After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.
Featured Image above is by Olaus Magnus – “On the Necessity of the Knowledge of Winds”; 1555; WikiMedia.
Important Note: We are not seeing a chronological unfolding of events. We are seeing the chronological order in which John saw the visions.
“[Revelation 7] …functions both prospectively and retrospectively in that it casts light on chapter 6 as well as on chapters 8-11.” (see Johnson below).
The message of the Chapter is — We cannot avoid trials common to all men, but we can make it through persecution for the faith with God’s help.
I. There are difficulties involved with interpreting this chapter.
Identifying the two groups referred to in chapter 7 poses the most difficult problem for us. (1) Who are the 144,000? (2) Who are the innumerable multitude? (3) What is the relationship between the two groups.
Second, other difficult questions are: (1) Is the reference to the tribes of Israel symbolic, literal, or representative? (2) To what time period does the phrase “the Great Tribulation’ refer? (3) Are the persons described as ‘an innumerable multitude” all considered to be literal martyrs?
These are questions we will answer in future posts.
II. God governs this world through the agency of angels.
God’s angels are worshipers of God and our servants. Hebrews 1:14 describes their “dual” service –
14 Are not all angels:
(1) ministering spirits
(2) sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
[The numbering and arrangement of this verse are mine.]
First, note that angels are “ministering spirits.” The word for “ministering” is the Greek word leitourgeô from which we derive the English word “liturgy.” It means to render to God the service of worship. (See Isaiah 6:1-7 for a symbolic glimpse of heaven and angels in worship being sent on errands of service.)
Second, note that angels are spirits who “are sent to serve” believers. The Greek word for “serve” is diakoneô, from which we derive the English word “deacon.” Deacons are servants of the church (for an example of humans doing this service see Acts 6:1-6).
Putting these two concepts together, we see that Angels worship God in heaven and are sent forth from that worshipful atmosphere on errands of service for believers. One area in which they serve us is to protect us from harm. We do indeed have guardian angels sent by God to deliver us in time of trouble (see Psalm 91:11-12). Some of us need more than one, obviously.
III. God controls the forces of nature even when he unleashes them in judgment on the ungodly.
First, it is important to see the order of these visions. The vision that John now sees follows what he previously saw in the opening of the first six seals, but it does not necessarily follow chronologically. The present vision is an aside.
“The scene in 7:1-3 is retrospective, and relates to the events described in 6:1-8. In that case the opening words of the paragraph, ‘after this I saw’, relate to succession in order of John’s apprehension, not chronological succession in order of occurrence. Chapter 7:1-8 takes us to a point in time prior to the opening of the seals.” (see Beasley-Murray, p. 142, below.)
IV. In all the parenthetical sections of Revelation, we are given insight into things on earth from heaven’s viewpoint.
In this chapter we are given an understanding of trial from heaven’s perspective.
The number “4” occurs three times in 7:1 — (1) four angels; four corners of the earth; and (3) four winds. It is often used in connection with the earth because of the four directions of the compass.
The judgment bought by the Elements are limited as to what they can do in the way of judgment. At this point in the vision, the angels are restraining the elements from striking out at the earth.
V. God “tempers” the trials of his people.
It is amazing how many people come up to preachers and ask where a particular saying is found in the Bible. Usually, the quotation is not even in the Bible. (They do not want to hear that it is not in the Bible, however.)
One preacher has solved the problem of where they can be found, though. He labeled a ‘file folder’ in his file cabinet: “the Book of Hezekiah.” He then wrote down all of the witty aphorisms that are reputed to be verses of Scripture and put them there.
When someone comes up and asks, “Where is “such-and-such” aphorism found in the Bible, Preacher?” He quickly replies, “I believe it is in Hezekiah.” And then, he makes his exit quickly before they can figure out that Hezekiah is not in the Bible. (This is intended as humorous because many sayings are inspired by the Bible thought not found within its pages.)
Donald Grey Barnhouse, the great Bible teacher at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, had a far better way of dealing with this problem. A person once came up to him and asked where the following is found: “God tempers the wind for the lamb that has been shorn of its fleece.” Barnhouse lovingly replied, “It isn’t in the Word of God, but God does temper the wind.”
V. God tells us what we need to see today from Revelation Chapter Seven.
No trial will ever overcome a believer who trusts in the everlasting God. God has placed the destructive forces of nature under his sovereign control. When he uses the forces of nature to judge wicked people on the earth for their sins and for their evil treatment of God’s people, God aids his people through their difficulties.
Next time, we will look at the 144,000 sealed.
Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1974). Revelation in the New Century Bible series. Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Johnson, A. F. (1996). Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary series). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Co.
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