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A. Revelation 7:9-17 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
II. How does this relate to what has gone before?
A. — What is the context here?
1. Revelation is definitely not laid out chronologically. It is chronological in the sense that it is in the order in which the visions were received by John, but it is not in chronological order of when the visions will be fulfilled.
a. Rev.4-5 depict this present age, as does Rev.6:1-11.
b. Rev.6:12-17 depicts the great judgment day coming at the end of history
c. Rev.7:1-8 depicts something which happened at the very beginning of this age.
d. So, what about Rev.7:9-17? Is this happening now, or will happen it at the very end?
2. I have always assumed it was final, that is, it was a glimpse of the last day, when all of God’s people would gather around Him in worship. Let me tell you why I changed my mind as I studied this, and why I now think it likely depicts the saints in heaven now – before the end of history.
3. I said earlier that Rev.4-5 depict this present age. We know this for a number of reasons:
a. The prayers of the saints on earth (Rev.5:8)
b. The introduction of the Lamb, who then opens the seals which cause tribulations (Rev.5:5-6:8)
4. The thing I realized was that the vision in Rev.7:9-17 is actually a continuation of Rev.4-5.
a. They are worshiping before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev.4:2, 9-10; 5:1, 8, 11)
b. They’re clothed in white robes, just like the elders in Rev.4:4 & the saints in the 5th seal Rev.6:11.
c. All the angels are standing around the throne just like in Rev.5:11.
d. The elders & four living creatures are also there, falling before the throne as in Rev.4:4-11.
e. The one who speaks to John is one of the elders, just like in Rev.5:5.
f. God on His throne is sheltering them with His presence, which sounds more like Rev.6:9-11 than Rev.21-22.
5. I take it then that this vision depicts those in the intermediate state. These saints are in paradise with Jesus, but their bodies are not yet resurrected, the full vengeance of God has not yet been poured out, and there is not yet a new heavens and a new earth.
B. Rev.7 has two parts. How does this second part relate to the first part we talked about last week?
1. In Rev.7:1-8, we read about the 144,000 of the tribes of Israel, which we said was a symbolic number of all the elect of God, being sealed by God to protect them from any harmful effect of the earthly tribulations of the first four seals.
2. And yet here in Rev.7:9-10 we find a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb, crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
3. The immediate thing which grabs our attention is the change from 144,000 Israelites to a great multitude no one can count from every nation/tribe/language. Now 144,000 is a large number, to be sure, but it’s not a number no one can count.
4. — Maybe it’s talking about a completely different group of people? But that doesn’t really jive with the rest of the book of Revelation. Let me explain.
a. — Seven chapters after telling us that the 144,000 had God’s seal on their foreheads, Rev.14:1 refers to the 144,000 as those who had the Lamb’s name & his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
b. — It’s got to be the same group, right? But, a few verses earlier (13:16–17) and a few verses later (14:9–11), it says that those who have the mark of the beast on their foreheads will drink the wine of God’s wrath. So, it seems that there are those who have the mark of the beast on their foreheads and will go to hell, and those who have the name of Jesus on their foreheads and will go to heaven. There is no third category. So, it seems to me we sort of have to conclude that the 144,000 with the seal of God on their foreheads refers to all the saints of God.
5. If the 144,000 and the innumerable multitude are the same group, and I think it’s clear they are, then how can we explain the strange transition from a limited number of Israelites to an unlimited number composed of all people groups? This puzzled Bible students generation after generation.
6. And then came an Anglican NT scholar/professor named RJ Bauckham, about a generation ago, who noticed something others had missed. Bauckham noticed that there are a lot of similarities between Rev.5 and Rev.7, that the relation between these two groups in Rev.7 are very parallel to the relationship between the lion and the lamb in Rev.5:5-6. You remember in Rev.5 that a lion is announced to John but when he turns, he sees a lamb. And, of course, Jesus is the lion & the lamb. So Bauckham noticed the same pattern here in Rev.7. John is told about the 144,000 of Israel, but then turns and sees “a great multitude no one could number, from every nation, tribe, people & language.”
a. Just as in the OT God promised a lion messiah, who came in the form of a lamb, so in the OT God promised a great Israelite nation, but it came in the form of an innumerable multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language. (Mind blown!)
III. Well, what does this passage say about our lives? We’re told in the first verse of Revelation that the book “would show God’s servants the things that must soon take place.” And this morning’s passage tells us two important things about what was soon to take place, one about what our life on earth will be like and one about what our next life – in heaven – will be like.
A. First, it tells us about what’s going to happen during our lives here on earth. Verse 14 says that these saints have come out of “the great tribulation,” referring to the period of time between the first coming of Christ & the second coming of Christ when the four horsemen wreak havoc on the earth.
1. So, basically this life, this age is called “the great tribulation.”
2. It is a time when God’s people experience pressure to compromise the truth, and compromise their faith. These pressures come both through persecution from the non-believing world. But the pressure also comes from within the church community through seductive false teachings.
3. The great tribulation began with the crucifixion, and Jesus taught us clearly that we would follow in His footsteps. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:20
4. And remember how John introduces himself at the very beginning of this book: “I, John, your brother & partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.”
a. We are all brothers and partners in the tribulation that is in Jesus!
5. And not only is it a time of tribulation, but God very much wants us to know and remember it’s a time of tribulation. This is one of the NT’s common refrains:
a. John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
b. Acts 14:22 “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
c. 2Timothy 3:12 “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
d. — 1Peter 4:1 “Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”
e. — 1Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
6. This life is the Great Tribulation. This is here, along with the reference to tears in v.17, to help set our expectation of what this life will be.
7. But in the face of this grim reality, the Bible gives us many encouragements, many truths which buoy us when life seems to drown us.
a. The Lord is with us in our troubles.
b. The HS gives us help in our weakness.
c. The Lord comforts us in all our afflictions.
d. The Lord uses our afflictions to make our hearts pure.
e. And an important one of these helping truths is about what’s going to happen next.
B. Though the Great Tribulation is mentioned here in v.14, the primary thrust of this passage is to tell those who are in the midst of frustrations and perplexities about the terrific place it’s all leading to – in the intermediate state. How gracious it is of God to give us this vision of what happens at the end of the race, at the end of the fight, to those who die in Christ, and what is happening to those who have gone before us.
1. We know that they don’t yet have new bodies.
a. We know they don’t yet live in a new heavens and new earth.
b. We know they haven’t yet witnessed the vindication of God’s name on the earth, when every knee shall bow.
2. We also know from what Jesus said that they’re with Him in paradise (Luke 23:39-43, 16:19-31).
a. We know from Heb.12:23 that they’ve been made perfect.
3. We’ve already learned from Rev.6:9-11 that they’re resting – and in communication with God.
4. But here in Rev.7 we told some pretty precious things about life in this intermediate paradise.
a. they are before the throne of God,
(1) They are close to God, in His very presence.
(2) They no longer walk by faith, but by sight. He is right there.
b. They serve him day and night in his temple;
(1) Heaven is not a place of holy inactivity. The saints are in God’s presence, but they are doing things, and yet they don’t grow tired. They are serving the Lord day and night.
c. They are being sheltered by the One who sits on the throne.
(1) “sheltered by his presence” Scholars say the language here is similar to when Ruth asked Boaz to spread his garment over her.
(2) They are not embattled. They are home with the Lord. They are secure in His arms, like a baby snuggling with Momma.
d. They are crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
(1) They’re not saying this with a normal voice. They’re crying it with a loud voice!
(2) They are excited! They are thrilled! They are fully engaged.
(3) This is not just worship! It is exuberant celebration! They are grateful, worshipful, joyful!
(4) Before death they were straining, fighting, laboring. Now they are in full celebration mode.
(5) He did it! This implies that their eyes and hearts are opened to the magnificence of what Christ has done. They can see clearly now! No longer are their minds dull. No longer do they view Jesus as through a glass dimly. They see Him face to face in His triumph and grace.
(6) They are enthralled with Him; they are enraptured with Him! The dimness of their souls has been taken away.
(7) On Friday, little Fairleigh Dickinson U. pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college bball history when they beat mighty Purdue U. You can imagine what the place was like after that victory. Let’s just say it was bursting with celebration. That gives a taste of this scene.
e. They hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
(1) These folks are satisfied and well-supplied. What Jesus said in Luke 6:21 has come to pass: “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.”
(2) Few if any of us have spent seasons of our lives wondering about where our next meal is going to come from or how our family will be fed today. Few know much of life-threatening thirst.
(3) For the many who live this way virtually every day of their lives, imagine what it sounds like that there will no longer be any hunger or thirst.
(4) But even we experience unsatisfied longings & unfulfilled desires. There will be none of that.
f. They are being shepherded by the Lamb, who guides them to springs of living water,
(1) They’re no longer uncertain; there’s no more wandering, trying to figure out where to go.
(2) They’re being well-tended-to, well-provided-for and well-taken-care-of.
(3) The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
(4) And here is a great irony: They are being shepherded by a Lamb!
g. the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
(1) Where we live, we don’t experience this as much as they did, but all of us have gotten at least a taste of the oppressive onslaught of sun and heat.
(2) But this is an every day kind of experience for many in the middle east.
(3) The Bible talks about it a lot (e.g. Ps.121:6; Is.49:10).
(4) But this is probably not literal. Why would disembodied souls need air conditioning?
(5) The point is that in heaven there’s nothing to bother us.
(6) Sometimes in life it seems like we are under constant pressure, constant strain, constant sense of being bombarded. Heaven will mean relief, rest, and safety. It’s a place of comfort.
h. “clothed in white robes” We are given two explanatory helps with this.
(1) The first came in Revelation 3:18, where Jesus said, “Buy from Me...white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.”
(a) This, of course, stirs memories of the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve first sinned and were ashamed of their nakedness and covered themselves with fig leaves, but then God brought them garments of animal skin with which to cover themselves.
(b) But now, God provides not just animal skins, which are a raw picture of having sins covered by the death of a lamb, but white robes. And how are they white?
(2) Rev.7:14 “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
(3) Here is another irony: blood stains white clothing, but this clothing is made white by washing it in blood. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” (William Cowper)
(4) This is a rich and nuanced image. Here we see the gospel: that our sinfulness is covered by the atoning work of Christ upon the cross. In Him we are made beautiful.
(a) We sang about this last week: “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress.” (Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf) Or, to put it plainly, Jesus, Your blood and righteousness are my beauty and my glorious clothing.
(b) In heaven we are clothed with Christ. We are made beautiful! All the blemishes and imperfections are covered over, all the scars and deformities.
i. and God wipes away every tear from their eyes.
(1) It is more than that there will no longer be any reason for tears. He Himself will wipe away our tears.
(2) These aren’t present tears which He wipes away. The are past tears, tears we shed while we lived on earth.
(3) He is addressing all their hurts, all their wounds. He is healing them, and comforting them.
(4) This implies that in heaven we will be surveying our earthly lives, presumably being given understanding of why things happened. And we will see how god was caring for us while we were experiencing suffering or trauma.
(5) experiencing the comfort of God regarding tears shed on earth
(6) The conversation between Aslan and Shasta as they walk along the road in CS Lewis’ Narnia tale, The Horse and His Boy, I think, gives us a glimpse of this.
j. And they are together. They are not alone. They are close to God and close to many others.
(1) Their aloneness is a thing of the past. They are a part of a gigantic forever family, where they find acceptance and fellowship and unity and belonging. They are truly home.
(2) Diversity is part of what makes the scene painted here one of joy and anticipation.
(a) Remember that God was the One who created human diversity. He was the One who created various languages which divided mankind into many people groups. And just as He separated mankind at the Tower of Babel, so He is now beautifully bringing all those diverse people groups together in His Son.
(b) Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Cf. Colossians 3:11
(c) If we got to heaven and found out that everyone there was like us – intellectually, ethnically, financially, personality-wise, it would be patently sad. It would mean that Jesus was only Lord for one particular kind of person. You see, “It is too light a thing that He should merely raise up the tribes of Jacob and bring back the preserved of Israel; God has made Him as a light for the nations, that His salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6
(d) Jesus shows His power and glory by being the savior of people in every age and in every place.
(e) And when we’re in heaven, we will have the great privilege of knowing and worshiping Jesus beside fellow believers from every people-group on earth.
(f) And apparently we maintain our ethnic distinctives in heaven.
(g) Diversity isn’t a dirty word. You may disagree with how some use this word, but if you believe the Bible, you must believe in the glory of diversity.
(h) God doesn’t show favoritism. Our group is not THE group.
(i) But often this is not easy on earth. Even after living with Jesus for three years, even after seeing the HS provoking believers to speak in languages “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), and even after a vision designed to show him that other peoples should be part of Christ’s kingdom, Peter still had trouble with it. Was Peter a bigot? Was he like somebody in the KKK? No, Peter was just a normal man. But normal people prefer their own kind, and don’t always have a positive attitude toward people from other groups.
(j) But Christ transforms us. He helps us to welcome others just as He’s welcomed us -Rm.15:7.
(k) And if you want to be a member of Christ’s kingdom, you’ve not only got to get used to those “from all tribes and peoples and languages,” you’ve got to learn to worship with them and love them and treasure them, rejoicing when they rejoice and weeping when they weep and celebrating them as your forever family.
(l) As most of you know, our church has a special connection with a group of new believers in west Africa. One of our own is there ministering Christ to them. And marvelous things have happened. (And I have an update to give you this morning during announcements.) But the thing which most enthralled those people as they heard about Christ was that He specifically loved their people group. You see, they are a despised people group, often mistreated, treated as worthless, even killed for no good reason. Then they heard that Jesus loved their people group and wanted to include them in the great multitude that no one can number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.
i) This is why OUR love for them has meant so much. In their experience, other people groups despised them. Now they hear that Jesus actually loves them, and they see that there is some group of His people across the ocean who love them. And you know what they want to do now? They want to tell other people groups about this Jesus who wants even the people groups no one else wants.