Friday, June 8, 2012

Revelation Bible Study - Lesson 23 - Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen."
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (RSV)

Great Multitude

How do these verses and others dispel the claims of cults that if will only be a specific few or their members who will be saved, such as 144,000? How do we know that even with multitudes not everyone will be saved?

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 8:10-12 NASB)

Jesus was obviously pleased with the faith exhibited by the Roman centurion. He used his faith as a point to start teaching them. Up to this time the Jews thought that they were the only ones who would be saved despite verses given to us as early as the following two.

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. (Ps 22:27-28 ESV)

These promise a blessing and redemption to all nations. The only multitudes that the Jews expected to see in heaven were Jewish. This is also the claim of many cults today. On one hand, cults claim that only membership in their select group will guarantee salvation while on the other hand, other religions make the claim that any system of belief will provide salvation. Both are wrong as Jesus points out. He clearly indicates that it is by faith that people will be saved, but it isn’t by misplaced faith, otherwise He wouldn’t have warned the Jews of their impending eternal disaster.

With so many in heaven, how do we know we won’t be distant from Jesus?

Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. (Matt 13:2 NIV)
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Eph 2:18 NIV)

There were so many in the crowds that followed Jesus while He was on earth that He had to get into a boat to give a little distance between Him and them. When He was here physically, He couldn’t minister to all their needs. The multitudes in heaven show us that there will be room for everyone and all our needs will be met. Even now, He has sent His Holy Spirit to us and we became part of Him so that there is no physical restriction hampering us from coming to Him. Ephesians 3:12 also tells us we can approach God with freedom and confidence. Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-20 also tell how we may approach God. It is only because of the blood of Jesus that we are able to do so. That blood has cleansed us from all sin so we can be in His very presence. Where the Father is, there is Jesus also. He will never be far away.
We see a multitude in heaven, but on earth, is it safe to follow the multitudes? Will the majority of people be saved?

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:14-15 NASU)
The multitudes that came to Jesus to be fed and healed were looking for a king to save them, but Jesus didn’t come to do that. His ministry was to prove to us that He is God by all that He said and did so that we would have faith in Him. Once He established His identity, He died for our sins and was raised giving the ultimate proof of His divinity. It is interesting to see that in heaven the physical care that He gives is precisely what the people wanted back then.
The problem is that they were unwilling to subject their spiritual life to Him. This is the reason that only a few will be saved. Jesus’ classical answer that has been quoted often explains it clearly.

Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. (Luke 13:23 KJV)
Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. (Luke 13:26-27 KJV)
In God’s perspective, only a few will be saved. In our eyes it will be a great multitude that we can’t count. Jesus makes it clear that there will be many who try to get into heaven by their own devices. However, anything other than cleansing our robes in the blood of the Lamb is not enough. The joys of heaven and salvation are not automatic to anyone, especially those who by their deeds (especially their religious activities) hope to make it in. It isn’t good enough to know about Jesus, but the real criteria will be whether or not we know Him personally. If we know Him personally, He will know us and say, “Welcome, friend.” To the chagrin of Jews of Jesus’ day, many will make it, but not those that they expected. They will come from everywhere. There was a time in the United States, especially in the 50’s, when many of the denominational churches felt the same. They knew it wasn’t right but would come as close as possible to say that their denomination was right and all others were wrong. They wouldn’t always say another denomination would not get into heaven but they certainly thought that they wouldn’t be as close to Jesus. By the early 70’s there were only remnants of this thinking. Now, the balance has swung past center so that most denominations are now saying anyone in any religion will get in. How contrary to His clear teaching that only a few will be saved.

Following the crowd is dangerous. Multitudes are fickle. See how they acted on Palm Sunday.

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' The King of Israel!" NKJV (John 12:12-13)

On Palm Sunday, the people may have had Psalm 118 in mind as they waved their palm branches.

Please, Lord, please save us. Please, Lord, please give us success. Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Ps 118:25-26 NLT).

The author of the Psalm was looking forward to the day of salvation. Hosanna means to save now. The crowd on Palm Sunday thought salvation had arrived physically but didn’t understand that it was about to be provided for their souls, not their bodies. Less than a week later, the same crowd was yelling to have Jesus crucified. They had no concept of Jesus’ sacrifice but prophetically uttered these words:

And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt 27:25 RSV)

Ironically, they didn’t understand that it is precisely because of the blood of Jesus shed for them and their children that they could be saved and that we are saved. The multitude in heaven has realized both the physical and spiritual salvation. The song they sing is similar to the shouts of joy on Palm Sunday and Ps 118-25-26.

How do the angles, elders, and four living creatures respond to the multitude? How should we respond?

I really like Rev 7:11-12. As the multitude thanks God for His salvation, the angels, elders, and four living creatures worship God for saving the multitude. When we think of God’s salvation and the multitude that will include us, we should worship and have great joy. This scene in heaven is the fulfillment of what Jesus said.

I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. (Luke 15:7 KJV)

What is the significance that the multitude has robes made white in the blood of the Lamb?

We often mention what the blood of Jesus does for us. One thing that His blood does is to make us righteous. The white clothes that the multitude has is a symbol of this righteousness and the purity that can only be achieved by His blood that has been shed for us. The symbol of dipping robes into red blood and coming out white is lost on the world. They can’t understand it, yet to us who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus from all our sins and have our consciences cleansed from guilt, it provides an automatic recognition of the promises Jesus has given us.

What are some of the other promises that are given to us who depend upon Jesus for our righteousness?

These believers have died before the end of the tribulation, yet the description of the care and position they receive before the throne affirms that believers who die will go to be with the Lord, not some other place of waiting or unconsciousness. Even more striking though, is the change of tense in verse 15. They are before the throne to serve Him day and night, but God will spread His tent over them. In the future they will never hunger. That makes sense, but why is the future tense kept in verse 17 to say that He will be their Shepherd? I think that this has to do with the 1,000-year reign of Jesus that will follow the tribulation and also what will occur after the judgment. He will lead us into the New Jerusalem where the spring of living water flows. As we see those who have been cast into the burning lake of fire are missing, then is when He will wipe away our tears.
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom 8:17 KJV)
First and foremost, we will be before His throne. We will also be co-heirs with Christ and we will be there reigning with Him. This is conditional on suffering with Him. Just as these who came out of the tribulation have suffered, we too, must be prepared to give up our lives to Him.
And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 NASB)
We will also be serving Him. We are called to offer spiritual sacrifices, which is precisely what we do when we offer our lives to Him. As a result, in heaven we will continue to serve Him in some capacity that we don’t really understand now. I really wish that there were more details on how we will do this. The main thing I can think of is that as we reign with Jesus during the 1,000-year reign some duties will be involved. Also there is the possibility that we are the armies in Rev 19:14.
Rev 7:15 says that we will serve Him in His temple. Rev 21:22 says there will be no temple because the temple is God and the Lamb. How then will we be able to serve in the temple?

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

If we are in Him and He is the temple, then we are also in the temple – even now! If this is true, then what ever we do, day and night, is in the temple. How much more then, should we be aware of whether or not our actions glorify the Lord?

In Rev 7:15, a more literal translation of would say that He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.

What promises does spreading His tent over the multitude give us?

"Who are you?" he asked. "I am your servant Ruth," she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer." (Ruth 3:9 NIV)

Ruth asked Boaz to spread the corner of his garment over her as a symbol that she was willing to come under his protection. When she did this, she was willing to hold up her end of the agreement, which was to become his wife.

"Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine," declares the Lord God. (Ezek 16:8 NASU)

The Lord spread His garment over a young lady who was the symbol of Jerusalem. This custom was part of the betrothal ceremony. It was the symbol of promised protection. In Rev 7:15 the Lord spreads His tent over the multitude showing that they and we are receiving His protection. In addition to that, we are betrothed to the Lord. This is a love relationship that goes well beyond any “if this then that” type of contractual agreements. Near the end of the book we will see the culmination of the betrothal period at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
How does this preview of the wedding supper of the Lamb help us face death?

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." (Isa 25:6-9 NIV)

The feast of the wedding supper will be beyond all imagination. However it is not the central attraction. The feast will be consumed and it precedes the announcement that, in addition to His promise of taking care of those of us who have trusted in Him, the shroud of death will also be swallowed up for all people. Right now, we know that death holds no power over us because we have the promise of eternal life as well as a physical resurrection sometime in the future. These verses in Isaiah speak of a future when death will no longer have any power because there won’t be any more death. That is the reality of what we only hope for at this time. We are looking forward to this time when all will know the presence of the Lord.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Ps 23:4 KJV)

This verse has been quoted at many funerals. It brings us back from the hope of the future to the here and now. We are still living in a world that knows death. Every living soul knows that there will be a time to die and it is like walking through a deep dark valley. However, it is a valley that we need not fear because we know that Jesus has already conquered death and is raised. When we see the multitude in heaven, we know that those of us who know Jesus will be standing among them.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps 23:6 KJV)

Until that time comes, we know that His goodness and love will be with us regardless of the circumstances. This gives us the power to live and continue through the valley until we reach the end. We don’t just plod through either; we march through triumphantly. We can do this because we know that while we will be dwelling in His temple in heaven, He is now dwelling in His temple and we are His temple.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16 NKJV)

How do we participate in the wedding supper of the Lamb even before it occurs?

So he sent other servants to tell them, “The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!” (Matt 22:4 NLT) 
And he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren't worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.” (Matt 22:8-9 NLT)

The picture of heaven that Jesus was drawing in this parable portrays the wedding supper of the Lamb. His servants, the prophets, had told Israel about the great feast which the Lord has prepared. But they rejected it. Because they rejected it, the invitation falls to us, the Gentiles, the multitudes that were not looking for God. We have also become the servants who go out to persuade others to come into the feast.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35 RSV)
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51 RSV)

The message about the wedding supper that we have to deliver is always the same. Even though we have great promises of deliverance, protection, provision, and comfort, it comes only by partaking of the living bread, Jesus.

Why do we need to recognize Jesus as our Chief Shepherd above our pastors and leaders?

Rev 7:17 has one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Lamb is our Shepherd. There are times when we put too much emphasis on our church leaders to be our shepherds and expect them to be perfect. Sooner or later they will fail in one way or another. It may be something that they do or our expectations are not correct. We will have a problem with them. So, whether it is our problem or theirs, we become disappointed. But if we are looking to Jesus to be our Shepherd, we will never be disappointed because we know that He will never lead us astray. If we become disappointed because of our own misunderstanding of His will, even then, God will wipe every tear of disappointment away.

May you think about standing with this great multitude and joining them saying “Amen!” Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” May His promises lift your burdens and give you strength to declare this every day!

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