As with much of John’s Revelation, there is so much in these chapters that is variously interpreted. Is 144,000 a specific number of Messianic Jews, or a symbolic number (12 x 12 x 1000) for all who would be saved? Is the tribulation a future event, or a word to describe all of the hardships experienced by the church over the centuries? Are the angelic trumpets revealing things that have already happened or things that will happen, or are we in the midst of seeing them now?
Even if I could answer these questions, I could not do them justice in a short blog post. If you are interested in further study about Revelation, I would direct you to a good study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible, or to a good, accessible commentary like Michael Wilcock’s The Message of Revelation, or Vern Poythress’ The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation.
However, I can point definitively to the vision of heaven that began in chapter 4 and continues through our chapters. As we have been reading, the vision of the throne of heaven has been unfolding; we have read of the One seated on the throne, and the twenty-four thrones with the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures who cry out unceasingly, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!” reminiscent of the angels in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6. We then see Jesus, the majestic Lamb, who is worthy to open the seven seals (which are, of course, variously interpreted) and to whom is ascribed the worship of the elders and angels without number.
In chapter 7 we get another layer of the scene revealed, and it is incredibly exciting:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (7:9-10)
The vision goes on, as an angel describes those clothed in white robes as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).
As I watch football games on TV, I often marvel at the sheer number of people who have come to fill up these stadiums, often 80,000 – 100,000 people, cheering on their teams with raucous intensity. And then throughout the day, I’ll see other games played at other stadiums around the country, all equally large, equally full, and equally loud, hailing their heroes’ momentary victories.
Yet then I read of heaven, where people of all tribes and languages, from all nationalities and all races around the world, and even from across the centuries—all of us who have believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—will be around the throne of God, worshipping the Lamb. It will be a crowd far larger than the sum of those “mighty” stadium crowds, but all dressed in our team color—white—and all cheering for our great Hero.
Jesus will be our hero because he is the one who got us there, for “Salvation belongs to him!” He will be our hero because it is by his blood that our robes, rightly filthy rags, will be washed white.
As crazy and apocalyptic as Revelation is, it not only offers an exciting vision of heaven, but also creates in us an extraordinary and solid hope. We may not understand all the details, but we glory in the fact that we know the One who does, that we are his, and that we will one day stand before him by his grace!