May 24, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 20:20 in the audio file.
Or, Salvation Belongs to Our Lord
John sees two visions between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. The first vision, in Revelation 7:1-8, concerned the sealing of 144k of the sons of Israel, which I believe refers to a future generation of Jews who are chosen to believe in, and witness for, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
The group in the first vision is portrayed with a definite number from a distinct people group, while the group in this second vision are portrayed as innumerable and from all the people groups on earth. Also, the first group are on earth, this second group are in heaven, around the throne of God and the Lamb.
As we look at verses 9-17 we will see the worship of the saved, then we’ll see more about their identity and the divine favors they receive.
In contrast to the “number” of the sealed in verse 4, John writes,
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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
More details about the identity of this group are the focus starting in verse 13, but here, the focus is on the contrast with the preceding vision. No one tries to count this multitude, and there are no limits or boundary lines based on ethnicity or family or location. Every nation andall tribes and peoples and languages are represented. It doesn’t say that all people are saved, but that all kinds of people are saved.
This belongs with God’s covenant to Abram/Abraham (Genesis 17:4-6).
“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (Genesis 17:4–6 ESV)
Both Jews and Gentiles are saved (cf. Romans 1:16); in the seed of Abram “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The gate is narrow and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:14), and also the saved are a quite a crowd.
This multitude are in God’s presence, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Unlike the throne room vision of chapter 5, these are human rather than angelic beings. They are accepted before God, and their white robes suggest at least purity if not even more a context of conquering and victory. The palm branches belong with the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40, 43), a remembering and rejoicing in the Lord’s victory for His people as He delivered them from the Egyptians.
This is a praise service, wherein they shout with loud shouts, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” It’s how they got before Him, because He saved them. Salvation is God’s work, a monergistic effort, though two divine Persons are mentioned, and we know that the third Person of the Trinity also accomplishes the one will. The phrase, “salvation belongs to” is not very frequent in the Bible, found in Psalm 3:8 and Jonah 2:9 and here in Revelation. It is not just a great shout, it is the hope of men and the eternal lyric of worship. We do not trust in horses (Psalm 20:7), we do not trust in princes (Psalm 118:9; 146:3), when troubles come we look to the Lord.
The heavenly choir from chapter 5 are back to add on their praise.
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 worshipped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”
We’ve seen all of these beings before, but this time they are responding to the saved rather than to the Savior. As Peter described that angels long to look into the saving work of Christ (1 Peter 1:12), now the angels tag on to the saved who worship the Father and the Son. Jesus Himself said that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10), now think of this multitude. They agree, Amen!, and bookend their doxology with punctuation.
The heavenly beings celebrated most of these attributes of God in chapter 5. Eulogia is blesssing, a good word or praise. Doxa is the glory, a brilliance and majesty. Sophia is wisdom, insight and understanding. Eucharistia is thanksgiving, gratitude. Timē is honor and esteem. Dunamis is power, potency to work. Andischus is might, the application and effectualness of His strength. God, in His saving work, is excellent in all His attributes. Salvation belongs to Him.
So far, it’s what John saw. Now he gets part of his own vision explained to him. He was minding his own vision, when he is asked a question. Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where do they come?” It’s not rhetorical, perhaps it’s Socratic, as in, provoking John’s wonder at something he needed to pay more attention to. Turns out, the identity of this multitude wasn’t obvious to him. I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Respectfully, why are you asking me?
Verse 14 is not hard to read, but it has given interpreters fits. 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.”
So, here are some questions. Is this the great tribulation? Is the great tribulation done, happening, or to come? Is the “great multitude” only from the great tribulation? And, how does blood wash something white?
Among a variety of options, why wouldn’t it work to take the elder’s answer at face value? What if this is the capital GT, the Great Tribulation, that has been initiated with the breaking of the seals but is about to get seriously woeful with the seventh seal and the pouring out of the bowls of judgment?
Reading the book of Revelation without seeing the bowls and trumpets as recycling the seals, the vision John sees at this point fits with the witness of the 144k and fits with the just conquering victory of the saints in the midst of tribulation. There is a the in the text, and we’ve come to the point of pandemic level persecution and pressures. It sounds like Daniel’s prophecy:
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. (Daniel 12:1 ESV)
Those sealed in the first vision are part of the second vision, but not there are many more from among not the sons of Israel, so, Gentiles. Those coming out of the great tribulation could be martyred or could die from other difficulties caused during the tribulation, but they do not lose their faith in Christ. Their white robes are related to the white robes of the martyrs under the altar in 6:9-11, and yet they are not explicitly called martyrs here as elsewhere identified in Revelation (see 6:9, 20:4).
It is a striking metaphor, to wash robes white in blood, but the conscience cleansing, sin-forgiving atonement of the Lamb makes us pure in His sight, and holiness is required for that to be in His presence.
The remaining part of the elder’s answer describes some of the favors given to the saved. Some of these divine blessings, generous preference for His own, were promised long ago to God’s people. They are with God, He leads them as a shepherd, and He comforts them.
Because the saved did not compromise their faith in the Lamb, Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple; meaning that they are accepted and they worship uninterrupted. Now we are seated with God in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6), but here in Revelation is more than spiritual position. He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence, meaning that the great Lord of lords will protect them. Being in His presence is reward, and His presence is refuge.
The promises in the next couple verses resonate with promises given to the Jewish exiles coming back from Babylon.
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.
(Isaiah 49:10 ESV)
The key difference is the addition of no more and anymore: They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. The longing of their souls shall be satisfied in His presence, and the longings of their bodies shall be satisfied by His provision. No more deprivation. No more hunger and thirst. As God protects from their enemies, so He protects from the elements.
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.” Maybe more mixed metaphor than blood washing white is a Lamb being the shepherd. He is the Shepherd Lamb, not just a shepherd of lambs. Of course God revealed Himself as shepherd to His people, and Jesus referred to Himself as the good shepherd. But that part of our relationship will not end even in heaven.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears
from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away
from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8 ESV)
To wipe away is to erase, to leave no trace, as with graffiti letters, blotted up and blotted out.
The springs of living water are never dry, never still, and never contaminated. They will not stop flowing, while the tears of our suffering will. It is a tender picture, not just removing reason for crying, but of gently wiping away tears down the cheek.
We are not in the great tribulation, nor do I think we will be here for it. That means we are not those “coming out of the great tribulation,” but, we do say, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” We are those who will be clothed in white, and there is no other name than the Lord Jesus, and no other blood than the Lamb, by whom we will be brought into the blessing of God’s presence.
Beloved, God has committed Himself and His resources and His future to your salvation. Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. He has purchased peace for you, He has purchased strength for you, He has purchased you and your life for Him. Serve Him day and night, give Him your tears and your troubles. Follow the Shepherd Lamb.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)