At the end of chapter 6 the question is asked, 'who is able to stand?' Chapter 7 then answers the question in some detail; showing not simply who can stand, but how. Whilst many take this chapter very symbolically I think we shall see it is naturally interpreted as divine intervention to seal a set of witnesses that then produce a large multitude of people surviving through faith and obedience to the Lamb of God.
The opening verse introduces to us four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth. As with much of Revelation there are as many understandings of this fact as there are commentators.
The Geneva notes see in this picture four literal angels whose job and task is to keep the 'lesser parts' from harm. They point out that angels are constantly focused upon the will of God and follow his desire absolutely with no deviation to one side or another. Further the Geneva notes mention the picture in Eze 10:19 to show that the wings are constantly pointed towards heaven showing their attention to the countenance of God. In actuality the Ezekiel picture is of the Cherubim but the notes ignore that distinction.
John Wesley takes an opposing view; he sees four literal angels but supposes them to be evil. To his eye the four angels would upon their own volition have caused calamity and the scene we have here is one where they are being inhibited.
Albert Barnes takes a third approach. He views the four 'angels' as enacting the will of God but does not suppose the 'angel' to be any kind of being; instead the picture is symbolic of an effect that would have been 'as if' angels had been standing upon the four corners of the earth acting in this manner.
The People's New Testament Commentary adapts this idea a little to view the four angels as four destructive powers or forces that would otherwise be raging upon the earth.
Perhaps Adam Clark takes the least contentious approach when he simply says that four 'agents' were standing upon the four corners of the earth and we know not what they are. As Clark is taking 'agent' in its most literal form he is free to make the four named entities of the second verse into a different set than those represented in the first.
Not surprisingly the identity of the angel performing the sealing is subject to a number of speculations too.
The Geneva notes see the angel from the east as differing in number, essence, office and operation from the other four; specifically they believe it to be the Lord Jesus Christ himself. John Wesley has rather less to say of this angel; although again he sees it as a literal angel and this time considers it to be a good one. Albert Barnes declares that this has to be symbolic; although he doesn't give any reason why this must be.
Adam Clark draws particular attention to the seal and suggests that this makes the angel the chancellor of the supreme King; although he goes on to mention that some see Christ in this angel. Clark also draws attention to the similarity of this passage and the one is Ezekiel 9.
The Peoples New Testament Commentary also sees the seal as significant although it views the marking as acceptance of the gospel and thus views the angel as being a symbol of a successful global evangelism campaign.
I believe that a true hallmark of any believer is his treatment of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is therefore very pleasing to note that when we looked at the interpretation of the angels we found a collection of views that could scarcely have been more antithetical if they had tried. Yet when we come to picturing the 'Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world' we find that all the commentators swing into exactly the same line. As the Geneva Notes summarizes 'The cause efficient and which contains all these things is only one, the Lamb of God, the Lord, the Mediator, and the Saviour Christ Jesus.'
Having said the commentators are agreed as to the identity of the Lamb a number of them do find opportunity to bring out some useful points in the latter verses that we shall note: -
Commenting on verse 10 Adam Clark says that God alone is the author of Salvation and that this is done through the propitiatory sacrifice of the Lamb. Barnes disagrees suggesting that the wording here ascribes salvation to both the father and the son thus showing the equality of both. The latter stance is taken by the Peoples New Testament commentary too.
Commenting upon verse 11 Albert Barnes refers back to his notes on Rev 5:11 where he does see the angels around the throne as literal. He still cannot bring himself to view the numbers as literal yet he does seem to believe angels exist. It is a strange approach to interpretation when the same word in the same scene is taken both literally and symbolically for no apparent reason.
My favorite picture for verse 11 has to come from Adam Clark who points out that we know how much the angels in heaven rejoice over the salvation of one soul. Therefore it is joyous to picture the ecstasy that an innumerable multitude of them would present as we see here.
Adam Clark also raises an excellent question upon verse 14. He makes the observation that the robes here are washed in the blood of the Lamb. They are not wearing new robes that have been given them (cf Rev 6:11). Rev 19:8 (which refers to the Church) says specifically that the robes being worn are the righteousness of the saints. It is interesting too that Rev 3 talks of white robes that can be soiled and bought, although clearly not with money. Clearly this is speculative but it is possible that the raiment worn is actually indicative of righteousness based upon atonement and works and is distinct from the imputation of Christ's righteousness that is the characteristic hallmark of Church dispensation believers?
In the above we have seen many things but in essence I suggest it is this. Even within a catastrophe of a size the world has not yet seen God is going to have his servants and will act providentially for them. He will also have those that turn to him; trust in him and are deemed righteous through the blood of his Son the Lord Jesus Christ who will then lead, guide and nurture His own. There isn't any real consensus as to how this happens; but there doesn't need to be. God knows.