Opening Seals (6.1-8.5)

"Come, Lord Jesus," CFP white cover, Watchman Nee

Are the six seals in chapter 6 already fulfilled, in the process of being fulfilled, or waiting to be fulfilled in the tribulation to come? There are two evidences to show that these are either fulfilled already or in the process of being fulfilled.

(1) In 5.2 it is declared: "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" But by the time of 5.7 the Lamb has taken the book. Will He thereafter wait two thousand years before He opens the seven seals?

(2) Unless God in His dealing is setting aside the church, He cannot acknowledge He is now dealing with the Jews. Yes, by the time of 7.1-8 God does begin to acknowledge the Jews and to choose them as His servants. But this section in chapter 7 follows upon the sixth seal. It therefore logically indicates that the time before the sixth seal is the time of the church.

From these two evidences we may conclude that the six seals are either already fulfilled or in the process of being fulfilled.

6.1-2 "ONE OF THE SEVEN SEALS . . . A WHITE HORSE"

Why use four living creatures to announce the four horses? Perhaps for the simple reason that there are four horses.

6.2 What is the significance of the white horse? There are three different interpretations.

(1) It refers to Antichrist. The reasons are as follows:

a) Christ does not ride on a white horse till in the time of chapter 19. So that this incident cannot refer to Him.

b) In speaking of the tribulation, Matthew 24 relates four things, among which are mentioned false christs. Naturally, then, what is being referred to here should be the false christ.

c) There being a bow but without an arrow indicates that the victory is not real. Thus this cannot refer to Christ.

(2) It alludes to international peace pacts, and the arguments for this interpretation are as follows:

a) White is the color of righteousness, hence the saints wear white garments and the Lord rides upon a white horse. This is peace brought in through righteousness.

b) A bow without an arrow is a sign of peace. International peace is thus maintained with righteous might.

(3) It points to Christ, and the reasons given for this interpretation are as follows:

a) Since the one who rides the white horse mentioned in chapter 19 is Christ, it naturally must be Christ in chapter 6.

b) Since power and authority rendered to the other three horses are given by God, that of the first horse must also be given by God. And whom will God crown except Christ?

c) Only Christ comes forth conquering and to conquer.

d) Christ must have taken the bow before He was crowned. A bow without an arrow implies that the arrow has already been shot and that thus it has dealt the devil a fatal wound. God therefore crowns Christ that He may be glorified.  

e) Concerning the four horses, only in 6.4 is the word "another" used, thus intimating that the first horse is different from the later three horses.

f) The priority in God’s plan is that His Son shall conquer—and His conquest is the victory of the gospel. (One of the four living creatures says "Come" [in some old manuscripts it is rendered "Go"], for the living creatures themselves do not speak with the tone of command.) Which of the three interpretations is correct? The third one (pointing to Christ) seems to be more reasonable, hence we will decide on Christ.

6.3-4 "THE SECOND SEAL . . . A RED HORSE"

Red is the color of blood. Taking peace away means war.

The first horse (white) conquers by the bow, so it is battling at a distance. The red horse fights with a sword, so it is battling in proximity. The phrase "to take peace from the earth" proves that war is for the sake of war, not for the sake of ideology. War that aims at "slay(ing) one another" is considered by the Bible to be the worst kind. It accomplishes nothing but death, destruction, and annihilation (Judges 7.22; Zech. 8.10; Jer. 25.15-31; Lev. 26.25).

6.5-6 "THE THIRD SEAL . . . A BLACK HORSE"

Black is the color for famine (Jer. 14.1-3; Lam. 4.8,9; 5.10). In the Bible, wheat and barley are usually shown as being sold by measure; balances are used to weigh precious things. But a balance is here used for wheat and barley, which indicates that every grain is taken into account.

"A measure of wheat for a shilling"—In Matthew 20.2 we find that the wages for a laborer are one shilling a day. This is therefore the daily wages for one person. So what he earns is just enough for his own consumption.

"And three measures of barley for a shilling"—The difference in value between wheat and barley is normally stated in the ratio of one to two, but at this time it has become a ratio of one to three (see 2 Kings 7.16, 18 for the one-to-two ratio).

"And the oil and the wine hurt thou not"—This hints that oil and wine were wasted in other times since they are not staple food. But now they ought not be wasted for it is the time of famine. Nevertheless, this also suggests that vines and olive trees are being kept by God.

For the past two thousand years war and famine and earthquake have increased in number and scope as well as in intensity and in closer occurrence to each other.

6.7-8 "THE FOURTH SEAL. . . A PALE HORSE"

The word "pale" here is the same Greek word translated "green" in Mark 6.39 and Revelation 8.7 and 9.4. Green is the color of grass. When this color appears on the face it signifies either sickness or death. And hence the name of the one who sits on this pale horse is called Death.

"Hades" is the subterranean, unseen world. Hades here serves as a dustpan into which the dead are swept.

By the sword of the red horse, the famine of the black horse, and the pestilence of the pale horse, plus the wild beasts of the earth, one fourth of the world’s population will be killed.

The use of "wild beasts" is one of God’s severest judgments (Num. 21.6; 2 Kings 2.24, 17.25).

6.9-11 "THE FIFTH SEAL . . . UNDERNEATH THE ALTAR THE SOULS . . . CRIED"

The Bible frequently divides the number seven into four and three or three and four. Three is the number of God, and four is the number of man. Four followed by three means that man advances and draws nigh to God. Three followed by four indicates a falling from a good position to the lower level of man. Since the churches are seen and discussed in chapters 2 and 3 as first three and then four, they are depicted as going downhill. But the seven seals are mentioned in a cluster of four first and of three next, so that what is expressed here is different from what is expressed in the discussion of the seven churches.

What this passage of Scripture speaks of is the situation of the church being persecuted during these two thousand years.

6.9 "The word of God" includes all the commandments of God.

"And for the testimony which they held" means that the believers bear witness to the testimony of the Lord Jesus habitually (Rev. 1.2, 6.9, 12.17). Some people maintain that this passage does not refer to the church under persecution because it has not mentioned that they held to the testimony of Jesus. Instead, the passage should be considered as referring to the persecution of the Old Testament saints. Yet if we remember that the purpose of this whole book is centered around the testimony of Jesus, then "the testimony which they held" must be in connection with the same testimony, and therefore it must be the Lord’s children in view here.

"The altar"—The Bible speaks of two altars: (1) that upon which the sacrifices are offered, and (2) the golden altar of incense. One renowned writer declared that all the altars in the book of Revelation should be translated as altars of incense. But there is not sufficient justification for such an assertion.

On the contrary, the altar here must be the altar of sacrifices—for the following reasons.

(1) According to Old Testament typology, no one should go up to the altar with his nakedness uncovered (Ex. 20.26). This signifies that no naked body can meet God. Anyone who does not have a resurrection body is considered naked, and therefore he cannot appear before God. For this reason, 2 Corinthians 5.4 speaks about being "clothed upon" with a new body. (After a person is dead, his soul does not go to God right away.) Without resurrection, no one can stand beside the golden altar of incense.

(2) When the Bible speaks of altar, it always refers to the altar of sacrifice. Special descriptive words such as "golden", "incense", and so forth are used to refer to the golden altar of incense so as to distinguish it from the altar standing in the outer court.

(3) The blood of all the sacrifices flows down underneath the altar (Ex. 29.12; Lev. 4.7, 5.9).

(4) There is life in the blood, and this word "life" in the original Hebrew is the word "soul" (Lev. 17.11 mg., 17.14). "Underneath the altar" means underneath the earth. The altar typifies the cross; beneath the cross is the earth. Hence underneath the altar here refers to Paradise in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12.40). We notice the following clause in Acts 2.27: "because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades"; moreover, in Numbers 16.32 it is stated that "the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods" (Not only may no man appear before God without a body, neither may he enter the lake of fire without a body.).

"Slain"—During the Roman era, Christians were persecuted and many were slain. The writer of the book of Revelation, John himself, was among the persecuted. Even as recently as in modern Russia, countless numbers of Christians have been killed.

6.10 "O Master, the holy and true"—Govett felt that this was the way the Old Testament saints addressed the Lord, yet in Revelation 3.7 the Lord himself told the church that He is the one who is holy and true. Thus we here find the saints addressing the Lord.

"Them that dwell on the earth"—Such an expression is found many times in this book (8.13; 13.8,12; 13.14; 14.6; 17.2,8). It refers to those who make earth their home and have their all on earth. These will God judge. According to 3.10 the hour of trial will come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth.

The prayer here is not the same as Stephen’s, for Stephen prayed for God’s mercy while the prayer in this passage is for judgment. Hence the saints here are praying against sinners.

"Avenge our blood"—God does not forget the prayer of the poor (Ps. 9.12). When God begins to judge those who have persecuted the saints, He avenges His saints.

6.11 "White robe"—This shows that God has justified them because they were accepted by Him. The justification here is different from that of salvation since this is the verdict of God who on the throne is announcing that the saints have won the case, they only waiting for the verdict to be executed.

"Rest yet for a little time"—This word alone may prove that the church cannot be raptured all at once, because this waiting implies a long and protracted persecution.

"Until their fellow-servants also and their brethren"—During the Great Tribulation there will be great slaughter. In 7.13-15 political persecution is spoken of, but 17.6 refers to religious persecution. The way for the church is through death.

The Bible seems to imply that at the first rapture there is no resurrection. The phrase "underneath the altar" does not refer to death as a result of a sin-offering, rather it alludes to death as a consequence of a burnt-offering (Ex. 40.6,10,29; Lev. 4.7,10,18; 1 Chron. 6.49, 16.40, 21.29; 2 Chron. 29.18).

What men take note of is the sin-offering, but that which God sees first is the burnt-offering. Although without the Lord Jesus ever being the sin-offering we would none of us have life, nevertheless God will not accept anything without Christ being the burnt-offering—that is to say, His offering His all to God in obeying and doing God’s will. Here do we see that even His death on the cross is according to the will of God. In that same spirit of Christ Paul too offered himself as a burnt-offering (Phil. 2.17; 2 Tim. 4.6). Throughout his life he was a living sacrifice.

All the martyrs shall enter the kingdom to reign. Three classes of people will reign with Christ (20.4): (1) "thrones, and they sat upon them"—this refers to those people such as are cited in 3.21; (2) "them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God" (they are now resurrected)—here it is a reference to those people as are found mentioned in 6.11; and (3) "such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image"—this is referring to those fellow-servants and their brethren mentioned in 6.11 (they also are resurrected).

6.12-17 "THE SIXTH SEAL . . . A GREAT EARTHQUAKE"

The Bible gives two accounts in Joel and Matthew of the celestial cataclysm and earthquake that are to occur at the second coming of the Lord. One cataclysmic event will occur in advance of the day of His coming and another one will follow the day of His return. In other words, one will happen before the Great Tribulation and another will occur after the Great Tribulation. Joel 3.16-17 and 2.30-31 describe what will happen before the great and terrible day of the Lord, that is, in advance of the Great Tribulation. On the other hand, Matthew 24.29-30 explains what will come to pass after these days of the Great Tribulation are over. Therefore, the sixth seal speaks of the situation prior to the Great Tribulation.

6.12-14 We dare not say this section has all been fulfilled, but neither dare we state that none of it has been fulfilled. A century ago some similar scenes happened in Australia, with people at that time manifesting the conditions as described in 6.15-16. Thus, what is given in this section seems to have been fulfilled. However, what is depicted in 6.14 has never been witnessed in history with such intensity, and therefore it waits to be fulfilled.

"Black as sackcloth of hair"—The tent used by the Jews as well as by the Arabs is made of black sackcloth, hence such a description.

"The stars of the heaven fell unto the earth"—(1) These stars may refer to meteors; and (2) Since some stars are far bigger than the earth, how can they fall upon the earth? Most likely they are to fall in a direction towards the earth rather than fall upon the earth.

6.15-16 This passage reveals the working of their conscience. They are conscious of the coming of God’s judgment. Only the blood of our Lord can give peace to our conscience and cause us to escape the wrath of God. How much more dependable the Blood is than the mountains and the rocks.

The Visions Interposed Between the Sixth Seal and the Seventh Seal

7.1-8 THE REMNANT OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL

God has two classes of people as His own possession: the earthly Jewish people, and the spiritual church. This section speaks of the earthly Jewish people, among whom a number will be kept by God; but the next section (7.9-17) alludes to the situation in heaven after the church is raptured.

According to strict Biblical presentation, the Great Tribulation lasts only three years and a half, the rest is either tribulation or trial. (Possibly the fifth trumpet is the beginning of the Great Tribulation.)

7.1 "Winds"—Many times in the Old Testament "wind" stands for God’s judgment. For instance, in Jonah’s time there came forth a great wind and a mighty tempest on the sea (Jonah 1.13; see also Is. 11.15; Jer. 13.24, 22.22, 49.36, 51.1). Moreover, the phrase "the winds blew", recorded in Matthew 7.25, refers to a kind of trial.

"No wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or upon any tree"—Thus is there calm on the earth, with not a wave on the sea nor a sound among the trees. For God is purposed to seal those whom He will preserve. At the opening of the seventh seal there will come forth the seven trumpets. And at the sounding of the first trumpet one third of the sea will turn to blood.

7.2 "Another angel"—Who is this angel? The word "angel" here is "messenger" in the original Greek. The angels are sometimes called messengers, but so too are men sometimes designated this. In this book, the special designation "another angel" is used several times. The word "another" indicates its difference from the rest (8.3, 10.1-3, 18.1). Now in all these places, who else but the Lord Jesus has such majesty and honor? D. M. Panton has remarked that the word "another" is very meaningful for it signifies another class or another kind.  

"The Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament is a specific title (Gen. 16.7-14, 22.1-13, 32.24-30; Judges 13.16-18) which is always a reference to the Lord Jesus.

The Lord is here called an "angel"—which is an Old Testament denomination—thus hinting that He will soon return to His Old Testament ground.

7.3 "The servants of our God"—God begins to recognize the Jews, inasmuch as He is going to return to the position He held in the Old Testament. (During the church age there is no distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles.) Since this book centers on the throne of God the people are called servants, for they are placed in a position of responsibility rather than in that of children.

"Another angel . . . having the seal of the living God"—This seal must be put in the hand of God’s most trusted one. Besides God the Father the Lord Jesus is the first and foremost Person. As Pharaoh placed his seal in the hand of Joseph, so God put His seal in the hand of the Lord Jesus.

"And he cried . . . to the four angels to whom it was given"—All that is to come upon the earth comes from God, for without His giving anyone authority none can do anything.

Note that 7.1-3 tells of the winds, and 8.6-9, of the fire. Wind and fire are most intimately related. After a tempestuous wind there comes a raging fire.

7.4-8 Who are these people?

(1) Not the church.

The Seventh Day Adventists consider themselves this people because they keep the law and hence they are the true Jews. But there are ten reasons to prove that the people in this passage are the Jews according to the flesh.

(a) If "the children of Israel" spoken of in 2.14 is to be explained literally, then "the children of Israel" found in 7.4 must also be literally interpreted.

(b) Since "the tribe of Judah" mentioned in 5.5 is literal, so must "the tribe of Judah" mentioned in 7.5 be literal.

(c) The names of the twelve tribes belong only to the children of Israel; who can therefore say which Christian denomination comes under the name of which tribe of Israel?

(d) Israel has twelve tribes, but the church is one. How can the church be divided into twelve tribes?

(e) 7.9 speaks of "every nation", so "Israel" spoken of in 7.4 must be a nation.

(f) The great multitude told of in 7.9 is numberless, while those mentioned in 7.3-4 who receive the seal on their foreheads are numbered as 144,000. How can anyone restrict the saved ones of the church to a group numbering only 144,000? Furthermore, this number of 144,000 is made up of 12 twelve thousands. It would thus be unreasonable not to interpret literally.

(g) "The kings" spoken of in 6.15 are taken literally; how then can "Israel" found in 7.4 not be reckoned as a nation?

(h) Because John did not know where this great multitude came from, he said to one of the elders, "Thou knowest" (7.13,14). Yet he did not ask about those told of in 7.4-8, since evidently he had already known who they were.

(i) In Joel 2.2-27 we read that God only tells Israel how to escape the locusts, and in Revelation 9.3,4 we read that only those whom God has sealed escape the hurt of the locusts. It is thus proven beyond doubt that the sealed are the Jews.

(j) The sheep mentioned in Matthew 25 treat well the little brother ("one of these my brethren, even these least"—v.40). (This little brother points to the Jews or those Christians who yet remain on earth.) This little brother—Israel—will become the test for the nations in the future.

(2) Not the church but the various people of Israel.

Before we deal with this group in general let us first notice that in 7.4-8 no name of Dan is mentioned. According to Ezekiel chapters 40-48 which predict the situation concerning the future kingdom, Dan will be located at the north end (48.1). Why then is Dan not mentioned here? This does not mean that Dan as a tribe has disappeared; it may suggest, though, the close relationship Dan has with the serpent. We will recall that as Jacob prophesied over his sons he mentioned Dan (Gen. 49.16-18). Verse 16 of that passage told of Dan’s existence and verse 17 of his conduct; but in verse 18 Jacob suddenly bursts out in prayer. He had not done this when prophesying concerning his other sons. Probably Dan’s behavior in the future would be highly dangerous. During the Great Tribulation the tribe of Dan may join itself to Antichrist in some special relationship.

These people who are sealed with the seal of the living God are:

a) the Jews who will rule with Christ on earth in the future (though not as kings). Twelve thousand is the resultant number of the multiples of 12, it being 12Х103. This number represents the eternal perfection of God’s government.

b) the suffering Jews who make up part of the little brother mentioned in Matthew 25.

c) the Jewish counterpart of those who endure to the end as spoken of in Matthew 24.

d) the Jews upon whom the Holy Spirit will be poured out in the coming day (the former rain has already been poured out—Acts 2, but the latter rain is yet to be poured forth—Joel 2.28-29). The blood and fire mentioned in Joel 2.30 coincide with the phenomena of the first trumpet; the pillars of smoke agree with the fifth trumpet. Thus the second outpouring of the Holy Spirit will occur between the sixth seal and the fifth trumpet.

And e) those Jews who receive the New Covenant when the Lord Jesus shall establish His New Covenant with Israel on earth (Jer. 31.31-34).

7.9-17 THE SCENE IN HEAVEN AFTER THE CHURCH IS RAPTURED

This section sketches for us this scene in heaven. Who is the great multitude? Though we dare not conclude definitely that this refers to the whole church, we would nevertheless say that it includes the majority of the redeemed of God; that is, it consists of those in the first rapture, plus that great number who are raised from the dead, together with the relatively smaller number of those who yet remain alive on earth and are changed. Here we are not shown how the church is raptured, only an outline description is given of the heavenly scene after the church has been raptured. Yet how do we know that this is the scene in heaven of the raptured church? The reasons are given below.

(1) The number: "a great multitude, which no man could number" (7.9). At the first rapture there cannot be such a vast number. Hence this must be a conglomeration of several raptures.

(2) "Standing before the throne and before the Lamb"—Since 4.2 reads that "there was a throne set in heaven", those who now stand before the throne here must have arrived in heaven.

(3) The great tribulation spoken of in 7.14 is the same as mentioned in John 16.33. Therefore, the countless number here includes all who have been persecuted throughout the centuries: some have gone through martyrdom, many have been raised from the dead. Those who are resurrected will naturally surpass in number those at the first rapture.

Please note that 7.9-17 narrates the period from the rapture (the first rapture) to eternity (the new heaven and the new earth). What is described in 7.15-17 depicts the same scene as is found in 21.3-7.

Note also that 7.9-17 only deals with rapture generally, not exclusively; and neither does it speak exclusively of the scene of eternal blessing. Consequently, we must not conclude that what is given here is indicative of the rapture of the whole church once and for all; for nothing is said as to how this vast multitude got there, it only states that they are there.

7.9 "After these things . . . , standing before the throne and before the Lamb"—This word implies that before the opening of the seventh seal there must be a rapture.

Who is the great multitude? They are the redeemed ones by the precious blood of the Lord during these past two thousand years. The positive arguments for this view are as follows.  

(1) The number. "And behold, a great multitude, which no man could number"—Those who belong to Israel are usually numbered in the Scriptures, such, for example, as the twelve tribes, the seventy souls which went down into Egypt, and the certain number of people given as coming up out of Egypt. We also have the various numberings recorded in the book of Numbers; we in addition see how David numbered his people. It seems that generation after generation the number belonging to Israel was continually given.

Even as is indicated in 7.1-8, they have a number. Although in the church there is first the 12 apostles, then the 70, and later the 120, the 3,000, and the 5,000, it is also stated that "the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved" (Acts 2.47). But here in 7.9 it is declared that "no man could number" the multitude.

By doing a little arithmetic we will readily see that this great multitude cannot be the people who will come out of the three and a half years’ Great Tribulation. For the biggest number recorded in this book of Revelation is twice ten thousand times ten thousand, which amounts to 200 millions. Now in order to be that which no man could number, this multitude needs to be a number greater than the 200 millions comprising the armies of the horsemen (9.16).

(2) Whence. "Out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues" (7.9)—With respect to 5.9-10, we know these who come out of every nation and tribe and people and tongue are the Gentiles chosen and gathered to God. In other words, the church. ("God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name", Acts 15.14-19. During the church age, even a Jew is saved after the manner of the Gentile, that is, he takes the position of the Gentile while he believes in the Lord. Hence the church may be considered to be the saved among the Gentiles. Unquestionably, in the church there is neither Jew nor Gentile.)

(3) Whereto. In 6.17 the question is asked—"Who is able to stand?"; here in 7.9-17 are a people who have arrived and stand before God. Only to the church has God given the promise of rapture, and none but the church may stand before God.

(4) When will God return to deal with the Jews? Not "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. 11.25,26). Therefore, the multitude here must be the people referred to in Romans 11.25. It is the church.

(5) To none of the 24 elders, the four living creatures, and the 144,000 is it said that they are purchased with the blood; but to this people here it is stated that they are washed in the blood.

(6) Though they are arrayed in white robes which is God’s promise to the church in Sardis, yet Sardis and Philadelphia cannot have included such a tremendously large number of people. Who else except the church possesses such a glorious future? Hence what is depicted here must be the scene of the raptured of the church in heaven.

(7) The attitude of the angels. The first word uttered by the angels is "Amen" (7.12). There is joy over the sinner who repents (Luke 15.7). How can the angels refrain from rejoicing and praising when they see so many people coming before the throne and before the Lamb?

(8) Their robes are made white by being washed in the blood (7.14). This is the unique privilege of the church.

(9) 7.15-17 is quite similar to the situation in eternity as given in 21.3-7. The overcoming mentioned in 21.7 is the faith that overcomes (1 John 5.4), for the previous verse reads: "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely" (21.6).

"Arrayed in white robes" (7.9)—This refers to the cleanness of conduct, because the robes are washed white in the blood (7.14).

"And palms in their hands"—This signifies victory (Lev. 23.39-43). During the feast of tabernacles branches of palm trees are used, which feast denotes that God will temporarily dwell with His people (thus typifying the millennial kingdom).

7.14 The phrase "the great tribulation" is not the Great Tribulation of three years and a half duration. The reasons are as follows.

(1) At the earliest, the Great Tribulation should commence at the sounding of the "woe" trumpets, the first of which is the fifth (8.13, 9.1a). Yet 7.9 is an intimation of a rapture having taken place before the seventh seal. Some of these people must have arrived at the throne without passing through the time of the "woe" trumpets.

(2) The Great Tribulation cannot begin before Satan is cast down to earth. Satan will be cast down at the sounding of the fifth trumpet (9.1); and before the horrible situation of the 42 months prevails on earth (13.5), the man child is already raptured to the throne (12.5). Though this man child may not include all the people referred to in 7.9, nonetheless we dare say that it embraces a part of that great multitude.

(3) As soon as the seventh bowl is poured, the kingdom arrives. During the kingdom age we do not see the temple in heaven, instead we see the temple on earth as described in Ezekiel. Who will have the time and opportunity to serve God during the Great Tribulation? Yet 7.15 clearly states that God’s servants serve Him day and night.

(4) There cannot be so many people saved at the Great Tribulation. Since the great multitude mentioned in 7.9 is said to have come out of the great tribulation (7.14), this great tribulation must be different from that which comes at the fifth and sixth trumpets.

(5) According to 11.1, there are those who worship in the temple of God in heaven. Aside from the people cited in 7.9, where can there be found any who worship God in heaven? For at that time the Great Tribulation as predicted in the book of Revelation has yet to begin. In the new heaven and the new earth, no temple is seen (21.22) because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof. (God and the Lamb form the center of the new city. Following the mentioning of the temple of God in 3.12 are found the words "he shall go out thence no more", for the simple reason that God and the Lamb are the temple in the new heaven and the new earth.)

(6) The Bible expressly says that there are believers who do not pass through the Great Tribulation (for example, Luke 21.36 and Rev. 3.10).

(7) Suppose these people mentioned in 7.9 did in fact pass through the Great Tribulation of three and a half years; then they must have died at the time when the temple is trodden underfoot by the nations. But according to what is given in 11.2 it is impossible to include the church therein. So how can it be held that the multitude cited in 7.9 comes out of the Great Tribulation of three and a half years?

(8) The Great Tribulation of three years and a half spoken of in Revelation is especially related to the Jews. Both Daniel 12.1—"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 . . ."—and Matthew 24.16-18 depict particularly the situation of the Jewish people. God’s primary purpose is to make use of the Great Tribulation to deal with the Jews. "The time of Jacob’s trouble" spoken of in Jeremiah 30.7 manifestly points to the Jews. But in the book of Revelation reference is made to the subject of tribulation several times in connection with the church, such as in 1.9 and 2.9-10,13. According to John 16.33 tribulation seems to be the earthly portion of the church for she must pass through a prolonged duration of sufferings. Accordingly, this tribulation may also be described in the same way as Revelation 7.14 itself literally does in the Greek original, namely: "the tribulation the great". Nevertheless, the great tribulation cited in Revelation 2.22 is very different from that in 7.14, nor is it the same as that of the three and a half years mentioned elsewhere in Revelation. (The words "through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" in Acts 14.22 has reference to the common experience those who enter the kingdom of God will share on earth.)

"And they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7.14b). "Robes" is in plural number, and these robes signify righteousnesses, even the righteousnesses of the saints. They do not refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as our righteousness. Indeed, the robe (singular) is righteousness (Is. 61.10), and it is the Lord himself (Jer. 23.6), for Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1.30). We are clothed with Him as we come before God. But this righteousness has no need to be cleansed by the blood.

Hence we have two robes: the one we are clothed with when we are saved, by which we stand before God; the other is our own righteousnesses—even our victories—in which we may stand before Christ. The white garments spoken of in Revelation 3.18 require a price, whereas redemption is that which need not be bought.

No Christian will be judged and condemned before God (John 5.24); but no Christian will be exempt from having to stand and be judged before the judgment seat of Christ according to what he has done (2 Cor. 5.10).

Believers’ robes are washed clean, yet not because of the great tribulation but because of the blood of the Lamb.  

The very fact that the robes of the saints are washed in the blood of the Lamb shows how they once were defiled on earth yet they have followed the instruction of 1 John 1.9, and thus they are cleansed.

7.15 "Therefore"—This is a continuation of what has been mentioned before. They are qualified to serve God because they do not overlook sins.

7.16-17 Compare these two verses with Isaiah 49.10 (also cf. Is. 49.6 with Acts 13.47; Is. 49.8 with 2 Cor. 6.2). "Hunger no more, neither thirst any more"—These words show how all expectations have been satisfied.

"Neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat"—In the holy city, the New Jerusalem, there is no need of the sun or of the moon (21.23, 22.5). Not that there is no more sun nor moon, but that there is no need of these lights. On the new earth however, there will still be night, for since day is mentioned in Revelation 21.25, there must also still be night on the new earth.

"Wipe away every tear from their eyes"—This reveals that there will now be no need to shed tears.

The multitude mentioned in 7.9-17 and the people represented by the man child in 12.1-11 have many points in common:

(1) According to 7.10 the multitude are saved by the Lamb, and according to 12.11 those included in the man child overcome because of the blood of the Lamb.

(2) Those mentioned in 7.9 stand before the throne; the man child spoken of in 12.5 is raptured to the throne.

(3) Salvation is attributed to God and to the Lamb in 7.10, and in 12.10 salvation is said to come from God and His Christ.

(4) We read in 7.1-8 that the twelve tribes are sealed, and we read in 12.1 that the woman has upon her head a crown of twelve stars. (The crown of twelve stars does not refer to the twelve apostles, for Joseph dreamed of twelve stars and those clearly pointed to the twelve tribes.)

(5) We find in 7.11 that the angels burst out in praises, and we find in 12.10 that a great voice is heard in heaven.

(6) Since the people spoken of in 7.9 stand before the throne of God they must have resurrection bodies, and likewise the man child spoken of in 12.5 must have a resurrection body. The word "delivered" in verse 5 should be explained according to the rule of interpreting visions, not according to the rule of literal interpretation. From the explanation given in Acts 13.33-34, we can readily see that this is resurrection. Without a resurrection body no one can see God, for he will be reckoned as naked (2 Cor. 5.2,3; Ex. 20.26, 28.42). 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of resurrection as a sure fact; 2 Corinthians 5 speaks of the facts about resurrection. Today there is no Christian before the throne; this will be true later in the future. In Revelation 4.6 no one is shown standing on the glassy sea; only by the time of Revelation 15 will there be people standing on it (v.2 mg.). Acts 2.34 explicitly says that David has not ascended to heaven, and 1 Samuel 28.13-14 definitely states that Samuel came up out of the earth. Both indicate that they have not yet been clothed with a resurrection body. The Lord alone is one who descended out of heaven and yet is in heaven (John 3.13). Even Enoch and Elijah, who were taken to heaven, may presently be placed somewhere else, since they probably do not have a transformed body.

(7) In 7.15 we have the words "spread his tabernacle over them", in 12.12 we have the words "O heavens, and ye that dwell in them" which in Greek is "ye that tabernacle in them" (see also John 1.14 where "dwelt" in Greek is actually "tabernacled").

(8) Those mentioned in 7.9 are overcomers, for (a) the white garments are promised to those in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, (b) not to pass through the trial of the Great Tribulation to come is assured to those in Philadelphia who have kept the word of patience, and (c) the palm is always a symbol of victory. The man child spoken of in 12.5 is likewise an overcomer, since he will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

[Here end the visions interposed between the sixth and seventh seals.]

TRUMPETS, SEALS, AND BOWLS

Seals are opened secretly, trumpets are sounded openly. In the Old Testament, the blowing of a trumpet was something solemn. It is equally so here (note that 1.10 and 4.1 are only rendered: "as of a trumpet").

Out of the seventh seal come the seven trumpets, and out of the seventh trumpet issue forth the seven bowls. The seven trumpets succeed one another in order, and each covers a prolonged period—such as is the case in the fifth trumpet, where 9.10 describes it as being five months; in the case of the sixth trumpet 9.15 shows it to be at least thirteen months ("hour and day and month and year"); and in the seventh trumpet 10.7 mentions "the days of the voice of the seventh angel". According to 11.15, at the end of the seventh trumpet the kingdom of God shall come. But the seventh trumpet includes seven bowls, that is to say, the seven bowls are equal in time to the seventh trumpet. It is therefore different from the seven trumpets which come out of the seventh seal in that the trumpets have extended durations while there is not much time after the blowing of the seventh trumpet.

To better understand this we may draw a diagram as follows:

It takes approximately two thousand years to open the seals. Not till the seventh seal is opened can the contents of the book be seen. As the seventh seal includes seven trumpets, the writings in the book will still remain hidden even after the blowing of the sixth trumpet. It awaits the sounding of the seventh trumpet to have the book completely opened. As soon as the seventh trumpet is blown, the kingdom is ushered in. Then shall the New Covenant be seen—the blessings which God has prepared for the earth (Jer. 31.31-34, 33.14-15).

Both the seals and the trumpets are of extended duration. The difference between them lies in the fact that the seals will hurt the fourth part of the earth (6.8), whereas the trumpets will hurt the third part of the earth (8.7).

The seventh trumpet commences with the first bowl and ends with the seventh bowl. This agrees with Romans 16.25,26. Revelation 11.15 refers to the end of the seventh trumpet, hence the kingdom immediately arrives.

By comparing "thy wrath" in 11.15-18 with "the wrath of God" in 15.1 we can see that the seven bowls constitute the wrath of God.  

The opening of the seals is done in heaven in secret; the blowing of the trumpets is meant as proclamations to the earth for all to hear; and the pouring of the bowls reveals their contents without making any noise. The opening of the seals speaks of judgments during the gospel age such as famine, earthquake, war, and so forth, of which the world does not know their origin—only the believers know, hence it is secretive. The blowing of the trumpets indicates that the dispensation is changed, for the gospel age has come to an end. At the time of chapter 7 the children of Israel are sealed and the overcoming believers are raptured, and therefore by the time of chapter 8 comes the declaration of war. A trumpet has the nature of serving notice, and the bowl signifies wrath. We find the cup of wrath in the Old Testament, but here it is the bowls of wrath—which are obviously much more severe than any cup of wrath.

The tribulations of the seven trumpets are real afflictions. Please consider the following observations:

(1) This book of Revelation is not, in the first instance, a book of symbols.

(2) The blowing of trumpets is not a secretive action; rather, it is something to be heard. Whatever is sounded is what will come to pass. (At the blowing of the last trumpet there will be resurrection. This is truly miraculous just as all the other trumpets are.)

(3) What the seven trumpets proclaim to mankind is the judgment of God.

(4) Since all the Old Testament prophecies—whether they speak of judgment or the Lord’s coming—are to be interpreted literally, why should not the prophecies in the New Testament also be explained literally? As the ten plagues of Egypt are literal, why should not the tribulations in Revelation also be literally accepted?

(5) The church age having passed (this being seen in chapter 7), God is now returned to His Old Testament position. Naturally, all the judgments must be taken literally (Micah 7.15). Isaiah 11.15-16 tells how God will once more execute judgment on the nations: "like as there was for Israel in the day that he [Israel] came up out of the land of Egypt", only this time it will be a far greater judgment. Jeremiah 23.7,8 prophesies of a deliverance greater than that of bringing the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

(6) The full and final fulfillment of "marvels" spoken of in Exodus 34.10 must be found here at the time of the blowing of trumpets.

(7) All the plagues mentioned in Deuteronomy 28.59 are viewed as "wonderful" (or extraordinary); God’s judgments are indeed often miraculous.

(8) The Lord says that the days of the Son of man are like the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Luke 17.26,28). At the time of Noah, God opened the windows of heaven to pour down rain; and in the time of Lot, God rained down brimstone and fire out of heaven. All these are supernatural judgments.

(9) God needs to demonstrate to men that He is Jehovah. Concerning many other afflictions men will attribute them to the change in nature. But for water to turn to blood and only the third part of water to be so turned is evidently not due to the change in nature but is clearly an act of God. When the iniquity of mankind is full, God will judge.

The great tribulation described in Matthew 24.21-28 is especially related to the children of Israel. During that time Antichrist will greatly persecute them. At the earliest, this will commence with the fifth trumpet (9.1-11) and continue on to the seventh trumpet.

The trial told about in Revelation 3.10 is to come upon the whole world, but the great tribulation spoken of in Matthew 24.21-28 is to descend on the Jews. The first one begins at the blowing of the first trumpet, the second commences, at the earliest, from the fifth trumpet.

8.1-2 "THE SEVENTH SEAL . . . A SILENCE"

8.1 At the opening of the seventh seal, there is a silence in heaven. The whole universe grows still, because the time is changing.

8.2 The angels stand, but the 24 elders sit. These seven angels are specially designated as "the seven angels that stand before God"; consequently, some people deem Gabriel to be one of these angels.

Trumpets are designed for war (1 Cor. 14.8; Amos 3.6; Ex. 19.16).

The will of heaven is about ready for blowing, but God is waiting for one thing to be done before He will give the order to blow. That one thing is: the sons of God expressing full accord with God. What He is waiting for is the thing described in 8.3-5. Prayer is the rail to God’s will.

8.3-5 SITUATION IN HEAVEN AFTER OPENING OF SEVEN SEALS

8.3 "And another angel"—This "another angel" is a priest, hence he must be the Lord Jesus. The prayers of all the saints ascend to God through the incense offered by this angel. No Christian can offer up prayer except by means of incense, which signifies the merits of Christ. Through the sweet savor of Christ a believer’s prayer reaches before God.

Why is the Lord called an "angel" and not a priest here? Hebrews states: "For verily not to angels doth he [Christ] give help" (2.16). When the New Testament epistles mention the Lord’s relationship with us they always describe Him as man. "Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren" (Heb. 2.17). Because He is man, therefore He is closer to mankind. The angels are made a little higher than men. In Genesis 18.2,16, and 22 the word "men" is used to show their closeness to Abraham. Genesis 19.1 uses the word "angels" to distinguish them from ordinary men; yet in Genesis 19.10,12, and 16 the word "men" is used again for they were helping Lot. The reason why in Revelation 8.3 the Lord is designated as an angel is to indicate the changing of time. He is no longer the Son of man in the gospel age. He has now become another angel though still a priest.

The saints here are plainly in trials.

In the Old Testament period incense must be burned with the fire on the altar. No strange fire is allowed. Since the altar typifies the cross of our Lord and incense represents prayer, our prayers can reach God only through the merits of our Lord in the redemption accomplished on the cross. Prayer should not be offered with strange fire, that is, with fire not taken from the altar. Without the cross there can be no prayer.

8.4 "The smoke of the incense"—The incense is already lighted. The smoke of the incense speaks of the merits of our Lord. Only smoke may ascend. Except for the Lord’s incense, no prayer will reach God’s presence.

8.5 "And there followed . . ."—This shows that God has answered the prayers of the saints. Although we do not know what they say in their prayers, we nonetheless know what they pray for through the answer they get. The prayers of the saints here are in accord with the voice underneath the altar in the fifth seal. They are prayers for vengeance (see Luke 18.1-8).

"And the angel taketh the censer; and he filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth"—The answer comes down to where the prayers originated. What is cast on earth is the judgment of God.