"The Day of the Lord"
Few Scriptures have suffered more at the hands of Gentile Christians than this. Notwithstanding the fact that it concerns "all the tribes of the children of Israel," and that the twelve tribes are named separately, popular interpretation insists on taking them as meaning the Church of God.
Any system of interpretation which has this for its foundation may be judged and condemned at the outset as not only useless, but mischievous. Such a system has been well described by Hooker as one "which changeth the meaning of words as alchemy doth, or would do, the substance of metals, making anything of what it listeth; and bringeth, in the end, all truth to nothing."
It is perfectly clear that we have here the Divine plan and action for securing the Remnant of the nation of Israel through all the judgments and persecutions which shall characterise the Great Tribulation.
The Vision, though seen after the Sixth Seal, really describes what will take place before chapter 6 and before a Seal is broken. Their number is not left to chance. God's declared counsels concerning this Remnant must stand. Hence it is by Divine decree that this purpose shall be secured at the outset.
We are told here, therefore, of the means taken to secure this Divine purpose.
The Structure is as follows:
All is seen to be perfect in Divine order. Nothing is left to chance here any more than in what is described. All is alike perfect in the words and the works of God. And the record is as true as its structure is perfect. It requires no explanation. It explains Divine truth to us in a Divine form and manner.
TRANSLATION OF 7:1-8.
7:1 [and]* after this**] Showing that the former vision is complete, and the two visions which follow, commencing with similar words, come in by way of episode: the first, anterior in time to the Seals; and the second, during the period of the Seals, and later in time.
I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding (or, controlling) the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the land, or on the sea, or upon any tree] The number four marks this vision as pertaining to the earth. The winds are so designated in Jer. 49:36. Dan. 7:2; 8:8; 11:4, the four comprising all winds; or simply marking the four points of the compass. Stillness is the point to be emphasised here, as when we say "not a leaf moves:" it tells us that this sealing will take place before the opening events of the great Tribulation.
2. And I saw another angel ascending* from the rising of the sun (i.e., 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 injure the land and the sea: (3) saying, "Injure not the earth, or the sea, or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads"] This is, of course, preliminary to Matt. 24:31. It precedes the Tribulation, as shown by the reason given for the sealing. But from Matt. 24:31 we learn that after the Tribulation, Angels are commissioned to gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." The two passages stand in the closest connection, and show that the "elect" in Matt. 24:31 belong to Israel, and not to the church. They are upon the earth during the Tribulation and this seal or sealing, whatever it is, protects and preserves them unscathed. This sealing was evidently visible, as the locusts are directed in chap. 9:4 to injure only those "who have not the seal of God in their foreheads." The Beast has this seal, with which he will seal his followers; and this is the Divine distinguishing mark which God sets upon His servants. Just as in the days of the Patriarchs He could protect them, saying "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" (Psa. 105:15): so here, with this elect Remnant. Those who have the mark of the Beast are idolators of the deepest die; but those who have the Divine mark, are sealed with "the seal of the Living God." This title here (as elsewhere) is always used with reference to idols and idolatry (see Deut. 5:26. Josh. 3:10. Jer. 10:2-11. Dan. 6:26. 1 Thess. 1:9, 10). Then will Psa. 91:receive a new application of a very remarkable kind (see verses 5, 7, 8). In Ezek. 9:3, 4 we have a similar sealing by which a devoted remnant have their lot in the corrupt city of Jerusalem. They may be part of this very number in Rev. 7. In Ex. 12:7 the houses of the Israelites were marked for a similar purpose. In Rev. 2:17 this mark is promised, and the promise is exhausted in 22:4.
The Romans marked their soldiers in the hand; and their slaves in the forehead. Herodotus (2:113) speaks of the worshippers of a certain god as having his name branded upon them. In like manner the worshippers of the Beast are branded (13:16-18; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4); and these Divinely sealed ones are marked as the worshippers of the true God.
4. And I heard the number of the sealed: an hundred and forty four thousand sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel] Alford says of this number, "No one that I am aware of has taken it literally!" Very likely: but we are thankful to be an exception to the rule, and to believe what God says. There is such a thing as Figures of Speech, but, we ask, what Figure is used here? What is its name? The truth is that there is here no Figure whatever; but it is the simple statement of fact: a definite number in contrast with the indefinite number in this very chapter (verse 9). If the total number is not exact, then all the items which go to make it up are indefinite also. If this number is symbolical, then what number in the Book may we take as literal? None, according to this principle of interpretation, which substitutes man's own vain imaginations for God's revelation. Again, we repeat, we prefer to believe God. And, believing Him, we conclude that as He had reserved 7,000 in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 19:18. Rom. 11:4), so He will reserve 144,000 in the Great Tribulation.
We have here, therefore, the nucleus of the new nations referred to by Christ in Matt. 21:43. We have also what will be the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel 12:1: "At that time shall Michael (the other angel) stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people (Israel): and 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." Here, in Rev. 7, we have the sealing of those written names, which shall be "delivered." (Compare Joel 2:28-32). What this seal was we learn from chap. 14:1.
5. Of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed;
Now it was one of the tribe of Dan who first came under this curse. See Lev. 24:10-16.
It is remarkable that these two tribes, Dan and Ephraim, participated in introducing idolatry later on (Judges 18:2, 30, 31). And afterward it was Jeroboam devised of the golden calves and set them up in the tribe of Dan (1 Kings 11:26; 12:28-30. See also Hos. 4:17).
True, we find Dan and Ephraim restored in the future distribution of the Land (Ezek. 48.), for "the gifts and calling of God, are without repentance (or change of mind)" (Rom. 11:29). But that is a different matter, and has to do with earthly inheritance. Here it has to do with heavenly preservation. The omission in Rev. 7. is to show that these two tribes remain unprotected by the pledge of security given by this sealing. There will, of course, be thousands, besides these, of each of the other tribes on earth; the difference will be in their not being sealed, and in their not being protected against the onslaught of the Beast. That they are on the earth is clear from Jer. 4:5-31 (see verse 15); 8:13-17 (see verse 16). Amos 8:11-14.
We have a remarkable illustration of this in Num. 31., when in order to execute judgment on the Midianites 1,000 from each tribe were taken. And as the 144,000 here survive through all the great Tribulation, so it was with the 12,000 sent against the Midianites; for when their number was taken at the close, the officers came to Moses and said "Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our charge, and there lacketh not one man of us" (verses 48, 49).
Even so will it be true of these 144,000, when they stand afterwards on Mount Zion (14:1-5).