Revelation 7:14, 15
And I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes…
These are they, etc. We long to know something of the life to come, the unseen world, the abode of those who die in the Lord. And here in this chapter a glimpse, which suggests much more than it reveals, is given to us. Especially is this desire for knowledge concerning the blessed dead intense when any of our own beloved ones are amongst their number. And of whom is not this true? Hence we search the Scriptures to gather up any the least hint that they may give; we study the records of the transfiguration of our Lord on the holy mount; we ponder the many sayings of his apostles on this most interesting theme; and this section of the Book of the Revelation, which tells of it more expressly, has made the whole book precious for its sake. We know not where heaven is, but here we have a vivid picture of the place and those who dwell there. It was doubtless given in order to cheer the hearts of the afflicted and depressed Church of St. John's day, and we may well believe that it ministered blessed help and hope to them, as it has done to myriads since. Note -
I. WHO ARE IN HEAVEN. St. John tells us that:
1. They are a multitude. Heaven is no unpeopled place. It is the answer given by the Lord to the question his disciples asked him when he was on earth, "Are there few that be saved?" Then he did not see fit to answer it plainly, but here there can be no question as to the reply. For:
2. They are "a great multitude," one that "no man can number." How could it be otherwise? Would God have created and perpetuated the race of mankind knowing for how could he not know the issue of his own work, "Known unto God are all his works? " - that sin and Satan would win the most of them? How, in such case, could our Lord be said to have "destroyed the works of the devil"? Without doubt sin doth abound, but grace doth much more abound. If, at the time St. John was made glad through this vision, as we are through him, already there were in heaven this mighty multitude, what must they be now? and what will they be when the end cometh, and our blessed Lord hath delivered up the kingdom to the Father? They had already "begun to be merry" (Luke 15.). What must the holy mirth be now? and what shall it not be?
3. A miscellaneous multitude. "Out of every kindred and nation," etc. How greatly, then, do they err who think and teach that only those nations who here on earth have heard the joyful sound of Christ's holy gospel can furnish contingents to that redeemed throng upon whom St. John delightedly gazed! What did our Lord go to "the spirits in prison" for, as St. Peter tells us he did, if not to bring them there the joyful tidings which here on earth they had not heard? How little we yet comprehend of "the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the love of Christ! Surely this vision should help us to a larger understanding of that infinite love.
4. To them all life had been full of trouble. They had all of them "come out of great tribulation." Whilst we may not omit the final tribulation of which our Lord tells in Matthew 24., and to which the opening of the sixth seal refers, we cannot limit it to that. "Man is born to trouble;" he is "of few days, and full of misery." "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." To how few would life be worth living were it not for he hope of a better one! But we are placed here as at a school, and the trials of life are the appointed methods of instruction whereby we unlearn evil and learn good. The poor often envy the rich; but if all were known, the lot in life, or rather ere eternal life be gained, of us all is much alike. "The rich and the poor meet together," and share in their common inheritance of trouble. But from all this they have now "come out," and are "before the throne of God and the Lamb."
5. They had all been lost but for Christ. For they had all sinned. None of them had kept their garments undefiled. But he who came "to seek and to save them that were lost" found them; by his Spirit drew them to himself; by his blood washed their sin-stained robes, and made them white; and now, all of them, not one excepted, are in heaven full of adoring gratitude to him who redeemed and saved them by his own blood. None are there on any other ground, nor can any ever be. On what, then, are we relying for the hope we all cherish of one day being where they are?
II. WHAT THEY DO THERE,
1. They celebrate the heavenly harvest home. They carry "palms in their hands," branches of the palm. No reference is here to heathen uses of the palm as symbol of victory and the like. But far sweeter and holier reminiscence is awakened. The scene before us is the antitype of the most joyous and inspiriting of all the observances of Israel - that of the Feast of Tabernacles. It was held at the close of the year's outdoor labours; with it the season of rest began. "All was safely gathered in." It commemorated God's care of them in the old wilderness days, and afterwards his continual care of them by the gifts of his providence. The feast was a most joyous one. The Jews said that he did not know joy who knew not the Feast of Tabernacles. One chief feature of the feast was the universal carrying of palm branches (cf. Nehemiah 8:14-17). Such is the scene from which the imagery of St. John here is drawn. It told of the troubles of the wilderness ended; the harvest home of the Church come. It speaks of everlasting joy.
2. They serve. Day and night in God's temple is this service rendered. But in another place St. John says, "I saw no temple therein;" and hence we must understand by the temple all heaven and earth, for all, as was the ancient temple, are to be filled with his glory. And as to the service, who can describe, who can limit, who can sufficiently set forth, its beneficence, its joy, its glory?
3. They show forth the praises of God and the Lamb. (Ver. 10.) Festal joy, service, worship, the worship which consists in heartfelt praise, - such are the occupations of heaven.
III. THEIR EXCEEDING BLESSEDNESS.
1. They want not. They neither hunger nor thirst.
2. They weary not, as in the travel and toil of the wilderness they had done, when the fierce heat of the sun smote them; and as in the hard toil of life.
3. They weep not. The poet Burns used to say he could never read this without tears. And when we think of what life is now - a place of tears - and that there there shall be none, one's heart may well rejoice. But there are also the unspeakable joys that come from:
4. The realized presence and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He shall be as a Tent to cover them, as a Shepherd to feed them, as a Guide to lead them to fountains of living water.
CONCLUSION. Have we those we love in heaven? Rejoice concerning them. Are we on the way there ourselves? - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.