11/5/03 10.30 a.m. Revelation 7:9-17
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" 13 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes - who are they, and where did they come from?" 14 I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
In the Philippines on Tuesday 25 March dozens
of rebels stopped a Christian lorry-driver and his helper, and then
shot and killed them. Muslim rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades
into houses in the mainly Christian town of M'Lang on Wednesday 26 March.
According to the Vice-Mayor some Christians were also shot. Three of
the victims were killed while sleeping in their mosquito nets; two other
Christians were killed, including a child, and six more were wounded.
More violence followed on Monday 31 March, wounding 12 Christians in
Midsayap town in North Cotabato.
14 April 2003 A court in Jordan has said that it will be enforcing an earlier order that
Siham, a Christian widow, should be arrested and her children taken from her to
be raised as Muslims.
An attack by elements of the Egyptian army, commanded by a high-ranking officer, took place on a Christian centre on 5 April. The Patmos Centre, some 30 kilometres east of Cairo, was attacked by soldiers who came with armoured vehicles, tear-gas bombs and a bulldozer and were under the command of a Lieutenant General. Five previous attacks have occurred in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2002. Staff who have protested against the attacks have at times been threatened and beaten. One teacher at the centre had his arm broken during an attack in February 2002.
The Patmos Centre has been serving the local community in Egypt for fifteen years. The centre is providing love, care and support for both mentally and physically handicapped children and orphans, and is legally registered with the Egyptian authorities.
Turkmenistan's secret police, the National Security
Committee, have been taking Christian children from their classrooms
and interrogating them about "internal church life and their Christian
education in their families" in the city of Balkanabad, western
Turkmenistan according to Forum 18 News Service.
The interrogations followed a raid on the children's local church on 16 March by police and officials. Another raid took place on a church service in a private flat on 1 April. At this latter meeting the authorities threatened to confiscate from the owner the flat where they met for worship. Following their interrogation the children were banned from attending church services and the older ones threatened with prison.
Towards the end of the first century Christians were being persecuted. The authorities were trying to make them worship the emperor and, therefore, to deny Christ. Could they survive this. The book of Revelation was God's word of encouragement to them. It talks of tribulation for Christians, but points to the victory and the future that awaits them. This would have inspired and encouraged them and Christians today to endure suffering, even death, knowing that God is in control.
We will look at this passage using three headings:
A Vision of Heaven, verses 15-17; Preparation for Heaven, verse 14; Worship in Heaven, verses 9-12.
A Vision of Heaven, verses 15-17;
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 spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Heaven is populated by all the people of God, as we read in verse 9. Many people from every background and nationality. Many people would think of heaven as an individual, isolated place of bliss. But God calls individuals to become part of his people. That is why people who say that they can be good Christians outside a church have missed the plot.
This multitude of believers, the 'they' in verse 15, will be in the presence of God all the time. God is with us all of the time now and we may experience the presence of God at certain special times, in prayer on our own, in praise with others, through the wonders of nature, or the touch of His Spirit. When we are united fully with God we will be in his immediate presence, and aware of it all of the time. This time will involve us 'serving him day and night in his temple'. Heaven is his temple. Resurrected Christians will serve him all the time, day and night, in praise and worship with the angels and the elders, verses 10 and 12.
Believers will know the presence and the protection of God. he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. The tent represents the care and protection of God, like a mother hen spreading her wings over her chicks. No physical discomfort will be experienced, no hunger, thirst, or heat. Perhaps we may find it difficult to imagine the problem of continued exposure to severe sunlight in this country, but clearly this would be a problem in the eastern Mediterranean.
John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36). The Passover lamb was the symbol of deliverance from slavery and sin ( Exodus 12 ). In Isaiah 53 the Suffering Servant is pictured as a lamb who died in the place of sinners( 4-7 ). More than twenty times in Revelation the lamb is used as a symbol of Christ.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
The lamb becomes the shepherd. The dead are given new life. The persecuted become safe. God reverses things.
Jesus described himself as the good shepherd, John 10:11-18. Two aspects of his care for his sheep are mentioned. he will lead them to springs of living water. The previous verse had mentioned physical thirst, this refers to spiritual thirst. The living water represents the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus will give to all who follow him. His spirit opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, gives life to the spiritually dead. His spirit gives us the strength we need to live the Christian life, the gifts we need as a church to serve and worship him, the fruit we need to make us more like Jesus. Without God's Spirit we cannot get to heaven, or please, serve or worship God.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Those of us who are parents will have experienced taking our offspring in our arms, comforting them and wiping their tears. If Chloe has injured herself she will ask me to 'kiss it better' and the pain will go and be forgotten. After the trials of this life God will 'kiss it better'. The old order of things with sin, death, mourning or pain will have disappeared ( 21:4 ) and God will heal the memories of this.
Preparation for Heaven, verse 14;
Billy Graham writes, 'I have a friend who during the Depression lost his job, his fortune, his wife, and his home. But he tenaciously held to his faith ? the only thing he had left. One day he stopped to watch some men doing stonework on a huge church. One of them was chiselling a triangular piece of stone. "What's that for?' asked my friend. The workman said, "See that little opening way up there near the spire? Well, I'm shaping this down here so that it'll fit in up there."
Tears filled the eyes of my friend as he walked away, for God had used this workman to help him understand the ordeal through which he was going. "I'm shaping you down here, so that you'll fit in up there!"'
The preparation for heaven is to, verse 14, have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The image of washing clothes in blood is a strange one for those of us used to washing machines and 'whiter than white' biological detergents. The clothes represent the deeds that people have done. Without coming to Jesus these are filthy rags in God's sight. The blood represents the life of Jesus, given on the cross in our place so that we may escape the punishment that our sins deserve. The white long, flowing robes that the Greek word conveys, symbolises purity, the salvation that Jesus brings, the righteousness that he imparts to his followers. Our unity with Christ means that God does not see us in our sin, but Jesus' perfection.
The other preparation is they who have come out of the great tribulation;
The 'great tribulation' could refer to a time, possibly just before the return of Jesus, when there will be widespread and violent persecution of Christians. It may also refer to the opposition that every Christian faces because of their faith.
There is a sense in which the trials of this life that Christians endure are preparing them for the heavenly glory that awaits them. Christians are to expect persecution. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Disciples of Jesus should live lives like him and, therefore, like him can expect opposition. This should lead to rejoicing because it shows believers they are on the right track and that there is something better to come. It also shows God that we are living for him, and not for the things of this life.
The Bible teaches that trials can lead to perseverance and a greater trust in God, James 1:2ff. It also gives God an opportunity to show that he can be trusted.
Corrie ten Boom; "When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through."
Worship in Heaven, verses 9-12.
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"
Imagine that you are at the Millennium Stadium for the F.A. Cup Final to witness Port Vale beating Manchester United. You are there surrounded by thousand of fellow Vale fans, shouting yourself hoarse in praise for what they have done.
This is clearly very far fetched. Something we can never realistically imagine. But most of us have been in a large crowd at some time and experienced excitement, delight, wonder and joy. Not necessarily at a football ( soccer ) match, perhaps at a concert or large Christian event. If we were to multiply such an experience several times over we might just begin to picture worship in heaven. There will be a great multitude that no-one could count. They will b from every nation, tribe, people and language. This shows that the gospel is for everyone and it transcends any barriers. It also shows that people's individuality will still be preserved in some way and that there will be continuity from this life into the next. Despite having had different languages they will all worship God saying the same thing. Languages were given by God as a judgement of sin and arrogance when the tower of Babel was built. On the day of Pentecost this judgement was taken away when the onlookers heard God being praised in their own language. In heaven it appears that there will be one, heavenly language, known by all the saints which will be used to praise God. In the way that some people have the gift of tongues today, perhaps we will all sing and speak in the same 'tongue' in heaven.
The praise centres on what God has done, and who he is. Thankfulness for his salvation and all the other things he gives us. Adoration for who he is.
Isaac Watts wrote fifty-two books, twenty-nine of them on theology. But he is best remembered for his hymns. He wrote more than seven hundred, and even today the average modern hymnal will have twenty or more of his songs - 283 years after they were written. When he died he was reciting one of his favourites:
"I'll praise my Maker while I've
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne'er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures."
Happy moments, praise God.
Difficult moments, seek God.
Quiet moments, worship God.
Painful moments, trust God.
Every moment, thank God.