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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, May 15, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Revelation 7:9–17         

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. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And 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, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I 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. For 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. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for 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.” (NRSV)

The “this” that our reading for today follows is the sealing of the 144,000 from among the twelve tribes of Israel in John’s apocalyptic vision, an act that the angel of the vision declares to be a prerequisite for the culmination of the cosmos.

That what follows is a great uncountable mass of humanity from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” praising God together signals a shocking expansion of the vision’s scope of salvation. It’s not just those who belong to the right tribe that God intends to save—it’s literally everyone. That the cosmopolitan choir is identified as “they who have come out of the great ordeal” signals what the vision’s expansion costs.

Some of the earliest Christians (John of Patmos, our author, among them) saw “the great ordeal” happening all around them. The violence of the Roman Empire and its occasional bloody outbursts against the church was evidence enough that things were coming to a head, cosmically speaking, and, more importantly, that God was going to do something about it. That way of interpreting current events through a theological lens has persisted in the faith, in one form or another, ever since.

I think there’s good in that. Though a faith that views the world as the infested waiting room from which the faithful will soon be rescued is of no use to anyone, the conviction that local, national, and global events represent a “great ordeal” lends an important weight of significance to our endurance of them. War and religious persecution and climate catastrophe are not things that escape the notice and the concern of God. Indeed, in the vision of Revelation, they may signify the gracious resolve of God even better than peace and stability.

Sound backward? It should. After all, this is also a vision of blood that turns robes white and a lamb who is the Ultimate Shepherd. To use a technological metaphor, this paradox is not a bug in the faith but a feature.

Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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