The Tribulation is known for being a time of great fear and destruction. Men and women will be forced to receive the mark of the beast, and anyone who refuses will be killed. But out of that tribulation the Gospel will spread and people will accept the mark of the cross instead. In the future, as in the past, the blood of the martyrs will still be the seed of the Church.
It Will be Worth it All!
Have you ever felt like the world around you is getting older, faster than you are?
A woman was sitting in the waiting room for her first appointment with her new dentist. She noticed his diploma hanging on the wall and thought she recognized his name. She remembered that a tall, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class so many years ago. Could it be this same guy I had a big crush on back in the 50’s? Surely not!
She quickly discarded the thought when she met the balding, grey-haired dentist. After he examined her teeth, she asked, “Did you happen to attend Morgan Park High School?” He said, “Yes, I did!” She asked, When did you graduate? He replied, 1957. She couldn’t believe it. She said to him, “You were in my class!” “Really?” then looking at her closely he added, “What class did you teach?”
Everyone ages faster than you do, right?
Van Morris told the story of three sisters, ages 92, 94 and 96 who lived together in the same 2-story house. One night, the 96 year old drew a bath. She got half-way in, then paused and yelled, “Was I getting in the tub or out?” The 94 year old hollered back, “I don’t know, I’ll come up and see.” She started up the stairs, but then stopped half-way up. She yelled, “Was I going up or coming down?” The 92 year old was sitting at the kitchen table having tea, listening to her sisters, shaking her head with disbelief. She muttered to herself, “I hope I never get that forgetful,” and she knocked on the wooden table for good measure – you know, knock on wood. She then yelled up, “Listen, I’ll come up there and help you both as soon as I see who’s at the door.”
Stories cited on preachingtoday.com/aging
Proof that you’re getting old is that you didn’t think that was funny.
I recently read online about the woman with the longest recorded life-span. They interviewed her at 120 years of age – Jeanne Calment of Arles, France. In fact, I watched the interview.
This remarkable woman was quite a celebrity. France’s minister of health even attended her 120th birthday party. Medical scientists have researched her life and habits to try and discover secrets to her longevity. Not much help there: she smoked moderately until she decided to quit at age 117. She loved chocolate and ate around 2 pounds of chocolate candy a week. She did take vigorous walks and rode her bicycle until age 100. A reporter at her birthday party asked her what kind of future she expected and she replied, “A very short one.” She would live to the age of 122.
Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations (Baker Books, 2002), p. 307
With 77 million baby boomers nearing retirement, the desire to slow down the aging process is, no pun intended, booming.
The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine reports the industry of supplements and home remedies and vitamins and medicines designed to prevent the decay of the body’s organs, vitality, strength, etc. now bring incredible revenue. Arlene Weintraub, a senior writer for BusinessWeek's science and technology department, reported that in the year 2009, the amount spent by Americans on anti-aging products in that one year alone will reach 79 billion dollars.
Arlene Weintraub, “Selling the Promise of Youth”, BusinessWeek (3/20/06)
What’s interesting to me is to discover that these people who’ve reached such advanced years aren’t any more secure in their future.
The oldest living man, a Japanese man who is now 112 years of age, said, “I just don’t want to die.”
Even Jeanne Calment of France told reporters sometime before she died that she felt she had been forgotten by a good God.
At the heart of so much of what the human race does to live longer is motivated, not with a desire to remain as healthy as possible to make a continued contribution to life and ministry and the glory of God and the advancement of the church and the gospel, but a sense of dread and a fear of life after death.
USA Today ran an article with the results of a 2007 survey among 50 year olds and up. This survey revealed that 94% of these Americans, quote, “believed in God.” 82% said they were religious. What I found really interesting however was that less than half of them believed heaven was an actual, literal place, but instead was merely a state of being.
Jean Koppen & Gretchen Anderson, “Thoughts on the Afterlife Among U.S. Adults 50+” USA Today (09/25/07)
Maybe the connection between that belief and the 79 billion dollars spent this year to stay young is either a willful disbelief, or ignorance of the record of scripture.
Life on earth is a prelude to life that will not end. This isn’t even the opening chapter – because it’s not long enough, compared to eternal life. It’s barely the opening line.
And for the believer, the only part of your biography of everlasting life that has any sorrow or pain or difficulty or challenge or heartache is a word or two at the beginning – and then the rest is incredible, unspeakable, unimaginable glory.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice . . . so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:5-7)
The hymn writer put it well when he wrote,
It will be worth it all,
When we see Jesus;
Life’s trials will seem so small,
When we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face,
All sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race, till we see Christ.
Peter wrote, your testing time will be turned into praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . so let’s turn to the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ and see this literally played out in the lives of millions of people who’ve died and gone to heaven.
Which happens to be, by the way, an actual, real, literal place!
Revelation 7 and in verse 9 we read, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Now, immediately upon reading this text your mind is racing with several questions. Let me ask and answer three of them:
- First, where did this vast number of people come from?
Look down at the middle of verse 14 where John is clearly given the answer to that question, we read, “these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.
The term, Great Tribulation, was coined by Christ Himself as he described this eschatological period of divine wrath in Matthew 24. In Matthew 24:21. He used the phrase, “great tribulation” to refer to the last half of Daniel’s 70th week.
This is the final 3 ½ years of the Tribulation period – the last half – when disaster and persecution rise to unprecedented levels of horror and devastation.
Stewart Custer, From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004), p. 91
To identify them as the saved of all time, or the saved church, would be to ignore the definitive vocabulary of John’s own words – these are the ones who come out of the – definite article – the Great Tribulation.
Not just ‘great tribulation’, which the church has suffered over the centuries, but ‘the Great Tribulation’ – an eschatological term for the last week of Daniel’s prophetic vision.
Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1992), p. 484
Here they come from out of the great tribulation.
In fact, the original language uses a present participle translated in your English Bibles, “who come out” (v. 14) – these are they who come out”; so you can literally translate it, “who are presently coming out of the Great Tribulation”.
In other words, the early vision of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who are preaching on earth is occurring simultaneously with this vision of all these believers, now literally pouring into heaven, who have just died on earth.
Imagine – as John is watching, the number of those entering heaven is actually growing . . . like people streaming through the gates into a Football stadium, these people keep coming.
Ladies and Gentlemen, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
There is no intermediate purgatory whereby you have your sins judged and paid for in the flame before entering heaven. There is no soul sleep where you wait in limbo until a further summons. There is no waiting in the grave until the resurrection.
The body waits as it were asleep. But the spirit immediately goes to be with the Lord.
They have come from earth – and from the period of time known as the Great Tribulation.
- Second question: Just who are these people?
Notice as John specifically identifies them in verse 9b as coming from every:
- nation – the word is ethnos (eqnoV) and refers to an ethnic body of people united by culture and common tradition.
- They are also from every tribe – this refers to the same family line or clan;
- These saints are also from every people – a word that refers to race;
- The redeemed are from every language – the word is glossa (glwssa) which refers to every group of people distinguished by a language;
Don’t miss this – this is an amazing revelation of the grace of God.
While all these terrible things are happening on the earth as the seals are opened and the scroll unrolled and the wrath of God poured out, millions of people are crying out to be hidden by the rocks – to be hidden from “Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
“Hide me from God!”
However, from this scene we learn that millions more are praying at the same time in faith to receive the Lamb of God as their own Savior.
And God could have easily said, “It’s too late . . . no way. I’ve had enough . . . that’s it . . . no more people will receive my mercy and saving grace . . . from here on out it’s wrath and judgment alone.”
Not so. For John is standing here watching as millions pour into the royal court of almighty God.
The Apostle John even implies his surprise as he writes in this opening line of verse 9, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count.”
Behold . . . I looked and . . . . would you look at that!
- Which leads me to another question; why are so many people saved during the Tribulation?
It’s amazing to see so many people coming to Christ in our generation . . . but it’s nothing compared to this.
Our media ministry, Wisdom for the Heart, I’ve learned in recent days – in fact, I was shown some data from our internet site – now has anywhere from 8-10,000 podcasts of sermons every week. Representing more than 30 countries. I looked at the list – countries like Vietnam, Japan, The Arab states, Kazakhstan, France, the Philippines, and on and on. We don’t know who they are . . . they mostly log on and download a sermon and that’s it . . . no further information for this free resource other than the sense that the gospel is going to places we never dreamed . . . perhaps some of them are now hearing the gospel for the first time and will receive Christ after the rapture.
I have always been challenged by J. Vernon McGee’s personal desire. You know who he is? He takes people on that Bible Bus through the Bible in one year. All I can say is his bus is moving faster than mine. I think we’re riding a tortoise.
His desire was for Through the Bible radio to be broadcasting throughout the Tribulation period, to be an aid to the gospel witness and a part of this vast harvest.
Can you imagine 144,000 spirit empowered evangelist/missionaries using every possible technology available to get the gospel around the world and the vast harvest that will come about . . . this is a portion of that harvest now visible before the throne of God, wearing white robes and singing praise!
But why so many?
One author provoked my thinking when he said that God got the attention of these people much like a flight attendant on an airplane.
I’ve been there many times – in fact, tomorrow evening I’m flying to England and I’ll sit there and maybe watch that attendant go through the motions about the seat belt, the air mask that drops down; the cushion I’m sitting is designed to serve as a flotation device – which makes sense, because it certainly wasn’t designed for comfort.
And I will not be in first class, in case you’re wondering, I’ll be back there with the cattle.
During that flight attendant’s presentation, I’ve looked around at businessmen reading their newspapers, couples talking to each other . . . nobody pulled out that plastic card to look at the details. Why?
Because most people don’t believe their plane will crash and the rest of the people don’t want to think about it. So maybe the best way to not think about it is to ignore the flight attendant.
There really isn’t a personal creator God with sovereign control over the planet . . . there really isn’t a God of wrath who will judge the world . . . so, why bother with the instruction card called Revelation that tells us it will all come true. Who cares?!
But then flaming asteroids begin streaking toward the planet like burning torches; the sun goes dark and the moon turns blood red; earthquakes shake the planet; diseases have already turned into epidemics killing millions of people; famine is sweeping the world and just everybody seems to be dying all around you.
Where’s that instruction card?!
People will be no longer casual about God – and the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. He will not be an ignored Sovereign anymore.
Adrian Rogers, Unveiling the End Times in Our Time (Broadman Holman, 2004), p. 102
People will either cry out to hide from Him or they will cry out to hide in Him.
And would you believe it . . . God in His unbelievable grace will allow millions to turn to His word, read the instructions and before they die either in the devastations hitting planet earth, or as martyrs for having believed, they will pour into the gates of heaven.
You say, that doesn’t seem right . . . we believe now and get eternal life and these people catch on in the last hour and receive the same gift of everlasting life as we do.
Remember the parable of the generous landowner our Lord mentioned in Matthew 20. He hired workers at the early part of the day; he then hired workers in the middle of the day and even workers at the very end of the day – and then he paid them all the same.
This was an illustration, among other things, of God’s grace and generosity to those who enter the kingdom; those who come early and those who come late receive the same benefit of everlasting life.
They are all completely forgiven . . . they are all received without disclaimers or addendums or penalties into the joy of heaven.
Let’s make several observations of these believers from this joyful scene.
- First, would you notice what they’re wearing.
The middle part of verse 9 informs us that they are wearing white robes.
White robes stand for purity. These people have been forgiven. Their scarlet stained lives are washed white as wool – pictured now in their white robes.
White robes also represent victory. The Roman Generals would wear white clothing as they rode into their capital city following victory in some battle. It was the color of conquerors. Not the soiled, mud caked clothing of armies who lay defeated in the dirt; no, this is the color of the clothing of victors.
Mark this, ladies and gentlemen, these people do not arrive in the presence of God weary, battered, worn out, discouraged. Oh no! They are victorious.
William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 2 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 26
They may have been cut down by an executioner – but they are actually the victor. They have, through Christ, conquered death and now stand awaiting the final resurrection, singing praise to God.
Down in verse 14, John adds the detail that they have washed their robes, making them white, in the blood of the Lamb.
The idea of making something white by washing it in blood seems paradoxical and even somewhat shocking. But not to those with an Old Testament background. To them such washing denoted spiritual purity through the sacrifice of a Lamb.
Thomas, p. 498
Keep in mind as well that when we think of shedding blood, we immediately think of death. The Jewish people immediately thought of life. The life is in the blood (Genesis 9:4).
When the New Testament speaks about the blood of Jesus Christ, it means not only his death, but his life and death. The blood of Christ stands for al Christ did for us and means for us in His life and death.
Barclay, p. 31
So you could expand this text to understand, “These saints have washed their garments white and have become pure and victorious because they have washed them in the totality of Jesus Christ – both in the shedding of His blood as the sinless Lamb of God, but also in the perfection of His deity and life as God the Son who lived and died and lives again forevermore.”
So here they stand in their pure garments, victorious over death and sin and Satan.
- Observation #2: Would you notice not only what they’re wearing, but what they’re holding.
At the end of verse 9 we’re told they are holding palm branches in their hands.
They are waving palm branches before the throne of God.
You remember, this is what happened when Jesus Christ rode into the city of Jerusalem as the people took palm branches and went out and waved them at Christ as he entered the city.
It created quite a stir. Why? Because waving palm branches before someone was an activity reserved for royalty. You only did this for Kings.
So the Jewish people in Jerusalem that day were recognizing the one they believed would establish his Messianic kingdom and rule over them. They were declaring their King had come. That’s why they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” (John 12:13)
Here comes the King!
But they would later reject Him and He, according to Divine plan, would suffer as the Passover Lamb.
But now in Revelation 7, you see the Lamb again . . . this time untold millions are waving palm branches before the throne of God the Father and His Son, the Lamb.
- Observation #3: Notice what they’re saying.
Verse 10, And they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
This is all about Him.
- First, they praise Him for His great salvation
For by grace you have been saved through faith; not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Salvation belongs to our God.
Do you hear anyone boasting of their deeds in this scene?
Do you see anyone before this throne admiring their own efforts to earn their ticket in?
No! They are praising God for His great plan of salvation.
And how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, the writer of Hebrews urgently wrote. (Hebrews 2:3)
This is the only way in!
This is the only way out!
This is the only way up!
God alone created the plan of salvation. God alone offers the gift of salvation. God alone grants the faith for salvation. God alone receives the praise for His great salvation.
- Secondly, they praise Him for His global sovereignty.
Their song goes on: Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne.
There’s no question about it . . . there’s no debating it . . . God alone sits upon the throne of the heavens and He alone rules His universe as sovereign.
They not only praise Him for his great salvation and global sovereignty;
- Third, they praise Him for His gracious sacrifice.
Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb.
And there He stands, the Lamb, as pictured in chapter 5 – bearing in His glorified body the wounds of crucifixion. Pictured for us by our Lord’s own presentation in the upper room to Thomas – showing him the nail prints retained in His hands and feet . . . perhaps even cuts on his forehead from the makeshift crown of thorns whereby the human race had mocked His claim to divine royalty.
Here He stands . . . and millions of redeemed can do nothing but shout over and over again, “Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb; salvation to our God who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb.”
It’s such a moving sight and filled with such wonder that the angels are swept up in it and they fall down before the throne.
Notice verse 11. And all the angles were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they – that is, the angels – fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12. Saying, Amen.
They get so swept up that they can’t help but shout, ‘Amen!”
These angels are Baptist angels.
This is the only doxology in the Bible that both begins and ends with the word amen. It means – “this is the truth!”
The angels effectively add their testimony to their Creator God in this seven-fold angelic doxology.
The Seven-Fold Angelic Doxology
This is a seven-fold doxology whereby the angels reinforce the worship of the saints by quoting from the resume of God.
- They chant, “This is the truth . . . He is a God worthy of blessing: eulogia (eulogia) – we get our word eulogy from this. It means to speak well of someone; we usually reserve a eulogy for someone after they’ve died. Often times eulogies are nothing more than carefully worded lies. But not the eulogy – the well-speaking offered to the living God . . . He is worthy of all commendation and praise.
- He is worthy of doxa (doxa) – this is the glory derived from a good reputation;
- He is worthy of all sophia (sofia) – wisdom which is embodied in our God;
- He is worthy of eucharistia (eucaristia) – gratitude and thanksgiving;
- He is worthy of time (timh) – great esteem;
- He is worthy of dunamis (dunamiV) – power to act independently of anyone but His triune counsel;
- He is worthy of ischus (iscuV) – ‘strength throughout history’ is part of His divine resume of attributes – His will is accomplished by His divine strength.
Adapted from Thomas, p. 492
And for how long is our God worthy of all this; for a month, a year, or even a century? No, John writes . . . forever and ever – that is, without end.
Amen – this is the truth!
At this point, an interesting conversation has begun between John and a believer – an elder who, I’ve explained earlier, represents the church, raptured to heaven prior to the Tribulation.
This elder is emphasizing to John the importance of recognizing who these white robed saints are. He asked John in verse 13b, “Who are they and where have they come from?” John said to him, ‘My lord, you know.”
In other words, “I don’t know who they are . . . my Lord, you know!”
By the way, John wasn’t ascribing deity to this man. This was simply a polite way of addressing someone, like we would do today by saying, “Sir.” As Mary did to Christ after his resurrection – she referred to him as “Sir.”
People from the South understand this. People from the North who move to the South have to learn their manners.
Down here we say, “Yes, Sir” and “Yes, Ma’am.” Don’t we.
Northerners are saying, “Yep.” What are they, driving horses?
The proper way to respond, according to the Bible, is “Yes, sir.” Right????
I’ve got an audience of northerners transplanted to the south. How many of you moved here from the north? Are you glad to be here? Yep. Ah, the things I suffer.
“Sir, you know the answer,” John responds.
The elder knew the answer but this was his way of opening the conversation up to clarify for John and us that these were not members of the church, already raptured, but believer’s who’ve been saved and now died sometime during the Tribulation.
Now they are enjoying heaven.
The Joys of Heaven are seen here as Two-Fold:
- They are sheltered by their Sovereign,
Verse 15. And He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
They’re safe! They are forever secure in His dwelling place.
Not only are they sheltered by the Sovereign, they are:
- They are satisfied by their Shepherd.
Verse 16. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat.
This verse, many believe is a reference to the fourth bowl that will be poured out, causing intense heat from the sun – perhaps a reference some believe to their martyrdom, being forced out into
the scorching sun where they died of exposure, thirst and hunger.
Kendell H. Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Holman Reference, 1998), p. 132
No longer such deprivation and suffering.
Verse 17, “. . .for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
This is the prayer of David that we have often uttered. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want – that is, I shall not lack anything. He makes me lie down in green pastures – that is, He makes it possible for me to lie down and rest – free from fear and hunger . . . surely goodness and mercy shall follow me and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
Dear friend, if you want Him to be your Shepherd over there, you must have Him as your Shepherd over here.
For those who follow this Shepherd on earth, will one day be led by their Shepherd in heaven.
John’s vision ends with verse 17 with the promise that God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Many have taken this to mean that we’ll never cry in heaven. I believe that is taking this phrase out of context. This is in reference to crying over great suffering and hardship – tears shed by humans enduring the pain of the human condition.
I believe there will indeed be no more tears of hardship and suffering and loss and pain.
Ah, but have you ever cried tears of joy? Have you ever sung a hymn and wept? Have you ever thanked the Lord for His goodness and tears have come to your eyes.
Tears are God created – and not necessarily the result of the fall or directly connected to a sinful nature.
It’s a God-created avenue for an emotional response and I believe heaven will be a place of joyful tears, by believers moved at the sight of the Lamb – thrilled with wonder at their place before His throne . . . shedding tears of gratitude through purified, perfected, glorified, God-pleasing, joyful emotion.
That’s part of heaven.
We’ll get to more of heaven as we move through the latter part of Revelation . . . we’re getting there. Remember, we’re riding a tortoise, not a bus.
And I’m whipping this turtle along as fast as I can. PETA’s not going to like that last comment. I am encouraging this turtle to move as fast as it wants to! And only as fast as he wants to because he’s actually in charge of my life and the planet belongs to him and I’m just in the way. Whew, just wanted to get that on record.
By the way, last Sunday I mentioned trees. It occurred to me that if millions of people in this scene in heaven have palm branches, imagine how many millions of palm trees there will be in heaven.
In fact, it just might be that the signature tree in the capital city of the New Jerusalem will be the Palm Tree . . . the Judean date palm tree was in the past the symbol of the Jewish nation. At one point, the Jews had coins designed with the palm tree and the vine. When Titus the Roman General destroyed Jerusalem he had medals created that showed a slave sitting under a palm tree – a symbol of Israel’s destruction.
I wonder if this will be one more interesting twist as the royalty of Christ is seen reigning in Jerusalem, and the palm tree once again a symbol of Israel’s future, resting no longer as slaves to Rome, but servants of the living God.
What we do know is that one day there will be millions of people waving palm branches before the true and living God.
I also know this . . . there’s no need to fear death . . . there’s no need to spend a fortune trying to hold back the inevitable. Yes, take care of yourself so that as long as you can you can make a contribution to your Lord until He takes you home.
But clear up your perspective . . . don’t be riveted on earth.
Look here at the revelation of Jesus Christ – and millions in heaven who are, in this scene, literally exploding with joy.
I close with the words of a 19th century American pastor who wrote,
I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone say, “There, she’s gone.”
Gone? Where? Gone from my sight, that’s all. She is just as large in mast and hull as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, ‘There, she’s gone” there are other eyes watching her, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shouts, “Here she comes.”
Randy Alcorn, In Light of Eternity (Waterbrook Press, 1999), p. 152
There they go!
Here they come!
Tears of sorrow here . . . tears of joy over there.
It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus;
Life’s trials will seem so small, when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race, ‘til we see Christ.