God’s Revelation of Heaven
All Saints Day Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| November 1, 2009| Revelation 7, 13-17
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “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.” Revelation 7, 13-17
The Revelation of St. John is probably the most commonly misinterpreted book of the Bible. Whenever you hear the latest fantastic scenario for the end of the world you expect its proponent to quote from Revelation. Religious fanatics have appealed to this book to support the most ludicrous theories about the end times. It almost makes you want to avoid reading the book altogether.
But the abuse of a gift doesn’t make the gift less of a gift. The Revelation of St. John – the last book of the New Testament to be written – is a gift from the Holy Spirit to the Church. Underneath the strange and often unfamiliar symbols the message of Revelation is one of hope. It speaks comfort to God’s people. And comfort is what we need.
This book is a vision. It was revealed to a man named John. John was one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. He was the only one to grow old. Every other disciple died a violent death at a relatively young age. Only John died a natural death. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t suffer on account of the gospel he preached. In fact, when he wrote this book he was living in exile on the Island of Patmos. In those days the Christian religion was against the law and the ageing apostle feared for his life. The last book of the Bible was written during a time of terrible persecution. But the blood of the martyrs watered the infant Church and made her grow.
Those wearing white robes came out of the great tribulation. They were suffering here on earth. It was the white robes they were wearing that gained them entrance into heaven.
They were suffering here on earth on account of their testimony. Near the beginning of this book St. John writes,
I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1, 9)
He was there because he preached the word of God. He was there because he testified of Christ. The government didn’t like that. But the Church’s faithfulness requires that she keep pure and unadulterated that saving truth committed to her by her Lord Jesus. When she does so she can expect persecution.
To the extent that the Church caves into the popular culture she will not be persecuted. Christians who go along to get along have their reward. It’s here and now.
The visible church in our day compromises with denials of the faith. The feminist movement captures the popular culture in the nineteen sixties and the church – imitating the world – starts ordaining women as pastors, even though God’s word forbids it. The sexual revolution takes over the popular culture – television, popular music and the arts – and there is the modern church changing her teaching in a pathetic quest for social acceptance. She defends and even celebrates what she used to call sin, all in the name of diversity and tolerance. When the false, unbiblical, and dehumanizing teaching of the evolution of the human race from a lower species wins the approval of the intellectual elite the church says that’s just fine. When a woman’s right to choose whether her unborn child will live or die becomes the new social and political orthodoxy, the church humbly acquiesces.
This counterfeit church and her counterfeit Christians will not be persecuted for their faith. They won’t be driven into social exile. They won’t go through the great tribulation. They have their reward. It is here and now.
The true Church and true Christians are those who are coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The washing that the Lord Jesus established for his Church is the washing of Holy Baptism. It has the power of Jesus Christ himself since it is he who has given this holy washing to his holy Church. But the power of Holy Baptism is not in the water. It is in the blood.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificed himself on the altar of the cross for the sin of the world. He offered a sacrifice sufficient to take away all sin. By bearing the sin of all sinners Jesus removed it. His blood cleanses us from all sin. His suffering was complete.
When the Roman soldier came to Jesus he was going to show him mercy by breaking his legs. With broken legs, Jesus wouldn’t be able to push up with his feet for more air and so prolong his own suffering. But the soldier noticed that Jesus was already dead. His legs would not need to be broken. So instead of breaking his legs he pierced his side and out of his side came water and blood.
The fact that none of his bones was broken signifies that Jesus is indeed the Passover Lamb. His blood marks our door. The Angel of Death passes over us. Death flees from the blood. Where the blood is poured death must give way to life.
And the fact that both water and blood flowed from Jesus’ side signifies that the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ is joined to the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus himself says, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” When we by faith hold on to the promise of God in our baptism, we are rescued from our sins and from death.
Those who believe and are baptized are those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They confessed the truth. They did not compromise with the world. They despised the approval of those who deny Christ, preferring death to a life without Christ and his precious blood. But their devotion to Christ is not what brought them into heaven. What brought them to heaven is the white robe. The spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness is what made them fit to enter into heaven.
What is heaven like? Listen to John’s description.
Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.
They serve him. That is, they worship him. When we gather together God serves us and we serve him. God serves us with his gospel and sacraments. We serve God with our praise. We praise him for what he has given us. We worship him for who he is and what he has done. Our praise is our confession. We confess the truth of what he has taught us and that confession is always centered on the blood of the Lamb shed for us to take away our sin and render us innocent before God. In heaven we will confess what we confessed here on earth, but it will not bring us persecution anymore. It will bring us pure and eternal joy.
And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.
The God who is so far above the thoughts and imaginations of the human heart; who lives in that unapproachable light that no mortal can see and live; who is thrice holy and can neither tolerate nor abide sin; this God will dwell with his saints in heaven. He will live with them, talk to them, bring them peace, joy, and above all, love. This is what heaven is like.
They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore.
That’s because there will be no lack. God will provide anything we need. We will be content. There will be no gluttonous desires. No thirst for one more drink. There will be perfect contentment with what God provides and he will make sure that we never do without.
The sun shall not strike them, nor any heat.
The new heavens and the new earth that God will make for his children will serve them. Nothing will go wrong. The crown of God’s creation will crowned with glory and honor.
For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.
Yes, the Lamb is the Good Shepherd. He understood the suffering of his sheep when they lived here in this world surrounded by temptations and dangers. He became one of them. His is no empty sympathy, but genuine compassion. He will feed his sheep. He will lead them to life giving water. He will satisfy them spiritually. They will be fully vindicated. Their confession will be shown to be true. Their faithful confession of the foolishness of the cross will be revealed as true and eternal wisdom. Their stubborn refusal to compromise with the false teaching of the world will be shown to be based on truth. Truth will prevail. The living waters of eternal life will fully and finally confirm the truth of Christ’s gospel.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
There will be no crying because there will be no sorrow or pain. That’s because there will be no sin.
God tells us here and now that we are wearing white robes. He tells us that we who are trusting in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ for our sins and are baptized in his name are presently forgiven of all our sins and are fit to go to heaven. No matter how the suffering we face might belie this, the truth is what God says, not what we feel. So we set aside our sight, our feelings, and our notions of what is fair and right. We listen to God’s word. He tells us we are wearing that clean white robe of innocence. What is ours now by faith will then be confirmed. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Those who are wearing the white robes God provides us in the blood of Jesus Christ are heaven bound. Those who die in this faith are in heaven. On this annual festival known as All Saints’ Day we thank God for the saints who have arrived ahead of us. We thank God for teaching us through them. We thank God for the fellowship we enjoy with them. They enjoy their Sabbath rest in heaven. We look forward to it in the midst of every pain and all suffering and persecution. For our robes are white. This is our greatest treasure. Nothing this world has to offer us can compare with this gift and nothing in this world can take it away from us. Amen