************ Sermon on Revelation 7:9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 18, 2008
"The Great Multitude"
Remember the question at the end of Revelation 6, the question asked by those who hate and fear the judgment of God as the sixth seal is opened by Jesus? They ask "who can stand?"
(Rev 6:16-17) They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (17) For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
Revelation 7 answer this questions for us. I am sure you realize by now that Revelation 7 contains two visions. In other words, the vision we looked at last week is one answer to the question that ends Revelation 6. The vision we are looking at today is another answer to the same question.
"Who can stand?" Revelation 7:1-8, which we looked at last week, answers this question from the viewpoint of the church on earth. It tells us that believers can stand because they have been sealed and protected by God from His judicial wrath. Revelation 7:9-17, which we are looking at this week, answers this question from the viewpoint of the church in heaven. It tells us that believers can stand because they are victorious in Christ.
"Who can stand?" Revelation 7 gives us two answers. But they are not two different answers. Rather, they are complementary answers, interdependent answers. This means Revelation 7 does not describe two companies of people – one group on earth that has been sealed and another group in heaven that is triumphant. Rather, Revelation 7 describes one company of people in two different ways.
More than once in the Revelation, John uses a rather unusual literary device that he also employs here. John uses this literary device in order to look at something from different angles. It works like this. John first tells us what he hears. Then, John tells us what he sees. They both describe the same object but they offer completely different perspectives. We see this in Revelation 1 already. John hears a "loud voice like a trumpet," but he sees someone "like a son of man" (Rev 1:10,13). In Revelation 5, John is told about "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David," but he sees "a Lamb" (Rev 5:5,6). And, in Revelation 7, John "heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of God 12,000 ...," but when he looked he saw "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:4,5,9).
We need to take the two visions together. "Who can stand?" "In the day of judgment, who can stand?" "When the seals are being opened, who can stand?" You know who are in mind here, don't you?! You and I. We are in mind. As I said last week, Revelation 7 is about us. It is our story. It is about men and women, young and old, Jew and Greek, slave and free, Dutch and Hispanic and Portuguese and Polish. Every sinner who belongs to Jesus is in mind in Revelation 7.
I The Great Number
A Who are the ones who can stand in the day of judgment? Earlier, John heard a number: 144,000. Now, John sees "a great multitude." How great? "A great multitude that no one could count." There are millions. Maybe even billions. He sees a number that is even greater than the number of angels he saw around the throne of God. Remember how many angels John saw – "thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand" (Rev 5:11). This means a great number of angels. But the number of the Redeemed are even greater. The company of Christians is beyond counting.
B David, Chris, and Josh played on the CVC soccer team. I showed up at their home games and was part of a very small crowd. A couple of years ago I attended a Green Bay Packer game against the Oakland Raiders and was part of a crowd of 60,000+ fans. It is more exciting to be part of a big crowd than a small crowd. Think of how exciting heaven will be, then: "a great multitude that no one could count."
I love big crowds. But not in the mall. Not at a flea market. Not at the airport. But in church. But it had better be for the right reasons. We all should love big crowds in church and in heaven because we love the Gospel so much, because we love Jesus so much, because we love conversions so much, because we love the glory and majesty and honor of Jesus so much.
C "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count" (Rev 7:9). I bet John wept with joy when he saw this. How many Christians do you think there were at the time of John? After Easter, you could count the number of Christians on your hands and feet – eleven apostles, a couple of others. Then came Pentecost, and about three thousand were added (Acts 2:41). Then the persecutions started. John saw his fellow apostles become Gospel martyrs. Antipas, and others, in the churches of Asia Minor were killed for their faith. John himself was exiled to Patmos. John knew that the churches of Asia Minor were struggling with apostasy – to the point that they were in danger of being wiped out of existence. The church was small, struggling, insignificant in number – maybe 10,000 or 20,000 members. Yet, John is given a vision of a triumphant church in heaven that is beyond counting.
A church that is numberless. Didn't Jesus say this is what would happen? Didn't Jesus say the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground; yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants (Mk 4:31-32)?
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count" (Rev 7:9). This crowd of the Redeemed in heaven should make us weep for joy too. Right now we are independent – we hope we don't stay this way long. We can feel small, alone, isolated. But we need to keep John's vision in mind – we are part of something larger than we are, part of something beyond number, part of a great big huge crowd. We are not alone. We are not standing by ourselves. And, don't forget the message of the sealing of the 144,000: the church shall never perish, the church is forever safe, because she belongs to God and is preserved by God.
D "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count" (Rev 7:9). Do you expect the Gospel to prevail? Do you expect the church to grow? Do you expect more and more conversions? Do you expect the church to bear fruit? I hope the answer is "YES! YES! YES! A thousand times YES!"
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count" (Rev 7:9). I think you all realize this means we need to be passionate for the Gospel. This means we need to be eager for conversions, for more and more souls. This means we want to participate in God's great plan to save the Lost.
II From Every Nation
A Who are the ones who can stand in the day of judgment? Notice the second thing John tells us about them: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude ... from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9). This last phrase should sound familiar. In Revelation 5 we hear the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders singing a song to the Lamb:
(Rev 5:9) "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."
B John is not telling us four distinct categories of people in heaven. He is not telling us that those who can stand are from four different groups. So, why does John use four nouns when he could have used only one. Why doesn't John say, for instance, "I saw a great multitude from every nation"? This is another literary device used by John. John loves to pile up nouns in order to emphasize something. For instance, the Lamb is worthy not only to receive power, but to receive "power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise" (Rev 5:12). We see almost the same piling up of words in Revelation 7:12. John uses the same literary device in verse 9. The multitude is not only from every nation but from "every nation, tribe, people and language."
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude ... from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9) What is John telling us? John piles up one expression on top of another in order to emphasize the universality of the church. John wants us to grasp the idea that the church is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-colored, multi-tongued. John wants us to grasp what was first revealed at Pentecost – that the church is made up of Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs (Acts 2:9-11). To use the language of Paul in Galatians 3:28, the church is Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. Or, to use the words of the children's song, the church is red and yellow, black and white.
III The Promises to Abraham
A "What is your church like?" If someone asked you this question, how would you answer? Would you say something about our worship style? Would you say something about our great church staff? Would you say something about our beliefs and confessions? Would you say something about our beautiful building and campus? Would you say something about how friendly and welcoming the members are?
"What is your church like, John?" John focuses on two things: its great size and its universality, it is numberless and multi-ethnic.
B Why does John focus on these two elements? Because these two features show the church to be the fulfilment of God's great and wondrous promises to Abraham. The church in heaven, the church John describes in the last book of the Bible, is the fulfilment of promises given by God in the first book of the Bible.
Think of what this means? Salvation is not a mere afterthought on the part of God. God's salvation follows a plan, a blueprint, throughout the ages. Salvation is not an accident. It is premeditated, foreknown, predestined.
C What promises are fulfilled by the multitude standing before the throne? God made Abraham a promise about numbers. Remember this promise?
(Gen 22:17) I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.As numerous as stars in the sky. As numerous as sand on the seashore. How numerous is this? We are talking about a great multitude that no one can count.
D God also made Abraham a promise about universality. Remember this promise?
(Gen 12:3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.All people on earth will be blessed through you. All people. Sounds universal to me.
E In Genesis, already, we see that God never intended salvation to be confined to a small number of people from a common bloodline. Rather, God's promise to Abraham was a people measureless in number and universal in ethnicity.
Remember the passage we looked at last week for Pentecost? Jesus promised the church the power of the Spirit; "and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). So, what happened? The early church proclaimed the Gospel starting in Jerusalem (Peter on Pentecost - Acts 2), then to Judea (Philip - Acts 8), Samaria (Philip and Peter - Acts 8 & 10), and from there to the ends of the earth (Paul, Barnabas, Mark - Acts 13ff). The end result is the church John sees in Revelation 7: "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9). The end result is the church first promised to Abraham.
IV Standing Before the Throne
Who are the ones who can stand in the day of judgment? Notice the third thing John tells us about them: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude ... standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb" (Rev 7:9). They are standing. The people at the end of Revelation 6 are not standing. They are trembling. They are hiding. They ask for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them.
But the church of Jesus Christ, in contrast to the unbelieving, they are standing. "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude ... standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." They stand in the presence of God. They stand in the presence of the Lamb. They are near the throne – that awesome, glorious, scary throne that controls the universe and everything in it.
V Wearing White Robes
A Who are the ones who can stand in the day of judgment? Notice the fourth thing John tells us about them: "They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Rev 7:9).
We have seen white robes before in the Revelation. White robes are promised to the overcomers, to those who faithful under trial (Rev 3:5; cf Rev 3:14). White robes are worn by the twenty-four elders (Rev 4:4). White robes are worn by the Gospel martyrs (Rev 6:11). Now, in Revelation 7, white robes are worn by the church triumphant.
B Let's make sure we understand exactly what these garments are. They are not work clothes. They are long, flowing robes worn on festive occasions. But John doesn't mention their length. He doesn't mention how dressy they look. Rather, John mentions their color. They are "white." White means purity. How have they been made white? Look ahead a few verses: "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14). The garments worn by the heavenly multitude are white – purified of all sin, purified of all defilement, purified of all stain, by the blood of Jesus Christ.
C White not only means purity; it also means victory. Among the Romans, a conquering general would lead a victory procession through the streets of Rome wearing a pure white toga. Now, don't forget, this is the church triumphant in heaven that John is showing us. Their time of tribulation is over, their time of trial is over, their time of persecution is over. No wonder they are wearing robes of victory.
The theme of victory is emphasized by the palm branches. When Judas Maccabeus rededicated the temple altar after the Syrians profaned it in 164 B.C., the Jews celebrated with palms of victory. When Simon Maccabeus conquered the Jerusalem castle in 142 B.C., the Jews took possession of it carrying palm branches. When Messiah Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was greeted with palm branches. Palm branches mean victory. Those before heaven's throne wave palm branches because they are victorious in Jesus Christ.
Who are the ones who can stand on the day of judgment?
John has shown us a picture of those who cannot stand. They hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (Rev 6:15-17).
Now, John shows us a picture of those who can stand. He has shown us "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 hand" (Rev 7:9).
To which group do you belong? Do you belong to the group John sees at the end of Revelation 6? Or, do you belong to the group John sees in Revelation 7? Are you one of those who hide from God and His judgment? Or, are you one of those beyond number from every tribe who stand in His presence?
What is the difference between the two groups? Faith in Jesus Christ. To stand in the day of judgment, you must have faith in Jesus Christ. To stand in the day of judgment, you must be a Christian.
Let's make sure you understand what I mean by this. It is not enough to attend church. It is not enough to be raised in a Christian home. It is not enough to attend a Christian school. It is not enough to be raised in a Christian family. It is not enough to attend youth group or Bible study. You can stand in the final day, only if you have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. You can stand in the day of judgment, only if Jesus is your Savior and Lord.
So, I ask you again, which crowd are you a part of? To which group do you belong? Do you belong to the group John sees at the end of Revelation 6? Or, do you belong to the group John sees in Revelation 7? Are you one of those who hide from God and His judgment? Or, are you one of those beyond number from every tribe who stand in His presence?
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