Revelation of John 7Observe here, 1. That if a temporal judgment on the Jews be here intended, then this vision represented to St. John, God's decree and purpose for suspending the dreadful execution of the threatened and intended vengeance upon Judea for a time, namely, until God had sealed his number, that, marked them for preservation, Set a mark upon the forehead of the men, &c. Ezek 9:4, that is, preserve the penitent believers from the common destruction, as the Israelites were preserved in Egypt from the destroying angel. I beheld four angels, that had power to inflict judgments, famine, sword, and pestilence, (foretold chap. 6) upon Judea; I beheld these angels making a stay and stop, before they would suffer those mischiefs to break forth upon the earth.
Where note, That the office of the holy angels in heaven is at God's command, and by God's direction, to execute vengeance, and to inflict all temporal judgments upon obstinate sinners here on earth; yet glad they are when it pleases God to stay and stop them from a speedy execution of his wrath and vengeance; for as judgment is God's strange work, in which he does not delight, so neither is it pleasing to the angels as an act of punishmnent, but only in obedience to the command of God, and with an eye and respect to the glory of God.
Observe, 2. That if a spiritual judgment be here intended, as others apprehend, namely, the calamities befalling the church by reason of an apostasy under Antichrist, then by the winds they understand heresies and false doctrines of all sorts, which have an impetuous force and violence, like winds, to drive unstable souls from their steadfastness in the truths of God, into damnable errors.
Now God takes special care that these winds should not blow, these anti-Christian errors and false doctrines should not overflow the earth, until he had sealed his people, that is, secured them from that danger, preserving them from spiritual defilement, as the undoubted fruit of their sealing; where we see, that in all times of public calamity, be it temporal or spiritual, God has a special care of his own, and bears a special regard unto his own; here he commands the angels to hold the winds from smiting the earth until the number of his sealed ones was completed.
Observe here, 1. The special and distinguishing care which God took of his church and faithful people before he suffered the approaching storm to come upon the world: he did by another angel cry to the four angels that were ready, as God's executioners, to hurt the earth, that they should hurt nothing until the servants of God were sealed in their foreheads; and his crying with a loud voice intimates his great care to preserve his faithful ones.
Quest. What was this sealing?
Ans. Some understand it of an external visible sealing, by setting a mark upon their foreheads for preservation, according to Ezek 9:4 the letter Tau; doubtless there was some notification made by Almighty God to the destroying angels, of every one whom he would have preserved.
Others do understand this seal to be internal, by sanctification; and from whence we may gather, that inward holiness is the best guard against temporal or spiritual judgments.
But take this sealing in either sense, either for an outward or inward sealing, the notion doth imply,
1. That the persons sealed are of precious and excellent esteem with God.
2. It imports preservation and security from danger: God sealeth his people, that the destruction coming upon others may escape them: thus here God's servants were sealed, that they might be preserved: that they are kept either from sin and error, or from judgment and danger,is not from themselves, but from God's care and love towards them in the sealing of them, the angel said, Hurt not the earth,&c.till we have sealed the servants of our God, &c.
Observe here, 1. That the true church is represented in this book by the name of the Jews, and the false church by the Gentiles; so that the tribes of the children of Israel is to be understood the whole universal church of sincere and serious Christians, all that profess and practice the faith of Abraham, and so are his spiritual seed.
Note, 2. That these hundred forty and four thousand are particularly mentioned, Rev 14:1 as the pure virgin church, distinguished from the adulterers; this number then comprehends all such as during Antichrist's tyranny should be kept from his delusions, of whatsoever nation they be; all that adhere to Christ against Antichrist are sealed, to preserve them from that defection wherein others would be involved.
Note, 3. The great care which Almighty God takes in a time of general apostasy, to preserve a number in all his churches from that fatal mischief, that the Catholic church may not fail: God has a number sealed: and such as are sealed shall by preserved.
Note, 4. That thought the number of God's sealed ones be great in inself, one hundred and forty-four thousand, yet how small is it in comparison of the not sealed.
Note, 5. That as God had a number out of all nations, ranks, and conditions of men, in and throughout the whole world.
Note, 6. That the tribe of Dan is here left out; the reasons assigned for it are various; because, say some, Antichrist was to come of that tribe: but it doth not any where appear that ever Almighty God punished a people before they committed sin.
Others with more reason conceive it was the great idolatry which this tribe fell into, and continued in until the captivity, Jg 18:30 Am 8:14, yet we must not suppose that none of this tribe were saved, because here not mentioned; for we find Samson of this tribe, and reckoned among those worthies, whose names are recorded, By faith Samson, Heb 11:32-34.
Note, 7. That Levi, or the Levites, who had no inheritance in the earthly Canaan, but were dispersed and scattered throughout all the tribes, that they might teach the people the law of the Lord, and so could not be numbered there; yet, says the learned and pious Dr. Hammond, in Christ their portion was as good as the rest, and therefore were not omitted here. Behold here a consideration which administers much comfort to us the ministers of the gospel: though many of us have no earthly possessions, and some cut short of outward comforts, yet our title to the heavenly inheritance is good, and we shall not miss of it as the reward of our faithfulness.
Note lastly, That although Levi had the charge of all the tribes, and had the peculiar favour above all the rest to stand before God, and administer to him in holy things, yet no more are sealed of this than of the other tribes; all were teachers, but all were not sealed; all are not saved that are of the holy calling, and who may be instrumental to save others. It was a solemn speech of an ancient father, Non temere dico, sed ut affectus sum, ac ut animo sentio: Revere puto sacerdotes non multos esse qui salvi fient, et sacerdotes non multos esse qui salvi fient, et plures esse qui pereunt. With it agrees St. Paul, 1Cor 9:27.
Fearing, lest having preached to others, he himself should become a cast-away.
St. John having had in the former verses a visionary view of the church militant, under the denomination of sealed ones, in these verses a prospect is given him of the church triumphant in heaven; a most magnificent description of which we have here before us.
Where note, 1. The triumphant church above is described by its multitude: A numberless number which no man can number; according to the promise made to Christ, of bringing many sons unto glory.
2. They are described by their variety; some out of every nation, tribe, people, and language, according to that of our Saviour, They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. Matt 8:11.
3. They are described by their posture, they stand before the throne, and before the Lamb, as servants attending upon their Lord, a most happy station, and as such accounted by them; not that they stand perpetually gazing upon God, and doing nothing else, but they express their love unto him, by attending upon him, to execute his commands.
4. They are described by their habit: They are clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; white garments import their dignity, their purity, their joy.
The saints' dignity in heaven is great, they are kings and priests unto God; their purity great, being purified as he is pure; their joy great, being entered into the joy of their Lord, this joy being too great to enter into them.
Note farther, How these glorified saints do ascribe all their glory, happiness, and salvation, to Christ, and nothing to themselves, Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb. Sancti quasi sanguine tincti, say some; "Many of these saints were martyrs, that shed their blood for Christ."
But mark, Their garments were made white, not in their own blood, but in the blood of the Lamb.
Again, They are described with palms in their hands, as well as clothed in white. Now this denotes their victory, and the rewards of their victory. Palms were amongst the Roman ensigns of their victory. All the saints enter heaven with palms in their hands, having conquered sin, Satan, and the world, and the whole host of spiritual enemies.
Observe next, How the holy angels in heaven do join with these saints and martyrs in worshipping God, and adoring the Lamb, And all the angels stood round about the throne, and fell on their faces and worshipped God, Rev 7:11, concurring with the church in their congratulations, adding their Amen to what the palm-bearers had said, and much more of their own, ascribing blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, unto him for ever and ever.
Where note, how the triumphant church is made up of an innumerable company of angels, as well as saints: Heb 12:1-29 besides the spirits of just men made perfect, makes mention of an innumerable company of angels, as part of the church of the first-born. (Angeli opadtn Sancti Anadiain debent Christo, Mediatori, says one.)
And St. Paul, That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him. Eph 1:10
Whence it appears, that though angels sinned not, yet Christ gathered them and us into one society, and is an head both to them and us.
As if John had said, One of the elders, not out of ignorance as to himself, but out of desire to inform me, asked me, Whether, I knew what these were that stood arrayed in white? And I told him I did not know, but desired him to imform me. He replied, They were such as had suffered great tribulation for Christ, and were now accepted of him, and dignified by him; not for their own worthiness, but for the sake of his sufferings.
Note here, 1. The present state and condition of the church of God, and members of Christ in this world, they are in tribulation, yea, in great tribulation here; as long as there is a devil in hell, and wicked men upon earth, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer tribulation.
Note here, 2. The future state which they shall be advanced to, they shall come out of great tribulation; the saints' sharp sufferings and persecutions shall have a joyful issue and glorious end.
Yet note, 3. That though the cross was the way to the crown, yet the cross did not merit the crown; their sufferings would not, could not, bring them to heaven, without having their souls washed in the blood of the Lamb, much less could their sufferings merit and purchase heaven; but it pleased God of his free grace thus to reward their sufferings. They were washed in the blood of the Lamb, whose blood paid the price of their salvation.
Note, 4. The description which is here given of heaven; it is called a temple, in allusion to the Jewish temple, in which God dwelt of old; as God by his gracious presence dwelt in his temple in heaven; and accordingly the glorified saints in heaven do temple-service, they worship God continually, and serve him day and night.
In allusion, this is probably spoken to the priests standing in the material temple, and serving in their courses night and day, Ps 134:1.
Heaven is a place of employment and service, as well as of pleasure and joy; and the greatest joy results from the greatest service.
Here St. John proceeds in giving a farther description of the place and state of the blessed; he acquaints us both with the private evils they shall be everlastingly delivered from, as also with the positive good they shall eternally rest in.
As to the former he assures us that glorified souls shall be acquainted with no wants, and exposed to no afflicted providences. They shall neither hunger nor thirst; that is, they shall by in a condition free from all, and all manner of wants whatsoever. Neither shall the sun, nor the heat, light upon them; that is, the scorching heat of persecution, to which they were exposed here, shall never more affect or afflict them there. And, God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, that is, all cause of sorrow and mourning shall everlastingly cease.
Farther, He acquaints us with the positive good which the glorified saints do eternally rest in; the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them, that is, Christ shall satisify them with a satiety of joy, and fulness of pleasure: and lead them to the living fountains of water; that is, to the never-failing comforts of God's presence.
O happy place and state! which will at once cause the saints to forget all former sorrows for time past, and happily prevent any farther cause of affliction and sorrow for time to come; where no sin shall afflict them, no sorrow affect them, no danger affright them, where all tears shall be wiped from their eyes, all sorrows banished from their hearts, and everlasting joys shall possess their souls; where they shall obey their God with vigour, praise him with cheerfulness, love him above measure, fear him without torment, trust him without despondency, serve him without lassitude and weariness, without interruption or distraction, being perfectly like unto God, as well in holiness as in happiness, as well in purity as in immortality.
Lord, strengthen our faith, in the belief of this desirable happiness, and set our souls a-longing for the full fruition and final enjoyment of it.
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