And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. A Lamb stood on the mount Sion - This represents Jesus Christ in his sacrificial office; mount Sion was a type of the Christian Church.
And with him a hundred forty and four thousand - Representing those who were converted to Christianity from among the Jews. See Revelation 7:4.
His Father's name written in their foreheads - They were professedly, openly, and practically, the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus. Different sects of idolaters have the peculiar mark of their god on their foreheads. This is practised in the east to the present day, and the mark is called the sectarial mark. Between eighty and ninety different figures are found on the foreheads of different Hindoo deities and their followers.
Almost every MS. of importance, as well as most of the versions and many of the fathers, read this clause thus: Having His Name and his Father's name written upon their foreheads. This is undoubtedly the true reading, and is properly received by Griesbach into the text.
And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: The voice of many waters - That is, of multitudes of various nations.
The voice of harpers - Though the sounds were many and apparently confused, yet both harmony and melody were preserved.
And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. They sung - a new song - See on Revelation 5:9 (note).
No man could learn that song - As none but genuine Christians can worship God acceptably, because they approach him through the only Mediator, so none can understand the deep things of God but such; nor can others know the cause why true believers exult so much in God through Christ, because they know not the communion which such hold with the Father and the Son through the Holy Ghost.
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. These are they which were not defiled with women - They are pure from idolatry, and are presented as unspotted virgins to their Lord and Savior Christ. See 2 Corinthians 11:2. There may be an allusion here to the Israelites committing idolatry, through the means of their criminal connection with the Midianitish women. See Numbers 25:1-4; Numbers 31:16.
Follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth - They go through good and through evil report, bear his reproach, and love not their lives even to the death.
The first fruits unto God - The reference appears to be to those Jews who were the first converts to Christianity.
And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. In their mouth was found no guile - When brought before kings and rulers they did not dissemble, but boldly confessed the Lord Jesus.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel - Whether this angel mean any more than a particular dispensation of providence and grace, by which the Gospel shall be rapidly sent throughout the whole world; or whether it mean any especial messenger, order of preachers, people, or society of Christians, whose professed object it is to send the Gospel of the kingdom throughout the earth, we know not. But the vision seems truly descriptive of a late institution, entitled The British and Foreign Bible Society, whose object it is to print and circulate the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, through all the habitable world, and in all the languages spoken on the face of the earth. Already they have been the instruments, by actually printing (or by affording the means to different nations to print for themselves) the Bible in a vast number of languages and dialects, so that it has been sent in hundreds of thousands of copies, in whole or in part, to almost every part of the globe: viz., in their native language to the Welsh; in Erse to the Irish; in Gaelic to the Highlands of Scotland; in Manks to the Isle of Man; in French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, to those countries and Switzerland; in Low Dutch to Holland, etc.; in High Dutch to Germany, Prussia, etc. Through them a similar society has been established at St. Petersburgh, by which the Bible has been sent in Slavonic to the Russians; and in different dialects to the people of that vast empire; besides the Turkish, Tartaric, and Calmuck. They have also sent the Holy Scriptures in ancient and modern Greek to Asia Minor and the different isles of the Mediterranean Sea; in Arabic and Ethiopic to Egypt and Abyssinia; in Syriac to the Holy Land, and to the Christians at Travancore. They have also greatly and effectually assisted a very worthy society in the East Indies, whose indefatigable and incomparable missionaries, the Rev. Messrs. Carey, Marshman, and Ward, have translated the Scriptures into the principal languages of India; and they have furnished the means of printing a complete translation of the New Testament in the Chinese language at Canton, by the Rev. Mr. Morrison. In short, almost every nation in the universe has, through this society, directly or indirectly received, or is receiving, the words of eternal life; so that it appears to answer the description of the Apocalyptic "angel, flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people."
Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. Fear God, and give glory to him - This is the general language of the sacred writings. Worship the true God, the creator and governor of all things; and give him glory, for to him alone, not to idols or men, all glory and honor belong.
And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Babylon is fallen, is fallen - This is generally understood to be a prediction concerning Rome; and it is certain that Rome, in the rabbinical writings, is termed Babylon.
That great city - Among the same writers this city is styled קרתא רבתא karta rabbetha, the great city; and רומי רבתא Romi rabbetha, the great Rome. But which Rome is meant? Pagan or Papal Rome? Some parts of the description apply best to the former.
The wine of the wrath of her fornication - There is an allusion here to a custom of impure women, who give philtres or love potions to those whom they wish to seduce and bind to their will; and these potions are generally of an intoxicating nature, greatly inflaming the blood, and disturbing the intellect.
Fornication and adultery are frequently used in Scripture as emblems of idolatry and false worship.
The wine of the wrath is another expression for the envenomed or poisoned cup given by such women.
No nation of the earth spread their idolatries so far as the ancient Romans; they were as extensive as their conquests. And papal Rome has been not less active in disseminating her superstitions. She has given her rituals, but not the everlasting Gospel, to most nations of the earth.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, And the third angel followed - Bishop Bale considers these three angels as three descriptions of preachers, who should bear their testimony against the corruptions of the papal Church.
The beast and his image - See the notes on Revelation 13:1-18 (note).
Mark in his forehead - Such as the sectarial marks of the idolatrous Hindoos, as has been observed before.
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: The wine of the wrath of God - As they have drunk the intoxicating wine of idolatry or spiritual fornication, they shall now drink the wine of God's wrath, which is poured out into the cup of his indignation. This is an allusion to the poisoned cup, which certain criminals were obliged to drink, on which ensued speedy death. See on Hebrews 2:9 (note).
Shall be tormented with fire and brimstone - An allusion to the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrha for their unnatural crimes.
Presence of the holy angels, and - of the Lamb - These being the instruments employed in their destruction; the Lamb - the Lord Jesus Christ, acting as judge.
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. The smoke of their torment - Still an allusion to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. Here is the patience of the saints - Here the faith of the true Christians shall be proved; they will follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, they keep the commandments of God, and are steadfast in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes ἡ ὑπομονη, patience or perseverance, is taken for the reward of these virtues; the text therefore may be thus understood: Here is the reward of the perseverance of the true Christians; for although they die for the testimony of Jesus, yet they shall be unutterably blessed. See the next verse.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. I heard a voice from heaven - As the information now to be given was of the utmost importance, it is solemnly communicated by a voice from heaven; and the apostle is commanded to write or record what is said.
Blessed are the dead - Happy are they. They are happy in two respects:
1. They do not see the evil that shall come upon the world, and are exempted from any farther sufferings.
2. They actually and conscientiously enjoy happiness in a state of blessedness.
In the first sense, Happy are the dead! is a proverb frequently to be met in the Greek and Roman poets. Ex. gr.
Τρις μακαρες Δαναοι και τετρακις, οἱ τοτ' ολοντο
Τροιῃ εν ευρειη, χαριν Ατρειδῃσι φεροντες.
Ὡς δη εγωγ' οφελον θανεειν και ποτμον επισπειν
Ηματι τῳ, ὁτε μοι πλειστοι χαλκηρεα δουρα
Τρωες επερῥιψαν περι Πηλειωνι θανοντι.
Odyss., lib. v. ver. 306.
Happy, thrice happy; who, in battle slain,
Press'd, in Atrides' cause, the Trojan plain:
O, had I died before that well fought wall;
Had some distinguished day renown'd my fall,
Such as was that when showers of javelins fled,
From conquering Troy, around Achilles dead.
Thus imitated by the prince of the Roman poets: -
Extemplo Aeneae solvuntur frigore membra.
Ingemit, et, duplices tendens ad sidera palmas,
Talia voce refert: O terque quaterque beati,
Queis ante ora patrum Trojae sub moenibus altis
Contigit oppetere! O Danaum fortissime gentis
Tydide, mene Iliacis occumbere campis
Non potuisse? tuaque animam hanc effundere dextra?
Saevus ubi Aeacidae telo jacet Hector, ubi ingens
Sarpedon: ubi tot Simois correpta sub undis
Scuta virum, galeasque, et fortis corpora volvit.
Virg., Aen. i., ver. 93.
"In horror fix'd the Trojan hero stands,
He groans, and spreads to heaven his lifted hands.
Thrice happy those whose fate it was to fall,
Exclaims the chief, before the Trojan wall!
O, 'twas a glorious fate to die in fight!
To die so bravely in their parents' sight!
O, had I there, beneath Tydides' hand,
That bravest hero of the Grecian band,
Pour'd out this soul, with martial glory fired,
And in the plain triumphantly expired,
Where Hector fell, by fierce Achilles' spear,
And great Sarpedon, the renown'd in war;
Where Simois' stream, encumber'd with the slain,
Rolls shields and helms and heroes to the main."
Which die in the Lord - These are the only glorious dead. They die, not in the field of battle, in either what are called lawful or unlawful wars against their fellow men; but they die in the cause of God, they die under the smile and approbation of God, and they die to live and reign with God for ever and ever.
From henceforth - Απαρτι· From this time; now; immediately. This word is joined to the following by many MSS. and some versions. It was a maxim among the Jews, that as soon as the souls of the just departed from this life they ascended immediately to heaven.
Yea, saith the Spirit - The Holy Spirit confirms the declaration from heaven, and assigns the reasons of it.
That they may rest from their labors - Have no more tribulation and distress.
And their works do follow there - Εργα αυτων ακολουθει μετ' αυτων· And their works follow With them. They are in company. Here is an elegant prosopopoeia or personification; their good works, sufferings, etc., are represented as so many companions escorting them on their way to the kingdom of God.
There are some good and pertinent things in the Jewish writers on this subject. "Rabbi Jonathan taught, If a man perform one righteous action in this life, it goes before him into the world to come. But if a man commit one crime, it cleaves to him, and drags him to the day of judgment." Sota, fol. 3, 2. Avoda Sara, fol. 5, 1.
"Come and see, If any man observe a precept, that work ascends to God, and says, Such a one performed me. But if a man transgress the law, that sin ascends to the holy blessed God, and says, I came from such a one, who has performed me." Sohar Levit., fol. 34, Colossians 136. Here the same personification is observed as that in the text.
"In that hour in which a man passes from this life into eternity, all his works precede him; and there they say unto him, 'This and that thou hast done in such a place on such a day.' This he shall acknowledge. They shall require that he shall subscribe this with his own hand, as it is written, Job 37:7; each man shall subscribe with his own hand; and not only this, but he shall acknowledge that the sentence brought against him is most just." Taanith, fol. 11, 1.
The following elegant similitude Schoettgen gives from Sepher Hachayim, Part II., fol. 47, 1, 2. "A certain man had three friends, two of whom he loved; but the third he did not highly esteem. On a time the king commanded him to be called before him; and being alarmed, he sought to find an advocate. He went to that friend whom he loved most, but he utterly refused to go with him. The second offered to go with him as far as the door of the king's palace, but refused to speak a word in his behalf. The third, whom he loved least, not only went with him, but pleaded his cause so well before the king that he was cleared from all blame. In like manner, every man has three friends, when he is cited by death to appear before God. The first friend, whom he loved most, viz., his money, cannot accompany him at all. His second, viz., his relations and neighbors, accompanied him only to the grave, and then returned; but could not deliver him from the Judge. The third friend, whom he held but in little esteem, viz., the law and his good works, went with him to the king, and delivered him from judgment." The meaning of this most plainly is, that nothing except the deeds of good and evil men shall accompany them to the judgment-seat of God, and that a man's lot will be in the other world as his conduct has been in this; Their works follow with them.
And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. A white cloud - It is supposed that, from this verse to the end of the chapter, the destruction of Rome is represented under the symbols of harvest and vintage; images very frequent among the ancient prophets, by which they represented the destruction and excision of nations. See Joel 3:12-14; Isaiah 17:5; Isaiah 63:1; and Matthew 13:37.
A golden crown - In token of victory and regal power.
And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. Thrust in thy sickle - Execute the judgments which God has decreed.
For the harvest of the earth is ripe - The cup of the people's iniquity is full.
And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. The earth was reaped - The judgments were executed. But where, or on whom, who can tell?
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. Power over fire - Probably meaning the same angel which is mentioned, Revelation 8:3; Revelation 9:13, who stood by the altar of burnt-offering, having authority over its fire to offer that incense to God which represents the prayers of the saints.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. The great winepress of the wrath of God - The place or kingdom where God executes his judgments on the workers of iniquity, whether pagans or persecuting Christians; Rome pagan, or Rome papal.
And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs. Even unto the horse bridles - A hyperbolical expression, to denote a great effusion of blood. The Jews said, "When Hadrian besieged the city called Bitter, he slew so many that the horses waded in blood up to their mouths." The same kind of hyperbole with that above. See Wetstein on this verse.
The space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs - It is said that the state of the Church, or St. Peter's patrimony, extends from Rome to the Po, two hundred Italian miles, which make exactly one thousand six hundred furlongs! If this be really so, the coincidence is certainly surprising, and worthy of deep regard.
On these two last verses pious Quesnel thus speaks: "As the favorable sickle of Jesus Christ reaps his wheat when ripe for heaven, so that of the executioners of his justice cuts off from this life the tares which are only fit for the fire of hell. Then shall the blood of Christ cease to be trampled on by sinners; and that of the wicked shall be eternally trodden down in hell, which is the winepress of the wrath of God.
"And the winepress was trodden without the city, eternally without the city of the heavenly Jerusalem, and far from the presence of God; eternally crushed and trodden down by his justice; eternally tormented in body and soul, without any hope either of living or dying! This is the miserable lot and portion of those who shall have despised the law of God, and died in impenitence. My God, pierce my heart with a salutary dread of thy judgments!"
Whatever these passages may mean, this is a prudent and Christian use of them.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke .