Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8
Reader: “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne”
Response: “and from the Lamb!”
Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!”
And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”
And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”
Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
“That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
Two days ago we wrote about the breaking of the six seals by the Lamb. Today we want to finish that section. You may want to go back and reread that entry. The book of the Revelation of John is probably the most widely and variously interpreted book in all of Scripture. One thing to keep in mind is that John is describing the indescribable. He’s been given a vision of the ending of this world and the central role of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God in the culmination of human history. With words that are limited and inadequate in their power, he describes the indescribable the best he can.
The passage we are concerned with takes place in the throne room of heaven. (cf. Isaiah 6, Daniel 7) The numberless crowd described are those believers from “every nation and tribe and people and language.” Have you ever wondered why the “and” is between each division? Why not just put commas? Could it be that the Spirit is making a point of the distinctiveness of each classification? When people become believers, they do not lose their distinctiveness; but gain their true identity in Christ. These people make up the worldwide Church. Would that our present world would understand this truth as the racial and ethnic struggles continue. God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to be the father of many nations.
The believers are dressed in white robes, signifying the resurrection glory and the imputed righteousness of Christ. Palm branches were a sign of victory in the Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures. Together with willow, myrtle, and citron branches they formed the lulab which were waved as the Jews recited Ps.118:25 crying “O Lord, save us!” which translates in Hebrew as “Hosanna!” The waving of palm branches explains the hopeful celebration occurring on Palm Sunday. We then have another glorious angelic hymn framed by “Amen!” and seven words of worship, the perfect number, each separated by the conjunction “and” again bringing heightened foci to each expression.
That John is very conscious in the midst of this vision is evidenced by his conversation with one of the twenty-four elders. (Often in a vision, one of the characters will ask a rhetorical question for the purpose of giving further explanation of the vision. Such is the case here.) The elder identifies the vast crowd as those who have died in the tribulation. It is paradoxical that the robes are made white by washing them in the blood of the Lamb. The washing of the robes is an expression of exercising faith in Christ. It is the righteousness of Christ with which the crowd is clothed. The phrase “serve him day and night” is an expression meaning continuously. It is not referring to a literal day and night for John tells us elsewhere there is no night there in heaven (22:5).
This pericope concludes with a description of the crowd’s worship of God before his throne. They will never be hungry or thirsty, (remember the “living water” Jesus promised to the woman at the well in the heat of the day?) Then there is the beautiful irony of the Lamb being the Shepherd and caring for his sheep.
So, how does all of this strike you? What’s the purpose? Through the revelation to John, God has given us a marvelous word of encouragement for our time on earth. We’ve been given a peek into what lies ahead. All the injustices, pains, sorrows, losses, frustrations, joys, successes, failures, disappointments, and triumphs will be replaced by a life more spectacular than we can begin to imagine as we are in the very presence of our God who loves us and gave himself to make possible our dwelling with him for all eternity! This is all true and helps put the events of our lives today and this world into heavenly perspective.
Music: “Blessing, Glory, and Wisdom” JS Bach Columbine Chorale
This is a setting of the hymn text of our passage.
Prayer:Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. ―from BCP