by Roger B. James
In Revelation 7, St. John is given a vision of the holy and glorious throne of God. In front of the throne stands a great multitude of people of every sort, clothed in the white robes of Holy Baptism and waving the palm branches of salvation, crying out acclamation to God the Father and God the Son. John is then asked who these people are. He doesn’t know. He is told an amazing thing:
“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. 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. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:13-17
This glorious throng of people that he saw all dazzling before God—these are the very same people that John knew on earth at the time when he lived. This crowd in heaven were the poor, struggling folks that he knew from Christian churches all around. Ordinary people who struggled with illness, persecution, poverty, temptation, and sin. Such people would one day fill the courts of the Lord’s house in heaven. “Who would think it to look at them now!” John must have thought.
Among that throng, witnessed by John so many centuries ago, you also will stand—you who have been cleansed by Jesus’ forgiving and life-giving blood, baptized into His Holy Name, and clothed in the white-robe of His righteousness. You will be there, salvation adorning your body, salvation waving in your hands, salvation on your lips as you worship the God of your salvation, singing with angels and elders and all the creatures of heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb! Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” – Revelation 7:12
Those who think that it is a small thing to stand in the presence of God and worship have little or no understanding. Those who mock and say that heaven sounds boring—that they would much rather have fun in hell—don’t grasp the insanity of what they are saying.
Just consider: if people will stand in line and in packed mobs for hours just to get a glimpse of some celebrity or, say, the president or king or queen, then how much better to be in the eternal presence of God our Saviour! If the angels who are so much more powerful and wise than we find it joy and honour constantly to be in God’s presence, then should not we agree, even though it may be hard for us to understand right now because our minds are so earth- and sin-bound?
Perhaps you can imagine waiting in a crowd to see some important or famous person, standing on tip-toes trying to see over the shoulders and heads of those in front just to get a glimpse—or, perhaps if you’re lucky, to catch the very eye of that important person—perhaps even to shake hands or to get a signature. But what does the Scripture promise? Not only will we be in the crowd and see our God and Saviour from afar; Scripture says that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” How close do you have to be to wipe away a tear? Can you remember the gentle hand of father or mother holding your face and brushing away that salty drop?
But is it possible that in such a vast throng God could or would be able to touch and speak to you so personally? Yes, for even though you are a part of this crowd—the Church, which includes believers of all generations and places—you will never be lost in the crowd; the Lord sees and loves and saves us together and also individually.
The Sacraments are proof and assurance of this. Yes, the Word is preached to crowds, but the Sacraments, even though they ordinarily take place in the congregation, always are given individually and personally. Water was poured out on your head and your name was uttered when you were born again by water and the Word. Your mouth is opened, and the Lord’s Holy and Precious Body and Blood is pressed upon your lips and tongue with the full promise that your sins are forgiven. In this way, the Lord proves that His cross and the death which He died for the whole world is also intended for each of us.
It is one thing to be able to say, “I saw the president or prime-minister!” It is another to be able to say, “He saw me. He shook my hand. He spoke my name.” But we can say far more: “God, My Saviour, the Eternal Father, the glorious Son, the Holy Spirit, knows me by name. He spoke my name. He gave me His own name in Holy Baptism. My Saviour Jesus placed in my mouth—this very mouth!—His own precious Body and Blood.”
The time will come when all believers who struggle here and now in this great tribulation will stand in the throng within the presence of the Holy Lord—not as anonymous faces in a crowd, but as those named and loved by God. At that time, with all the gentleness, intimacy, and tenderness of a father with his child, the Lord will wipe every tear from your eye. But even now, right here and now, the Lord is present among us, giving His own Body and Blood in the Supper and washing us clean in Holy Baptism.
Rev. Roger B. James is Assistant to the General Secretary for the International Lutheran Council.