Posted: 15 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
THERE ARE MANY DISPUTED POINTS of interpretation over Revelation 7. For instance, who are the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4)? Are they the same people as the great multitude that no one could count (Rev. 7:9), in much the same way that in chapter 5 the Lion is the Lamb? What or when is the "great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14)? Is it a brief period of time? If so, when—in A.D. 70, or toward the end of the age? Or is it a way of referring to the entire period between Jesus' first and second comings?
But here I shall restrict my attention to three elements in John's description of the "great multitude that no one could count."
First, they spring "from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev. 7:9). There is not a whiff of racism here. Moreover, this theme keeps recurring in the book. For instance, already in Revelation 5:9, the elders sing a new song to the Lamb: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." The ultimate community of God is transnational, transtribal, transracial, translinguistic. In that sense, Los Angeles is a better anticipation of heaven than Tulsa, Oklahoma. Let the church, strengthened by the grace of God, live out now, as largely as possible, what she will one day be.
Second, everything significant about these people turns on the work of God effected through the Lamb—in short, it turns on the Gospel of God. So they stand "before the throne and in front of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9); they cry "in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'" (Rev. 7:10). While the angels worship God (Rev. 7:11–12), John is told that these people "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). In short, whatever else is found in Revelation, this book overflows with the Gospel.
Third, the ultimate prospect for the great multitude is not located in this life. They "are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple" (Rev. 7:15). Nothing bad will ever again befall them (Rev. 7:16). "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17). The book of Revelation fans the flames of courage and faithfulness in this life, even in the teeth of the most virulent opposition, by holding out the most glorious prospects for the life to come.
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