After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen." Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?" and I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "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 dwell among them. "They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; "for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 7:9 - 8:1, NKJV)
We are entering into a section that is marked by fearful Divine workings upon the earth judgments that will constitute retribution upon the ungodly, an awesome pouring out of judgment. The message, however, is not designed to cause debilitating fear among the godly. Before the judgments are described, attention is given to the consolation of the people of God. First, the conclusion of the world will not occur until the purpose of God has been fulfilled to the most precise degree. Even those of the house of Israel, currently estranged from their Maker, will be protected and brought into the fold. None of those "foreknown" by the Lord will be excluded because of the things coming upon the earth (Rom 8:29; 11:2; 2 Tim 2:19.) The true "sheep" are known by the Lord, and will be protected by Him (John 10:27-30).
Some are not able to receive these things because they conflict with their theological views. We must not allow the intrusion of a system of thought that dulls the edge of the Sword of the Spirit. Those who "are persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Matt 5:10), need the reassurance that comes from Divine commitment. The Holy Spirit is more interested in stabilizing suffering saints than in buttressing finely-tuned eschatological persuasions that have been developed by mere men. This book is not written to aid in the development of systematic theological, but to comfort the people of God with a view of the ultimate outcome of their faith.
There simply is too much in the Word of God on this subject for it so be a point of controversy! Those who "cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart" (Acts 11:23) have every reason to be optimistic. Believers with a heart for the people of God can rest their hope in the Lord, knowing He is "able to keep" them "from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24). Whether it is tribulation on a personal level, or a global scale, the sons of God will survive! Satan will NOT be successful in overturning the purpose of God. He will not be able to thwart those whom God has foreknown from coming to Him, nor those who keep the faith from completing their race. The Lord knows how to keep people "safe for Christ" (Jude 1, NRSV), and make those in Christ "to stand" (Rom 14:4). Only eternity will adequately portray the magnitude of salvation. Until then, we have, among many others, the text before us, that expands our vision of God's "so great salvation" (Heb 2:3).
A VISION OF THE REDEEMED
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues . . . " In keeping with the Abrahamic promise, a vast multitude of the redeemed is seen. How glorious the sight. Those of us who have grown too accustomed to small numbers, are delighted to behold the conclusion of project humanity! The promise which Abraham embraced, resulting in him being counted righteous, related to the vast number of the saved. "And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen 15:5-6). The Lord again substantiated the same promise to His "friend." "That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen 22:17-18).
Again, the promise was confirmed to Isaac, the child of promise. "And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen 26:4).
In elaboration of the Abrahamic promise, Jeremiah prophesied of the increase coming through "the seed of David," Who is Jesus. "As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me" (Jer 33:22). Although Jesus died without ever bearing earthly seed, His offspring are so numerous He is called "everlasting Father" (Isa 9:6-7). In Him is found the ultimate fulfillment of the ancient promise, "Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, You who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate Than the children of the married woman," says the LORD. Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited" (Isa 54:1-3, NKJV).
Oh, salvation is an exceeding great enterprise, and we do well to consider it. Where sin did abound, grace did "much more abound" (Rom 5:20). Some will question this reality, but it is plainly declared in Scripture. The very text provided above, is adduced by the Holy Spirit in reference to those in Christ Jesus. "But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise" (Gal 4:26-28, NKJV). If it does not presently appear that salvation is large, take hold on the word of the Lord! The work is not yet completed! But it will be, for "For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth" (Rom 9:28). Christ will be honored, and God glorified, by a number of redeemed that will appropriately complement His vicarious sacrifice!
In reasoning upon this matter, God spoke through Isaiah. While all of the attention was upon the nation of Israel, that was not a sufficient for the Son. His great work required a larger inheritance than that! Thus did the prophet speak, "Indeed He says, It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isa 49:6). The 144,000 in the first part of this chapter were "out of every tribe of the people of Israel" (Rev 7:4). But lest our minds stop there, our vision is stretched to include the whole world! Salvation will reach as far as the curse, not only provisionally, but effectively! Although the Jewish people missed the significance of the prophecies, God often used the prophets to declare the gathering of a people from the Gentiles. The "Root of Jesse," it is affirmed, would be sought by the Gentiles (Isa 11:10). The Messiah would also bring "justice" to the Gentiles a clear reference to the glory of justification (Isa 42:1). Not only would the Savior be given as a "Covenant to the people" (Israel), He would also be "as a Light to the Gentiles" (Isa 42:6). As if beckoning for the nations to come to Him, the Lord declares, "Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, And set up My standard for the peoples" (Isa 49:22).
A Great Influx of Peoples
What we are seeing is a great influx of people following ungodliness being turned away from Jacob (Rom 11:26). This is a marvelous occurrence concerning which little is known. It is as though the Spirit purposefully avoided tantalizing our curiosity. Isaiah was given an intriguing prophecy concerning Israel that whets the spiritual appetite. It reveals the impact Israel will have upon the nations, something hitherto relatively unknown. "It shall come to pass in that day That the LORD shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth" (Isa 11:11-12). Micah also revealed this aspect of the future. "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord's house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall comeand say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion the law shall go forth, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Micah 4:1-2). Something of the magnitude of this was also revealed by Zechariah. "The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, And seek the LORD of hosts. I myself will go also.' Yes, many peoples and strong nations Shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, And to pray before the LORD.' Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zech 8:21-23).
Were this all we had on the subject, there might be justification for thinking this was all fulfilled at the inauguration of the New Covenant on Pentecost. But this is not everything on the matter. The Spirit also spoke of these things with great clarity through the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The Spirit reasons, "Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? . . . For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom 11:12,15, NKJV). If the recovery of Israel were an impossibility, or if it were not on the Divine agenda, this type of reasoning would be absurd. Faith cannot take hold of philosophy, nor can hope spring from the well of supposition. Possibilities are not strong enough to support the weight of trust, nor can they sustain extended effort. The anticipation of good things must have strong support! The above affirmations show us that the best has been reserved for the last. If this conflicts with any view of last things, let God be true, and every man a liar.
We will find the "nations" do not turn to Christ during a great swell of peace and safety, but in "great tribulation." At the expense of their own lives, many of them will embrace the Savior. Until this day, most of the martyrs have come from the Gentiles a most remarkable consideration!
We cannot leave this section without noting the representation of all peoples in this group. They were "of all nations," or from among the Gentiles. This fulfills many prophetic utterances (Psa 67:1,2; 72:11,17; 82:8; 86:9; Isa 2:2; 66:18; Hag 2:7). This also fulfills the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4).
There were representatives from "all . . . kindreds," or families. These are blood relations, in distinction to geographical locations, as promised in Psalm 22:27. "All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You."
The multitude comes from "all . . . people," or united body of individuals, whether kingdom, nation, or city political entities. Again, this is in fulfillment of several prophecies (Psa 47:1; 117:1; 148:11). Isaiah spoke of such a blessing, began at Pentecost, but certainly not confined to that glorious occasion. "And in this mountain The LORD of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain The surface of the covering cast over all people, And the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isa 25:6-7, NKJV). God be praised for this promise!
The inclusion of "all . . . tongues" is also a marvelous display of the sufficiency and efficiency of salvation. The diversity of languages is traced to the curse of God, when the people were dispersed at the tower of Babel project (Gen 11:7). Salvation reverses that situation, as started at Pentecost, where people were united by an understood message (Acts 2:6). Again, the prophets spoke of this type of thing. "For I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory" (Isa 66:18).
Geographical divisions! Blood divisions! Political divisions! Language divisions! God's "great salvation" leaped over them all, bringing together a diversity of people, making them one. This is nothing less than the fulfillment of the vision of the healing waters which was shown to the prophet Ezekiel. He beheld the powerful effects of the Gospel as waters that issued from the house, or dwelling place, of God. As the waters proceeded they became broader and deeper. First they were ankle deep, then knee deep, then to the loins, then deep enough to swim in. The waters became so large they were " a river that could not be passed over." Everywhere they went, they brought healing and restoration. Like a mighty torrent, the healing waters flowed "toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed." Its healing properties were universal, for "every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes." Only a few "swamps and marshes" would not be healed. Fruitfulness in abundance on either side of the river (Ezek 47:1-12). This is a view of the effectiveness of Christ's atonement, and we catch a glimpse of it in our text also.
The vastness of salvation is often questioned, sometimes doubted, and frequently even denied, because of the scarcity of believers in any given generation. There is too much in God's Word, however, to justify small views of a "great salvation." Think of some of the remarkable expressions long this line. "God shall bless us, And all the ends of the earth shall fear Him" (Psa 67:7). "The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God" (Isa 52:10). "The Gentiles shall come to You from the ends of the earth and say, 'Surely our fathers have inherited lies, Worthlessness and unprofitable things'" (Jer 16:19). "And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great to the ends of the earth" (Mic 5:4). "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9). "For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea" (Hab 2:14). No individual, however theologically astute, can remove the optimistic note in this chorus of verses. There will be a great awakening that will dwarf everything before it, and it will be inducted by a the grafting in again of Israel.
A Decisive Blow to Sectarianism
Here a extraordinary and decisive blow is delivered to sectarianism, which dominates the Gentile church. The multitude that we behold is perfectly united, with no schism among them. Together they stand before the throne and the Lamb, arrayed in the very righteousness of God. They are not divided into groups, as men have sought to do upon the earth! I share with you a most excellent statement from a man of God. "Religious sects, which alas! abound, even in Christendom, and which are a calumny on the Gospel, nourish in the minds of their votaries the idea that heaven will be peopled mainly, if not entirely, by those within their own pale." (D. Thomas, 1950). Well said, brother Thomas! Well said!
THEIR POSITION AND STATUS
Before the Throne and the Lamb
This multitude includes the remnant of Israel (144,000), but is not limited to them. This is a picture of "one body," joined together in glorious unity. The location of this great multitude is critical. They do not stand before men, as when they were upon the earth. No longer are they a "spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Cor 4:9). No longer are they "made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things" (1 Cor 4:13). They were "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb 11:13), but they are in their proper habitation now! Hear the blessed declaration. They were " . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . " This is the culmination of their salvation, the objective of their calling, and the goal toward which they ran with patience!
While they were engaged in the "good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12), this throne was the "throne of grace" (Heb 4:16), from which precious resources were received. This is actually the Father's throne, to which Jesus has been exalted, and where He is presently seated (Rev 3:21). This vast multitude had availed themselves of "the Throne" when they walked by faith, drawing near to the One seated upon it (Heb 10:22). Now, through the grace of God, they stand before the Lord trophies of His matchless grace. The promise has been fulfilled: "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior . . . " (Jude 24-25).
Those who desire to complete the race set before them must give due consideration to the conclusion of the race. They must have faith to see themselves in this vast number, standing before the Throne with no condemnation upon them--free at last from the difficulties and vicissitudes of life. Without this dominating consideration, the race is too long, and the battle too fierce. That is why the suffering saints of John's day were provided with a vision of the coming time. Allow me to be candid about this matter. The best laborers in the Kingdom often become weary with battle-fatigue, and nearly faint in their hearts. Those who boast of always being cheerful and on top of the situation simply are not telling the truth. The zone of peace is up ahead it is not in this world!
For this reason, those who only remind us of our duty, never holding before us the conclusion of the warfare, do us great harm. They have robbed our souls, and placed greater burdens upon us. Too, those who emphasize life in this world, failing to set before us the glories of the ages to come, are like the "little foxes that spoil the vines" (Song of Sol 2:15). You who speak in the name of the Lord, hold glory before the people! Tell them of the inheritance, and of their presentation before the throne of God without fault and in a state of inexplicable joy. Whatever you have to say, do not leave the hope of glory obscure. Do not cover it with the black blanket of Law, or the dazzling spread of life in this world. Faith needs to hear about the future. It's eye will fill with tears if it is not able to behold the coming glory!
Behold how the Son of God is honored! The vast multitude stands before the One Who redeemed them "the Lamb." He created the world (Eph 3:9), defeated the devil (Heb 2:14), and trampled under His foot all the kingdoms of the world (Rev 11:15). But His greatest achievement is the reconciliation of the world to God (2 Cor 5:18-20). In this work He paid the greatest price, suffered the greatest humiliation, and experienced the greatest exaltation. In this book, Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb" no less than twenty-seven times (5:6,8,12,13; 6:1,16; 7:9,10,14,17; 12:11; 13:8,11; 14:1,4,10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7,9; 21:14,22,23; 22:1,3). This is "the Word" in His redemptive capacity, and forms the EMPHASIS of this book. By way of comparison, He is referred to as "King" three times (15:3; 17:14; 19:16), "Jesus" fourteen times (1:1,2,5,9; 12:17; 14:12; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4; 22:16,20,21), and "Lord" twenty-two times (1:8; 4:8,11; 6:10; 11:8,15,17; 14:13; 15:3,4; 16:5,7; 17:14; 18:8; 19:1,6,16; 21:22; 22:5,6,20,21). But it is as "the Lamb" that He rises to the height, leading His people through the dark courses of an evil world, and bringing them into the safe habitation of glory. Miss Jesus in His redemptive capacity, and you have missed Him altogether.
Clothed in White
" . . . clothed with white robes . . " Here is justification brought its culmination. This is why it is written, "But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11, NKJV). The imputation of righteousness (Rom 4:11,23,24) is in order to a faultless presentation before the Throne and the Lamb. In this world, imputation affords unreserved acceptance, complete exoneration from all guilt, and fellowship with the Son (Eph 1:6; Acts 13:39; 1 Cor 1:9). Yet all of that is preparatory for the ultimate confrontation! Jesus promised the faithful they would walk Him "in white" (Rev 3:4,5). He admonished lukewarm Laodicea to "buy" white raiment from Him so the could be clothed before Him, and not be ashamed (Rev 3:18). This is nothing less than the appropriation of righteousness the very righteousness of God (Rom 1:16-17; 3:21; 2 Cor 5:21). That righteousness enables the believer to overcome in this world, and stand before Throne in the next one.
We are not to think of salvation as merely being saved from the enemy, or having our past dealt with effectively. That is the beginning of eternal life, but not its consummation. To come short standing "before the throne and the Lamb" in spotless purity is to have failed miserably and completely! The matter of our salvation is not over until Jesus presents us to Himself "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:27). This type of language is again expressed in Revelation 14:4-5. "These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God." Any view of salvation that minimizes or excludes this glorious perspective is dangerous. If embraced, it thrusts the soul into jeopardy, taking from it the true perspective of eternal life. Well did Peter admonish us, "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Pet 3:14). Availing ourselves of the atonement now will yield the coveted benefit of absolute and unquestioned purity when we stand before the Throne and the Lamb.
Palm Branches in Their Hands
" . . . with palm branches in their hands . . . " The language reminds us of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. "The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: 'Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!" (John 12:12-13. NKJV). At that time, Jesus was entering a throng of people. In our text, a throng of people are entering the presence of the Lord. It is a time of much greater recognition and praise than the occasion when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Considering the introductory feasts of the Law, here is the antitype of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the type of the celebration being witnessed. The Feast of Tabernacles was the general harvest festival, and the anniversary of the beginning of Israel's wilderness wanderings. During the Feast, no servile work was to be done. They lived in booths, constructed of various branches, including those from the Palm tree. The point of the Feast was to commemorate deliverance from their desert wanderings and promote thanksgiving for entrance into the promised land (Lev 23:34-44).
The picture before us is of people of faith freed from the trial of life in the world, and standing at last in the real promised land. Their journey to the celestial city, like that of Israel to Canaan, was filled with toil and delay. But, now they are safe at last, standing in the ultimate haven, "before the throne and the Lamb." Now, instead of dwelling in "booths" as Israel, God has "spread HIS tabernacle over them" (Rev 7:15, NASB). While some have interpreted these "palm branches" to be emblematic of triumph and victory, it seems more likely they are indicative of eternal rest. Their trials have subsided, their sufferings have concluded, and they are home at last.
This earth had divided this vast multitude, but salvation united them! All of them now stand before the Throne in joyful submission and adoration. Without exception, every single one of them is clothed in white, impeccable righteousness. All of them are acutely aware of both the Throne and the Lamb, and are prepared to offer insightful praise to Him. It is a glorious picture of entering into rest from the realm in which many of them died for their faith, and all of them suffered for righteousness sake. They certainly do not miss the world! They are now with their Lord.
This multitude is not silent! In unison, they lift their voices in holy ascription. " . . . and crying out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" In keeping with all utterances in this book, they cry out with a "loud voice" (5:2,12; 6:10; 7:2,10; 8:13; 10:3; 12:10; 14:7,9,15; 19:17). Those so speaking include angels, the martyrs, and a redeemed multitude). Satan in all of his various forms ("king," "Dragon," "Destroyer," "Abaddon," "Apollyon," "the Devil," and "Satan" 9:11; 12:3; 20:2) is NEVER said to speak with a "loud voice." Nor, indeed, are his wicked ministers said to do so ("beast," "false prophet" (11:7; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). Satan, nor any of his influential ministers, are capable of speaking so loud as to drown out the heavenly Voice! But when heaven speaks, or those who are stand before the Throne and the Lamb, all else becomes but a faint whisper!
And what does this delivered multitude cry? They take the entirety of their salvation all of it in every aspect and declare it belongs to God and the Lamb! On earth there are arguments about the source of salvation, but not in heaven! Among those who are "absent from the Lord" (2 Cor 5:6), there have been disagreements concerning the cause of salvation. Men have long disputed about the role of works, the place of grace, and the involvement of the human will. And while there may be some degree of value in such disputations, no one standing before the Throne and the Lamb have any question whatsoever about why they are there! "Salvation," in all of its aspects, "belongs to OUR God Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb." On earth, some said they were "of Paul," "of Apollos," and "of Cephas" (1 Cor 1:12). But no such associations are made before the Throne and the Lamb! Stooping even lower, some have chosen to identify themselves with Luther, Calvin, Campbell, and other lesser luminaries. Men have chosen to call themselves Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Charismatic, and a host of other names that divide them from other believers. But no such identity can transfer into the world to come. All such names fall away at the grave. Blessed are the persons who chooses to reject the use such identities BEFORE they stand before the Throne and the Lamb. The name of Jesus is the ONLY name the Father honors.
How glorious is this truth! "Salvation is of the Lord!" (Jonah 2:9), and "Salvation belongs to the Lord!" (Psa 3:8). It is God Who is "working salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psa 74:12), and the multitude before the Throne and the Lamb know it very well. It is HIS salvation (Psa 9:14; 119:81; Isa 51:5,6,8). No wonder it is declared to be "the salvation of God" (Psa 50:23; Lk 3:6; Acts 28:28). From beginning to end, "Salvation belongs to our God . . . and to the Lamb!" From our calling to the completion of the race, it is of God! No facet of salvation, however minuscule, has been wrought independently of God and the Lamb. The Father planned it, and the Son perfected it! God desired it, and the Lamb fulfilled it! This "great salvation" which has come to us involves the activity of both God and the Lamb. At no point have they been idle or uninvolved, and the redeemed multitude know it as they stand before the Throne and the Lamb. By ascribing salvation "to our God which sits upon the Throne," the multitude acknowledges salvation itself is evidence of the Sovereignty of God. Divine rule is evidenced in salvation! Before we came into the Son, He foreknew us (Rom 8:29). Before we called upon the name of the Lord, He protected us (Jude 1). He drew us to the Son, and the Son expounded Him to us (John 6:44; Matt 11:27). It is He Who works everything together for our ultimate good (Rom 8:28). He works in us "both to will and to do of His own good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). It is the Lamb alone Who took away "the sins of the world," satisfying God completely (John 1:29; Heb 9:26; Isa 53:11). The Lamb, and the Lamb alone "destroyed the devil" and "spoiled principalities and powers" (Heb 2:14; Col 2:15). A successful journey through this world is owing to the intercession of Christ (Heb 7:25). The implementation of the New Covenant initially and in personal application is accomplished by the Lamb (Heb 8:6; 12:24). Even the reaping of the saints from the earth will be under the administration of the Lamb (Matt 13:41). "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
In the world, the associations of both the Father and the Son are rarely emphasized in representations of salvation. But it will not be so when the redeemed multitude stand "before the Throne and the Lamb." Because of a preference for lower things, the smoke of the battle has obscured these things from many. They simply live too low, with their minds dwelling on temporal things. As this condition is remedied through faith, and individuals are brought more into harmony with the perspective of the multitude before the Throne, it will become evident that "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!," in its totality, and without a single exception! No flesh will glory in the presence of the Lord!
Remember, we are still in the sixth seal. While the spread of salvation under the leadership of the Jews is doubtless referenced, it is all within the context of the end of the world the consummation of the ages. The world will not come to a conclusion until all of the wheat has been duly sealed and ultimately harvested. Too, here is the conclusion of the whole matter: standing before the Throne and the Lamb in spotless purity and understanding the Source and thoroughness of our salvation. Any presentation of salvation that lacks this perspective is seriously flawed, and is to be summarily rejected. In Christ, you are part of a vast and glorious purpose.
THE HEAVENLY RESPONSE
There is always inter-involvement in heaven. A degree of alertness and participation exists there that is not known in the earth. Nothing is overlooked, and no ascription of praise goes unnoticed. "All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: 'Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.'" The amalgamation of personalities about the Throne respond immediately. From the outer perimeter of angels, to the inner circle of the Living Creatures, the entire group unite in an instant response. Here is precise order, united reaction, and insightful reaction. Notice, their worshipful expression is produced by the confession of truth! Here, no mighty deed is performed by the redeemed only the confession of truth perceived!
It appears to me that this perspective is sorely needed in our time. Much religious response has little to do with the confession of foundational truth. A significant, if not dominating, percentage of reaction among church people has very little to do with the confession of truth. A certain ambience of sensationalism surrounds the contemporary church that succeeds in hiding God, obscuring salvation, and minimizing Christ Jesus. It is a tragic circumstance from which people must be delivered if ever they are to stand spotless before "the Throne and the Lamb." Our reaction in the earth is to be compatible with that in heaven. As Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10).
The enterprise of salvation is here opened fully to the heavenly hierarchy. For ages they desired to "look into" these things (1 Pet 1:12), perceiving in salvation the most extensive Divine working ever undertaken. It transcended the creation itself, and even the climactic giving of the Law at Sinai, which many of them attended, and in which they were instrumental. Now they respond to the confession of the redeemed. They do not merely fall before the Throne and the Lamb, they say something! As it is written, "fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying . . . " Whatever may be said for silence, there is not much of it in heaven! The words of this lofty body of personalities are clear, understandable, and discerning. We ought to here observe, the closer one is to the Throne, the more confession of truth and praise to God will be heard. In passing, it is arresting to notice how often worship is associated with saying something in the Presence of Deity (Gen 24:26-27,48; Job 1:20-21; Matt 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; Mark 5:6-7; Heb 11:21; Rev 5:14; 11:16; 19:4; . . . etc.).
"Amen" Trustworthy! Surely! So be it! Verily! Indeed! Here holy angels and other lofty spirits are approving what men have said. Do not miss how remarkable this is! How far this redeemed multitude has come, to elicit an "AMEN" from such a holy society! These holy beings are satisfied with what the redeemed have said. It has been precise and full of insight! They see the wisdom and glory of the saying and are willing to let it stand as said! There is no flaw in it, no deficiency, no inadequacy. It is thorough and all encompassing. In it is summarized a vast composite of truth that has spanned millennia in its revelation. "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" may appear but introductory to the sophists of this world, but not to illustrious personalities around the Throne. May the Lord grant us to be as impressed with this confession as they are!
The point of this expression is not blessing that COMES from God, but blessing that GOES to Him. Although the saints benefit and are satisfied with salvation, and holy angels, the living creatures and the twenty- four elders are blessed by it, God Himself and the Lamb received the greatest and most extensive benefit! Not only do the saints have an inheritance, God and the Lamb do also! God's "inheritance," we are told, is "in the saints" and it is glorious (Eph 1:18). The Lord Jesus was also promised the "heathen" for His "inheritance" (Psa 2:8). The term "blessing," when ascribed to God, emphasizes Divine satisfaction with His inheritance.
Zephaniah depicted this satisfaction in a remarkable expression. "The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing" (Zeph 3:17). Moses spoke of the Lord taking "delight" in His people, and "rejoicing" over them (Num 14:8; Deut 30:9). The Psalmist wrote of God taking "pleasure" in those fearing Him and hoping in His mercy (Psa 147:11; 149:4). Isaiah also prophesied of God "rejoicing" over His people, and "joying" in them (Isa 62:4-5; 65:19). Jeremiah spoke of the same thing (Jer 32:41). The people of God are even declared to be the "apple" (or pupil) of God's "eye" (Deut 32:10; Psa 17:8; Lam 2:18; Zech 2:8).
"Glory" has to do with the recognition of God and the Lamb in their great salvation. If salvation is the baring, or revelation, of the Divine "arm" (Isa 52:10; Isa 53:1; John 12:38), then "glory" has to do with the perception of that reality. These holy beings exult in the recognition of their God a stance that is common in heavenly places.
Salvation is an economy of "wisdom." The saints have seen it, and so does the heavenly hierarchy. At last, the principalities and powers before whom God has been displaying His "manifold wisdom" (Eph 3:10) behold it in its fulness! The ways of God are too deep for created intelligence to fathom. This it is written, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom 11:33). But God has not left the matter obscure. He has revealed it to the saved through Christ, and to lofty personalities through the church (Eph 3:10) particularly as it stands before the Throne and the Lamb.
The giving of thanks proceeds from understanding--when the work of God is seen and appreciated. The living creatures, elders, and angels do not give thanks to men not to Noah, Abraham, Moses, or the holy prophets. They do not give credit to the Apostles or other writers of Scripture like Luke, James, and Jude. They know, and the testimony of the redeemed confirms, that all thanks go "to our God forever and ever." Were it not for the mighty God, not a single aspect of salvation, whether in reception or in maturity, could have been accomplished. The holy assembly is grateful for this, and brings their sacrifice of praise to the King.
"Honor," in Scripture, is the highest degree of dignity and value. It is not something than can be rendered perfunctorily, or only by procedure. Preciousness and extreme value are associated with honor, particularly as it is ascribed to God Almighty. His pervasive work is seen in all of salvation, and is counted as a precious jewel--of great value. It is as though they are shining the spotlight of attention upon the Author and Perfecter of salvation. The body of the redeemed that stand before Him are trophies of His grace, and precious jewels in His crown (Mal 3:17). Proper praise and worship can only be given when facing the Throne, with all else removed from our attention. That is giving "honor" to Him! The contemporary notion of praise and worship that is gaining momentum is not, to say the least, saturated with "honor" for God. It is, in my estimation, too earthy.
This "power" is working power Omnipotence that is devoted to the accomplishment of God's "eternal purpose." In the world, "power" is used for entertainment and other things that yield no lasting benefit but it is not so with the power of God. Salvation, the most extensive Divine project ever revealed, is nothing less than a display of Divine ability and strength. From an impossible circumstance, the absolute and total fall of mankind, God has extracted a people for Himself, finally causing them to stand before Him in total purity and with extensive insight. The power that has wrought this belongs to God! Now, in this world, we are to seek to have our eyes opened to "the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe" (Eph 1:19).
Although closely related to "power," "might" shows another aspect of Divine initiative. While "power" underscores Divine authority and ability to do something, "might" emphasizes the ability to accomplish the objective, bringing it to fruition. The word literally means forcefulness, and postulates the overthrow of all adversarial powers. Such might belongs to God alone! Believers, you may recall, are urged, in this world, to "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" (Eph 6:10). If they will trust Him, and lean upon Him, He will bring them to their "desired haven" (Psa 107:30). It is not possible for those who believe to be ashamed in their faith! Faith will receive its own reward and thorough satisfaction. No wonder we are admonished to keep it!
It is not enough simply to behold visions. Yet, John does not blurt out some meaningless observation. As the preacher said, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Eccl 5:2).
It is essential that the vision be comprehended to a measurable degree. While John gazes at this remarkable sight, one of the twenty-four elders interrogates him. "Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?'" Notice, the significant observation is that they are "arrayed in white robes" while standing before the Throne and the Lamb. These are spotless before the Lord. They have acquired purity, and have done so while in another place. Thus, the question is posed, "Where did they come from?" It is often the heavenly manner to question in order that teaching may be given. The mind must be directed to heavenly realities in order to hear an explanation of them.
John does not venture a guess, or attempt to reason out a logical answer. He realizes this is out of the domain of man. He is not presumptuous or philosophical. Thus it is written, "and I said to him, 'Sir, you know.'" I cannot help but recall the response of Ezekiel when asked about the valley of dry bones. "And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' So I answered, 'O Lord GOD, You know'" (Ezek 37:3). Blessed is the person who answers Divine interrogations in such a manner! To seek understanding from the Lord is to be preferred over human investigation and surmising. Not everything is intended to be found "by searching." There are some things that must be made known from above, and John is faced with one of them. He knows it, and thus submits himself to the elder who asked the questions. May the Lord give us grace to respond in Divine interrogation in like manner.
THE REDEEMED IDENTIFIED
Where They Came From
There is a willingness on the part of the elder to divulge what was not apparent. "So he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation . . . '" The language here is important. Various translations emphasize differing aspects of this text. "They which came out of great tribulation" (KJV). "The ones who come out of the great tribulation" (NKJV). "They that come out of the great tribulation" (ASV). "The ones who come out of the great tribulation" (NASB). "They who have come out of the great tribulation" (RSV). "They who have come out of the great ordeal" (NRSV). "They who have come out of the great tribulation" (NIV). "They who came through the great testing" (BBE). "Those who are coming out of the great tribulation" (YLT). "Those who have come through the great oppression" (Phillips). "The ones coming out of the great tribulation" (Living Bible). "The people who have come safely through the great tribulation" (TEV). "The people who have been through the great persecution" (Jerusalem Bible). "The men who have passed through the great ordeal" (NEB). All of the concepts conveyed in these translations are inherent in the test. At least three different perspectives are seen, enlarging our view of the text.
ACCENTING WHERE THEY ARE. This perspective underscores the completion of the suffering the fact that it is all over, and the holy ones now stand before the Throne and the Lamb. The ordeal through which they passed is over, and the salvation of God has been proved superior to all of Satan's artifices--equal to the most severe experiences allowed by God. "Came out" (KJV), "have come out" (RSV, NRSV), "came through" (BBE), "have come through" (Phillips) "have come" (TEV), "have been through" (JB), "have passed through" (NEB).
ACCENTING WHERE THEY CAME FROM. Here, the path through which the redeemed ones come is emphasized. Th multitude did not sail on placid seas to the realm of peace and safety. The ordained path is "through suffering" a way also taken by the Lamb Himself. If any will stand spotless before the Throne and the Lamb, they will come from tribulation, stress, and suffering. Only the magnitude of suffering differs the reality of it is always present. "Come out" (NKJV, ASV, NASB).
ACCENTING THE INCREASING NUMBER. This point of view reminds us that our text is approaching the end, which will not come until all of the children are gathered in. From the battle field, a stream of redeemed ones will continue to flow into heavenly realms until time is no more. "Are coming out" (YLT), "coming out" (LB).
This verse is translated from the phrase µ µ , Linguistically, for those who are interested, this is Present middle participle, with the idea of continued repetition. One scholar (Charles) paraphrases it this way: "The martyrs are still arriving from the scene of the great tribulation." While he has added the view that this multitude is confined to the martyrs, he has captured the sense of the text. The idea is that this is an increasing multitude, coming out of "great tribulation" and standing at last before the Throne and the Lamb. They have been unaffected by the tribulation. It has not soiled their garments or robbed them of their praise. From the furnace of affliction they have come, passing through the blazing attack of the wicked one, and they have won!
A Mythical View of the Rapture
The presence of this multitude deals a devastating blow to a mythical, yet popular, view of "the rapture." While the word "rapture" is not found in Scripture, the idea it connotes is declared. "Rapture" literally means, the transporting of a person from one place to another. Theologically, the term is based upon First Thessalonians 4:17. "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (NKJV). "We who are alive" are those who have remained in the world until the coming of the Lord. "Them" are those who have died prior to His return. When the Lord Jesus descends from heaven with "a shout," accompanied with the arresting "voice of the archangel" and the piercing blast of "the trump of God," all saints of all ages will be brought together in one grand company. It is then that they will be "caught up" (the phrase used by all major translations) to meet the Lord, never again to be absent from Him in any sense.
The phrase "caught up" comes from µ (ar-pag-as-o-me-tha), which means to take away, snatch, seize, or take away. Of its use in 1 Thessalonians 4L17, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon says, "used of Divine power transferring a person marvelously and swiftly from one place to another, to snatch or catch away." The word is used to describe Philip being caught up and transported miraculously to Azotus (Acts 8:40). It is also used in Revelation 12:5 to portray the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and away from the devil's domain. The First Thessalonian text uses the term to portray the gathering of the wheat into the barn, or the harvesting of the elect from every corner of the earth. If that is what people mean by "rapture," then we have no controversy with them. In my judgment, however, it is best to employ language of Scripture to describe the event, and not humanly- devised theological language upon which has been suspended a great deal of hoary tradition.
The popular view of "the rapture" sees it as a secret event, undetected by anyone but the people of God. Some speak of the mysterious disappearance of the people of God from every continent and place, with all of the wicked left behind to face the great tribulation. Mind you, God's Word does not say this. Men have superimposed their view upon the text of Scripture, doing all within their power to make it support their supposition. The text before us, however, blasts a gigantic hole in this bit of theological nonsense. This great multitude of the redeemed were not removed prior to the tribulation, but out of its midst. Not only that, they continued to come from the arena of fierce opposition and persecution. We are well past the fourth chapter of Revelation, which some have said begins an era without the church in the world. But here, in the seventh chapter, and in the midst of the sixth seal, we have people coming out of the great tribulation. It is not a few that we see, but a vast multitude. They do not come from a section of the world, but from "every kindred, tribe, tongue, and people." Their presence before the Throne and the Lamb is owing to redemption the very same redemption that was experienced by those in the first century. No special Gospel has been preached to them. There is nothing that separates them from any other group of believers. They are redeemed and they are victorious the two great book-ends of our salvation. They came into Christ, and they went out of the world victorious in Him.
Neither language nor doctrine can justify the view of a secret catching-away of the people of God. That view is in sharp conflict with the words of our Lord concerning the removal of the wicked "first" (Matt 13:30,38- 40). It is in opposition to the Kingdom principle of suffering being a prerequisite to reigning with Jesus (2 Tim 2:12). It also contradicts the text we are considering.
Here is a tribulation that touched every quadrant of the world, every society of people, and every language group. The identification of this tribulation has been the cause of much division within the body of Christ. Some conceive of it as a general term, denoting all forms of suffering experienced "for righteousness sake." Others see it as an unusual time of distress that will occur near the closing of time.
While there is not an abundance of revelation on this subject, Jesus did speak of a period of unparalleled tribulation. His words are found in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. They follow His reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (vs 21-22; Mark 13:19-20). The language that follows does not support the limitation of this period to the destruction of Jerusalem. While that was a most dreadful occurrence, it does not justify limiting the prophecy to that destruction in A.D. 70. The Lord affirms nothing like this had occurred "since the beginning of the world" until the time the prophecy was uttered. He adds "nor ever shall be."
Revealing the direct involvement of God, Jesus states the dreadful days would be shortened "for the elect's sake." The reason adduced for this shortening is that "no flesh would be saved" were the oppression to continue. I do not believe anyone can support a view that limits "the elect" to believers in Jerusalem, or "flesh" to the nation of Israel. "Elect" and "flesh" are very large terms, and we do not well to confine them to the nation of Israel.
Our view of this tribulation must take into consideration the multitude that have come out of it. It is described as "a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues." There is absolutely nothing restrictive about this language. Nothing is here that would lead us to believe these were people from a particular geographical area, a specific nation, or an isolated period of time. What is more, their condition in no way isolates them from any other believers. They are "arrayed in white," stand before "the Throne and the Lamb," and have harvest palms in their hands. That cannot be descriptive of believing Jews that survived the destruction of Jerusalem. In my judgment, it requires an unusual imagination to postulate such a thing.
This tribulation, then, must be descriptive of something common among the saved something through which all of them have come. The tribulation surely varied in its intensity and duration, but it was all any of them could endure. Early in the history of the church, the saints knew "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). From the first persecution of the people of God in Acts 8, until the final assault of the devil mentioned in Revelation 20:8-10, the people of God all have experienced tribulation. When they stand before the Throne and the Lamb, they will all acknowledge they have come "out of the great tribulation" life in an evil and condemned world. This "great tribulation," therefore, speaks of the ordeal of living by faith in this world generally, and of focused Satanic assaults in particular. It is doubtless true that such tribulation will increase as we approach the end of time.
Those imagining that believers are delivered from tribulation, instead of coming out of it, have assessed the faith-life incorrectly. They are not aware of the wrath and aggressiveness of the devil (Rev 12;12), the corruption of their own flesh (Rom 7:18), or the absolute depravity and enmity of the world (1 John 2:15-17). The warfare of faith involves an incessant struggle, and is attended by a spiritual frustration that provokes deep groaning with the child of God (Gal 5:17; Rom 8:23). The glory of salvation is realized in its outcome complete and final deliverance from every competing influence, every form of antagonism, and all forms of oppression and suffering. Ours is truly a "great salvation!"
They Washed Their Robes
" . . . and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The language of Scripture assists us in understanding the Kingdom of God. It also destroys preconceived notions about God's "great salvation." These people are noted, among other things, for something THEY did! There are many who say we have nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation. There is a sense, of course, in which this is true. From the provisional or foundational perspective, we did not have anything to do with our salvation. That was wrought by Jesus alone, with no one assisting Him in the work. However, we ARE involved in the appropriation of that salvation. There is a sense in which we have been "washed" by Divine activity. Thus it is written, "But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). Again, "To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev 1:5). This is NOT a washing we did!
Our text, however, speaks of some washing performed by the redeemed. THEY "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." They availed themselves of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus! They appropriated, by faith, the grace of God. To put it another way, they had "faith in the blood," as stated in Romans 3;25. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood . . . " While some object to this translation, stating it should read "a propitiation in His blood through faith" (NASB), the meaning remains the same. The effectiveness of the blood is the thing that is embraced by faith. Several translations see no difficulty with this (NIV, RWB, Darbys, YLT, etc.). These saints washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb by trusting to its effectiveness. They knew God recognized and received the sacrifice of Christ, and thus they received it too. For this reason, God honors them.
The effect of their faith is glorious. Although they were formerly clothed with "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6), their robes became pure and white. Too, although based upon the righteous accomplishments of another, the robes now belonged to them. They were "their robes!" On earth, righteousness was imputed to them. Now it is their own, as they have been freed from every form of weakness.
THEREFORE . . .
"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 dwell among them." Why does this multitude stand "before the Throne of God?" Prior to this, only cherubim, seraphim, and holy angels stood here! This area was not occupied by any man, save "the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). We find the answer in this remarkable word, "THEREFORE!" The reason for their presence is found in the description given of them.
We know several things about them. (1) They were from every area of the world, and every grouping of people. (2) They were all clothed in white, or impeccably righteous. (3) They all had palms in their hands, representative of the great harvest of the Lord. (4) They all came out of great tribulation. (5) They all had washed their robes, making them white in the blood of the Lamb. These are the very reasons they were standing APPROVED before the Throne of God! Because they were citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20), they willingly accepted the status of strangers in the world. Thus, they were gathered from every part of it, and brought where they were at home. Their character had been refined by grace, and they were righteous compatible with the heavenly realms. No aspect of their persons is now defiled, for they are no longer in their "vile" bodies (Phil 3:21.)
The time of harvest was coming, and this multitude was recognized as belonging in the dwelling of God. The world was an arena of suffering for them, for they did not belong there. The reproaches of Christ fell upon them in the world, and now the glory of Christ comes upon them before the throne of God. While in the world, they took advantage of what God had provided for them in Christ Jesus, laying hold on eternal life. Thus there were not "before the Throne of God."
Salvation is "not of works," but it is not without effort! It took effort remarkable effort for these saints to hold on their way in a wicked world. It required extreme exertion to keep the faith when it incurred great suffering. To continue to grow amidst the tares of this word is no small accomplishment. It required all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength! They knew nothing of being casual, as though Christ was carrying them to heaven while they remained in a state of spiritual stupor. It took effort to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb to avail themselves of the atonement provided for them. Satan opposed their efforts, but they took hold of salvation anyway. The world oppressed them for their decision, but they maintained their faith. That is why they are standing "before the throne of God" in a state of moral and spiritual purity. That is why they have been harvested from the world for heaven! For them, the world was a place of orientation a realm of preparation for the world to come.
No one will stand spotless before the throne of God and the Lamb who has not worked out their own salvation with fear and trembling. The redeemed will have invested themselves in the appropriation of salvation just as surely as Jesus wholly consecrated Himself in the accomplishment of it. A salvation that allows spiritual inactivity among those being saved is a spurious one.
A CHANGE IN STATUS
It becomes clear we are dealing with eternity here. What is to follow is not descriptive of a temporary state, or of anything that could happen this thoroughly in the world. Although some have chosen to apply the following words to the condition of salvation in the world, the language strictly forbids such a view. It is too lofty, too thorough, too filled with hope. To dull their meaning by saying they are a mere hyperbole is to rob the saints of anticipation something they sorely require in this world. Too, such a view tends to make us more satisfied in this world than God intends.
Serving Him Night and Day
"Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple." In the world, our service for the Lord is, much against our will, intermittent. Our flesh is not capable of continual service. It is an "earthen vessel," prone to weakness, and like a weight upon our souls. Many, like Epaphroditus, have had their service interrupted while "sick to the point of death" (Phil 2:27, NASB). It is only by the grace of God that our service attains to any degree of acceptance, for "who is sufficient for these things" (2 Cor 2:16).
Tell me of the world to come, where our service will be consistent and unending where we will "go no more out" (Rev 3:12). Our activity will be characterized by stability, for we ourselves, by the words of Jesus, will be made "a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore" (Rev 3:12). We will no longer serve the Lord in a condition of absence, for "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord" (2 Cor 5:6b). Our ministry will be accomplished in the very presence of God, with a lively sense of His closeness. There will be no troubling factor, nor anything interruptive. Total and unfailing service will be the norm.
By saying "night and day," the Spirit is emphasizing the continuity of the service. Technically, "there is no night there" (Rev 21:25). He uses this language because there are nights here nights when service is rendered difficult, if not impossible. But no such occasions shall come upon us in the world to come. There will be no need to rest no night. There will be no times of fear or danger, when a defensive posture must be assumed no night. The point is that we will continually be about our Father's business, increasing in participation with neither cause nor desire for cessation. No boredom! No fatigue! No depletion of our resources!
One further thing should be observed. Under the Law, which contained the type of what we see here, serving God night and day was the business of the Levites (1 Chron 9:23). No one else could involve themselves in the service. When it came to the Most Holy Place, ONLY the High priest could serve and it was NOT night and day, but once a year. But look what we have in this text. We have people "of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues" before the throne of God (the Most Holy place), and serving Him night and day "in the Temple." What a marvelous redemption that has produced such a group, and enabled them to accomplish such service!
God Dwells Among Them
"And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them." Oh, what a blessing is this! In this world, God dwells in us "through the Spirit" (Eph 2:22). He is with us, together with the Son (John 14:21,23), but not in His fulness. If we only have the "firstfruits of the Spirit" (Rom 8:23), we cannot have the complete harvest of the Living God Who gave us the Spirit (Gal 4:6)! It is true that even now we are challenged to be "filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph 3;19). That expression, however, speaks of a thorough filling of our limited vessels, not a complete acquaintance with God.
This text, as in Revelation 21:3, refers to "God Himself" dwelling with us. It is His Presence WITHOUT any competitive influences. On Sinai, the glory of the Lord descended, but it also left. The face of Moses glowed as a result of the Divine Presence, but it faded. In the tabernacle, the glory of God came and went. But this is not the case in the world to come. Not only will we "go no more out," God will never depart, His Presence become vague, or a sense of loneliness grip our hearts. His Presence will be perceptible, while it is not always that way in this world. We will live with an acute consciousness of, and delight in, the Presence of the Lord world without end!
This is not the delineation of the "firstfruits" of salvation, but of its full harvest. Here is the end of our journey, the culmination of faith, and the reward of righteousness.
Hunger and Thirst No More
"They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore . . . " The life of faith is attended by seasons of strong spiritual hunger and thirst. A blessing is pronounced upon all who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matt 5:6). They will be filled! It will not, however, be in this world, where we labor under great handicap away from home. There are times when the soul cries out, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (Psa 42:1-2). Again, spiritual cravings are revealed in the strong cry, "O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water" (Psa 63:1), and "I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah" (Psa 143:6). The soul that lives at a distance from God knows nothing of these longings. Nevertheless, they are very real, dwarfing all earthly concerns.
Someone might cite the word of Jesus to the woman at the well, affirming that such thirsts as David had are no longer the lot of believers. You may recall our Lord spoke to that Samaritan woman of never thirsting again. "But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14, NKJV). Again, in John 6:35, Jesus proclaimed, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." These words of Jesus, however, declared another aspect of spiritual life, and did not obviate the thirst of which the Psalmist spoke. Jesus was speaking of the SOURCE from which we are satisfied. The well of satisfaction is moved within the believer. It is so gratifying that no other source is sought. There will never again be a sense of spiritual desolation and hopelessness.
Nevertheless, there are seasons when the soul longs for fuller measures, greater fellowship, and more closeness. After all, we are not in heaven yet, and still have but the firstfruits of the Spirit. If we are "saved by hope" (Rom 8:24-25), a longing for more is integral to spiritual life. We fellowship with the whole creation in a longing for liberty, where a sense of inadequacy will never again be experienced. "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. We ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body" (Rom 8:19-23). We know "that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord" (2 Cor 5:6), and long to be "present with the Lord."
But the time is coming when the saved will never again experience "hunger and thirst" in ANY sense. No small number of God's people have undergone "hunger and thirst" in the body, as well as in their soul. Some have "wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb 11:37- 38). But in the glory, as we stand before the Throne of God, the "ages to come" will begin during which not a single moment of hunger or thirst will occur! There will never be a sense of deficiency, weakness, or longing. NO MORE!, is the word from the King! No more sense of destitution! No more cries of "wretched man that I am!" "They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore."
The Sun, nor Any Heat, Shall Strike Us
" . . . the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat . . . " For the child of God, there is a certain oppressiveness to life in the world. Here, it is likened to the blazing sun rising upon us being stricken with the heat of trial and oppression. The Scriptures do speak of "fiery trials" which many of God's people have undergone (1 Pet 4:12). Here, our faith is tried, as in a fire (1 Pet 1:7). When some trials come, they are like the scorching sun beating upon our head. The heat that strikes us causes our dross to rise to the surface, in order that it may be removed. Here, we read of the time when all of that will have ended. Never again will we be tested, tried, or tempted. No more tribulation of any kind!
Fighting the good fight of faith tends to deplete our spiritual resources, making us thirst for the Living God. This thirst is not to be equated with despair, but is the consequence of being in a frail tabernacle and occupying a cursed world. The experience of inadequacy is expressed in a variety of ways in Scripture. Some of the more vivid terms are found in the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians. "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (vs 8-9, NASB). Paul testified of one time when his group of laborers "were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8).
But all of this will come to its appointed conclusion, praise the Lord! When we leave this world, we leave the heat of trial! When we cease to stand before men, and stand before the throne of God, we no longer will be tempted. Life in all of its aspects will be a blessing, and no trouble will come upon us! There will be no deserts, famines, or winds of adversity! How refreshing to the soul to contemplate the glorious state!
The Lamb Will Shepherd and Lead Us
" . . . for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters . . . " Those who live by faith experience the leading of the Good Shepherd now. He calls out His sheep, and leads them into paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Psa 23:2-3; John 10:1-6, 7-16). At this present time, the Lord Jesus is "the great Shepherd of the sheep," and the "the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls" (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25). But there is more to come, more territory to be occupied, more insight to possess, more responsibilities to be fulfilled. We are only on the porch of eternity!
There are eternal treasures we have not yet seen, or even imagined. How true it is, "Eye hasnot seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9). It is true, "God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor 2:10), but the revelation is only introductory. We have viewed the promised land much like Moses, from the Mountain of redemption. But we are not there yet. Salvation is more vast than is currently experienced. This is owing to the frailty of our human constitution, the presence of a hostile foe, and the surrounding of a decaying and destitute world.
There are "fountains of living waters" to which the Lamb will lead us. It is the same fountain from which we drink even now, but we will then have access to the compete fountain. Too, here we drink indirectly from the fountain. Faith is the means by which gain access to the living water. But there, we will drink directly from the "living fountains of waters." No more second-hand knowledge! No more forgetting aspects of the Kingdom we never thought we could forget. There will always be freshness and vitality, with no need to refresh our minds with truth that has become vague. No one will take water from the fountain and give to us, as in this world. We will obtain it for ourselves. There will be unparalleled personal involvement, with no form of restriction or disappointment whatsoever.
All tears Wiped Away
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Blessed promise! What child of God does not take hold of this with joyful anticipation! In this world, we wipe tears, only for them to return again. But then God Himself will wipe them "away." Can you bring yourself to ponder this wonderful commitment? I think of Paul's word to young Timothy, who had experienced the results familiar to every child of God: "I recall your tears" (2 Tim 1 :4). How many precious saints I have beheld, who also had "tears." I have seen them weep because of their shortcomings. I have witnessed them as they carried great burdens for their loved ones, and for the church of God. Many of their tears have been induced by pain, helplessness, and frustration. I have stood over caskets and at grave sides as saints have wept at the loss of companions.
How many times I have recalled my own tears. Often, with the Psalmist, I have "watered my couch with my tears" (Psa 6;6). Sometimes, the reality of separateness from the world takes hold on the heart. It is then that I cry out with David, "Hear my prayer, O LORD, And give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with You, A sojourner, as all my fathers were" (Psa 39:12). These are common experiences part and parcel of living in the world.
But these tears are not unnoticed! God sees them, and remembers them! Well did the Psalmist say, "Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?" (Psa 56:8). The Lord knows when we cried, and what we cried about. A broken heart is of great price before Him. If the Lord was "nigh them" in this world when the saints wept (Psa 34:18), what will their experience be when they are before "the throne of God?" No wonder this very promise is again stated in Revelation 21:4. "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
But there is more to be seen in this expression. Wiping ALL tears AWAY means there will never be a recollection of the things that caused tears to come! As it is written, "for the former things have passed away" (21:4b). Not only will they have "passed" away experientially, their memory will also be removed. Isaiah spoke of this condition in a most wonderful way. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind" (Isa 65:17). Here is a word for struggling saints for those in the crucible of trial! I candidly wish we could spend more time on this, but this is intended to be an overview. Still, the heart that dwells upon these things will surely be strengthened. It is a good word that produces hope!
"When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Now comes the seventh seal. When it is opened, there is no activity none at all! We do not hear the thundering hoof beats of horses, nor mighty thunderings. There is no war! There is no famine or pestilence! There is no persecution or bloodshed! We hear no cry from the martyrs, nor summons from one of the living creatures to "Come and see." There are no voices, no trumpets, no summons, and no earthquakes and falling stars. There is only silence total silence!
Here we enter into the eternal Sabbath, the rest that is prepared "for the people of God." This is God's rest, into which none fully enter in this world. As it is written, "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). It is a "rest" because the wicked are at last silent (1 Sam 2:9; Psa 31:17), and have ceased from their "troubling" (Job 3:17). No more contradiction! No more ungodly laughing or mocking! No more disputation, assertions of unbelief, or boasting in the flesh! No more smut, cursing, profanity, or filth. No more murmuring, lying, gossip, or speaking unadvisedly with the lips. "There was silence in heaven for about half an hour." No more undisciplined tongues, untimely speech, or men speaking when they "wist not what to say." No more edicts from men to cease from praying, preaching, or testifying! No more religious babbling, religious hucksters, or false teachers! "There was silence in heaven for about half an hour."
You do well to ponder the blessed state! Their will be quietness from all fear of evil (Prov 1:33). Then will be brought to pass the saying, "The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet" (Isa 14:7). Isaiah's words will come to glorious fulfillment, "My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, In secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places" (Isa 32:18). The promise to Jacob will be fulfilled for all of the redeemed. They "shall return, have rest and be quiet, And no one shall make him afraid" (Jer 30:10). No one will be able to "make trouble" (Job 34:29). "There was silence in heaven for about half an hour."
Think of the rest that is inherent in this quietness. The redeemed will take their rest "in safety" (Job 11:18). As the Psalmist said, we will "fly away and be at rest" (Psa 55:6). We were not able to find ultimate rest and silence in this world. We took hold of the words delivered by Micah, "Arise and depart, For this is not your rest; Because it is defiled, it shall destroy, Yes, with utter destruction" (Micah 2:10). But that is not the condition in the world to come. There we will "rest from our labors," praise the Lord (Rev 14:13). We will never again serve the Lord with handicap, opposition, or in the midst of trouble. "There was silence in heaven for about half an hour."
The extended silence is like a challenge for any disruption to arise! As we settle into our eternal abode, it will become clear that there are no adversaries, and trouble in every form is once and for all excluded. You know, in this world a single second cannot pass without some form of disruption. A wayward thought, a wicked word, a malicious deed temptation, a trial, a challenge. But when we enter the world to come, all of that will be behind us. We will take our armor off at last. For the first time, we will take our guard down. There will be no need for defense, resistance, or vigilance. The battle will be over, the race won, and the foe defeated! That is something of what is involved in, "There was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Blessed quietness that awaits the faithful!
This is what I call you to the eternal rest. I challenge you to engage in a hearty effort to stand before the Throne of God, arrayed in a white robe, and with harvest palm in your hand! Target entering into the rest of God, to serve Him night and day in His temple, and be led by the Shepherd into ever deepening fellowship. For those walking by faith, the best is always ahead! You are now in the realm of the curse, but are headed for the place of ultimate blessing.
If the wicked trouble you, think of the goal. If you are dissatisfied with your own progress, think of the goal. If you become perplexed, cast down, or your energies depleted, think of the goal! The work of faith and labor of love may not be appreciated by those on earth, but they are in heaven!
The war is going to end, the conflict will be brought to a conclusion, and you will enter into rest! Your trials are momentary. Hold on! If you walk in the Spirit and live by faith, the only trouble you will ever experience will be in this world. Your only frustrations will be here! Your only opponents will he here. And all of these things are working for you now they are your employees, working for you "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17). All of this will occur as you continue to fasten your mind on eternal things things that cannot be seen.
I cannot set before you a congregation or a work that will cause you to be proud in the flesh. I do not have a name that has great influence, nor can I cause you to become successful in this world. I have nothing to offer that will make you famous, or that will cause you to rank high in the religious world. I cannot guarantee a resolution to all of the difficulties you experience in this world, and am not wise enough to solve your problems.
I am a man of like passions as you, with struggles and failings. I have not yet apprehended that for which I have been apprehended, and have a very acute awareness of my own frailty. I too become perplexed, and have been dashed to the ground by difficult trials. But my eye is toward the goal. I have learned to regard the trials of life as "momentary" and fleeting, only a grain of dust when compared with the "greater weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17). I can offer you companionship in the Kingdom and tribulation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The blessings that have been described in this text are the "children's bread." They are for you. They are also worthy of your very best effort. I exhort you to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:1-2). Do this with faith and with hope. Your labors are not vain in the Lord!
A place before that very throne awaits you. See to it that nothing hinders you from obtaining it. Though men and demons oppose you, press on! Even when your conscience smites you, press on! When disappointments with your surroundings beat upon your heart, press on! It will not be long, and the war will be over. In the meantime, God is with you. Praise the Lord!