Pastor Scott Andrews | October 2, 2022
Who would have thought that Revelation 7 would appear as a bright ray of hope in the midst of chaos, mayhem and destruction – indeed, God’s wrath being poured out on the earth? You see, from Revelation chapters 6 to16, we find God judging the earth in the form of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. Regardless of your theological position regarding the timing of these judgments, almost everyone agrees that things will get worse and worse until the return of Christ. Through my study, I’ve come to the understanding that most if not all of these judgments happen in the future – right before the second coming.
These chapters are quite challenging – and we’ve only just begun. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been covering each chapter in about two sermons. Why? I don’t want us to get lost in the details of the coming destruction – you know, trying to figure out if the locusts are helicopters. Rather, I want to keep the purpose of the book before us. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ. I want us to leave with a grander view of Christ – more in awe and in love, more faithfully committed to and worshiping Him. Further, this book was written to suffering believers to encourage them – God has not forgotten you, and the end of all things is fast approaching when things get worse and worse. But, you will be protected and vindicated. Hold on, Jesus is coming back, and He will deliver you.
We’ve seen the first six seals, which include war and civil strife and famine and death. It includes martyrs under the altar in heaven asking for God to avenge their deaths – but the response was – hold on, there are more martyrs to come. It includes the earth dwellers – the unbelievers – those who have rejected Christ and His gospel – fleeing to the mountains and the caves, calling for the rocks to fall on them – to hide them from the wrath of God and the wrath of Lamb.
And so, you do understand – this is what awaits all those friends and neighbors and coworkers and roommates and family members who think you’re crazy with this religious stuff – who live for themselves – who embrace their sin rather than Christ. What is our response to be, knowing what is coming?
Now, it is true, believers are not destined for this wrath. We celebrate that. In fact, we saw last week God seals His own during this time of tribulation. The seal signifies ownership, authenticity, and protection. We will be protected, delivered from God’s wrath. But to be clear, that does not mean we will be protected, delivered from the ire and persecution of unbelievers. Quite the opposite. As God’s wrath increases, so also will their opposition toward us.
But we know the end of the book, right? So, what is our response to a culture that is already becoming non-Christian – even more – anti-Christian? One thing I’ve noticed happening is the church is being more and more assimilated into the culture – rather than the other way around. Once held biblical truth and holy behavior is being jettisoned as antiquated, in need of updating. Moral issues have been politicized under the guise of care and acceptance and non-judgment – which again, have trumped biblical standards, principles of truth and behavior. After all, I don’t want to sound weird or backward – and certainly not bigoted, racist and phobic. You have noticed, right – if you’re against something the Scripture is clearly against, you’re phobic in some way.
Further, most concerning, in this cultural climate, less and less of us are concerned about lost people and what’s coming. Let’s just get along. Who am I to suggest certain beliefs and behaviors are wrong? You see, we’ve been assimilated into the culture.
What is our response to be as we read these challenging chapters? They’ll get theirs? They will. But should not our response be to capture for the kingdom through the gospel as many of them as we can? Should not our hearts be grieved for what is coming. The tribulation is not here – it may be upon us, I don’t know. And while it is true that persecution will increase, we will ultimately be victorious. But unbelievers will face the awesome, awful, righteous wrath of God.
As we read our text today, I want us to be gripped with the multitude of believers surrounding the throne from every nation, tribe, people and tongue. Here’s a question: who will be there because we’ve shared the gospel with them? Yes, I understand they will be there because of the work of Christ – we will see and celebrate that in communion today. They will be there as those chosen by God to receive His grace. But He has also chosen that we be His instruments of reconciliation. Should not these chapters of pending wrath cause us to redouble our efforts?
Well, read the text with me – Revelation 7:9-17.
This is a joy-filled passage. And so, I want you to be encouraged, and I also want it to encourage us to invite others – compel others – there’s room in heaven in the great multitude for you. I love you, and I want you to join me there. Here’s the outline of the text:
- The Great Multitude (9-10)
- The Praise of Heaven (11-12)
- The Identity of the Multitude (13-14)
- The Promises to the Multitude (15-17)
Look at verses 9 and 10. After these things – that is, after I saw the 144,000 sealed on earth, I looked and saw something else – behold, a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne – that is, before God sitting on His throne – and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands.
Now, some suggest this is the same group as the 144,000 – that that number represents the perfect number – remember, 12 times 12 times 1000 – God’s people sealed during the tribulation on earth, and now we see them in heaven. It may be, but I don’t think that’s quite right, even though held by many scholars I follow and respect. The differences are too great:
- The first group is on earth, the second is in heaven.
- The first are Jews from every tribe of the sons of Israel, the second is from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.
- The first is numbered – 144,000 – the second is innumerable, uncountable.
So then, who are these? We’ll see that in our third point. But at this point, we know this is a multitude so great, they cannot be counted. It’s not as if someone tried to count – 1,2,3 – hold still – no, from first glance, John knows that is too large to number.
Again, we see that they come from every people group around the world – every nation, tribe, people and tongue. And we perhaps remember what God said to Abraham when He called him way back in Genesis 12:
1 Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Is this the fulfillment of that promise – that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham? Absolutely. How? The Messiah came from Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob, through Judah and David – all the way to Jesus, the son of Mary – and more, the Son of God. God made the same promise to Isaac in Genesis 26, and to Jacob in Genesis 28. And don’t miss – I’ll make you into a great nation – we saw that at the beginning of Revelation 7 when 144,000 were sealed from the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. Yes, there were millions more ethnic Jews, but at this point – 144,000 of them are sealed as followers of Jesus. And it is possible that they represent the perfect number of Jews to be saved.
As I noted last week – it’s so important we see this – chapter 6 and the sixth seal ended with this question from those in the caves and among the rocks pleading for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God and the Lamb – they said, “for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Chapter 7 is the answer to that question. Look at verse 9, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count was standing before the throne and before the Lamb. That’s who is able to stand.
Which again struck me in my study this week. All those who know Jesus and surrender to His Lordship and His gospel – they alone will stand before the throne and before the Lamb. The road is broad that leads to destruction, Jesus said, and many there be that find it. And the road to life is narrow, and few there be that find it. These are the only ones who will stand – the rest will hide. Who do you know that today would not so stand? Who have you intended to share the gospel with, or neglected to share the gospel with? Who will right now cry out for the mountains to fall on them? Tell them the good news of Jesus.
You say, I don’t know enough. You know what Jesus did for you. Share that with them. I don’t know all the answers to questions. That’s alright – tell them you’ll get back to them. What if they don’t believe? It’s not yours to make them believe – that’s God’s job. You do your job, share the good news, let God do His.
What if they ridicule me, ostracize me – then you are most blessed. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.” So invite them to be part of this crowd rather than the one in chapter 6. You are either in chapter 6 or chapter 7.
John tells us further that these were wearing white robes and had palm branches in their hands. Some suggest that since those under that altar in the fifth seal in chapter six were martyrs – since they were given white robes – that these are the martyrs – part of their brothers who were yet to be killed. It’s possible. But John throughout the book is pretty clear when he’s talking about martyrs. Further, in other places, we see God’s children – all followers of Jesus – are given white robes to wear. The word for robes here speaks of long flowing robes, often worn by military leaders in the Roman Empire after a victory. These are robes of victory.
Notice also, they had palm branches in their hands. Another symbol of victory and celebration. We remember the crowds in Jerusalem waved palm branches when Jesus rode in on the colt of a donkey. They thought Him to be the victorious one who would deliver them from their oppressors. Of course, Jesus came not to deliver from Rome, but from sin. So in that sense, these white robes and palm branches signaled God’s victory over sin and Satan and all the forces of evil. But it is God’s victory.
And it means more, because notice in verse 10, this multitude cries out with a loud voice – this is not some bored, disinterested crowd – they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” Don’t miss how both the Father on the throne and the Lamb, the Son, are equated and praised as God. How are they praised? Salvation to our God – which simply means – God and the Lamb are the ones who both own and bestow salvation. Salvation comes from God alone – the Father who is sovereign on His throne, the Son who is the sacrificed Lamb, and the Spirit who regenerates dead unbelievers and brings them to life.
Bringing us to our second point – the praise of heaven. I can’t help but say as I did in chapters 4 and 5 – the praise of heaven is constant, consistent, exuberant, loud, and joy-filled. And all the angels were standing around the throne – remember from chapter 5, that’s myriads of myriads – ten thousand times ten thousand – they were standing around the throne with the 24 elders and four living creatures – and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. Stop right there.
This is another common feature of worship – beings so overcome with the grace and mercy of God, they fall on their faces. But don’t miss – to whom is this salvation given? To people from every nation. And the angels fall to their faces in worship. That’s interesting. Peter tells us that the angels long to look into this gospel – it was not for them – it was for people. When angels rebelled, they were expelled in heaven. When people rebelled, God sent His Son to die for them. Angels are overwhelmed by this mercy – and they are not even mercy’s recipients.
And, we remember the parables of the lost things in Luke 15. The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. And when the sheep is lost, the shepherd leaves the 99, and goes after the one. And when the lost sheep is found, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says, rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. And we find there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.
And when the woman, who had ten silver coins lost one, when she finds the coin, she calls together her friends and neighbors, and says, rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that was lost. And we read again, there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents. And when the prodigal son returns, the father invites all around to rejoice – because the one who was lost has been found.
The angels rejoice over one sinner. Here, when they see the multitude of saved people surrounding the throne, they fall on their faces and worship. Should we not be as committed to the salvation of lost people – to search for them – and rejoice when we find one? All heaven is rejoicing. (Baptism)
What do the angels say? Verse 12, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever, Amen.”
They say amen – so be it – it is true – to what the people have just proclaimed. Amen, salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. They then, from prostrate, face down positions, ascribe seven attributes or qualities to or about God. Except for one, these are exactly the same in chapter 5:12. Now, by ascribing these things to God – they aren’t giving Him these things – they are simply announcing that which is already true of Him. For example, we don’t give God glory – we simply proclaim His glory – we make it known.
Interestingly, all seven ascriptions here have the definite article. It would be awkward to translate it that way, but it actually says, Amen, the blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the might be to our God forever and ever. Amen. He alone is worthy of this praise.
Which brings us to our third point – the identity of the multitude in verses 13 and 14. In common prophetic writings – especially apocalyptic writings, truth is revealed in this question/answer format. One of the elders says to John, “These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” John answered – not knowing the answer, but knowing the elder did – it was elder’s way of acknowledging John’s bewilderment. So John replied, My lord, you know. Lord is simply a term of respect, not deity.
And the elder said to John, first answering where they came from – don’t miss it. These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation. It’s actually in the present tense – these are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation. The great tribulation has the definite article, and most suggest it refers to this period of time beginning with the seals and going through the trumpets and bowls. These are believers who have died – either through natural causes or by martyrdom – during the tribulation. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I think believers will be in the great tribulation – they haven’t come out through rapture, they are coming out of it in another way – seemingly through death.
Now, why when these die, do they come to stand in the presence of God? Because of who they are – they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. So, we see these white robes not only indicate victory but also salvation by justification and the work of Christ. That is, they have been cleansed, they have been made righteous – how? By the blood of the Lamb. Now don’t let our familiarity with hymns remove the shock of this statement:
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
We’re so familiar with the words that we no longer surprised by what they say. We’re familiar with Isaish 1, “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” How does that work – washing your filthy garments in blood to clean them – to make them white? Would not scarlet sins washed in blood make them more scarlet?
We know the answer, of course. To be washed by the blood of the Lamb is the only way to remove sin’s guilty stains from us. You can’t do it – you’re dead in trespasses and sin. You need someone else. The only way to wear white robes – purified, cleansed – is through the finished work of the Lamb on the cross, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the way, and the only way, people will be able to stand before God’s wrath – is to accept that God’s wrath for sin was poured out on His Son and repent, and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. To believe the gospel is to have sins removed, and to one day stand in the presence of God and the Lamb.
Very quickly, our last point – the promises to the multitude in verses 15-17. For this reason – because they have had their robes made white in the blood of the Lamb, they receive as gifts of grace the following:
- First, they are granted the privilege of standing before the throne of God.
- Second, there they will serve Him day and night – meaning endlessly – in His temple. This service likely comes from those ascriptions of praise. By the way, we have seen elements of the true temple in heaven throughout the book – the altar, for example. But in Revelation 21, we find in the new heaven and new earth there is no temple, for God and the Lamb are the temple. The temple is the dwelling place of God, but in eternity, God will dwell with us and we will be His people – so where He is, is the temple. So most suggest this vision of heaven is during the tribulation – when people are populating heaven from earth – and before the new heaven and new earth in chapters 21-22.
- Third, He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. The idea is, He will spread His sovereign and good care over them, so they will be forever protected and not face the things they faced on earth. It will be a place of safety and rest in His presence.
- Fourth, as a result, they will no longer hunger or thirst. We remember the beatitudes again in Matthew 5 – blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Every longing of your heart will be filled with Him.
By the way, one of my commentaries suggested – that doesn’t mean we will never hunger or thirst for God – that we’ll be filled up, well that was nice. No, what it means is every hunger and thirst will be continually satiated. I love that – we will hunger and thirst for God – and we will be continually filled. Further, the sun nor heat will bother us – that would have been a welcome promise to the people of the Middle East before air conditioning.
- Fifth, the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd.
Again, we are so familiar with Jesus being the good shepherd that this paradox doesn’t surprise us. But the Lamb is going to be the Shepherd. That doesn’t make sense. Lambs are sheep – they aren’t shepherds. But this one is. This Good Shepherd gave His life up for the sheep. This Lamb was sacrificed for the sheep. And thereby, He becomes our eternal shepherd. Don’t miss that the very famous Psalm 23 says, The Lord – that is Yahweh – God is my shepherd, I shall not want. Now, John says, Jesus is that shepherd. No problem, you see, declaring Jesus as God.
And I shall not want because He leads me beside still waters – here, He will guide us to springs of the water of life. And again, we remember that Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water I give him shall never thirst, but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water spring up to eternal life.”
- Sixth, and last, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Tears of sorrow, tears of joy – not sure. But they will be wiped away. By the way, this passage is very similar to Revelation 21 causing some to suggest this is the new heaven and the new earth. They might be right, but God can equally provide those blessings to the saints in heaven before they reach the final eternal at the end of the book.
This is what awaits those who know Jesus. To be standing around the throne of God with all the saints, enjoying these eternal blessings, worshiping God. But those who don’t know Jesus – whose lives are still stained with sin? Chapter 6 – who is able to stand?
There is an old story told of an old man on the street – not necessarily homeless – just beaten and battered by life. A Christian sees him and decides to share the gospel with him. He listens. It sounds like such good news. Hope swells in his chest – he sits up a little straighter. But then, in a moment, he slumps back into his despair. The Christian evangelist asks, what’s wrong? The man answers, if this is true, why haven’t I heard it before? If this true, wouldn’t you Christians be spreading the news far and wide? Because everyone is in chapter 6, or chapter 7.
Perhaps you’re here this morning and you’re not sure about all this. You’re interested, you come, but all this Revelation stuff sounds weird, ominous. Further, you’ve never given your life in faith to Jesus Christ. I want to encourage you to believe today.
Perhaps, you’ve believed the lie that most people tell themselves – that you’re basically good. You’re fine. I want you to know, gently, graciously, that you are not good – you are not okay. I want to tell you, you either live in chapter 6, or chapter 7. You will be subject to God’s wrath, or His mercy. Salvation is not accomplished by being good. Even coming to church. It was purchased by Christ shedding His blood on the cross and dying in your place. Would you please believe that today – and know for sure that you are washed – made righteous not by your own good works, of which you have none – but you are made righteous by the work of Christ.