‘Who are these, clothed in white robes?’ (Rev. 7:13)
The lesson from the 44th chapter of Ecclesiasticus provides a paean of prominent figures in history as if their perpetuity depends primarily, perhaps even solely, upon their being remembered by those who came after them. Even when the certain persons have been forgotten, it is stated that their deeds will live forever.
The teaching in this lesson is not much different from secular eulogies that claim that those who loved the departed and now grieve for them “will never forget them.” But in spite of the best of intentions and greatest of hopes, of course the memories of the bereaved are just as mortal as those they grieve; even the best known of personalities on earth will eventually be lost to the gnaw of time. Thank God that the continuing life of the departed does not depend exclusively on human memory.
The lesson from Revelation presents us with an image of the heavenly court, resplendent with endless life. The symbolic number 144,000 is 12 times 12 times 1,000 — the number of the people of God (the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles) squared and then multiplied by three times 10 to suggest an uncountable myriad of the redeemed. They come from all over the earth, every age, and represent every expression of human life and culture. In a vast and noble choir they sing the exultant praise of God, and an angel identifies them as they who “came out of the great tribulation” and are now in the place of utter delight and complete satisfaction. They are clothed in white, showing that they have been purified and made perfect, and bear palms, which is the symbol of martyrdom.
These first two lessons show us both what was and what will be. When we come to the gospel we turn to what is. We move from exalted memory to dazzling joy, and then turn to ordinary life. We see Jesus sitting simply on a mountaintop talking to merchants, farmers, and craftsmen. He begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes — the list of those who are “blessed.”
Whatever else the “tribulation” mentioned in Revelation may mean, we find evidence of it here. It must include grief, for the mournful are pronounced blessed. It must include the victims of others’ sins, for the merciful are pronounced blessed. It must include war and conflict, for the peacemakers are pronounced blessed.
And so we learn that, as always, it is in ordinary daily life that the pattern of the kingdom is set in us. The path to supreme exaltedness and endless joy in laid in what is ordinary and accessible to all.
Look It Up
How does the psalm apply to today’s theme?
Think About It
Where is the “blessedness” in being reviled and persecuted?