The Great Multitude in White Robes
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 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.’”
Dear friends in Christ,
Last Sunday churches around the world observed the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg so that a debate could be had regarding some errors he saw within the church, especially regarding the sale of indulgences. Without his knowledge and with the aid of the newly invented Guttenberg printing press, those 95 Thesis went out to a much larger group of people than Luther would have ever expected. It is this action of Luther on October 31, 1517 that churches around the world use for remembering the Reformation.
The whole point of the Reformation was to bring everyone back to gospel of Jesus and what he alone has done through his life, death, and resurrection. The Reformation was about reforming, about fixing the errors that existed in the church and bringing people back to be the biblical truth that one is saved by faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and not by the works they perform. Understand, the last thing Martin Luther wanted was to break away from the Roman Catholic church and start a new church. Once he was excommunicated, kicked out of the Roman Catholic church and a new church was forming, he definitely didn’t want it to be named after him. Luther wanted to correct the errors that he saw within the church. He wanted the focus and the attention of the church to move from obtaining forgiveness and everlasting life in heaven through the works one did and re-direct the focus and attention back to Jesus, to what it was that He alone did for sinners.
Do you know why did Luther choose October 31, 1517 for the date to nail his 95 Thesis to the church door? October 31, 1517 was the day before a major church festival. A major church festival which Luther knew would draw a large number of people to Wittenberg for worship. “All Saints’ Day”, which we are observing this morning, originally commemorated the martyrs of the church. “All Saints’ Day” originally commemorated those who were put to death, who were persecuted and murdered for the faith they had in Jesus Christ as their Savior. “All Saints Day” has since been expanded to include not only those killed for professing their faith but to all who die in the faith of Jesus. But since all who belong to Christ are considered to be saints, this means that not only are those who have died are considered to be saints … it also means that you are a saint! This means that this festival emphasizes our unity with all believers in Christ. It emphasizes our unity with all Christians who have already been called to their heavenly home as well as those like you and me who are gathered here and who are still living throughout the world.
As we observe this “All Saints’ Day”, the apostle John in the reading from Revelation 7 gives those who are suffering for their faith under than hands of the Roman rulers in his day as well as you and me who suffer for our faith in a totally different way a glimpse of what is and what is yet to come. John gives us this awesome glimpse of an innumerable number of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language who are standing before the throne of God and in front of the Lamb. These people from all over the world are before the Lamb of God wearing white robes, holding palm branches and praising God with loud voices.
John is asked by one of the elders … “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?” (Rev 7:13). The elder then tells John in our reading that “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). These standing before John, the elder but more importantly, these who are standing before the Lamb of God, who are standing before Jesus are those who have died. These are ones who have suffered in their faith in one form or another. These are they who were killed for standing up for their faith. These are the disciples of Jesus who were crucified, stoned, and beheaded for their faith in Jesus as their Savior. These standing before John and before the throne of God are also those loved ones of ours who have gone before us. These standing here are individuals who faced the tribulations of cancer, the tribulations of family heartache, the tribulations of being made fun of, of being harassed and thrown out of their circle of friends or have been rejected and no longer invited to family gatherings because they stood up for the fact that Jesus is their Savior.
But where our reading says, “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation”, the Greek, the original language in which John wrote the book of Revelation, the Greek says something a bit different. It says … “these are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.” Notice the difference? We can easily take from our reading which was read earlier that what John is seeing is the very last day. The very last day when Jesus returns and finally and ultimately defeats the great tribulations of Satan and death. But if we read it how it is in the Greek, “these are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation,” there is a little bit different meaning here.
Those who are going through tribulation now, you who are going through whatever kind of tribulation you are going through, whether it be cancer, a terminal disease, heartache from a divorce, heartache from a broken family … whether you are going through the tribulation of losing a loved one or watching a love one slowly or rapidly deteriorate before your eyes … you who are going through a tribulation, on the day in which God calls you to your heavenly home … you will be standing before the throne of God, before the Lamb of God in a white robe that has been washed clean with the shed blood of Jesus. John in this reading is talking about seeing you!
You, you’ll be there, standing before God cleansed of all of your sins not because of some righteous thing you have done, not because you try to be a good person, and certainly not because you deserve it. You will be standing there cleansed before the throne of God with all of the other saints around you because of what Jesus has done for you. Through Christ’s perfect life, miserable suffering and death, and by His victorious resurrection for you … you will be standing there with your loved ones who have gone before you before your Savior. And when you arrive, when you are called to your heavenly home and walk through those pearly gates and right up to the throne of Jesus … he will reach out his hand, cup your face, and with his thumb he will wipe away every tear from your eye.
What is really remarkable about this final judgment which each of us will experience is how the deeds that are often used as a measure of faithfulness are reversed in God’s presence. Saints like you do different things like feeding the hungry through the Labors of Love meals, donations to the food pantry, or through simply giving a couple a meal when they bring home a newborn … when you quench the thirst of the thirsty, clothe the naked through donations, give gifts through shoeboxes to children whose families don’t have the means to provide them anything for Christmas, or when you welcome a stranger … when you do all these things for other, you are ultimately are doing them for Jesus. Jesus said in regards to serving others, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). Someday when you walk into your new heavenly home … all these things you did will now be done for you. You will be fed, your thirst will be quenched, you will be clothed and you will be welcomed. Individually you will receive each of these things from no one else than from your Lord and your Savior Jesus Christ.
But friends you don’t have to wait till the last day to receive these gifts from Jesus. As dearly beloved children of God, as dearly beloved saints of God … Jesus today joins his body and blood to the bread and wine of this most holy meal. Jesus feeds you his body and gives you his blood to drink so that your sins are forgiven, that your thirst for righteousness is quenched, and that you are strengthened in your faith so that you may face the tribulations which lie ahead of you.
As you approach the Lord’s Table, you do so already clothed with Christ. For in your baptism you have put on Christ. Christ literally covers you so that when God looks at you … he does so by looking through Christ. As you approach the Lord’s Table, you don’t approach it alone. John is asked, “Who are these?” The elder with John and John himself tells us, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These dearly beloved saints who John sees includes you and all of your loved ones who are in heaven now. You and I, we anxiously wait for the day when we see those loved ones again face to face. But friends, until that day, as you approach this table and partake of the Lord’s Supper … you don’t do it alone. Not only do you communion together with those around you, but as we partake in this holy meal and receive a foretaste of the meal to come, those saints in heaven, your and my loved ones, are eating the same meal with you. You come to the Lord’s Table and enjoy this meal with those around you … and with those in heaven who are across the table.
This is a most holy day, as is every time we gather in God’s house and lift our voices to God. As we gather, as we pray and worship our Lord and Savior Jesus, we do so with angels, archangels, and all of the company of heaven, now and forever in eternity. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.