What is to follow on earth now begins, when the seals are opened. It will
be remarked here, that John, standing in the ruin of the assembly, gives
prophetically all that passes from that failure till Christ comes in
chapter 19. There is no ascension no rapture, save as far as chapter 12
gives both together.
The first seals are simple; nor have I anything to offer very new upon
them: first, imperial conquests then wars, then famine, then pestilence,
carrying with it what Ezekiel calls God's four sore plagues (sword, famine,
pestilence, and the beasts of the earth). They speak of the providential
course of God's dealings, and hence the four beasts call attention to it;
but they have God's voice in them, the voice of the Almighty: that, the ear
of him who has the Spirit hears. These complete providential plagues, as
spoken of in scripture. Then direct judgments follow; but these are what we
may call preparatory measures.
I have to notice that in the full plagues of verse 8 the whole Roman earth
is not included. It is a fourth, not a third. The plagues too, note, are
limited in extent of sphere, not universal.
The saints are those whom God is really thinking of, and they come in
remembrance before other scenes are brought out. Those who had been
martyred for the word of God and their testimony demand how long before
they were avenged; for we have ever to do here with a God of judgment.
Their being under the altar means simply that they had offered their
bodies, as sacrifices for the truth, to God. The white robes are the
witness of their righteousness - God's declared approval of them; but the
time for their being avenged was not yet. I do not think giving white robes
is resurrection. The first resurrection is sovereign grace, giving us the
same place with Christ ("for ever with the Lord "), consequent on His work
and His being our righteousness, which is alike to all of us. White robes
thus conferred are the recognition of the righteousness ('dikaioomata")
[see note #12]
of the saints-hence are seen in chapter 19 at His appearing. "They shall
walk with me in white, for they are worthy." I am not denying that we are
made clean, and our robes white in the blood of the Lamb. But, even where
this is said in chapter 7, I think it refers especially to the way they
have been associated by faith with the suffering position of Christ. Here
white robes are given them-their service owned; but, for avenging, they
must wait till a new scene of persecution had brought them companions who
had to be honoured and avenged like them. Still this marks progress, and
finds its causein the dealing of God to bring about this new state of
things, which issues in final judgment and setting aside of evil. Here the
judgments are providential.
The next thing to the claim for avenging is the breaking up of the whole
system of earthly government, and the terror of all on earth. How clearly
we see here that we are in a scene of judgment, and that God is a God of
judgment! The desires of the saints are like the desires of the Psalms. We
are not with children before the Father, with grace, with the gospel, and
the assembly; but with Jehovah, where God is a God of judgment, and by Him
actions are weighed. We are on Old Testament ground, that is, prophecy, not
grace to the wicked, though judgment brings in blessing.
The opening of the sixth seal brings an earthquake, that is, a violent
convulsion of the whole structure of society. All the governing powers are
therein visited; and, seeing all subverted, small and great think (with bad
consciences as they have) that the day of the Lamb's wrath is come. But it
is not, though preparatory judgments with a view to His kingdom are there.
But God thinks too of His saints on earth (where we must remember, the
assembly is never now seen) before the scenes which follow, whether
judgments on the Roman earth or the special workings of evil, to secure and
seal them for that day.