By Chuck Alley

Reading from Revelation, 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Meditation

This glorious vision of the throngs worshiping before Jesus gives us a glimpse of what the true Church looks like from the perspective of heaven. The Church is neither an ethnic people nor does it obliterate the ethnicity of its members. They are clearly identifiable as being from every nation, tribe, people and language. Yet, together they stand before the throne of Jesus and in one voice cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Although much has been said about these white robed worshipers of Jesus as being those martyred in the tribulation, such an identification may be too narrow. Rather, the washing of robes in the blood of the Lamb may simply be seen as being purified through the sacrifice of Christ. As in the ancient custom of baptism, when the newly baptized were given a white robe upon emerging from the water, their white robes may symbolize rebirth in Christ. St. Paul described those who believe in Jesus as having “put on Christ” (Rom. 13:14). Thus, to come out of the great tribulation is to choose to turn from the sinful and oppressive ways of the world, die to self, and follow Jesus, being led by the Spirit as a new creation.

Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.

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