After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out with a loud voice:
“Victory belongs to our God
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying,
“Amen! Blessing and glory
and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water,[a] and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Yesterday was “All Hallows Eve” – Halloween. Today is All Saints Day – a day we honor those saints who have crossed from the earthly church to the church triumphant.
Death … both days have their origins surrounding death. Death evokes all sorts of feelings. Pain, deteriorating health, the unknown, loss, mourning, defeat, and even fear. Paul characterized an aspect of death as he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day.” Bodies breaking down. I joke that every time I bend down to pick something up the floor got further away. It’s a part of life.
One of the images of heaven is streets lined with gold. The image is painted of great worth. In Golden, I became acquainted with the twin brother of my secretary, Jerry Goldman. He was truck driver. His health was fading quickly and, on a visit to him, he spoke of those streets of gold (It comes from and is a description of the City of God in Rev. 21:21 – “The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was made from a single pearl. And the city’s main street was pure gold, as transparent as glass.”). He wasn’t sure he wanted that. In conversation, he spoke about how he loved his truck. In fact, his wish was to have his asked dumped on the hood of his Peterbilt and driven down the highway. I suggested maybe the worth of heaven was he would have a gold Peterbilt! – that was an image of value for him.
What are our images of death and life after death? Frequently I will share Mt 11:28 in a funeral service. Rest for the weary – ““Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. 30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”; Heb. 2:15 set free from fear – “He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death.” It is especially poignant for a person who has gone through an extended illness.
But probably the most powerful scripture is from John 14:1-3. “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.” ‘Let not your hearts be troubled …’ - these words speak directly to the heart of the ones left behind. ‘Neither let them be afraid …’ . There is something unsettling about death that troubles us. It is the unknown. Yet, Jesus is speaking of a hope that settles our hearts. Jesus says don’t be troubled, especially since he has a place for us, all prepared, and he will come and take us to himself. We may not know where that place is, but we know it is there, and we will be with him.
Why do we have this hope? In Ephesians 1:18 I love Paul’s prayer for us – “ I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, …”. It is a prayer for just enough light to see God’s promises. There is a richness in what God is providing for us. Often the occasion of a death brings a darkness in our grief. God’s glorious inheritance among believers shines through in the darkness. He makes it even clearer in 2 Tim. 1:10 when he says, “Now his [God’s] grace is revealed through the appearance of our savior, Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus through the good news.” Do you hear that? “Clear focus.” The ‘good news of great joy’ stands with us in our times of loss. We may not know why a person passes away, but we can know that death is not their end.
Paul wanted to help us see the plan, at least in broad strokes. At our death he speaks of putting on the immortality of the gift of a complete restoration. 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 & 57 – “And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen:
Death has been swallowed up by a victory.
55 Where is your victory, Death?
Where is your sting, Death?
57 Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Aren’t those powerful words. They remind us that at our end we will be transformed into the fullness of what God has created. Those two powerful questions ring out with good news. Death has no victory, only life eternal.
In the very words of Jesus in Luke 23:43 we have the pinnacle of hope. Remember the scene. Jesus is on the cross, and there are two thieves being crucified at the same time. One rails against Jesus while the other reveals his penitent spirit. “Then [the penitent thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” In the New Revised Standard Version it says, “Truly I tell you …”. That phrased is so important. When Jesus employed that particular phrase, he was telling us we could count on what he was saying. It was a way of getting our attention. My father’s phrase was, “Let me tell you something!” He used it when he wanted to be absolutely sure I understood how things were going to be. For Jesus, ‘truly I tell you’ was a way of focusing our attention on what he was about to say. In this case, “today you will be with me in paradise.” It didn’t matter where paradise was or what it looked like. What mattered was that we would be with Jesus.
In our passage today, the picture is painted in Revelation 7. In verses 1-8 the picture is as though the church – the faithful – are preparing for battle. The picture is of the12 tribes of Israel arrayed in masses of 12,000. The number 12 in Biblical imagery is perfection. Twelve twelves is beyond perfection (indicating a huge number rather than 144,000). But then the painting shifts as we turn to verses 9-17. These verses open with a great crowd, in a scene after the battle, beyond numbering – that no one can number. It includes every nation, tribe, people, and language. They shout Victory! “Victory belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” The Lamb of God, Jesus, has won the victory!
These are people who have come out of great hardship – life. They have gone through the daily battle and ultimate battle – death – and are arrayed around the throne of God. The picture is powerful.
What: What is it that God is providing us? In several New Testament passages the image of inheritance is used to help us understand. Inheritance is value being passed from generation to generation. You might be reminded of the parable of the lost son in Luke. It was the younger who took his inheritance. In Ephesians 1:8 Paul speaks of the “richness of God’s glorious inheritance. In 1 Peter 1:3-5, Peter speaks of a living hope through Christ, kept safe in heaven for you – “May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. 5 Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.” Paul in Romans 8 names that inheritance as God’s perfect love (8:37-39). Once again it is set in the imagery of victory. “ But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” We can never be separated from that wonderful hope – no matter what comes. Our inheritance is made sure because of what Jesus did for us in conquering death.
The Hymn of Promise by Ron and Natalie Sleeth was written in preparation for Ron’s immanent death. Within it are wonderful images of transformation and promise. The constant phrase ending each verse is “Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Musically, Natalie accented that constant phrase by making it unison (meaning no harmony) each time. That is until last sweet harmony of completion as the song closes. The last verse goes like this:
In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing;
In our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection;
At the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.
They did a marvelous job of capturing the essence of what God has provided for us and will only fully reveal to us when we join with him in eternity.
Jesus is the reason we can have hope. In John 11: 25-26 – “Jesus said to her [Mary the sister of Lazarus], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”” Life even in the face of death.
Victory is something to be claimed! The numberless at the throne claimed that victory. “Victory belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” When we claim it we proclaim it!
Again, death is swallowed up in victory! What a powerful image! “Death has been swallowed up by a victory. Where is your victory, Death? Where is your sting, Death?” And in Jesus’ words, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43.
In the old song, Victory in Jesus, the 3rd verse goes like this:
I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea
About the angels singing
And the old redemption story
And some sweet day I'll sing up there
The song of victory
O victory in Jesus
My Savior, forever
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood
On this All Saints Day may we be reminded of all that God has prepared for us – in this life and beyond. May we not only be reminded but may we claim it as our own!
Pastor Ross Kershaw