“Who is able to stand?” That is the question with which Revelation 6 ends--a most fitting question in response to the opening of the sixth seal. Recall the scene of the opening of the sixth seal and understand the necessity of the question:
“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:12-17)
So terrifying is the opening of the sixth seal, and so fitting is the question with which it ends, Chapter 7 is given as an answer. Chapter 7 serves as an interlude between the opening of the sixth seal and the seventh seal—an interlude that answers the question: “Who is able to stand?”
In the interlude of Chapter 7, we have a picture of the Church Militant in verses 1-8. The Church is numbered and listed in terms of a military census, arrayed for battle and prepared for war. The Church Militant is under attack by the hordes of Satan; she is a Church on the defensive. But she is also a Church on the offensive, as she goes forth to conquer, not with weapons of war, but with the Word and Sacraments.
Having been given the picture of the Church Militant, we are then given a picture of the same Church, only now as the Church Triumphant, in verses 9-17. The climax of that picture is found in verses 15-17, where we find a picture of the eternal state of the Church as she stands in glory.
Righteousness in Christ
We read first of the activity of the saints. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple…” (7:15).
That we have in view the saints of God is evident from verse 14, where the elder instructed John as to their identity: “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.”
These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation. In view here is not only the great tribulation that immediately precedes the return of Christ. In view here is also the tribulation that the Church has endured, and continues to endure, ever since the ascension of Christ into glory. In the world the Church has tribulation. She is the object of Satan’s rage and the world’s scorn. She is hated by her enemies. In the world she has tribulation.
This verse is not speaking about some pre-tribulation rapture. This verse is speaking about the tribulation that has afflicted the church since the ascension of Christ: that tribulation that is a harbinger of the great tribulation to come. Those who come out of the great tribulation, then, are not raptured saints. Rather, they are all Christians who have died from the time of Christ’s ascension to this very moment. They have come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
What a beautiful picture we are given here of the saints! The saints have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb. The death of the Lamb has washed away our sins. He was delivered over to death for our sins. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. He was made a curse for us. And by His blood He has washed away our sins. Praise God for the passive obedience of Christ!
But there is even more. The saints have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb, and their robes have been made white. Elsewhere we see that the robes of white are indicative of the righteousness of Christ. Not only has Christ died the death we deserved to die; He has also lived the life we could not live. The life that He lived—His active obedience—has been imputed to us. His righteousness has become ours. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. By His life we have been clothed in garments of righteousness. Praise God for the active obedience of Christ!
We have before us both the active and passive obedience of Christ to teach us that those whom Christ has saved, He has saved to the uttermost! There is nothing lacking in our salvation! There is nothing that needs to be made up in our salvation! His life and His death are sufficient! His life and His death are complete! His life and His death are perfect! You need nothing more than that! You who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ belong to Him completely! He has accomplished and secured your salvation! Your sins have been washed away by His death—you stand in righteousness before Him by His life!
The Result of Salvation
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:15). What is the result of salvation? Worship! We are saved to worship! Salvation is not an end in itself. We are saved for a purpose, and that purpose is to worship God! We see the pattern already in the Old Testament exodus from Egypt. Why did Moses command Pharaoh to let God’s people go? That they might worship God! The great Old Testament deliverance of the people of God is found in the book of Exodus, but the story does not end there—it does not end with deliverance.
Following the book of Exodus comes the book of Leviticus—a book that instructs the people of God as to the proper response to deliverance, namely, worship! So it is with us: we are saved to worship! That is the purpose of salvation! It is no coincidence that everywhere in the book of Revelation we find the redeemed of the Lord worshiping God and the Lamb. We saw it in Chapters 4 and 5. We see it again in Chapter 7. We shall see it in Chapters 11, 14, 15, 19, 21, and 22. The redeemed of the Lord have been saved to worship God. Do you think the worship of the Church Triumphant in heaven will be boring? Do you think you will grow tired of worshiping the Lamb who has wrought your salvation? Do you think you will grow weary of singing the praises of the Lamb who lived the life you could not live? Do you think you will grow weary of singing the praises of the Lamb who died the death you deserved to die? Do you think you will grow exhausted in looking upon the face of the Lamb who has saved you to the uttermost? Do you think you will become bored with the glory of the Lamb? Then you have not yet understood the depths of your sin! You have not yet understood the heights of God’s grace! You have not yet understood the glory of your Savior! You have not yet understood the majesty and holiness of your God! You do well to think upon the amazing grace of God, and when you have thought upon that, to lift your voice in song: When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’d first begun!
We shall serve Him and worship Him for all eternity in His temple. This is not some earthly temple; this is the cosmic Holy of Holies, the new heavens and the new earth, the very dwelling place of God! We do not go back to an earthly temple! We do not go back to an earthly tabernacle! Those things were only shadows and types of the heavenly reality. We shall stand in God’s presence. We shall serve Him in His Temple, in His glorious Presence.
The Activity of God
“And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.” Literally the phrase reads, “He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.” The phrase takes us all the way back to Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the deep. As the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the deep, He brought forth light into the darkness, He divided the waters and made dry land appear in the midst of the deep, and He created man to dwell in Sabbath rest in the Paradise of God.
The phrase then takes us to the Old Testament exodus from Egypt. God Himself makes reference to that in Exodus 19:4, where He says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” God hovered over His people, even as a bird hovers over its young. The picture becomes more complete when we consider Deuteronomy 32:10-12, “He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, he instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him.” How did God hover over His children in the Old Testament Exodus? He hovered over them by His glorious Presence, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. He hovered over them and brought them to the promised land of rest.
The phrase then brings us to the end of Exodus 40, where upon the completion of the tabernacle, the glorious Presence of God comes down—that pillar of cloud and pillar of fire—and fills the tabernacle with His glorious Presence! The scene is repeated once more at the close of 2 Chronicles 5:11- 14, where we read,
“And it came to pass when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without keeping to their divisions), and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments
and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets—indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, ‘For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,’ that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”
The glory of the Lord is pictured again and again as hovering over His people.
And now, in Revelation 7, you see the fulfillment of these shadows and types. Then the cloud filled the earthly tabernacle, preventing the priests from entering the Presence. Then the cloud filled the earthly temple, again preventing the priests from entering the Presence. But now God Himself spreads His tabernacle over us who have been made priests to God, and who stand in His glorious Presence! We rejoice in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 63)! We rejoice in God, who is our dwelling place (Psalm 90)! We abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91)!
This great and glorious God shall keep us for all eternity. That is what it means that He spreads His tabernacle over us. Verse 16, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat…” We are reminded of the words of Psalm 121,
“He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your Keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil. He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even forevermore.”
He shall protect and preserve us, for the Lamb shall be a Shepherd to us, verse 17: “…for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters…” “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” The Shepherd has become our Lamb, our Lamb who Shepherds us! Our Savior gathers us, His little sheep, in His arms and carries us close to His breast. He is the Savior who leaves the ninety and nine to seek and to save the one that is lost. He is the Savior who upon finding that lost sheep, reaches down, picks up that sheep, restores that sheep, heals that sheep, and brings that sheep safely into His fold. He is the Savior who knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him, and no one can snatch His sheep out of His hand. “The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters…”
And then, the most precious statement of all: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” How often we weep in this life! We weep over our sin. We weep over the sin of others. We weep over the brokenness in our lives. We weep over the brokenness in the lives of others. We weep when we go through trial. We weep when we lose a loved one. We weep at the grave of our loved ones. How often we weep!
Yet, God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes! The preciousness of this verse is underscored all the more by the fact that it is God Himself who wipes away our tears. Throughout the book of Revelation, God sends His agents to do His work. He gives the revelation to Christ. Christ gives the revelation to His angel. The angel gives the revelation to John. John writes down the Revelation. The four living creatures command the horsemen of the apocalypse to ride forth. The angels sound the trumpets. The angels pour forth the bowls. Everywhere God commands and His agents run forth to accomplish His work. But not here. Here it is not an angel. Here it is not the cherubim. Here it is not the seraphim. Here it is not a living creature. Here it is not an elder. Here it is God Himself who wipes away every tear from our eyes. Think of it! God Himself reaching forth, touching your eyes, and wiping away your tears, wiping them away so completely that there shall be no more tears to cry! You shall weep no more!
Who is able to stand? Revelation 7 gives you the answer: only those who are saved by the Lamb, washed in His blood, clothed in His righteousness, shall stand. And they shall stand, only to fall down in worshiping Him, their Shepherd who shall spread His tabernacle over them for all eternity. And in the tabernacle of His glorious Presence, you will never weep again.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.