The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Revelation 7:9 “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ 13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?’ 14 And I said to him, ‘My lord, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.’” (NASB)
By 90 a.d. St. John was the last remaining apostle. As a young boy, he was called by Jesus to follow Him and John did. He was the only one of the original 12 that Jesus promised would not be martyred. Of those original 12, St. John would be the only one to die of natural causes, albeit in exile on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. It was from there that the John wrote his Gospel, Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. It was from Patmos that John was taken up in some fashion and given a glimpse of the glory that is heaven.
He wrote “I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
It was a glorious vision. A glimpse of heaven that has been put down in writing and has served as a great beam of hope and Light for the church and for faithful Christians for nearly 2,000 years.
It was such a wholly other world that even John had trouble coming to grips with what he saw. As he stood looking on at the great multitude, the angels, archangels, the four living creatures, and God Himself in complete awe, 13 “one of the elders [said] ‘These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?’
Who are these people that stand before the Light and the Lamb singing praises to Him? For all the wonder, glory, power, and majesty of heaven and the Book of Revelation this is the question that ought to be in the mind of anyone who hears what St. John has written here. “Who are these people who are clothed in white and where have they come from?”
November 1st is the day that the church and church tradition has set aside to to answer that question and to remember and honor the holy ones of old who have gone before us and who now make up that “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” And given the fact that Christians no longer observe very many church festivals that occur during the week, All Saints Day, November 1st is now more widely celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
Last Sunday was Reformation Sunday and Wednesday was Reformation Day. Reformation has as its center piece the Bible’s teaching that salvation is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone for Christ’s sake alone. This is the Christian truth and Scriptural doctrine that answers the question “who” and “how” questions about those “who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?”
When St. John was given to see that great multitude in heaven and the Lord to Whom they were singing praises, he was seeing all those who had lived and died in true Christian faith. He did not see people who had earned enough credit to offset their sin. He did not see a great multitude who had worshiped other gods with sincerity of heart. He did not see people who were good and had fulfilled the Law of God. He didn’t even see a multitude that was united by their diversity. Oh there were “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” But that is not the unifying and defining characteristic of that great multitude. That’s what they came out of. That’s who they use to be. St. John saw a great multitude who, generation after generation were “the ones who come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
In the words of the Reformation St. John was looking at all the people who had been given salvation, that is the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for Christ’s sake alone. These are the ones who had been washed clean in the water and the Word and who have been made clean in the blood of the Lamb.
Notice in John’s vision where the elder in heaven where directs John’s attention to be. He direct John to the people’s “washed robes, which were made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And it is for this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.”
It’s All Saints Sunday. It is the day when we focus our attention on the both the saints who have come and gone before us and on the Lamb that made them saints, saints in the first place.
St. John looked upon the departed faithful who were wrapped in the righteous robe of Jesus Christ. He look and saw the Heavenly Church, the Church Triumphant, the eternal and perfect Church in heaven where “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.’” This is our hope, our joy, our comfort, and our peace. This is what we saints on this side of eternity look forward to, an eternity with Christ and all the company of heaven.
Now it is worth noting that John is describing for us in verses 9-17, as best he can, his vision of the Church in Heaven: the Church Triumphant. This glorious vision of the church heaven stands in contrast to what John had heard and recounted in verse 4. In Revelation 7:4 St. John wrote that he “heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” John tells us in verses 5-8 that the number of people who were sealed in the blood of the Lamb is 144,000 from every tribe of Israel; 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gadâ, 12,000 from all twelve tribes, adding up to the number 144,000.
The number “12″ is often used throughout Scripture to denote completeness or wholeness. 144,000 is a symbolic number that points to completeness and the wholeness of God’s people. So 144,000 is a way of saying “all the elect,” everyone that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified is in heaven. No one is missing. All who lived and died in true Christian faith is there.
In contrast this imagery of what John heard, 144,000, the following verses tell us what John saw. He tells us that he saw a multitude of people so great that no one could ever number them. That’s a lot more than the literal 144,000.
John sees people from every tribe, nation, and language, not just faithful Hebrews. He sees a multitude that existed on this earth and who believed and trusted in Christ alone for salvation.
And where did they come from? They came out of “the great tribulation,” the Church Militant. They came out of this world and are now clad in white robes and were waving palm branches as they sang a hymn of praise to God the Father and Christ the Lamb of God.
Our loved ones who have departed this world in faith are now completely clad in Christ’s white robes of righteousness. They are completely and perfectly covered over in baptismal robes that have been washed and made perfect in the all-atoning blood of Jesus Christ. This is how they are in reality in heaven and that is the heavenly reality that awaits all of us.
But this isn’t just a future reality, a reality that is waiting for us on the other side of our death. This is how God sees us right now. We don’t see it. We don’t see our holiness. Our holiness is a matter of faith. We believe that we are holy ones, saints of God only because God’s Word declares us to be so.
Even though we are and remain sinners until the movement after our deaths, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does not see our works, our frailties, our blemishes, and our sins. All our Heavenly Father sees is the righteousness of His own Son because He has imputed, placed on and over us the righteousness of Christ. He sees a person clothed and covered in the victories He won on the Cross of Good Friday.
On All Saints Day we remember and honor the saints who came before us and who now live in heaven. We are to remember not only the saints that history has recorded, but the saints in our own lives, grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors who lived and died in faith in Jesus Christ and who in many and various ways taught us and modeled the faith for us.
Out Lutheran Confessions teach that we are to remember the saints who came before us for three reasons. First, we should give thanks to God for showing examples of His mercy, revealing His will to save men, and giving teachers and other gifts to the church.
Second, when we see that even Peter was forgiven of his denial, we are encouraged to believe that grace does indeed abounds more than our sins (Rom. 5:20). Third, we ought to imitate the faith of the departed Christians. And imitating their faith, we then ought to imitate their other virtues in accordance with [our] calling.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XXI, Book of Concord of 1580, Tappert, pp. 229-30.)
Here in time, in the Church Militant, Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word and in His Sacraments. He hides Himself in these things. This reality is only recognized by faith. The fullness of this reality will not be realized by us until we, like the saint before us pass through the gate of death into our Heavenly home to communion with our Lord and Savior.
That’s doesn’t mean that we are cut-off and separated from the Church Triumphant, from the heavenly Church. There are not two separate churches. Remember we confess faith in one holy, Christian and Apostolic Church.
This folks is something that every widow or widower ought to keep in mind. Our fellowship is seen and unseen. We worship with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Our liturgy declares this truth.
Yet, very often one spouse will cease attending church when the other spouse has died and now worships in heaven. The “surviving” spouse often feels that church attendance isn’t what it use to be.
Pastors know that many people struggle with being in church after the funeral of a loved one because all they can see in their mind’s eye is the casket and an empty spot in a pew.
But it is here in a place like this that you the faithful here are united with the faithful departed. It is here where our voices are joined with their’s in worshiping the Lamb who was slain. It is here where the holy ones in God’s eyes join the holy ones in heaven.
“I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, . . . and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. . . These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?”
Who are they? They are you, the baptized who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and who believe? Where have they come. The baptismal font and from places just like this place.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.