THE SIXTH SEAL
“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?”
"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 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 worshiped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Revelation 6:12-17, 7:1-17.
Review and Herald, vol 20, July 8, 1862, #6, p 44.
The events of the first five seals have been described in a style highly figurative; but with the sixth seal there seems to be a complete change to the narration of literal facts. The events under this seal are,
1. A great earthquake, which, probably, was the great earthquake at Lisbon, in 1755, in which 20,000 persons were killed. The Encyclopedia Americana states: "It extended from Greenland to Africa and America."
2. The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, which was the same as the darkening of the sun, Matt.xxiv, and was fulfilled in the wonderful dark day of May 19, 1780. See Exposition of Matt. Twenty-four, advertised in the Review and Herald.
3. The moon became as blood. The night following the dark day, the moon, when visible at all, looked like blood.
4. The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, which is the same as the falling stars of Matt.xxiv, and had a wonderful fulfillment Nov. 13, 1833, as described by John, of which thousands now living were eye-witnesses.
5. The heavens will depart as a scroll when it is rolled together. This is in the future, to be fulfilled when the voice of God shakes not only the earth, but also the atmospheric heavens. Heb.xii,22-27; Joel iii,16; Jer.xxv,30,31; Rev.xvi,17.
6. Mountains and islands will be moved out of their places. The voice of God that shakes the heavens will also shake the earth. Mountains will be thrown down, and islands sunk. The earth's surface will be broken up to prepare the way for
7. All classes of the lost to hide in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains from the burning glory then being manifested of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. They have witnessed the shaking of the earth, the casting out of the rocks of the mountains; all hope of mercy is gone, and they desire and pray that some rock or mountain may cover them from the awful glory of God and the Lamb.
WE wish to be considered alone responsible for the new positions taken upon the fifth seal. Some of them are not more than twenty-four hours old with us at the time the Review goes to press. Let them be considered, and if wrong, be corrected.
Review and Herald, vol 20, September 2, 1862, #14, p 108
"On the 1st of November, 1755, a few minutes before 10 A. M., the inhabitants of Lisbon were alarmed by several violent vibrations of the ground, which then rose and fell several times with such force that hundreds of houses came toppling into the streets, crushing thousands of people. At the same time the air grew pitchy dark from the clouds of dust that rose from the crumbling edifices. Many persons ran down to the river-side, in the hope of escaping to the shipping; but the water suddenly rose some yards perpendicularly, and swept away everything before it. The quay, with nearly two hundred beings standing on it, all at once disappeared. Large ships, which were lying high and dry, floated off, and were dashed against each other, or carried down the river. In every direction the surface of the water was overspread with boats, timber, casks, household furniture, and corpses. The scene on land was yet more horrifying. Churches, government buildings, and private houses, were all involved in the same ruin. Many thousands of trembling fugitives had collected in the great square, when it was discovered that flames were spreading in every quarter. Taking advantage of the universal panic and confusion, a band of miscreants had fired the city. Nothing could be done to stay the progress of the flames, and for eight days they raged unchecked. Whatever the earthquake had spared fell a prey to this new calamity. `It is not to be expressed by human tongue,' writes an eye-witness, `how dreadful and how awful it was to enter the city after the fire was abated; and looking upward one was struck with horror at beholding dead bodies, by six or seven in a heap, crushed to death, half buried and half burnt; and if one went through the broad places or squares, nothing to be met with but people bewailing their misfortunes, wringing their hands, and crying, "The world is at an end." If you go out of the city, you behold nothing but barracks, or tents made with canvass, or ship's sails, where the poor inhabitants lie.'
"Another eye-witness is still more graphic. `The terror of the people was beyond description: nobody wept - it was beyond tears - they ran hither and thither, delirious with horror and astonishment, beating their faces and breasts, crying misericordia, the world's at an end; mothers forgot their children, and ran about loaded with crucifixed images. Unfortunately, many ran to the churches for protection; but in vain was the sacrament exposed; In vain did the poor creatures embrace the altars; images, priests, and people, were buried in one common ruin. . . . The prospect of the city was deplorable. As you passed along the streets, you saw shops of goods with the shopkeepers buried with them, some alive crying out from under the ruins, others half buried, others with broken limbs, in vain begging for help; they were passed by crowds without the least notice or sense of humanity. The people lay that night in the field, which equaled, if possible, the horrors of the day; the city all in flames; and if you happened to forget yourself with sleep, you were awakened by the tremblings of the earth and the howlings of the people. Yet the moon shone, and the stars, with unusual brightness. Long-wished-for day at last appeared, and the sun rose with great splendor on the desolated city in the morning. Some of the boldest, whose houses were not burnt, ventured home for clothes, the want of which they had severely felt in the night, and a blanket was now become of more value than a suit of silk.'" Wonders of the World, pp.200,201.
The following testimony shows the extent of this terrible visitation to have been wider than that of any similar one on record:
"The earthquake happened on November 1, 1755, and its sphere of action embraced many cities and States. St. Ubes was totally destroyed. At Cadiz the sea broke down the outer wall, flooded the town, and drowned some hundreds of persons. The Cathedral of Seville was seriously damaged, several houses overthrown, and many persons injured. The shock was felt, indeed, throughout the whole of Spain, except in Catalonia, and also in Germany. In many parts of Great Britain the water in lakes and ponds was violently upheaved, and ebbed and flowed over the banks. A solemn fast was consequently commanded to be observed on the 6th of February next ensuing, in the hope to avert, by prayer and penitence, a similar calamity from this country. A ship at sea, 100 leagues to the westward of Lisbon, had her cabin windows shattered to fragments, and many vessels in deep water quivered as if they had struck against a rock. In Morocco the effects of the shock were most disastrous. In Mequinez two-thirds of the houses were destroyed, and above three hundred in Fez. A caravan of two hundred persons going along the coast from Sallee to Morocco were overwhelmed by the sea, and a still more numerous caravan was swept away by the sudden rise of the inland rivers. In France and Holland earthquakes were repeatedly felt during the entire month of November, and occasionally even in December." Wonders of the World, p.299.
Uriah Smith, Biblical Institute, Lesson 21, “The Seven Seals”, p 257-258.
Under the sixth seal we have brought to view a great earthquake, the darkening of the sun, the turning of the moon to blood, the falling of the stars, the departing of the heavens as a scroll, and events immediately connected with the second coming of Christ.
The earthquake was the great earthquake of Lisbon which occurred Nov.1, 1755, which affected at least four million square miles of the earth's surface. The sun was darkened May 19, 1780. The moon refused to give her light the following night; and when it did appear, it bore the appearance of blood as described in this prophecy. The stars of heaven fell Nov. 13, 1833. Other star showers of meteoric displays have been witnessed at different times, but this was the most remarkable and extensive.
Mark speaks of the same signs and locates them at the same time. He says, "In those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars of heaven shall fall." "In those days," before the 1260 years of papal triumph ended, but "after that tribulation," after the persecuting power of the papacy was restrained, between that point and 1798 where the 1260 years ended, these scenes were to appear; and right here history locates the most remarkable of these phenomena that have ever been seen.
It will be noticed that in the fulfillment of this prophecy we stand between the 13th and 14th verses of chapter 6. The next thing here before us is the departing of the heavens as a scroll and the scenes of the great day.
Uriah Smith, Daniel and Revelation, “The Seven Seals”, p 443-474.
"VERSE 12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16. And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17. For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
Such are the solemn and sublime scenes that transpire under the sixth seal. And a thought well calculated to awaken in every heart an intense interest in divine things, is the consideration that we are now living amid the momentous events of this seal, as will presently be proved.
Between the fifth and sixth seals there seems to be a sudden and entire change in the language, from the highly figurative to the strictly literal. Whatever may be the cause of this change, the change itself cannot well be denied. By no principle of interpretation can the language of the preceding seals be made to be literal, nor can the language of this any more easily be made to be figurative. We must therefore accept the change, even though we should be unable to explain it. There is a great fact, however, to which we would here call attention. It was in the period covered by this seal, that the prophetic portions of God's word were to be unsealed, and many run to and fro, or "give their sedulous attention to the understanding of these things," and thereby knowledge on this part of god's word was to be greatly increased. And we suggest that it may be for this reason that the change in the language here occurs, and that the events of this seal, transpiring at a time when these things were to be fully understood, are couched in no figures, but are laid before us in plain and unmistakable language.
The Great Earthquake. - The first event under this seal, perhaps the one which marks its opening, is a great earthquake. As the most probable fulfilment of this prediction, we refer to the great earthquake of Nov. 1, 1755, known as the earthquake of Lisbon. Of this earthquake, Sears, in his Wonders of the World, pp. 50, 58, 381, says:-
"The great earthquake of Nov. 1, 1755, extended over a tract of at least 4,000,000 square miles. Its effects were even extended to the waters in many places, where the shocks were not perceptible. It pervaded the greater portion of Europe, Africa, and America; but its extreme violence was exercised on the southwestern part of the former. In Africa, this earthquake was felt almost as severely as it had been in Europe. A great part of Algiers was destroyed. Many houses were thrown down at Fez and Mequinez, and multitudes were buried beneath the ruins. Similar effects were realized at Morocco. Its effects were likewise left at Tangier, at Tetuan, at Funchal in the Island of Madeira. It is probable that all Africa was shaken. At the north, it extended to Norway and Sweden. Germany, Holland, France, Great Britain, and Ireland were all more or less agitated by the same great commotion of the elements. Lisbon (Portugal), previous to the earthquake in 1755, contained 150,000 inhabitants. Mr. Barretti says that 90,000 persons 'were lost on that fatal day.'"
On page 200 of the same work, we again read: "The terror of the people was beyond description. Nobody wept; it was beyond tears. They ran hither and thither, delirious with horror and astonishment, beating their faces and breasts, crying, 'Misericordia; the world's at an end!" Mothers forgot their children, and ran about loaded with crucifixed images. Unfortunately, many ran to the churches for protection; but in vain was the sacrament exposed; in vain did the poor creatures embrace the altars; images, priests, and people were buried in one common ruin."
The Encyclopedia Americana states that this earthquake extended also to Greenland, and of its effects upon the city of Lisbon further says: "The city then contained about 150,000 inhabitants. The shock was instantly followed by the fall of every church and convent, almost all the large public buildings, and more than one fourth of the houses. In about two hours after the shock, fires broke out in different quarters, and raged with such violence for the space of nearly three days that the city was completely desolated. The earthquake happened on a holy day, when the churches and convents were full of people, very few of whom escaped."
Sir Charles Lyell gives the following graphic description of this remarkable phenomenon:-
"In no part of the volcanic region of southern Europe has so tremendous an earthquake occurred in modern times as that which began on the 1st of November, 1755, at Lisbon. A sound of thunder was heard underground, and immediately afterward a violent shock threw down the greater part of that city. In the course of about six minutes, sixty thousand persons perished. The sea first retired, and laid the bar dry; it then rolled in, rising fifty feet above its ordinary level. The mountains of Arrabida, Estrella, Julio, Marvan, and Cintra, being some of the largest in Portugal, were impetuously shaken, as it were from their very foundations; and some of them opened at their summits, which were split and rent in a wonderful manner, huge masses of them being thrown down into the adjacent valleys. Flames are related to have issued from these mountains, which are supposed to have been electric; they are also said to have smoked; but vast clouds of dust may have given rise to this appearance.
"The most extraordinary circumstance which occurred at Lisbon during the catastrophe, was the subsidence of the new quay, built entirely of marble, at an immense expense. A great concourse of people had collected there for safety, as a spot where they might be beyond the reach of falling ruins; but suddenly the quay sunk down with all the people on it and not one of the dead bodies ever floated to the surface. A great number of boats and small vessels anchored near it, all full of people, were swallowed up as in a whirlpool. No fragments of these wrecks ever rose again to the surface, and the water in the place where the quay had stood is stated, in many accounts, to be unfathomable; but Whitehurst says he ascertained it to be one hundred fathoms.
"In this case we must either suppose that a certain tract sunk down into a subterranean hollow, which would cause a 'fault' in the strata to the depth of six hundred feet, or we may infer, as some have done, from the entire disappearance of the substances engulfed, that a chasm opened and closed again. Yet in adopting this latter hypothesis, we must suppose that the upper part of the chasm, to the depth of one hundred fathoms, remained open after the shock. According to the observations made at Lisbon in 1837 by Mr. Sharpe, the destroying effects of this earthquake were confined to the tertiary strata, and were most violent on the blue clay, on which the lower part of the city is constructed. Not a building, he says, on the secondary limestone or the basalt was injured.
"The great area over which this Lisbon earthquake extended is very remarkable. The movement was most violent in Spain, Portugal, and the north of Africa; but nearly the whole of Europe, and even the West Indies, felt the shock on the same day. A seaport called St. Ubes, about twenty miles south of Lisbon, was engulfed. At Algiers and Fez in Africa, the agitation of the earth was equally violent, and at the distance of eight leagues from Morocco, a village, with the inhabitants to the number of about eight or ten thousand persons, together with all their cattle, was swallowed up. Soon after, the earth closed again over them.
"The shock was felt at sea, on the deck of a ship to the west of Lisbon, and produced very much the same sensation as on dry land. Off St. Lucas, the captain of the ship 'Nancy' felt his vessel shaken so violently that he thought she had struck the ground, but, on heaving the lead, found a great depth of water. Captain Clark, from Denia, in latitude 36° 24' N., between nine and ten in the morning, had his ship shaken and strained as if she had struck upon a rock. Another ship, forty leagues west of St. Vincent, experienced so violent a concussion that the men were thrown a foot and a half perpendicularly up from the deck. In Antigua and Barbados, as also in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Corsica, Switzerland, and Italy, tremors and slight oscillations of the ground were felt.
"The agitation of lakes, rivers, and springs in Great Britain was remarkable. At Loch Lomond, in Scotland, for example, the water, without the least apparent cause, rose against its banks, and then subsided below its usual level. The greatest perpendicular height of this swell was two feet four inches. It is said that the movement of this earthquake was undulatory, and that it traveled at the rate of twenty miles a minute. A great wave swept over the coast of Spain, and is said to have been sixty feet high at Cadiz. At Tangier, in Africa, it rose and fell eighteen times on the coast; at Funchal, in Madeira, it rose full fifteen feet perpendicular above high-water mark, although the tide, which ebbs and flows there seven feet, was then at half ebb. Besides entering the city and committing great havoc, it overflowed other seaports in the island. At Kinsale, in Ireland, a body of water rushed into the harbor, whirled round several vessels, and poured into the market-place.
"It was before stated that the sea first retired at Lisbon; and this retreat of the ocean from the shore at the commencement of an earthquake, and its subsequent return in a violent wave, is a common occurrence. In order to account for the phenomenon, Mitchell imagines a subsidence at the bottom of the sea from the giving way of the roof of some cavity, in consequence of a vacuum produced by the condensation of steam. Such condensation, he observes, might be the first effect of the introduction of a large body of water into fissures and cavities already filled with steam, before there had been sufficient time for the heat of the incandescent lava to turn so large a supply of water into steam, which, being soon accomplished, causes a greater explosion." - Library of Choice Literature, Vol. VII, pp. 162,163.
If the reader will look on his atlas at the countries above mentioned, he will see how large a portion of the earth's surface was agitated by this awful convulsion. Other earthquakes may have been as severe in particular localities, but no other one of which we have any record, combining so great an extent with such a degree of severity, has ever been felt on this earth. It certainly supplies all the conditions necessary to constitute it a fitting event to mark the opening of the seal.
The Darkening of the Sun. - Following the earthquake, it is announced that "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair." This portion of the prediction has also been fulfilled. Into a detailed account of the wonderful darkening of the sun, May 19, 1780, we need not here enter. Most persons of general reading, it is presumed, have seen some account of it. The following detached declarations from different authorities will give an idea of its nature:-
"The dark day of Northern America was one of those wonderful phenomena of nature which will always be read of with interest, but which philosophy is at a loss to explain." - Herschel.
"In the month of May, 1780, there was a terrific dark day in New England, when 'all faces seemed to gather blackness,' and the people were filled with fear. There was great distress in the village where Edward Lee lived, 'men's hearts failing them for fear' that the Judgment-day was at hand; and the neighbors all flocked around the holy man," who "spent the gloomy hours in earnest prayer for the distressed multitude." - Tract No. 379, American Tract Society; Life of Edward Lee.
"Candles were lighted in many houses. Birds were silent and disappeared. Fowls retired to roost. It was the general opinion that the day of Judgment was at hand." - President Dwight, in Connecticut Historical Collections.
"The darkness was such as to occasion farmers to leave their work in the field, and retire to their dwellings. Lights became necessary to the transaction of business within doors. The darkness continued through the day." - Gage's History of Rowley, Mass.
"The cocks crew as at daybreak, and everything bore the appearance of gloom of night. The alarm produced by this unusual aspect of the heavens was very great." - Portsmouth Journal, May 20, 1843.
"It was midnight darkness at noonday. . . . Thousands of people who could not account for it from natural causes, were greatly terrified; and indeed, it cast a universal gloom on the earth. The frogs and night-hawks began their notes." - Dr. Adams.
"Similar days have occasionally been known, though inferior in the degree or extent of their darkness. The causes of these phenomena are unknown. They certainly were not the result of eclipses." - Sear's Guide to Knowledge.
"Almost, if not altogether alone, as the most mysterious and yet unexplained phenomenon of its kind in nature's diversified range of events, during the last century, stands the dark day of May 19th, 1780, - a most unaccountable darkening of the whole visible heavens and atmosphere in New England, - which brought intense alarm and distress to multitudes of minds, as well as dismay to the brute creation, the fowls fleeing, bewildered, to their roosts, and the birds to their nests, and the cattle returning to their stalls. Indeed, thousands of the good people of that day became fully convinced that the end of all things terrestrial had come....The extent of this darkness was also very remarkable. It was observed at the most easterly regions of New England; westward to the farthest parts of Connecticut, and at Albany; to the southward, it was observed all along the seacoast; and to the north, as far as the American settlements extended. It probably far exceeded these boundaries, but the exact limits were never positively known." - Our First Century, by R. M. Devens, pp. 89, 90....
The Moon Became As Blood - The darkness of the following night, May 19, 1780, was as unnatural as that of the day had been.
"The darkness of the following evening was probably as gross as has ever been observed since the Almighty fiat gave birth to light. I could not help conceiving at the time that if every luminous body in the universe had been shrouded in impenetrable darkness, or struck out of existence, the darkness could not have been more complete. A sheet of white paper held within a few inches of the eyes, was equally invisible with the blackest velvet." - Mr. Tenney, of Exeter, N.H.
Dr. Adams, already quoted, wrote concerning the night following the dark day:-
"Almost every one who happened to be out in the evening got lost in going home. The darkness was as uncommon in the night as it was in the day, as the moon had fulled the day before."
This statement respecting the phase of the moon proves the impossibility of an eclipse of the sun at that time.
And whenever on this memorable night the moon did appear, as at certain times it did, it had, according to this prophecy, the appearance of blood.
And the Stars of Heaven Fell. - The voice of history still is, Fulfilled! Being a much later event than the darkening of the sun, there are multitudes in whose memories it is as fresh as if it were but yesterday. We refer to the great meteoric shower of Nov. 13, 1833. On this point a few extracts will suffice.
"At the cry, 'Look out of the window,' I sprang from a deep sleep, and with wonder saw the east lighted up with the dawn and meteors. . . . I called to my wife to behold; and while robing, she exclaimed, 'See how the stars fall!' I replied, 'That is the wonder;' and we felt in our hearts that it was a sign of the last days. For truly 'the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.' Rev.6:13. This language of the prophet has always been received as metaphorical. Yesterday it was literally fulfilled. The ancients understood by aster in Greek, and stella in Latin, the smaller lights of heaven. The refinement of modern astronomy has made distinctions between stars of heaven and meteors of heaven. Therefore the idea of the prophet, as it is expressed in the original Greek, was literally fulfilled in the phenomenon of yesterday, so as no man before yesterday had conceived to be possible that it should be fulfilled. The immense size and distance of the planets and fixed stars forbid the idea of their falling unto the earth. Larger bodies cannot fall in myriads unto a smaller body; and most of the planets and all the fixed stars are many times larger than our earth; but these fell toward the earth. And how did they fall? Neither myself nor one of the family heard any report; and were I to hunt through nature for a simile, I could not find one so apt, to illustrate the appearance of the heavens, as that which St. John uses in the prophecy before quoted: 'The stars of heaven fell unto the earth.' They were not sheets, or flakes, or drops of fire; but they were what the world understands by falling stars; and one speaking to his fellow, in the midst of the scene, would say, 'See how the stars fall!' And he who heard would not stop to correct the astronomy of the speaker, any more than he would reply, 'The sun does not move,' to one who should tell him, 'The sun is rising.' The stars fell 'even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.' Here is the exactness of the prophet. The falling stars did not come as if from several trees shaken, but from one. Those which appeared in the east fell toward the east; those which appeared in the north fell toward the north; those which appeared in the west fell toward the west; and those which appeared in the south (for I went out of my residence into the park), fell toward the south. And they fell not as ripe fruit falls; far from it; but they flew, they were cast, like the unripe, which at first refuses to leave the branch, and when, under a violent pressure, it does break its hold, it flies swiftly, straight off, descending; and in the multitude falling, some cross the track of others, as they are thrown with more or less force, but each one falls on its own side of the tree." - New York Journal of Commerce, Nov. 14, 1833.
"Extensive and magnificent showers of shooting stars have been known to occur at various places in modern times; but the most universal and wonderful which has ever been recorded, is that of the 13th of November, 1833, the whole firmament, over all the United States, being then, for hours, in fiery commotion. No celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country since its first settlement, which was viewed with such intense admiration by one class in the community, or with so much dread and alarm by another....During the three hours of its continuance, the day of judgment was believed to be only waiting for sunrise." - Our First Century, p. 329.
"Arago computes that not less than two hundred and forty thousand meteors were at the same time visible above the horizon of Boston." And of the display at Niagara it is said that "no spectacle so terribly grand and sublime was ever before beheld by man as that of the firmament descending in fiery torrents over the dark and roaring cataract." - Id., ib.
And the Heaven Departed as Scroll. - In this event our minds are turned to the future. From looking at the past, and beholding the word of God fulfilled, we are now called to look at events in the future, which are no less sure to come. Here is our position, unmistakably defined. We stand between the 13th and 14th verses of this chapter. We wait for the heavens to depart as a scroll when it is rolled together. And these are times of unparalleled solemnity and importance; for we know not how near we may be to the fulfilment of these things.
This departing of the heavens is included in what the evangelists call, in the same series of events, the shaking of the powers of the heavens. Other scriptures give us further particulars concerning this prediction. From Heb.12:25-27; Joel3:16; Jer.25:30-33; Rev.16:17, we learn that it is the voice of God, as he speaks in terrible majesty from his throne in heaven, that causes this fearful commotion in earth and sky. Once the Lord spoke, when with an audible voice he declared to his creatures the precepts of his eternal law, and the earth shook. He is to speak again, and not only the earth will shake, but the heavens also. Then will the earth "reel to and fro like a drunkard;" it will be "dissolved" and "utterly broken down" (Isaiah 24); mountains will move from their firm bases; islands will suddenly change their location in the midst of the sea; from the level plain will arise the precipitous mountain; rocks will thrust up their ragged forms from earth's broken surface; and while the voice of God is reverberating through the earth, the direst confusion will reign over the face of nature.
To show that this is no mere conception of the imagination, the reader is requested to mark the exact phraseology which some of the prophets have used in reference to this time. Isaiah (24:19,20) says: "The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.
The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again." Jeremiah (4:23-27) in thrilling language describes the scene as follows: "I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills move lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled....For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate." (See also the scriptures referred to above.)
Then will the world's dream of carnal security be effectually broken. Kings, who, intoxicated with their own earthly authority, have never dreamed of a higher power than themselves, now realize that there is One who reigns King of kings; and the great men behold the vanity of all earthly pomp, for there is a greatness above that of earth; and the rich men throw their silver and gold to the moles and bats, for it cannot save them in that day; and the chief captains forget their little brief authority, and the mighty men their might; and every bondman who is in the still worse bondage of sin, and every freeman, - all classes of the wicked, from the highest to the lowest, - join in the general wail of consternation and despair. They who never prayed to Him whose arm could bring salvation, now raise an agonizing prayer to rocks and mountains to bury them forever from the sight of Him whose presence brings to them destruction. Fain would they now avoid reaping what they have sown by a life of lust and sin. Fain would they now shun the fearful treasure of wrath which they have been heaping up for themselves against this day. Fain would they bury themselves and their catalogue of crimes in everlasting darkness. And so they fly to the rocks, caves, caverns, and fissures, which the broken surface of the earth now presents before them. But it is too late. They cannot conceal their guilt, nor escape the long-delayed vengeance.
"It will be in vain to call,
Rocks and mountains on us fall;
For His hand will find out all,
in that day."
The day which they thought never would come, has at last taken them as in a snare; and the involuntary language of their anguished hearts is, "The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" Before it is called out by the fearful scenes of the time, we pray you, reader, give your most serious and candid attention to this subject.
Many now affect to despise the institution of prayer; but at one time or another all men will pray. Those who will not now pray to God in penitence, will then pray to the rocks and mountains in despair; and this will be the largest prayer-meeting ever held. As you read these lines, think whether you would like to have a part therein:-
Ah! better far
To cease the unequal war,
While pardon, hope, and peace may yet be found;
Nor longer rush upon the embossed shield
Of the Almighty, but repentant yield,
And all your weapons of rebellion ground.
Better pray now in love, than pray ere long in fear.
Call ye upon him, while he waits to hear;
So in the coming end,
When down the parted sky
The angelic hosts attend
The Lord of heaven, most high,
Before whose face the solid earth is rent,
You may behold him a friend omnipotent,
And safely rest beneath his sheltering wings
Amid the ruin of all earthly things.
"VERSE 1. And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3. Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads."
The chronology of the work here introduced is established beyond mistake. The sixth chapter closed with the events of the sixth seal, and the seventh seal is not mentioned until we reach the opening of chapter 8. The whole of chapter 7 is therefore thrown in here parenthetically. Why is it thus thrown in at this point? - Evidently for the purpose of stating additional particulars concerning the sixth seal. The expression, "after these things," does not mean after the fulfilment of all the events previously described; but after the prophet had been carried down in vision to the close of the sixth seal, in order not to break the consecutive order of events as given in Chapter 6, his mind is called to what is mentioned in chapter 7, as further particulars to transpire in connection with that seal. Then we inquire, Between what events in that seal does this work come in? It must transpire before the departing of the heavens as a scroll; for after that event there is no place for such a work as this. And it must take place subsequently to the signs in the sun, moon, and stars; for these signs have been fulfilled, and such a work has not yet been accomplished. It comes in, therefore, between the 13th and 14th verses of Revelation 6; but there, as already shown, is just where we now stand. Hence the first part of Revelation 7 relates to a work the accomplishment of which may be looked for at the present time.
Four Angels. - Angels are ever-present agents in the affairs of the earth; and why may not these be four of those heavenly beings into whose hands God has committed the work here described; namely, holding the winds while it is God's purpose that they should not blow, and hurting the earth with them when the time comes that they should be loosed? For it will be noticed (verse 3) that the "hurting" is a work committed to their hands equally with the "holding;" so that they do not merely let the winds go when they are to blow, but they cause them to blow; they impel forward the work of destruction with their own supernatural energy. But the hurting process here brought to view does not include the seven last plagues. That work is given into the hands of seven special angels; this, into the hands of four. Or, it may be that when the time comes for the pouring out of the plagues, the seven angels who have specific charge of these judgments, unite with the four whose mission it is to cause the winds to blow, and all together bring on that pre-eminent exhibition of divine vengeance against a generation which is pre- eminent in guilt.
Four Corners of the Earth. - An expression denoting the four quarters, or the four points of the compass, and signifying that these angels, in their particular sphere, had charge of the whole earth.
The Four Winds. - Winds, in the Bible, symbolize political commotion, strife, and war. Dan.7:2; Jer.25:32. The four winds, held by four angels standing in the four quarters of the earth, must denote all the elements of strife and commotion that exist in the world; and when they are all loosed, and all blow together, it will constitute the great whirlwind just referred to in the prophecy of Jeremiah.
The Angel Ascending from the East. - Another literal angel, having charge of another specific work, is here introduced. Instead of the words "ascending from the east," some translations read, "Ascending from the sun rising," which is a more literal translation. The expression evidently refers to manner rather than locality; for as the sun arises with rays at first oblique and comparatively powerless, but increases in strength until it shines in all its meridian power and splendor, so the work of this angel commences in weakness, moves onward with ever-accumulating influence, and closes in strength and power.
The Seal of the Living God. - This is the distinguishing characteristic of the ascending angel; he bears with him the seal of the living God. From this fact, and the chronology of his work, we are to determine, if possible, what movement is symbolized by his mission. The nature of his work is evidently embraced in his having the seal of the living God; and to ascertain what his work is, the inquiry must be answered what this seal of the living God is, which he bears with him.
1. The Term Seal Defined. - A seal is defined to be an instrument of sealing; that which "is used by individuals, corporate bodies, and states, for making impressions on wax, upon instruments of writing, as an evidence of their authenticity. The original word in this passage is defined, "A seal, i.e., a signet ring; a mark, stamp, badge; a token, a pledge." Among the significations of the verb are the following: "To secure to anyone to make sure; to set a seal or mark upon anything in token of its being genuine or approved; to attest, to confirm, to establish, to distinguish by a mark." By a comparison of Gen.17:11 with Rom.4:11, and Rev.7:3 with Eze.9:4, in connection with the above definition, the reader will see that the words token, sign, seal, and mark are used in the Bible as synonymous terms. The seal of God, as brought to view in our text, is to be applied to the servants of God. We are not, of course, to suppose that in this case it is some literal mark to be made in the flesh, but that it is some institution or observance having special reference to God, which will serve as a "mark of distinction" between the worshipers of God and those who are not in truth his servants, though they may profess to follow him.
2. The Use of a Seal. - A seal is used to render valid or authentic any enactments, or laws, which a person or power may promulgate. Frequent instances of its use occur in the Scriptures. In 1Kin.21:8, we read that Jezebel "wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed the with his seal." These letters then had all the authority of King Ahab. Again in Est.3:12: "In the name of King Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring." So also in chapter 8:8: "The writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse."
3. Where a Seal is Used. - Always in connection with some law or enactment that demands obedience, or upon documents that are to be made legal, or subject to the provisions of law. The idea of law is inseparable from a seal.
4. As Applied to God. - We are not to suppose that to the enactments and laws of God binding upon men, there must be attached a literal seal, made with literal instruments; but from the definition of the term, and the purpose for which a seal is used, as shown above, we must understand a seal to be strictly that which gives validity and authenticity to enactments and laws. This is found, though a literal seal may not be used, in the name or signature of the law-making power, expressed in such terms as to show what the power is, and its right to make laws and demand obedience. Even with a literal seal, the name must always be used. (See the references above given.) An instance of the use of the name alone seems to occur in Dan.6:8: "Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not;" that is, affix the signature of royalty, showing who it is that demands obedience, and his right to demand it.
In a gospel prophecy found in Isaiah 8, we read: "Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples." This must refer to a work of reviving in the minds of the disciples some of the claims of the law which had been overlooked, or perverted from their true meaning, and this, in the prophecy, is called sealing the law, or restoring to it its seal, which had been taken from it.
Again, the 144,000, who in the chapter before us are said to be sealed with the seal of God in their foreheads, are again brought to view in Rev.14:1, where they are said to have the Father's name written in their foreheads.
From the foregoing reasoning, facts, and declarations of Scripture, two conclusions inevitably follow:-
1. The seal of God is found in connection with the law of God.
2. The seal of God is that part of his law which contains his name, or descriptive title, showing who he is, the extent of his dominion, and his right to rule.
The law of God is admitted by all the leading evangelical denominations to be summarily contained in the decalogue, or ten commandments. We have, then, but to examine these commandments to see which one it is that constitutes the seal of the law, or, in other words, makes known the true God, the law-making power. The first three commandments mention the word God; but we cannot tell from these who is meant, for there are multitudes of objects to which this name is applied. There are "gods many and lords many," as the apostle says. 1Cor.8:5. Passing over the fourth commandment for the time being, the fifth contains the words Lord and God, but does not define them; and the remaining five precepts do not contain the name of God at all. Now what shall be done? With that portion of the law which we have examined, it would be impossible to convict the grossest idolater of sin. The worshiper of images could say, This idol before me is my god; his name is god, and these are his precepts. The worshiper of the heavenly bodies could also say, The sun is my god, and I worship him according to this law. Thus, without the fourth commandment, the decalogue is null and void, so far as it pertains to enforcing the worship of the true God. But let us now add the fourth commandment, restore to the law this precept, which many are ready to contend has been expunged, and see how the case will then stand. As we examine this commandment, which contains the declaration, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is," etc., we see at once that we are reading the requirements of Him who created all things. The sun, then, is not the God of the decalogue; the true God is he who made the sun. No object in heaven or earth is the being who here demands obedience; for the God of this law is the one who made all created things. Now we have a weapon against idolatry. Now this law can no longer be applied to false gods, who "have not made the heavens and the earth." Jer.10:11. Now the author of this law has declared who he is, the extent of his dominion, and his right to rule; for every created intelligence must at once assent that He who is the Creator of all, has a right to demand obedience from all his creatures. Thus with the fourth commandment in its place, this wonderful document, the decalogue, the only document among men which God ever wrote with his own finger, has a signature; it has that which renders it intelligible and authentic; it has a seal.
But without the fourth commandment, it lacks all these things.
From the foregoing reasoning, it is evident that the fourth commandment constitutes the seal of the law of God, or the seal of God. But the Scriptures do not leave us without direct testimony on this point.
We have seen above that in Scripture usage, sign, seal, token, and mark are synonymous terms. Now the Lord expressly says that the Sabbath is a sign between him and his people. "Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you." Ex.31:13. The same fact is again stated by the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 20:12,20. Here the Lord told his people that the very object of their keeping the Sabbath, that is, observing the fourth commandment, was that they might know that he was the true God. This is the same as if the Lord had said, "The Sabbath is a seal. On my part it is the seal of my authority, the sign that I have the right to command obedience; on your part it is a token that you take me to be your God."
Should it be said that this principle can have no application to Christians at the present time, as the Sabbath was a sign between God and the Jews only, it would be sufficient to reply that the terms Jew and Israel, in a true Scriptural sense, are not confined to the literal seed of Abraham. Abraham was chosen at first because he was the friend of God while his fathers were idolaters; and his seed were chosen to be God's people, the guardians of his law and the depositaries of his truth, because all others had apostatized from him; and it is true that these words respecting the Sabbath were spoken to them while they enjoyed the honor of being thus set apart from all others. But when the middle wall of partition was broken down, and the Gentiles were called into be partakers of the blessings of Abraham, all God's people, both Jews and Gentiles, were brought into a new and more intimate relation to God through his Son, and they are now called "Jews inwardly" and "Israelites indeed." And now the declaration applied to all such; for they have as much occasion to know the Lord as had his people of old.
Thus the fourth commandment, or the Sabbath, is taken by the Lord as a sign between him and his people, or the seal of his law in both dispensations; the people by that commandment signifying that they are the worshipers of the true God, and God, by the same commandment, making himself known as their rightful ruler, inasmuch as he is their Creator.
In harmony with this idea, the significant fact is to be noticed that whenever the sacred writers wish to point out the true God in distinction from false gods of every description, an appeal is made to the great facts of creation, upon which the fourth commandment is based. (See 2Kin.19:15; 2Chron.2:12; Neh.9:6; Ps.115:4-7,15; 121:2; 124:8; 134:3; 146:6; Isa.37:16; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; Job9:8; Isa.51:13; Jer.10:10-12; Ps.96:5; Jer.32:17; 51:15; Acts4:24; 14:15; 17:23,24, etc.)
We refer again to the fact that the same company who in Revelation 7 have the seal of the living God in their foreheads, are brought to view again in Rev.14:1, having the Father's name in their foreheads. This is good proof that the "seal of the living God" and the "Father's name" are used synonymously. The chain of evidence on this point is rendered complete, when it is ascertained that the fourth commandment, which has been shown to be the seal of the law, is spoken of by the Lord as that which contains his name. The proof of this will be seen by referring to Deut.16:6: "But at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name in, there shalt thou sacrifice the Passover," etc. What was there where they sacrificed the Passover? - There was the sanctuary, having in its holiest apartment the ark with the ten commandments, the fourth of which declared the true God, and contained his name. Wherever this fourth commandment was, there God's name was placed: and this was the only object to which the language could be applied. (See Deut.12:5,11,21; 14:23,24, etc.
Having now ascertained that the seal of God is his holy Sabbath, having his name, we are prepared to proceed with the application. By the scenes introduced in the verses before us, namely, the four winds apparently about to blow, bringing war and trouble upon the land, and this work restrained till the servants of God should be sealed, as though a preparatory work must be done for them to save them from this trouble, we are reminded of the houses of the Israelites marked with the blood of the paschal lamb, and spared as the destroying angel passed over to slay the first-born of the Egyptians (Exodus 12); also of the mark made by the man with a writer's ink-horn (Ezekiel 9) upon all those who were to be spared by the men with the slaughtering weapons who followed after; and we conclude that the seal of God, here placed upon his servants, is some distinguishing mark, or religious characteristic, through which they will be exempted from the judgments of God that fall on the wicked around them.
As we have found the seal of God in the fourth commandment, the inquiry follows, Does the observance of that commandment involve any peculiarity in religious practice? - Yes, a very marked and striking one. It is one of the most singular facts to be met with in religious history that, in an age of such boasted gospel light as the present, when the influence of Christianity is so powerful and wide-spread, one of the most striking peculiarities in practice which a person can adopt, and one of the greatest crosses he can take up, even in the most enlightened and Christian lands, is the simple observance of the law of God. For the fourth commandment requires the observance of the seventh day of each week as the Sabbath of the Lord; but almost all Christendom, through the combined influences of paganism and the papacy, have been beguiled into the keeping of the first day. A person has but to commence the observance of the day enjoined in the commandment, and a mark of peculiarity is upon him at once. He is distinct alike from the professedly religious world and the unconverted world.
We conclude, then, that the angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God, is a divine messenger in charge of a work of reform to be carried on among men in reference to the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. The agents of this work on the earth are of course ministers of Christ; for to men is given the commission of instructing their fellow men in Bible truth; but as there is order in the execution of all the divine counsels, it seems not improbable that a literal angel may have the charge and oversight of this work.
We have already noticed the chronology of this work as locating it in our own time. This is further evident from the fact that, as the next event after the sealing of these servants of God, we behold them before the throne, with palms of victory in their hands. The sealing is therefore the last work to be accomplished for them prior to their redemption.
In Revelation 14 we find the same work again brought to view under the symbol of an angel flying in the midst of heaven with the most terrific warning that ever fell upon the ears of men. We shall speak of this more fully when we reach that chapter. We refer to it now, as it is the last work to be accomplished for the world before the coming of Christ, which is the next event in order in that prophecy, and hence must synchronize with the work here brought to view in Rev. 7:1-3. The angel with the seal of the living God, mentioned in Chapter 7, is therefore the same as the third angel of chapter 14. And this view strengthens the foregoing exposition of the seal. For while, as the result of the work in chapter 7, a certain company are sealed with the seal of the living God, as the result of the third message of chapter 14 a company are brought out rendering Scriptural obedience to all the "commandments of God." Verse 12. It is the fourth commandment of the decalogue and that alone which the Christian world is openly violating and teaching men to violate; and that this is the representative question in this message is evident from the fact that the keeping of the commandments, observing, with all the other moral precepts, the Lord's Sabbath, is what distinguishes the servants of God from those who worship the beast and receive his mark, which is, as will be hereafter shown, the observance of a counterfeit sabbath.
Having thus briefly noticed the main points of the subject, we now come to the most striking feature of all. In exact accordance with the foregoing chronological argument, we find this work already in process of fulfilment before our eyes. The third angel's message is going forth; the angel ascending from the east is on his mission; the reform on the Sabbath question has commenced; it is surely, though yet in comparative silence, working its way through the land; it is destined to agitate every country entitled to the light of the gospel; and it will result in bringing out a people prepared for the soon coming of the Saviour, and sealed for his everlasting kingdom.
With one more question we leave these verses, upon which we have so lengthily dwelt. Have we seen among the nations any movements which would indicate that the cry of the ascending angel, "Hurt not," etc., by the blowing of the winds, "till we have sealed the servants of our God," has in any manner been answered? The time during which the winds are held could not, from the nature of the case, be a time of profound peace. This would not answer to the prophecy. For in order to make it manifest that the winds are being held, there must be disturbance, agitation, anger, and jealousy among the nations, with an occasional outburst of strife, like a fitful gust breaking away from the imprisoned and struggling tempest; and these outbursts must be suddenly and unexpectedly checked. Then, but not otherwise, would it be evident to him who looked at events in the light of prophecy, that for some good purpose the restraining hand of Omnipotence was laid upon the surging elements of strife and war. And such has been the aspect of our times for nearly half a century. Commencing with the great revolution of 1848, when so many European thrones toppled into the dust, what a state of anger and political unrest has existed among all the nations of the earth! New and unlooked-for complications have suddenly sprung up, throwing matters into apparently inextricable confusion, and threatening immediate and direful war. And now and then the conflict has burst forth in fury, and a thousand voices have been raised to predict that the great crisis had come, that universal war must result, and the termination no man could foretell, when suddenly and unaccountably it has been extinguished, and all subsided into quiet again.
In our own land the terrible civil war of 1861 to 1865 is a notable instance. By the spring of the latter year, so great had become the pressure upon the nation for men and means to continue the war that it began seriously to impede the progress of the work symbolized by the ascending angel, even threatening to arrest it entirely. Those interested in these truths, believing that the time had come for the application of the prophecy, and that the words of the angel, "Hurt not," etc., indicated a movement on the part of the church, accordingly raised their petitions to the Ruler of nations to restrain the cruel work of tumult and war. Days of fasting and prayer were set apart for this purpose. The time at which this occurred was a dark and gloomy period of the war; and not a few high in political life predicted its indefinite continuance, and an appalling intensity of all its evils. But suddenly a change came; and not three months had elapsed from the time of which we speak, ere the last army of the Southern Confederacy had surrendered, and all its soldiers had laid down their arms. So sudden and entire was the collapse, and so grateful were all hearts for relief from the pressure of the terrible strife, that the nation broke forth into a song of jubilee, and these words were conspicuously displayed at the national capital: "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes." There are those who believe there was a definite cause for this sudden cessation of the strife, of which, of course, the world is but little aware. The sudden conclusion of the Franco-German war of 1870, of the war between Turkey and Russia in 1877-78, the Spanish-American war in 1896, and the recent war between Russia and Japan, may be cited as still later examples.
"VERSE 4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand."
The number sealed is here stated to be one hundred and forty- four thousand; and from the fact that twelve thousand are sealed from each of the twelve tribes, many suppose that this work must have been accomplished as far back at least as about the beginning of the Christian era, when these tribes were literally in existence. They do not see how it can apply to our own time, when every trace of distinction between these tribes has been so long and so completely obliterated. We refer such persons to the opening language of the Epistle of James: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations," etc. Those whom James here addresses are (1) Christians; for they are his brethren; (2) They are not the converts to Christianity from the Jews, the twelve tribes of his own day; for he addresses them in view of the coming of the Lord. (See chapter 5.) He is thus addressing the last generation of Christians, the Christians of our own day, and he calls them the twelve tribes scattered abroad. How can this be? Paul explains in Rom.11:17-24. In the striking figure of grafting which he there introduces, the tame olive tree represents Israel. Some of the branches, the natural descendants of Abraham, were broken off because of unbelief (in Christ). Through faith in Christ the wild olive scions, the Gentiles, are grafted into the tame olive stock, and thus the twelve tribes are perpetuated. And here we find an explanation of the language of the same apostle: "They are not all Israel which are of Israel," and "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, . . . but he is a Jew which is one inwardly." Rom.9:6-8; 2:28,29. So we find on the gates of the New Jerusalem - which is a New Testament or Christian, not a Jewish, city - the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the foundations of this city are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Rev.21:12-14. If the twelve tribes belong exclusively to the former dispensation, the more natural order would have been to have their names on the foundations, and those of the twelve apostles on the gates; but no, the names of the twelve tribes are on the gates. And as through these gates, so inscribed, all the redeemed hosts will go in and out, so, as belonging to these twelve tribes, will all the redeemed be reckoned, whether on earth they were Jews or Gentiles. Of course we look in vain for any marks of distinction between the tribes here on earth; and since Christ has appeared in the flesh, the preservation of the genealogy of the tribes is not necessary. But in heaven, where the names of the church or the first-born are being enrolled, we may be sure there is order, and that each name is enrolled in its own tribe. Heb.12:23.
It will be observed that the enumeration of the tribes here differs from that given in other places. The twelve sons of Jacob, who became the heads of great families, called tribes, were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, and Joseph. But Jacob, on his dying bed, adopted the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, to constitute two of the tribes of Israel. Gen.48:5.
This divided the tribe of Joseph, making thirteen tribes in all. Yet in the distribution of the land of Canaan by lot, they numbered but twelve tribes, and made but twelve lots; for the tribe of Levi was left out, being appointed to the service of the tabernacle, and having no inheritance. But in the passage before us, Ephraim and Dan are omitted, and Levi and Joseph put in their places. The omission of Dan is accounted for by commentators on the ground that that tribe was the one chiefly addicted to idolatry. (See Judges 18, etc.) The tribe of Levi here takes its place with the rest, as in the heavenly Canaan the reasons for their not having an inheritance will not exist, as in the earthly; and Joseph is probably put for Ephraim, it being a name which appears to have been applied to either the tribe of Ephraim or Manasseh. Num.13:11.
Twelve thousand were sealed "out of" each of the twelve tribes, showing that not all who in the records of heaven had a place among these tribes when this sealing work commenced, stood the test, and were overcomers at last; for the names of those already in the book of life will be blotted out, unless they overcome. Rev.3:5.
"VERSE 9. After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 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 worshiped God, 12. Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen."
The sealing having been accomplished, John beholds a countless multitude worshiping God in rapture before his throne. This vast throng are undoubtedly the saved out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue, raised from the dead at the second coming of Christ, showing that the sealing is the last work accomplished for the people of God prior to translation.
"VERSE 13. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14. And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
The questions proposed by one of the elders to John, "What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" taken in connection with John's answer, "Sir, thou knowest," implying that John did not know, would seem to be devoid of all point, if they had reference to the whole of the great multitude now before him. For John did know who they were, and from whence they came; inasmuch as he had just said that they were people - redeemed of course - out of all nations, kindreds, people, and tongues; and John could have answered. These are the redeemed ones from all the nations of the earth. But if a special company in this vast throng were referred to, distinguished by some special mark or position, then it might not be so evident who they were, and what had given them their peculiarity; and the questions, as applied to them, would be appropriate and pertinent. We therefore incline to the view that attention is called to a special company by the questions which were proposed by one of the elders: and no company is brought to view to which special allusion would more naturally be made than to the company spoken of in the first part of the chapter; namely, the 144,000. John had indeed seen this company in their mortal state, as they were receiving the seal of the living God amid the troublous scenes of the last days; but as they here stand among the redeemed throng, the transition is so great, and the condition in which they now appear so different, that he does not recognize them as the special company which he saw sealed upon the earth. And to this company, the specifications that follow seem to be specially applicable.
1. They Came out of Great Tribulation. - While it is true in some degree of all Christians that they must "through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God," it is true in a very emphatic sense of the 144,000. They pass through the great time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. Dan.12:1. They experience the mental anguish of the time of Jacob's trouble. Jer.30:4-7. They stand without a mediator through the terrific scenes of the seven last plagues, those exhibitions of God's unmingled wrath in the earth. Revelation, chapters 15, 16. They pass through the severest time of trouble the world has ever known, although they are delivered out of it.
2. White Robes. - They wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. To the last generation the testimony is very emphatic on the subject of obtaining the white raiment. Rev.3:5,18. And though the 144,000 are accused of rejecting Christ, and trusting to their own works for salvation, because they refuse to violate the commandments of God (Rev.14:1,12), in the great day that calumny will be wiped off. It will be seen that they have rested their hope of life on the merits of the shed blood of their divine Redeemer, making him their source of righteousness. There is peculiar force in saying of these that they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
3. The First-fruits. - Verse 15 describes the post of honor they occupy in the kingdom, and their nearness to God. In another place they are called "the first-fruits unto God and the Lamb." Rev.14:4.
4. They Shall Hunger No More. - In verse 16 it is said, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." This shows that they have once suffered hunger and thirst. To what can this refer: As it doubtless has reference to some special experience, may it not refer to their trials in the time of trouble, more especially during the last plagues? In this time the righteous will be reduced to bread and water; and though that "will be sure" (Isa.33:16), enough for sustenance, yet may it not be that when the pastures, with all fruits and vegetation, are dried up (Joel1:18-20), and the rivers and fountains are turned to blood (Rev.16:4-9), to reduce their connection with earth and earthly things to the lowest limit, the saints who pass through that time will be brought occasionally to the extreme degrees of hunger and thirst? But the kingdom once gained, "they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." And the prophet continues in reference to this company, "Neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." We remember that the 144,000 live through the time when power is given unto the sun "to scorch men with fire." Rev.16:8,9. And though they are shielded from the deadly effect which it has upon the wicked around them, we cannot suppose that their sensibilities will be so deadened that they will feel no unpleasant sensations from the terrific heat. No; as they enter the fields of the heavenly Canaan, they will be prepared to appreciate the divine assurance that the sun shall not light upon or injure them, nor any heat.
5. And the Lamb Shall Lead Them, - Another testimony concerning the same company, and applying at the same time, says, "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." Rev.14:4. Both expressions denote the state of intimate and divine companionship to which the blessed Redeemer admits them in reference to himself.
The psalmist, in the following beautiful passage, seems to allude to the same promise: "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures." Ps.36:8. The phraseology of this promise to the 144,000 is also partially found in the following glowing prophecy from the pen of Isaiah: "He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of this people shall he take away from off all the earth; for the Lord hath spoken it." Isa. 25:8.
James White, Signs of the Second Advent, p 10-16.
The dark day of May 19, 1780. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven." Matt.24:29.
The tribulation here mentioned is that which was upon the church of Christ for 1260 years, during the persecuting career of the little horn of Dan.7:25. Compare with Rev.12:6; 13:5. Then, immediately after the tribulation of those days of papal persecution, the sun was to be darkened. Mark this: It does not say after those days; but after the tribulation of those days. The days reached to 1798, eighteen years this side of the dark day; but the tribulation of the days ceased before the sun was darkened in 1780. The days of tribulation were shortened for the elect's sake. Matt.24:22. The reformation under Martin Luther modified this tribulation, and continued to restrain the rage and consume the power of the papacy until 1700, since which time, according to all church history, there has been no general persecution against the church. Mark 13:24, makes this point very plain: "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened." That is, before the 1260 years should close, but after the tribulation, or martyrdom, of the church ceased, the sun was darkened. Those who would point to the future, or to the past, prior to the eighteenth century, for the darkening of the sun here mentioned, will do well to read again Mark 13:24: "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened."
"In the month of May, 1780, there was a very terrific dark day in New England, when all faces seemed to gather blackness, and the people were filled with fear. There was great distress in the village where Edward Lee lived, - `men's hearts failing them for fear' that the Judgment day was at hand." - Tract No. 379 of Am. Tract Society. - Life of Edwards.
"The 19th day of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many houses. The birds were silent, and disappeared. The fowls retired to roost. It was the general opinion that the day of Judgment was at hand. The legislature of Connecticut was in session, at Hartford, but being unable to transact business, adjourned. - President Dwight in (Ct.) Historical Collections.
"On the 19th of May, 1780, an uncommon darkness took place all over New England, and extended to Canada. It continued about fourteen hours,, or from ten o'clock in the morning till midnight. The darkness was so great that people were unable to read common print, or tell the time of the day by their watches, or to dine, or transact their ordinary business, without the light of candles. They became dull and gloomy, and some were excessively frightened. The fowls went to roost. Objects could not be distinguished but at a very little distance, and everything bore the appearance of gloom and night. Similar days have occasionally been known, though inferior in the degree or extent of their darkness. The causes of these phenomena are unknown. They certainly were not the result of eclipses." - Sear's Guide.
The dark night of May 19, 1780. "And the moon shall not give her light." Matt.24:29.
"The night succeeding that day (May 19, 1780,) was of such pitchy darkness that, in some instances, horses could not be compelled to leave the stable when wanted for service. About midnight, the clouds were dispersed, and the moon and stars appeared with unimpaired brilliancy." - Stone's History of Beverly.
Mr. Tenny, of Exeter, N. H., speaking of the dark day and dark night of May 19, 1780, says:
"The darkness of the following evening was probably as gross as has ever been observed since the Almighty first gave birth to light. I could not help conceiving at the time, that if every luminous body in the universe had been shrouded in impenetrable darkness, or struck out of existence, the darkness could not have been more complete. A sheet of white paper held within a few inches of the eyes was equally invisible with the blackest velvet."
Dr. Adams, speaking of the dark night, says:
"At nine, it was a darkness to be felt by more senses than one, as there was a strong smell of soot. Almost every one who happened to be out in the evening, got lost in going home. The darkness was as uncommon in the night as it was in the day, as the moon had fulled the day before."
The falling stars of Nov.13, 1833. "And the stars shall fall from heaven." Matt.24:29.
"At the cry, `Look out of the window,' I sprang from a deep sleep, and with wonder saw the east lighted up with the dawn and meteors. The zenith, the north, and the west also, showed the falling stars, in the very image of one thing, and only one, I ever heard of. The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, `even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind.' Rev.6:13." - Henry Dana Ward, in Journal of Commerce.
"The extent of the shower of 1833 was such as to cover no inconsiderable part of the earth's surface, from the middle of the Atlantic on the east, to the Pacific on the west; and from the northern coast of South America, to undefined regions among the British possessions on the north, the exhibition was visible, and everywhere presented nearly the same appearance." - Prof. Olmstead, of Yale College.
We now inquire, Why has Christ given the church these signs in the luminaries of heaven, of his second coming? Are they given to deceive, and lead the honest Christian to look for Christ's coming, when nothing can be known of the period of that event? Preposterous! The fact that Christ foretells signs of his coming, and then states the object of those signs, that the church may know when the event is near, even at the doors, is sufficient proof that it is the design of Heaven that the church should understand the period of the second advent.
After stating that the sun should be darkened, and that the moon should not give her light, and that the stars should fall from heaven, Christ gives the parable of the fig-tree, and makes the most distinct application of it. "Now learn a parable of the fig-tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." Verses 32, 33. No figure should exceed the fact illustrated in a single particular. This being the case in the parable of the fig-tree, the point becomes an exceedingly strong one. No language can be more direct. No proof can be more complete. With all that certainty with which we know that summer is nigh when we see the buds and the leaves shoot forth from the trees in spring, and the earth covered with her carpet of green, may we know that Christ is at the doors.
The proclamation of the coming and kingdom of Christ is given to the last generation. God did not send Noah to preach to the next to the last generation before the flood, but to the last. The very generation which was destroyed by the waters of the flood saw Noah build the ark, and heard his warning voice. So God has raised up men to give the solemn warning to the world at the right time to give force to the warning. And the very generation of men that live after the three great signs are fulfilled, and that hear and reject the warning message from Heaven, will drink the cup of the unmingled wrath of God. And those of this very generation who receive the message, suffer disappointments, and endure the trials of the waiting position, will witness the coming of Christ, and exclaim, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us." Is.25:9.
With what emphasis our Lord gave utterance to this sentiment. It is a rebuke upon our unbelief. As we read it, God help us to believe it: "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." And as though this were not enough to lead us to unwavering faith, he adds these forcible words: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
James White, Signs of the Second Advent, p 21-24.
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind; and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
Such are the solemn and sublime scenes that transpire under the sixth seal. And a thought well calculated to awaken in every heart an intense interest in divine things, is the consideration that we are now living amid the momentous events of this seal.
Between the fifth and sixth seals there seems to be a sudden and entire change in the language, from the highly figurative to the strictly literal. Whatever may be the cause of this change, the change itself cannot well be denied. By no principle of interpretation can the language of the preceding seals be made to be literal; nor can the language of this any more easily be made to be figurative.
The first event under this seal, perhaps the one which marks its opening, is a great earthquake. As the more probable fulfillment of this prediction, we refer to the great earthquake of 1755.
"The great earthquake of Nov. 1, 1755, extended over a tract of at least 4,000,000 of square miles. Its effects were even extended to the waters in many places where the shocks were not perceptible. It pervaded the greater portion of Europe, Africa, and America; but its extreme violence was exercised on the southwestern part of the former. In Africa this earthquake was felt almost as severely as it had been in Europe." - Sears' Wonders of the World, pp. 50, 58, 381.
The Encyclopedia Americana states that this earthquake extended also to Greenland; and of its effects upon the city of Lisbon, further says: "The city then contained about 150,000 inhabitants. The shock was instantly followed by the fall of every church and convent, almost all the large public buildings, and more than one-fourth of the houses. In about two hours after the shock, fires broke out in different quarters, and raged with such violence, for the space of nearly three days, that the city was completely desolated.
The events which follow the great earthquake under the sixth seal are the special signs, in the sun, moon, and stars, of the second coming of Christ. The dark day and dark night of 1780 are described in these words: "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood." The moon, that was full the day before, appeared through the darkness of the night like a ball of blood. This was the appearance as presented to the prophet.
"It was not the blackness of a storm-cloud, such as sometimes with a frightful agitation breaks over a single city; it was the silent spreading of the pall cloth over the earth by strong, invisible hands." - Concord (N. H.) People.
Webster, in the edition of his dictionary for 1869, says of the dark day: "The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known.
The prophetic description of the falling stars had a literal fulfillment in the meteoric shower of November 13, 1833, which was unlike any other on record in appearance, extent, and magnitude. "Those which appeared in the east, fell toward the east; those which appeared in the north, fell toward the north; those which appeared in the west, fell toward the west, and those which appeared in the south, fell toward the south. They fell not as the ripe fruit falls - far from it; but they flew, they were cast, like the unripe fruit, which at first refuses to leave the branch." - Henry Dana Ward.
The falling of the stars is the last special sign upon which believers base their faith in the near second advent. The departing of the atmospheric heaven is after the close of probation. This seems evident from the fact that the affrighted multitudes, in despair of the mercy of the Lord, direct their cries to mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.