Revelation 7:15-17 (All Saints Day)
St. John, Galveston 2022
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Book of Revelation is considered by many one of the more difficult books of the Bible to understand. I think that is so because it’s filled with images of beasts and strange creatures and the like. The specifics of each of John’s visions lead us, if we’re not careful, down various theological rabbit holes. In the end, we find it hard to see the forest, the bigger picture, because our eyes are so focused on the trees.
With the Book of Revelation though there is a central point, a central message. To better see and better understand what that message is, a little bit of historic context goes a long way. And so, this morning I’m going ask you to walk with me for a few minutes in John’s shoes, so to speak, as we try to come to a better understanding of the circumstances under which the Book of Revelation was written. This, I think, will help us better understand better the book as a whole, but it will also help us with the specific passage that’s before us this morning from chapter 7.
It’s around 90AD – some 60 years, or so, after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The Apostle John, one of the 12 men chosen by Jesus, the writer of Revelation, is exiled on an Island called Patmos. Today Patmos is a province of Greece. By this time, John has either witnessed or heard about the martyrdom of all of the other apostles. It’s a tough time for John to say the least. Remember, these men were his friends, his companions in the Gospel, and now they’re all dead, martyred for their faith in Jesus.
Of course, it isn’t only John who suffered the loss of the other apostle’s, nor is it only John who suffered persecution at the end of the 1st century. The Church as a whole was suffering tremendously. “Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote about the early Christian martyrs: He said, “mockery of every sort was added to their deaths.Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished or were nailed to crosses or were doomed to the flames and burned to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired.” (In other words, they were used as human torches.) Nero, that prince of a ruler, offered his gardens for the spectacle. It was a celebratory event for those who despised Jesus and His disciples.
So, the end of the 1st century was a very difficult time for the Church. Many of the faithful would have, no doubt, been wondering if their faith in Jesus was in vain? Were the sufferings they endured meaningless? Was all of Jesus’ talk about victory and the coming Kingdom of God nothing more than wishful thinking?
I think in general it isn’t good for us to know the future. I say that because, I’m not sure we’re really equipped to know what is coming in the next month, or in the next year of our lives. But it is good for us to know that good ultimately wins over evil. Frankly, it’s that knowledge, that good wins over evil, that gives us hope and allows us to approach each new day with a certain measure of courage and even joy.
That said, the repeated and overarching message of the Book of Revelation is that “Christ wins and His Church will, in time, finally enter her rest in His presence!” And so, no matter the battle, no matter the fight, no matter the enemy, God and His people, those who have been buried and raised again with Christ in Holy Baptism, win! Indeed, as Jesus Himself said, “Not even the gates of hell will ever prevail against my church.”
John’s vision in Revelation 7, is to remind us, the Church, of God’s victory for her in Christ Jesus. People were standing around the throne of God’s grace and John said, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and 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 dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Some say, and even erroneously believe, that since we are God’s children through faith in Christ nothing bad should ever happen to us. Revelation though was written precisely because we do experience tragedies. Even though our sins are forgiven, we still suffer under many of the judgments God visits upon the human race. We get sick like everyone else. We grow old like everyone else. We Christians even die like everyone else. In short, we face tribulations.
When we were called in our baptisms to follow Jesus, God made it clear that as we followed we would bear a cross. Oh, our cross isn’t precisely like Jesus’ cross, bloody and stained, as it were, with the stench of sin, sin exposed, sin atoned for, swallowed up in victory. Our cross, or crosses, are however, a reminder that His kingdom is not of this world and that there is something more for the saints triumphant, who, as, we sang in the sermon hymn this morning, “nobly fought of old.”
St. Paul, in writing to the Christians at Corinth said, “if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all people the most to be pitied.” Why is that? Well, because tribulation is often our lot in this world. We are destined, if you will, to suffer. Not to atone for anything, or to make ourselves right with God, but because we face formidable foes in our sin, in the world and the devil.
One troubled soul asked a friend, “What shall I do in all my troubles?” They both stood by a cow that was looking over a fence made out stone. The troubled soul was asked, “Why is this cow looking over the fence?” The other man answered: “Because she cannot look through it.”
The glory of God is often difficult to see in the midst of our tribulations. It was certainly so when Christians were falling to martyrdom in John’s day. And yet, we are called, as God’s people, to look over those tribulations, to look, if you will, beyond the crosses we bear, to the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus.
You see, this text from Revelation 7 reminds us once again that Christ wins and His Church prevails! His victory is revealed to John, to the Christians of his day, and to you and me. Remember, the Apostle John, who wrote the Book of Revelation, also wrote the Gospel that bears his name. There he says that Jesus, “the Word made flesh, the light that lightens the heart of every man,”has come into the world, and “the darkness has never been able to put out that light.” It’s amazing, isn’t it? Nothing in the history of humanity has ever been able to extinguish, to put out the light of Christ!
The Apostle John likely lived on in exile well into the reign of Trajan, from 98-117A.D., which is to say, he was old man, a seasoned veteran of the cross, when he died. He had no doubt, preached many times about the resurrection of the dead. Like you and me, he lived in the baptismal grace into which he was called. He suffered through the Great Tribulation, an anguish of soul, the fight with sin, the world and the devil. As with all the Saints of God, for him, “the battle was fierce and the warfare long.”
But now, as with all those who have gone before us in the faith, there is, for John, no more tears. He stands before God, who sits on His throne. His struggle has ended. The world has been subdued, sin has been eradicated, and the devil has been vanquished. You see…“Christ wins!” “Soon, soon, to faithful warriors comes their rest. And sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +