Revelation 7.9-17 - "He is Enthroned"
Last week we heard from Revelation 5 and the setting was the same as today in chapter 7—the throne room of God. Just like the Prophet Isaiah was allowed to peer into the throne room of God and gain confidence at his magnificence, so also John, so also we are able to look into this heavenly gathering and gain confidence. Last week we saw that the slain Lamb was worthy to open the scroll. This week we’re going to consider the fact that the slain Lamb is on his throne.
The point of apocalyptic literature—of which Revelation is a part—is not to give a play by play game plan for the future, as has often been taught. If you sit down and read the whole book in one sitting, one of the first things you should notice is how cyclical it is. There’s a point and that point shows up again and again and again. For example, chapter 1 spoke about the Throne Room with the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, then admonitions and encouragements to the seven churches, and then back to the Throne Room, then the Lamb begins to open the seven-sealed scroll in chapter 6, but before he opens the seventh seal in chapter 8, we have our passage.
We persevere because God rules.
Have you ever considered that much of your lack of joy and the worry you experience and the disappointment you have in life is due to not understanding that God is ruling right now. But there are two extremes we typically can fall into. Our passage today will help pull us out of either ditch this morning.
God rules completely
One of the extremes we can fall into is that God is that God only rules partially.
I didn’t read the first part of chapter 7, but I want to mention a couple things that help us get our hearts around what we have already read. Revelation 7.1: After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. // I want to clear up a little misunderstanding that has been in vogue lately. The Bible does not teach the earth is flat or that there are literal corners on the earth. When the Bible speaks about “under the earth” or “four corners”, it is trying to convey a deeper reality than the physical through using imagery. This concept of four corners speaks to the entirety of the world. How we say north, south, east, and west.
And then we see this list of the tribes with 12,000 each to equal 144,000. I don’t have time to dissect all the rationale behind this, but let me just say that what John sees is a perfect and complete fulfillment of God’s actions on earth. What do I mean? 12 is a number of completeness. When you multiply it by itself to show completeness, you get 144. Then you multiply that a third time (completeness) with another number representing completeness (1000), you get 144,000. These are not just ethnic Jews, as we’ll see in a moment. God is showing us that his purposes that began with Israel are brought to their completion—with the Tribe of Judah leading the list (which is different from other lists in the OT).
We see this completely redeemed people of God in our passage at v.9: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. // “Multitude” should bring to mind the promise of Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude of nations. And I am sure that this is part of this fulfillment. But the word John uses is not the same in the original language.
So what’s happening with the list of the tribes and then this multitude? We heard a moment ago from the book of Numbers. That book begins with a list of the tribes and their actual numbers. They were getting ready to enter into the Promised Land to take possession of what God had promised them. And as they go into their first battle at Jericho, the word John uses shows up. This word is used in the OT to refer to an army.
But we see this great and complete army is made up of a number that no one could number from every nation from all tribes and peoples and languages. Again, a list of four shows up to show that God’s work was always intended to included the entire population of the world. Yes, it started with Abraham. But we must remember that the work of the tribes was always intended to gather in people from all four corners of the earth.
This is the work that God had called John and the Apostles to be a part of. We have to remember that the Church was under heavy persecution right now. While it grew exponentially in the book of Acts, Rome was not going to continue to let that happen. So they sought to exterminate the Empire of this Rival King’s Army. And that’s where John is.
Look at vv. 13-14: Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” // John is in the middle of the Great Tribulation that Jesus promised would start once he left. John recorded this in John 16. Jesus told his disciples that he was going away. The Comforter—that is, the Holy Spirit—was coming. And he said this in 16.32: “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
How did Jesus overcome the world? The rest of John’s Gospel tells us. Betrayed into the hands of Caesar. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And he laid down his life. He died. He poured out his very blood to save people from the Kingdom of darkness. Those who have bended their knees to Jesus—submitting their lives to him—have been covered in the atoning blood of Jesus. // This is the song of the redeemed in our passage: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” And then we see the completeness of this salvation with a seven-fold declaration in v.12: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Some of us may be able to grasp the fact that God is completely in control of all that is. This is one side of the coin. The other side of the same coin that he rules is that…
God rules benevolently.
I use this word specifically because it helps us understand God’s actions. The word comes from two Latin words meaning good and will. That is, God’s rule is an effect of his will toward you. And that will is always good. This is something John and we need to be reminded of during this time of tribulation before Jesus cracks the seventh seal and returns in power and might. From the time of his Ascension and sending of the Spirit—as we saw in John 16—we will be in tribulation. In a similar way a woman goes into labor before giving birth. And we need to be reminded that we will persevere through many trials because God rules. And he rules benevolently. Going through tribulation never negates this.
We saw this already in the fact that those who have gone through the tribulation are wearing pure, white robes that have been covered in the atoning blood of the Lamb. This is something we can never take for granted…but often do. We can get accustomed to the fact that we have confessed our sin and become a Christian. But the image we should be having is that we are continually covered by the blood of Christ. We can never enter God’s presence on our own merit. We have to realize that we are ever and only accepted by Jesus’ righteousness.
Consider just this week how you have failed to live up to the perfect standard. Your actions. Your words. Your thoughts. If you think you don’t struggle with this, then consider how frustrated you were with someone at work. Frustrated with your kids. Frustrated with your parents. That frustration is our attempt to control others. To have them live according to our rules. In so doing, we seek to remove God from his righteous throne. And this, my friends, is deserving of his wrath. And if we are not covered in the righteousness of another, then we are undone. And until we’re convinced of that. Until we’re convinced that we don’t just need Jesus’ acceptance once to enter into God’s presence…but we always need it to stand in God’s presence, we will never understand the great cost. And this great cost is because of his great love.
But listen to vv.15-17.
Just as the Lord sheltered Israel with his presence in the desert, so also the Lord protects us from so many things we don’t even know about. What he lets into our lives is for our good. What is more, this verse tells us that you are never on your own trying to figure it out. He is always present with you. The question then becomes: Will you reach out to him and find your soul’s satisfaction in him? // Will you find out that he is, indeed, better than that thing—yes, even that good thing—you wanted?
But we also see that, just like the pillar of fire to keep Israel warm at night and the cloud to shade them from the scorching heat during the day and the manna from heaven, God provides for our needs.
This does not mean you will not have difficulty.
We have already seen that God’s people must go through tribulation. We also see that when we finally see him, it will be with tears in our eyes. Following Jesus never meant that you will not have trouble. That is promised to us. If you don’t want trials and tribulation in life, then follow the marching orders of the world. You will never have to push against the grain. You will never have to be the odd one out. You will never have to sacrifice for the good of others. If you never struggle in life, you’re probably not following Jesus.