Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, March 05, 2021
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Looking for the Promised Land

Revelation 7:9-17

There are two things we need to know if we are going to understand the Book of the Revelation. And those things are not the identity of the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast. Which are probably not Bill Gates and the Covid vaccine, by the way.

First, we need to know that this vision was written to a persecuted Church. In the late first century, the Church experienced its first Empire-wide persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian. There had been persecution before, but it was localized. Now Christians were branded as enemies of the Empire and they were being arrested and often killed in large numbers. Many were suffering and dying for their faith. What did it mean? Has Christ failed? Is salvation a false hope? These were the kind of questions believers were asking.

Second, we need to know the Old Testament. Every single page of the Revelation draws deeply from the Old Testament. Some people think you need to read the Revelation with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other (assuming anyone still reads a newspaper). That way you can see how the Revelation is being played out! The truth is you need to immerse yourself in the Old Testament to understand the images in the Revelation.

John writes here of seeing a great crowd of every tribe and nation standing before the throne of God and the Lamb. They are clothed in white. White is obviously a symbol of purity. It was also a symbol of victory. In the early Church, when a new believer was baptized into the faith, they were dressed in white robes. These robes are described as being washed in the blood of the Lamb. Their relationship with God has been restored through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. In Exodus 19, the people of Israel gathered at Mt. Sinai were told to wash their clothes before God comes down to the mountain the next day. In Psalm 51 and Isaiah 1, the removal of one’s sin is described in terms of being “whiter than snow.”

And they have palm branches. Palm branches were associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a reminder of how God protected and provided for Israel during the 40 years in the wilderness. God had delivered them from slavery, but they had not yet come into the Promised Land. And we are in the wilderness right now. The decisive act of salvation has happened: Christ has died and risen. But we are not yet in our Promised Land, the New Creation. And this is a fulfillment of prophecy. In Zechariah 14, it was foretold that one day all nations would go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival.

They cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb.” And then all beings, earthly and heavenly fall down in worship.

One of the 24 elders comes to John. Why are there 24 elders? In Scripture, the number 12 is one of the “numbers of completeness or fullness.” So the best guess is that 24 represents the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. They represent the fullness of those who are saved in the Old and New Covenants, the fullness of the people of God.

“Who are these?” They are those who have come out of the Great Tribulation. Jesus spoke of a time of tribulation in the Gospels. The prophet Daniel also spoke of it in Daniel 12. Most interpreters view it as a time of great suffering at the end of this age. Some see it representing the suffering of the Church in the first century. Some see it as the entire history of suffering of God’s people in this world. It’s debatable which of these is the best interpretation.

“They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” When we talk of the blood of Christ, we typically think of his death. But in Scripture, blood also represents life. We are saved not only by the death of Christ, but also by his life.

“He who sits on the throne will live with them.” The Greek here derives from the word, SKENE, meaning “tent.” God will “pitch his tent, tabernacle” with them. Again, this confirms that the Festival of Tabernacles is behind this vision. We are in the wilderness, but God is with us. He will bring us into the Promised Land of eternal life in the New Creation.

There are promises of God here. First, God’s work of salvation is great, beyond our ability to quantify. Second, we may be in the wilderness right now, but the Promised Land is ahead. And finally, God will shelter, provide for, protect, shepherd, and comfort his people for eternity. For those who are in Christ, death is not the end of the story. And we remember and affirm that promise today for those of our fellowship and our friends and family who have gone on to eternal life in Christ.

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