Revelation 7:1-4, 9-17 NET
1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He shouted out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given permission to damage the earth and the sea: 3 “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Now I heard the number of those who were marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed from all the tribes of the people of Israel: 9 After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands.
10 They were shouting out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood there in a circle around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground before the throne and worshiped God,
12 saying, “Amen! Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanksgiving, and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes — who are they and where have they come from?” 14 So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat,
17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We have been studying what the Bible says about worship this month. We first looked at two Old Testament passages and found that worship is something that we all ought to do, but it also something that can be corrupted. It can be done wrong.
Then we looked at Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in the Samaritan village of Sychar. In that conversation, Jesus revealed the fact that God is looking for sincere worshipers. We can worship in truth if we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and don’t just rely on our traditions.
For our next look at worship, I want us to look at this vision that John received, as recorded in Revelation 7. Now, I realize that there are a lot of different ways of understanding the Book of Revelation. If we were studying the book as a whole, I would stop and explain these different approaches, and give you my evaluation of them. But my concern today is more specific. I want us to see what this chapter in Revelation tells us about worship.
So, let me just summarize what we would have to agree on to look at this chapter in that context.
First, Revelation is Scripture. The visions John received on Patmos were given to him by Jesus so that he could understand some things about the future. They also served to equip him and believers after him (including us) to endure the things we would have to endure until Jesus comes again.
Second, there is a blessing associated with this passage. Revelation 1:3 says “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!” Of course, the blessing will only come to us if we have ears to hear what God is saying, and if we have the courage to commit ourselves to obeying what the text commands.
That is where we get to our subject. When we look at the 144,000 who are described in verses 1-8 of the chapter, and the enormous crowd that no one could count who are described in verses 9-17, each of them has a reason to worship the LORD. That is what I want us to focus on. Our God wants us to consider our options, and to make the right choices in life. Should we worship, or should we not worship? God never gives us a command without giving us good reasons to obey it.
The picture John saw in this vision is a graphical description of those who will overcome the trials and dangers of this temporary life, and will be there to greet Jesus as their Savior, King, and Shepherd in eternity. It is a picture not just of the kinds of people who gather to worship now, but a picture of those who will be worshiping forever in the new heavens and new earth. The worshipers described here have all the marks we have been told about the previous passages we studied. It is obedient worship. It is pure worship. It is sincere worship.
But today’s text also tells us why these people will be worshiping forever. What will God do for these people that will make them want to serve and worship him throughout eternity? That is the question that this passage answers.
First, we will worship the LORD forever because of God’s faithful remnant (1-4).
The first thing the passage describes is a storm that is about to be let loose on the whole earth. Four angels are placed on each of the four corners of the planet, and are holding back the four winds, so that no destruction can happen. Another angel commands them not to let loose the destruction. They have something else they need to do first, before the storm of judgment. First, they have to “put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
The Bible describes a number of instances where people were marked to seal them for protection. The mark he gave to Cain was an example of that. No, the mark was not a sign of a curse. The Bible says “the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down” (Genesis 4:15).
We know three things about these 144,000 men. First, it is clear that they are all Jews, not Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, they are numbered by Jewish tribe so that the fact is evident to all (Revelation 7:5-8).
Second, we know that these men are sealed before God unleashes his storm of destruction. They are not protected from the first death. The purpose of their sealing is to protect them from the second death.
Third, I think it is important to realize that John himself would be among them. He was a Jew, and he witnessed a great number of Jews come to faith in Christ, and many of them paid for that faith by being put to death either by their countrymen, or by Rome.
When John saw this large group of Jews, he was reminded that in the Old Testament, God always kept a remnant for himself. These 144,000 are the Jewish remnant.
The second group he sees in the vision are all the people from all the nations who would come to faith in Christ as a result of the ministry of that Jewish remnant. The vision is progressing in time. We know that the original apostles were Jews, but Christ commissioned them to reach the nations. We know that the original worshipers at Pentecost were Jews, but the Holy Spirit empowered them to go back to the various places where they lived and be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Revelation 7 records the result of their obedience.
Those of us who are Gentiles have come to faith in Christ because that Jewish remnant pledged their loyalty and many gave their lives to bring the gospel to us. Because of their obedience to the call, we can know Christ, and will worship him forever.
But that is not the only reason we will worship the LORD forever.
We will also worship the LORD forever because he will give us permanent victory over sin (9b, 13-14).
Look at those white robes we will wear. I know that the color white represents purity in the Bible. The LORD told his rebellious people “Come, let’s consider your options … Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow; though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet, you can become white like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
White is also the color of victory. The book of Revelation associates a white horse with warfare and conquering (6:2; 19:11, 14). So, the white robes don’t represent those who have merely managed to stay pure. The represent those who have won the victory over sin.
This is made clear in today’s passage by a conversation John has with “one of the elders” in the vision.
“Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes – who are they and where have they come from?” So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!” (13-14).
Our white robes are not our reward for staying good enough for God to save. Our white robes are the result of our forgiveness. We have been forgiven not because we repented and not because we were less sinful that others. We have been forgiven because of the blood of the Lamb.
John the Baptist described Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
We will struggle in this life to stay true to our Savior. We will fight to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). The world will want to give in to the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions. We will have to fight against its influence. But none of that fighting will cleanse our robes. That kind of cleansing is only available by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
We will also worship the LORD forever because he will give us a kingdom that will never end (9c, 15c-17).
Don’t forget the palm branches. You know that folks waived palm branches when they welcomed Christ into Jerusalem. The religious leaders objected, because they knew that these palm branches represented the welcoming of a new king. They asked Jesus to silence his pep rally. But Jesus told them “if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40).
The palm branches are a visible symbol of praise. The fact that the vision depicts them shows that our desire for God and his kingdom to come down and be among us will one day be satisfied. You better believe we will worship.
The high priest asked Jesus “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). He was referring to Daniel’s prophecy:
“I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Daniel saw a king coming in the clouds. Some day you and I will see that king coming in the clouds. So will that unbelieving high priest. So will all our neighbors. When he comes there will be only two responses. Those of us who know him now will worship him forever. Those who reject him now will call for the mountains to fall on them to hide themselves from his wrath.
He is our coming king – we will worship him forever.
He is our victory over sin – we will worship him forever.
He had saved a remnant who faithfully proclaimed his gospel, so we could hear it and be saved – we will worship him forever.
This is worship culminated. This picture of those involved in perpetual worship for eternity is a picture of us. May we stay true to that beautiful picture as we await his return.