Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17
Text: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come 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 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
In the series of lessons chosen for the church year, we find ourselves looking at a number of readings from the book of Revelation. As you know, there are many pictures in the book of Revelation of what the end times will be like. We also find many pictures that describe life in heaven. The reason the book of Revelation was given to the apostle John was to comfort and strengthen the Christians of that day, who were facing persecution. John himself was exiled to a little island off the coast of modern-day Turkey for speaking to others about Jesus. Jesus had compassion on his flock and wanted to assure them that this would pass, and heaven would be theirs. This is the overriding theme of Revelation. This morning, we turn our attention to the seventh chapter. There we, as the hymn writer wrote, BEHOLD A HOST ARRAYED IN WHITE. As we study this portion of God’s Word, we shall see 1. How We Join Them and 2. What We Will Enjoy With Them.
John begins by telling us, “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Verse 9) He goes on to describe them by saying, “They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Verse 9) The palm branch is a symbol of victory and strength. It was used on festive occasions. It was not a coincidence that palm branches paved the road as Jesus entered Jerusalem before his death. The people were giving him a hero’s welcome. Here was the one who was going to save them. This is also true of this great multitude of people in heaven, with palm branches as symbols of victory. It’s interesting to note that years ago, Christians were buried with palm branches in their hands.
This great multitude of people sang a hymn of praise. “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Verse 10) They were praising God for giving salvation. Salvation can only come from him. It belonged to God who was willing to share it. This great multitude from every land and nation gathered together to sing the praises of God and his Son, Jesus, who is the Lamb. This heavenly host praised God for the gift of salvation.
An elder turned to John and asked him a question, a question that you might be asking yourself, “These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?” (Verse 13) It is possible that John knew the answer to the elder’s question. Yet, he was content with having the elder answer his own question. John said, “Sir, you know.” (Verse 14) The elder, then, tells John, and us, as well, who this great multitude of people, this host arrayed in white, is. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Verse 14)
This multitude was the believers who have died and gone to heaven. The elder said that they had “come out of the great tribulation.” What is this “great tribulation?” Is it a specific time of suffering that some people will have to go through before Jesus returns? Some people who believe in millennialism will tell you this is the case. They believe that the Christians will be raptured, that is, taken to heaven, and then there will be seven years of great tribulation. At this point, Jesus will return. This cannot be the case. The elder said that they had come through the great tribulation, that is to say, they had already experienced it and then were taken out of it.
If it is not a specific time period, as some say, what is it? It is the hardships and sufferings which a Christian goes through before they enter eternal life. St. Peter says in his first epistle, “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” (1 Peter 3:14) The book of Acts describes this period of time in this way, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) This multitude, this host, had seen the trials and sufferings of this life and had received their reward in heaven. They had undergone all the trials and were enjoying eternal rest and peace in heaven.
Now, how can we join them? How can we become one of this host arrayed in white? We become a member of this host in the same way that they joined this multitude. The elder described this host as being people who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Verse 14) What the elder is saying is that they have had all their sins forgiven. White is a symbol of purity or holiness. We, too, wash our robes in the blood of Jesus and make them pure.
Our robes, or our lives, were not always so white. Our sins gave us huge, ugly stains that we could not clean up, no matter how hard we tried. Not that we tried all that hard, mind you. We were content, nay, we were proud of those stains. We were willing to walk about in our sin-stained clothes. Our sins were many. There are sins we commit every day. However, if we have those sin-stained robes, we will not be joining that host in heaven. There is another gathering, for those with stains, and that is eternal punishment in hell. That is where you and I deserved to go.
But, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, came to the earth and lived for us. He suffered and died on the cross for us. He allowed his blood to be shed, so that our sin-stained lives might be washed in his blood. Those who are brought to faith come to the stream of Jesus’ blood and wash their lives clean from sin. They have the white robes that God requires for entrance into heaven. Let us come quickly when we sin and be cleansed of that sin. Let us be washed clean, for we know that this is how we join that host arrayed in white. This multitude comes from every corner of the world. All are united to sing God’s praises forever. Because we have been cleansed, we join the Host Arrayed in White in Heaven.
The elder goes on to describe the joy and bliss that will be theirs because they are dressed in those robes of white. He describes it in two different ways. He tells what will be theirs and he, also, tells what will be taken from them. That latter point sounds somewhat strange, at first. Normally, we think of all the things that will be given to us when we get to heaven. Rarely, do we think of things being taken away.
Yet, this is exactly what is described in verse 16, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.” All these effects of sin will be taken from us. Hunger and thirst will be taken from us. Hunger and thirst are part of God’s creation, and thus are God-pleasing. We know that they were part of creation, for God gave Adam and Eve instructions as to which trees they could and could not eat from. What is being spoken of here is not just being hungry or thirsty. It is starvation. It is the inability to find enough to feed yourself and your family. That constant worry about providing for your family will be gone.
It mentions the beating of the sun. The sin was created to help man. However, when Adam and Eve sinned, the sun was also affected. Now the sun’s heat burns the crops. It causes man to become weak, sick and even die. In heaven, there will be no adverse weather conditions. Man will no need to worry about it. All will be perfect. These things will be taken away from us when we join the host arrayed in white.
The elder also mentions joys that will be given to us. He says in verse 15, “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.” We will be with God. We will be in his presence. We are also told that we will serve God for all eternity. What a blessing it will be to finally be able to serve God without the taint of sin. That is something that we cannot do here on the earth. I want to do what is right, but sin is always there. Finally, in heaven, I will be able to serve God perfectly. We are told that God will “shelter” us. We will be under his protection, safe and secure for eternity. Nothing evil will be able to touch us.
The elder goes on to describe other blessings that we will be able to enjoy, when we join that host in white. “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’” (Verse 17) Again, we have the idea of God’s presence. We have an added comfort. “The Lamb . . . will be their shepherd.” At first, that might sound strange, as though John was mixing up his pictures. However, we know that Jesus is the Lamb of God, as he is often pictured in Scriptures. We, also, hear from Jesus’ own lips, “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) The shepherd takes care of his sheep. So also, Jesus will take care of us for all eternity. We are told, “He will lead them to springs of living water.” Doesn’t that remind you of Psalm 23, which speaks of the Lord as our shepherd? Verse two of that psalm tells us, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” How we long for that day when we will join the host arrayed in white.
There is one last thing that will be taken from us. Is there anything that is bothering you at this moment? Is there heartache in your life for one reason or another? Are there problems that seem insurmountable? To these situations, we are told, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Verse 17) Just like a father or mother picks up a child who has fallen and scraped their knee and wipes their tears, so God, our heavenly Father, will pick us, his children, up and comfort us, wiping away every tear that this sinful world has produced. What a beautiful picture of love that God has for his children. Yes, right now there will be tears as we go on our way. How we look forward to the time when God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. How we long to enjoy the blessings that those who have gone before us are enjoying right now. That host arrayed in white has received their crowns of glory from Jesus. They are in bliss right now. We, too, will join them someday and enjoy all those blessings. May God keep all us faithful to the end.
You can see how verses like our text could strengthen and comfort the churches of John’s day as they underwent persecution. The words of our text are also meant to buoy us up when life is rough. They remind us of our God’s amazing love for us. They assure us that he will continue to be with us until that day when we are with him forever. Lord, we long for the day when we will join the hosts in white and enjoy all that you have prepared for us. Amen.
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