The Revelation of John


Division 2. (Rev. 4 — 22.)

Things that come to pass after these. The salvation of Israel and the earth.

Subdivision 1. (Rev. 4 — 8:5.)

The sources of power.

Section 2. (Rev. 6 — 8:5.)

The seals removed in the judgments coming in.

We are now called to see the actual breaking of the seals, so that the book may be opened. It is the Lamb who removes them, as we know; but the sign of their being removed is in the judgment sent forth which answers to it, and by which the blessing alone can be brought in. With these the mystery of God's patience is removed. His government becomes what we may call ideal, in regard to the strife between good and evil going on still upon the earth. The long-suffering of God indeed has been salvation; but now, though in a different sense, His judgments are to be for salvation. As in the times of the judges in Israel, spite of divine interventions occurring when the state of things began to be insufferable, yet the call is heard more and more for a king, as the only proper remedy. "There was no king in Israel," says the inspired historian, "every one did that which was right in his own eyes." If the doing of what was right in this way worked disaster, what then as to the constant evil rising up, and that more and more? The king must come. Yet when he came in Israel, he was the mere foreshadow of the true King. Therefore the distress went on still, relieved, but not removed — and soon again with hardly a relief of it. He had not come who was fit to bear rule; and until He comes there is the constant need of patience. He reigns upon the throne of God, while yet it is still the "kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." But now the King is coming forth; the time of patience is just over. God is going to manifest Himself. Judgment is returning to righteousness. The seals upon the book which prevent man's reading it are being removed.

1. As each seal is broken, a new action upon earth follows. The seals are seven, and that number is noticeable. The prevalence of these numbers characterizes Revelation, as we have seen. They speak everywhere of the undisturbed harmony of God's ways. Spite of the conflict, this harmony of course must always be; and this is what all through Scripture God means us to discern; but the harmony is becoming open now, and our attention is called to it; and thus we have the number of the seals, and of the trumpets, and of the vials; their order distinctly shown us — the way in which the divine steps move on unhindered to the sure end. Here too, as elsewhere, we find that the seven divides into four and three, the number of the creature and the number of divine manifestation. The first four have therefore a more external character than the last three. They do not reach in the same way (at least not in the same open way) to the heart of things. With this it accords that when the first four seals are opened we have in each case the call of one of the living beings, and in the order in which we have had them brought before us already — the lion, the ox, the human-faced cherub, and the flying eagle.

These calls are very significant; and their significance has hardly been observed by any interpreters. We have seen that these cherubim as they were embroidered on the veil of the tabernacle (which was, as the apostle has taught us, Christ's flesh, or humanity), so they are seen in the Gospels again in the same order in which we have them here — the Lion of Judah in Matthew's Gospel; the ox in that of Mark — the Gospel of ministry; the face of the man most evidently in Luke, which is above all the Gospel of Christ's humanity; while the flying eagle, the bird of heaven, speaks naturally of Him who has come from heaven to us, of the Word made flesh. But if this be so, we should expect that now when the Lamb has taken the book, these cherubim should each represent Him in one of these characters; and it is not in opposition to this that the call should be a call for judgment: for if it be the Lamb slain that is before us, this, while it speaks to us necessarily of the grace of redemption, yet has in it also another side. The death of Christ, on God's side, for us speaks of grace; but on man's side it speaks of the rejection by the world of Him who had come into it. Thus the cross is the stamp upon the world, and by which the world is crucified to us and we to it. The Lamb moreover, as arnion, (which speaks of belittling, of diminution,) naturally connects with this. The cross was man's measure of Christ. Unto the Jew it was an offense, and to the Greek foolishness; while to those who are the called, whether Jews or Greeks, it is "the wisdom of God and the power of God." But Christ rejected by the world, what does it mean but the judgment of the world? — a judgment also which works out (in a certain sense and within limits) often naturally.

Christ rejected means antichrist accepted. But Christ rejected also means, of necessity, the rejection of the blessing that comes alone through Him; and thus the government of God, as signified in the cherubim, makes necessary answer. If Christ be rejected as the King, men must have their own king; and while for the present man's king himself may be owned of God and is used of Him in the restraint of evil, while His long-suffering lasts, yet this is but — as to His government — a seal as it were, a mystery for the meantime, which, when the time of its removal comes, ends in the full character of man's rejection coming out. Even the rule of Christ becomes now the rod of iron; and the rule of man, in the end, worse even than the anarchy which it was meant to restrain. How significant, then, the call of the cherubim at this juncture!

(1) As to the first seal, indeed, there is a certain obscurity as to which of the living beings speaks under it. That it is the voice of the cherub that speaks confirms that alteration from the text of our common version which the manuscripts indeed permit, but which we cannot say exactly that they establish by any decisive weight of authority; but the confirmation from all the context here is absolute. The call of divine government is not to John, but to what comes forth in answer to it. Thus the call is not, "Come and see," but simply, "Come." The voice of thunder speaks plainly here. The seer would hardly be summoned after this manner, and moreover again and again as the successive seals are broken. It is the government of God that calls forth the instrument of judgment; and this shows again the character of what is called forth. We should not think, for instance, of Christ as the rider of the white horse if we had things in their proper place here. Doubtless He will come forth, and, according to the figure in the nineteenth chapter, upon a white horse too. This is the symbol of victorious warfare, the horse being the war-horse; and his going forth crowned, conquering and to conquer, seems clearly to harmonize with, nay, to be most fully true of Him who will put all enemies under His feet. But it is not suited that He should be thus called forth; nor is the time yet for Him to come after this manner. We cannot put at the beginning that which comes in fact at the end. As to gospel-triumphs, it is really impossible to speak of them in such a connection.

As already said, there is a slight obscurity as to which of the living beings calls forth the conqueror here; but, plainly, we must recognize that the lion is the most suitable one; and moreover, as in the second seal we have the voice of the second living being; in the third, that of the third; and so with the following one, the lion is thus every way implied, if not expressed, as speaking in the first. No doubt there is suitability even in the measure of obscurity, and we cannot be too attentive to the way in which Scripture speaks, whether we can interpret it or not. But if it be the lion, the lion manifestly is the expression of regal power of the king; and thus it is the king, as it were, that calls forth the king; and if it be Christ as the Lamb slain, (it does not say sacrificed, but "slain" — the rejected One,) then we can understand how suitable it is that the human conqueror should come forth in answer to the call. Alas, the Prince of peace has been rejected, and war and conquest, the overturning of things, naturally ensue, because He whose right it is is rejected and gone. Thus the Lord speaks to His disciples, in His prophecy on Olivet, of wars and rumors of wars characterizing the interim before He comes again.

The white horse does not necessarily speak at all here of purity, or righteousness. It is the symbol of victory; and the bow speaks, apparently, of that which is far-reaching. The crown is given to him as the issue of it. It is not said by whom, but evidently it is acquired by conquest, and thus he goes on for the present time unchecked. A wide rule therefore must naturally be his. Such an one, moreover, one would say, must be given us elsewhere in prophecy, and must have reference to events that are to come afterwards. He must be prominent in these.

It would certainly seem, accordingly, that we can find one who answers to the picture here; and for those who have learnt what the seventeenth chapter will definitely teach us, — that the Roman empire, long since passed away, is yet to revive in an exceptional manner and for a short time only, yet in a way deeply significant of the approaching end, — it will not be difficult to imagine that here we may have what speaks of this. In fact, there seems little reason to doubt that the seventh head of the beast is here before us; although to make this plain requires a reference to much other scripture which it is hardly the place to look at yet. Only let it be remembered that "the prince that shall come," and who is to initiate that seven years' covenant with "the many" of Israel which defines for us that last week of Daniel's seventy, (which is the end of the time determined upon Israel and Jerusalem, at the close of which their final blessing is to come,) this prince is decisively a Roman prince. It is "the people of the prince that shall come" that have already, under Titus, destroyed the city and the sanctuary; but the prince himself is still to come. And if he come, and we are correct as to the period at which we have arrived here, then he must come forth at the very beginning of it, and it would be no wonder to find him thus at the outset brought before us.

It is most naturally by conquest that the place he acquires is to be attained, and we have had already in late history one who, though only for a brief period, yet in connection with this same territory of ancient Rome, has shown us how possible it is for such power to be suddenly acquired. Napoleon was indeed but a shadow of events to come — a shadow which quickly passed; but even thus it is proverbial that the history that is to come has its anticipation often and presage. We must leave this, however, for the present, with this mere reference.

(2) When the second seal is removed, we have the call of the second living being, that is of the ox. In answer to this, another horse comes forth, red, the color of blood; and to his rider it is given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another. It is not the career of a conqueror that is represented here, but a general taking away of peace — every one's hand, as it were, against his brother; thus civil war in all its dread reality. That a great sword is given to the horseman is meant, of course, to emphasize the destruction following. This is plainly the suited answer to the call of the second cherub; for the ox is the type of the laborer, the minister to man's need, the expression of a service by which all men are bound together. Such ministry is necessitated by that actual dependence upon one another which God has appointed to hide pride from man, and that love may be called into exercise.

This is what in Christ has fullest expression, this ministry to a need which no one but He Himself could relieve; and Christ rejected can be nothing else but that which surely, however slowly, withers all such service. God manifest in Him has been rejected; and just as, if received and God having His place, all things would be in necessary harmony, so, if rejected, all must be out of joint and in disorder. Man having cast off divine authority, the beasts of the earth cast off the divinely appointed human authority; and affection cast off where it should be most natural, the natural affection necessarily withers. There has been initiated a disorder which cannot stop until all natural ties are sundered, and love is turned (as it may how easily be turned) into deadliest opposition. We see under this second seal that the evil is a growing one. There is in it no tendency to self-healing, but the contrary, — corruption grows worse and worse; return to God is the only possible remedy; but there is no return.*

{*The ox is the badge of patient strength yielded up in service for man's need, even unto death, laying down its life for man's food. It is the type of what our blessed Lord's life was, particularly as set forth in Mark — the Gospel of the perfect Servant. His was a love that sought not its own, but labored ever for man's need; accomplishing in His death, as sin-offering, that great service which has forever set us before God blameless. For rejectors of such grace what can there be, as a necessary result of the selfishness which ends in slaying others, instead of rescuing them? With the rejection of the peaceful ox, peace is taken from the earth. How plainly can the beginning of this be seen even now, though the One who hinders prevents full development "till He be taken out of the way"! — S.R.}

3 The third seal is now removed, and with this we have the call of the human-faced cherub. At his call a black horse comes forth — the funereal color; and the rider has in his hand a balance, which a voice in the midst of the living beings interprets with the words "a measure of wheat for a shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling." The measure, or choenix, was at most about a quart, although some would say but a pint and a half. The shilling, or denarius, (the "penny" of the Gospels,) was in fact neither of these, but about the half of a shilling sterling.* It was, as we see in the parable, the ordinary day's wages, when money was far more valuable than it is at present; and the choenix of wheat was considered the provision for a day. Ordinarily the denarius would purchase about eight quarts of wheat, but now all that a man could earn could scarcely feed himself. No doubt three measures of barley could be got for the same price; but this was not only coarser food, but would even yet imply great scarcity. Yet with all, the oil and the wine were not to be injured. One can see clearly how peace taken from the earth would involve what follows here; the oil and the wine being naturally less injured than the growth of the field, which constantly needs to be renewed. But here, of course, it is divine judgment; and the natural effect is therefore exceeded.

{*What is called a "shilling" in the eastern United States (where the cent is also called a "penny") is the nearest to an equivalent.}

The congruity of this judgment with the call of the third living being is not so easy to be understood as in the former cases. Were we permitted to spiritualize it, and think of what Amos proclaims, — "Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord," — such a famine would, on the other hand, suit well; for the face of a man reminds us how God has met us in Christ and revealed Himself to us, inviting our confidence, speaking with a human tongue that He may be fully understood and appreciated by us: and this familiar intercourse with Him is what is needed for true satisfaction. If then Christ be rejected, the necessary consequence is that the sustenance for the soul is lost, the bread from heaven disappears, and the world is indeed a desert unrelieved. But, as we have seen, the destitution under the third seal seems rather to be the natural result of what has already taken place. Conquest and civil war would necessarily largely interfere with the work of the field and all that was dependent upon it; while the oil and the wine might more easily escape. A literal famine therefore seems to be intended. Yet as the natural is everywhere the type of the spiritual, so it depends upon that to which it witnesses. Our common mercies are ours through Christ alone. Take away the One, the other goes — the shadow with the true substance: and though little heeded, God might thus appeal to those incapable of feeling spiritual famine by the pressure of that which was natural. While, in the long-suffering of God, His sun shines upon the evil and upon the good, and the rain is sent upon the just and upon the unjust, yet how little do men realize this dependence of the natural upon the spiritual, and how Christ rejected strikes at once at every blessing!*

{*In Luke we have the parable of the great supper, and of the feast on the return of the prodigal who but lately had been near to "perish with hunger." The rejection of the blessed Man who came to minister to our need, and to tell of the Father's house where there is "bread enough and to Spare," may well lead to both literal and spiritual famine. The oil and wine were the food of the rich. The expression may indicate the great care not to waste these products. If, as is intimated in the text, they were not so much injured as the ordinary staples of life, it might show, as is always the case, that the luxuries of the rich are least affected in a time of strait. It is the poor who suffer most, even for that which will sustain life. Luke also dwells on the abundance of the rich as contrasted with the penury of the poor. See the rich fool in Luke 12, and the rich man and Lazarus, chap. 16 — S.R.}

(4) We have now the fourth seal removed, and the call of the eagle. There follows that which in some sense is evidently final. A pale horse comes forth, and the name of its rider is Death; and hades reaps along his path. Here mercy seems to interpose a stricter limit; but authority is given him over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword and with famine and with death, and by the beasts of the earth. "Death" is the common term for pestilence, as the plague of the Middle Ages, for instance, was called the Black Death; and here God's "four sore judgments" are let loose at once (Ezek. 14:21). If we think of the Gospels here, it is plain how the judgment corresponds to the rejection of the blessing which John's Gospel brings us, the Gospel of love and life and light: and this rejected, what can remain for its rejectors but the awful, eternal rejection which death, as here under the wrath of God, must needs introduce them to? And then we cannot fail to remember that the eagle is itself the symbol of judgment, and, as the Lord says, speaking of this time, "Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together." Here, then, is the natural end of this first series of the seals — a complete end but for the limit of divine mercy. After all, the bow of promise is upon these clouds of most awful judgment, and the earth is to issue from beneath them baptized into a new condition, and with the promise, from the mere goodness of God, that such judgment as this shall be no more.

2. Three seals remain, and now, as it is plain, we have a larger range of view, and God's side of things comes to be shown us. We have in it redemption's harvest; and if on the one side there is still an ever increasing catastrophe, we are nevertheless shown how fully all things are in the hands of One who has power, and title also, according to His own nature to act for blessing, spite of the fullest display of creature-evil that can be made.

(1) The fifth seal is now removed, and we have what is wholly different from anything before it: that which on the one hand shows us the present exercise of the righteousness of the government of God, and the answer to it that is to come when divine patience has done all that can be done by it. When the fifth seal is opened there is no cry of a cherub any more, but there is another appeal, the cry of men that have been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they bare for Him. These cry with a loud voice, "How long, O sovereign Ruler, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" Just such a cry has in fact been going up to God since the blood of Abel stained the earth. And so the Lord speaks to those who in His day were joining the ranks of all the persecutors of His own from the beginning: "Shall not," He asks, "God judge His own elect who cry unto Him, though He bear long with them?"

But the cry here is not the general cry of all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, but something special to the time at which we have arrived here. We may notice that the "souls under the altar" (the altar of burnt-offerings) plainly speak of these as a sacrifice that has been given to God. The blood of such sacrifices was poured out at the bottom of the altar; and in the life-blood, the soul — which is also the life — is said to be poured out. Thus in the fifty-third of Isaiah it is said of Christ that He "poured out His soul unto death;" and here we have at once the implication of the acceptance on the part of God of this offering of His people. Offering as it was, there was, as in the Lord's case, another side to it: cruel hands had shed this blood, — the blood of a numberless multitude, like to the saints upon their thrones above, as we have been contemplating them; for here they are beneath the altar still, and only in answer to their cry is the white robe of manifest approval given to them. Nor is the cry here such as we find in the Lord's own mouth, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;" nor as in Stephen's case, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." There is not in it the witness of grace, but the call for judgment; and it indicates the taking up of the old martyr cry, the passing of the long parenthesis of grace upon the earth, during which God has been gathering a people for heaven. It is the day of wrath and judgment that is at hand, and thus it is of God that they should cry for judgment. It is this fellowship with God in His thoughts that makes, on the one hand, the prayer for mercy that which alone suits us now, and, on the other, the cry for judgment that which will yet suit those who are here found waiting for a judgment which is ready to be executed.

But we have to notice that they are bidden to rest yet a little while, until their fellow-servants and their brethren who were about to be killed as they were should be fulfilled. Thus there is the intimation of a further company to be added to these still before the final judgment comes; and a comparison with other scriptures will make plain what is intended here. Thus, in the twentieth chapter, we read of what is a supplementary resurrection, an addition to the first resurrection of the righteous, which includes the two companies that are indicated here. We have in it a threefold distinction: First, there are thrones and those sitting upon them, to whom judgment is given. There is in this case, although constantly confounded with the others, no thought of resurrection as then taking place. They are simply living and sit upon the thrones, as we have found living saints so seated already, in that look into heaven which has just been permitted us. Secondly, there are souls — that is, according to a common use of the word at all times, persons — beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, exactly as here. These are a company of martyrs, and all martyrs, as is plain. It is not, therefore, a general resurrection of the righteous dead, who are not all martyrs, nor could be characterized therefore in this way. But there is a third company also — "such as have not worshiped the beast, nor his image, nor received his mark upon their forehead or on their hand." These, too, are martyrs, but martyrs under a persecution which we have yet to look at, and which follows in the course of the prophecy here. It is not now the place to speak of them more particularly, but that they are a special class is undeniably evident. These all together complete the picture of the first resurrection, and they live and reign with Christ a thousand years. Thus we have what explains fully what is given us under this fifth seal.*

{*These martyrs under the fifth seal are apparently those slain during the first half of Daniel's seventieth week, and not during the last half, or period of the "great tribulation." The whole time will be one of unexampled persecution; but this is intensified during the last three and a half years, the period which for the "elect's sake" has been shortened. — S.R.}

(2) The opening of the sixth seal follows, and now what is before us comes more distinctly into view. Men are predicting for themselves the wrath of the Lamb, the great day of which is, in their guilty dread, thought to be now come. Thus, when the sixth seal is opened, there is a great earthquake, the sun becoming black as sackcloth of hair and the whole moon as blood, and the stars of heaven falling upon the earth, as a fig tree casts its untimely figs when shaken by a great wind. The heaven is removed as a scroll rolled up, and every mountain and island removed out of their places. Here there can be no right question that the description is figurative; for if we took it literally, then we should be plainly at the end even of the Millennium itself; for not till then does the first heaven pass away, as is here depicted. Otherwise, the signs are much as those which the Lord gives as taking place before the coming of the Son of man. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:29-30). This is, however, after that great tribulation such as never was, which itself necessarily precedes His coming, and which is in fact that tribulation under the beast which is referred to at the end of the last seal, but referred to there as still future; nor is there room for it in what is before us here. We shall find it spoken of in its own place in the future. But then it is still more evident, if possible, that the signs here are not physical signs, although they take, as one may say, their complexion from that which is coming. In men's minds, indeed, the day of the Lamb's wrath is already come; but we shall find that, near as it may be, much intervenes before it will indeed be come.

Such signs as these we have elsewhere in the prophets, as in Joel 2:31: "The sun shall be changed into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come." In Isaiah (Isa. 34:4), a prophecy of the destruction of Edom, with its after-desolation, we have, "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree." Both passages seem to refer, the last at least ultimately, to the time of the end when the Lord comes; but the expressions in their connection show that we cannot take literally the dissolution of the heavens as pictured in them. After the judgment here, Idumea lies in perfect desolation: From generation to generation," it is said, "it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever;" and when the Lord comes no such convulsion of nature takes place as that which we read here, if we are to take it literally. On the other hand, the meaning of it as a symbol is not hard to apprehend. The heavens are even in a physical sense what rule the earth; and they are used in Scripture as figuring in this way earthly government, the basis of which we have in the typical significance of the work of the second day (Gen. 1:6-8). This has been dwelt upon in its place. The earthquake thus may speak of a great political convulsion, in which the royal or imperial power suffers defeat, is as if extinguished, and the lesser dignities, which represent it with derived authority, as the moon would indicate, sharing in the catastrophe, until all rule seems to be gone and no condition is safe — even where there seemed strength as a mountain, or separation from all around as an island. The result is indicated in what follows, that "the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman," hide themselves in fear, seeing in it the wrath of the Lamb. Such an event upon a smaller scale we may find in that French Revolution, out of which came that which for a time altered the face of the earth; and here the political catastrophe involved the ecclesiastical sphere as well. All that spoke of religion seemed for the moment gone. What we have here in Revelation is, of course, of far wider extent, but can scarcely be more radical than that which in a small sphere then took place.*

{*As is intimated in the opening paragraph upon the sixth seal, the fear of those who hide themselves does not prove that the final day of the Lamb's wrath had come, but rather that the fear of it was upon men's souls. As a matter of fact, more fearful judgments are yet to be poured out. — S.R.}

Here, in a sense, the seals end; for although there is another, yet it is manifest that it only introduces the trumpet-calls that follow; and if we consider the whole character implied in these seals, it is plain that the opening of the last seal simply opens the book. Those before have been introductory, and show us what opens it. What an introduction is we have fully in them — the elements of that which is still to come before us. We have before the seventh seal a double vision which is evidently parenthetical, itself introductory and manifestly looking on to the future, but of a very different kind from all that has been before. This we will look at fully directly; but in considering the seals as a series, as they have been now before us, we need not enter into it. The question that is naturally suggested now is, how far in these seals we have exact events at all. Their often noted connection with the opening of the Lord's prophecy on the mount of Olives will show clearly what is meant. In this we have, before the announcement of the abomination of desolation in the holy place and the tribulation following, what is more general in character: "wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; famine, pestilence, and earthquakes in divers places;" then persecutions of the Lord's people, with the uprising of false prophets, who shall deceive many. This last, with the still worse pretension of false Christs, of which the Lord speaks, we have not yet in Revelation. Otherwise the resemblance, or identity rather, of the two prophecies is evident. Details are as absent from one as from the other. Exact events are not shown us, only that there is a period in which, as one may say, the character of that which is to come is beginning to be seen. It is quite simple that there should be in this way a time in which things are shaping themselves; the Lord no doubt giving to the wise in heart, who can discern, to see what is before them. Of such a period the seals naturally speak. To the wise in heart the book of prophecy is being opened, the seals upon it are being broken, but the full reality has not yet emerged.

(3) We must now look at the parenthetical visions. Here, as already said, we are in a different atmosphere from that which we have realized before. We have the actings of God rather than of man; with the result of these in grace for men. They open the book more thoroughly than anything hitherto: for without them everything would be mere confusion, or almost this. Here we find God's purpose, what He is accomplishing; and thus we gain fully the point of view from which all the rest can be beheld aright. The vision, as already said, is double. We have, on the one hand, and in the first place, the sealing of 144,000 out of every tribe of the sons of Israel. The specification as to each tribe follows, as if to impress upon us how literally we are to take it; all the more that in the second vision, in contrast with this, we have a multitude that no man can number, but now "out of every tribe, nation, and people, and tongue."

Jews and Gentiles are here, in short, plainly distinguished. Nor can this be strange to those who have considered how we are led up to it. The Church is passed from the earth. The Lord's people (not Christians only, but those of past generations) are gathered home. They are in glory, reigning upon their thrones around the throne; while the new beginning, which plainly must follow this as to God's dealings with the earth, is indicated by the Lamb coming forward as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Judah is first among the tribes here sealed. It is the royal tribe, as we know, the tribe of David, and in which the promise of perpetual royalty is made to him. This, it should be plain, has nothing to do with the Church, with her hopes or prospects, except so far as she is associated with Christ in that rule which is now in His hands as Son of man; but if the Jews thus come once more into view as in a distinct way the people of God, the Gentiles naturally have their distinct place also. The Old Testament prophets always speak after this manner, and we have only to read them simply to realize how different is the state of things that we are contemplating from that of the time in which God is, as now, gathering Jews and Gentiles into one body, as co-heirs equally of the inheritance which is to come.

This is what we find, then, intimated on the first view. We see that we have to take Israel here as literal Israel. This is said by some to involve a contradiction of the general principles of the interpretation of the book of Revelation. Interpreters say we must take it all as symbolical, or all as literal; otherwise we are simply interpreting as we please, and all stability of interpretation is set aside. But this, as it is easy to show, is simple misapprehension, and has led those who adopt it as a rule, into manifest absurdities. On the one hand it has presented us with such monstrosities as "supernatural, infernal, not earthly locusts," but which are, nevertheless, to be taken as literally that! We are told "it is a day of miracle, surely a day of wonders, a day of fierce and tormenting wrath. It is everywhere so described in the Scriptures, and we do greatly mistreat the records which God has given for our learning if we allow the skeptical rationalizing of our own darkened hearts to persuade us that such supernatural things are impossible, and therefore must not be literally understood." Yet when we come to the "beast" of the thirteenth chapter, we are told (rightly enough) by the same interpreter, that we have here not a "literal" beast, but "a symbolical presentation of the political sovereignty of this world."

On the other hand, this rule of perfect consistency, as interpreted by others, must require us to blot Israel entirely out of such a prophecy as this, and from all place therefore in those Old Testament promises which the apostle assures us belong to his "kindred according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4). The fact is, the consistency so much advocated cannot be maintained in this way for even the briefest moment in interpreting the book of Revelation. Thus, for instance, under the fifth seal, we have a symbolical altar, and in connection with it "souls" that can scarcely be symbolically slain for the word of God. Nor can this be said of their fellow-servants and their brethren who are about to be killed as they were. Such a mingling of the literal and symbolic in one vision is only a sample of what will be found in almost the whole series of visions; and if it be asked, How then are we to distinguish between the literal and the symbolical? the answer should be plain that we are to judge, as it is so necessary always, by the whole context, and therefore by the wider and more important consistency of such visions as a whole — a thing which is unhappily but too little attended to by such interpreters. Symbols, of necessity, require in us all something of "the mind that has wisdom." They are supposed to require attention and exercise as to their meaning, and are by no means intended to make everything plain to the dullest as to the clearest, spiritually. All is fully open to us, but we must not make any prophecy of Scripture of private (that is, isolated) interpretation, as the apostle warns us; and the observance of this rule (which the apostle gives us as "first of all" to be observed) will necessitate much useful searching of Scripture, as well as what should be most profitable meditation upon it. The Spirit of God is in it and in us also, blessed be His name; and we are dependent upon Him everywhere to guide us into all truth. But the truth will speak to the true, and God deals with us as those who should be competent thus to look everywhere beneath the surface. "In all labor there is profit," and here assuredly our labor shall not go unrewarded.

(a) Four angels are now seen standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding in restraint the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow upon the earth, nor upon the sea, nor upon any tree. Manifestly here again all is symbolic. The winds of the earth are the various influences which from outside affect it; surely not divine influences, or they would not need to be restrained, but rather the power of the enemy working: for Satan, as we learn elsewhere, is "the prince of the power of the air," and the course of this age is thus under his control. God is above all, as we see now. Nothing is but as it is permitted to be, and this is the security of His people, whatever may be the adverse circumstances through which they pass. The earth seems always to speak of that which is settled under government, as we may say, as the sea cannot be, which speaks in general of unrestrained will — thus of the nations, looked at as away from God. The tree is individual, one specially prominent, rooted in the earth, as it might seem. A time is coming which shall test all this.

And now another angel ascends from the sun-rising. Not without significance, surely, is the east so spoken of here. The Sun is about to rise, and with this the action of the angel is associated. He has the seal of the living God, and cries with a loud voice to the four angels, saying, "Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, until we shall have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads." Here it is said that to the four angels it was given to hurt the earth and the sea. Thus the judgment is in the hand of God, although the instruments may be working their own will. The angels have "power to hurt" simply because they have power to restrain, or not, the adverse influences. There is thus a time of quiet and comparative security until God has accomplished His own work in those that serve Him; "until we shall have sealed," says the angel, "the servants of our God upon their foreheads."

We cannot separate from this (in character at least) what we find of the 144,000 in the fourteenth chapter, who there stand with the Lamb upon mount Zion, and upon whose foreheads the name of His Father is seen written. This would be according to what sealing is in Scripture, the seal being a stamp, which here marks out manifestly those who are the Lord's. The seal is upon the forehead, where most seen, and would seem to intimate the fearlessness of their confession. We have to distinguish here between what we have in the epistle to the Ephesians as to the seal of the Spirit, if only by the fact that here the sealing is angelic, and no angel could put the seal of the Spirit upon men. It may be thought, on the other hand, that the angel here is Christ, as He certainly appears afterwards in such a character (Rev. 10:1); but against this there is the fact that he associates others with himself, whether they be the four previous angels or not. He says, "until we have sealed." Even here it might be possibly thought that the "we" was meant to associate the Spirit of God with himself, but the language following — "the servants of our God" — surely forbids this. Christ could Himself speak as man, and, as we know, He commonly does so; but the Spirit of God, while He works in man, has not become man, and thus the language seems inapplicable.

This, no doubt, makes the nature of the sealing less clear than otherwise it might be. On the other hand, the seal of the Spirit, as spoken of in Ephesians, could hardly be found at a time when the Church is gone from the earth, and thus, with the Church, the indwelling of the Spirit. Lange says that we cannot suppose the apostle John to have a lower conception of sealing than the apostle Paul; but that is not at all the question, for the inspired writer does not speak according to any mere conception of his own, but according to the way in which he is instructed, and therefore according to the nature of that which is before him. The purport of the seal is that it marks out the one sealed as belonging to God; and thus, as we find afterwards (Rev. 9:4), it becomes security from the locust-plague. It is the seal of the "living God," who, as this, abides to care for and preserve that which is His own. In the Ephesian sense of sealing, we can as little understand the four winds having to be restrained that it might be done, as we can understand the angel being the agent in it. The action of the angels is certainly, as we should say, providential, and operates upon circumstances surrounding, rather than inwardly upon the soul. But we are incompetent, perhaps, to say more than that in some way God manifests His own, perhaps indeed by circumstances that bring them into special prominence, and make plain whose they are; and if we are to judge by the consequent preservation of those sealed under the locust woe, we might think that this seal of the living God marked out those who would be preserved alive for blessing upon the earth, in contrast with those slain under the beast, and who find their place in heaven. God is certainly at work to preserve through all this time of exceeding distress and danger a people for Himself, as we shall find in the flight of the woman into the wilderness, in the twelfth chapter, to a place where she is kept from the power of the dragon. Outside of this, there is a seed more open to attack, and which we find suffering afterwards under the persecution of the beast. But all this, as yet, cannot be entered into.

Those who are sealed are said specifically to be 144,000, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel. The tribes are then named, but in a peculiar manner, which would no doubt reveal to us more as to them if we had more intelligence or capacity. The order in which they are enumerated is found nowhere else, and is peculiar in the way in which the sons of different mothers — wives and concubines — are mingled together. If we follow the usual division of 12 into 4X3, we have, as Lange says, "first, two sons of Leah and one of her maid — Judah, Reuben, Gad. Secondly, Leah's adopted son Asher, Rachel's adopted son Naphtali, and Manasseh the first-born of Joseph. The third triad is formed by Leah's sons, Simeon and Levi, and her adopted son Issachar. In the fourth group Zebulon is conjoined with Joseph and Benjamin — the late offspring of Leah with the late offspring of Rachel." On a general survey, he adds, "The thought forces itself upon our mind that the vision in its symbolistic enumeration of the twelve tribes has obliterated every semblance of a legal prerogative apart from Judah's place of honor, which again was symbolically significant of the dignity of Christ." Others again take it that such a promiscuous enumeration is given us for the very purpose of intimating that these are not literally Israel's tribes at all. But this has been, in another way, and quite satisfactorily, decided for us.

We may gather from it apparently one thing, and that is, that we have before us not simply the nation preserved (and thus they are not given in the order in which they would be even in the wilderness camp, and much more in the land), but that here is a special remnant marked out, and of which we ought to be able to see more at another time. The absence of Dan from the enumeration is significant in this way; as assuredly, when the tribes are brought back to their land at last, Dan will not be wanting among them. Here the prophecy of Jacob their father (which is, in a way beyond what is ordinarily seen, significant of their whole future history) will assist us much, as well as in answering the question as to the reason of the omission. Jacob himself lets us know (Gen. 49) that he is speaking of what should befall them "in the last days." It is to these "last days" that Revelation has brought us, so that the application of his words to what is before us here should be the more evident.

Let us listen, then, to what the dying patriarch has to say of Dan: "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels so that the rider shall fall backward. I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord." Evidently there is something here, even in its very enigmatic form, to awaken attention; and it is quite startling in the way that it answers questions which the omission of Dan in this list of the tribes will naturally awaken. Dan, as we see, is not to drop out of the number of these. On the contrary, — and let us remember that it is of the last days that Jacob is speaking, — "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." Thus the Lord's grace prevails, whatever may be the failure that we find in Dan. It cannot be that a tribe should perish out of the chosen people. But then, if this be a special company, and if we should find this same company at a later time associated with the Lamb upon mount Zion (Rev. 14:1), then one might naturally say that Dan has lost this place of association with the King of Israel. Yet, says Jacob, "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." How remarkable is this, put just as if there might be a question about it, and yet, on the other hand, giving Dan certainly no prominence, as in fact in those last days he will be found but as the border tribe in the land (Ezek. 48:1). Dan shall retain his tribal staff, and that is all. But why should he seem thus to be under question? If not in rejection, yet why, apparently, in this lowly place? Have we not the answer to this also in Jacob's words, "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels, so that the rider falleth backward"? Here, for those who know the character of these "last days" of which Jacob is speaking, it will not be without significance that Dan is thus associated with and characterized by the power of the enemy, as if it had so far prevailed for his perversion. When we know that the large part of Israel in those days will fall into apostasy, surely the serpent and the adder, here distinctly identified with Dan, must be pregnant with meaning: and how much more so when we find immediately following, as it were, the groan of the remnant of those days, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord!"

Notice how, in the final blessing of the tribes by Jacob, we find the suited termination of this. As to Gad, a conflict in which, first overcome, he shall nevertheless overcome at last. Then, with Asher and Naphtali we have what manifestly speaks of blessing following; while Joseph and Benjamin, completing the history, show us in whom the blessing is. All, therefore, is most perfectly in keeping throughout; and we are not arguing from any mere isolated expressions, as some would suggest, but giving everything its due place and connection. The prophecy has already been considered in its place in Genesis.

We have only now to speak of the number 144,000 (12,000 of each tribe). Although it may be according to the literal truth, yet it speaks rather of a symbolical meaning. Twelve, as we everywhere see, is the number of manifest government — ordinarily at least, we may say, if not always, of divine government, though men may be given their place in connection with it. Certainly the number here is suggestive of just such thoughts, the thousand, moreover, being the cube of 10; and 10 as a double 5 (which seems to be all that there is in it) speaks at the same time of responsibility, and capacity, and reward. How suited is everything we see here — even if there be much we have not seen yet — to give such a character to these sealed Israelites as we have suggested!*

{*The fact that those sealed are a remnant out of the mass of the nation will sufficiently characterize them. They are, doubtless, similar in character to the remnant spoken of in Ezek. 9:4: "Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst" of Jerusalem. That sealing, too, was preliminary to the slaughter about to be inflicted upon the ungodly mass. That which ever characterizes a remnant is the moral state of grief and horror at abounding evil. Such, says the Lord, "shall be Mine in that day when I make up My jewels." — S.R.}

(b) The apostle now has another vision, which naturally would have connection with the first, as well as probably be in some way contrasted with it. Here there is no more a company of Israelites that demands our attention, but a great multitude which no man can number, "out of every nation, and tribe, and people, and tongue." These then must be, largely at least, Gentiles. If we think of all that has been before us, we should say, rather, that they are exclusively Gentiles. If the Church has gone out to meet her Lord, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah it is who has taken manifest rule, and with Him a special remnant of Israel has already been seen in association, then, being in the line of Old Testament promises, which are Israel's, we must expect to find the Gentiles having a place indeed in blessing, but still a separate place from these. This company stands "before the throne, and before the Lamb." They are "clothed with white robes, and palm branches in their hands; and they cry with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb." They are thus partakers of the salvation which they have ascribed to God and the Lamb. They are clothed also with white robes, the token of full and final acceptance; and the palm branches in their hands speak of victory gained. Their being "before the throne and before the Lamb," may naturally, at first sight, declare them to be a heavenly company — a company in fact in heaven; and this, though with various application, is the thought in general of interpreters as to them. And indeed heaven is open to us. We see all the angels standing "around the throne and the elders and the living beings," and hear them as they fall upon their faces, worshiping God, saying, "Amen: blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and strength, unto our God, to the ages of ages."

But let us wait for what follows this. One of the elders puts plainly the question to the seer, "These who are clothed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they?" But John himself is evidently at a loss to say. "My lord," he answers, "thou knowest." Then we have the words which clearly and decisively explain who they are: "These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth upon the throne shall tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more, neither shall the sun in any wise fall upon them, nor any burning heat; because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them, and shall lead them to fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes." Plainly these words speak of full blessing attained. Some of them would seem as plainly to say, at first sight, that they are as certainly in heaven as the elders themselves; but let us look a little further.

They are all said to come out of the great tribulation, and this is emphasized. It is literally "the tribulation, the great one," as impressing upon us to make no mistake. There is but one tribulation that can be spoken of after this manner — that tribulation of which Daniel speaks (Dan. 12:1) as a "time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time;" and when Daniel's "people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Thus it is the time of which Jeremiah speaks, "the time of Jacob's trouble," but out of which he shall be delivered (Jer. 30:7). It is the time also of which the Lord speaks in His familiar prophecy, in which He expressly refers also to Daniel (Matt. 24:15-21) — a time of "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time; no, nor ever shall be." Immediately after this tribulation, there is the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and He comes in the clouds of heaven with the angels. Thus we cannot possibly be deceived as to where this brings us; and we find that we are looking forward in a vision here to what has not as yet had its place in the prophecy. In fact, we are looking on to the time when the Son of man has come. These are a special group, then. They are not the company of all the saints from the beginning, but those of one brief time; for "except those days should be shortened, no flesh should be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matt. 24:22).

That they are clothed in white robes is of importance in different ways. It shows that they are past the judgment of works; they are not merely themselves accepted personally, but are owned of the Lord in that which has been of Him in their life and ways. The white raiment, we are told in the nineteenth chapter, is the righteousnesses of the saints. There is a needful admonition here against what we are so prone to, the attributing a sort of uniformity to Scripture which is in reality the product merely of the narrowness of our own minds, and which begets confusion instead of clearness. Scripture is larger and more various than we take it to be. It is probable that most Christians take these white robes as being simply Christ as the righteousness of His people; but at once comes the question, How could a robe like this be washed, and made white in the blood of the Lamb? Every one will say that is impossible, of course; then the robe in this case is not the righteousness which is given us in Christ Himself. It is not Christ as righteousness to us, but, as already said, the righteousnesses (the word is plural) of our works and ways, which must have the stamp of His approval before we can be accredited with them, before we can stand in the value that grace may give them in His sight. But how much is there in our works and ways that He can never approve! Here then is where the precious blood must be applied; not to ourselves merely, but to our garments. They must be washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. We see at once how suited this is to the book of the throne and of judgment, which the book of Revelation assuredly is; and we see also how necessary it is to discriminate between scripture and scripture, and to distinguish things in which there may be at first sight apparent similarity. This applies equally to such great truths as those of salvation, redemption, sanctification, nay, even justification, where much of the confusion which obtains among the Lord's people is the result simply of forgetting how large and various Scripture thoughts are. We do not reach consistent interpretation by ignoring these differences which so constantly exist. Here, as already said, the company before us are plainly seen to have stood before the judgment-seat of Christ, and to have received His estimate of their lives as He has seen them.

Thus "are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple" — words in which again we shall be called to discriminate between apparently similar things. The elders are before the throne, and we naturally think of those who are before it here as being in heaven with the elders, and practically therefore as one company with these. But the words "serve Him day and night in His temple" are just the words which could not be used of the elders, for John explicitly says of the New Jerusalem, "I saw no temple therein." Here we have a temple; and the question necessarily arises, What temple is this, or what is meant by it? If we have not reached God's thought as to the millennial reign, and seen that there will then be a temple on earth which is the place of His throne, we shall scarcely realize the true position of this Gentile company. As risen saints, if we conceive them such, it will be difficult to imagine their relation to a temple on earth; but where are we shown that these are risen saints? Where are we shown that they have passed through death at all? Such things are constantly read into passages of this sort which do not contain them.

Take — what we cannot but realize to be a similar company at least — those who are assembled before the throne of the Son of man when He comes; when, as we are told, "the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say to them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me" (Matt. 25:31-36). And of these it is said finally that the righteous go away "into life eternal." How constantly in this case also it is thought that we are looking at those raised in a general resurrection, and who as sheep or goats pass, as the result of this judgment, to heaven or to hell! But nothing is said about resurrection, or about heaven. The Son of man has set up His throne on earth; and that supposes, of necessity, discriminating judgment of the nations among whom His throne now is. The passage has been examined in its place, and there is no need to repeat what has been already said.

But here it is plain there is a throne, before which men stand; and yet it is a throne on earth, though a divine throne. It is not contended that the companies are necessarily the same; but any one who is familiar with the language of the Old Testament prophets will have little difficulty in realizing what is said here. Take Isaiah's description of Jerusalem in her blessing in millennial days (Isa. 4:5-6), when "the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defense. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain." The language here carries us back, of course, to Israel in the wilderness when the glory was such a covering to them. But this is Jerusalem under the almighty wings which would so long since have covered her, but she would not, yet under which she has come at last to rest. Here, too, it is in conflict with the thoughts of many, and yet what Scripture absolutely assures us of, that there will be a temple once more, a literal holy place upon earth which God recognizes, and where He displays Himself so that the very sign of the end of the decreed time of God's preparatory dwelling in Jerusalem will be, as Daniel tells us, "the anointing of the most holy" place (Dan. 9:24). That which Israel has lost, and for so long lost, through their unbelief, shall be restored to them in a more wonderful manner than before; and thus it is, as we find further in Isaiah (Isa. 2:3-4), "Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." When this is to be, is absolutely plain from what follows this: "And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

That time surely is in the future yet. The reinstating of Israel in their land, converted to God and once more gathered, all of them, Judah united with Ephraim, and under One of whom God speaks by the prophet as "My servant David, their Prince forever," will show how little He has repented of His thoughts in connection with them. In the same explicit way does He speak in Ezek. 37:26-28: "Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them forevermore." Thus it is the very sign of His acceptance of His people Israel, an acceptance which will know no change forever that His sanctuary is explicitly in the midst of them. This, of course, is quite contrary to what we have in Christianity; but the difficulty with us has been the making of Christianity God's final thought as to the earth, as well as heaven, so as to make all these passages really unintelligible to us without such an interpretation of them as implies large modification also. Taken simply as they read, they are everywhere intelligible and most consistent, as God's words must always be. And the words of the prophets should surely make us understand better how the company that are before us here can be at once upon earth, and "before the throne of God," find "serve Him day and night in His temple," and how "He that sitteth upon the throne shall tabernacle over them."

But a difficulty may be found in another direction. These are, as is evident, a Gentile company. We have already distinguished them from those sealed of Israel in the previous vision. If Israel and the nations are thus apart, how could it be said of Gentiles here that they "serve Him day and night in His temple"? Do not the words show that there is, after all, an inconsistency in applying such language to a people upon earth, and when Israel's distinctive blessings have been restored to her? Now the prophet has already anticipated this very difficulty; for Isaiah assures us, speaking of the time of Israel's final restoration, when the Gentiles "shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord," that in that new condition, in testimony of His grace to all, Gentiles should also be admitted to a place of special nearness to Himself: "And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord" (Isa. 66:20-21). And here it is that the assurance follows, "For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain." Thus, while Israel has her distinctive place and blessing, at the same time God, in His own grace, will associate others with them from among the Gentiles themselves.

It has been said that the promise "I will take of them for priests and for Levites." merely refers to these Israelites brought back by the Gentiles to Jerusalem; but, as Delitsch well says, "God is here certainly not announcing so simple a thing as that the priests among the returned people should be still priests." He has just declared that the Gentiles "shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an offering to the Lord, as the children of Israel bring their offering in a clean vessel unto the house of the Lord." The Gentiles are here, therefore, this clean vessel; and being thus cleansed, they have the further promise, "and of them also will I take for priests and Levites." It is plain, moreover, that such an application of Isaiah's words brings his prophecy and this passage before us into perfect harmony, and thus the connection, while at the same time the contrast with the former vision of Israel's 144,000, is preserved. The two together give us a complete picture of blessing for both Israel and the Gentiles — a bow of promise banding for them the storm through which they pass. Neither group is heavenly. Neither is the full number to be saved at that time; but they are, in the language of the fourteenth chapter, a sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest beyond, and in each case dedicated as this, in a peculiar manner, to the Lord.

The words that follow here do indeed speak of it as the entrance into a blessing which for them shall be eternal; but so, as to Israel even nationally, when thus finally restored, they are past all changes now. Past millennial times, of which the vision speaks, there may be indeed still for them blessing such as we have not here, but that does not affect the permanence of what is promised: "They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun in any wise fall upon them, nor any burning heat; because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them, and shall lead them to fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Let us remember, also, in this connection, that while it is the earthly aspect of things simply upon which the prophets of old dwell, there is always in the New Testament an additional heavenly side, and we can see in the vision before us an intimation of this — an opened heavens, as one would say, into which at least they gaze; in the presence of which they are; so that the Lord's words to Nathaniel come to mind, in which He whom Nathaniel's faith had just acknowledged as the Son of God and King of Israel, prophesies of greater things to those who believe in Him: "Verily, verily, I say to you, henceforth ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." This, as the whole connection shows, has in view, not dwellers in heaven, but upon earth — those who, with Nathaniel's faith, will at last acknowledge the King of Israel, and who, in consequence of this, not, shall be in heaven, but "shall see heaven opened," and the angels of God attending upon Him who, wonderful to say, is a Son of man. Just such an opened heavens do we see in the vision before us.

(4) The seventh seal is now loosed, and there is silence in heaven about half an hour: evidently a brief pause only, and quite unsuited to indicate the commencement of eternity. One cannot say that it corresponds either, of necessity, to any pause in events upon earth, although this might follow such a pause in heaven, for heaven is in full government, as we have seen, of the affairs upon earth. There is a more important reference to which Bishop Newton (after Philo) calls attention — that while the sacrifices were made (2 Chron. 29:2528), the voices, and instruments, and trumpets sounded." "While the priest went into the temple to burn incense (Luke 1:9-10) all was silent, and the people prayed to themselves." Here we have immediately the prayers of the saints offered to God, with incense added to them by the angel-priest; and the prayers are answered in the sounding of the trumpets, which announce more distinctly than ever the judgments of God which are at hand upon a world that has rejected Christ, and still rejects His people. In this case the silence in heaven links the opening of the seal in a very direct way with that which follows; and it would be plain that we have not in the trumpets events which go on side by side with those that have already been before us in the seals, but a new and separate series of judgments: the catastrophe under the sixth seal being in this way still more distinctly seen as by no means the final break-up of earthly governments preparatory to the assumption of the throne on earth by Him to whom of right it belongs. On the other hand, all in the seals hitherto has been preparatory. They are the opening of the book, as on the face of it would be natural to say; and only at this point therefore is the book fully opened. The contents have yet to be made plain to us.

It is in accordance with this that the seventh seal is in some sense an eighth practically, that is, if we take the septenary series as they are numbered for us here. Divisions immediately preceding have given us what can neither be placed under the sixth nor under the seventh seal, but must form a division of its own. This, according to the structure, is the seventh division. The seventh seal is both a seventh and an eighth. We can neither disregard the number specifically attached to it, nor the actual separateness of the preceding visions. The seventh seal is this, as being that which completely opens the book. Seven is the number of completion, as we know, while as an eighth it speaks of a new beginning. The sixth seal is not final judgment, however anticipative of it it may be. The winds have not yet been allowed, as we see in the following vision, to burst forth, as they are about to. The brethren also of the martyrs under the fifth seal, who are to be slain as they were, have not yet given up their lives. In the meanwhile, because the seventh seal in opening the whole book brings us face to face with the most awful period of the world's history ever to be known, we are first taken apart from the succession of events, to see beforehand the gracious purposes which are hidden behind these coming judgments. The visions are an interruption, a parenthetical instruction, which, coming in the place it does, pushes, as it were, the seventh seal on to be an eighth section, itself filling the seventh place. Surely, if numbers have significance at all, we may read it here. The seventh place is filled by that which gives rest to the heart in the assurance of that which God's accomplished work must mean in the way of blessing — a sabbatism which no restless will of man, nor power of evil, can any more disturb.

The seventh seal at once leads us on to that which governs the whole course of things before us. The trumpets to sound are war-trumpets. They correspond to the similar compassing of Jericho seven times on the last day of its existence, and show us in detail that judgment of the world prefigured in the downfall and judgment of Jericho. The trumpets, we may remind ourselves, as they are given us in the Old Testament picture, are trumpets of jubilee.

While, on the one hand, they give notes of alarm and judgment, yet it is the time of liberation and restoration that is coming in; and here we are given to see what it is that moves the Hand that moves the universe — that the trumpets sound as the answer of God to the supplications of the saints. We have heard these already under the fifth seal, and have had the assurance that they were to be answered. Now we see that all the judgments following are in answer to them. "I saw," says the apostle, "the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them; and another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, that he might add it to the prayers of all saints at the golden altar which was before the throne." The answer comes in the shape of fire from the altar cast upon the earth, when we hear immediately what characterizes all that follows: "there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and an earthquake." The sacrifice of this altar, which is the altar of burnt-offering plainly, has gone up from it. There is no offering any more; and alas, the masses of men have only rejected the propitiation made. The fire of the altar therefore does not now consume the victim — it remains but an awful fire of wrath upon those for whom there remaineth no more any sacrifice for sin. They have, in fact, offered victims to God — whose blood they have poured out sacrilegiously beneath God's altar. God has accepted such sacrifices on the part of His people, but they could work no atonement for the men that shed their blood. On the contrary, they plead, as we have seen, against their persecutors; and the wrath is now coming upon them to the uttermost.

Spite of all this, there is a point which is surely significant: that the Priest who puts the incense to the prayer of the saints is not the human priest whom we should expect. His form is angelic; and yet it is most certain that no angel besides is ever seen in such priestly attitude, and that Christ, in order "that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God," had to be in all things made like unto His brethren (Heb. 2:17). It is Christ, surely, who is before us as offering the prayers of the saints to God, and thus we can understand the incense which He can add to them, which is but indeed the fragrance of what He was Himself, and is, for God. But in this case it seems strange that He should be in angel-garb, not human: and this would speak naturally of a certain distance on His part, who is yet interceding. To interpret this, we have to realize the condition of those for whom He intercedes. They are, according to the uniform tenor of what is here, characteristically a Jewish remnant, a remnant chosen by grace out of an otherwise apostate people, and who themselves have to be passed through the refiner's fire in order that they may at last come out the vessel that they are designed to be, for His use. Thus we can understand that they are not as yet in the full apprehension and enjoyment of what Christ is to them, as in after days they will be. Christ Himself is, in a certain sense, standing aloof. His manner, though not His heart, is strange. They cannot fail of ultimate blessing; but it is the time of Jacob's trial, out of which indeed he is to be delivered. To use the figure with which the prophet connects this, it is their finding the bitter pangs of travail which are upon the nation, but out of which a new Israel shall be born, when Jacob shall become Israel, answering now fully to his God-given name.

Thus, as we may see, the book is now really opened. We have had before us the elements which make it up. The prophetic history of it all is now to come, but the character of things should be abundantly plain. The seals have been loosed, and the book is opened.