Revelation 7:9-17 (CEB)

The great crowd and seventh seal

After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out with a loud voice:

“Victory belongs to our God
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying,

“Amen! Blessing and glory
and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water,[a] and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Season of Saints – Clothing of the Saints

Today is All Saints Sunday.  This is the Sunday of the year where we remember and celebrate the children of God who have passed on to that place where they worship God day and night right in the presence of Almighty God.  We are going to look at some beautiful and poetic scripture as we kick off a sermon series called “Season of Saints,” and today we will talk about Clothing of the Saints.  We will look at who the saints are, and then we will consider how we are called to be saints, too!

The book of Revelation is a poetic account of a vision that John has while he’s imprisoned on the island of Patmos.  The word “revelation” means “unveiling,” and Revelation unveils something about God and about the world during the time it was written.  It unveils some truths about the Roman Empire of the time, and it unveils some truths about God.  The book is honest about the serious problems in the world during John’s day.  But the book is also optimistic and hopeful and at times gives us the promise of a world of unimaginable joy with God.

According to one scholar Revelation takes seriously the power of sin in the world and portrays “unrighteousness not just as personal immorality but rather as systemic evil and social injustice.”  Revelation is described as a critique of Rome as an anti-God society that uses its power to enslave others, becomes prosperous by making others poor, revels in self-adulation, and becomes cavalier about justice, ignoring the suffering of innocent and allowing and perpetrating violence against the righteous.  (Mark Allan Powell).  He describes the book of Revelation as “an oracle of doom infused with the promise of hope.”  And that is exactly what we witness in this text – today we read a few verses in the middle of doom describing the reward for the faithfulness of the children of God and giving us hope in Jesus Christ.

In verse 9 we have a stunning view of a massive throng of people from everywhere.  They are of every nation, tribe, people and nation.  And there are so many, that they can’t even be counted.  Can you even imagine all the people!  God’s kingdom is big, and John’s church would have been encouraged to think bigger and to see the newly birthed church as spanning centuries, and cultures and continents.” (New Interpreters Study Bible). The people wave palm branches and cry out loudly rejoicing in Christ’s victory over sin and death.  And they are robed in white.  This scene becomes even more over the top when the people in white are joined with angels, living creatures and other heavenly beings falling on their faces before the One seated on the throne and adding their own praises and blessings to that of the heavenly hosts.  And then in verse 13 one of the elders says to John, “who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

And John thinks maybe the elder knows, and says: “You know.”  And the elder says: “These people have come out of great hardship.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood.  This is the reason they are before God’s throne.  They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst.”

These are the saints – these people in white robes are the children of God.  And in this text, the way that we can really learn who these saints are is to look at their clothing.  How are these people dressed?  White robes.  And I found many different meanings for the white robe — all are positive.  One source said the white robes are a symbol of “heavenly existence or worthiness of heaven.”  (Harper Collins Study Bible).  One said the white robe symbolizes righteousness and victory.  (New Oxford Annotated Study Bible).  One source said the white could symbolize glory, resurrection, salvation or purity.  (Dick Donavan, sermonwriter.com).

And not only are they robed in white, but verse 14 says that they have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood.  Now this is really strange!  How could washing your robe in the Lamb’s blood make it white?  What does this mean?  Revelation is a very poetic book rather than a literal book; it uses metaphors and images to describe something that is impossible to describe.  And to figure this out, we have to think back to the Old Testament when animal sacrifices were made to God.  In the Old Testament when people had done something to offend God, what did they do?  They sacrificed an animal to God.  The sacrifice of an animal like a lamb or a cow or a dove would cleanse them of sin that they might have committed against God – in killing animals on God’s altar, a spiritual cleansing of sin was completed.

In the book of John, Jesus is called the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  (John 1:29).  And so when the text says that the people washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, it is a metaphor showing that the saints had recognized the power of Jesus Christ in their lives to forgive their sins.  Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross as the ultimate and the only sacrifice needed for us to draw near to God the Father.  Because the blood of the Lamb of God was spilled, because Jesus died, we no longer have to sacrifice animals at the temple.  But there is still an action that we have to take.  We still have to wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb – we still have to accept the forgiveness that Christ offers.  We still have to repent of our sins and turn away from our old lives.  The saints are no longer living lives of sin and selfishness, instead the image is that they have washed their dirty robes in the blood of the Lamb –that is they have so fully accepted the power of Jesus Christ in their lives that the sin and darkness of their former lives has been transformed into a bright, white robe of victory, of salvation, of glory, and of resurrection – and they are welcomed into God’s holy throne room.  This is the reason they are before God’s throne.  They have accepted the power of Jesus Christ in their lives.

But not only have the people in the scripture washed their robes in the blood of Jesus, but they have faced great hardships during their lives.   And yet through these hardships, the saints have remained faithful to God.  I want to share with you some examples of saints over time who are an amazing witness of lives so transformed by Jesus that they were able to maintain their faith through suffering.

Perpetua and Felicitas were Christian martyrs of the 3rd century who were believed to have died in 203 AD. Perpetua was a married noblewoman, said to have been 22 years old at the time of her death, and mother of an infant she was nursing. Felicity, a slave imprisoned with her and pregnant at the time, was martyred with her. These two women were arrested and imprisoned for their faith at the time that they were studying to be baptized.  They refused to recant their faith in Christ even though their families begged them to swear allegiance to the emperor and turn from their faith.  They were put to death by wild beast along with others at Carthage in the Roman province of Africa .

A more modern saint is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German: [ˈdiːtʁɪç ˈboːnhœfɐ]; 4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) who was a German pastor, theologian, spy, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic.[1]

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews.[2] He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, and then executed by hanging on April 9, 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

Óscar Romero (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980) was a prelate of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, who served as the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture. In 1980, Romero was assassinated while offering Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence.  Pope Francis stated during Romero’s beatification that “His ministry was distinguished by his particular attention to the most poor and marginalized.”[

There is and always has been a lot of pain and turmoil in the world.  We are far from the Garden of Eden.  And our earthly lives are far from the heavenly celebration described in our text today.  You can’t be alive and not experience hardship.  But it is our faith in Christ that determines how we will face hardship.

Each of us are invited to come to Jesus  — to be washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Each of us are invited to live a life focused on the agenda of God rather than our own agenda.  Each of us are called to stand firm in our faith, especially when we face the worst of times.  Each of us are called to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves – to have eyes to see social injustice, suffering, and oppression that exists in our world today.  And if you think you could never have the faith or do the things that Oscar Ramiro, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Perpetua and Felicitas did, I think you are wrong.

When we are clothed in Christ, we begin to see things differently than we ever did before.  And when we face hardship, we are able to experience the power and the peace of the presence of God – we are able to do things we never thought we could.

The saints we celebrate today were clothed in Christ – they were washed by the waters of their baptism and they, too, endured hardship in their lives.  And today we remember them, and we celebrate their entrance into that place where they are sheltered and comforted, and where they are allowed into the very presence of Almighty God.

Our eyes are open to the pain and turmoil in the world, so I pray today that the Holy Spirit would open our eyes in a new and fresh way to experience the hope of salvation, the hope of a life lived with Christ, and the hope of heaven.  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.