I am fascinated by those who were chosen as prophets. They tell us what they have received from God, but rarely give any insight into how they received it. As a pastor I have a “semi-prophetic” role. I don’t produce a sermon out of brute biblical research. I do experience ideas that are true to the text or texts, and they seem to come so easily. Too easily for me. It is a spiritual gift. No visions. No voices. No out-of-body experiences. What happened to John as he received Revelations? Was it a vision or a field trip?
This week is All Saints Sunday. It is a day to remember those who have gone before us, and a day to think about what comes next after we die. The text I am using is Revelation 7:9-17. It makes you think. Was it a trip or a vision? Where is this? When is this? There are clues. Here is the first part:
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs 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 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Revelations 7:9-14 (ESV)
I believe that it is very possible for God to take us anywhere in Creation, even forward or backward in time. That said, I believe that other visions of God’s throne room in Heaven, Isaiah 6 and Daniel 7 for example, are visions not trips. The reason is that Jesus said no one has gone into Heaven, among humans to that date, except Him (John 1:13). The reason, I believe, is that we could not tolerate it prior to our sin being atoned for by Jesus. John wouldn’t have that restriction. Still, the last line quoted above gives away that this is a vision.
Jesus’ blood cleanses souls not robes. The robes are symbolic of the human soul. Therefore, I think it likely that this is vision. Being a vision doesn’t make it unreal or just a dense metaphor of some sort. It is much like being there. Still, it is an input straight to his mind or right before his eyes.
Where is there? It could be Heaven, but it could be the New Earth. God’s throne room is currently in Heaven, but will move to the New Earth post-Judgement Day. There are no telltale clues in the text. The context places this in Heaven because it is in the midst of the opening of the seven seals. John’s Revelation moves across the breadth of the Earth’s remaining time several times. But this is in the midst of it. Judgment Day happens on the next page with the seventh seal and time resets.
When is it? Before Judgment Day, to be sure, but is it at John’s time? The clue is who is seen. John sees millions of people. By John’s date there would be the Old Testament righteous and those converted since Jesus (maybe 55 years), that might be a big number. But John notes that there are people from every tribe and nation. That wouldn’t be true then and not yet even. This is future, just before God wraps things up. The people are also described as “those who have come out the great tribulation”. It doesn’t say that they were martyrs as Revelation 6 and 20 note. So I don’t see that Heaven is only for those martyred. The great tribulation could be a period of time just before Judgement Day when persecution is very high, but it could also be a reference to every period and place in this life. Living under the curse and with sin and Satan is tough. Relatively speaking this world stinks.
The last part is exciting:
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,Revelation 7:15-17 (ESV)
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
At first blush, maybe serving God in His temple “day and night” doesn’t sound exciting. It is hard to conceptualize what it will be like to see God and what exactly we will do but expect it to be very exciting and a type of duty that you will covet. Also, don’t think that this is your whole existence.
The end of 15 and all of 16 describe a curse-free existence. All the things that make life now uncomfortable and frustrating will be gone. That is true for the redeemed after Judgment Day as well. In fact the similarities between Heaven and the New Earth lead some people to conflate them. They are two distinct things.
Finally, verse 17 is an intriguing one. Jesus, the Lamb “in the midst of the throne” will be their shepherd. Maybe we are thinking about the throne as just a large chair. It could be a whole world, or even a whole universe parallel to this one. We will be will Jesus doing many things beyond our comprehension. And there will be no reason to grieve and we will have a reconciled memory of what we went through here.
When you consider even the little that we know about Heaven from this text. It is hard to imagine that there could be more. But God plans more. The resurrection of our earthly bodies and a new Heaven and Earth.