Revelation 7:9-17 9 After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
11 All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell facedown before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16 They will no longer hunger; they will no longer thirst; the sun will no longer strike them, nor will any heat. 17 For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
St. John receives a revelation from Jesus Christ. In a portion of that revelation, St. John sees a mighty army at rest. He hears a grand choir in song. He sees and hears what you and I can only see and hear with the eyes and ears of faith – a mighty throng, a faithful crowd, a noble people gathered before our God and the Lamb. This is a vast multitude of saints – God’s faithful believers who have died and entered the glory that Jesus reserved for them. They are being gathered from the four corners of the earth by God’s harvesting angels. These saints are streaming into glory from every nation, tribe, people, and language. These are the beloved saints of old, of today, and tomorrow.
John sees the saints entering the Church Triumphant. Those saints are being transferred from here – the Church Militant – the Christian Church in war and persecution and suffering.
They are clothed in brilliantly white robes. They shimmer and shine like the God who redeemed them. Their nakedness is unknown, and they walk with no shame. Their heads are lifted up as they approach Jerusalem the Golden. They have dropped their weapons of this world for they are not needed in God’s holy city. Instead, they are holding palm branches of victory to wave in praise of the King of kings and Lord of lords. They join with the elders, the angels, the archangels, and the four living creatures to bend their knee and bow before their Creator. Together they echo their antiphonal praise, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
The elder asks a great leading question of John, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” He answers his own question, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.”
We use that word “tribulation” to express a severe trial or suffering. I found the origin of the word “tribulation” to be interesting. In ancient Rome, grain was separated from the husk by riding over the sheaves in a wooden cart. Instead of wheels, the cart had rollers with sharp stones or rough bits of iron attached all around it.
These rough rollers tore the valuable grain from the worthless chaff. This cart was called a “tribulum.” That’s where we get our word “tribulation.”
Have you ever had any tribulation?
That may seem like a silly question. After all, who of us has not felt like, at times, we are being run over and torn to pieces with rough iron and stone-studded rollers? That we are being torn into pieces under the cruel pressures of pain and suffering?
This tribulation can come in various forms. It can roll over us quickly or slowly. But just as painfully. Perhaps it is the tribulation of a cancer diagnosis, followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Perhaps it is the tribulation of a spouse or parents who have decided to break their lifelong marriage bonds. Perhaps it is the tribulation of finding a job, providing for your family, or even just the struggle of getting homework done and a meal on the table. Or perhaps it is the heartrending pain of the death of a newborn. Even when that doesn’t happen to us, our heart aches for that family.
This tribulation is allowed by God … but caused by sin. We feel this tribulum rolling over us because we are sinners living in a sinful, broken and painful world. Tribulation does hurt, but remember that the purpose of the tribulum was not to tear the sheaves, but to expose the grain. The extreme suffering you endure allows the chaff in your life to blow away. When you are really struggling to merely survive, to get through another day, to wipe away the tears and just get out of bed, then a keen focus comes into your life.
It is in those times of tribulation that you realize what is really important. Soccer clubs, video games, social media, eating out, vacations up north, even politics, the car or the house, don’t seem all that important anymore. Your real friends and your close family are there to help you, pray for you, support you and encourage you. You learn to rely on your God, because He’s the only One who can get you through. His grace is sufficient for you, for His almighty power is revealed in your frail weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God assures you that your present tribulation is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in you (Romans 8:18).
Remember, tribulation isn’t designed just to hurt. It is allowing your caring and foreseeing God to make you more special and of greater worth than you would have been if He had left you all alone. Sometimes, we may wish that God had left us alone. … But, tribulation gets us ready to leave this veil of tears and be ready to enter the gates of glory.
We are reminded in John’s vision that one day – hopefully soon – we will be among those coming out of the great tribulation. We will no longer be saints and sinners at the same time here on earth. We will then be made only into saints – and for an eternity.
Who those saints are now, we will be one day. These saints are the blessed who died in the Lord and now rest from their labors. They have left us behind for the green pastures and quiet waters of paradise. They have been gathered around the throne of the God.
We are still in this great tribulation. We are on one side of eternity; they are on the next. We labor; they rest. We fight; they are at peace. We wrestle; they walk. We hunger and thirst; they are forever nourished. We suffer under the cross; they abide in glory. Thorns and thistles afflict us; they endure no tears for God’s hand wipes them all away. This is the reality of both sides of eternity.
We described who the saints are and where they came from. Now, we need to discover how they got to where they are now.
This multitude of saints followed the blood. By the blood of the Lamb their robes were washed. That doesn’t make sense. You wash clothes to get out the blood stains. But God uses the folly of the cross to shame the wise of the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). The blood of the Lamb of God, slain from the creation of the world, makes the clothing of the saints clean and holy. Every spot, every stain, every blemish with which we have soiled our baptismal clothing is once again washed away.
The Lamb’s blood, and His blood alone, makes us clean. Jesus suffered under the weight of the tribulum. The stones of betrayal and disappointment rolled over Him. The rough iron of hearts we’ve broken and spirits we’ve crushed rolled over Him. The nails of our sins and the wages of God’s wrath rolled over Him. Jesus endured an eternity of hellish tribulation during His hours on the cross. Why? So that we might have an eternity without burden, tribulation or tears.
He touched our filth, so we might be bathed in His glory.
He suffered our death, so that we might enjoy life eternal.
He endured our hell, so that the gates of heaven might be flung open for us.
He cried out on the cross, so that we might sing His praises around His throne.
He became dirty with our sins and covered with His blood, so that He could wash us from our sins with His blood.
He appeared defeated during His time on the cross, so that we would emerge victorious forever and ever.
Your God who suffered under the tribulum, offers you an eternal reprieve from under your tribulum. The same promises that God made to the saints who are now enjoying heaven, He also promises to you. The tribulations which the saints of God bore in their earthly life, we still suffer today. Yet, through God’s holy Word, each of us is called to repent and believe the gospel. Each of us is called to turn around, to change our minds, to correct our hearts and lives so that we walk the path of righteousness set before us.
God calls us to lead a life that portrays the white robes He gave us in our baptism. Instead of tainting our baptismal gown by indulging in sin, let us glorify God with our bodies, serving our neighbor with love and good works. Let us be found where the saints of God are always found – gathered in the house of the Lord on His day, with His people around His Word and His Supper. This is for our good. This is what made us saints. This is what keeps us as saints.
As we come to the house of the Lord, we lift up our voices in the song of praise. We join our voices with the saints on earth and hosts of heaven. We stand before the altar of God and kneel before the throne of the Lamb.
All of us know saints that have gone before us – spouse, parents, siblings, children. They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple. They suffer no more. They no longer hunger or thirst. There is no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears. The Lamb is in their midst. He has already wiped away every tear from their eyes. Their time under the triubulum is finished.
The Lamb of God is in our midst today. You hear His voice forgiving your sins in the absolution. You hear His voice in His divine Word. You receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. He comes to us in His Church Militant, so that He might prepare to transfer us to His Church Triumphant. Here in His house, He teaches us the songs we will be singing in His house for eternity. He gives us a blessed foretaste of the meal that we will enjoy at the wedding feast of the Lamb. He washes our robes in His baptismal waters and with His divine blood, so they will be clean upon our entrance into glory. He gives us our marching orders, so we are prepared to be in that white-robed army of saints streaming into Jerusalem the Golden.
Those saints who have gone before us, right now we are marching with them. We sing with them. We worship with them. We join with them in praise of our God and the Lamb. And soon, the day is coming, when we will see them with our own eyes; we will embrace them once again with our own arms; and we will stand side-by-side with them, hearts brave and arms strong, waving our palm branches. We will finally see what they see and hear what they hear.
Then, we will be among the saints who have come out from under the triubulum. Amen.