Revelation 7:13-17 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“The Lamb is Our Shepherd”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 17, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Second Reading recorded in Revelation 7:
And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in white robes, who are they and from where have they come?” And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me:
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. On account of this, they are before the throne of God and they worship Him day and night in His temple, and the One sitting on the throne will spread His tent over them. They will not hunger anymore nor will they thirst anymore, and neither should the sun fall on them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them
and will lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes.”
Our journey into the text of Revelation this Easter Season continues this morning with these words from chapter 7. John sees “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, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands” (7:9). He is asked who they are and from where have they come? These are identified as “the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
And there’s that word again—tribulation. We spoke last Sunday of Jesus, the victorious Lamb, who was worthy to open the scroll and reveal its contents to John and to the Church. Those contents were about the trouble and suffering that the human race, including the Church, would experience in the time between Christ’s ascension until the end of this world. In Revelation 6 we saw that every form of tyranny that is won by power and force would exploit, enslave, dominate, and terrorize. Bloodshed and loss of life is the result; economic imbalance ensues; death and the grave hold sway. At any given moment in history, part of the earth’s population is dying because of the sword, famine, and disease. The whole thing is nothing but woe and lament, tribulation and suffering, even for God’s people in Christ. Jesus, as He unsealed the scroll, also revealed to John a visual picture of the souls of the martyred saints in heaven praying to God for vengeance, which would come only after their brothers and sisters had endured the horror of the same persecutions and sufferings (Rev.6:9-11).
Christians of all ages are always suffering tribulations of one kind or another, including persecutions—some subtle, some violent. The fact that the tribulation spoken of in Revelation 7 is called “great” seems to indicate that it is the worst of the common tribulations that all Christians in general experience throughout history. But the Lord Jesus Christ also described the terrifying days before the end of this present world, the time before His Second Coming, saying that there would be a “great tribulation” as has never been experienced before since the beginning of the world’s existence (Matthew 24:21). Jesus says that this would be so horrible that even God’s own people would not be saved unless those horrific days were cut short for their sake (Matt. 24:22). Jesus then says in Matthew 24, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30 ESV).
It certainly seems that the words “great tribulation” in Revelation 7:14 refer to the same event of which Jesus spoke. And yet, the words, “those who are coming out of the great tribulation” also suggest that the picture here is of a condition from which all the saints are being delivered, not only from the “great tribulation” just before the End, but also from tribulations throughout the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming. It’s “both—and.”
To this we can testify. Like every Christian, you experience testings of faith and witness. You have to go through the sufferings of this world corrupted by sin: hunger, violence, disease, death. Sometimes the tribulations and sufferings that you endure are so piercing and upsetting that your very faith and the foundation of your hope is severely tried, almost to the point of despair and defeat. Every such trial points to the future “great tribulation” before the End. But for you, at that moment, your sufferings and trials are your great tribulation. And every Christian will experience tribulation.
But once again today, the Lord Christ gives us a vision of comfort as we experience whatever tribulations sorely test our faith and patience. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. On account of this, they are before the throne of God and they worship Him day and night in His temple, and the One sitting on the throne will spread His tent over them.” With St. John, we are looking at the whole people of God in Christ Jesus entering and becoming the Church Triumphant! The crowd that John sees represents the whole church as if it were already triumphant, as if it were already complete, as it will be at the resurrection on the Last Day.
This crowd of saints comes out of the great tribulation victorious because of the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Because of the redeeming death of Jesus and, because He is now the victorious, risen Lamb, Christ presents His Church to the heavenly Father, the crowd of people standing pure and holy in the presence of God with sins forgiven by the blood of Christ. 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” The Church Triumphant is covered with the righteousness of the Lamb and all share in the victory of the Lamb before the Father.
And this victory is your end, not suffering and tribulation. Because of the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, you have been washed clean of your sins. You are forgiven. Christ has done all the work of saving you from sin and death through His suffering, death, and resurrection. And Jesus the Lamb is also your Good Shepherd who “shepherds” you through the tribulations, trials, and sufferings of this life and leads you to “springs of living water.” This is an expression for the source of life which is God Himself. Jesus Christ leads His flock to God the Father to receive the gift of life. In order that He should give us this gift of life, Jesus the Shepherd laid down His life on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb of God. In His resurrection, He took up His life again so that He should lead His people to Father, the ultimate source of life everlasting. We heard in the Gospel reading today from John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:27-30 ESV).
In bringing us to God through His death and resurrection, by which we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the Lord Christ brings us into a new life now through faith, and at the Last Day, into a new creation at the resurrection where God Himself will “tent” among His saints. Where God is, we will be. In the Old Testament, God’s presence moved from place to place “with a tent as my dwelling,” referring to the tabernacle (2 Sam. 7:6-7). In the New Testament this comes to glorious expression in the picture of God’s Son “pitching His tent” among us—The Word became flesh and dwelt (literally, pitched His tent) among us (John 1:14). On the Last Day and into eternity, God will stretch His tent over all of His people, providing rest and security. The result of God’s intimate presence and protection will be that we will not hunger anymore. We will not thirst anymore. Never again will we be pained by the harshness of life as we experience it now. In our new life with God—when we die, before His heavenly throne, and at the Last Day, in the new heavens and earth—Jesus the Lamb will shepherd us so that we will be God’s people at rest and peace. For God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We shed tears over our sin’s and the sins of others. We cry over the ruin and sufferings experienced by others and over our own afflictions. But these tears will be wiped away as we enter the peace and joy of life with God forever together with the whole Church.
What comfort we receive from this Word of God as we experience and live through tribulations and persecutions. The Lord Christ controls everything for the sake of God’s glory and for the benefit of His people on earth. God will protect us, His people, as you and I carry out our Lord’s mission. He will not forsake you. He will not permit you to lose hope and faith. On the Last Day, you will be ushered into the glorious citizenship of the Church Triumphant. And that is your end—not the suffering here on earth, not the tribulations and trials. Instead, yours is the glory of God and of the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.
Special thanks to the now sainted Rev. Dr. Lou Brighton, my seminary professor, who opened the text of Revelation to me in a pastoral, Christ-centered way, for the material used in this sermon.