• Introduction: When a lot of people hear the word “tribulation” they immediately think of the contemporary belief that the final seven (7) years of earth’s existence will be one absolutely terrible place to live.  The reality is for Christians, it has been hell on earth ever since Adam & Eve rebelled against God and ate the forbidden fruit. Satan and his henchmen have been making life miserable for God’s favored people ever since then.  Even the earth groans under the burden of corruption and sin.
    • Tribulation existed in the Old Testament. Jesus mentioned this when confronting the religious leaders who were misusing God’s word and getting rich because of their position in society.   He said - 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …30 …you say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets… 35 so that upon you will fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar[1].
    • The saints from all time will one day gather before the Lord.  We see this in a portion of the First Reading for today in Rev 7:9 - After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands[2];
      • People in heaven are often referred to as “saints”.  However, the saints are anyone, dead or alive, who held or hold to a confession of Jesus despite the pressures of the “tribulation”. In our Gospel reading from Mat ch#5, it is evident Jesus knew we would be living in tribulation until he returns for the second and final time - 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you[3].
      • We will spend time on today reflecting on the glimpse of heaven the Apostle John provided us.  We will look into who was in the great multitude of people in heaven and how they got there.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, salvation indeed belongs to You who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.  We thank You for this glimpse into heaven Your Son Jesus provided to us through the Apostle John. We long to be in the assembly of saints who all will eventually be gathered in Your place where no harm will ever come near us. Send the Holy Spirit to work in our heart the true faith to understand the tribulation we endure, have us persevere through it, and trust that on a day you appoint, we will be safe at home with You.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
  • Background: Picture for a moment the scene John saw in Rev 7.  The picture on your bulletin front cover could not capture the millions of people who John saw.  These people were from everywhere on earth, including nations and languages which do not exist in 2021!  Everyone was standing before the throne of God and the Lamb of God.  They were wearing white robes and carrying palm branches reminiscent of the first Palm Sunday in Jerusalem.
    • Just before our text of the First Reading from Rev ch#7 was a reference to 144,000 people, each from one of twelve tribes of Israel.  I know of at least one religion which claims to be Christian that taught there would be literally only 144,000 people in heaven. After all, they got this idea from Rev 7:4-8. They have since modified their position on this, because as that church grew into millions of members worldwide, they had to come up with something new.  It nonetheless begs the question, are there just 144,000 in heaven?
      • Let me emphatically say, “NO!”  One does not have to be a biblical scholar to figure that out on their own, because literally the next verse (v9) states the number of people in heaven gathered around God was “…a great multitude which no one could count…”  We all might struggle counting to 144,000, but we could get it done.  Somehow, the US Census Bureau was able to publish the US population count of 332,907,211 as of yesterday afternoon[4].  That’s a lot more than 144,000 and more like a “great multitude” the Apostle John would consider uncountable on his own.
    • The great multitude of people were confessing the faith they held onto by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They said, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.[5]”  They were in the habit of doing so because they confessed their faith during their life in the tribulation.  The Apostle Paul wrote - 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation[6].  In other words, faith in Jesus makes us righteous before God the Father.  We have no sin in the sight of the Father, because when the Father looks upon us, He sees the cleansed soul that we are through Christ.  And, the Holy Spirit empowers us to accept and believe this through faith. That is how we are saved!
    • I think we’ve established there were a lot of people in heaven at the time of John’s glimpse.  But, could the tribulation mentioned in v14 of our text actually be the entire time of earth’s history since the fall into sin?
      • Lutherans believe the New Testament period of tribulation began when Jesus ascended into heaven.  During His 3yr ministry, Jesus spoke of being in a blessed state despite the tribulation.  Our Gospel reading, specifically Mat 5:3-12, is known as the “beatitudes”.  A few of these stand out as acknowledgment by Jesus that we are blessed as we experience tribulation in different ways.  For instance, Jesus encouraged us in Mat 5:6 - “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied[7].  The Apostle Matthew wrote that down in the Gospel in the 40’s AD, and the Apostle John saw that come to pass in his vision of heaven in Rev 7:16 around 95AD.  I’m sure all of us here on today hunger and thirst for everything in life to be as God intended it.  We are all tired of dealing with the tribulation we see on the news.  We have had it up to our hairline with the latest bad news happening to someone we love. We may not physically be hungry and thirsty all the time of the tribulation, but we do hunger & thirst for God to make everything anew and without having to deal with our sinfulness and the sinfulness of others.
      • But, what about the believers in God of the Old Testament?  Were they also in the multitude?
        • We can say unequivocally yes!  Jesus was being antagonized by a group of religious leaders known as the Sadducees.  This group did not believe in a resurrection from the dead, because they didn’t believe there was life after death.  Jesus mentioned Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as examples of those who were living despite their bodies having died 2000yrs before Jesus was born into the flesh. Jesus said to the Sadducees - 26 But regarding the fact that the dead rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.[8]
        • Another place in the scriptures where we know of OT prophets still living were Moses and Elijah[9].  They appeared with Jesus on Mt. Hermon in modern Syria, the night when Jesus was transfigured and conversing with them about His work once in Jerusalem.  Remember what Peter said when he had no idea what was going on?  He wanted to make places for Moses and Elijah to stay with them. The Apostle John also witnessed the same event, so there were two witnesses who later wrote about these prophets of the OT appearing with Jesus.
  • Analysis: It’s important to note how the great multitude got from the tribulation of this Age into God’s direct presence.
    • They did it *not* on their own.  Everyone in that multitude had the same problems with sin you & I have.  The entire Bible is full of examples of what the saints had to endure during their lifetime in this Age.  They got their free pass into heaven through the blood of the Lamb (v14).  They were cleansed of their sin by the innocent shedding of Jesus blood on the cross.  Jesus took the penalty for our sin onto the cross with Him so we wouldn’t have to suffer an eternal death in hell.  BTW, no one is worshipping anything in hell.  There’s nothing but despair there.
      • The great multitude is in heaven worshipping at the throne of the Lord, because of their confession made in Rev 7:10 by faith.  We make confession of our faith by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.  The Apostle John wrote by inspiration - By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God[10].  We are able to see faith in action when people confess that Jesus is God and man.  Faith is in action when we lay a particular tribulation in our life at Jesus’ feet, and give it over to Him instead of attempting to solve the problem on our own.
      • It is through faith that the saints got into heaven.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God as the writer to the Hebrews wrote -  And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him[11].  Forget for a moment about what we’ve explored about being made righteous before the Father through Christ.  Don’t forget for very long; just a moment!  And now think; would you want someone in your house who doesn’t even acknowledge you exist?  You might be able to tolerate that over a Thanksgiving meal, but throughout eternity? Can you blame God for not wanting people in His home who can’t bother to at least acknowledge Him?
    • We have this great multitude in total safety of heaven, but John later mentions at the end of Revelation the people who weren’t included in the multitude. Listen to this short list of the kind of people who wound up in hell instead of heaven - But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.[12]” 
      • These people couldn’t be bothered with following the Lamb, because they followed their sinful desires.  The did not turn from their sinful ways and toward the Lamb. The Apostle Paul provided a more extensive list of the types of people who he warned if they continued to live in their sinful ways, they would *not* inherit the kingdom of God. Check out the list in Gal 5:16-21 which I listed the scriptural reference in the bulletin outline.  We need to accept the warning from Paul, just like the 1st century Galatians.
      • Make no mistake, they will on bended knee confess Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:8-10) – before heading to hell (Rev 20:15).  Once a soul dies out of this earthly Age, they can only wind up in one of two places; either with the Lamb as one in the safety of God’s love, or eternally apart from God.
  • Conclusion: The crowd which John saw in heaven included everyone holding to a confession the Apostle Paul summarized in Rom ch#10 - 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.[13]”  
    • It’s getting late into this message, so it’s time for the shocker of the day.  It’s hard to pick out individuals in that crowd John saw in heaven, but you are there!  The same Lamb who got the others into heaven is the same Lamb who got you & I into the great multitude of heaven.
      • Everyone in that crowd was home safe, because as was read from v15, God spread His tent over the entire great multitude.  It was asked in a recent message and it’s worth repeating: if God be for us, who or what can stand against us?  If His protection spreads over us like a tent, nothing will tribulate us anymore.  No more hunger or thirst or scorching heat will affect us (v16).  We understand the scorching heat in southern Arizona better than most, but with us under the protective tent of the Lord, that heat will only affect the people who decided to go their own way in life and not trust in God above all things.
    • Let’s continue to hold fast to the confession of the saints. The writer to the Hebrews left us this gem - 35 …do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. 38 But My righteous one will live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not among those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith for the safekeeping of the soul[14].
    • We have the summary of the confession of faith in the Nicene Creed we just spoke prior to this message.  Saints since the 4th century have confessed that to others – sometime to their death, but always to their eternal life with the Lamb!  They are the ones already home safe.  They are now in the cloud of witnesses for us to be encouraged to head in the same direction and not in the direction of sin and death.  Amen


 


[1] Mat 23:29-35 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+23&version=NASB

[2] Rev 7:9 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rev/7/1/s_1174001

[3] Mat 5:11-12 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+5&version=NASB

[4] Count as of 1619 on 06Nov21 from https://www.census.gov/popclock/

[5] Quote from Rev 7:10 of NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rev/7/1/s_1174001

[6] Rom 10:9 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+10&version=NASB

[7] Mat 5:6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+5&version=NASB

[8] Mark 12:26-27 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+12&version=NASB

[9] Reference to the transfiguration from Mark 9:4

[10] 1Jhn 4:2 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+john+4&version=NASB

[11] Heb 11:6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+11&version=NASB

[12] Rev 21:8 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rev+21&version=NASB

[13] Rom 10:10-11 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+10&version=NASB

[14] Heb 10:35-39