The Lamb is the Shepherd. 7:9-17
In our passage for study we read of John's vision of the "great multitude" in heaven. This group resides in peace and joy before the throne of God. The crucial question concerns their identity. They probably represent all believers, as do the 144,000 in v4. The 144,000 depicts completeness, whereas the "great multitude" depicts universality - they are from every race and nation. Many commentators think this group may represent the martyrs of the church, but there is little in the passage to support this view. They are the redeemed ones who have struggled through the sufferings of this present age.
v9. John sees the Great Multitude standing before the throne of God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches. This is probably a victory image; the victory, in Christ, is won. So, the whole church, all believers, the redeemed, stand before the throne dressed as a victorious throng.
v10. The shout of the redeemed identifies the one who has secured for them this place of honour.
v11-12. The angels respond to the shout of the redeemed by falling before the Lord, crying out "Amen" and ascribing seven attributes to God.
v13. John is now prompted by one of the elders to question "who are they", this "great multitude"?
v14. A twofold answer is given: i] They are those who "have come (and are coming) out of the great tribulation." This tribulation is not just the last great tribulation when evil is fully revealed, rather it includes the past and present tribulation of the church as it constantly facing its struggle against evil. Evil is seemingly the master, but in fact, God is the master, exercising his reign through the suffering community of Christ; ii] They are those who have been redeemed, perfected in Christ, justified on the basis of his death and resurrection.
v15. The situation and role of the redeemed in the heavenlies is now described. The place is described as a temple, in the sense of being the sanctuary or dwelling-place of God. In this place the redeemed have access and thus must serve as priests providing access for others. This is possibly what is meant by serving God in the sanctuary. The description is certainly not one of static inactivity. The "tent over them" illustrates the all-protecting presence of God.
v16. The situation is described in the most beautiful of terms. First, a list of negatives gives us an idea of the fulfillment we can expect in the age to come. Does this mean that in the eternal kingdom we will face no times of trouble, that we will be at complete rest and in complete peace? This may well be so, but the descriptives may also reveal to us that we will no longer be at the mercy of our fleshly nature, nor will our material environment slowly break us. In the age to come God's people will no longer be at the mercy of their fleshly limitations, nor the onward rush of circumstance.
v17. On the positive side, Jesus will guide us into the very presence of the Lord God, satisfying us fully with his divine presence and supporting us in our every need.
Out of the heat
The limitations of the present moment are hard for us to accept. None of us are in total control of the physical, psychological, or spiritual self, nor of the circumstances around us.
Our feelings so often dictate our actions. We feel our way through a situation and then seek to justify our actions. Yes, we are corrupted by sin.
Our spiritual life is similarly deprived and out of control. We desire to know God and to serve him, but so often he seems distant from us, beyond our reach, and as we try to live for him we find ourselves compromised beyond recognition. Indeed, we "thirst" after his presence, we desire to be united to him, to be one with him, and yet our lives seem parched.
The circumstances of life are similarly out of control. In the face of the surge of life's daily grind we cannot help but feel lost and alone, filled with fear. It is hard indeed to accept such limitations.
Against the limitations of the present moment there stands the reality of the age to come. This reality is powerfully presented in the passage before us. John's vision captures the gathering of God's people in the last day. This vision lifts our eyes from the horror of the opened seals - the mystery of chaos. The mystery of chaos is our present experience. The older we get the more we recognize the chaos around us. The queues get longer, the traffic jams heavier, the political game increasingly cynical. The crowd of people who stand before the throne of God came through this tribulation, through times of trouble and persecution. They are a saved people. In the presence of our Lord God they stand enshrouded in his divine power. They now have no limitations. They will never again hunger and thirst for the presence of the Lord. Never again will the heat of desire or circumstance scorch them.
So then, as we face the mystery of chaos, remember that the darkness of tribulation will pass and a new day will come, yes is even here. In that day the Shepherd will lead us to springs of rejuvenating water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
In what sense will the redeemed not hunger, thirst, or have the sun beat upon them?
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