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thousand of the sealed, the first fruits to Christ, having led the way, the Gentiles of later conversion follow, and are incorporated with them, (see Gal. iii. 28; Col. iii. 11.) and presented before the throne in white robes, pure from sin, bearing palms, the signals of joy (Lev. xxiii. 40.); and they ascribe their salvation to God and the Redeemer. And here we may observe, that 'H Zwrnpia should be translated "THE salvation." The Greek article requires it; and thus it expresses that peculiar deliverance and state of safety, which this palm-bearing multitude of gentile converts, together with the chosen Israelites, now experienced from "THE great tribulation;" and for which the merciful kindness of God and the Redeemer are celebrated so triumphantly.
Ver. 11. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God.] The palm-bearing multitude are described in the ninth verse, as standing "before the throne, and before the Lamb;" that is, in the front of the throne, in the place of presentation: but the angels are "round about the throne;" they surround the whole, being exterior to the elders, as well as to the living creatures, and exterior also to the Christian multitude now presented, whose song of praise they conclude with the emphatical Amen; adding thereto, in a choral strain, their ascription of all honour, greatness, and power to God, for ever and ever! The station of the angels seems to be the same, and their song of similar import as in chapter five, when the seals are about to be opened. In both these situations, the occasion of their praise and thanksgiving is the blissful dispensation of human redemption, in which we are divinely informed that the angels in heaven take a joyful interest. (Luke xv. 10.)
Ver. 13. What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?] This is a question which pious curiosity will not fail to ask, and in this passage it is asked, only that it may receive its proper answer, and by an heavenly interpreter: "These are they which came out of great tribulation." After which answer we may find it necessary to ask again, what great tribulation? but this question may be judged needless, perhaps, if we refer to the original Greek of the answer given by the elder, which is thus expressed, Ουτοι εισιν οἱ ερχόμενοι εκ της θλίψεως της μεγαAns, "These are they who are come out of the great λης, tribulation." In our received translation, the article (rns the) is entirely omitted. But thus restored, as certainly it ought to be, will recall to our minds. that "great tribulation" from which the "servants of God" had been now saved, by being placed under the divine seal and protection. (Ver. 3 and 4.)
This may probably be found to be the same ifis μɛyaλn of which our Saviour speaks in his memorable prophecy concerning the fate of Jerusalem, but which is supposed by judicious interpreters to extend also to the times preceding the end of this world, (Matt. xxiv. 21, 29; Mark xiii. 19, 24.) from which great tribulation he promises deliverance to his elect, that is, his sealed servants, and their being gathered to him, as is represented in this apocalyptic vision. They come out of it, and leave the enemies of Christ to their terrible fate.
And if we should be inclined to doubt, whether this palm-bearing multitude are of the sealed, let us attend to the remaining part of the elder's answer. "These are they which are come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb:" that is, they have put on the righteousness of God by faith," (Rom. iii. 22; iv. 11; ix. 30.) have so be
lieved and lived, as to be justified and saved by Christ's offering and death. Such certainly are the true" servants of God;" and under this name they are here appointed to be sealed, and as such to stand in the presence of their God and Redeemer.
Thus we may conclude, that the whole body taken together, first of the sealed Israelites, and then of the innumerable elect gentile converts, represent the chosen and redeemed in the Christian Church, of all ages and nations.
Ver. 15, 16, 17.] Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, &c.] These elect servants of God are to be perpetually blest with the divine presence, and eternally freed from the sufferings which disquiet mortal life, partaking those pure and exquisite joys which the Redeemer (whose shepherd's rod and kingly sceptre are the same--see note, ch. ii. 27.) alone can bestow. The metaphor conveys this plain meaning; nor can it be supposed to allude to any other happy state than that which is heavenly.
THE followers of Mede continue to apply the prophecies of the seals, by a regular chronology to the history of the Roman empire; considering at the same time, this sixth seal to be more particularly connected with the Christian Church. The fifth seal they had supposed to foreshow the sufferings of the Christians under the Dioclesian persecution; and the sixth seal they understand to exhibit that happy revolution, in which Constantine having destroyed the Pagan leaders, and ascended the imperial throne, suppressed the ascendancy of the persecuting heathens, and placed power in the hands of the Chris
tians. " This," says Bishop Newton, " is a triumph of Christ over his heathen enemies, and a triumph after a severe persecution; so that the time, and all the circumstances, as well as the series and order of the prophecy, agree perfectly with this interpretation."" The sealing of the servants of God in their foreheads," he afterwards continues, "can imply no less than that many converts should be baptized, and those who before, in times of persecution, had been compelled to worship God in private, should now make a free, open, and public profession of their religion; and that such an accession was made to the Church, every one knoweth, who knoweth any thing of the history of this time." And speaking of the palm-bearing multitude, he adds, "They are arrayed in white robes as emblems of their sanctity and justification through the merits and death of Christ. They are, like the children of Israel, arrived at their Canaan or land of rest; and they shall no more suffer hunger, thirst, or heat, as they did in the wilderness. They are now happily freed from their former troubles and molestations; and their heathen adversaries shall no more prevail against them."
This exposition of the sixth seal, derived originally from Mede, and adopted with little variation by Lowman, Daubuz, Pyle, and many others, is rejected by Vitringa, who, with his usual learning and ability, contends, that the prophecy cannot have been so fulfilled; and he looks to the completion of it in future time, but yet in the course of this world, when the reformed Churches shall completely triumph in the destruction of their papal foe, and in the conversion of the world to pure religion.
To Vitringa it will be conceded, that this prophecy, being of future fulfilment, may have its completion before this world comes to its end. But in what manner, and in respect to what objects (excepting
generally in the punishment of Christ's enemies, and the beatification of his true servants,) it will be prudent to leave undetermined. Certainly we must agree with Vitringa in esteeming the accomplishment of this prophecy to be yet to come; for no one possessed of knowledge in ecclesiastical history, can point out a period in past time, when this prophetic vision of such supreme beatitude has received its accomplishment. No time can be assigned, when the destruction of Christ's enemies, and the exaltation of his servants in perfect purity and felicity, bear any satisfactory resemblance to the gratifying picture displayed in this prophecy.
It may seem wonderful, that a scholar of Joseph Mede's accomplishment could suppose that the palm-bearing multitude, presented before the throne under emblems of such purity and virtue, and rewarded with such transcendent honours and felicity, could possibly be the multitude of Christians in the times of Constantine and his successors; because nothing is more clear, or more generally shown in ecclesiastical history, than that the tenets and practice of the Christian Church had begun to be very corrupt and degenerate at this time; and that from this very period its increasing debasement is to be traced.
None of the ancient commentators, who lived after these times, have ventured (as Vitringa observes) to apply this prophecy to them. And though Eusebius and Lactantius, (quoted and appealed to by Mede and his followers,) having witnessed the prosperous change in the Christians from a state of persecution to freedom and authority, naturally augured pure and happy days for them; yet Gregory of Nazianzum, and Jerome, who lived to see these expectations blasted, together with all succeeding historians, tell a far different tale. They represent, in very strong terms, the degeneracy of