… this is the great mosaic of ethnicities. God’s final picture of redeemed mankind will be a great testimony to His love of diversity. People from every nation, tribe, people and language will make up the colors of His masterpiece.
Last week we learned that God is going to save 144,000 Jews during the Tribulation. This week we learn He is going to save so many Gentiles you won’t even be able to count them.
God loves the nation of Israel and the Jews are His covenant chosen people. But God has always loved the Gentiles too. And He has always sought their salvation. We see the city of Ninevah. We see the Jewish prophets naming Gentile nations and promising blessings to them. The Abrahamic Covenant included saving Gentiles too when it says “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:3:8-9, 14). Isaiah 49:6 says the Messiah will be a light for the Gentiles too. The aged prophet Simeon took the baby child Jesus and praised Him as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). Peter’s epiphany in Cornelius’ house was that God wants the salvation Gentiles too (Acts 10:34-35). Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Gal. 1:16; 2:9). In the Great Commission passage Jesus at last turns His sights beyond the Jews to all nations and charges His Apostles with taking His Name all over the world (Matt. 28:19; Matt. 24:14; Acts 1:8). While Israel is indeed God’s chosen nation out of all others, still, God has never been without love for the Gentiles and always has sought their salvation: before the law of Moses, under the law of Moses, and even now after the coming of Jesus.
Now we come to those Gentiles who will be saved in the future during the Tribulation. Just before this we learned God plans to save 144,000 Jews. Now we learn God plans to save so many Gentiles that we can’t even count them all. Let’s look more closely at them
They are before the throne and in front of the Lamb. You’ll note the scene shifts. In verses 1-8 it is on earth, but, in verses 9-17 it is in heaven. They are in the immediate presence of God. Now I was thinking about this phrase, “before the throne” this past week. The word “before” can mean several things. It can be a chronological reference where we say someone came first. They were before me. They were born before me. They got in line before me, “Before Abraham was born I am”, etc.
Another way the word “before” is used in Scripture is to speak of someone’s rank. Jesus Christ, according to Colossians 1:15, is “before all things.” Now that is a reference to Him being eternal, coming before all things chronologically, but, it is more of a reference to His supreme rank over all things.
But none of those meanings make sense with this phrase “before the throne”. They didn’t exist before God’s throne existed. They don’t outrank God’s throne. When it says they were before the throne, it is speaking of their special proximity to the throne; they were in the presence of the throne.
But it seems to stress that the lesser being is in the presence of the greater being to offer worship, honor and service. God is omnipotent, but, this is a special proximity to Him whereby the entire being of the creature is oriented, offered and attending to the will of God. It suggests nothing less than full devotion and total obedience and complete worship of God.
Their location has more too it. See where they are from: from every nation, tribe, people and language. These are not Jews, this is the great mosaic of ethnicities. God’s final picture of redeemed mankind will be a great testimony to His love of diversity. People from every nation, tribe, people and language will make up the colors of His masterpiece.
What about people who’ve never heard about Jesus? Great question! Thankfully the Scriptures speak to this issue. First everyone knows there is a God because of creation (Romans 1:18-21) and because of our conscience (Romans 2:12-16). In Christian Apologetics these are expressed as the cosmological, the teleological, and the moral arguments. Now, we learn that God has sovereignly determined the time in history and the place on earth that everyone would be born (Acts 17:26). Why would He do that? So that we might seek Him and reach out for Him. It says that He is not far from anyone (Acts 17:27). Think about that: No matter what continent someone is born on, or culture and religion someone is born into, no matter if they are living in an obscure bush of some 3rd world country or a New York penthouse, if they really want to know the real God He is right there. They just have to ask. Or seek. Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8). In other words, God will not ignore anyone who sincerely wants to know who He is and if He is real. He honors the man or woman who seeks Him with their heart. He does not wish anyone to perish, but, that all would come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
But there is an onus on people to care enough about knowing God to go and seek for Him. Just accepting your religion because you grew up in it, whether its Buddhism, Islam, bush paganism or even Christianity, and doing your religion because its your cultural context, and doing it without really wanting to find out the truth about God, doesn’t give you any excuse before God. Seeking God is honorable, but being indifferent is deplorable as far as He is concerned (Rom. 3:10). So, if those who have never heard of Jesus truly want to know God, He will not leave them in the dark. The question is: do they really want to know what God is really like or just go through the motions of the religion of their culture? Many hear of Jesus in “Christian” cultures and they reject what they hear. Maybe the more pressing question is “What is God going to do with those people?” (Luke 12:47-48).
Second we see they are in heaven. The Jews were going to be sealed on earth, the Gentiles here are seen in heaven. Specifically they are said to be before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They belong to the Lamb, and, they belong where He is. They are standing before the throne. That is where they belong, before the Lamb and the Lamb before them. What a contrast to those in chapter 6 who hid from the Lamb. They ran in terror from Him, but these come and stand in front of Him.
Where are you? What is your location? Not geographically, but in relation to God? You aren’t too far from God’s reach. Just reach out for Him. When Adam sinned, he ran and hid from God among the trees. Then God came looking for him and called out, “Adam, where are you?” That question was just as much about Adam’s relationship with God as it was his physical location. Where are you? Are you far away? Ah, come near! Do you still go your own way? Here and now come to God. Come meet Him at the only place He will meet you: the cross of Jesus Christ.
Next we see their attire: white robes. White robes make up the wardrobe of the redeemed. Here these Gentiles who are saved during the Tribulation will be dressed in white robes. Earlier in chapter 6 we saw the martyred souls of the Tribulation under the heavenly altar and they were given white robes (6:11). The Church at Sardis was told that “he who overcomes will be dressed in white” (3:5). The Laodiceans were told to buy white clothes from Jesus (3:18). These Gentiles have had their robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb (v14), which while it may sound strange to us, it is saying they have been purified by the sacrifice of Jesus.
These pure white robes are showing us that they are seen as pure. Now, often times clothing in Scripture refers to our deeds (Revelation 3:4; 19:6; Romans 13:14). When it says they had their robes washed and made white, we see that before they were dirty, unwashed, and probably stained. But it was the Lamb, the blood of the Lamb that washed their robes. Now if clothing symbolizes deeds than we see something beautiful: the blood sacrifice of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is the basis on which they have been washed of their deeds. The blood of Jesus, spilled for the sins of the world, is the only thing that can wash a sinner clean of his sins!
Those who are saved and redeemed by the blood of Jesus wear the clothes that He gives them. No one is wearing clothes that they made for themselves. This is relating the very important theological point of “imputation”. Imputation refers to the righteousness that we are credited with. It’s the righteousness of Jesus – His very own personal righteousness as God so its actually God’s righteousness that we are being credited with. Notice it is not earned by us. It is given to us. It is a gift that God hands over to us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. The brilliant white clothes they are wearing are given to them by Jesus, symbolizing the righteousness that He has given them – perfect, pure, radiant righteousness.
What’s in your closet? Are you dressed in your clothes, or, are you dressed in the righteousness that Jesus gives?
Along with their beautiful white robes they are carrying palm branches. We might begin to think of Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter when a lot of churches traditionally hand out palm leaves. But what do palm branches communicate? Why are they important? Well Palm branches often are associated with deliverance, with victory, and are accessories to celebration.
Going back much farther than Palm Sunday we look at one of the biggest annual feasts in Israel: the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a week long, and what made this Feast unique was everyone was to build a little temporary hut somewhere, anywhere you could find room. No one was to live in their homes, everyone had to build a hut and live in it the whole week. Now these huts were supposed to be made with several different kinds of tree branches and leaves, and one of those was palm branches. It would be like looking around Spring Lake and Grand Haven and everywhere in parks, parking lots, on sidewalks and on lawns people would have tents setup and RV’s parked.
Why? Because they were commemorating God’s provision for them when they travelled in the desert for 40 years. By building and living in huts all week they were taken back to when they didn’t have a permanent home and kept moving in the desert. They were homeless. But while they didn’t have homes they had Jehovah. He never left them. He provided for their needs of food and water, guided them, and protected them from their enemies when they were vulnerable. Once they were settled in their land, once their roots were growing in their permanent residence, once they had homes rather than tents, the Feast of Tabernacles was meant to remember and celebrate God’s faithfulness towards them when they didn’t have a home.
Palm branches are seen again when the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem from Babylon and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Neh. 8:13-15). God delivered them from captivity just like He delivered them from slavery, and from wandering homeless. Palm branches are an ingredient in remembering and rejoicing in God’s deliverance. Palm branches are seen too when God’s Deliverer comes: Jesus Christ. In John 12 it says that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey down from teh Mount of Olives and all the people of the city came out carrying palm branches as they sang songs celebrating Jesus as the King of the Jews, the Son of David, their Messiah. Palm branches are a stock accessory for God’s people in celebration of God’s deliverance of them. Hence, that is why many early Christian tombs we find are decorated with palms – celebrating the deliverance from death we have in our resurrection through Jesus Christ.
In light of that, we more fully understand the words of their declaration in verse 10 [Read]. Another stanza is added to the song begun in chapter 4. In chapter four the elders and the 4 living creatures declared the holiness and the worthiness of God as the Eternal Creator who gives life to all things. In chapter 5 Jesus is declared worthy to open the scroll because He shed His blood to redeem men from all over the world. In chapter 7 Salvation is said to belong to God and to the Lamb. How fitting that they say this. They have been saved, they have had their robes washed and made white by the blood of the Lamb (v14). They are holding the palm branches of victory, overcomers of the devil and the world. All because of God and the Lamb.
Can you see both the inclusive aspect of this verse and the exclusive aspect? The inclusive aspect is on the human side: that people from all over the world are saved – people from every tribe, nation, language and people group. God has saved all sorts of different people. But the verse is exclusive on the God side: salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb. Salvation does not belong to Allah. Salvation does not belong to the false “Jehovah” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It does not belong to any of the myriads of Mormon gods, or any of the millions of Hindu gods. And especially salvation does not belong to you – either in your religious merit, sacramental merit, self-improvement, moral merit, or any Eastern/ New Age awakening you may experience. All faiths are not equal. There is no salvation through anyone else other than Jesus and there is no other place to get it than at His cross. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 says, “For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Do you say what they say? “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb?” Is He your salvation?
Their Comfort (v15-17)
Now we see their comfort, verses 15-17. Do you know this life is not the end? What pain, suffering, hardship, adversity do you have? It is only a little while. But God’s comfort is forever. God brings a very comprehensive comfort.
They are never lonely again, for here they are seen as permanently before the throne and with the Lamb under His tent. Did their loved ones get killed during the Tribulation? Did they lose family to a war, a famine, a wild beast, a disease? Worse yet, did their loved ones turn them over for refusing to take the mark of the beast out of faithfulness to Jesus? Never again will they be lonely.
They are never going to be hungry again, but forever they will eat with the feast of heaven. Having refused the mark of the beast on earth they would not have been able to buy provisions for themselves or their family. They would have been starving.
They will never be parched again, but forever they will drink from the water of life, that pure fountain that never runs dry.
They will never be oppressed by the beating sun, homeless, on the run from the anti-christ’s police forces, a war refugee, exposed to the elements. Now they are under the tent of God, in the coolness of His shade.
And finally, that most precious phrase that has rests in the hearts of so many believers: God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. The pain, the sorrow, will all be gone. He who is their all in all will heal their hearts, dry their eyes, and crown them with gladness and rejoicing.