“Who Are These Arrayed in White Robes?”
(Revelation 7:13-17 – All Saints – November 3, 2019)
Revelation 7:9-17 – After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 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.”
Dear Redeemed, Saints of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ:
There are few occasions in life when we might wear white robes. White symbolizes purity and holiness. When it comes to ceremonies in the church, we think of the purity and holiness in which God cover us in Christ.
Maybe we think of the day of our Baptism. Often it is a tradition for those being baptized to be clothed in a white gown or dress. This reminds us of the purity and holiness in which God clothes us as His children. As Galatians 3:26-27 says: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Or maybe we think of our wedding day. Often it is traditional for the bride to wear a white dress. Even more importantly, we are reminded of the purity and holiness in which Christ clothes us as His Bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:25 says: “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” As believers, Christ has cleansed us of sin and clothed us in His heavenly white garment, presenting us pure and holy in His sight.
Therefore today, as we observe the Festival of All Saints, we are led to see ourselves in that great multitude in our text. The apostle John is given a vision of all the saints, gathered from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” John is asked by an elder: “Who Are These Arrayed in White Robes?” Then John is given the answer, an answer that includes you and me, whom God is counting His saints in Christ.
1) They are the ones coming out of the great tribulation
“Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”… The first part of the answer says: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.”
In heaven, they swing high their palms and lift up their songs, rejoicing in their God and Savior. On earth they had glimpses of that heavenly joy, knowing salvation was theirs in Christ. Yet here on earth, that joy was mixed with trouble and sorrow. The word for “tribulation” in the Greek literally means “pressure.” How often as believers in Christ, as strangers and pilgrims passing through this world, we will feel pressured and afflicted by trouble on every side.
There are, of course, those kinds of afflictions and troubles that are common to all people, associated with life in this fallen world. Ever since our first parents fell to Satan’s temptation, life is cursed by the thorns and frustrations of work, by the pains of childbirth, growing pains, and pains of aging. Because of the pervasiveness of sin, all creation groans in bondage to corruption. All that lives and flourishes eventually succumbs to death and decay. And because of sin and evil in this world, there will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines; and sometimes wildfires that destroy. These are troubles felt by all the children of Adam.
But in addition, believers in Christ will experience particular tribulations. Because you believe and are baptized into Christ, you bear the sign of His cross. As a soldier of Christ, the evil enemy has you in his cross-hairs. Because you are the holy Bride of Christ, the Tempter seeks to you seduce you away. Satan hates you and wants to destroy all that Christ gives you, all that is pure and holy. Just because of your relation to Christ you will feel tribulation, pressures, and afflictions from Satan and those under his influence. There will be pressures to give up the truth of God’s Word, to fit in with the world. For the sake of Christ, some have lost friends and family, some have lost jobs and income, some have lost house and home, and some have lost life and limb.
Yet in Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said of His saints experiencing tribulations in this world: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad saints of God in Christ. Though we live in the great tribulation of these end times, these last days as the world in its present form is passing away, and though lawlessness abounds in Satan’s kingdom; yet we are baptized into Christ and united with Him who has conquered Satan and death, and who lives and reigns over all things for our good. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
In Christ, we are receiving “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:4-6).
Therefore see yourself in that great multitude, gathered safely at last around the heavenly throne. Join prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all faithful saints of God in Christ through the ages: “clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”
2) They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb
Here we are reminded of why they all are brought home to heaven. Is it because of the tribulation they suffered in this world? Is it because they somehow merited a place in heavenly glory by their own outstanding virtues? No, the victory song of the saints is all about the salvation God gave them through the Lamb, through His Son Jesus Christ. “Who are these arrayed in white robes?” Now we hear the second part of the answer: “These are the ones who… washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Of course the popular image of a saint is one who has lived such a pure and holy life in this world as to merit a place in heaven. But who fits that definition? What fallen child of Adam has ever lived the sinless life by which God could declare him or her fit for His holy courts? Isaiah 64:6 says: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”
Imagine if parents clothed their child in a pure white suit or dress one morning. They told their child to keep those clothes clean, because they would soon go to a wedding. But that child went outside to play and began to make mud pies. When it came time to go to the wedding, that pure white suit or dress was filthy. It was unpresentable for such a special occasion.
God Law commands us to be pure and holy, as He is pure and holy. Yet even our best efforts to stay clean are like that child making mud pies. Out of our sin-corrupted heart, come filthy thoughts, words, and deeds. Day by day, we play on our sinful desires and soil our garments. When it comes to attending the heavenly wedding banquet, our unclean and unholy lives render us unpresentable; we would be shut out.
There is only one way we can attend, only one way we can be found among those arrayed in white in that heavenly assembly. We must have our clothes washed. Not even the world’s strongest detergent can touch that mess. Not even our best efforts to clean up our lives, not even our most righteous acts before God, can touch the sinful mess we have made of our lives.
There is only one who can cleanse us of all sin and present us pure and holy before God. That is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We have been redeemed by “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). He came into this fallen world clothed in His righteousness. From His sinless heart He kept His life spotless in every thought, word, and deed. Even after years of tribulation, temptation, and affliction from the enemy, He remained pure, always doing the will of His Father. At His Transfiguration, His heavenly glory shone through, His robe of holiness shone as white as the light. Yet it was this pure and holy Lamb of God who took all our sins on Himself. He went to the cross bearing all our filth and shame before God. He suffered as the sinner in our place. He shed His holy, precious blood that takes away all our sins.
Now in our crucified and risen Savior, God forgives us. He no longer counts our sins against us; but He counts the righteousness of Jesus to us. Through Baptism and faith in His Son, God has adopted us and clothed us in the pure white garment of His children. With the washing of water by His Word, Christ has adorned us in the pure white wedding garment as His Bride.
“Who are these arrayed in white robes?” It is all sinners who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That is you and me! God calls us His saints, His holy ones in Christ! We join all saints through the ages saying: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
3) Therefore they are before the throne of God in perfect joy
Now the elder concludes: “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.”
When our last hour in this world comes and God sends His holy angels to bear us home, all the tribulation of this fallen world will be forever behind us. All the frustrations, pains, and sadness caused by sin will be forever removed. In the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells, all the pure joys of Paradise will be restored. We will drink freely from that pure river of the water of life, which proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb. We will eat freely the fruit of that tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7; 21:6; 22:1-2).
Already, the Lamb is our Shepherd. Jesus leads us to green pastures and still waters; He restores our souls, bringing His salvation to us in Word and Sacrament. He is the Bread and Water of Life; giving Himself to us that our souls may never hunger nor thirst but live forever (John 4:14; 6:35). Already, the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, giving us eternal life (Romans 8:11).
One day, what we now receive by faith we will experience by sight. 1 John 3:2 says: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Like our risen Savior, we will be given a perfect, glorified heavenly body. 1 Corinthians 15:54 says: “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ “
Already in our worship, having washed our robes and made theme white in the blood of the Lamb, we join that heavenly song of praise: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And one day, we will join that great multitude in worship around the throne and the Lamb. As the children of God made perfect, as the Bride of Christ adorned in His holiness, we will join our voices with saints and angels in that perfect song: “Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.