All Saints’ Day
Nov. 1, 2009
Text: Rev. 7:2-17
Beloved in the Lord, it should be of great comfort to us who live in the time of tribulation that the full number of those appointed for salvation will be saved and enter into the bliss of heaven and the resurrection. For “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb,” as the great heavenly multitude sings in our First Lesson (Rev. 7:10; ESV). Salvation is God’s. It is the Lamb’s. It is His possession
. The salvation of each and every one of us is in the hands of the God who sent His Son to be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The salvation of each and every one of us is in the hands, the nail pierced
hands of the very Lamb of God Himself, Jesus Christ. Are you concerned with your salvation? Look to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Are you concerned with the salvation of a loved one? Look to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Do you long to be reunited with your loved ones who have died in the faith, to stand with them in the heavenly throne room and sing praises to the One who created you and redeemed you? Look to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. For salvation belongs to Him. He is the source
of salvation. It is the Father who sent the Son to be born under the Law, to suffer and die in our place, in the place of all humanity, for the forgiveness of our sins. It is the Son who willingly suffered as the sacrifice of atonement for us. Thus the Spirit directs our attention, our faith, our praises to the Father on the divine throne, and to the Lamb who was slain, who now stands in the midst of that same throne. Thus the Spirit-filled heavenly worship of the throngs coming out of the great tribulation, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Thus the response of the holy angels and the elders and the four living creatures, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (v. 12). These heavenly creatures praise God for His greatest act, the salvation of mankind.
The First Lesson presents us with a comforting picture of the reality that is the eternal state of blessedness of God’s people. This is your reality in Christ Jesus. May it be a great comfort to you as “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This comfort is so important now, because this heavenly reality is not yet our experience in the flesh. It is a matter of faith, not sight. What is true in Christ Jesus, what is the true experience of every believer who has died in Christ and now in their soul enjoys the beatific vision in heaven, what will be true for all of us who are in Christ on the day of resurrection, body and soul together, is not yet apparent to us who still live and operate in the Church Militant, the Church on earth. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). And so it must suffice for us that even now “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” This truth of God’s Word we must believe in the face of all that seemingly contradicts it in this life, all the tribulations we have to suffer here on earth, all the mourning and crying and pain, the hunger, the thirst, the scorching heat, the tears that freely flow from Christians living in exile in this fallen world. This must be believed in the face of unemployment and a bad economy. This must be believed in the face an ever-smaller congregation and a synod in crisis financially and theologically. This must be believed in spite of sickness and injury, wars and rumors of wars, terrorism and natural disasters. This must be believed in the face of death itself. This must be believed in the face of sin, the cause of all evil in the world.
In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John sees the whole number of the Church on earth and in heaven. First he sees the number sealed
from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 144,000. Now there is a lot to unpack here. First, this number is not, strictly speaking, the Jews who are to be saved, but the whole number of those sealed
, Jews and Gentiles, who make up the new spiritual Israel of God, the holy Christian Church on earth. This number is not the Church in heaven, the Church Triumphant, but the Church on earth, the Church Militant. They are lined up in an almost military fashion, ready to do the will of God in His mission on earth. John says that their number is 144,000. Now, don’t misunderstand this number. This is not to say that there are exactly 144,000 Christians on the earth, no more and no less. No, this number is symbolic of the completeness
of the Church. Indulge me for a moment while we do a little divine mathematics. The number twelve represents the people of God. There are twelve patriarchs, the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. There are twelve apostles in the New Testament, the foundation of the apostolic Church of which you, as New Testament people, are a part. 12 x 12 = 144. The number 1,000 was an infinitesimal number in the minds of the Hebrews. It would be like saying a “gazillion kajillion” in our terms. So multiply 12 x 12 x 1,000 and you get the whole number of believers on earth, the whole number of those built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone, a great number of believers on earth who have graciously been incorporated into the sheepfold of the Church by the sealing of the Holy Spirit. And that sealing is nothing less than Christian Baptism, the sealing of the Christian with the Divine Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
After John has this vision of the 144,000, he gets a sweeping look at the whole number of heaven. This number is beyond counting. It is “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). Needless to say, this number is far greater than 144,000. It is the whole number of believers, all those appointed for salvation from the very foundation of the world. And they’re clothed in white robes. This is to say, they’ve been covered with the righteousness of Christ. The elder tells John, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). This is the Church Triumphant, the Church in heaven. These were at one time numbered among the 144,000, who have now been transferred from the Church Militant, the Kingdom of Grace, to the Kingdom of Glory in heaven. And this is an eschatological
picture, that is to say, an end times picture of the resurrection. This is the whole number of the faithful who in their earthly lives believed in Jesus Christ.
What a glorious picture this must have been. John undoubtedly saw loved ones he knew who had died in the faith among that number, many of them martyred on account of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. We can imagine what comfort it would be to see that sight. We gain that comfort from the picture John paints of it for us. There are the apostles and all the saints we know from the Bible: Moses, King David, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, James, Mary. There is St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. There is Martin Luther and C. F. W. Walther and Johann Sebastian Bach. There is Paul Strefling and Lyle LaCourse. There are all our loved ones who have died in the faith, all the saints who from their labors rest. The blood of Jesus Christ has brought them out of the great tribulation. They were sinners. But their sin-stained robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. They stand before the throne of God in perfect righteousness, because it is the righteousness of Christ they have been given. They stand with palm branches, greeting their crucified and risen, victorious, King, in the midst of the holy angels. They worship. They worship and serve God day and night. And God shelters them with His presence.
We cannot imagine what heaven and the resurrection will be. It is easier to define it by what it is not, since the glorious reality of it is beyond our comprehension. John says that the saints in heaven and the resurrection “shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (v. 16). That is to say, they shall be in no want. They shall lack nothing. God bestows every good thing upon them. “(T)he sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (v. 16). There will be no pain. Labor will not be tiresome, but pure joy. They will always be sheltered by the presence of God and of the Lamb. The Lamb will shepherd them (v. 17). They will always have Him who was slain for them as their guide. And He will lead them to springs of living water. Finally, all the sadness, all the hurt, all the desolation sin has caused will be done away with. For “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 17).
This changes our perspective a bit, does it not, as we languish in this fallen world? Now
hungry and thirsty. Now
the sun and the scorching heat do
beat upon us. Now
any number of things that cause us to weep and to mourn, not the least of them being death and sin. But the tears of the saints are precious in God’s sight. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:3-4). He sees your tears. He hears your sighing and your groaning. He sent His Son to deliver you. He has conquered sin and death in the death and resurrection of His Son. And this morning He gives you a glimpse of what is to come. You will finally be delivered from these things forever. You will finally come out of the tribulation. The First Lesson this morning is a description of the reality you will
enjoy fully as those who have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Until then, we live in the reality of the “already/not yet.” We have already been given eternal life and every blessing by virtue of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. And yet, this is not yet our experience. So what do we do until these things are made manifest on the Last Day? We come here, to the gathering of the saints, the holy Church, as those numbered among the 144,000. And we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We listen to the voice of the Lamb who is our good shepherd. We join the praises of the heavenly throng in liturgy and hymns. We laud and magnify the glorious Name of God with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And then we meet them at the altar. We on earth are most at one with the saints in heaven gathered around the altar, receiving the body and blood of the Lord. You can’t see it with your eyes. But you know it by faith. For the Lord they see serves you who see Him only by faith. He serves you with His body and blood under bread and wine. And as you kneel on one side of the altar, there are all the saints who have gone before on the other side, receiving the same thing, united with you, under one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:5-6). May God open our eyes to see the spiritual reality of what happens here at the altar. May this be a great comfort to us who mourn in this life those loved ones who died in Christ. And may we come often, along with them, to receive this precious gift in the Supper. For not only do we meet the saints there, most importantly, we have a living encounter with the living Jesus, who in the Supper forgives us and strengthens us, and preserves us for that day when we, too, come out of the great tribulation to see the Lord with our own eyes. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.