MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Sunday, November 07, 1999
KJV Revelation 7:2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5 Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6 Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7 Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8 Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. 9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Many people try to find God’s calendar in the book of Revelation, missing the message of the book, comfort in the present and in the life to come.
Revelation is one of the seven spoken-against books in the New Testament. That is, some of the early Church Fathers had questions about including Revelation in the Bible. (The rest of the seven are: 2 and 3 John, James, Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude.) Of course, we cannot ignore what is recorded from the past. Lenski examined the issue and found no difficulty himself. These books have less authority than Matthew, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and Acts, but they have been included in the New Testament canon since the 4th century. Our earliest manuscripts include Revelation, for instance, but not in all instances. It is not easy to preserve a complete manuscript of the Bible during a time of persecution.
We can see why Revelation was spoken-against, then and now. The symbolic language is so unusual that many people refuse to see the content for what it is. Revelation is the ideal book of the Bible to create any number of weird movies. In fact, it already has. It is ideal for fueling the bizarre ideas of cults, and it has done that too. But we cannot judge a book of the Bible for what it does to the promoters of error, but for what it says through the work of the Holy Spirit. (The Gospel of John is our best witness of Jesus, yet the Fourth Gospel has been misused more than the first three. Rabbis thought it was dangerous to study Ezekiel. They were right. One man with a prior record of fraud read Ezekial and wrote the best-seller, Chariots of the Gods, pointing out that Ezekiel recorded the appearances of UFOs. A TV commercial now claims that God did not create man. Aliens did – in their own image. The resurrection of Jesus was some kind of cloning. Etc.)
We could look at the first half of this lesson and assign all kinds of meaning to each number and tribe. But it appears to show us plainly that the Gospel is universal in scope, that great numbers of saints will be in heaven.
9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Notice that four groups are together: every nation, kindred, people, and tongue. The Bible uses groups of four to show us something universal in scope. The Gospel went to the Jews first, as Paul preached, and then to the Gentiles, after the Jews excommunicated the apostles and kept them from preaching in the synagogues. The Jews had three great opportunities to believe in Christ:
1. When the prophets preached the coming of the Messiah, all those who believed in Him were forgiven their sins.
2. When Jesus preached the Gospel, after John alerted the nation, all those who believed in Him were saved.
3. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the apostles preached the Gospel in Jerusalem and the synagogues, until they were driven out and killed.
It was the persecution of the Jewish Christians that pushed the earliest believers onto the Roman highway system (22,000 miles or more of paved roads) and the seas, to reach the four corners of the world. The apostles were sent by Jesus and they gladly went, but persecution drove the Gospel into new areas with great speed. The growth of the Gospel was miraculous. The Roman Empire persecuted Christianity as an illegal religion, but within a few centuries, Christianity reached the highest levels of Roman government. Think about that. The most powerful and long lasting empire of the world tried to erase the Christian faith through the sword, but Constantine the Emperor was directly involved in the Nicene Creed being formulated. The Sword of the Spirit, the Word, conquered Rome.
Revelation was probably written during one of the persecutions of the Roman empire. One tradition says that John was exiled to the island of Patmos for refusing to participate in emperor worship. Once the empire was established under Caesar Augustus, the first emperor, the rulers took on more power until they demanded dead emperors be worshiped as gods. Before Augustus, Rome was a Republic. Emperor worship was silly enough that one emperor on his deathbed said, “I think I am becoming a God. Puto ut deus fio.”
Nevertheless, when a Roman soldier said put incense on the altar to the emperors, many people did, just to avoid trouble, whether they believed in it or not. It was an easy concession to make. But those who did not give in faced death, prison, or exile. Soldiers demanded Scriptures and tore them up. Imagine that. The early Christians did not have to own a building, but they had to have the Scriptures, which were more costly and valuable to them than real estate. Tearing up or burning the Bible was almost equal to destroying a congregation. Nevertheless, the Word of God was preserved and the Church grew faster, the more it was persecuted.
In this light we can see why Revelation is filled with so many passages glorifying God and offering comfort to those who remain faithful. Revelation is a poetic book, with wonderful yet simple phrases.
10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
An expert on Lutheran hymns called Revelation the hymnal of the New Testament. It is easy to find hymns based upon Revelation texts, including the all-time favorite of all denominations, “Holy, holy, holy,” a hymn that praises God rather than man.
KJV Revelation 4:8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. 9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
KJV Isaiah 6:2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Revelation also reflects all the prophecy books of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament as well. Few people realize this.
Imagine how grief stricken and alarmed the early Christians were. We forget that these people heard the Gospel, often from eye witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, yet they saw the apostles jailed and murdered, their own friends imprisoned and killed. When we know the person killed for the faith, it makes us wonder if God really watches over the Church. I had a class at Ft. Wayne where one of the students was from the Union of South Africa, during the worst turmoil, when Winnie Mandela and her cohorts put car tires around the necks of their victims and burned them with gasoline. The African pastor said, “I am likely to be burned to death when I go back. I am identified with the Whites for being here and for being a pastor.” We said, “Why go back?” He said, “My members are there. I must go back.”
Death and suffering were acute realities for the people who first read the book of Revelation.
13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
Our name for those who died because of their faith is “martyr.” It comes from the Greek word for “witness.” The martyrs testified to their faith and died because of it. But the lesson does not emphasize their great effort, but being washed “in the blood of the Lamb.” They are in heaven because their sins were forgiven through the atoning death of Christ. The visible Church tends to praise people rather than God. I remember one old pastor who finally got up at a convention and shouted, “I am so tired of people being praised and thanked. We should thank and praised God alone!” The people at the convention were embarrassed by his outburst and went on praising each other into heaven.
The book of Revelation is great comfort to us because it takes us away from us and directs our sight upon the living Christ, the Lamb upon the Throne. That must be an odd image for non-believers, but we know what it means. The innocent lamb was slaughtered for the sins of the world. Now He is triumphant on the Throne in heaven.
I read this hymn onto a tape for Erin Joy, our daughter, who is with her sister Bethany in heaven.
I am Jesus little lamb, ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.
Day by day at home, away, Jesus is my Staff and Stay,
When I hunger Jesus feeds me, into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst He bids me go where the quiet waters flow.
Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended,
He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.
The Lutheran Hymnal, #648
Although we do not have to face the persecution and terror of the early Church, the Scriptures given to comfort them in their suffering help us in our pain today. I know many people whose lives are completely dictated by their physical limitations and pain. I think all of them would be glad to have 10% of the health we take for granted each day, when we do not bother ourselves to thank God for all He has given us. However, because they have so little of what the world values (and yet takes for granted) they focus upon God and His promises.
God has given us one great promise through Christ. It is not based upon our feelings, work, the correct attitude toward God, or anything else that can be found in us, apart from God’s work through the Holy Spirit. God has given this one great promise to us in many forms, in many different words, with many different additional promises and blessings. This is the form of the promise found in this lesson:
15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
So often we fall into the frame of mind where we identify earning God’s promises with work. But Jesus answered the work problem quite clearly.
KJV John 6:28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
BYZ John 6:28 ei=pon ou=n pro.j auvto,n Ti, poiw/men i[na evrgazw,meqa ta. e;rga tou/ qeou/ 29 avpekri,qh VIhsou/j kai. ei=pen auvtoi/j Tou/to, evstin to. e;rgon tou/ qeou/ i[na pisteu,shte eivj o]n avpe,steilen evkei/noj
Trusting in the promises of God equals working the works of God, according to the Son of God. Jesus might have said, “Perform miracles, the way I have. Convert the masses, the way I have.” He did not. He said, “Believe in Me, sent by the Father.” Whoever believes in Christ and remains with Him through the Means of Grace will bear the fruit of the Spirit.