The Church Triumphant – Part 1 (Rev. 7:9-17)
I spend time each week wrestling over the purpose of the passage I’m going to preach because I want to be faithful to present that purpose to you in a way that you can understand and apply immediately. I want to do justice to the author’s intent, both the human author and especially the divine Author of Scripture. As I began thinking about how to do that for this passage, I was aware just how weak my efforts would be. This text has a Mt. Everest theme and I’m barely capable of guiding you to the base camp. I want to encourage you to explore this vision for all it is worth. My goal this morning is to place a map of helpful destinations and guideposts that you will want to consider further as you meditate upon this text.
That does not mean this passage is esoteric and abstract. This text is meant to prepare us for our greatest trials in life. Monday night, I watched the Kara Tippetts Story on Netflix called “The Long Goodbye”. Kara was the wife of a PCA church planter in Colorado. Shortly after beginning a “Mommy Blog” she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Her written and video updates won a large following. In her last years she fought to display an honest yet faithful picture of Christian suffering. The documentary covers her last years, concluding with her death and funeral on March 22, 2015. As I watched the heart wrenching interviews with Kara, her husband, and her friends, I thought about this passage. What does it have to say to Kara in her last days? How could it encourage her family and friends as they mourn her death.
I think this is a passage especially suited for those in mourning. It is a passage that provides hope. It gives us strength to persevere in the face of life’s greatest trials. Here we are told of the blessings that await those who enter into their heavenly reward.
Douglas Kelly This passage, as well as any in the Word of God, puts our minds on heaven, where many of our loved ones already are and where all who are saved will soon be.
John is providing a word of encouragement to the first-century church as they prepare to endure suffering. He repeatedly points them to God, who is seated on his throne, and the Lamb who redeemed us by his death and resurrection. Last week, we noted that the 144,000 described in the first half of this chapter depict the Church Militant. Before his servants enter into tribulations of all kinds God seals them with the promise of his ultimate protection.
The Church Triumphant in heaven is simply the antithesis of the Church Militant on earth. On earth we engage in spiritual warfare and tribulation. We stand in battle array. Our warfare is primarily spiritual, but it will oftentimes involve physical and emotional components. Anything related to living in a fallen world that is out of accord with God’s intended purpose in creation is related to the Church Militant.
It is the opposite for the Church Triumphant. In heaven, we rest from war, and we enjoy the celebration of the Lamb’s victory. We are finally free from all spiritual, physical, and emotional conflict. This passage shows us how: The Church Triumphant, for all eternity, will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who saved us!
Read Rev. 7:9-17
THE SALVATION OF THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT (9-10)
After hearing of the 144,000 John looked and saw a great multitude made up of all the redeemed from the past, present, and future—from all tribes and peoples and languages—celebrating their salvation.
9 If this is the same group from the first part of the passage, why would John suggest that “no one could number” them? He’s already heard the number as 144,000. Why wouldn’t he simply associate the number with the crowd? In the first half, John heard about the redeemed community from God’s perspective. Surely, if God knows the number of hairs on each head (Mt. 10:30), he can accomplish the easier task of counting the number of heads. But from John’s perspective, from our view, the crowd of saints are innumerable.
Beeke They are innumerable as far as you and I are concerned, but God knows every one of them.
Again, this does not mean that the number is literal. Go back to last week’s message if you need to know the many reasons I interpret 144,000 figuratively. However, just because the number is given in a stylized, symbolic manner—does not mean the number is unknown by God. He alone knows the precise number.
The Church Triumphant includes representatives from all people groups. God’s name will be considered great from the East to the West (Mal. 1:11). People from all nations will join Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven (Mt 8:11). The twenty-four elders had already anticipated this praise from the Universal Church (5:9). The church is now seen to join all the hosts of heaven in their praise to God and to the Lamb.
Since worship will be multi-ethnic and multi-cultural in heaven, it is right for us to strive for the same on earth. I’m not suggesting affirmative action or reparations to ease racial tension. I do not believe that solves the problem. It only creates more animosity. But, as believers who have been brought together as one people—while still retaining much of our cultural distinctiveness, we should have no inhibitions about worshipping alongside representatives of any and every ethnicity on earth. We should be delighted to worship with anyone and everyone God brings through our church doors. And, although language is an inevitable barrier to worship now, we ought to long for the day when that will not be the case in heaven. So we can appreciate our global family and anticipate union with them in eternity.
All of these saints are clothed in long robes commonly associated with festivals. Their robes are white signifying their purity and victory through the blood of the Lamb (14). They are counted among the righteous because they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Although the martyrs depicted in the sixth seal (6:11) were also given white robes, this does not mean that this great multitude is made up of martyrs only. The twenty-four elders were also clothed in white (4:4). And at the end of the book all of the redeemed are clothed in robes they have washed (22:14). This is a picture of all the redeemed worshiping God together in perfect harmony.
The palm branches in their hands remind us of Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding upon a donkey and received the treatment of a triumphant king. But, even before that day, palm branches were waved during the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40). This was meant to remind parents, and teach children, to celebrate God’s protection of Israel in the wilderness after their Exodus out of Egypt (Lev. 23:43).
God had rescued this “wilderness generation” out of Egypt, but they were far from being free from trials after that. In fact, they are the epitome of suffering. Unfortunately, they repeatedly grumbled and complained about it. But despite their rebellious attitude, God provided for them and protected them so that their children might enter into the Promised Land.
John hears this great multitude again in 19:1 shouting, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” Both there and here John alludes to the song of Moses which the Israelites sang to the Lord after safely crossing the Red Sea. “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Exod. 15:2).
Why does this passage allude to the Exodus story? In John’s vision the whole redeemed church is celebrating God’s preservation of them through the wilderness of suffering and tribulation (cf. 12:6, 14). Just as God made a way of escape from Egypt for the Israelites, He provides the means for all his people to make their own exodus out of a fallen world. Just as God sent Moses to lead the covenant community out of their bondage in Egypt, he has sent to us his Son, Jesus Christ, to lead his people out of their bondage to sin. As we plod our way in the wilderness of this fallen world we have the assurance that our own salvation belongs to God who is seated on his throne and to the Lamb who was slain in our place. God has made a way for us to be reconciled to him through his Son, and to celebrate the victory he has won for all eternity!
Upon seeing the great multitude and hearing their cry John sees the heavenly hosts join in worshiping…
THE GOD OF THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT (11-12)
The hosts of heaven, overwhelmed with the sight of the multitude, fall on their faces offering the fullness of praise and adoration. I say the “fullness” of praise because they declare seven attributes of God. More attributes could have been listed, but seven represents completeness as we have already seen several times in Revelation.
In addition, in the original Greek, the definite article precedes each attribute. It literally reads, “Amen! The blessing and the glory and thewisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” This is no ordinary blessing, but “the blessing” above all blessings.
Hendriksen It indicates that in the fullest, deepest sense these excellences pertain to God, and to Him alone.
This same praise was given by the myriads of angels in 5:12. But there, it was directed towards the Lamb who was worthy to take the scroll from him who was seated on the throne. The order is slightly different and “wealth” is replaced with “thanksgiving” but the point is clear. Both, the one who is seated on the throne and the Lamb are worthy to receive the fullness of praise from all creation.
Popular stories of dying and entering heaven only to be revived and return to earth do not paint this kind of picture. They oftentimes focus on reuniting with loved ones. But, first and foremost, heaven is about worship. If we do not care about worshiping Jesus Christ now, why would we care about spending eternity worshiping him in heaven? Paul could only say, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) because his highest desire was to be with Christ. Like the heavenly hosts, we ought to offer God the fullness of praise because the victory he has accomplished for us will be celebrated forever and ever!
The Church Triumphant, for all eternity, will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who saved us! We will take up the rest of this passage next week. And, in Sunday School, I plan on discussing the eschatological topic of “the already and not yet”.
We live in the tension of the “already and not yet”. We are simultaneously just and sinner. This tension is also part of our suffering in this life. We have been clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. We have been given the indwelling Spirit. Yet, in our flesh, sin remains ever present. We are a new creation in Christ, but we continue to wrestle with our old man.
As Christians, we must walk by faith in this tension, knowing that God is at work. His sanctifying grace is transforming and renewing us and preparing us for Christ’s return, when this tension is fully and finally resolved; when we will enter into glory along with a great multitude praising the God who saved us!
Isaiah contains much prophecy that relates to our eternal blessings. They are given in contrast to the experience of saints in the wilderness (Isa. 35:1-4). In heaven, everything that contributes to your suffering now, will be used by God to magnify your enjoyment of his glory and blessings. In light of that, be strong and take courage!