Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Revelation 7: God is able to save his people, All his people.


preached at HopeWhangarei Presbyterian Church  as part of our Revelation: Eternal hope in the face of present difficulties series. recoding of message is available  on this link 

We are sadly used to seeing it, in the face of war disaster and trouble. That frantic flight of people trying to get away desperately heading for safety. We've seen it again this month on our TV screens as people flee from the Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. 

We may remember the grainy black and white photo of People clambering up to the roof of the American embassy hoping for a seat on the last helicopter fleeing Saigon in 1975.

Similar scenes at the airport in Kabul last year as the Taliban swept back into power in Afghanistan.

The ongoing plight of refugees streaming across the Mediterranean to escape poverty, persecution war and conflict in inadequate boats, some making it or plucked to safety by navy vessels others perishing. We’ve seen it and it is one of the horrific faces of suffering in the world. A lottery of who will be saved?

Maybe less sever but closer to home and more relatable, we all have heard the tales of personal hardship, suffering and sorrow as people have not been able to get places in MIQ to come back to New Zealand as our border has been closed because of COVID. Maybe you and your family have been affected by that…The numbers are limited …. Who will get in.

Revelation 6, speaks of the Lamb of God opening the seals on the scroll with evil coming forth, war and pestilence, famine and poverty, natural disaster and martyrdom, and it finishes with the people asking who can be saved from these trials? Who can get airlifted, get away safe. And instead of a deafening silence or an inadequate under resourced rescue effort, Revelation 7 in two visions tells us that God is able to bring his people through times of trial, God can be trusted to save his people, all his people.

The chapter starts with those words ‘after this I saw” remember we are not looking at a timeline of events here but John describing his vision. And it does seem that this passage is almost an interlude in the flow of the book. We have six of the seven seals opened on the scroll and then all of a sudden the scene changes, the theme changes. But as I’ve alluded to what is said by these two visions is significant and important, an answer to the question who can be saved. It’s full of encouragement for John’s first reads and us. God is able to save his people… all his people.

The first vision happens on earth. It consists of a vision of five angels. John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. A metaphorical way of looking at the whole earth and the winds coming from all the different directions. It’s the first and only time they are mentioned in the book and they are restraining the wind from doing damage. Which of course has not been mentioned at all so far, or will it be... However we get the picture of the calm before the storm. Things are put on hold for a specific reason. The fifth angel goes about with the seal of God and puts a seal on God’s servants. Marking them as belonging to God. We are not shown what that entails or that process. Elsewhere in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 1:225:5Ephesians 1:13-144:30 the Holy Spirit is seen as a seal of God on those who believe, a pledge that people belong to God, that we have been redeemed. Later in Revelation we see the beast mark all those who worship him, but here God has marked his people out first. Before it all happens.

Now John hears the angel say the number of those sealed was 144,000 from every tribe of Israel and we have a list of twelve tribes with 12,000 from each. We see the tribes listed. In a list that is unique in scripture it starts with Judah, rather than Rueben, the oldest, showing the importance of Judah as the tribe Jesus came from, Both Joseph and his son Manasseh are said to be tribes, but Ephraim the other son of Joseph recorded in Old Testament lists is not mentioned. Neither is Dan, Dan may be left out because early on it was associated with idol worship in the Old testament, and in some Jewish though the anti-messiah was supposed to come from that tribe. But it’s a complete list of twelve tribes.

Now 144,000 is one of those numbers and moment in the book of revelation where there are many different ways of interpreting what it means.  If you’ve had Jehovah witnesses at your door they used to make a lot out of this number. Saying it referred to 144,000 Jehovah witness who had been taken up to heaven before 1935. Others see it as refereeing to specifically Jewish believers who will be spared during the trials that are to come, or more specifically will be or have been saved from the destruction of Jerusalem.  Others tie it in with the idea of a rapture that these saints are going to avoid the trials that are to come. They are the fortunate ones who will get a place on the plane.

Another interpretation, which I believe, in my humble opinion, fits the best, is just as four corner of the earth is a way of speaking about the earth in its entirety, 144,000 is also a symbolic number which conveys meaning rather than a literal number. It is 12 x 12 x 1000 and it conveys the idea of completeness, 12 is a number of completeness and we have a complete number from each of the twelve tribes the compete family, multiplied by 1000 which marks again the idea of completion and totality, we’ll strike it again with the idea of the 1000 year reign. Is it a literal 1000 years or does it mean that it has come to completion? God seals all his servants all his people before the times of trial, before the coming winds of change and trouble blow.

Here are some of my thoughts why. Firstly, as I’ve already said the numbers have significance as meaning total or all encompassing, secondly, that to limit it to the Jews only goes beyond the New Testament idea of the people of God are both Jew and Gentile together. Thirdly in the text those sealed are simply called the servants of God, a generic term, not Jews.  Fourthly, we now move to a second vision, this one in heaven, and we see standing before the throne, those who have endured and overcome who are a crowd too big to number, people from every, nation, tribe, people group and language. God is able to save his people all his people.

Numbering them according to the tribes, may also be a sign that these people will not be saved from the trials that are to come but are being sealed so they can face what is to come. In numbers the tribes were counted by the number of fighting aged men, and here we may catch a glimpse of God’s servant being prepared for the conflict that is to come. As we move through revelation we’ll get into some of the different understandings of things like the rapture, millennium, tribulation and the raft of different ways of looking at it. But the key thought is ultimately God will save his people all his people.

So let’s move to the second vision, again we see it’s a different vision because John says after these things I saw in verse 9. The scene has now changed and john is back in the throne room, and there he sees a multitude beyond counting. I don’t know if you ever caught up with Donald trump saying he has more people at his inauguration that the two million who were present for president Obama’s inauguration. With the internet battle between photos taken from the same place on both occasions, but here the crowd stretches outwards and outwards, people from all nations, tribes, people groups, languages are included, this is beyond massive. The language used coveys totality  and completion. They are dressed in crowns and white robes. They hold palm branches, a sign of victory and celebration. Interesting that John’s gospel is the only one to mention palm branches in his narrative of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. It’s a hint that ties these writing together. That triumphant entry is seen as a foreshadow of the procession in heaven. The multitude cry our ‘salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb” here those redeemed by God acknowledge that it God who has saved them, that it is the lamb who by his sacrifice has redeemed them. The cry is no longer Hosanna (save me) it is in the past, salvation belongs to our God.

At this john sees the rest of the heavenly court fall down and worship. The angels and the twenty four elders. They agree with the multitude Amen… they give praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, thanks is a unique feature of the list in this chapter, it may look to thanking God for those he has redeemed,  and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever, amen”. An affirmation that God has done it.

Then we have the vision explained by a question and answer with one of the twenty four elders. Who asks these in white robes who are they and where do they come from?’. John lets the elder tell him. Those in white are the ones who have persevered in the great tribulation. Who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.

The word translated tribulation here causes us some difficulties, as people think that it refers to some end days event, and it may focus on that, but for the readers of John in his day they were aware of the coming trials they faced, like we too are aware of the difficulties we and other Christians face round the world face.  But this vision shows that through those times through any coming time that God has and will save his people all his people.

The second thing is the idea of the blood of the lamb cleansing the robes. Now I know there is a genre of hymn that talk of a fountain of blood that cleanses us from sin. But the blood of the lamb refers to Christ’s death. The death of the lamb. It may go back to the Passover idea of the blood of the lamb on the door post. But it affirms very strongly it is in identifying with the death of Jesus that we are redeemed. There is a sense that here are all the people who have endured following Christ to the end, be it their death in persecution of old age. They are cleansed and saved by God’s power through Jesus death. It is easy to think of salvation as simply saying a [prayer as an insurance policy, but here, and I’m showing my reformed bias, the idea of those around the throne are those who persevered to the end. Saved by Christ alone, by faith alone, but who persevere in that faith. That saving act changes everything.

Then the elder goes on to speak of the benefit of being washed in the blood, redeemed by the lamb. They are before the throne of God. This amazing picture of being welcomed in and able to stand pure and forgiven before God’s throne. Serving him day and night in the temple. There are lots of pictures and scriptures that come to mind there. In 1 peter that we are living stones built into the house of God, serving God with the thanksgiving offerings. Again in peter that we are a royal priest hood. It also ties it back to the 144,000 who were referred to as the servants of God. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them forever in his presence, the idea of dwelling in the house of the Lord, from psalm 23 and John 14 in my Father’s house is a mansion for you. We will see this fulfilled in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22. But the servants of God will know this shelter and presence as they endure and go on.

Never again will they be hungry, never again will they be thirsty, picking up Jesus words about being living water in John 4. Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied. The promise of Psalm 121 of the sun not harming them. Then we have this wonderful image of the lamb who is at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. He will wipe away their tears. There will be an end to suffering and a time of joy.  The lamb will bring them through it all and to this place of renewal and refreshing.

Ok let’s bring it all together,

These two visions show that from beginning to end God is able to mark out his people and save them and bring them to be with him in heaven. God is able to save all his people. As the seals on the scroll are opened and we see the hardships and difficulties we can trust God that he will lead us through, he will ultimately save us, the shepherd is the lamb. Jesus has lead the way through death into new life. We may face war, pestilence, martyrdom, natural disasters poverty and famine, but God is the one who knows who we are and Jesus is with us as our shepherd and will bring us through, to be with him and the lamb, to a place of shelter, thanks, refreshment and joy. God will save his people, all his people. 

It gives us confidence and comfort to keep living out our faith as we face the trials to come. The first martyr in Acts, Stephen as he is being stoned sees the same vision John speaks of. He see Christ on the throne, and it turns that killing into witness and victory. Yes there will be hardship and sorrow pain and tribulation, as this world passes away, but be encouraged God is able to save his people all his people. We are sealed as his from the beginning and we will be with him in the end.  

No comments:

Post a Comment