If you’ve been standing to sing please have a seat and open up Revelation 7.9-17, which is a wonderful passage and let me pray.
Lord God speak to us now from your Word and encourage our hearts by this amazing vision of what you have in store for those who trust in Christ. For his Name’s sake, Amen.
What has kept you going through lockdown and this pandemic? Zoom – something we’d never really heard of nine weeks ago? Daily exercise – something I’d never heard of until late last year? Quizzes? Playing guess what’s on the wall or shelf behind the preacher in these services? Health care staff? Your church small group? Online church services? Or perhaps it’s a vision of the future – a vision of a new normal, of playing or watching sport albeit two metre apart. Or is it a vision of life in heaven as here in Revelation 7? That vision of heaven is what helped to keep Revelation’s first hearers going through difficulty and persecution and, as we’ll learn, it should help us keep going today.
I don’t know how you’ve been finding the slight easing of the lockdown. Perhaps for some it’s made you more nervous. The government admit they can’t give us any sure and certain hope that there won’t be a second spike as a result. The only way we can have a sure and certain hope now and for the future is through faith in the crucified, risen and ascended Jesus Christ, ultimately the hope of heaven or more accurately the hope of the new heaven and new earth, which will be virus free and where we’ll actually be with God, who will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and where we’ll also be with his people from every nation, people, tribe and tongue – yes there’ll be no social distancing in heaven as we’ll see from this wonderful vision of the one true united nations and our one true God in Revelation 7.
Do you wonder sometimes if heaven will be pretty empty? Well think again as we consider this amazing vision of the great multitude and of our great God. Heaven will be full or complete – now that doesn’t mean everyone will be in heaven – but it will be full.
Full of who? Of all those God has rescued through Jesus’ death and resurrection. You see contrary to popular belief – there won’t be any good people making it into heaven, only forgiven people, only those who’ve been forgiven, made new through faith in Christ. For only God is truly good and we all fall short of his goodness and glory and are therefore in need of his grace and mercy. Grace being spelt God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Last Sunday in the first part of chapter 7 we saw encouragingly that before the four horsemen of the apocalypse are allowed to ride forth and do their terrible work, leaving in their wake that litany of conquest, bloodshed, deprivation and death, God's servants are sealed. Not hermetically sealed, not vacuum-packed or wrapped in cotton wool, so that nothing nasty can ever happen to us in this world. It does happen. Currently in the UK we're not likely to lose our lives for being Christians but some have lost their livelihoods and we'll certainly face misunderstanding and mockery. However, if we're trusting in Christ, we've been marked, sealed as God's own. so that nothing can separate us from him. In fact, all creation has been called in to serve us. The angels and the four winds are brought in by God to ensure our salvation. God has held back history until he's sure his people are secured. That's how much you and I matter to him.
So to verses 9 to 17 and vision two of chapter 7: Saved at the end. This second vision takes us beyond the end of history and into heaven itself. It shows us that those who were sealed at the beginning will be saved at the end. And what a salvation it turns out to be! At first sight, though, you might think you were looking at a completely different group of people. The first vision showed us an exactly numbered crowd of 144,000. This second vision is of a great multitude that no-one could count. The first makes reference to the tribes of Israel, while the second has people from every nation, tribe, people and language. How can they be the same group? Well as we heard last week these are different views of the same people. Each vision shows us a group of ordinary Christians: the servants of our God, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
The first vision shows us that God's people will be complete – 144,000 is a complete number, none will be lost. The second vision shows us that they’ll be beyond number, just as God promised Abraham. God took Abraham outside one night and said: See the stars? See if you can count them. That's how many descendants I'll give you. (Genesis 15.5) Ever tried counting the stars? It’s very hard. And it’s very hard to count all God's people in heaven. Later, Jacob, Abraham's grandson, is told to think about the sand by the sea. God tells him it can’t be counted. Have you ever tried it at the beach? It's hard enough getting the family off the beach, but you try getting the beach off the family. It stays with you for days. There's so much of it. It’s very hard to count the grains of sand. And it’s very hard to count God's people in heaven.
Here they are in Revelation 7 a great multitude no-one could count. God's plan of salvation has worked. He's won, against all odds. He's kept his promise. And he promised Abraham a land, a home for his descendants to live in and to be very happy. In this vision, he's kept his promise in bringing them into a great salvation.
If you're a Christian, if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord, I hope you know the right answer to this question: Are you saved? The answer's Yes and No. Not because we're not sure, but because we have some of it now, but not yet all of it. Yes I’ve been saved. And No I'm still waiting. There's a fullness of salvation described in this vision which none of us yet knows in our experience.
Follow through from verse 15. One day, we'll be serving God in his presence. They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple. We'll be sheltered by God himself and know the glory of his presence. He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. We'll be thoroughly satisfied by God, because we're in his presence. Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst. We'll be safe from all danger. The sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat. We'll be supplied in our every need and beyond by the Lamb, Jesus Christ, himself. The Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; and he will guide them to springs of living water. And there’ll be no more sadness in our lives. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Yes, in heaven God himself will be with those he’s adopted into his family through faith in Jesus, and they shall be his people. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes – isn’t that a beautiful and tender thing – God himself wiping away every tear from our eyes resulting from sadness, grief, suffering, sickness and sin; in heaven there’ll be no more crying, grieving, pain, suffering, disappointment and no more death, for there’ll be no more sin. So, no hospitals, no cancer, no COVID-19, no masks, no PPE, no fear, no funerals. And this is not pie in the sky to fill us with false hope. No. It's a vision of a real glorious future, proven – yes proven by the death and resurrection of Jesus, to keep us going through the hardship of the present.
Do you see? Just think - a vision of holding the trophy aloft at the end of the season keeps sports people going through injury, pain and the trial of training. A vision of life after lockdown has kept some going through the trials of COVID.
If those pale visions, by comparison, can keep those people going, won't this vision of real, unfading and eternal glory keep us going even more? And not just keep us going but also spur us on to make the most of every opportunity for the gospel and being salt and light. You see here’s something which will last forever and not be taken away. Here’s something which will be truly satisfying - and not just sustain us until the next high comes along. Everything else can be taken from us, but not our salvation, our relationship with God. We can lose our most prized possessions: money, house, car, job. We can lose qualities which have counted for so much: looks, intelligence, health. We can even lose those dearest to us: parents, spouse, children. But nothing can separate us from God and his love for us in Christ. Nothing can and nothing will.
I've been reading something about being British. One thing that came across is our sense of individuality. Apparently we don't like central government and being told what to do, even though we’ve had to get used to it these past few weeks. We do like our own homes (or at least we did before the lockdown), so we desire to create homes as places of security, safety and peace, where we can take refuge from the outside and often hostile world. That desire for home is a godly one. God made us to find a home. If this passage isn't a picture of a people at home, I don't know what is. But what’s ungodly is to find a home apart from God and apart from heaven - to try and find security, shelter, satisfaction without God. The place where we're meant to find our home on earth as we wait for our home in heaven is not in our houses, but in our church families. Not in the church buildings - which aren’t terribly homely (and even though we might be missing them we’re getting used to church life without the buildings) but with God's people. The fact that the idea is still somewhat strange to our ears shows how far we are from realising it.
But I've left something out. Two little words which tell us who these people are who are safe for all eternity.
One is in verse 17: "For the Lamb…" This heavenly home is for those shepherded by the Lamb. Those for whom Jesus died (he's their Lamb) and for whom Jesus is now Lord (he's their shepherd).
The second little word is referred to in verse 15 and we go back to verse 13 to 14 to pick it up: who are these clothed in "white robes". Now in one sense, there'll be every kind of person in heaven - people from every nation, tribe, people and language from Tyneside to Timbuktu to Tasmania (v.9). But in another sense, there'll only be one kind of person in heaven - the person who has put his or her confidence in Jesus, who died for our sins on the cross. There'll be no other kind of person in heaven. We'll all be wearing the same clothes: white robes. And as we go around and ask each other, where did you get yours from? The answer will always be the same: from Jesus the Lamb, washed and made white in his blood (v.14). There won't be anyone who can say anything different, such as - it was handed down to me by my parents. I made it myself. I was born with it. I earned it. I bought it. I borrowed it from a friend. Mr Buddha gave it to me. Mr Mohammed said I could have it. No, these clothes are only available from one outlet – from the Lamb who died and rose again, who won the victory over sin, death and the devil and we share in his victory only by grace through faith in him. There is real hope in the face of death for those who trust in Christ.
You see this vision is a picture of conquest. White is the colour of conquest in Revelation. Palm branches are waved in the victory parade. That great crowd of believers will stand before the throne in front of the Lamb, waving palms, hailing not a political Messiah but a Saviour from sin and hell. Christians will overcome, says God through John. It doesn't always seem like it. It doesn't always feel like we’re on the Victor’s side. We need to have this vision of John's. We need to be reminded that we’re on the winning side. God wins. the Lamb wins. We win. Sealed at the beginning. Saved at the end.
Amen and God bless you.