And one of the elders answered, saying to me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and from where came they?…
I. WHAT DID THESE WHITE ROBES MEAN?
1. The white robes show the immaculate purity of their character. White signifies perfection; it is not so much a colour as the harmonious union and blending of all the hues, colours, and beauties of light. In the characters of just men made perfect we have the combination of all virtues, the balancing of all excellences, a display of all the beauties of grace. Are they not like their Lord, and is He not all beauties in one?
2. By "white robes we also understand the fitness of their souls for the service to which they are appointed; they were chosen before all worlds to be kings and priests unto God, but a priest might not stand before the Lord to minister until he had put on his appointed linen garments; and therefore the souls which have been taken up to heaven are represented in white robes to show that they are completely fitted for that Divine service to which they were ordained of old, to which the Spirit of God called them while they were here, and in which Jesus Christ leads the way, being a Priest for ever at their head.
3. "White robes" also signify victory. I should think that in almost every nation white has indicated the joy of triumph. True, the Romans adopted purple as their imperial colour, and well they might, for their victories and their rule were alike bloody and cruel; but the Christ of God sets forth His gentle and holy victories by white: it is on a "white cloud" that He shall come to judge the world, and His seat of judgment shall be "the great white throne."
4. White is also the colour of rest. Well may the redeemed be thus arrayed, for they have finally put off the garments of toil and the armour of battle, and they rest from their labours in the rest of God.
5. Chiefly, white is the colour of joy. Almost all nations have adopted it as most suitable for bridal array, and so therefore these happy spirits have put on their bridal robes, and are ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb.
II. HOW DID THEY COME BY THOSE WHITE GARMENTS?
1. Those characters were not so pure, or, in other words, those garments were not so white by nature. They are washed, you see, and therefore they must once have been stained. Original sin has stained the character of all the sons of Adam. Do not think of one saint who has gone to his reward above as being in any way different in nature from yourselves; they were all men of like passions with us, men who had within them the same tendencies to sin. But it might be suggested that perhaps they came to their rest by a cleaner way than that which now lies before us. Possibly there was something about their surroundings which helped them to keep their garments white. No, it was not so; they passed along the road of tribulation, and that tribulation was not of a less trying kind than ours. Their road was just as miry as ours, and perhaps even more so. How this ought to assist us to feel that albeit our pathway is one in which we meet with innumerable temptations, yet inasmuch as all the glorified have come up white and clean from it, by virtue of the atoning blood, even so shall we.
2. Their garments came to be white through a miracle of grace, because they came through the great tribulation, where everything tended to defile them. I do not think that the text refers to some one great persecution, but to the great conflict of the ages in which the seed of the serpent perpetually molests and oppresses the seed of the woman. The enmity takes all sorts of shapes, but from the beginning even until now it is in the world. Now the white robed ones had come out of that continuous and general conflict uninjured: like the three holy children who came out of the furnace with not so much as the smell of fire upon them. Some of them had been slandered: men of the world had thrown handfuls of the foulest mud upon them, but they washed their robes and made them white. Others of them had come out of remarkable temptations from men and devils; they were tried by the most defiling of temptations, but they overcame through the blood of the Lamb, and were delivered from every polluting trace of the temptation by the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice. It was by the operation of the blood of Christ, and by nothing else, that the glorified saints were made clean.
3. Some of the trials of the saints are evidently intended, by those who are the instruments of them, to make them sin. Tribulation has a tendency to create, even in good men, new sins: sins into which they have never fallen before. "Brother," thou sayest, "I shall never repine against God." How knowest thou that? Thou sayest, "I have never done so unto this hour." Art thou not in health and strength? Why, then, shouldst thou murmur? But suppose the Lord were to strip thee of all these things, O man, I fear me thou mightest murmur as others have done. In some men tribulation works a very fierce temptation to distrust.
4. So, too, great trials are wonderfully apt to reveal the weakness of our graces and the number of our infirmities. Spiritual storms make a man discover what utter weakness he is, and then he is wise to fly to the blood of the Lamb. Oh, what a sweet restorative is found in the atoning sacrifice!
III. WHAT LESSON COMES OUT OF THIS?
1. I would say to you, first, meditate on it. A sight of Christ in His agony is a wondrous sure for our agonies.
2. But the chief thing is this — in all times of tribulation the great matter is to have the blood of Christ actually applied to the soul.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?