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Commentary on The Book of Revelation 3

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

THE THIRD VISION.

Chapter 7.1-8 An Interlude. The Sealing of God’s People.

7.1 ‘After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, in order that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or on any tree.’

‘After this’ signifies a new vision. The timing of this vision is before the seventh seal is opened. As the seventh seal runs parallel to the first six seals this means that its occurrence is seen as immediate. John is assuring God’s people in his day that God has sealed them prior to the events ahead.

‘The four winds of the earth’. In Jeremiah 49.36 ‘the four winds from the four quarters of heaven’ cause desolation to Elam and in Daniel 7.2 ‘the four winds of heaven broke forth on the great sea’ resulting in the emergence of the four beasts which represented world empires. In those cases they represented the activity of God. Those were from heaven. But these are the four winds ‘of earth’ which suggests that they are to be seen as representing the activities, not of God, but of the forces of earth ready to bring desolation to the earth. How satisfying that they are seen as controlled by God through His angels. Compare how in Revelation 20.8, the nations gathered to war come from the four corners of the earth. But here at this stage they are restrained by the four angels.

‘In order that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or on any tree.’ What is also being restrained is what occurs on the sounding of the first four trumpets, for it is they which cause the attack on the earth, the trees and the sea. Thus they are restrained until God allows. The number four is the number of earth. The stillness on earth resulting from their restraint may parallel the silence in Heaven of 8.1. John saw them as ready to become active in his day.

(For ‘corners’ see Nehemiah 9.22; Jeremiah 9.26; 25.23 where it is quite clearly used for furthest sections with no suggestion of a ‘corner’. It is not intended to suggest that the world is square, but to mean all four sections to the furthest points (compare Jeremiah 49.36)).

7.2-3 ‘And I saw another angel ascend from the sunrising having the seal of the living God, and he cried with a great voice to the angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying “Do not hurt the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads”.’

Nothing on earth can hurt the people of God without God’s permission, for all that would do so is restrained in one way or another by His power (compare 2 Thessalonians 2.6-7). The seal is intended to be recognised by angels and is thus invisible (9.4). (It contrasts with the mark of the Beast in chapter 13.16).

‘The sunrising’. The idea may be that this takes place right at the beginning of events. As the sun begins to rise so the servants of God are sealed, before the activities of ‘the day’ begin. Alternately it may signify the distant East (compare Revelation 16.12).

‘The trees’. The trees were important as providing sustenance to mankind. The third horseman was told not to ‘hurt the oil and the wine’ which came from trees. Even invading armies were wary about destroying trees. Now it seems that that restraint is to be removed. This interlude is clearly preparatory for the contents of the seventh seal, where the earth, the trees, and the sea come under attack, but only to an extent limited by God (8.7, 8).

‘Until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads’. The picture is taken from Ezekiel 9. There great slaughter is to come on Jerusalem but it is restrained until a mark is set on the foreheads ‘of the men who sigh and cry of all the abominations that are performed in its midst’, by the man clothed in linen holding the inkhorn (9.3-4). They would be saved from the slaughter. The mark was not visible to men, only to God and the angels.

It can be compared with the mark in blood put on the houses of the Israelites to protect them from the angel of death (which, however, was visible) (Exodus 12.13). It is the mark of protection. It is not necessarily the same as the writing of the name in Revelation 3.12; 14.1, for that is to those who have already overcome and is a sign that they are Christ’s for ever, although it may be that here it is used but not revealed. See Revelation 3.17.

Notice that it is ‘the seal of the living God’. It is not just a seal. It is the seal of One Who, as the ‘living’ God, watches over His own. They belong to Him. It reminds us that nothing can touch God’s people without His permission (compare ‘the hairs of your head are all numbered’ (Matthew 10.30; Luke 12.7)). It is in strict contrast with those who will bear the mark of the Beast (Revelation 13.16-17).

The implication from the description ‘the servants of God’ is that it is all God’s servants who are on earth who will be sealed. The sealing saves them from the direct effects of attacks by spiritual forces, not from persecution (9.4). So while they will suffer tribulation, they will not be subject to the wrath of God. What is important is that the men themselves know they are sealed by God. It is not suggested that there will be a visible sign.

7.4 ‘And I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel.’

That this is made up of twelve times twelve thousand comes out in that there are twelve thousand of each tribe. The number twelve in Revelation is used of the twelve stars on the crown of the woman waiting to bear her man child (12.1), who, as we shall see, represents the true Israel, the twelve stars representing the patriarchs of the twelve tribes.

The only other use in Revelation is of the new Jerusalem where the number twelve abounds (chapter 21). The twelve gates bear the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (21.12), the twelve foundations bear the names of the twelve apostles (21.14), the city is 12,000 x 12,000 x 12,000 furlongs (21.16), the walls are one hundred and forty four cubits (12 x 12), there are twelve jewels (representing the twelve stones in the High Priest’s breastplate), which make up the foundations and thus represent the twelve apostles, and the gates are twelve pearls. (There are twelve fruits on the tree of life for the healing of the nations (22.2) but these represent the twelve months of the year). Twelve is therefore the number connected with the redeemed church of Christ, for it is they who are built on the foundations of the apostles (Ephesians 2.20), including both Old and New Testament saints. The added ‘thousand’ indicates a large and complete number.

There is divided opinion on whether the one hundred and forty four thousand represent the whole church of God or the faithful remnant of Israel. However, the omission of the tribe of Dan makes too literal an interpretation impossible, in view of the fact that numbers are given. It is hardly conceivable that God would exclude all Danites if He was referring to a literal Israel. If they are included while not mentioned then the number 144,000 would clearly not be correct. So whatever view we take the interpretation cannot be literal.

Furthermore the Apostles clearly saw the church as the true continuation of Israel. In Ephesians 2 Paul tells the Gentile Christians that they were previously ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise’ (2.12). Thus in the past they had not belonged to the twelve tribes. But then he tells them that they are now ‘made nigh by the blood of Christ’ (2.13), Who has ‘made both one and broken down the wall of partition --- creating in Himself of two one new man’ 2.14-15). Now therefore, through Christ, they have been made members of the commonwealth of Israel, and inherit the promises. So they are ‘no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (2.19-20). Thus they have entered the ‘new’ renewed Israel. They are part of the ‘new nation’ (Matthew 21.43).

So as with people in the Old Testament who were regularly adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel (e.g. the mixed multitude - Exodus 12.38, compare 12.48), Gentile Christians too are seen as so incorporated. That is why he can call the church ‘the Israel of God’, made up of Jews and ex-Gentiles, having declared circumcision and uncircumcision as unimportant because there is a new creation (Galatians 6.15-16). In context ‘The Israel of God’ can only mean that new creation, the church of Christ, otherwise he is being inconsistent.

The point behind both of these passages is that all Christians become, by adoption, members of the twelve tribes. There would be no point in mentioning circumcision if he was not thinking of incorporation into the twelve tribes. The importance of circumcision was that to the Jews it made the difference between those who became genuine proselytes, and thus members of the twelve tribes, and those who remained as ‘God-fearers’, loosely attached but not accepted as full Jews. That is why Paul argues that Christians have been circumcised in heart (Romans 2.26, 29; 4.12; Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.11).

Again in Romans he points out to the Gentiles that there is a remnant of Israel which is faithful to God and they are the true Israel (11.5). The remainder have been cast off (Romans 10.27, 29; 11.15, 17, 20). Then he describes the Christian Gentiles as ‘grafted in among them’ becoming ‘partakers with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree’ (11.17). They are thus now part of the same tree so it is clear that he regards them as now being part of the faithful remnant of Israel. This is again declared quite clearly in Galatians. For ‘those who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3.7).

The privilege of being a ‘son of Abraham’ is that one is adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel. It is they who proudly called themselves ‘the sons of Abraham’ (John 8.39, 53). That is why in the one man in Christ Jesus there can be neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3.28). For ‘if you are Abraham’s seed, you are heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3.29). To be Abraham’s ‘seed’ within the promise is to be a member of the twelve tribes. The reference to ‘seed’ is decisive.

That is why Paul can say, ‘he is not a Jew who is one outwardly --- he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and the circumcision is that of the heart’ (2.28-29 compare v.26). In the light of these passages it cannot really be doubted that the early church saw the converted Gentile as becoming members of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are ‘the seed of Abraham’, ‘sons of Abraham’, spiritually circumcised, grafted in to the true Israel, fellow-citizens with the saints in the commonwealth of Israel, the Israel of God. What further evidence do we need?

When James writes to ‘the twelve tribes which are of the dispersion’ (1.1) (Jews living away from Palestine were seen as dispersed around the world and were therefore thought of as ‘the dispersion’) there is not a single hint that he is writing other than to all in the churches. He sees the whole church as having become members of the twelve tribes, as the true dispersion, and indeed refers to their ‘assembly’ with the same word used for synagogue (2.2). But he can also call them ‘the church’ (5.14).

There is not even the slightest hint in the remainder of the epistle that he has just one section of the church in mind. In view of the importance of the subject, had he not been speaking of the whole church he must surely have commented on the attitude of Jewish Christians to Christian Gentiles, especially in the light of the ethical content of his letter, but there is not even a whisper of it. He speaks as though to the whole church.

Peter also writes to ‘the elect’ and calls them ‘sojourners of the dispersion’ and when he speaks of ‘Gentiles’ is clearly assuming that those under that heading are not Christians (2.12; 4.3). So it is apparent he too sees all Christians as members of the twelve tribes (as above ‘the dispersion’ means the twelve tribes scattered around the world). Good numbers of Gentiles were becoming members of the Jewish faith at that time, and on being circumcised were accepted by the Jews as members of the twelve tribes (as proselytes). In the same way the apostles, who were all Jews and also saw the pure in Israel as God’s chosen people, saw the converted Gentiles as being incorporated into the new Israel.

Today we may not think in these terms but it is apparent that to the early church to become a Christian was to become a member of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is why there was such a furore over whether circumcision, the covenant sign of the Jew, was necessary for Christians. It was precisely because they were seen as entering the twelve tribes that many saw it as required. Paul’s argument against it is never that Christians do not become members of the twelve tribes (as we have seen he argues that they do) but that what matters is spiritual circumcision, ‘the circumcision of Christ’, not physical circumcision. Thus early on Christians unquestionably saw themselves as the true twelve tribes of Israel.

This receives confirmation from the fact that the seven churches (the universal church) is seen in terms of the seven lampstands in chapter 1. The sevenfold lampstand in the Tabernacle and Temple represented Israel. In the seven lampstands the churches are seen as the true Israel.

Given that fact it is clear that reference here to the hundred and forty four thousand is to Christians. But it is equally clear that the numbers are not to be taken literally. There is no example anywhere else in Scripture where God selects people on such an exact basis (the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19.18) were also a round number based on seven as the number of divine perfection and completeness). The reason for the seemingly exact figures is in order to demonstrate that God has His people numbered and that not one is missing (compare Numbers 31.48-49). The message of these verses is that in the face of persecution to come, and of God’s judgments against men, God knows and remembers His own.

It is noticeable that this description of the twelve tribes is a little artificial in another respect. While Judah is placed first as the tribe from which Christ came, Dan is omitted, and Manasseh is included as well as Joseph, although Manasseh was the son of Joseph. Thus the omission of Dan is deliberate, and Ephraim, Joseph’s other son, is included under Joseph’s name. (This artificiality confirms that the tribes are not to be taken literally). The exclusion of Dan is presumably because he is a tool of the Serpent (Genesis 49.17), and the exclusion of the two names is because of their specific connection with idolatry.

In Deuteronomy 29.17-20 the warning was given that God would ‘blot out his name from under heaven’, when speaking of those who gave themselves up to idolatrous worship and belief, and as we have seen idolatry and uncleanness were central in the warnings to the seven churches. Thus the exclusion of the names of Ephraim and Dan are a further warning against such things.

The names of both Ephraim and Dan are specifically connected with idolatry in such a way as to make them distinctive. Hosea declared, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone, their drink is become sour, they commit whoredom continually’ (Hosea 4.17-18). This is distinctly reminiscent of the sins condemned in the seven churches. It is true that Ephraim here means the whole of Israel, as often, but John saw the connection with idolatry and whoredom as besmirching the name of Ephraim (Ephraimites are included under Joseph, it is the name that is excluded).

As for Dan, it was a man of the tribe of Dan who ‘blasphemed the Name’ (Leviticus 24.11), it was Dan that was first to set up a graven image (Judges 18.30) and Dan was the only tribe mentioned as being the site of one of the calves of gold set up by Jeroboam, as Amos stresses (Amos 8.14; 1 Kings 12.29-30; 2 Kings 10.29). Amos directly connects the name of Dan with ‘the sin of Samaria’. Thus Dan is closely connected with blasphemy and idolatry. And to cap it all ‘Dan will be a serpent in the way, and adder in the path’ (Genesis 49.17). He is the tool of the Serpent. Typologically he is the Judas of the twelve. How could he not be excluded? It is also voices in Dan and Ephraim which declare the evil coming on Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4.15), closely connecting the two.

That what is excluded is the name of Ephraim and not its people (they are included in Joseph) is significant. Thus the message of these omissions is that those who partake in idolatry and sexual misbehaviour will be excluded from the new Israel (compare the warnings to the churches, especially Thyatira). The exclusion of Dan is to warn us that those who are not genuine will be excluded.

So in the face of the future activity of God against the world He provides His people with protection, and marks them off as distinctive from those who bear the mark of the Beast. God protects His true people. There is no reason for seeing these people as representing other than the church of the current age. The fact is that we are continually liable to persecution, and while not all God’s judgments have yet been visited on the world, we have experienced sufficient to know that we are not excluded. In John’s day it was telling the church that God had sealed them, so that while they must be ready for the persecution to come, they need not fear the coming judgments of God that he will now reveal, for they are under His protection.

The New Testament tells us that all God’s true people are sealed by God. Abraham received circumcision as a seal of ‘the righteousness of (springing from) faith’ (Romans 4.11), but circumcision is replaced in the New Testament by the ‘seal of the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 1.22; Ephesians 1.13; 4.30). It is clear that Paul therefore sees all God’s people as being ‘sealed’ by God in their enjoyment of the indwelling Holy Spirit and this would suggest that John’s description here is a dramatic representation of that fact. His people have been open to spiritual attack from earliest New Testament days (and before) and it is not conceivable that they have not enjoyed God’s seal of protection on them. Thus the seal here in Revelation may refer to the sealing (or if someone considers it future, a re-sealing) with the Holy Spirit of promise. The whole idea behind the scene is in order to stress that all God’s people have been specially sealed.

THE FOURTH VISION.

The People of God Coming Out of the Great Tribulation Which Is Coming on the Church (7.9-17).

7.9 ‘After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands.’

‘After these things’ usually infers a new vision. This vision is clearly in the future as far as John is concerned, and later than the vision of the one hundred and forty four thousand, for these stand ‘before the throne’. They are in Heaven. The multitude consists of any (or all) of those who have been sealed who have died or otherwise been taken up.

The countless number is in deliberate contrast to the symbolic one hundred and forty four thousand. The 144,000 indicated the exactness with which God has numbered His own, and their relationship with the true Israel as sons of the Promise. The multitude which no man can number demonstrates the vast numbers who will have served Christ, even to death.

The description confirms Jesus’ words that the Gospel would be preached ‘to all nations’ (Mark 13.10), to ‘the whole world’ (Matthew 24.14). When Tacitus, the Roman historian, describes the deaths of Christian martyrs under Nero he speaks of ‘a great multitude’, under Domitian there was an even greater multitude, and since then certainly a multitude which no one could number. But the inference is that God has them numbered and yet they are innumerable.

‘Standing before the throne and before the Lamb’. They are there to receive the rewards due to them for faithful service prior to sharing Christ’s throne, and to be ‘confessed before the Father’. They stand before the throne of the Father, in contrast with the Lamb Who stands in the midst of the throne (5.6), for He alone can share the Father’s throne (Revelation 3.21). Indeed they have received their white robes indicating their heavenly standing (Revelation 3.5). As the palms indicate it is a time of celebration, of victory, and of acclamation of the Messiah (John 12.13).

(Much is sometimes made of the difference between sitting and standing. But distinguishing between standing and sitting must be limited to the fact that we stand, for example, to work and celebrate, and we sit to reveal authority and to enjoy rest. It does not necessarily say anything about status. It is true that the twenty four elders sit on thrones in the presence of ‘the One Who sits on the throne’ because of their privileged position (Revelation 4.4), but they fall before the throne, both in submission, and when they carry out their priestly duties (4.10; 5.8).

Jesus Christ is seen as both sitting at God’s right hand (Mark 16.19; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 10.12) and as standing there (Acts 7.55-6). In Revelation He stands in the midst of the throne (5.6). One day we will share His throne, but not the Father’s throne. Thus while we may one day sit in the Father’s presence on the throne of Christ, as the elders do on their thrones, we also stand before Him as Christ did ready for service. (Of course we must recognise that all this is symbolic and not press it too literally).

We are told later (7.14) that these are ‘the coming ones out of the great tribulation’. This is in order to provide an incentive to the church in the face of the coming tribulation anticipated by John’s visions and his letters to the churches. They are not necessarily all martyrs, for some will suffer tribulation and die naturally, but they have all suffered tribulation.

The ‘great tribulation’ is that referred to in 2.22 (the definite article referring back to that previous reference - a pattern in Revelation), and is thus experienced to some extent by the churches. It is not the same as that in Matthew 24.21, for that great tribulation was on the Jews in Palestine where it was seen as God’s punishment for their failed response to Him. That one could be escaped by fleeing to the mountains. (These three references are the only references to the term ‘great tribulation’ in Scripture).

The tribulation here is not primarily for Christians. It has in mind the sufferings of the world in the chapters to come, and Christians are to some extent protected from it. That is why those in Thyatira were warned that they may lose that protection if they did not repent (2.22). But Christians do have to face the wrath of the world, even though they escape the wrath of God, and the world was clearly giving them a hard time. John has this very much in mind. As Jesus said, ‘in the world you have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world’ (John 16.33).

7.10 ‘And they cry with a great voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’

This basically means “our deliverance is due to our enthroned God to Whom we give praise”. The idea is taken from the words of Psalm 3.8, ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’. He alone is the Deliverer, the Saviour. This immediately evokes a response in Heaven, and demonstrates that the whole court is seen as being there.

7.11 ‘And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God saying, “Amen. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power and might be to our God for ever and ever. Amen”.’

This sevenfold praise by the angels is parallel to that in the earlier chapter (5.12) except that ‘riches’ have been replaced by ‘thanksgiving’, and the order of the words has changed. In 5.12 the praise was offered to the Lamb. The ‘riches’ there were what He had bought through His cross, ‘the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’ (Ephesians 1.18), ‘the exceeding riches of His grace’ (Ephesians 2.7). This is therefore changed here to thanksgiving to the One Who has bestowed these riches on Him now that the inheritance is realised.

7.13-14a ‘And one of the elders answered me saying, “These who are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and from where do they come?” And I say to him, “Sir (my lord), you know”.’

It is indicative of John’s state that it is not he who asks the question. He is struck dumb by what he is observing. Thus the elder is responding to his unspoken question as he asks his questions about those clothed in white robes. And to his question John can only say humbly, “Sir, you know”.

7.14b “These are those who are coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The elder answers his own questions. All through the present tribulation and the greater tribulations to come Christians will be dying, but now they know that they need not fear. For it is to this that they will come.

‘Those who are coming’, the present participle. We may be intended to read it as ‘the coming ones who have come’. It is quite probable that this scene occurs after the resurrection, and includes all God’s people, for they are now not ‘under the altar’ (6.9) but active in Heaven. Thus it could include those who have been ‘raptured’ (1 Thessalonians 4.17). The present tenses need not militate against this, for the vision could be revealing the future situation of those who are at present ‘coming out of great tribulation’. But the primary lesson of the passage is to those who must face tribulation, (and we must remember that even today many Christians around the world do face great tribulation), assuring them of their final guaranteed place in Heaven.

‘The great tribulation’. As mentioned above this refers to the period that John is forecasting as soon to come for the people of his day, and the definite article (‘the’) refers back to the message to the church at Thyatira. This is not specifically the ‘great tribulation’ spoken of by Jesus, for that referred to events in Palestine. It is looking at what John will later describe in more detail, the great tribulation which would necessarily affect the church in the near future through both persecution and tumultuous events.

John wants God’s people to know that although such great tribulation is coming, and persecution is coming for them, they need not be afraid because of Whose they are. This ‘great tribulation’ is thus wider in scope than tribulation already experienced by the churches. Later in the book we will indeed see the great tribulation that the world must face, and would face constantly through the ages. Christians also must experience some of its effects. But we know from this chapter that they are under God’s protection.

We can compare how Jesus Himself spoke of the tribulation that would come on the Jews through the ages (Luke 21.24). Thus tribulation will come to the church, to the world and to the Jews. (It has nothing directly to do with a ‘Great Tribulation’ at the end of the age which as such is not specifically spoke of in Scripture. But tribulation is the lot of both the church and the world, especially in the Near and Middle East, and there will no doubt be tribulation towards the end. ‘To the end wars and desolations are determined’ (Daniel 9.26)).

‘They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ These are not the white robes given to overcomers. These are representative of their own inner and outward appearance. While these garments had been somewhat marred, they are now pure and clean. But how did they wash them? Not through baptism for baptism is never directly stated to be a washing. (To John the Baptiser and Jesus it is a picture of the lifegiving activity of the Spirit in operation like the rain in nature. To Paul it is a dying and rising again in Christ. Neither see it as washing). Rather the washing here is ‘the washing of water by the word’ which sanctifies and cleanses (Ephesians 5.26), and ‘the washing of regeneration’ (Titus 3.5). It is the new birth that cleanses the people of God, followed by their receiving and obeying the word of God. This is why the church as the bride of Christ will wear garments which represent ‘the righteous doings of the saints’ (19.8), for true faith results in true action. It is this new birth that has made them fit to stand before God.

Furthermore they have used a special whitener, they have been ‘made white in the blood of the Lamb’. The blood is not seen as washing but as adding extra whiteness. In the words of Isaiah 1.18, ‘though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow’. It is ultimately through Christ’s death that they are fitted for the Father’s presence.

7.15 ‘That is why they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his Temple, and he who sits on the throne will tabernacle over them. They will hunger no more, nor thirst any more, nor will the sun strike them, or any heat. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

This description would seem to confirm that we have here the resurrected people of God, for it is describing the same as happens at the end in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21.3-4). They are ‘before the throne of God’, that is are welcomed into His presence. ‘They serve Him day and night in His Temple’, for they are a royal priesthood, showing forth His excellencies (1 Peter 2.9), offering worship, praise and thanksgiving to Him (Hebrews 13.15). But now there will be no dividing curtain for they will see the fullness of His glory.

He ‘will tabernacle over them’. The verb is skeno-o (as in John 1.14) and has in mind the divine Shekinah (sekinah), a post Biblical concept which referred to the radiance, glory and presence of God which dwelt among His people. It is the symbol of the divine Presence. It is mirrored in the use of the verb sakan (‘to dwell’) in His sanctuary and among His people (Exodus 25.8; 29.45-46; 1 Kings 6.13 etc. See also Ezekiel 37.27). So they will live in the glory of the divine Presence.

‘They will hunger no more, nor thirst any more, nor will the sun light on them (‘strike’ is a suggested amendment but has no manuscript backing. However, the meaning is the same) or any heat.’ These were the common problems of mankind in hot places; lack of essential foods, thirst, the burning sun, excessive heat. When the weary exiles began their journey back through the hot wildernesses with short provisions and insufficient water, God made a similar promise to them - ‘they shall not hunger or thirst, nor will the heat or sun smite them, for he has mercy on them and will lead them, he will guide them by springs of water’ - and that is the promise on which this passage is based (Isaiah 49.10). So it has especially in mind those who travel through desert regions, a picture of the Christian journey, for Christians are seen as aliens and pilgrims on the earth (1 Peter 2.11 compare Hebrews 11.9-10). Now, however, their wanderings, with all their attendant problems, are over.

‘For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to fountains of waters of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ Previously the Lion became a Lamb (5.5), now the Lamb becomes a Shepherd. Such are the wonders of God’s ways. Thus our Shepherd is the One in the midst of the throne, the King Himself.

John elsewhere refers to Jesus as the shepherd who gave His life for the sheep in John 10.11, so the connection with the slain Lamb is appropriate. The work of the Good Shepherd in John 10 is now satisfactorily completed, and still as the Good Shepherd He will satisfy them with the water of life from abundant fountains (compare e.g. Psalm 23.2; Isaiah 41.18; 49.10). Not only so but God will also be there to wipe away the tears from every eye. Our tribulation will not have been in vain. This thought is taken from Isaiah 25.8, where death is swallowed up for ever. It is repeated in Revelation 21.4.

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