WASHED IN THE BLOOD Revelation 6–7
“They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst” (Rev. 7:15–16).Beyond the judgment lies blessing for God’s own.
In these and future chapters we find language that may puzzle us. Take, for instance, Revelation 6:12–14. There John speaks of the sun turning black like sackcloth. He mentions a blood red moon; stars falling to earth from the sky. He sees the sky itself recede “like a scroll, rolling up.” Mountains and islands are “removed from [their] place.” Many reading these descriptions have struggled to understand them in modern terms. The black sky and red moon might be explained by massive dust clouds filling the air. Perhaps this suggests atomic warfare, with mushroom clouds hurling ton upon ton of dirt and dust into the air. Are the falling stars meteorites? Or are they laser beams shot from satellites? What exactly does John see? The difficulty with such visions lies in a simple feature of language. The words available for use are limited to concepts existing in the writer’s time. If you lived in the United States just 300 hundred years ago, and suddenly were given a vision of giant planes landing and taking off from Chicago’s O’Hare field, and saw expressways filled with speeding cars, how could you begin to describe what you saw? You have no terms for planes, cars, airports, superhighways. These would all be so strange you would have no way to talk about them—except to speak perhaps of giant shining birds that roar, of horseless carts that hurtle toward each other with astounding speed. And even then, your listeners would be unable to grasp what it really was that you saw. It’s the same with much of the language of Revelation. John saw something. He used the words available in his culture to describe them. But those words are inadequate. If John had seen an atomic explosion, he would not know what it was, much less be able to tell others about it. Perhaps all he could say would be, “the sky receded like a scroll.” Given then the limitations of language, we shouldn’t expect to explain every scene described in Revelation. Yet even when we can’t grasp the “how” or “why,” what is happening is still relatively clear. The awesome and terrible nature of the events we are about to witness is unmistakable. And, when they do occur, we’ll say, “Of course! I see now what John was talking about.” And, if we know Jesus, we will survive judgment’s final, awesome storm.
The Lamb begins to open the seals, and awesome judgments are poured out on the earth (6:1–8). Slain saints cry out for Christ to judge (vv. 9–11), as further devastation strikes earth’s terrified population (vv. 12–17). A sudden halt is called to the judgment as 144,000 Jewish witnesses are sealed (7:1–8). In heaven the saved and angelic hosts praise God, who deals mercifully with those who have suffered for His name (vv. 9–17).
Understanding the Text
“The Lamb opened the first of the seven seals” Rev. 6:1–8. The first four seals that are opened by the Lamb unleash on earth what are known as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.” These four are conquest (v. 2), warfare (vv. 3–4), famine—represented by the inflated price of grain—(vv. 5–6), and death-dealing plague (vv. 7–8). None of these scourges are unknown in any generation. The thing that makes the judgments of the seals so terrible is that they strike the whole world, killing a fourth of earth’s population. Always before wars, famine, and plague have been localized. It was terrible in Europe during the era of the Black Plague. It was terrible in Poland when the panzers rolled in, and the SS rounded up and killed that land’s elite as well as its Jewish population. But what John pictures is worldwide terror. Always before there was someplace to flee; someplace safe. But as God’s final judgments begin, all hope is stripped away. It’s difficult, gathered at church for a candlelight celebration of the birth of Jesus, to imagine the future John portrays. Gathered together to celebrate, we feel safe, secure. And we are! For in the Babe of Bethlehem, God has provided a hiding place. We find our peace in Christ. Yet a most terrible fate awaits the world outside of Him. “The souls of those who had been slain” Rev. 6:9–11. In this world we are subject to persecution. Over the centuries many believers have given their lives for the cause of Christ. Every indication is that as history draws to a close, and God’s judgments are poured out on a terrified earth, intense persecution will resume. Now John is shown the souls of many slain “because of the Word of God,” and he hears them cry out for vengeance. These slain saints are told to wait, for others will be added to their number. But it is totally clear that God will not hold back judgment for long. As we hear the victims cry, let’s remember that it is right for God, who is “holy and true,” to judge the inhabitants of earth and to avenge His murdered own. The offer of salvation has been extended to all for many thousands of years. Each Christmas, despite tinsel and commercialism, the world is reminded that God has come in the flesh to bring salvation. Those who reject the gift of God, who continue willfully in sin, and who then persecute God’s people, deserve to be—and must be—judged by God. Christ’s birthday is a promise, and a threat. To those who believe, the birth promises salvation. To those who will not believe, it is a dreadful reminder that God can and will act in our world of space and time. But when He comes again, it will be to judge. “Fall on us and hide us” Rev. 6:12–17. As the next onslaught of judgments crash on the earth, it becomes clear to all that “the great day of [God’s] wrath has come.” Those who have refused to take God seriously, and scoffed at the promise of salvation, are now certain that God is, and that the dreadful day of His judgment has come. What strikes us is their reaction. There is no suggestion of repentance. All men seem able to do is try, futilely, to hide. If we will not respond to grace, we will surely not respond to punishment. If God’s love has not drawn us to Him, His anger most certainly will not either. “Holding back the four winds of the earth” Rev. 7:1–8. There is an unexpected interlude, like the eye of judgment’s awesome hurricane. The pause comes that God might place a protective seal on 144,000 individuals, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Many see in this listing of Israel’s tribes a rejoining of the stream that separated over Jesus. In the first century the faith of some of the Jewish people flowed to the right. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour predicted in the Old Testament, and became the first members of the Christian church. The faith of others flowed left, turning away from our Lord and holding fast to the old traditions as if He had never come. Yet Paul in Romans 11 looks foward to a day when the streams will meet again, and all Israel recognizes Christ as the Messiah for which the Jewish people continue to yearn. As the Prophet Zechariah says, “They will look on . . . the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn child” (Zech. 12:10). If this passage is linked with the restoration of Israel, it describes 144,000 newly converted missionaries, who amid the terrible Tribulation that marks the end of history, witness joyfully to one who is Messiah, Saviour, and Judge. “From every nation, tribe, people and language” Rev. 7:9–17. Now John’s eye is drawn back to heaven, and he sees the innumerable company of the saved. Drawn from every people and tribe, dressed in the white robes of salvation, they join in offering praise and glory to God. Some have drawn from this verse the notion that before Christ can return, every people must hear the Gospel. How else, they ask, can there be those from every nation, tribe, people, and language in heaven? A better answer displays even more fully the love and grace of God. Uncounted millions of babes, some unborn, some barely entering childhood, have died since time began. All these, gone before old enough to make any personal response to God, will join us before the throne of God. No tribe, no nation, no people of history, will be unrepresented. God’s salvation has already overflowed, to encompass all. Christ can come at any moment. Every precondition has already been fulfilled. How good to know, as we celebrate the meaning of Christ’s birth, that the overflow of God’s love has surged around us. How good to know that we are guaranteed a place with the multitude that will praise Him in that day.
Were You There?(Rev. 7:9–17)
The angels and elders fall down and worship God. The joy they feel is shared and expressed by all of heaven’s multitude. Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen! The words of praise echo throughout the unseen universe, as all join in. But then a new song is begun. The angels fall silent. They can speak the words, but never sing them. They can observe, but never join in this chorus. For this is the song of salvation. To join in one must be a man. One must have known the anguish of sin, the painful grip of evil. To sing this song, one must know what it means to have been soiled—and then cleansed. To have fallen to the depths—and then been lifted up. The song of salvation found in verses 15–17 is only for those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). And so there is another song we need to sing at Christmastime. Not “Joy to the World,” not “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” Were you there? Not as an observer, but as a participant. Not as a scoffer, but as one who was so perfectly united with our Lord through faith that His death was yours, His blood payment for your sins, His suffering your passport to eternal joy? If you were there, at Calvary, you can be sure. One day you will stand with the white-robed throng before God’s throne, and know the joy of the redeemed. Never again to hunger. Never again to thirst. Never again to weep a tear. For then the Lamb, at the center of God’s throne, will be your Shepherd and your joy.
The Christ of Christmas, the Christ of Calvary, and the Christ of Glory, are one. And all are yours.
Praise God for Christmas. Praise Him for the Incarnation for the Word made flesh. I will not sing of shepherds watching flocks on frosty night or angel choristers. I will not sing of stable bare in Bethlehem or lowing oxen wise men trailing distant star with gold and frankincense and myrrh. Tonight I will sing praise to the Father who stood on heaven’s threshold and said farewell to His Son as He stepped across the stars to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. And I will sing praise to the infinite eternal Son who became most fine a Baby who would one day be executed for my crimes. Praise Him in the heavens. Praise Him in the stable. Praise Him in my heart. -Joseph Bayly