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Feast of All Saints (Observed)

Revelation 7:2–17

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 21, Proper 26, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Nov 2, 2014 

Ask any pastor.  When he is close to finishing up a Bible class and he asks the disciples what they want to study next, what book of the Bible is always near the top of the list?  If you are a thinking Revelation, you would be right.

Could it be the imagery?  There is something enticing about the dragon, the beast, the anti-Christ, all the number codes, and all the other crazy things that you can find in Revelation. 

Maybe it is the possibility that Revelation tells us something that the rest of the Bible does not.  Are there secrets in Revelation just waiting to get out?  Does Revelation foretell the future?

Of course, it doesnt help that there are all kinds of crazy teachings out there.  I remember several teachers making a lot of money by teaching that the former Soviet Union was the beast of Revelation.  Then the Soviet Union collapsed and it became obvious that these teachers were wrong.  Never the less, there is a sucker born every minute, and many of those suckers will spend good money to buy really bad ideas about Revelation.

The first reading we just heard from Revelation is one place where people get confused when they read Revelation.  They forget the simple rule for interpreting any book.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  There are three rules for reading any book, especially the Bible: context, context, and context.

Many people read the first part of todays reading verses 4-8 and conclude that only 144,000 souls will make it to heaven.  After all, it says so right there in the Bible 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes.  Thats it!  Thats all there is!

Such people forget to read these words in context.  To begin with, there is the context of the introduction to Revelation.  In that introduction, John writes, [Revelation 1:10] I was in the Spirit on the Lords Day These words indicate that John is in some sort of prophetic trance.  Later on, John refers to his experience as my vision (Revelation 9:17) and indicates that this is not a historic account.

Todays reading actually gives us insight into one of the keys for understanding Revelation.  There is a pattern in todays reading.  First John hears a symbolic representation of what is happening.  Then he sees what is happening.  What he sees helps him understand what he heard.  In verse 4, John writes, And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: He heard the symbolic number 144,000.  Then in verse 9 he writes, After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb From this we learn that the number 144,000 is symbolic for that massive multitude of saints gathered around the throne and before the Lamb.  Further study tells us that the number 144,000 is not an exact number, but it is a symbol that represents the entire gathering of the saints from both the Old and New Testaments.

The wonderful thing about this vision is that it still teaches us the truth of who are part of that symbolic 144,000.  That is, it teaches us how God saved that great multitude from every tribe and nation.

There are plenty of symbols of evil in Revelation the false prophet, the beast, the great dragon, and so forth.  As we read Revelation, these forces of evil bring great power against all humanity.  No mere human can withstand their attack.  It seems as if suffering, death, and destruction will win in the end.

But then the champion steps forth.  Throughout the book of Revelation this champion is called The Lamb. The introduction of The Lamb follows the pattern of hearing and then seeing that fills the book of Revelation.

John takes us into the very throne room of heaven. [Revelation 5:25] I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.

Aha!  Here we go!  The Lion of the Tribe of Judah this should be pretty impressive.  Now well see some real power.  Now well see things get down to business.  Boy, I cant wait to see the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  Then John has a glimpse of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

[Revelation 5:6] 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.  Can you think of a greater contrast than the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and a slain sacrificial lamb?  The lion carries the nickname of the king of beasts.  On the other hand, even a living lamb isnt much good in a fight much less a lamb that has already been sacrificed.  Never the less, The Lamb is our champion.  Here John the Baptist and John the Evangelist agree. [John 1:29] Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

The proclamation of Revelation is the same as the rest of the Bible.  It proclaims repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.  In overwhelming imagery, it shows the power of sin, death, and the devil.  It shows that we are helpless to defend ourselves in the face of evil.  It shows that without a champion we would be lost forever and doomed to endless suffering in hell.

At the same time, it shows us that we have a champion Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  It is precisely because He offered Himself up as a sacrificial lamb that He defeated our enemy, saved us from sin, and gives us the promise of life everlasting.  It is as John says in his epistle, [1 John 1:7b] The blood of Jesus [Gods] Son cleanses us from all sin.

Todays reading from Revelation makes it clear how the great multitude came to be in heaven.  We learn their identity from a conversation that John had with one of the elders.  Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? 14 I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, 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.

So we see that all the amazing imagery and symbolism of Revelation still points to Jesus Christ crucified on the cross and risen from the dead.  It proclaims that the blood Jesus shed on the cross washes away all our sin and credits the holy life of Jesus to our account.  Jesus has taken away our sin and covered us with His righteousness.

Yesterday was the Feast of All Saints.  Therefore, today we remember our loved ones who have died in the Lord.  According to the first reading today, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  They are no longer here with us in the great tribulation of this sin filled world.  They wait with the Lord.  They wait for the day when the Lord returns and makes all things new the day when the Lord raises them in both body and soul.  If the Lord tarries, we shall join them and wait at the Lords side.  If the Lord returns soon, we shall not join them in death, but put on immortality even as our loved ones rise from the dead.  Then we shall gather together on the new earth and live with them forever in the presence of the Lord.  Amen



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