"The Gift of the Past" Bible Study on Revelation 7:9-17
October 29, 2020, 9:41 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Revelation 7:9-17 (International Children's Bible).

Then I looked, and there was a great number of people. There were so many people that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and had palm branches in their hands. 10 They were shouting in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 The elders and the four living things were there. All the angels were standing around them and the throne. The angels bowed down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. 12 They were saying, “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength belong to our God forever and ever. Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people in white robes? Where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “You know who they are, sir.”

And the elder said, “These are the people who have come out of the great suffering. They have washed their robes with the blood of the Lamb. Now they are clean and white. 15 And they are before the throne of God. They worship God day and night in God's temple. And the One who sits on the throne will protect them. 16 Those people will never be hungry again. They will never be thirsty again. The sun will not hurt them. No heat will burn them. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of water that give life. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

While I will be preaching from Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes), in this Sunday's First Reading from Revelation 7:9-17, John sees a huge crowd before he witnesses the opening of the dreaded seventh seal.  Amid all the judgment and dread, this Sunday's Reading from Revelation gives God's people a glimpse of the divine blessing that awaits them.  Four angels guard the four corners of the earth, protecting against destructive winds.  Judgment will not occur until God's people are "sealed" (Revelation 7:1-8).  Though God's people are persecuted now, they will be protected and vindicated by the end of this saga of divine judgment.

John witnesses a great multitude of God's people standing before the throne of God where God will shelter them by God's presence.  We are given a bifocal heavenly vision (Revelation 7:9-12) followed by its interpretation (7:13-17).  Prominent is the vision of a vast multitude "that no one could count" (Revelation 7:9).  The earlier vision of the twelve tribes as consisting of a mere 144,000 in Revelation 7:4 appears to have been considerably expanded.  This uncountable crowd is "from every nation, tribe, people, and language."  Quite a universal, diverse gathering.  The stress is on the multi-cultural quality not the selectivity of this heavenly throng.

Interpretation of the vision is given by one of the elders in the usual question-and-answer format of apocalyptice literature.  We, like John, cannot understand this wondrous heavenly vision without interpretive help.  Members of the throng are those saints who have come out of the great thlipsis (Greek which is usually translated as "tribulation") and now are adorned in robes "washed in the blood of the Lamb (who is Jesus in the Book of Revelation).  The red blood of the Lamb makes the robes white (Perhaps this is an allusion to Isaiah 1:16-18?).

"Tribulation" is a word that opens Revelation (1:9) and recurs throughout the book, suggesting that this scripture is meant to encourage the faithful in whatever struggles they were going through.

It's typical and proper to read this passage from Revelation at funerals.  Funeral and Memorial Services are times when we relish memories of our loved ones and friends.  That's why those who have died are remembered in faith and confidence that they are within God's Eternal Love and Care.  It's good to look ahead to our shared destinatoin.

It is true that we can never live in the past, for change is the essence of all human life and creation itself.  That being said, God has not left us to be slaves to the present, subjects of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age or present time).  God has given us the saints, past and present, who embody the wisdom from the past.  The saints and the tradition of the Church challenge merely contemporary, superficial versions of the Christian faith.  Through the witness of the saints, we are given gifts from the past that enable us to live in the present and move into the future with Christ by our side.

That should gve us great comfort, especially in this time of COVID-19.

I close with the lyrics of the early 20th century hymnwriter, Frederick Hosmer's "Forward through the Ages."

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,                                                                                                                                          move the faithful spirits at the call divine.                                                                                                                                                Gifts in differing measure, hearts of one accord,                                                                                                                                    manifold in service, one the sure reward.

Refrain:  Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,                                                                                                                                           move the faithful spirits at the call divine.

Wide grows God's dominion, reign of love and peace;                                                                                                                            for it we must labor, till all strivings cease.                                                                                                                                              Prophets have proclaimed it, teachers testified,                                                                                                                                      poets sung its glory, martyrs for it died.

Refrain:  Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,                                                                                                                                           move the faithful spirits at the call divine.


Pastor Greg Rupright


10-30-2020 at 8:55 PM
Pat May
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