Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation

Revelation 7

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.”

I still chuckle when I think about something my brother Condy told me thirty years ago. It was after a high school football game. Our team, the mighty fighting Thomas Sumter Academy Generals of Dalzell, SC, had just finished a tight game that came down to the last second. The game ended and Condy and one his friends were walking to his car behind the school when he heard a noise coming from the bushes. He stopped and looked and there was one of our star players sitting in the bushes crying. My brother said (and I will change his name here because if this guy is as big now as he was then, I do not want him to know that I talked about this!), “Bob, what is wrong? Why are you crying, man?” Bob, sitting in his football pads, his head in his hands, crying, said, “We lost! We lost! I can’t believe we lost!”

My brother said, “What?”

He said, “We lost! We lost the game!”

My brother paused and said. “Bob, we did not lose. We won! We won!”

Bob looked up. “What? We won?!”

Condy said, “Yeah, we won. Bob!” And my brother’s friend added, “You ran in the winning touchdown!”

Bob, God bless him, stood up, his face now transformed into one of joy, picked Condy up and hugged him tight and said, “We won! We won! We won!” And then ran off celebrating into the distance.

As I say, I still laugh about this. Bob was a great football player, but he was not necessarily a…well, anyway, he may hear this after all, so let us just leave it at that.

It is amazing how the knowledge of victory can pull us from sorry to joy, from despair to jubilation, from depression to happiness! I think this is a word we need to hear, and I think that this is one of the great points of the amazing interlude that is Revelation 7.

Church, lift up your heads! Stop weeping! Stop despairing! The Lamb has won! The Lamb will win! And we who are on His team will win through Him!

The church militant.

Last week I argued that Revelation 7 is a picture of the totality of God’s people on earth both now and on through the tribulation coming up to the second coming of Jesus. We considered the first half of the chapter, the 144,000, that amazing symbolic depiction of the church—both Jews and Gentiles alike, all who have called on the name of Jesus—sealed and protected by the Lord in the midst of the dark and difficult days leading up to His return. Now we turn to the second half of Revelation 7 and, in doing so, we get yet another perspective on the people of God.

This is important to understand: Revelation 7 gives us two perspectives on the people of God. These are:

  1. The Church Militant [ecclesia militans] (7:1-8)
  2. The Church Triumphant [ecclesia triumphans] (7:9-17)

Now that first picture, the Church Militant, may give you pause. “Militant” is a bad word in our day, oftentimes. It means, usually, that somebody or some group or some institution is overly-pugnacious, prone to aggression, and is looking for a fight. But that is not what I mean.

The Church Militant is actually an old term in Christian history and I want to make an effort to resurrect it here. The Church Militant (the ecclesia militans, as it is sometimes called) simply refers to the people of God on the earth standing against Satan, his demons, the fallen world order, and all who war against the Lamb.

I think people are hesitant to use this phrase because it sounds violent. But, of course, the church is not a violent army. That is most certainly not what the Church Militant means. No, our “weapon” is love, is the gospel of grace, is the truth of the Kingdom, is the cross and empty tomb. We conquer as we advance the gospel of the Kingdom and the King. We, the church, the people of God, are to array ourselves with the banner of the crucified and risen Lamb and stand with courage for all that is good and right and beautiful, that is, stand for God and the display of His glory among the nations.

Jesus was the first to use this kind of military imagery, by the way. Remember Matthew 16?

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.

That is not a picture of the church passive, the church timid, the church hiding, the church scared, the church sitting in the bushes. That is a picture of the ecclesia militans, the Church Militant, the army of God advancing through the world with the banner of King Jesus lifted high.

Why do I say that the 144,000, the first perspective in Revelation 7, is a picture of the Church Militant, the church as an army? Because John is quite possibly drawing from Numbers 31 in his description of the 144,000. Way back in Numbers 31, Moses is told to muster an army in order to attack the Midianites. Hear Moses’ instructions.

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.

This is truly fascinating! In Numbers 30, 1,000 are taken from each of the twelve tribes, bringing the size of that army to 12,000. In Revelation 7, 12,000 are taken from each tribe (i.e., the size of the entire army mustered in Numbers 31 is now taken from each of the twelve tribes). The people of God are arranged on the earth in Revelation like an army that eclipses all of Israel’s earlier armies. This play on 12s is communicating something powerful, something big, something totalizing. Here again we see the power of the symbolic number, 144,000. The totality of God’s people, Jew and Gentile alike, are not 12,000. No, they are 12,000 from each tribe, 12,000 times twelve, meaning they are manifestly bigger and wider and stronger and greater than anything seen before. The people of God cannot be contained. The followers of the Lamb are spread all over the earth and stand like a great bulwark against all that is evil and Satanic and wicked.

The 144,000 speaks of the church militant. The second half of Revelation speaks of the church triumphant.

The church triumphant.

We have seen the Church Militant. Now let us consider the Church Triumphant (ecclesia triumphans). Revelation 7:9-17 shows us the Church Triumphant, the church in glory, the church home! We can see the triumphant nature of this second picture of the church in three ways.

  • They are described in verse 9 as “clothed in white robes.” Leon Morris observes of this:

The Greek noun stolas signifies long robes, and is much more appropriate to glorious garments than to workaday clothing. That they are white probably points us to justification…White is also the colour of victory, while palm branches, too, were often emblems of triumph.[1]

  • They are described in v.9 as having “palm branches in their hands.” The palm branch is a sign and symbol of victory.
  • They are identified in verse 14 as “the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” Scott Duvall explains the meaning of “coming out.”

The present participle erchomenoi is translated “have come” because of its relationship to the aorist finite verbs in the context (“have washed” and “made”). As a result, the context suggests an event that has already occurred—that is, these people have come through this experience and arrived victoriously in heaven.[2]

In other words, these are the people of God who were sealed in, preserved through, and came out of the tribulation.

Here is the church triumphant! Here is our picture of victory! The church is brought out of tribulation, is clothed is white, and is given palms of victory. And what is the Church Triumphant doing in glory? Listen:

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.”

What a picture! What an image! What glory! The church who triumphs only and ever through the victory of the crucified and risen Lamb now gathers around the throne of the Lamb and cries out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the hosts of heaven crying out, “Amen!” And we receive the unbelievable privilege of being before the throne of God and serving Him.

And what does our glorious God do for His delivered and triumphant church?

He shelters us.

He provides for us.

He protects us.

He blesses us.

He comforts us.

This God who is worthy of all praise continues to pour blessing upon blessing upon us! And we continue to pour praise upon praise upon Him!

See now the whole picture of Revelation 7:

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Ah, church! Do not weep! Do not fear! Do not give up! Do not lose hope!

The Lamb has won!

The Lamb is winning!

The Lamb wins!

And by His grace, we win too!

Let us follow the Lamb! Let us call the nations to follow the Lamb, while there is yet time.

 

[1] Morris, Leon L.. Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 115). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (p. 126). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

3 thoughts on “Revelation 7:9-17

  1. Kudos TO the Great Wymanus Magnificus, johnboy lost his “pew fan” of yesteryear a long, long, long time ago besides they where church property compliments of XYZ company as we sat in the sweltering hot little legalistic box and listened to the pastor rant with zeal………….. you are all headed for hell and will die in hell if you don’t come to Jesus complete with a bunch of sweating adults in black robes behind the man singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and it was just a few moments ago we were downstairs with felt boards being told by some overworked tired mother of 8 about the sweet baby Jesus…….. I thought God was a megalomaniac schizoid man with this massive white beard with that classic “Uncle Sam” wants you look pointing straight @ my 5 yr old soul complete with hurling bolts of lightning 2 miles long complete with psyche shattering thunderclaps……. I got saved @10 but from 5 to 10 it was hell on earth for a whole lifetime for us wuzzies……. “Onward Christian Soldiers” was being sung when God saved me and it weren’t in church; who can get saved when your about to faint from abject fear that I may die and go to hell before we get home if the pot roast burns before we can get home and get out of the clown suit. Go figure! Phillip Yancey became my favorite author for years and we had so much in common other than I was shorter and his afro was a widdle better kept in the early years. My black brothers loved my fro, my folks…….. well, you know the thing. :-) One can be pressed to the breaking point often to say which is more destructive? Out of control legalism or utter rugged individualistic libertine magna cum laude graduate level genius men who OUGHT to know better but just could not except some of us liked being “a common man”…… fanfare for the common man….. the French horns in that piece still gives me goose bumps; got saved in the middle of singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and apart from the Grace of God, I would have resigned then and there, flower power and all that jazz……. the times they are changing or maybe not so much after all…..

  2. Pingback: Revelation | Walking Together Ministries

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