Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Revelation 7:8

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 5-8

Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand - That is, a selection was made, or a number sealed, as if it had been made from one of the tribes of the children of Israel - the tribe of Judah. If the remarks above made are correct, this refers to the Christian church, and means, in connection with what follows, that each portion of the church would furnish a definite part of the whole number sealed and saved. We are not required to understand this of the exact number of twelve thousand, but that the designation would be made from all parts and branches of the church as if a selection of the true servants of God were made from the whole number of the tribes of Israel. There seems to be no particular reason why the tribe of Judah was mentioned first. Judah was not the oldest of the sons of Jacob, and there was no settled order in which the tribes were usually mentioned.

The order of their birth, as mentioned in Ezekiel 48:31-34, where Levi is reckoned as one, and Joseph as only one; and in Genesis 48:1, and that these two sons gave name to two of the tribes, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. There was, properly speaking, no tribe of the name of Joseph. In Numbers 13:8, Numbers 13:11. In Numbers 13:11 the writer states expressly that by the tribe Joseph he meant Manasseh - “Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh,” etc. From this it would seem that, as Manasseh was the oldest Genesis 48:14, the name Joseph was sometimes given to that tribe. As Ephraim, however, became the largest tribe, and as Jacob in blessing the two sons of Joseph Genesis 48:14 laid his right hand on Ephraim, and pronounced a special blessing on him Genesis 48:19-20, it would seem not improbable that, when not particularly designated, the name Joseph was given to that tribe, as it is evidently in this place. Possibly the name Joseph may have been a general name which was occasionally applied to either of these tribes. In the long account of the original division of Canaan in Revelation 7:8 is doubtless designed, as remarked above, to refer to Ephraim.

(2) in this list Revelation 7:7 the name of Levi is inserted among the tribes. As already remarked, this name is not commonly inserted among the tribes of the children of Israel, because that tribe, being devoted to the sacerdotal office, had no inheritance in the division of the country, but was scattered among the other tribes. See Joshua 14:3-4; Joshua 18:7. It may have been inserted here, if this refers to the Christian church, to denote that the ministers of the gospel, as well as other members of the church, would share in the protection implied by the sealing; that is, to denote that no class in the church would be excluded from the blessings of salvation.

(3) the name of one of the tribes - Dan - is omitted; so that by this omission, and the insertion of the tribe of Levi, the original number of twelve is preserved. There have been numerous conjectures as to the reason why the tribe of Dan is omitted here, but none of the solutions proposed are without difficulty. All that can be known, or regarded as probable, on the subject, seems to be this:

(a) As the tribe of Levi was usually omitted in an enumeration of the tribes, because that tribe had no part in the inheritance of the Hebrew people in the division of the land of Canaan, so there appear to have been instances in which the names of some of the other tribes were omitted, the reason for which is not given. Thus, in Judges 18:30; and that fact seems to be a sufficient reason for the omission of the name. As being thus idolatrous, it was in a measure separated from the people of God, and deserved not to be reckoned among them; and in enumerating those who were the servants of God, there seemed to be a propriety that a tribe devoted to idolatry should not be reckoned among the number This will account for the omission, without resorting to the supposition of Grotius, that the tribe of Dan was extinct at the time when the Apocalypse was written - a fact which also existed in regard to all the ten tribes; or to the supposition of Andreas and others, that Dan is omitted because Antichrist was to spring from that tribe - a supposition which is alike without proof and without probability. The fact that Dan was omitted cannot be supposed to have any special significancy in the case before us. Such an omission is what, as we have seen, might have occurred at any time in the enumeration of the tribes.

In reference to the application of this portion of the book Revelation 7:1-8, or of what is designed to be here represented, there has been, as might be expected, a great variety of opinions. From the exposition of the words and phrases which has been given, it is manifest that we are to look for a series of events like the following:

(1)Some impending danger, or something that threatened to sweep everything away - like winds that were ready to blow on the earth.

(2)that tempest restrained or held back, as if the winds were held in check by an angel, and were not suffered to sweep over the world.

(3)some new influence or power, represented by an angel coming from the east - the great source of light - that should designate the true church of God - the servants of the Most High.

(4)some mark or note by which the true people of God could be designated, or by which they could be known - as if some name were impressed on their foreheads.

(5)aselection or election of the number from a much greater number who were the professed, but were not the true servants of God.

(6)adefinite, though comparatively a small number thus designated out of the whole mass.

(7)this number taken from all the divisions of the professed people of God, in such numbers and in such a manner, that it would be apparent that there would be no partiality or favoritism; that is, that wherever the true servants of God were found, they would be sealed and saved.

These are things which lie on the face of the passage, if the interpretation above given is correct, and in its application it is necessary to find some facts that will properly correspond with these things.

If the interpretation of the sixth seal proposed above is correct, then we are to look for the fulfillment of this in events that soon succeeded those which are there referred to, or at least which had their commencement at about that time; and the inquiry now is, whether there were any events that would accord properly with the interpretation here proposed: that is, any impending and spreading danger; any restraining of that danger; any process of designating the servants of God so as to preserve them; anything like a designation or selection of them from among the masses of the professed people of God? Now, in respect to this, the following facts accord so well with what is demanded in the interpretation that it may be regarded as morally certain that they were the things which were thus made to pass in vision before the mind of John. They have at least this degree of probability, that if it were admitted that he intended to describe them, the symbols which are actually employed are those which it would have been proper to select to represent them:

I. The impending danger, like winds restrained, that threatened to sweep everything away, and to hasten on the end of the world. In reference to this, there may have been two classes of impending danger - that from the invasion of the northern hordes, referred to in the sixth seal Revelation 6:12-17. The nations which ultimately spread desolation through the empire hovered around its borders, making occasional incursions into its territory; even carrying their arms, as we have seen in some instances, as far as Rome itself, but still restrained from accomplishing the final purpose of overthrowing the city and the empire, The church and the state alike were threatened with destruction, and the impending wrath seemed only to be held back as if to give time to accomplish some other purpose.

(b) At the same time there was another class of evils which threatened to sweep like a tempest over the church - the evils of error in doctrine that sprang up on the establishment of Christianity by Constantine. That fact was followed with a great increase of professors of religion, who, for various purposes, crowded into a church patronized by the state - a condition of things which tended to do more to destroy the church than all that had been done by persecution had accomplished. This effect was natural; and the church became filled with those who had yielded themselves to the Christian faith from motives of policy, and who, having no true spiritual piety, were ready to embrace the most lax views of religion, and to yield themselves to any form of error. Of this period, and of the effect of the conversion of Constantine in this respect, Mr. Gibbon makes the following remarks, strikingly illustrative of the view now taken of the meaning of this passage: “The hopes of wealth and honors, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the apartments of a palace. The cities which signalized a forward zeal, by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives; and the new capital of the East gloried in the singular advantage, that Constantinople was never profaned by the worship of idols. As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it is true that, in one year, twelve thousand people were baptized at Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children, and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert” i. 425).

At a time, therefore, when it might have been supposed that, under the patronage of a Christian emperor, the truth would have spread around the world, the church was exposed to one of its greatest dangers - that arising from the fact that it had become united with the state. About the same time, also, there sprang up many of those forms of error which have spread farthest over the Christian world, and which then threatened to become the universal form of belief in the church. Of this class of doctrine were the views of Arius, and the views of Pelagius - forms of opinion which, there were strong reasons to fear, might become the prevailing belief of the church, and essentially change its character. About this time, also, the church was passing into the state in which the papacy would arise - that dark and gloomy period in which error would spread over the Christian world, and the true servants of God would retire for a long period into obscurity.

“We are now but a little way off from the commencement of that noted period - obscurely hinted at by Daniel, plainly announced by John the twelve hundred and sixty prophetic days or years, for which preparations of a very unusual kind, but requisite, doubtless, are made. This period was to form the gloomiest, without exception, in the annals of the world the period of Satan‘s highest success, and of the church‘s greatest depression; and lest she should become during it utterly extinct, her members, never so few as then, were all specially sealed. The long night passes on, darkening as it advances; but the sealed company are not visible; they disappear from the Apocalyptic stage, just as they then disappeared from the observation of the world; for they fled away to escape the fire and the dungeons of their persecutors, to hide in the hoary caves of the earth, or to inhabit the untrodden regions of the wilderness, or to dwell beneath the shadow of the Alps, or to enjoy fellowship with God, emancipated and unknown, in the deep seclusion and gloom of some convent” (The Seventh Vial, London, 1848, pp. 27,28). These facts seem to me to show, with a considerable degree of probability, what was designated by the suspense which occurred after the opening of the sixth seal - when the affairs of the world seemed to be hastening on to the Treat catastrophe. At that period the prophetic eye sees the tendency of things suddenly arrested; the winds held back, the church preserved, and a series of events introduced, intended to designate and to save from the Treat mass of those who professedly constituted the “tribes of Israel,” a definite number who should be in fact the true church of God.

II. The facts, then, to which there is reference in checking the tendency of things, and sealing the servants of God, may have been the following:

(a) The preservation of the church from extinction during those calamitous periods when ruin seemed about to sweep over the Roman world. Not only as a matter of fact was there a suspension of those impending judgments that seemed to threaten the very extinction of the empire by the invasion of the northern hordes (see the notes on Revelation 6), but there were special acts in favor of the church, by which these fierce barbarians appeared not only to be restrained from destroying the church, but to be influenced by tenderness and sympathy for it, as if they were raised up to preserve it when Rome had done all it could to destroy it. It would seem as if God restrained the rage of these hordes for the sake of preserving his church; as if he had touched their hearts that they might give to Christians an opportunity to escape in the impending storm. We may refer here particularly to the conduct of Alaric, king of the Goths, in the attack on Rome already referred to; and, as usual, we may quote from Mr. Gibbon, who will not be suspected of a design to contribute anything to the illustration of the Apocalypse. “At the hour of midnight,” says he (vol. ii. pp. 260,261), “the Salarian Gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the imperial city, which had subdued and civilized so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia. The proclamation of Alaric, when he forced his entrance into the vanquished city, discovered, however, some regard for the laws of humanity and religion. He encouraged his troops boldly to seize the rewards of valor, and to enrich themselves with the spoils of a wealthy and effeminate people; but he exhorted them at the same time to spare the lives of the unresisting citizens, and to respect the churches of the apostles Peter and Paul as holy and inviolable sanctuaries.

While the barbarians roamed through the city in quest of prey, the humble dwelling of an aged virgin, who had devoted her life to the service of the altar, was forced open by one of the powerful Goths. He immediately demanded, though in civil language, all the gold and silver in her possession; and was astonished at the readiness with which she conducted him to a splendid hoard of massy plate, of the richest materials and the most curious workmanship. The barbarian viewed with wonder and delight this valuable acquisition, until he was interrupted by a serious admonition, addressed to him in the following words: ‹These,‘ said she, ‹are the consecrated vessels belonging to Peter; if you presume to touch them, the sacrilegious deed will remain on your conscience: for my part, I dare not keep what I am unable to defend.‘ The Gothic captain, struck with reverential awe, despatched a messenger to inform the king of the treasure which he had discovered; and received a peremptory order from Alaric, that all the consecrated plate and ornaments should be transported, without damage or delay, to the church of the apostle.

From the extremity, perhaps, of the Quirinal hill, to the distant quarter of the Vatican, a numerous detachment of the Goths, marching in order of battle through the principal streets, protected, with glittering arms, the long train of their devout companions, who bore aloft on their heads the sacred vessels of gold and silver; and the martial shouts of the barbarians were mingled with the sound of religious psalmody. From all the adjacent houses a crowd of Christians hastened to join this edifying procession and a multitude of fugitives, without distinction of age or rank, or even of sect, had the good fortune to escape to the secure and hospitable sanctuary of the Vatican” In a note Mr. Gibbon adds: “According to Isidore, Alaric himself was heard to say, that he waged war with the Romans, and not with the apostles.” He adds also (p. 261), “The learned work concerning the City of God was professedly composed by Augustine to justify the ways of Providence in the destruction of the Roman greatness. He celebrates with special satisfaction this memorable triumph of Christ; and insults his adversaries by challenging them to produce some similar example of a town taken by storm, in which the fabulous gods of antiquity had been able to protect either themselves or their deluded votaries.”

We may refer here, also, to that work of Augustine as illustrating the passage before us. In book i. ch. 2, he defends this position, that “there never was war in which the conquerors would spare them whom they conquered for the gods they worshipped” - referring particularly to the sacking of Troy; in chapter 3 he appeals to the example of Troy; in chapter 4 he appeals to the sanctuary of Juno, in Troy; in chapter 5 he shows that the Romans never spared the temples of those cities which they destroyed; and in chapter 6 he maintains that the fact that mercy was shown by the barbarians in the sacking of Rome, was “through the power of the name of Jesus Christ.” In illustration of this he says, “Therefore, all the spoil, murder, violence, and affliction, that in this fresh calamity came upon Rome, were nothing but the ordinary effects following the custom of war. But what was so unaccustomed, that the savage nature of the barbarians should put on a new shape, and appear so merciful that it would make choice of great and spacious churches to fill with such as it meant to show pity on, from which none should be baled to slaughter or slavery, in which none should be hurt, to which many by their courteous foes should be conducted, and out of which none should be led into bondage; this is due to the name of Christ, this is due to the Christian profession; he that seeth not is blind; he that seeth and praiseth it not is unthankful; he that hinders him that praiseth it is mad” (City of God, p. 11; London, 1620). Such a preservation of Christians; such a suspension of judgments, when all things seemed to be on the verge of ruin, would not be inappropriately represented by winds that threatened to sweep over the world; by the staying of those winds by some remarkable power, as by an angel; and by the special interposition which spared the church in the tumults and terrors of a siege, and of the sacking of a city.

(b) There may have been a reference to another class of divine interpositions at about the same time, to designate the true servants of God. It has been already remarked, that from the time when Constantine took the church under his patronage, and it became connected with the state, there was a large accession of nominal professors in the church, producing a great corruption in regard to spiritual religion, and an extended prevalence of error. Now the delay here referred to, between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, may have referred to the fact, that during this period the true doctrines of Christianity would be vindicated and established in such a way that the servants of God would be “sealed” and designated in contradistinction from the great mass of the professed followers of Christ, and from the numerous advocates of error. From that mass a certain and definite number was to be sealed - implying, as we have seen, that there would be a selections, or that there would be something which would discriminate them from the multitudes as the true servants of God. This is represented by an angel coming from the east: the angel representing the new heavenly influence coming upon the church; and the coming from the east - as the east is the quarter where the sun rises - denoting that it came from the source and fountain of light - that is, God. The “sealing” would denote anything in this new influence or manifestation which would mark the true children of God, and would be appropriately employed to designate any doctrines which would keep up true religion in the world; which would preserve correct views about God, the way of salvation, and the nature of true religion, and which would thus determine where the church of God really was.

If there should be a tendency in the church to degenerate into formality; if the rules of discipline should be relaxed; if error should prevail as to what constitutes spiritual religion; and if there should be a new influence at that time which would distinguish those who were the children of God from those who were not, this would be appropriately represented by the angel from the east, and by the sealing of the servants of God. Now it requires but a slight knowledge of the history of the Roman empire, and of the church at the period supposed here to be referred to, to perceive that all this occurred. There was a large influx of professed converts. There was a vast increase of worldliness. There was a wide diffusion of error. Religion was fast becoming mere formalism. The true church was apparently fast verging to ruin. At this period God raised up distinguished people - as if they had been angels ascending from the east - who came as with the “seal of the living God” - the doctrines of grace, and just views of spiritual religion - to designate who were, and who were not, the “true servants of God” among the multitudes who professed to be his followers.

Such were the doctrines of Athanasius and Augustine - those great doctrines on which the very existence of the true church has in all ages depended. The doctrines thus illustrated and defended were suited to make a broad line of distinction between the true church and the world, and this would be well represented by the symbol employed here - for it is by these doctrines that the true people of God are sealed and confirmed. On this subject compare Elliott, i. 279-292. The general sense here intended to be expressed is, that there was at the period referred to, after the conversion of Constantine, a decided tendency to a worldly, formal, lax kind of religion in the church; a very prevalent denial of the doctrine of the Trinity and of the doctrines of grace; a lax mode of admitting members to the church, with little or no evidence of true conversion; a disposition to attribute saving grace to the ordinances of religion, and especially to baptism; a disposition to rely on the outward ceremonies of religion, with little acquaintance with its spiritual power; and a general breaking down of the barriers between the church and the world, as there is usually in a time of outward prosperity, and especially when the church is connected with the state.

At this time there arose another set of influences well represented by the angel coming from the east, and sealing the true servants of God, in illustration and confirmation of the true doctrines of Christianity - doctrines on which the spirituality of the church has always depended: the doctrines of the Trinity, the atonement, the depravity of man, regeneration by the agency of the Holy Spirit, justification by faith, the sovereignty of God, and kindred doctrines. Such doctrines have in all ages served to determine where the true church is, and to designate and “seal” the servants of the Most High.

(c) This process of “sealing” may be regarded as continued during the long night of papal darkness that was coming upon the church, when error would abound, and the religion of forms would be triumphant. Even then, in places obscure and unknown, the work of sealing the true servants of God might be going forward - for even in those times of gloomy night there were those, though comparatively few in number, who loved the truth, and who were the real servants of God. The number of the elect was filling up, for even in the darkest times there were those who loved the cause of spiritual religion, and who bore upon them the impress of the “seal of the living God.” Such appears to have been the intent of this sealing vision: a staying of the desolation that, in various forms, was sweeping over the world, in order that the true church might be safe, and that a large number, from all parts of the church, might be sealed and designated as the true servants of God. The winds that blowed from all quarters were stayed as if by mighty angels.

A new influence, from the great source of light, came in to designate those who were the true servants of the Most High, as if an angel had come from the rising sun with the seal of the living God, to impress it on their foreheads. A selection was made out of a church filling up with formalists, and in which the true doctrines of spiritual religion were fast fading away, of those who could be designated as the true servants of God. By their creed, and their lives, and their spirit, and their profession, they could be designated as the true servants of God, as if a visible mark were impressed on their foreheads. This selection was confined to no place, no class, no tribe, no denomination. It was taken from the whole of Israel, in such numbers that it could be seen that none of the tribes were excluded from the honor, but that, wherever the true spirit of religion was, God was acknowledging these tribes - or churches - as his, and there he was gathering a people to himself. This would be long continued, until new scenes would open, and the eye would rest on other developments in the series of symbols, revealing the glorious host of the redeemed emerging from darkness, and in countless numbers triumphing before the throne.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
In the figurative language of Scripture, the blowing of the four winds together, means a dreadful and general destruction. But the destruction is delayed. Seals were used to mark for each person his own possessions. This mark is the witness of the Holy Ghost, printed in the hearts of believers. And the Lord would not suffer his people to be afflicted before they were marked, that they might be prepared against all conflicts. And, observe, of those who are thus sealed by the Spirit, the seal must be on the forehead, plainly to be seen alike by friends and foes, but not by the believer himself, except as he looks stedfastly in the glass of God's word. The number of those who were sealed, may be understood to stand for the remnant of people which God reserved. Though the church of God is but a little flock, in comparison with the wicked world, yet it is a society really large, and to be still more enlarged. Here the universal church is figured under the type of Israel.
Ellen G. White
Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 110-1

As a result of his work in the hayfield, my husband earned forty dollars. With a part of this we purchased some necessary clothing, and had sufficient means left to take us to western New York and return. LS 110.1

My health was poor, and it was impossible for me to travel and have the care of our child. So we left our little Henry, ten months old, at Middletown with Sister Clarissa Bonfoey. It was a severe trial for me to be separated from my child, but we dared not let our affection for him keep us from the path of duty. Jesus laid down His life to save us. How small is any sacrifice we can make compared with His! LS 110.2

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Ellen G. White
Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 117-9

I saw that the four angels would hold the four winds until Jesus’ work was done in the sanctuary, and then will come the seven last plagues. These plagues enraged the wicked against the righteous; they thought that we had brought the judgments of God upon them, and that if they could rid the earth of us, the plagues would then be stayed. A decree went forth to slay the saints, which caused them to cry day and night for deliverance. This was the time of Jacob's trouble. Then all the saints cried out with anguish of spirit, and were delivered by the voice of God. The one hundred and forty-four thousand triumphed. Their faces were lighted up with the glory of God. LS 117.1

Then I was shown a company who were howling in agony. On their garments was written in large characters. “Thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting.” I asked who this company were. The angel said, “These are they who have once kept the Sabbath, and have given it up.” I heard them cry with a loud voice, “We have believed in Thy coming, and taught it with energy.” And while they were speaking, their eyes would fall upon their garments and see the writing, and then they would wail aloud. I saw that they had drunk of the deep waters, and fouled the residue with their feet,—trodden the Sabbath underfoot,—and that was why they were weighed in the balance and found wanting. LS 117.2

Then my attending angel directed me to the city again, where I saw four angels winging their way to the gate of the city. They were just presenting the golden card to the angel at the gate, when I saw another angel flying swiftly from the direction of the most excellent glory, and crying with a loud voice to the other angels, and waving something up and down in his hand. I asked my attending angel for an explanation of what I saw. He told me that I could see no more then, but he would shortly show me what those things that I then saw meant. LS 118.1

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