Pastor Steve Mechem
Revelation 7:9-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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.”
The bible book of Revelation,
lions and dragons and frogs, oh my.
trumpets to be blown and seals to be broken and plagues to be unleashed
sevens and 144,000s and 666s
Beasts and Angels and a ridiculously gruesome winepress
Scrolls and candlesticks and rivers of blood
battles and locusts and horses with scorpion tails
falling stars and shouting eagles
a slaughtered lamb and a King of Kings
lakes of fire and celestial cities
It will leave you scratching your head!
Its confusing, frustrating, and maddening to many 21st century readers. Authors have written millions of pages and a few have made millions of dollars writing books telling people how to understand Revelation. Unfortunately, what one book tells us about Revelation is completely different than the next book tells us.
It leaves most of us bewildered. But in the first century, had you been a part of a church that received the document titles the Apocalypse of John, you would have understood the story, the meanings of the symbols, the metaphors and the similes, or at least most of it.
The New Testament Book that English bibles name Revelation is an example of Jewish apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic literate began as a genre after the Babylonian deportation of 587 b.c.e. Apocalyptic writing describes the end of the world with vibrant and strange imagery. Apocalyptic literature, though, as I understand it, is not really about the end times. It is, rather, about the struggle of the here and now, punctuated with the hope of a better day coming. It addresses the upheaval in the world that the hearers are living through and promises victory and a new day ahead. The goal of Apocalyptic is HOPE!
Symbols and images are used as literary devices and as code so that oppressing powers might not be able to decipher the deeper truths of the message.
The genre, began in the barbarity and despair of the Babylonian Exile continued to be popular throughout Israel’s uneven history of occupation and deportation. We see examples of Apocalyptic in the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
A good friend of mine in college, Loren Stuckenbruk, served as editor for a book titled The Jewish Apocalyptic tradition and the Shaping of the New Testament in which the argument is made that Jesus, Paul and all the writers of New Testament documents were highly influenced by Jewish Apocalyptic.
And in the first century, with a new and growing church facing fierce persecution, believers found hope and meaning in the despotic utterances found in Apocalyptic literature.
Convinced of this, renowned theologian Ernst Käsemann once said “Apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology.”
Who knows how many documents like John’s Apocalypse made the rounds in those early days of the church, but it can be assumed that there were several.
Only the book of Revelation actually made it into the New Testament Canon as a whole document, although the Apocalyptic influence is seen in most New Testament books. Whether it belonged in the Canon was debated then and has continued to be debated through the centuries.
But, if Revelation were not in the Bible, we would not have such amazing passages like the one that describes Jesus knocking on the door, hoping to come in and sup with us, or the description of a new heaven and new earth where “God will wipe every tear from their eyes and death will be no more. Where there will be no mourning, crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Or the one read this morning.
The passage from Revelation read by Fred and Cary this morning describes a throng of people standing before God and singing praises. “Soteria belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
The passage reminds of the closing scene of the first Star Wars movie, where throngs of admiring people stand to acknowledge Luke and Han and Leila and Chewy as heroes, saviors who brought victory to the rebellion.
“Σωτηρία belongs to our God, and to the Lamb.” crowd shouts.
Σωτηρία is a Greek word that is most often translated “salvation.” But apart from spiritual salvation, it also means victory, deliverance, rescue. And a fair number of Scholars, using both the context of the passage and the grammatical fit of the word, opt for the meaning of “Victory” here.
“Victory belongs to God, and to the Lamb.”
One of the things that has always bothered me about Revelation is the blood thirstiness and battlefield imagery in the book. As I have been told by more than one teacher, in the Gospels we see Jesus as a the Savior who came to sacrifice himself but in the Revelation we see Jesus as a Warrior who comes to get revenge.
Sorry folks, I just don’t buy that schizophrenic description of Jesus. Greg Boyd, in his incredible 1400 page book Crucifixion of the Warrior God, is helping me understand this paradox somewhat. He suggests that if we focus on how this warrior Jesus is described, we will discover that he is not a gladiator out for blood, he is a Savior whose weapon is a two edged sword which comes out of his mouth. A “two edged sword is a common symbol for the Word of God and His weapons are the words of truth and grace he utters.
Apart from the perception that Jesus is a warrior in Revelation, the reality is that he is most often identified in the Apocalypse not as warrior who slays, but as “the lamb who was slain.” The spotless, blameless One who sacrificed himself for all the rest. It appears that the bloody imagery that is found throughout Apocalyptic literature is transformed from blood letting to sacrificial giving in the Lamb who was slain.
Σωτηρια, victory, is found in the salvation that comes from God as it is experienced in the Lamb who expressed to us the person of God whose very being is love and whose sole desire is to help us experience holy love!!!
The throng that is singing these praises is described by the writer as “a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Every.
“Every” is a big word. It is all inclusive. Every means every. The crowd is described by the seer as being from every nation. tribe. people. language.
In 2017, according to WorldAtlas.com there are 194 nations in the world.
In just one of these 194 countries, the country of Burma, there are 135 tribes and ethnic groups.
The Joshua project suggests that there are 16,825 people groups in the world.
The Ethnologue Catalogue cites 7099 languages that are spoken in the world today.
Every. nation. tribe. people. language.
For those who don’t like to hang around with people who are different than them,
for those who think its demeaning to have to listen to people speak a different language than them,
for those who think people should stay with their own kind,
for those who hate or fear or distrust people who are different shade of melanin than them,
its gonna be rough days ahead.
They are not going to like heaven one bit, every. nation. tribe. people. language.
Every. When I think of the word “every” and the bible my mind automatically goes to that amazing passage at the end of the poem in Philippians chapter two where the writer declares, “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”
Every. nation. tribe. people. language. knee. tongue.
When all is revealed, when the the Lamb that was slain reigns as King of Kings, all of us, every one of us will find ourselves where we need to be- in the very presence of a God who loves us and accepts us as beloved children.
That is the hope!