The Church Triumphant!
William Nicholson, 1862
"Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?"
I answered, "Sir, you know."
And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, 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. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:13-17
The text and the preceding verses describe in most glowing terms, the happiness of Heaven, and the glorification of Christians there.
It is delightful to think that however dark and cloudy the believer's state on earth — he will shortly enter the New Jerusalem as the object of redeeming love, and the participant of immortal joys! Such an expectancy has in every age cheered the spirit, and reconciled it to the will of God — though He may have allotted to the believer a chequered path on earth.
Hence the estimate formed by the Apostle "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us!" Romans 8:18. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal!" 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
How cheering must have been these visions of beatific bliss to John, exiled in Patmos! His enemies had indeed power over his body, but none over his soul. Though they had prohibited him from preaching, and banished him from his friends, and from liberty — they could not prevent the opening of Heaven to him. They could not remove the ladder of communication to it. They could not hinder the sounds of angelic melody, and the rapturous hosannahs of deathless spirits, from reaching his ear. They could not prevent converse with his Lord, nor stop those profound revelations which he made to his exiled one.
This hope too cheered the martyrs amid their tragic sufferings, and made them more than conquerors.
The text has a primary reference to the martyrs who suffered under the persecutions of the Roman Pagan empire, and who are therefore described as "coming out of great tribulation." But it also applies to all believers who have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." All such are heirs of the kingdom.
I. The Church of God in its MILITANT State.
All the members of Christ's mystical body, while dwelling on earth, may be regarded as passing through three different states:
a sinful state,
a state of grace,
a state of trial.
1. A SINFUL state.This is the state of all before their conversion. All may adopt the language of David, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me!" Psalm 51:3-5. "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath!" Ephesians 2:3. All must agree with the graphic descriptions of sinful man in Romans 3:10, etc.
With regard to this sinful state, observe three things:
(1.) It is a state of guilt, which leads to condemnation. Man is a transgressor, a rebel. He has transgressed the law promulgated by the Sovereign of the universe — he has set him at defiance, and said, "Who is the Lord that I should obey him!" The law has apprehended him as a guilty sinner! Romans 3:19.
(2.) It is a state of pollution. The heart of man is the seat of all pollution — consequently his thoughts, desires, purposes, words, and actions, correspond with the state of his defiled heart, like impure streams from a corrupt fountain. What a description of this is given by Paul! "To those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted!" Titus 1:15.
Had there been no pollution, no "washing" would have been required. Those who are now in glory, on earth exclaimed, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags!"
Behold in that blood-washed assembly,
the once idolatrous and bloody Manasseh, and
Paul once a blasphemer, and a persecutor of the Church, and
the Corinthians once the vilest of the vile, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
They are "washed" now — but once they mourned over an evil heart of unbelief, etc.
Even the services of those who believe could not be acceptable, on account of their imperfections — were it not for their being perfumed by the blood of Christ.
Are our services perfect?
Are our motives always pure?
Are they always performed from the heart?
Alas! selfish or defective motives impair all we do for men — and pollution stains all we do for God.
The divers "washings" under the law were designed to establish this solemn truth, and to convince the worshipers of the necessity of constant purifying.
(3.) It is a state of danger. Guilt always exposes to danger. Sin is committed against an infinitely great and holy God — hence it results in an inexpressible malignity against the sinner. The curse of Heaven is denounced against the guilty transgressor, Galatians 3:13.
2. Their state on earth was a GRACIOUS one."By grace they were saved."
By the Spirit of grace, they were made sensible of their need of salvation. By the same Divine influence they were induced to distrust themselves. They felt they could do nothing to remove their guilt and moral pollution.
Multitudes of those glorified ones had been washed in the Mosaic laver in Jerusalem, and baptized in the waters of Jordan; others who "came out of great tribulation," had been bathed in blood and baptized in suffering; yet to none of these things is efficacy ascribed. Neither labors, nor sacrifices, nor alms, nor prayers, nor tears, nor martyrdom — can take away the least sin.
By the word of grace, they were directed to Christ as the only Savior, and they believed on him with their heart unto righteousness. The Sacrifice of Christ is the only means of absolution from guilt, and the only medium of sanctification.
They "washed" their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Having been "washed in his blood," supposes that they had believing fellowship with the Savior — that they came to God through him — that in all their prayers for pardoning mercy and cleansing grace — their reliance was wholly on his atoning blood. As a consequence of this faith in Christ, they were fully absolved from sin, and perfectly delivered from condemnation, Romans 8:1, and put into the possession of peace and joy, Romans 5:1, etc.
Just as when the children of Israel were to be delivered from Egyptian bondage; on that memorable night when the destroying angel was to pass through the land to destroy the first-born in every house, the blood of the Passover Lamb was not only to be shed — but also sprinkled on the lintels and door-posts of the houses of the Israelites. So must the precious blood of Christ fall upon the souls of lost men, that they may be saved.
It was thus that the glorified saints in Heaven, "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!" and "Therefore," they are now before the throne of God. They received Christ as their Mediator; they received his Spirit as their teacher, their sanctifier, etc. They complied with the terms of the Gospel, and therefore were accepted, and ultimately glorified.
3. A state of TRIAL."These are they who have come out of the great tribulation!"
This great tribulation arose from persecution, leading to contempt, slander, confiscation of property, banishment, imprisonment, and martyrdom. This was especially the case in the Apostolic and subsequent ages, when the direst persecutions were inflicted by the Roman Pagan Emperors. How tragic are the pages of history in reference to this species of tribulation! Look at the martyrdoms effected by a despotic monarch and despotic priests in the time of Queen Mary! Read the history of subsequent periods for the sufferings of the Puritans and Nonconformists of England, the Covenanters of Scotland, and the Waldenses, etc., on the Continent of Europe. Millions on millions have suffered and bled on account of their profession of the truth — and multitudes have passed from dungeons, and scaffolds, and fires, dire scenes of tribulation — to the haven of peace above, "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." This glorious company of martyrs is described by John in Revelation 6:9-11.
Tribulation also arises . . .
from poverty and want,
from painful and protracted afflictions,
from severe and cutting bereavements,
from most distressing spiritual conflicts.
"Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows!" John 16:33. All who maintain and exemplify Christian principles and character. will find their state on earth to be one of trial.
Must I be carried to the skies,
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord!
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by your word.
II. The Church of God in its TRIUMPHANT State.
John saw the ransomed Church in Heaven. This implies that they had continued their profession until death, and that God had completed the work of grace in them, and glorified them. What is their state in Heaven?
1. Heaven is a state of UNSPOTTED PURITY. They are said to be "arrayed in white robes, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!" Such terms are used in Scripture to denote purity and the favor of God, Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18. White linen is said to be the righteousness of the saints, Revelation 19:8, and this is the righteousness in which they stand before the throne. It is a righteousness wrought for them and in them, by the merits of a Redeemer's blood, and the power of his Spirit. Their purity is now perfect, being presented "faultless." "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy!" Jude 1:24. Ephesians 5:26, 29.
No more does Job exclaim, "Behold, I am vile!" Job 40:4
Nor David, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me!" Psalm 51:5
Nor Isaiah, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!" Isaiah 6:5
Nor Paul, "What a wretched man I am!" Romans 7:24
All sinful thoughts and wishes are forever annihilated.
They love God.
They delight in holiness.
They are like God.
They see him as he is!
Not one particle of depravity remains — the last fiber of corruption has been destroyed. They are as pure as angelic spirits, now their companions. They are as pure as Christ, whose pure and searching eye is as a flame of fire, beholds in them neither spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing! Admiring the loveliness of the ransomed throng, as the production of his grace, Christ exclaims, "You are all beautiful, my love, there is no spot in you!"
Sin (my worst enemy before),
Shall vex my eyes and ears no more;
My inward foes shall all be slain,
Nor Satan break my peace again!
2. Heaven is a state of TRIUMPHANT JOY. They appear there with triumphant honor, as those who have overcome, and are now wearing the robes of victory. 2 Timothy 4:8. White robes were always allotted to conquerors, to which Christ himself refers when addressing the Churches, Revelation 3:4,5, 18; 4:4; 7:9,13,14.
They are victorious over sin, Satan, and the world — they have been made more than conquerors through Christ! They have therefore received the fulfillment of those precious promises. "To him that overcomes," etc. They "eat of the tree of life," and of "the hidden manna." Each has received the "white stone," and the "new name." They have received the "palm" of victory, and the "crown of life," and have been made "pillars in the temple of God, and shall no more go out." etc., etc
No demon can tempt their holy souls again. They are forever free from . . .
and Satanic influence.
Their enemies, they will see no more forever!
Psalms of glory, clothing bright,
Crowns that never fade away,
Gird and deck the saints in light —
Priests, and kings, and conquerors they.
Yet the conquerors bring their palms
To the Lamb amidst the throne;
And proclaim in joyful psalms,
Victory through his cross alone!
Round the altar, priests confess —
If these robes are white as snow,
'Twas the Savior's righteousness,
And his blood that made them so.
3. Heaven is residence in the presence of the exalted Christ. They "are before the throne," a term expressive of the peculiar favor with which they are received by the King of glory. The glory of this throne is described, Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 7:9; Isaiah 6:2.
Is it accounted honorable to approach an earthly throne — or to stand before an earthly monarch? Oh! what must be the honor to stand before that majestic throne of the King of kings, and Lord of lords! The ransomed spirits in bliss are not paying a mere passing visit to the royal court — they have entered the king's palace as their abiding place — for what is their posture? "They stand before the throne," full of wonder, delight, and adoration.
"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" Revelation 3:21
4. Heaven is a state of delightful, unceasing, and unwearying service. "They shall serve him," etc. The Levitical priests were consecrated to their office by being first washed and purified in the sacred laver, Exodus 40:12, 13. In allusion to this, it is said that his sanctified ones are made priests in his holy temple above, where they serve him without intermission or repose,. "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen!" Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 22:3; Psalm 134:1.
They serve him by acts of grateful praise, verses 9-11, where saints and angels adore together, making but one congregation, "an innumerable company of angels, and the general assembly and Church of the first-born."
They serve him . . .
in his immediate presence,
as he may appoint in heavenly service,
without defect or sin,
"They serve him day and night in his temple" — for immortal souls are fitted for immortal service.
5. Heaven is a state of communion with Christ. Often did he promise that his disciples would be "with him" in Heaven; and so it shall come to pass; for "he who sits on the throne shall dwell among them," verse 15. "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." Revelation 21:3
They shall behold him in all his transcendent glory!
They shall hear him speak infinite things with infinite heavenly eloquence!
They shall feel him as his love warms and enraptures their expanded hearts!
They shall speak to him in the language of reverend praise, and humble inquiry!
They shall follow him wherever he leads the way to the tree of life, or the pure river of the water of life, or to the remotest parts of his empire!
They shall constantly receive from him new understanding, new proofs of his wisdom, his power, and his love.
If the presence of Christ was so delightful in the house of God, when his mediation has been described, or symbolically represented by bread and wine, or when fervent prayer has been offered in his name — then what will be the realization of feeling, and rapturous joy, when he "shall dwell among them."
6. Heaven is a state of perfect and eternal exemption from all distress. It must be so, since they serve him without interruption, and since he dwells among them. Hence,
Verse 16. "They shall hunger, etc." "God shall wipe," etc., verse 17. Poverty has often been the lot of the pious on earth; they have "hungered and thirsted;" they have toiled and been weary; have been destitute, tormented, and afflicted; but this shall be known no more. "Neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat."
Like Jacob, who said that while shepherding the flock of Laban, "in the day the drought consumed him, and the frost by night," so these pilgrims had often been weary and faint in their course, and subject to many hardships. But in Heaven, they will be forever delivered from these calamities — neither the fire of persecution, nor the frost of adversity, shall annoy them any more.
"God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!" Numerous are the sources of sorrow here on earth — but God will dry them all up in Heaven. They wear no funeral attire, no sackcloth there; for God shall wipe away all tears, and the days of their mourning will be ended.
There will be no prodigal, no penitent, no mourning Christian to drop tears there; "for all sorrow and sighing shall flee away." There is no night there . . .
All is daylight there, created by God and the Lamb, who are the light of the holy city. There is nothing in that happy residence to distress or annoy.
Jeremiah will utter no plaintive language there.
Transgressors will grieve the holy no more.
Bartimeus is the poor blind beggar no more.
Lazarus's sores have been replaced by immortal beauty.
The weeping widow is no longer crushed to the dust by the heavy hand of poverty.
The orphan child is no longer forsaken and homeless.
There is nothing in that happy residence to distress or annoy.
Pinching poverty and wasting disease are unknown.
The distressing complaint will never accost the ear, "I am sick."
The sting of death and the terrors of the grave will never present themselves there.
There are no graves in the land of eternal life.
There is no death of friends there.
Martha and Mary go to no beloved brother's grave to weep.
No deceitful heart, no secret foe, no fascinating world, no artful Satan, yonder.
The former things have passed away, and the dispensation of immortality has arrived.
The white-robed multitude, the congregated hosts of God's elect, sing a new song — a song which none can sing but the redeemed from among men!
Such bliss is enough to make the Christian say, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!" Philippians 1:23
7. Lastly, Heaven is a state of participation in all that bliss which God has promised to his redeemed people. "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:17. He shall give them everything calculated to secure, continue, and increase their happiness.
"He will lead them to springs of living water," which shall never be exhausted. A spring in the Hebrew phraseology, is termed living water, because constantly bubbling up, and running on. These "springs of living water" indicate endless sources of happiness, which Christ will supply to his redeemed people from his own infinite plenitude.
These eternal fountains will make an infinite variety for the enjoyments of the blessed. There will be no sameness, and therefore no weariness to the spirit. Every moment will open a new source of pleasure. They shall make eternal progression into the fullness of God. And as God is infinite, so his attributes are infinite, and throughout infinity more and more of those attributes will be unveiled; and the discovery of each will be a new fountain of enjoyment. These sources must be opening through all eternity — and yet, through all eternity, there will still remain, in the absolute perfections of the Godhead, an infinity of them still to be opened!