Revelation 7:13-17

Sermon preached on October 21, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

A couple of years after we moved to the north country we attended to my cousin's wedding up in Cornwall. It was great and we got to get reacquainted with some of my relatives in Ontario. Between the wedding and reception everyone was standing around talking and I was standing next to Marg mingling with some relatives. After awhile my great uncle Joe came over and gave me a wonderful greeting. He was smiling and so happy to see me. He gave me a hearty and long handshake. The only problem was that I didn't know who he was. I knew he was one of my mom's relatives, but I couldn't narrow it down any more than that. I was really embarrassed because he was so friendly and my mind was racing trying to figure out who he was. So I smiled and said hello and returned his warm greeting. I played dumb and didn't let on that I didn't know exactly who he was. (At the time I thought it was sometimes all right to play dumb, especially when one is really dumb!) But my façade was shattered when after a few seconds Marg said to me,

"Larry, aren't you going to introduce me?"

Then I had to own up and admit that I didn't know who it was.

Sometimes you're asked a question and you don't know the answer and it's embarrassing. The last thing you want to do is give the wrong answer. Sometimes you know that you should know that answer so you don't want to just come out with,

"I don't know."

So you try and think of something else to say.

In our text John was in a situation something like that. As God was giving him the vision of the great multitude in white robes, one of the elders asked John, (Revelation 7:13)

"These in white robes—
who are they,
and where did they come from?"

Wow. Can you put yourself in John's situation? God was showing him things that were all new to him, and then one of the guys in the vision asks him a question.

John might not have been totally surprised because in some of the prophetic literature the question and answer format was used to explain some of the details of the vision.

But even if he was expecting it, John was put on the spot. I suspect that John didn't want to give the wrong answer. I also suspect that he didn't want to seem completely without a clue. So he came up with a great response.

"Sir, you know."

That exchange teaches us something important. Why did God have the elder ask John that question? Because it was important for John and his readers to know two things. They were to know who the ones in white robes were and how they got there. Who are these people in heaven and how did they get there?

Do you know who is going to be in heaven? Do you know how they get to heaven?

These are two of the most important questions that anyone can ask.

Who is going to be in heaven and how do they get there?

James Eglinton has an interesting article titled, The Celebrity Funeral and Modern Priestcraft in the current issue (Sept-Oct 2012) of the Modern Reformation magazine. He said that millions of people are obviously not buying the new atheism of people like Richard Dawkins. When a celebrity like Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston dies, fans believe that they live on. The departed superstar is now,

"the brightest star watching over us from heaven."

Or, he or she,

"has now become the perfect angel."

Or, they became gods. As one mourner said,

"We now pray for his guidance and spirit to show us the way."

Wow. They become an angel, or a star, a ball of fire in the sky, or a god to guide and protect us.

In 1974 the Righteous Brothers had a hit with the song, "Rock and Roll Heaven". There's a line from it that goes something like this,

"If there's a rock and roll heaven, you know they've got a great band."

A rock and roll heaven? What do you have to do to get there? The answer that the song gave was that you just have to be a rock start. In the song there were references to Jim and Janis—Jim Morrison of the Doors and Janis Joplin. It doesn't matter how you've lived, if you were into drugs, sexual immorality, profanity etc., etc.—you are automatically in heaven because you're a rock and roll celebrity.

But it's not just at celebrity funerals that we see unbiblical answers to these questions. I've attended many funerals of people who never went to church. They were not religious, not spiritual and basically believed nothing about God and lived their lives as if He didn't exist. Yet when a person like that dies, a lot of people will say about him,

"He's in a better place."

I've also been to funerals of people who did go to church occasionally, but basically disregarded many of the 10 commandments in their daily living. and the consensus among some is that,

"He's at peace."

What R.C. Sproul said many years ago is absolutely true—that many people in our society believe in 'justification by death'. All of you have to do to get into heaven is die. Most people seem to believe that just about everyone will get there. It doesn't matter what you've believed, how you've lived, a loving God will not keep normal people out of heaven.

Is that true? Who's in heaven? How does one get there? These are questions that we need to know the answer to. The elder asks John these questions so that the answers will be clear to all. The elder said, (verse 14)

"These are they who have come
out of the great tribulation;
they have washed their robes
and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb."

This morning we're going to focus on the first part. Those in heaven

are the ones that have come out of the great tribulation.

Most of what we hear about the Great Tribulation has to do with the question: when is it? There are two basic views regarding that. Many Christians believe that this refers to a relatively short period of time just before the return of Jesus. Other Christians believe that it refers to the tribulation that has come upon Christians throughout the ages.

But the 'when' of the Great Tribulation is not what we're going to focus on this morning. The really important lesson for us from this text is to understand who gets to heaven and to make sure we're in that number. You need to make sure that you persevere in the face of whatever tribulation you face.

It's clear from the Bible that we get to heaven because of Jesus and His work. In our text it refers to the redeemed in heaven as having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. In Revelation 20:15 we are told that only those in the Lamb's book of life will get to heaven. And the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16,

"know that a man is not justified
by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.
So we, too, have put our faith
in Christ Jesus that we may be
justified by faith in Christ
and not by observing the law,
because by observing the law
no one will be justified."

Yet having said that, the New Testament makes it clear that those who believe in Jesus need to persevere. Perseverance is a characteristic of true followers of Jesus. They are faithful to Jesus when tribulation comes. That's the point that our text makes. In 1 John 5:4 the Holy Spirit tells us that,

"everyone born of God
overcomes the world."

And in 1 John 2:19 John said about those who apostatized,

"They went out from us,
but they did not really belong to us.
For if they had belonged to us,
they would have remained with us;
but their going showed
that none of them belonged to us."

God protects His people and gives them grace so that they persevere. As 1 Corinthians 1:8 says of Jesus,

"He will keep you strong to the end,
so that you will be blameless
on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 we are told about the persecution that some of them endured. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus said to the church in Smyrna,

"Do not be afraid of what
you are about to suffer.
I tell you, the devil will put
some of you in prison to test you,
and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
Be faithful, even to the point of death,
and I will give you the crown of life."

They were to be faithful, even to death. We see the same thing in Jesus' message to the church in Pergamum. Jesus said, (Revelation 2:13)

"I know where you live—
where Satan has his throne.
Yet you remain true to my name.
You did not renounce your faith in me,
even in the days of Antipas,
my faithful witness,
who was put to death in your city
—where Satan lives."

We are to overcome. In his message to the church in Sardis Jesus said, (Revelation 3:4–5)

"Yet you have a few people in Sardis
who have not soiled their clothes.
They will walk with me,
dressed in white,
for they are worthy.
He who overcomes will,
like them, be dressed in white.
I will never blot out his name
from the book of life,
but will acknowledge his name
before my Father and his angels."

G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, NIGTC; p. 433-434)

"the tribulation consists of pressures to compromise faith, these pressures coming both from within the church community through seductive teaching and from without through overt oppression. Sometimes the persecution is economically oriented… At other times the tribulation is heightened to include imprisonment and even death… Whatever its nature, tribulation always comes because of believers' faithful witness to Jesus…"

So what is taught here is the necessity of holding fast to the faith, of not giving in, of not compromising the commandments of God. Those who have come out of the Great Tribulation are those who remained faithful. They did not give in. They did not deny the faith.

Now, it's true that some Christians fail when testing comes.

Peter showed us that. Fear got the better of Him and he denied Jesus not once, but three times. But he came back. Jesus even told us that Peter would be faithful to death in the future and glorify God in his death.

During the persecution under the Romans some Christians denied the faith and when the persecution ended, they came back to the church. Some Christians didn't want to take them back. They viewed them as apostate.

But Peter's example shows us that even true Christians can fail during testing. Sometimes Christians have renounced their faith under persecution only to come to their senses and reaffirm it.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer is an example of this. Cranmer was instrumental in the establishment of Protestantism in England under Henry 8. But when Bloody Mary came to the throne and he was arrested, he recanted his Protestantism and signed a series of recantations. He was afraid. But Mary was not going to let him live and decided to execute him anyway. On the day of his execution, when he was given one last opportunity to recant, Cranmer boldly and publicly reaffirmed his Protestantism. He said of his right hand that had signed the recantations.

"And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire it shall first be burned."

True to his word, when the fire of his execution was lit, (Foxe's Book of Martyrs)

"then it was, that stretching out his right hand, he held it unshrinkingly in the fire until it was burnt to a cinder, even before his body was injured, frequently exclaiming, 'This unworthy right hand.'"

Both Peter and Cranmer came back and persevered. Perseverance doesn't mean that you never fall, that you never fail. But it does mean that when a Christian does fall, He gets us and presses on again. He reaffirms his faith in Jesus.

Yes, it's better if we never fail. It's a disgrace to the gospel when Christians give in to fear and go from denying their faith and then affirming it again. That's not what God wants.

We are to be good witnesses for Jesus. That's why He has put us here. He has put us here to be faithful to Him in spite of any and all adverse circumstances. We are to overcome. We are to hold on. We are to be faithful. We are to persevere. Perseverance is characteristic of those in heaven.

The great lesson for you from this is that

you need to persevere. You need to come out of the tribulation you face.

You need to resist pressure to sin, to deny Jesus.

Our society today is exerting an incredible amount of pressure on Christians and the church.

They want us to conform to the mores of our society. They want us to forsake the authority and teaching of the Bible and accept their beliefs.

I was reading a news article on the web the other day and it was talking about how crazy conservative Christians were. It was like they were saying,

"You would not believe how stupid and crazy these people are!"

They had a link to a YouTube video of the guy they were making fun of. It was supposed to show how crazy this particular politician was. So I clicked on it and the video started playing. Marg was next to me and she didn't know what I was playing but she heard the audio and after the clip finished playing she said,

"That was really good."

And it was. It was good biblical teaching. But the world thinks we're nuts for believing the Bible.

Don't give in to the world's pressure. Stand on the truth God's Word. Delight in His commandments. Delight in being a faithful witness. Make sure you come out of the great tribulation victorious.

Sometimes people in authority will tell you to do something wrong. In the Old Testament
Queen Jezebel sent a letter to the elders and nobles of a certain city. In the king's name she told them, (1 Kings 21:8ff)

"Proclaim a day of fasting
and seat Naboth in a prominent place
among the people.
But seat two scoundrels opposite him
and have them testify
that he has cursed both God and the king.
Then take him out and stone him to death."

And that's what they did. She never threatened them, but they knew that if they disobeyed she was kill them. What would you do in such a situation? In Nazi Germany many claimed that they were just following orders when they did evil things. They did not persevere. They sinned.

Sometimes tribulation comes in an even different form. One or more of your children go astray and they want you to approve of their sinful lifestyle. How are you as a parent going to handle that? Many professing Christian parents give in to the pressure. They accept and approve the sin.

Christians, persevere. Perseverance shows that you're truly one who belongs to Jesus.

For those of you who aren't Christians, what our text teaches you is that

unless you turn to Jesus, you aren't going to be in heaven.

Those in heaven have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and they have resisted society's pressure to sin. Instead they stand up for Jesus and His commands. They are the ones that save their lives. As Jesus said in Mark 8:35,

"For whoever wants to save his life
will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for me
and for the gospel will save it."

Go to Jesus today.