6-9-2019 The Great Celebration Revelation 7:9-17
Revelation Series • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 45:20
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I want to start with a quote from Tony Campolo’s book, Wake Up America!
Some homeless teenagers who grew up on Philadelphia’s streets beat to death a Korean honors graduate from Eastern College doing graduate studies in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The victim had been mailing a letter to his family at home in Korea. The parents sat silently through his murderers’ entire trial, asking merely for an opportunity to speak at the end. After the guilty verdict they knelt before the judge, and “before a stunned audience these parents begged … the judge to release their son’s murderers to them so that they could give the boys the home and care they had never had. These Korean parents were Christians, they explained to the judge, and they wanted to show something of the grace they had received from God to those who had done them such grievous evil. The judge, who newspaper reporters claimed had a reputation for being hard and unemotional, had tears in his eyes as he explained to the parents, ‘That is not the way our system of justice works!’ ” By their forgiveness, the parents testified of a kingdom utterly different from the kingdoms of this world, a kingdom for which all long who dare to believe its existence.
This morning we will take a look at another testimony to that Kingdom these same parents belong in Revelation chapter 7.
You may recall from last week that this Revelation 7 started an interlude and is a vision showing the situation of the people of God, but from two different perspectives. First, in vv.1–8, we see God’s people sealed or protected and prepared for spiritual battle. Second, then this morning we will see starting in 9, God’s people celebrating in heaven following their victorious endurance through the great tribulation.
Scripture Reading: Revelation 7:9–17
9 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.”
Along with the preceding chapter six in the sixth seal, our passage here retells the idea that all these new believers during this time should expect to suffer as a normal part of following Jesus (e.g., “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation,” v. 14). No saint escapes the tribulation unharmed. But this passage emphasizes the victory more than the suffering. Throughout the whole narrative of the Bible, YHWH sustains His people with His protective presence. YHWH has always desired to live among His people (e.g., the tabernacle, the temple, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church as the temple of the Spirit, and the new heaven and new earth). This amazing celebration here in Chapter 7:9–17 proves to us that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to life in God’s glorious presence in the future (see Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17–5:1; Jude 24–25; Rev. 21:1–4).
Eugene Boring sums it up this way:
“As 7:1–8 presents the church militant on earth, sealed and drawn up in battle formation before the coming struggle, 7:9–17 presents the church after the battle, triumphant in heaven.”
As chapter 7 comes to a close, we anticipate a climactic scene with the opening of the seventh seal. The drama intensifies all right, but in an unexpected way.
This morning, I want to look at the “who,” “what,” and “why” so that we may celebrate as well. First this passage reveals “the what”:
I. The Great What: Worship (vv.9-12)
I. The Great What: Worship (vv.9-12)
the first thing we see with this whole crowd is worship, and they have brought something interesting in their hands:
9 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,
Similar to Revelation 5:5–6, where John hears about a lion and turns to see a lamb, so now he hears about the 144,000 from Israel (7:4) and turns to see a great multitude. In this second part of the chapter 7 vision, John now sees the church triumphant in heaven from an eternal perspective. This innumerable multitude is drawn from every people group, fulfilling God’s promised blessings to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant that he would have descendants too numerous to count. And this multicultural company stands before the throne of God and before the Lamb, once again demonstrating Jesus’s unity with God. They are wearing white robes, symbolizing purity and victory, and holding palm branches, another image signifying victory & symbolizing the joy of this occasion, as they stood before God and the Lamb
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.”
The great multitude cries out in worship of God and the Lamb for providing “salvation,” (sōtēria) a term that in this context emphasizes victory or deliverance from evil, including the power of sin and the resulting judgment. God has been faithful to provide salvation through the sacrifice of the Lamb and to protect his people through tribulation. For this, the triune Godhead is worthy of exuberant praise.
Dr. Stephen S. Smalley is quoted saying that “the air is thick with angels in Revelation” as they encircle the throne and, along with the great multitude, comprise the heavenly chorus.
Most people see this as a hymn
Hymns in Revelation
Scott Duvall, says in his commentary that “By some counts, there are over twenty hymns in Revelation, with most occurring in Chapters: 1; 4; 5; here in 7; 11; 12; 14; 15; 16; and then in chapter 19. In every case, these expressions of worship are directed toward either YHWH or Jesus, the Christ (or both). They are sung by John, the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, other angels, the people of God, heavenly voices, or all created beings. They are spoken, sung, or shouted, and are often accompanied by falling down, crying out, and playing instruments. They take various forms: doxology, acclamation, amen, victory hymn, thanksgiving, and praise. Most importantly, the hymns bring attention to attributes (e.g., holiness, glory, power, strength, wisdom) and actions (creating, being slain, bringing salvation, judging, rewarding, defeating evil, the arrival of the wedding of the Lamb) of God and the Lamb. Since music played a vital role in the emperor cult, it is no surprise that Revelation uses music to honor God and the Lamb, while simultaneously shaping and strengthening the allegiance of the worshipers.”
Their sevenfold doxology fully and completely praises YHWH for rescuing an innumerable people and bringing them into his presence. The Doctrine of Salvation involves not only rescuing people from their past sins, but also bringing them into God’s eternal presence. God’s purposes in creation have now been fulfilled. Their praise is twice affirmed with an “Amen!”— “TRUE” it is true.
I want you to picture for a moment: what if the worship here at Grace Baptist Church looked something like what we’re reading here in Revelation? Could we possibly do something more to make our worship look more like heaven’s worship?
So that answers “The Great what.” Now let’s take a moment to look specifically at:
II. The Great Who: Martyrs (vv.13-14)
II. The Great Who: Martyrs (vv.13-14)
Who is this great multitude?
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.
One of the “elders” asks a rhetorical question aimed at clarifying the identity of the great multitude for John and his readers. Who in the world, or should I say “in the heaven” is this elder?
You might remember in chapter 4, when John was describing what the throne room of heaven looks like, he mentioned 24 elders there. In chapter 4, we discussed that these elders were indeed humans and concluded with the sure identity that they are 24 elders who serve in the presence of God as gatekeepers and who are responsible for overseeing and guarding the worship around the throne—perhaps they are part of the raptured church.
Okay then, who exactly are the people that make up the great multitude?
Their “white robes” seem to connect them with the martyrs in 6:11. The elder/angel explains that they “have come out of the great tribulation.” The verb translated “coming out” is a present participle meaning that the grammar suggests an event that is still in progress—that is, these people have just come through this tribulation period and arrived victoriously in heaven. In other words, these saints are coming out of, or from, the Great Tribulation one by one by one by one as they’re experiencing death through martyrdom.
The robes of the “vast multitude” (v. 9) being washed white in the blood of the Lamb could speak of martyrdom but more likely refers to the redemptive blood of Christ (1:5; 5:9). This is the main support verse for mid-tribulation rapture because the “vast multitude” being removed in relation to the great tribulation (referred to in Dn 12:1 and Mt 24:21) could refer to the rapture of the church, just before the great tribulation, if that period does not begin until the events in the scroll are released by the lifting of the seventh seal.
Either way, Revelation portrays “tribulation” as intense suffering that includes persecution, imprisonment, poverty, and possibly death. Paradoxically, these victor saints have washed their robes in red blood to make them white. Their faith in the blood (or sacrificial death) of Christ has resulted in their redemption and purification.
As soon as the great multitude arrives in heaven, they begin to worship with all the other heavenly creatures. But why, why worship in a time like this?
III. The Great Why: Care (vv.15-17)
III. The Great Why: Care (vv.15-17)
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.
The multitude’s priestly service to the heavenly sanctuary is a partial fulfillment of the promises of Rev 1:6 and Rev 5:10. This passage looks ahead to the equating of the “vast multitude” with the heaven dwellers in Rev 12:12 and Rev 13:6.
Because these believers have persevered through tribulation by virtue of their faith in the atoning work of Christ, they now experience the blessings of the eternal presence of God and the Lamb. They are related to God in three specific ways.
First, they are before his throne, indicating they are now standing in God’s very presence.
Second, they “serve” (latreuō) him continuously in his temple, meaning they serve primarily through worship (cf. Rom. 12:1; Phil. 3:3). We see at the end of Revelation that the heavenly temple should be associated with the presence of God (Rev. 21:3–4, 22; 22:3; cf. Ezek. 37:26–28).
Third, God’s presence will “shelter” or “tabernacle over” his people (skēnoō). This could even recall to John’s readers YHWH’s protection and guidance of His people during their wilderness journey by covering them with the presence of His Shekinah Glory (e.g., Exod. 13:21–22; 33:7–11; 40:34–38).
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.”
This verse is really the promises originally made to the exiles returning to Jerusalem from Babylon and now provide a fitting description of how God plans to remove all pain and suffering: [[Isaiah 49:10]].
10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
It is very likely that this Isaiah passage has double fulfillment—First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles in our passage.
These promises are especially meaningful to people living in a hot, dry climate where water and shelter are scarce. This protection and care now comes from the Lamb at the center of the throne (again, unity with God) who now shepherds his people.
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.”
The unusual image of a Lamb serving as a shepherd follows the biblical theme of our Lord, Jesus, as the shepherd of His people starting all the way back in Gen. 49:24; Ps. 23; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:23; John 10; 1 Pet. 2:25; Heb. 13:20).
Finally, we are told that God will wipe away their tears of suffering and sorrow, a touching image proving care from the tender hand of our loving heavenly Father.
There are at least three major points of application.
God is in the process of redeeming a multicultural people, and we are commanded elsewhere in Scripture to join Him in this mission. The great multitude is drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language,” indicating its multicultural character meaning that we ought to SPREAD the Gospel. This expression, repeated seven times in this book, also proves God’s love, He has always desired and planned to have a redeemed people from every nation. Interestingly, cultural distinctives are not totally dissolved in heaven. Rather, it seems here that they are transformed into one choir of praise to our Creator and Redeemer. And the multicultural reality of heaven calls us to be involved now in sharing the gospel with all peoples and embracing believers who are different from us (i.e., in terms of race, language, nationality, social standing, religious background, etc.). John’s vision at the end of Revelation 7 also challenges us not to fall into predictable cultural ruts when it comes to corporate worship. We should, rather, take advantage of these rehearsal opportunities to celebrate our God-given diversity, all to his glory. Last, the great multitude that “no one could count” reminds us that we are not alone in the journey. God designed the Christian life to happen in community.
As we seek our personal victory, we should remember to fight as Christ fought during his earthly ministry: we overcome through suffering. We’ve grown up in the United States have become accustomed to living as citizens of the world’s greatest superpower. Our military might is second to none; our economic and political systems remain the world standard. We also live in an extremely competitive culture, where our most popular sport, or favorite sport, imitates (and often supersedes) Christian worship. These are the kinds of deep cultural commitments confronted by Revelation 7:9–17. The great multitude have won a victory, but they have triumphed and conquered through suffering and sacrifice.
11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
We conquer by relying upon the finished work of Christ and by imitating his manner of life. The Lion conquered as a Lamb—through a willingness to suffer and die. We are an army of potential martyrs. This way of winning must define our lives and our churches. To put it another way, God’s strength is made obvious through our weakness.
Last, The only proper response to God’s sustaining presence and protection is pure adoration-- worship. This passage reminds us of the importance of corporate worship. The great multitude “serves” God primarily through worship. Corporate worship should not be considered second-rate when compared to other ministries; ministries are essential “service.” Intentional, enthusiastic worship of God in Spirit and truth now for all He has done can only prepare us all the more for life in the new heaven and new earth, where the primary activity will be worship .
God is right now in the process of redeeming a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
Worship stands as the fitting response to God’s provision of salvation through Jesus Christ.
We endure tribulation today by faithfully relying upon Christ’s atoning sacrifice, just as future saints do.
God promises to protect his people through tribulation and later to comfort and shelter them in His eternal presence.