The apostle just witnessed the classic, textbook illustration of God’s judgment upon a people. That doesn’t make it any less fantastic, on the contrary, using the Old Testament pictures of judgment gives the message great depth and contributes to the reality that God will certainly bring fulfillment to this prophecy as he had with every other judgment in the past. Now the apostle sees another vision that follows the counsel of Romans 11:22, “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” Having just seen the severity of God in the first sixth seals, he will now see the kindness of God in helping and protecting the faithful.
(1) After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.
The wind is in reference to the disastrous storm seen in the opening of the sixth seal. The wind is what brings in the storm. Hosea called it “the wind of the LORD” (Hosea 13:15), and it is a symbol of judgment. Notice the use of “four” in this verse. There are “four angels,” “four corners of the earth,” and “four winds of the earth.” This conveys the idea of fullness or wholeness to the subject. The four winds (which are technically North, East, South and West) are being held back at the very place of which they begin (figuratively the four corners of the earth) by four angels who are “holding back” these winds (blast of judgment).
“That no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.” The earth, as in other places in Revelation, is likely in reference to the land of the Jews and therefore represents the unfaithful Jewish people as a whole. The sea is just the opposite, used through Revelation as a symbol of the gentile peoples. The image of the trees is likely in reference to men as living beings. Whatever the case, the important thing to see is how this judgment is being restrained everywhere man can be found. It is evident that all would be affected by this judgment, for this is not just a strong east wind of judgment, but a judgment beginning at the four corners of the earth. But could it be any other way? Just considering the matter of judgment against the unfaithful Jewish nation, the whole earth would have to be affected as the Jews were inhabiting every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5, 9-11). Even the fall of Jerusalem alone is pictured to have universal affects (Revelation 18:3, 9, 11, 15).