By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
We have in the remarkable seventh chapter two great companies of saved ones revealed to us before those direct visitations of judgment from heaven, which begin under the seventh seal in chapter 8.
There are three sections to the chapter:
1. The staying of the four angels from “hurting the earth.”
2. The sealing of the remnant of Israel—the “bondservants of God”—evidently to go through the great time of trouble.
3. The great victorious multitude in heaven from every nation.
Let us notice the remarkable place angels have in the ordering of present things upon earth. It will not be so in the dispensation to come, according to Hebrews 2:5-9 where we find the eighth Psalm quoted as referring to Christ (and with Him of course, the saints) as directly controlling things in the millennial age—“The age to come.”
It will be well to trace through The Revelation the very remarkable and often wholly unexpected and hitherto unrevealed angelic activity.
We have already noticed, as we shall further note, the constant and prominent part angels have in the administration of affairs in heaven. Revelation 5:2-11; and further 8:3-5; then the seven angels with the trumpets, from chapter 8:6-11, sending terrible direct judgment from heaven. How God places in angels, “the mighty in strength,” the execution of His plans is concretely suggested in Revelation 10:7. In 14:18 we find the angel “that hath power over fire.” In 16:5 “the angel of the waters”; in 16:8 an angel the agent that gives power to the sun “to scorch men with fire”; and in 19:17 we find “an angel standing in the sun,” speaking his message! These are instances of the altogether remarkable powers and offices possessed through divine gift by these beings called angels.53
Therefore, we should not be surprised by the striking scene at the opening of chapter 7: I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth. And further, it was given unto them to “hurt” the earth.
Now, in Revelation 7, these four angels are to be regarded simply and plainly as such. It will be our wisdom to receive the simple statements of this unsealed book (see 22:10) of Revelation in child-like faith. This is the great principle of understanding the book.
We see then these four angels holding the winds, that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or upon any tree.
We now see another angel ascend from the sunrising, having the seal of the living God. This angel has a most striking commission. He cried with a great 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 shall have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. It is evident to our hearts that trouble is coming. Certain must be “sealed,” to believe God through that trouble. Let us note this carefully. Six seals have already been opened. Under the seventh seal will come the terrible trumpet-angels, bringing desolation and thrice-told woe upon earth (chapters 8 to 16) but certain individuals are sealed by God to pass safely through the trouble.
The elect Israelites are sealed at this time; that is, just before the opening of the seventh seal and the outgoing of divine judgments directly from heaven.
The 12,000 of each tribe means, of course, simply 12,000. In Elijah’s day God had left for himself seven thousand (1 Kings 19 and Romans 11). We believe that these were exactly seven thousand persons. Inasmuch as there is no hint of the 144,000 being “a symbolic number”—that is, a sign or indication of some other number, we shall and must receive God’s words concerning the future as literally as we do concerning the past. They are 12,000 from each tribe.
The enumeration of the tribes is striking.
Judah, the elect royal tribe, is named first. God’s sovereignty placed him there, not Judah’s goodness (Genesis 38. Compare Genesis 49:10 and Psalm 108:8). Christ is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”
Reuben, the first born after the flesh, is next recognized, when divine sovereignty has been shown. Gad and Asher come next. Leah’s sons by her handmaid, Zilpah! Surely the flesh is not being honored.
Next comes Naphtali, Rachel’s son by her handmaid, Bilhah. Dan, Bilhah’s first son, is left out altogether here. He was ever a cherisher of idolatry. Yet Dan is mentioned first, when the land is divided in Ezekiel 48, for the 1,000 year kingdom: which shows God’s grace! And that Dan should be preserved through The Tribulation, though not publicly sealed, is greater grace still!
Manasseh, younger son of Joseph, is next, with Ephraim, the proud tribe of Judges 8 and 12, left out. Ephraim also was a synonym of idolatry, as seen in the prophet Hosea. Yet Ephraim is in the kingdom (Ezekiel 48:5).
Simeon and Levi are next. Jacob their father called them cruel men (Genesis 49:5-7). Grace remembers them, however.
Issachar and Zebulun, Leah’s fifth and sixth sons, come next. Zebulun and Naphtali—from these despised regions “light sprang up” (Matthew 4:12-17).
Then Joseph is next to the last, though the most beautiful in character of all. And finally his brother Benjamin, youngest of all the brethren, and smallest of all the tribes, and as to sin, fallen lowest,—almost destroyed (Judges 19-21). Yet it gave Israel its first king; and us our apostle (Romans 11:1).
There are various lists of these sons of Jacob in Scripture, and lessons to be learned from all.
Now if it be objected that 144,000 out of the nation of Israel is too small a number, recall God’s words “If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that shall be saved.” The most of the nation will perish under the awful blows of the last enemy of God (Psalm 83; Zechariah 14; Isaiah 28:14-21). The nation of Israel is being gathered back to Palestine just now for the coming time of trouble. All the wars of the nations have some bearing upon this elect nation.
It is refreshing to our hearts to remember that although the leaders of socialism, atheism and Godless commercialism are found among the Jews and are gathered back to their land in unbelief, trusting their money to purchase the favor of the Gentiles, yet God will have 144,000 whom He calls His bond-servants, who are sealed with the name of the Lamb and of His Father in their foreheads (Revelation 14:1 compared with 7:3).54
The Saved Multitude Revelation 7:9-17
But not only the 144,000 elect remnant of Israelites are found in this chapter 7—given to cheer our hearts—but “a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues” will “wash their robes” and have a place “before the throne” in heaven. Here we have one of the most striking scenes in this great book.
John does not know who these are, as his answer to the elder’s question “Who are they and whence came they?” plainly shows. We feel he would have known them if Old Testament saints, as he and Peter and James knew Elijah and Moses on the Transfiguration Mount. Also, he would have known them if Church saints. He is told that they “come out of the great tribulation.” Also that they “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That means salvation, and salvation by faith in God’s Word regarding the blood of Christ. These are not of the Church, which is Christ’s Body, yet they are in heaven.
It is necessary for us to have a largeness of heart concerning heaven and its hosts—even of its saved hosts. The Lord Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many abiding-places. I go to prepare a place for you.” But let us not forget that other companies from earth, besides saints of the Church, are to be there—according to Revelation 7:9.
For it is the result of unbelief to seek to bring back to earth, to a lesser calling, this mighty company seen before the throne. The throne of God here in chapter 7 is necessarily that revealed in chapter 5. It is on that heavenly throne that the Lamb is seen “in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and … the elders” (Revelation 5:6). It is not that throne of “his father David” (Luke 1:32,33), not the “throne of his glory” upon which the King shall sit when He returns to earth (Matthew 25). There is no account of the living creatures at the throne of David! And it is directly stated that the angels will not have to do with the millennial order (Hebrews 2:5). The angels of 7:11 would have absolutely no place if the scene were earthly.
I would rather credit the general spirit of reverent commentators of all the Christian centuries (which regards this company as a heavenly one) than the opinions of some, whose awakened sense of the literalness and glory of the millennial kingdom led them, in commenting on both chapter 7 and 21:9, to ascribe to earthly millennial times what the passages themselves necessarily make heavenly and eternal.
The Millennium is a reign on earth “with Christ” of 1,000 years. Its form of worship is fully set forth in Ezekiel, Zechariah and other Old Testament prophets.
But the language used of this company in Revelation 7:9-14 is not one of reigning; nor of any scene on earth; but “they are before the throne of God” (the throne of Revelation 4) “and they serve him day and night in his temple.” “Day and night” is used of eternity in 20:10. It sets forth ceaselessness. Moreover, the complete resemblance of those divine comforts given to those of Revelation 7:15-17 and to those of 21:3, 4, 6, is convincing. It is heavenly service—not that of a reign on earth that is described.
Moreover, (and please note this matter well) if you make 7:9-17 millennial, what disposition do you make of this great company after the brief 1,000 years? Answer this, beloved. Go to the Scriptures. Call no man on earth “Master.” You cannot regard these Brethren—especially beloved Darby, more than I do. But the strongest argument against accepting a system handed to him from men whom he confessed he reverenced for their godliness, is made by Mr. Darby himself in his essays against Presbyterianism as “legality” and Anglicanism as “authority.”
Now it should be evident, we feel, that this great company is not the Church, the Bride. For the Church is the Body of Christ, the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23). Her relation to Christ in The Revelation is as the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. But this company is before the throne—not the place of the Church (which is hidden until chapter 19).
There arises also the difficult question as to what means were used, what message, to save this great company?
We are told that they “came out of the great tribulation (literally, the tribulation, the great), and we know from Daniel 12; Matthew 24; Mark 13; Jeremiah 30-33; and Revelation 3:10; that this must be the last half of the 70th week of Daniel 9. This tribulation (1) is future; (2) is overwhelmingly terrible; (3) will be a particular “time of trouble” for Jacob—that is, Israel, and (4) will come on “all them that dwell on the earth.”
But in the last named passage (Revelation 3:10) we find that its object is “to try them that dwell on the earth.” The true saints of this age, the Church (even Loadicean overcomers), are to “sit with Christ in his throne” and will be “kept from” this hour of trial.
But what of those left after the rapture of the Church? It is upon these that the hour of trial comes.
Now, we are not told it is the hour of universal damnation, but of trial. Doubtless those who “received not the love of the truth” will be given over to believe “the lie” (Revelation 13)—devil worship. But does not the use of the word “trial” indicate that some may endure it?
Even the enemies of God knew about God—the throne and the Lamb—under the sixth seal (chapter 6). Bibles have been scattered all over this earth. In every nation men not yet saved know about the Lamb of God and His sacrifice for sin. When the awful world-wide “hour of trial” sets in, it seems that thousands will wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, at all cost.
We must confess that this is a difficult question to determine, as to the exact relation of this great multitude to The Great Tribulation, in view of the fact that the same preposition (ek) is used here as in Revelation 3:10, where the saints are kept out of (ek) “the hour of trial.”
53 These are days of general skepticism concerning the direct intervention of God in the physical universe. Yet a very brief examination of Scripture reveals God’s control: “Stormy wind fulfilling his word” (Psalm 148:8). He sends the rain (Matthew 5:45). God says He “caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city”—a great passage! (Amos 4:7, 8). Hear Amos further: “For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought; that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth—Jehovah, the God of hosts, is his name. That maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning and maketh the day dark with night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth (Jehovah is his name)” (Amos 4:13; 5:8).
From such passages (and there are many) we find that God continually and personally administers the affairs of this earth; and we learn from such verses as Revelation 7:1, that He does it through angelic ministers. He loves to delegate His power to His faithful servants!
The case of Job is simply the exception that proves the rule. God had set a hedge about Job, complained Satan (Job 1:10). This, of course, involved God’s management of the physical universe to Job’s outward benefit. When Jehovah grants all that Job had, except his own person, to be attacked by Satan, among the other disasters, we read, “And there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men” (Job’s children). Satan could not have sent this wind except by divine permission—it is God that rides “upon the wings of the wind,” not Satan! Psalm 104:3.)
54 It should be noted that this 144,000 of Revelation 7:3, being God’s douloi, or “bond-servants,” will understand the Book of The Revelation. For God gave it unto Jesus Christ “to show unto his bond-servants” douloi (Revelation 1:1). Thus they all, however dark it be, know where they are. The Revelation involves a knowledge of all Scripture. It speaks of Israel, Moses, the Prophets, the Martyrs, the Bride of the Lamb, the Kingdom, and the New Creation,—as well as the present creation: and finds all blessing in the person and sacrifice of Christ!