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.” Revelation 7:9-17

The book of Revelation is a tough read. Full of symbols, numerology, mythic creatures, and obscure poetry, it is precisely the kind of literature that lends itself to the idea that its true meaning, its true power, is only available to a select group of insiders who speak its language. Which is the point.

Apocalyptic literature like Revelation is the science fiction of the Bible. Scholars tell us that it is the kind of literature that emerges in times of great stress and oppression. Fittingly, it was probably written sometime in the 90’s CE, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Domitian is often described using words like despot, tyrant, authoritarian, personality cult. He was very popular among the people who benefited from his iron hand rule and very unpopular among those who suffered – including the Senators he dismissed and the Christians he fed to the lions in the very popular games that he grew to entertain Roman crowds.

Domitian’s quest was to restore the Roman empire to the power and glory of the days under Caesar Augustus. He took divine titles for himself and for his family. As always, the tension between earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God put Christians under suspicion. Their choice was to “go along to get along” or to retreat, and when pushed, resist. Depending on who the emperor was, and the struggles the empire was facing, there were periods of great oppression in the first century but there were also periods of benign neglect. Along the way, the book of Revelation was written.

The Christian talk of temples and kingdoms, the vision of a future without hunger, thirst, tears or death, the final victory of God over the forces of evil – all of this is powerful, even more powerful if you read it while you are hungry, thirsty, grieving, and terrified. It is a reminder to us that earthly empires rise and fall. That people will always be prone to idolize earthly characters, who inevitably fall short. Domitian was assassinated. Christ is King.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when times get hard and the future is uncertain, or when times are great and the future seems wide open, protect us against the temptation to seek our salvation from the gods who are not gods. Keep our eyes firmly fixed on you and that future vision where the many divisions of this life are healed as you bring us into that great multitude from every nation where death has died and tears have dried. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Revelation 7:9-17”

  1. Carole Hallin Says:

    Pastor Kerry, I enjoy reading your devotions every day however I am very sad to read that he think what Paul wrote in Thesselonians was wrong and that Revelation is science fiction. I hope I misunderstood you.
    cousin Carole Hallin

  2. Rita Wade Says:

    Thank you for this devotion. I even bought a book published by Missouri synod helping understand Revelations. While helpful, it didn’t address the world at large at the time. I really understand now more than years ago, (with your guidance and a few others) how impossible it is to separate the secular world at the time from the sacred text we now have. Because God is eternal and lives through the ages, we can see our particular political situation now in the text about the Roman rulers and the politics at the time. I and I’m sure others tend to see our unrest now as unique to us. Sure they had lions eating good people and we don’t now,(so that’s interesting history) but with very little knowledge of symbolism, it’s easy to see that the human condition is turmoil. Thank you for providing hope and bringing the ancient text out of the museum where we adore what’s there and into our lives and
    into the “kitchen drawer” where we can read, learn and know that God is still king no matter which year the calendar is currently displaying.

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