Revelation 7

The careful reader of the Revelation will have noticed that this chapter does not perform any part, properly speaking, of the course of events. That is to say, it is neither one of the seals, nor of the trumpets, nor of the vials. We have not finished the seals yet. In the sixth chapter we have had six seals, and there is a seventh that comes before us in Revelation 8. What then is the meaning of Revelation 7? It is an interval — a sort of parenthesis in these events — that occurs between the sixth and seventh seals. Under the sixth seal there is a frightful catastrophe among kings and subjects, high and low, calling to the rocks and mountains to fall on them, and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. To their minds His day was come.

On the other hand, when He opens the seventh seal (Rev. 8), there is silence in heaven about the space of half-an-hour: so that the whole of Rev. 7 is no link in the regular chain of the history foreseen. Yet this apparent interruption of historic sequence is just as orderly as the formally numbered series of the judgments, because all that God does is perfect: every detail is fixed with the greatest care and nicety. What confirms this is that, when we come to the seven trumpets, the sixth trumpet is given in Rev. 9 and the seventh does not appear till Rev. 11:15; so that the whole of Rev. 10 and the larger part of Rev. 11 form a great parenthetic revelation of events, similar to what we have in the chapter before us. Indeed to me it is still more remarkable in the trumpets; for you will observe in Rev. 9:12 it is said, “One woe is past, and behold there come two woes,” etc.; and then we have the sixth angel sounding, and the description of the Euphratean horsemen But it is not till Rev. 11:14 that “the second woe is past,” evidently referring to the Euphratean horsemen mentioned before in Rev. 9. So that the whole scene of the mighty angel coming down from heaven, of the little book that was to be taken and eaten by the seer, of the temple and worshippers measured, of the court and city abandoned for forty-two mouths, of the two witnesses, their testimony, death, resurrection, and ascension, — all this forms part of the striking episode. Thus, as there is a parenthesis between the sixth and seventh seals, there is an exactly corresponding one between the sixth and seventh trumpets; and not only so, but we have something analogous in the vials. If you look at the sixth vial (Rev. 16:12), you will find there is an interruption between it and the seventh. First the water of the great river Euphrates is dried up, that the way of the kings from the East might be prepared, and then we have a totally different subject. “I saw three unclean spirits . . . . they are the spirits of demons;” and then, distinct again from this, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth,” etc. This is a brief but singular parenthesis, containing both the account of the evil and the lord’s coming in judgment on it. I only refer to it now for the purpose of showing that there is nothing but what is laid down with the most astonishing precision of purpose in God’s word, and in this book, it may be added, conspicuously.

Taken up at first sight, the Revelation may appear all a maze; but it is not so really; for the impression arises from ignorant haste or from incapacity to discern. The fact is, that people bring certain feelings or wishes with them to the book, instead of waiting in the desire to know what God thinks and speaks to them in it. Let us take the highest ground of faith for the word of God, and maintain that the Holy Ghost is the only power for understanding any part of that word. Whether for a man’s soul, for his salvation and hopes, for his practical guidance, either individually or corporately, for his ways in the church or in the world, for his instruction as to the worship and the service of God, or even as to his relative duties on earth, whatever it be, there is divine light for every step of the way; and the only reason why we do not all see it is, because we have not the single eye which faith produces. It is faith that receives the blessing; and I believe that, as it is ever true that “according to thy faith so be it unto thee,” it will also be blindness according to the measure of unbelief. The Lord always gives what faith counts on from Himself; unbelief inevitably finds the barrenness that it deserves.

In this chapter, however, it had long been a difficulty how there could be here the sealing of a body of elect Jews and the vision of an innumerable company of spared Gentiles, when their blessing only comes at a later part of the book.44 But the moment I learnt that it was all a parenthesis, and that the actual time when the sealed remnant of Israel and the saved Gentiles come into public action and take their place upon the stage is another thing altogether, that difficulty was at an end. God for our comfort, while the judgments are going on, allows the curtain to part for a little moment, and we see that they are all safe under His eye and ready to be manifested in due time. But when they come publicly into view is another question. In Revelation 14 there is a body spoken of, 144,000, of whom the Lamb is the centre, and these stand with Him on mount Zion, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. That body is evidently similar to, though not the same as, the 144,000 that we have here; and perhaps also we may compare, but not identify, the “nations” in Rev. 21:24-26 with the countless host of Gentiles here. Still more striking is the resemblance to the sheep of Matt. 25, because these are not merely the blessed Gentiles of the millennial day, but had stood the test during the interval of grievous trial which preceded it. And observe that the sheep in that passage are distinguished from the King’s brethren who have a position yet nearer to Himself — Jewish saints who, after the church is taken to heaven, will be entrusted with the gospel of the kingdom, which is to be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations before the end comes. Thus, in Matt. 25:31-46, Israelitish brethren of the King, just before the close, test the Gentiles, who at His appearing are summoned before His throne, and discriminated as blessed or cursed, their faith or unbelief being proved by the way they had carried themselves towards the messengers of the coming kingdom in the time of their sorrowful testimony. Millions of the nations will be born during the peaceful millennial reign, for whom the loosing of Satan at its close will be fatal, even were all spared at first born of God.

In this chapter, then, there are simply two striking scenes, connected in sense if not as to epoch, outside the regular march of things. The Spirit of God, who laid down the historical order of the divine judgments, leaves that for the moment and shows us that God has mercy in store even in the coming day of distress. Israel will be in frightful circumstances: “Jerusalem shall receive of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins.” As she had been strong in her hatred against the Lord, so will He reckon that His vengeance has been doubly poured forth upon the guilty city. We have had judgments, first beginning with comparatively ordinary events, such as a great conqueror going forth, bloodshed, scarcity, God’s sore plague (death referring to the body and hades to the soul); then a remorseless outburst of persecution on God’s people; next a universal and dreadful convulsion before the eyes of the seer, affecting heaven, earth, and sea, the greatest alarm and bewilderment among men, who think that the day of the Lamb’s wrath is come. But that day was not come then. When it does arrive, the Lord will execute judgment in person on the dead and the living. But now it is a panic which leads men to dread judgment-day. And the kings of the earth, and the nobles, and the chieftains, and the rich, and the mighty, and every one, bond and free, were in the utmost consternation.

But here we find that the Lord stops and draws us aside for a season to show us what His mercy is going to do. “[And] after this I saw four angels . . . . holding the four winds of the earth.” They are kept in cheek for the moment. “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (verses 2, 3). Some have conceived that the sealing angel is Christ, partly because it is assumed that the work done is communicating the Holy Spirit of promise, the seal of redemption. To me all this is more than doubtful. It is not till we reach the trumpet series that our Lord ever assumes the angelic form and title. Whether we look at the seals, or at the parenthesis between the two last, He is invariably, where the reference is certain, spoken of as the Lamb. Again, this angel rises up from the sun-rising. I can readily apply such a movement to angels subject to the Son of man, ascending and descending to do His pleasure. But when the Lord appears in angelic garb, He either ministers as High Priest with the golden censer, or He comes down with unmistakable tokens and proclamation of His dominion and power. In the present scene nothing is said which unequivocally reveals His own glory. Much has been made of the phrase “till we have sealed,” as if it corresponded with the allusion to the persons in the Godhead, as in Gen. 1:26. I am surprised that the rest of the sentence was not observed to be incompatible with such a meaning Would Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (which in that case would be the sense) say, “till we have sealed the servants of our God?” The idea seems to me unfounded. Nor even if our Lord exclusively could be imagined so to speak, does it seem to be consistent with His dignity. He teaches His disciples to say “our Father,” but does not say it with them. When He does associate them with Himself risen from the dead, it is even then “My Father and your Father, my God and your God” — never “our God.”

The meaning then is, that before the various judgments are poured out on creation, God will have appropriated a certain people for Himself. They are sealed with the seal of the living God; that is, a character is put upon them as set apart to God. Cain had a very different mark put upon him by Jehovah; it was to screen him from man’s judgment. Here also protection may be involved. At any rate, they are sealed on their foreheads, which, of course, means no physical mark, but God’s setting them apart for Himself, and, I suppose, publicly. Who are the sealed ones? A measured remnant from His ancient people.

Thus the angels are seen restraining the judgments that are about to fall on all creation, and we have the seal of God upon a certain chosen number out of Israel. He will have an election from that people, but it will be a personal and individual election — not a merely national one as of old. When David attempted to number the people, it was a presumptuous sin, but here it is the grace of God appropriating a complement of the tribes of Israel to Himself. The number 144,000 is a regular and complete number, though it be a mystical one, as I suppose, with a view to God’s use of the favoured nation here below. The number twelve always has a reference to what is perfect for God’s accomplishment of His work, administered by man. This may be seen in the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve patriarchs, twelve apostles, and even the twelve gates and twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem. It is a perfect number where human administration comes in. Hence, when the nation of Israel are to be brought in again, it is the multiple of twelve that we have, and this expressed in thousands; the full result, as far as Israel is concerned, of the administration that God will commit to man.

An important question has been raised here, whether the tribes of Israel are to be interpreted literally or mystically. For the latter sense it is argued, that the very first vision of the seven candlesticks, borrowed from the Jewish sanctuary, and the allusions in the seven epistles that follow, but more particularly in Revelation 3:12 compared with Revelation 21:12, sustain the Christian meaning throughout the book. But does not such reasoning overlook the fact that the application of Jewish emblems to the churches, while they are expressly spoken of here below, and of others to the church, either glorified above or following Christ out of heaven in the day of the Lord, is totally distinct horn the question whether certain symbols, taken from Israel, may not also apply to a different class of witnesses on earth between those two points? The real question is about the interval, when churches are no longer spoken of, and before the bride appears with the Bridegroom in glory. To state the question aright is enough to show the inconclusiveness of the argument, as applied (not to Rev. 1, 2, 3, nor in Rev. 21:12, where in the main we all agree, but) to the prophetic visions from Revelation 6 onward.

Besides, it is allowed by the more intelligent of the historical school, that about the close of the age the Jews will be converted and take the lead in the earthly song of praise on the occasion. This may be put too late in the book and founded on the feeble evidence of the occurrence of the Hebrew word “Hallelujah” in Rev. 19:3. Still the fact is admitted — an Apocalyptic prophecy of that which is to happen before the appearing of the Lord. What is more, a large part of the same school,45 represented by one of their most popular books, (Bp. Newton’s Dissertations on the Prophecies; Works, i. pp. 578, 579,) understand the tribes of Israel to be meant in their natural historical import, and apply the prophecy to the vast influx of converted Jews in the reign of Constantine. In fact the earliest Christian writer who alludes to the chapter, Irenaeus the pious Bishop of Lyons, unhesitatingly solves the omission of Dan so as to prove that he considered the actual tribes of Israel to be meant, So also speaks Victorinus in one passage at least of the earliest extant commentary on the book. Others soon began to veer towards the allegorizing method, till at length the anti-Judaic theory became much the more general view.

But it may be well to notice briefly the reasons alleged by one of the ablest advocates of the mystical class — Vitringa. First he argues that if the names were to be taken in the letter, so must the number. But does this follow? And if it were a necessity, what is to hinder? He who reserved 7,000 in Elijah’s day may seal 144,000 of Israel in a future epoch. But I see no need for this. The people might be literal, the number symbolical, without difficulty save to one fascinated by the love of excessive simplification. It is not denied that symbols exist, nor that they yield a determinate sense; but to look for a sort of pictorial consistency in all the parts is contrary to the facts everywhere. Moreover what could be the meaning of a mystical Reuben, Gad, Asher, etc.? Nobody that I know pretends to assign a distinctive signification, unless persons in the last degree fanciful. Yet if they are to be so taken, one might expect each to have a meaning, which is looked for in vain in those who plead strenuously for the general idea. Next it is urged that by the sealed must be understood God’s elect, who are to be preserved from an otherwise universal calamity; and who can assert these to be Jews only? But who affirms that none are elect save these? We shall see presently that the scope of the prophecy and the connection of the passage intimate the contrary. The false assumption therefore is, not that the sealed thousands are out of the actual tribes of Israel only, but that there will be no other saints than these. Thirdly the omission of Dan seems to be at least as great a difficulty on the mystical as on the literal hypothesis. In the blessing of Moses (Deut. 33) Simeon is left out. Is this list of the tribes, then, to be taken allegorically? Fourthly, the alleged parallel text, Rev. 14:1, by no means proves that the tribes are not literally of Israel. The 144,000 in Rev. 14 are saints on earth, not long before the final catastrophe, and in contrast with those defiled by Babylon and enslaved by the Beast. That they are not the church, but rather a godly remnant of Israelites associated in the Spirit’s mind with the suffering but now exalted Christ, is what writers of this stamp have never even fairly weighed, much less have they decided on good grounds one way or the other.

On the other hand, I conceive that the specification of the tribes is inconsistent with any sense but the literal. Then again the contradistinction is as plain and positive as words can make it, between the sealed numbers out of Israel and the innumerable multitude from all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues. So that the mystical theory, when closely examined, cannot escape the charge of absurdity; for it identifies the sealed Israelites with the palm-bearing Gentiles, spite of the evident and express contrast on the face of the chapter. This results from trying to make out that the Gentile crowd consists of all the aggregated generations of the elect from the tribes. As to the sealed ones, not a hint appears of a succession: indeed the command to suspend the action of the four winds till after the sealing implies the contrary. It was a precise limited hour, as it was a special class. But what clenches the matter is that the palm-bearing Gentiles (i.e., according to some, the Christian church in its heavenly completeness) are all described as coming out of the great tribulation - a tribulation which even they view as following the days of Constantine. Thus all seems to me strong and conclusive that the sealed here are literal Israelites — not only of Israel, but Israel, the Israel of God; as the mystical reading of the first part of the chapter, with the literal understanding of the rest, involves its advocates in consequences the more gross where it is most systematically pursued.

With regard to the tribes mentioned, there is a certain peculiarity on which I can say little. There are the sons of the various wives of Jacob: first, the two sons of Leah, Judah and Reuben; then of Zilpah, Leah’s maid, Gad and Asher; then Naphtali, the son of the maid Bilhah, and instead of Dan her other son, Manasseh (Joseph’s firstborn) is substituted. Then there are the four sons of Leah, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, and Zebulun; and finally, the sons of Rachel, Joseph, and Benjamin. Clearly we have the sons arranged according to the different mothers, the offspring of the bondwomen being intermingled with that of the free. Dan, who had been the most conspicuous for idolatry, is left out, and instead of Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, Joseph himself appears. We find here the sealed of Israel, but the tribes numbered and arranged in a singular manner. They are no longer merely taken up in a natural way according to the order of birth, but God seems to intimate that He would make them a spiritual people also, stamped with His seal. They will then be Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile. Nor is Dan at last disinherited. (Ezek. 48:1, 32.)

Nor this only; God is also going to save a multitude of Gentiles, and here no numbering appears. This is a most refreshing thought from its largeness. For though from them God is now gathering a people to His name, yet when we think of the multitudes that are immersed in darkness, of the myriads on myriads of men in heathen countries, of a handful — yea, perhaps but one — among them here and there having the knowledge of God, it is an afflicting and humbling reflection. But is it not remarkable that when God is to show us the increasing wickedness of both Jew and Gentile, and when His judgments are about to fall, we find there is this multitude of Israel numbered with the greatest care, and God not forgetful of the poor Gentiles? They may not be put in the same high place as the Jews, yet God will bless them wonderfully notwithstanding. But the prophet, who had just known the election of Israel sealed and had heard the number of them, has to turn to one of the elders in order to learn who the countless company are. They were to John a new unknown crowd among the blessed. If they were sealed on their foreheads, is it reasonable that they should just after seem so strange?

The multitude spoken of here is distinct from, if not in contrast with, the church; and it is thus that we ascertain it clearly. The elders represent the heavenly saints as the heads of priesthood. Now God might use two different symbols to mean the same body; as, for instance, the wise virgins and the good and faithful servants in Matt. 25 are successive representatives of the heavenly saints. But here we have the Gentile multitude and the elders given as distinct parties in the same scene. Again you have the elders doing one thing and the multitude doing another. Above all, note that the way in which God speaks of this multitude totally separates them both from the church of God and from the Old Testament saints. This cannot be so clearly seen in our authorized translation, but the right version in verse 14 is this: “These are they which come out of the great tribulation.” One could understand of course that as a figure the whole of this dispensation might be called a time of tribulation, or even of great tribulation. But here it is not merely said, “These are, they which came out of great tribulation,” but “out of the great tribulation.” It is not possible to make “the great tribulation” extend over all the time between the first and second comings of Christ. Even the vague Protestant interpreters make it specific, but apply it, as is natural in them, to the fierce persecutions of the Papacy — “the great predicted tribulation of the coming apostacy and Antichrist.” The phrase means a special time of trouble, and we gather from elsewhere that it is yet to come; and it is exactly this time that the central part of the Revelation includes, and chiefly covers. In the epistle to Thyatira it was said, “Behold I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.” May we not judge that the threat of this great tribulation is to be fulfilled now. The scene of the church is closed, the great tribulation comes on apace, and those who had professed Christianity but who had gone back into idolatry would be cast into it with others. Thus, what God shows us here is a multitude of saved Gentiles: not the Jews, for we have had them just before; and not Christians, for these will then be in heaven. Those are a Gentile body called after the church is taken up; they are to be in the great tribulation but shall be preserved through it.

We shall find the great tribulation spoken of in several parts of the word of God. In Jeremiah it is named in connection with the Jews. (Jer. 30:7.) “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.” There is to be a time of excessive anguish, which closes with the day of the Lord, and Jacob is to be saved out of it; so that there you have the Jew in trouble, and the Jew delivered out of it. But in Daniel it is still more explicit. (Dan. 12.) The angel speaks of Daniel’s own people, the Jews. “At that time . . . . there shall be a time of trouble.

such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” This is “the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.” It is evidently the plain counterpart of the words of Jeremiah; and it warrants the inference that there is to be a future “time of trouble, such as never was” — the immediate precursor of deliverance for Jacob’s people as spoken of in these prophecies.

In Matthew 24 the Lord Himself refers to it: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” There again we have the same time, the Lord quoting the very passage of Daniel just cited. It is quite plain that He is speaking only of Jews, because they are supposed to be connected with the temple, and they are told to pray that their flight be not on the sabbath day, in which case they could not go beyond a sabbath day’s journey, nor in winter. In either case there would be a hindrance to their flight, whether on God’s part, or in the circumstances of the season. We have the same thing referred to in Mark, but Luke seems to speak in a more general way.

What parties then are to be in the scene of the tribulation? First a Jewish one spoken of in the Prophets and the Gospels, the object of God’s care, who will deal tenderly with a remnant of Israel, and deliver them out of their distresses. Then in Rev. 7:9 we hear of a Gentile multitude. But neither party is the church.

Never have we God dealing thus with the Jew and with the Gentile as such, and forming the church at the same time; for then God would have at least two, if not three, objects — not various only but opposed objects — of special affection on the earth at the same time, with quite different modes and aims of action.

Suppose there were two persons, whom the Lord was bringing near to Himself. If He were dealing with the Jew, He would have acknowledged an earthly temple, priesthood, and worship. The Lord Jesus recognised the Jews as such when He was on earth, and in a still more blessed way He will do so in the day that is coming. But as long as the Lord is occupied with forming the church, Jewish order ceases to have any claim. Thus then suppose that God were blessing the Jews as Jews, and at the same time forming the church on earth, if two persons were converted, the one might say, I must still have my priest and go to the temple; while another would exclaim, There is no priest but Christ, and the temple is in heaven. See the confusion that would spring from God’s owning an earthly and a heavenly people at the same time here below.

In this time of tribulation, when the Lord will recognize the Jew (or the godly remnant) to a certain extent, the church will not be in the scene. The objects of deliverance will be elect Jews and elect Gentiles, each distinct from the other, and not the church of God, where both are united and all distinctions disappear. We have seen direct proof of the removal of the church in Rev. 4 and 5. Here there is indirect evidence, because we have Jews sealed and Gentiles saved, and the latter expressly distinguished from the elders or heavenly saints. The sealing of the Jews included the election from the whole twelve tribes of Israel, except where there was a special brand of evil, as in the case of Dan. But the moment we find the Jew, we have God looking also, though separately, at the nations; because, having once visited the Gentile with His mercy, He will never take it back. Thus, when here He speaks of mercy to a complement of Israel, there is also salvation to a multitude out of every nation and kindred and people and tongue.

We saw that if the guilty Christian professors went on in their sin with Jezebel, they would be given up, and would be left to go through great tribulation. Here we find the great tribulation come; and not only are Israelites sealed, but a multitude of Gentiles are delivered out of it. The Old Testament does not speak of Gentiles being delivered thence, but Jews. Meantime, God has been sending salvation to the Gentiles. Hence in the New Testament prophecy Gentile deliverance is as prominent as Jewish deliverance is in the Old Testament. God shows that, in the last days, He is going to save a vast throng of Gentiles. But will it be so in these countries where the light of the gospel has shone and has been despised? “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess. 2:10-12.) God will visit those who have not enjoyed this testimony, the external peoples who have not had Christ rightly presented to them. The church has completely failed in what God looks for from us. He called on the church to take up the cross and to follow Christ; but the church has, in practice, given up the cross and followed the world. All this has hardened the heathen, who find that the church does not bring forth the fruits that are suitable to the grace and truth which we profess to have found in Christ. But God, in His fulness of mercy, will go to those outside. Thus I believe that these very countries which have set themselves up as the centre from whence the light emanates will then be in antichristian idolatry, while those which have been in darkness will come out into light. It will only be the tale of Galilee of the nations again, when Jerusalem despised and lost the Son of God — alas! how long.

Here we see the blessed result. There will be this innumerable multitude of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, who stand before the throne46 and before the Lamb. Theirs are the robes of righteousness,47 and their palms are the palms of victory; but they do not sing the new song. There is nothing like the high and exulting tone of Rev. 5, no intercession for others, nay, not a word of being made kings and priests to God. They cry with a loud voice, “Salvation unto our God who sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb.” They are saved persons, but the ascription is limited to the title that He takes upon the throne and to the Lamb. God is not now sitting upon the throne that is described here: at least it is not thus He reveals Himself while the church is on earth. He will by and by take His place there as One issuing judgments; and the great point seems to be, that although it is a time of preparatory wrath and judicial action, yet God is showing signal mercy, even to Gentiles. In verse 13, we have the elders looking upon the scene. How could they be looking upon themselves? Yet this must be the case, if the elders and the innumerable multitude are both supposed to set forth the church. We have two distinct parties. If the elders are the church, the multitude is not; and if the multitude is, then the elders cannot be. I well understand a man having a picture taken of himself in one suit of clothing at one time and in a different suit at another. But we could not possibly have a portrait of a man taken at the same moment with two different sets of robes upon him, so as to display distinct characters, and fulfil opposite functions together.

In the church of God which is being called now there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The moment you find the distinction kept up between them, there cannot be the church. Whenever you separate the Jew from the Gentile, you are off church-ground. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, God was not forming Jew and Gentile into one body. Thus, even when the Lord Jesus was upon earth, He forbade His disciples to go to the Gentiles, or so much as enter the Samaritan cities. But when He, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, was about to form the church, He charged them to go everywhere and preach the gospel to every creature, instead of merely seeking out him that was worthy in Israel. Thus, a complete change was evinced in the ways of God, not as if He knew not the end from the beginning, but with a view to fresh displays of His glory in His Son. So too when the present calling closes, His mercy will flow out in fresh channels, as we have seen.

I trust, then, it has been shown plainly that the subject of this chapter is not the church, but Israel and the Gentiles blessed as such. Indeed, one need not hesitate to say that, if any person supposed Rev. 7 treated of the church, it would argue that he had no true idea of its nature and calling — that he had no conception of what the Holy Ghost connects with the body of Christ here below.48 The church of God is essentially a heavenly body that entirely sets aside all distinction of Jew and Gentile. The scope, if not object, of this chapter shows that these distinctions reappear at the time that is referred to. We have first a company of Israel, then an innumerable crowd out of the Gentiles. Besides these, that class of the redeemed formed out of the Jews and Gentiles, and long familiar to us in this book (namely, the crowned elders), are seen as a distinct body altogether.

Thus we have in this chapter “the Jew, the Gentile, and the church of God” — sealed Jews and saved Gentiles, for the earth, as I suppose, and the church with the Old Testament saints preserved for heavenly glory. While the elect of the twelve tribes are said to have great mercy shown them, and the Gentiles too, who might have been thought to be forgotten then (ver. 14-17), yet it is not the same exalted privilege that we shall enjoy. “They” (i.e., these spared Gentiles) “serve day and night in his temple.” But when the Holy Ghost is showing us our special place of blessing, the prophet says, “I saw no temple therein.” In Revelation 21, where he describes the bride or the heavenly Jerusalem, it is a state of things totally different from what we have here. Though it be the city where you might above all expect to find a sanctuary, he says, “I saw no temple therein.” Why is this? Because that city is the symbol of the bride, and when God brings out the blessedness and glory of the church, He speaks of it as drawing near to Himself, so that there shall be none but Christ between Him and them, if we can call that between, where Christ Himself is the image of the invisible God, the One who reveals God to us and who is God. It excludes the idea of the temple. Here, on the contrary, we have the temple. One of their greatest privileges spoken of is that they serve Him day and night in His temple, and “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell again among them.” There might seem to be a difficulty in this, but there really is a careful guard against the thought that might be drawn from the words “dwell among them.” The true meaning is, God having His tabernacle over them, not among them. In Rev. 21 we find God dwelling among men. It is not the same phrase at all. Similar in English, it is totally different in the Greek. In Revelation 7 the idea is that the presence of God overshadows the Gentiles, but there is no such thing intended as God’s taking His place among them. They are blessed of God, overshadowed and protected as Israel of old under the cloud of His presence. Like them too in the future (Isa. 49), they shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the sun nor heat smite them; blessed expressions, but rather conveying an earthly position than a heavenly one. We have the Lamb Himself to feed us now. Even here He gives us to have in us wells of water springing up into everlasting life, and out of us flow rivers of living water.

I have been endeavouring to prove, then, that God’s purposes are not limited by what He is doing now. Besides forming the heavenly body, the church, and conferring upon it the highest privileges even He can give, God is going to visit the Gentiles by and by. They will be remembered; and this will be done in the midst of the most appalling judgments which precede the great day. And God makes plain our own position amidst it all; for we see the elders distinct, and they have the mind of Christ. This last is the portion of the church even on earth, just as Joseph was in his time the depositary of God’s wisdom. Whether in prison or out of prison, he entered into the thoughts of God and was able to explain them to others. This is the place that God’s goodness puts us in, alas! how little it is prized or acted on. It is one of the most precious privileges that belongs to the church of God, save the position in which God sets us as brought nigh in Christ to Himself. There ought to be the power of announcing the revealed thoughts of God by the Holy Ghost.

44 Not many of my readers will be more disposed than myself to accept Mr. Elliott’s way of accounting for the occurrence of the sealing and palm-bearing visions at this particular time. Augustine, the celebrated Bishop of Hippo, flourished at the date to which he applies the sixth seal, or rather its consequences! Mr. E has culled from his copious writings whatever might be supposed to strengthen this far-fetched idea; and certainly it would be strange if in so large a field he did not find abundance to his hand. But when he begs “the reader to pause and consider with himself, whether he can possibly imagine any two symbolic figurations that would more exactly symbolize the doctrinal revelations made to Augustine than those that were exhibited at the exactly correspondent epoch in the Patmos visions to the representative man St. John,” I must answer that I think if the vision of the holy city Jerusalem had been inserted after the sealing and instead of the palm-bearers, Mr. E. would have sung yet louder in praise of so marvellous a foreshadowing of Augustine’s great work De Civitate Dei. Let the candid reader judge.

45 Mr. Birks widely differs from Mr. Elliott, and this too in perhaps the most acrimonious attack ever made on futuro-literalism. Even Mr. B. confesses that “in the abstract, it can neither be unreasonable nor improbable that they should be a direct object of the prophecy, and, since no more appropriate symbol could be found for them, that they should be, so to speak, their own emblem. Those who view the book in general as symbolical may, therefore, without inconsistency, conceive literal Jews to be designed.” (Elements of Prophecy, pp. 256, 257, the “masterly work” in which, according to Mr. E., the writer has shown himself the martel and hammer of truth against the reveries of the futurists.)

46 John’s vision of them there does not imply that they are to be in heaven, rather than on the earth, when the kingdom comes. “Before the throne and before the Lamb” is moral rather than local. (Compare Rev. 12:1; Rev. 14:3.) It merely expresses where the prophet beholds them in the mind of God. The description with which the chapter closes conveys the idea of people delivered from bitter sorrow, and sheltered for ever. No doubt this will be inexpressible comfort to them: but nothing they say rises to the height of the joy and intelligence which are seen in the elders, nor is anything said of them which at all sets them on equal ground with these. They are never presented with crowns nor seated on thrones like the twenty-four. They are in relationship with God when He is no longer viewed as seated on a throne of grace such as we know now, but as on a throne whence judgments proceed. All harmonizes with the interval of introductory government which precedes the millennium.

47 It has been sought to draw out the contrast between these Gentiles in Rev. 7 and our own position in Rev. 1:5, 6, by dwelling on the different statements, that they washed their robes, and that He washed us. But such comparisons often lead to grave misconception, as indeed this has done. I wish, therefore, explicitly to state my own conviction (in which, doubtless, the writer referred to would cordially join), that the salvation of all the saved at all times depends on the work of Christ, and that the Spirit is the only efficacious applier of it to any soul. The real question is as to the various dealings of God and His sovereign arrangements among the saved. Scripture, in my opinion, is quite clear as to all this, if men would but give up preconceived notions and wait on God for the answer.

48 The following extract from Dr. John Owen’s Prelim. Dissert. to his Comment on the Hebrews (Exer. vi.) is endorsed with strong commendation by a living Professor of Theology, and may serve as evidence of the darkness that reigns on the subject. “At the coming of the Messiah, there was not one church taken away, and another set up in its room; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant. The olive tree was the same; only some branches were broken and others grafted into it: the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room. And this doth and must determine the difference between the Jews and Christians about the promises of the Old Testament. They are all made unto the church. No individual hath any interest in them, but by virtue of his membership with the church. This church is, and always was, one and the same. With whomsoever it remains, the promises are theirs; and that, not by application or analogy, but directly and properly. They belong as immediately at this day, either to Jews (?) or Christians, as they did of old to any. The question is with whom is this church which is founded on the promised seed in the covenant? for where it is, there is Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, Jacob, the temple of God.” There is not a clause that is not an error; for even where there is a certain substratum of truth, the use is fallacious. The Judaising of the church on this scheme is complete. The truth is that Dr. O. confounds the calling of the church, according to the mystery hid from ages and generations, with the earthly order in which the promises are administered. Thus the doctrine of Ephesians, Colossians, and other such scriptures, is left out and unknown; that is, the doctrine of a body united to Christ its glorified head, and manifested on earth by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Such a state of things did not exist before Christ’s first advent, nor can it be after His second. As to the inheritance of the promises, we share this with the saints of old; but it is not our peculiar place of blessing. The church, as such, is quite a distinct thing, though the members of it are, with others, heirs through Christ. So with the olive tree; doubtless the Gentiles are now grafted in: but is it possible a spiritual man could confound this with the body of Christ? The Jews were natural branches, the olive was their own olive tree: even the unbelieving branches formed part of it, though at length broken off to let Gentiles in. Does one word of this bring out the church as shown in Eph. 1, 2? Is not all above nature here? In that one body, it is not Jews making way for Gentiles, but the believers, whether Jew or Gentile, brought out of their old previous condition, reconciled in one by the cross, and builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. All this is neutralised by Dr. Owen’s theory. At least, as regards the future, Mr. Elliott renounces it. “The church of the firstborn, the bride, may be complete; but it does not follow that none afterwards can be saved. What is said of the kings of the earth, walking in the light of the heavenly Jerusalem, seems to me to imply an enjoyment of the blessing by other parties, besides those that constitute Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem. The very statement of Christ’s being a priest upon His throne (if applicable, all I think it is, to the millennia] era) implies Christ’s still exercising His intercessory and other priestly functions. And it I am correct in my view of John 17:21, 23, it was a marked point in His earliest intercessory prayer that the world’s believing on Him generally might be the result of the distinctive manifestation in glory of the church of His disciples of the present dispensation; — that manifestation which, as all agree, will be only at His second coming.” (H. A., iv. p. 187.) Every one must allow that in the millennium the olive tree will flourish more than ever, and the Abrahamic promises be fulfilled to the letter. If then the church, Christ’s bride, is distinct from the millennial saints, albeit these last inherit the promises and are branches in the olive tree, the principle is evidently given up. The same thing, then, may be true of the Old Testament saints. It becomes a question of the testimony of scripture. Now this, we have seen, pronounces clearly that the church of God, Christ’s body, depends on the gift and presence of the Holy Ghost, consequent on the death, resurrection, and glorification of the Saviour. (Matt. 16:18; John 7:39; John 14-16; Acts 1, 2; 1 Cor. 12, etc.)