Revelation 7:9-17

The Apostle has still another vision given to him, previous to the opening of the seventh seal; it reveals THE BLISS OF THE PERFECTED CHURCH IN GLORY. In the preceding figure (the sealing of the hundred and forty-four thousand), his eye had been directed to the terrestrial landscape, amid winds and trees, seas and tempests—the emblems of tribulation. Now he is in the midst of celestial scenery, surrounded by Throne and Temple, white robe and festal palm, the living fountains and pastures of the blessed. To the question which we have supposed must have suggested itself, after witnessing the vengeance-symbols, "What of the Church?"—The sealing-vision conveys the assurance of her imperishable security; that, despite of lightning and tempest, plague, pestilence and famine, battle, murder, and death, she will be preserved intact; not a unit in her ranks missing—not a name missing at the great roll-call—that from all her troubles she will come forth "fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners."

But the sublime imagery which we are now to ponder, tells far more than this. It assures not only of present immunity from destruction, but of an inheritance of glory—a fullness of bliss and joy, beyond what heart can conceive or tongue can utter! It opens up, once more, the glories of the Heaven already described to us previously, and which will yet be more fully disclosed in the cluster of visions which terminate the Book. John not only sees God's seven thousand hidden in sheltering caves of safety—kept by 'the Angel of the Day-spring' from the avenging winds of judgment—but the completed Church triumphant assembled in that calm world which lies beyond the reach of hurricane and storm—engaged with a brotherhood of angels in blessed ministries of love, in the presence of God and of the Lamb.

If we described the language and scenery of the vision, on the opening of the sixth seal, as unsurpassed in Scripture for majesty and terror, we may well speak of the present as unique and peerless in a combination of beauty, tenderness, and grandeur. Although it almost seems presumption to attempt to paraphrase the words, let us briefly rehearse the substance of the vision.

The Apostle beheld a great multitude (defying calculation), composed of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, standing before the Throne, and before the Lamb. In connection with these, a twofold emblem or characteristic specially attracted his attention—the white robe in which they were attired, and the palms-branches they held in their hands. The white robe cannot be other than the pure white garment of Christ's imputed righteousness, that in which He presents His ransomed people before the Throne, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. Tertullian and some of the Fathers, as well as some later writers, have taken the palm-branch as the Greek or Roman emblem of victory. This, however, is a misapplication of its significance and beauty. We have in a previous chapter noted, that the imagery of the Apocalypse, so far at least as its references to the Church are concerned, is never classical or Pagan, but exclusively Jewish; we must, therefore, discover the true meaning of the palm-bearers, not amid the victors of Corinth and Olympus, nor in the Roman processions to the Capitol, but rather in connection with some expressive Hebrew rite or custom. This is not far to seek.

However appropriate and expressive the references in Paul's Epistles may be to the games of ancient Greece (its races and wrestlings and garlanded victors), in illustration of the Christian conflict and triumph—far more beautiful, as emblematic of Heaven, and especially of Heaven's glorious rest, was the palm-bearing festal gathering of the Jews of old, the Feast of Tabernacles. That feast was the concluding one of the year, when the vines had surrendered their vintage, the olive-groves their berries, when the garners of Palestine were full of all manner of produce. It was the feast of ingathering—the great 'harvest-home' of the nation; designed, too, among other things (while celebrating the close of the agricultural season, and the storing of the land's produce), to commemorate the tent-life of their forefathers in the desert, and specially, when these wanderings were over, their rest and settlement in the land of Canaan. It was a joyous, unrivaled holiday throughout the whole kingdom. All manual work was suspended. Even their dwellings were forsaken; and the memories of the desert were impressively revived, by constructing temporary booths, made of intertwisted palm, olive, pine, myrtle, and "willows from the brook."

During the continuance of the feast, the jubilant crowds carried in their hands, along the streets or public ways, palm branches, accompanied with festal song. What more befitting imagery of the scenes and employments of the Heavenly Canaan, the land of everlasting rest? What more appropriate emblem, when the wilderness wanderings of all God's redeemed Israel had ceased, the Jordan crossed, and Canaan entered, "hungering no more," and "thirsting no more," the fierce sun not "lighting upon them," nor the sirocco "heat" of the desert—than to represent them, not so much as conquerors with the emblems of victory (though that would have been appropriate also), but rather as keeping, through eternal ages, their Feast of Tabernacles—waving their palm branches and singing their anthems of festive joy, crying with a loud voice, "Hosanna! salvation to our God."

And not to anticipate the remaining portion of the vision, this antitypical similitude to the Feast of Tabernacles is still further carried out by a subsequent reference, where it is said, at the close of verse 15, "and He who sits on the Throne shall dwell among them." God Himself—the God of the eternal feast and the eternal rest—will Himself mingle with the festive throng; and not only so, but (as the meaning of the expression in the original may rather be accurately rendered), "He shall tabernacle among," or "spread His tent over them." They shall each dwell in their separate booth of joy, and each wave their separate branch of triumph; but there will be a mightier Tent over-canopying all. The pillar-cloud of the desert, unlike the olden type, will follow them across the Jordan of death, and spread its brightness above the rejoicing myriads in the true Land of promise—they "shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

The beautiful imagery of the evangelical Prophet will obtain is grandest—its everlasting fulfillment, "Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain." The same magnificent simile is expanded in a future chapter of Revelation. "And I heard a voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will 'tabernacle' with them, and they shall His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and their God."

The cry of the palm-bearers is "Salvation!" (or more literally), "The Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." They would disown any personal merit in entering upon the enjoyment of such bliss. Salvation, from first to last, they owe to sovereign grace and redeeming love; their palm branches they would cast at the feet of the enthroned Mediator, saying, 'Not unto us, not unto us, but unto You be all the glory.' Moreover, "they cried out with a loud voice." It is not a passing, fleeting strain, which had died away as they sang it; but a never-ending ascription. In the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, the palm branches, green today, were withered tomorrow—it was a scene of transient joy. But these heavenly palms are never-fading; robes ever-lustrous; songs never-ceasing; "the rest without a rest," in the Heavenly Canaan.

After John had thus beheld "the sealed ones" of the former vision among the white-robed of the present vision—their safety and bliss secured and perpetuated—he is arrested by the adorations of a wider circle. The redeemed multitude were surrounded by all the unfallen angels, who raise an antiphonal or responsive song. These stood "round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four living creatures; and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God, saying, Amen."

And then they added the sevenfold ascription of their perfected song (as it is in the more emphatic original), "The praise, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honor, and the power, and the might, be unto our God for the ages of the ages." These angels—these ministering cherubim and seraphim—the "principalities and powers in heavenly places"—are thus represented as exulting in the bliss of the completed Church of the redeemed. If even on earth there is said to be joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repents, how can they refrain from testifying their joy at the manifestation of God's glory in the final safety and well-being of His whole Church? If even the return of one wanderer from the fold creates a jubilee amid these unfallen ranks, what must be their joy, as they gaze on the whole gathered flock, the mighty multitude which no man can number? If even the restoration of one stone in the ruined temple is to them matter of lofty exultation, what must it be as they behold the vast spiritual edifice completed, "the top-stone brought forth with shouting," and the cry, "Grace, grace, unto it?"

But this beautiful vision revealed to John—this brilliant interlude in the majestic drama—is not concluded. As the song of these angels is still vibrating in his ears, one of the white-robed multitude seems to approach him; as if desirous, by prompting a question, to prolong the great words and thoughts of comfort, before the curtain falls, and the spectator is once more back again amid vials and trumpet-soundings, voices and thunderings and lightnings and earthquake. "Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, 'Who are these who are clothed in white? Where do they come from?' The respectful reply was returned, 'Sir' (or 'my Lord'), 'you know.'" And gathering from the Apostle's brief rejoinder that he desired further explanation, the interrogator proceeds, "And he said unto me, These are they which came out of great tribulation (or, supplying the twice-repeated article, which is omitted in our translation, 'the tribulation, the great tribulation'), and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him by day and by night (heaven's emblem of perpetuity) in His temple: and He who sits on the throne shall tabernacle among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat (or sirocco blast). For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them (tend them or shepherd them), and conduct them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes." Or, as our oldest translation has it, "God shall lead forth them to the wells of the waters of life, and God shall wipe away each tear from their eyes."

We must defer, until next chapter, gathering the manifold lessons of hope and comfort which this wondrous vision supplies. Meanwhile let us ask the question, Are we preparing for the true heavenly Feast of tabernacles—the great reaping-day of glory? That well-known feast and season in the land of Canaan was a joyous one of old, only to the Hebrew who had been unremitting in spring and summer toil. To the sluggard who had left his fields unsown, uncultured, untended, there could be no participation in the songs of the jubilant multitude—he had gone forth before the fall of the early or the latter rains, bearing no precious seed—he could not, therefore, on that festive week, come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. It was he who had used, with laborious fidelity and drudgery, spade and plough and pruning-hook, who had utilized for field and vineyard the precious rains of heaven, that would bear his palm-branch with most exultant joy, and repose with grateful satisfaction within his shady arbor. If there were no harvest-spoil to divide, there could be no gladness. "They rejoice before You according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil."

It is so, on a vaster scale, with the spiritual sower and reaper in the prospect of immortality. While we never dare lose sight of the foundation-truth of the gospel, that salvation is of grace, not of works; yet neither dare we reject or overlook the great counterpart assertion, which contains at least no paradox or inconsistency to the eye gifted with spiritual discernment, that "faith without works is dead, being alone." No waving of the festal palm, by those who have abandoned their fields of heart and life labor to the thorn and the thistle—who have left the seed unsown, the ground untilled, the vine to languish; and whom God, the great Husbandman, will address with the withering words on the Great day of harvest, "What could I have done more to my vineyard than I have done? I plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with choice vines. Then I waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were wild and sour."

If we would have the joyous song of the heavenly reaper, we must now be among the faithful and diligent sowers. The rest of the Feast of tabernacles above, is only possible to such. No toil here—no repose, no festal hosanna yonder. "Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest." Up! sow your fields and plant your vineyards; do noble work while you have space and opportunity to do it (in your own hearts and in the world around you) for God and His Christ, encouraged by the cheering assurance, "Do not be weary in well-doing, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not."

To all such willing and devoted laborers; to all who have listened to the summons of the Master, "Go, work in My vineyard;" to all who have done battle with sin, manfully struggled with temptation, eradicated from the seed-plot of the heart its roots of bitterness; who in a spirit of earnest self-sacrifice have renounced the world, and in a spirit of holy self-consecration and self-surrender have given themselves to God—the invitation of Christ to the weary and heavy-laden here, will have a new and glorious significance as He welcomes them hereafter at Heaven's great harvest-home, the eternal Feast of tabernacles—"Come unto Me, and I will give you REST!"