The Church Triumphant – Part 2 (Rev. 7:9-17)
How does the Church Militant become the Church Triumphant? How does our experience on earth, translate to our experience in heaven?
Last week we looked at the first two points in your outline. 1. The Salvation of the Church Triumphant (9-10). 2. The God of the Church Triumphant (11-12) . We noted the several allusions to the Exodus out of Egypt and their preservation and suffering in the wilderness. In heaven, everything that contributes to your suffering now, will be used by God to magnify your enjoyment of his glory and blessings. The Church Triumphant, which refers to the saints in glory, will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who saved us for all eternity! This theme continues in the next two points as well.
Read Rev. 7:9-17
THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT (13-14)
These verses make plain that the great multitude are standing before the throne because of the salvation that Christ accomplished on the cross. They are coming out of the great tribulation. Notice the present participle “coming”. This was already occurring at the time John was writing his revelation. Jews and Gentiles were already experiencing the great tribulation and entering into their triumphant glory. This great tribulation is not reserved for a brief period just prior to Christ’s return, it occurs throughout this present age. It began with the sufferings of Christ and continues as long as those who are united to Christ suffer. Which is to say, we will experience tribulation until Jesus returns to finally put an end to it.
Tribulation is a common theme in the New Testament. Paul encourages the Thessalonians that they should feel privileged to suffer for the Kingdom of God knowing that he will bring righteous judgment upon those who afflict them (2 Thes. 1:5-6). Paul tells Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” as people become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:1f). He goes on to warn that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Christianity will grow increasingly counter-cultural in the last days. We are currently seeing that in America, and other parts of the globe are even further down that road than we are.
Beale The tribulation has begun in the present and will be intensified in its severity at the end of history.
Our experience in history follows the basic model of of the New Testament teaching on the last days. While tribulation will continue to increase, so does the growth of the church. By that, I don’t mean that the church will grow in its cultural influence as Postmillennialism teaches. I simply mean that the number belonging to the invisible church will continue to grow in the face of growing hostility. While the kingdom of God grows, so does the kingdom of evil. But the latter is kept in check by the former. In other words, Christ will continue to build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.
That means we should expect tribulation to characterize the believers entire “wilderness journey” from justification to glorification. It is our common experience in this fallen world living in rebellion against its Maker. We can also expect that tribulation to increase as the end draws near.
How then can we live with hope? Because these saints are “coming out of the great tribulation.” They have entered into their rest. They have already persevered because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They entered into glory because they identified themselves with the Lamb who was slain.
Note the verb “washed” is in the active voice. Maybe you anticipate the passive voice there. If the elder had said, “Their robes have been washed” we could emphasize the lack of contribution we make to our own salvation. But that is not what the elder says. The active voice ensures that we play a role in the process of our salvation.
A personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and a personal repentance are required. We must personally trust in the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. Then the fruit of that conversion is our active obedience. The Apostle Peter teaches that the blood of the Lamb is what ransomed us from our former “futile ways” (1 Pe 1:18-19). This implies a transformation.
Resseguie Although the Lamb’s blood cleans their robes, the saints play an active role by following the way of the Lamb.
“Trust and obey, for their’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.” We need to avoid both the error of legalism (obedience to the law saves us) and the error of antinomianism (the law is of no value to the believer). To “persevere” is to be persistent in the midst of hardship.
Peter calls his first readers, “Elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father , in the sanctification of the Spirit, forobedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood,” (1 Pt. 1:1-2). Regarding this passage, Sinclair Ferguson writes:
Peter’s subliminal logic is: As you face life with all its trials do not lose sight of who you are and what you are for. Be clear about this and you will make progress. Forget this and you will flounder and fall. The reason? Knowing (i) whose you are, (ii) who you are, and (iii) what you are for, settles basic issues about how you live.1
However, the cleansing power is in “the blood of the Lamb”. Believers will get through the tribulation by trusting in Christ to continue to preserve them, not by trusting in their obedience.
Greg Beale notes the connection with Daniel 11-12. Specifically, in Daniel 11:35 wise believers endure persecution “so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.” Therefore, tribulation is part of God’s means of sanctifying his people.
The same word for “made them white” is found in Mark 9:3 regarding the transfiguration of Jesus, whose clothes “became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” This is a color that we cannot manufacture. We cannot obtain the degree of purity that this color exhibits in our own strength. Only those who have been enabled by the Holy Spirit will wash their robes and enter into the blessings of heaven (Re 22:14). White garments are worn by those celebrating in festivals (Ecc. 9:8). All who enter heaven, coming out of the great tribulation, will celebrate the victory of the Lamb.
Clothing is an important redemptive theme in Scripture. There is frequent instruction for garments to be washed in order to be purified from some defilement. So the purification that these saints received, signified by their white robes, is what makes them acceptable before the throne of God in heaven.
Adam and Eve were naked and without shame, until they fell into sin and sought cover. They attempted to hide their shame with fig leaves, but only God could provide sufficient covering (Gen 3:21). The defilement of sin is often described as covering humanity like clothing (Psalm 73:6; Mal 2:16). At the same time, we also see salvation portrayed as clothing (Isa 61:10). We saw this last week in Ezek. 16:8 where God entered a covenant with Israel by spreading the corner of his garment over her.
But, my favorite portrayal of this reality is found in Zech. 3:1-5. Joshua the priest was dressed in “filthy garments” as he stood before the Lord. Satan stood by ready to accuse him. As long as Joshua remained as he was, Satan’s accusations were valid. But instead of rejecting Joshua, the Lord rebuked Satan for bringing an accusation against one of his elect. The angel of the Lord commanded Joshua’s filthy garments to be removed and he is clothed with “pure vestments”. His filthy garments were replaced by festive garments. His shame was replaced with joy. This legal transaction has already taken place for every true believer, but we await the consummation to enter into our full enjoyment of that glory.
Jesus warned his followers: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). You have been washed by the blood of the Lamb which enables you to persevere through suffering by faith. It is the sure hope of the future outcome that strengthens us for each trial.
That hope is now portrayed as…
THE BLESSINGS OF THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT (15-17)
15 Because of their perseverance and purification believers will stand before the throne of God worshiping him day and night. Here they are said to reside in his temple, but later on in the description of the New Jerusalem, their is no temple to be found (21:22). Once again, we cannot take prophecy so literally that we miss the big picture. The point of these images is to say that heaven is about being in the presence of God. And just as the temple portrayed the presence of God in the Old Testament, so in heaven, we will always be in his presence. It is probable that the emphasis of the temple’s absence at the end of the book indicates the fact that we no longer have any need for mediation because we will see God face to face.
There is also an allusion here to Ezek. 37:26-28. God will set his “sanctuary in their midst forevermore.” Once again, promises made to Israel are fulfilled by the new covenant community which is made up of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (7:9). Saints who have suffered through tribulation will enter into the sheltering presence of God. Their suffering has ended.
In addition to that, John’s revelation alludes to the fulfillment of Isa. 49:10. Those who have suffered famine, drought, and the scorching heat of the desert will find everlasting relief in heaven (16). Believers can be assured of this because the Lamb will be their shepherd (17). God promised to set up a shepherd over his people from the line of David (Eze 34:23). David himself acknowledged the Lord to be his shepherd who provides for him and leads him to restoration (Psa. 23). These promises find their ultimate fulfillment in the Shepherd who took upon himself all the essential qualities of a lamb, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, and then rose again to lead his flock to the springs of eternal life. This Shepherd-Lamb will wipe away every tear of suffering loss that we have had to endure in this life.
The description of our eternal dwelling will be elaborated as we continue to make our way through each cycle. But it is clearly referring to the same blessings that believers receive in the new heaven and new earth recorded in Rev 21:1-4.
The blessings found here were also promised of those saints in the seven churches who persevere. Saints who conquer the temptations of the world will receive white robes (3:4-5). They will become pillars in God’s temple never to depart from his presence again (3:12). They will be fed by the tree of life (2:7) and the hidden manna (2:17) so that they will never experience hunger again.
The blood of the Lamb has made us acceptable before the throne of God from whom every heavenly blessing flows. Although the Lamb is unleashing war upon his enemies as he opens each seal, in chapter seven we find that the consummation of Christ’s reign is characterized by rest from war. As the Church Militant perseveres through the spiritual warfare of this life, we anticipate the victory of celebrating the blessings of the Church Triumphant. As we gather for worship and enjoy peace and unity now, we anticipate the blessings of our final state. But in heaven, all of our present sorrows are turned to joy!
- Ferguson, Sinclair, Devoted to God, 7. ↩︎