatures which were in the sea, which had life, died; and the third of the ships was destroyed” It was in this case a great earthly power, which in divine judgment deals with the masses in a revolutionary state to their destruction. Thus not merely the world under stable government, but that which is or when it is in a state of agitation and disorder; and we find the same deadly effects here also putting an end, it would seem, to their trade and commerce.
“The third angel sounded trumpet, and there fell out of the heaven a great star, burning as it were a torch, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third of the waters became wormwood; and many of the men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.” Here the fall of a great dignitary or ruler, whose influence was judicially turned to poison all the springs and channels of popular influence, comes before us. The sources and means of refreshing intercourse among men are visited by God’s embittering judgment.
“The fourth angel sounded trumpet, and the third of the sun was smitten, and the third of the moon and the third of the stars; so that the third of them should be darkened, and that the day should not appear for the third of it, and the night likewise.” The fourth sounds its warning to all the governing powers — supreme, derivative, and subordinate — which must come under God’s judgment, and all within the western empire. Learned men have sought to explain this judgment by an eclipse; and scientific men have argued for some such notion as agreeing with the phrase here employed. But this style of accommodation is quite untenable. The effect described by the prophet is far beyond any eclipse. It is symbolic presentation, and wholly beyond nature, to denote the extinction of all government within the western empire.
Even so worse is at hand, as next the eagle cries. “And I saw, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell on the earth, because of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels that are about to sound.” It is a vivid image of rapidly approaching judgments, “angel” having slipped in inadvertently for the better reading “eagle,” through scribes who did not appreciate the symbolic style. The Woes are to fall expressly on those settled down on the earth. It is not now on the circumstances and surroundings of men, but directly on themselves. Here again notice how systematic is this book. The last three are distinguished thus from the first four.
8 The omission of “him that liveth unto the ages of the ages” is fully established, and finely illustrates how a spurious clause takes away from the truth. For as read by the best copies the homage was to the Lamb as well as to God as such. It is attested more fully than the omission of
ἡμᾶς in ver. 9, though for this sufficient is given, and required by the context.
9 Yet in every instance the Sinai MS. supports the inferior copies against the Alexandrian, the Rescript of Paris, and the Porphyrian Uncial, with the better cursives, etc. The Sinaitic is often careless, especially in the Revelation.