What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she is sore oppressed? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she is by schisms rent asunder? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she is by heresies distressed? What is your confidence that the night of weeping shall soon be the night of song?
Has the opening of the first six seals, recorded for us in Revelation 6, impressed upon you the trials and tribulations of the Church? The first seal is opened and a rider upon a white horse rides forth, conquering and to conquer. The second seal is opened and a rider upon a red horse rides forth bringing bloodshed and warfare upon the earth. The third seal is opened and a rider upon a black horse rides forth and the earth is ravished with famine. The fourth seal is opened and a rider upon a pale horse rides forth, visiting the earth with death, and Hades follows in its wake. The fifth seal is opened and the souls of the martyrs under the altar are told to rest a little while longer, while the rest of the Church is killed and slain as they were. The sixth seal is opened and creation itself is confounded, as the great day of wrath has come.
The opening of the seals sets before us the history of the Church in the world as she lives between the first and second comings of Christ. This is our history. This is our story. We are caught up in the middle of the action! We are not spectators in the stands; we are participants in the arena! Even now the horsemen of the apocalypse ride forth. Even now the souls of the martyrs under the altar cry out. Even now the blood of many Christians runs with that of the martyrs before them.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Church is set before our eyes in the opening half of Revelation 7 as the Church Militant? She is numbered and listed in terms of a military census. She is pictured as an army arrayed for battle. She is a Church under attack: she is attacked by the wolves on the outside, she is attacked by wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing on the inside, she is attacked by the Evil One, even Satan himself. The Church is the object of his wrath. The Church is the object of his fury.
What, then, is your confidence that the Church will prevail?
Revelation 7 gives us the answer. Here we are given a picture of the Church. This is evident from verse 9, where this great multitude, “which no one could number, of all the nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues,” stands before the throne of the Lamb. Who is able to stand before the throne, but the Church, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? In Revelation 7 we are given a picture of the Church in verses 1-8, and yet, another picture of the Church in verses 9-17.
But how could both of these sections have in view the Church? After all, in verses 1-8, we read that the Church is numbered: there are 144,000 sealed; in verses 9-17, we read that the Church is an innumerable multitude! Furthermore, in verses 1-8, we read of the Church pictured in terms of the twelve tribes of Israel; in verses 9-17, we read of the Church pictured in terms of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues! How could both of these sections have in view the Church? Do you sense the tension? Verses 1-8 speak of a definite number: 144,000; verses 9-17 speak of an innumerable multitude! Verses 1-8 speak of the twelve tribes of Israel; verses 9-17 speak of those from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues! How can both of these sections have in view the Church?
The answer lies in the fact that we have in Revelation 7, two pictures of the same Church. In other words, both verses 1-8 and verses 9-17 have in view the Church, but she is viewed from two different perspectives. Verses 1-8 have in view the Church Militant; verses 917 the Church Triumphant.
But then what explains the different imagery? Why do we have 144,000 in verses 1-8 while we have an innumerable multitude in verses 917? Why do we have the twelve tribes of Israel in verses 1-8 while we have all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues in verses 9-17? How can the same group of people be viewed so differently?
As others have pointed out, the answer lies in the common background of the imagery of the chapter, which is found in the Old Testament Exodus from Egypt. Consider the parallels. In Exodus 3:17, we read of God’s promise to Israel to “bring you up out of the affliction (literally, tribulation) of Egypt…” So in Revelation 7:14, we read “these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation…” In Exodus 12:51, we read “that the Lord brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies.” In Revelation 7:18, we read of the Church as an army, an army that is delivered in verses 9-17. In Exodus 19:10 and 14, we read, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes’….So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes.” In Revelation 7:14 we read, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In Exodus 24:8 we read, “And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.’” In Revelation 7:14 we read that the people made their robes white “in the blood of the Lamb.”
The parallels continue further. Do you remember what Feast the Israelites observed in commemoration of the Exodus and the subsequent wilderness wandering? The Feast of Booths, also called the Feast of Tabernacles. We read about that in Leviticus 23:39-43, “Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days, on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All you who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Note the presence of palm branches for the celebration of God’s protection, for the celebration of the victory and salvation God wrought for His people in the Exodus from Egypt! Now, what do you find the people of God holding in their hands in Revelation 7:9? They have palm branches in their hands!
From all of this it is evident, then, that Revelation 7 has in view one group of people, the redeemed of the Lord, even the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is pictured and portrayed from different perspectives to be sure, but it is one and the same Church! The redeemed of the Lord are pictured as the Church Militant in verses 18; they are pictured as the Church Triumphant in verses 9-17.
Now consider their activity, verses 9b-10, they stand “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
The emphasis of their song is on salvation, deliverance, and victory! The Church Triumphant sings out of the victory God has wrought! The Church Victorious sings out of the deliverance God has wrought! The Church at Rest sings out of the salvation God has wrought! This is their song through all the ages: “Salvation belongs to our God!”
The Church Militant would do well to learn the song of the Church Triumphant. To whom does salvation belong? To God! Who has wrought salvation? God! Note the thoroughly God-centered worship of the Church in glory! There is simply no mention of what man has done, no mention of the works of man’s hands, no mention of what man has contributed, in fact, there is no mention of man at all! The song is focused on God who alone has wrought salvation!
God has wrought salvation through the Lamb. This also the Church Triumphant recognizes. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” As the song is thoroughly God-centered, so it is thoroughly Christ-centered! God has wrought salvation in the Lamb! It is not man who has worked salvation, it is God who has worked salvation, and that through the Lamb! The song of the Church Triumphant, then, is a song that extols the mighty acts of God in history, rejoicing in the salvation wrought through the Lamb that was slain! “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
So great is the salvation God has wrought, even the angels in glory join in. Verses 11-12: “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’” The angels of heaven rejoice and sing over the salvation God has wrought for us!
Why, then, would we ever be satisfied with singing songs that have more to do with man, than they do with God?! We should not come to church to have our eyes set upon ourselves; we do that all week long! We should not come to church to sing about us and what we have done, we can do that all week long! We come to church to have our eyes set upon Christ! We come to church to sing about Christ and what He has done! We come to the church to sing about what God has done in history for the salvation of our souls!
To God belongs blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. God has wrought salvation, not man! It is not of man whom we sing! We sing of God! That is the song of heaven! You can check every single song that is sung in the book of Revelation and you will notice, not one of them speaks of man and what he has done, every one of them speaks of God and what He has done! Let the Church Militant learn the song of the Church Triumphant! And let us sing that song with joy!
The scene that is set before us here is a scene that is intended, then, for our comfort. Notice verses 13-14, “Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”
Notice that once again, we have one of the 24 elders instructing John. The 24 elders, we have maintained, are symbolic of the office of the elder. And what is the role of the elders? Their role is to instruct, to teach, to comfort.
We saw an elder instructing John once before, back in chapter 5. “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals’” (5:4-5). There, John wept because he was afraid that the redemption of God’s people would not be fulfilled. The elder comforted him by pointing him to Christ. Now the elder instructs John by pointing to the countless multitude arrayed in robes of white, thus instructing John that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb that was slain, has actually accomplished and secured the redemption of His people!
In other words, the elder instructs John, teaches John, and comforts John, by instructing him regarding the history of redemption. He focuses John’s attention upon what God has done in history. William Hendriksen writes, “He asks John a question, not in order that the apostle may inform him, but in order to rivet John’s attention upon that countless multitude; especially, upon that amazing miracle, namely, that all these individuals who once were sinners are now righteous and holy, clothed around with white, flowing robes….They have placed all their trust in the saving blood of Jesus Christ. This blood, representing the complete atonement which the Lord has rendered, has cleansed them of the guilt and the pollution of sin. By means of the red blood of Christ they have been made white.”
The emphasis, then, is entirely upon Christ. It is His blood that is in view, not the blood of the martyrs. The point is that the Church is sealed by the blood of the Lamb, enabling her to go through tribulation, knowing that she belongs to the Lamb, the One who has overcome the world! Our blessed hope is in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ! Because of His work, we know that the Church Militant shall stand before the throne of God and the Lamb as the Church Triumphant!
What is your confidence that the Church will prevail? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she is sore oppressed? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she is by schisms rent asunder? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she is by heresies distressed? What is your confidence that the night of weeping shall soon be the night of song? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she finds herself in the midst of toil? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she finds herself in the midst of tribulation? What is your confidence that the Church shall prevail when she finds herself in the tumult of war? What is your confidence that the Church will prevail?
Your confidence is Christ alone— the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world—the Lamb in whose blood you are washed— the Lamb in whose righteousness you stand clothed—the Lamb to whom you have been joined—the Lamb that has gathered you—the Lamb that protects you—the Lamb that preserves you—the Lamb who has wrought your salvation!
Rev. Brian Vos is the Pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.