Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? John doesn’t know. Because he asked for us, now we know with him who they are.
These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. You are now in the Great Tribulation. It’s called life. Though there are many successes and happy days in life, when you look at life from the perspective of eternity, it is a long funeral march to the grave. The happy times are interruptions in this protracted funeral march.
Life wasn’t supposed to be that way. Life was supposed to be living by being giving to by a giving God. Because of sin, life has become busting your tail bone as hard as you can in order to make a living for your family. Now and then good things happen. Now and then you suffer the bad moments. The bitter goes with the sweet. The smooth is taken with the rough.
For a Christian, the Great Tribulation has an end. The end is called death. Yet temporal death isn’t the final end. The final end is what John sees in the book of Revelation. The summary of John’s vision is two words: Jesus wins. You might add a few more words to it, like, “A lot of strange things happen, yet Jesus wins.” Jesus wins because the serpent has been trounced once and for all. Jesus wins because there is no room in heaven for Lucifer and the angels of darkness. Jesus wins because Satan and those who travel with him ride the express into the burning lake of fire, where torment and agony have no end.
The ones who have come out of the Great Tribulation have been spared that end. They have white robes washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Now there’s an oxymoron if there ever was one. Whoever heard of a robe dipped in blood that comes out clean? That’s your baptism. You are washed in the blood of the Lamb and made a partaker of all that Jesus is and gives. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. It makes perfect sense. You’re all wet, covered in His blood, and you live. You live forever because of it.
They serve Him day and night in his temple. This service is not a burden, but a blessing. The word for serve here is actually a word of worship, the highest form of worship. For us now, the highest form of worship is to receive good things from God. By good things is not meant your best life or a free cup of coffee paid for by the person in front of you in the drive thru. The latter thing is a great gift, but it won’t earn you eternal life. Receiving good things from God is being fed with His Word from the altar, the pulpit, and the font. Being served, being given to by a God Who loves to give good things to His precious children, is the highest form of worship.
Having come out of the Great Tribulation, those dressed in white robes dipped in the blood of the Lamb of God are served good things by a giving God. They are sheltered in His presence. No more going hungry. No more dying of thirst. No more hot sun striking them. No more scorching heat. The elder is telling John that being out of the Great Tribulation is more than living in a temperate climate and always having a drink with an umbrella in it in your hand. You are in the nearest presence of God Almighty. What better way to spend eternity than resting in His presence and being given to by a God Who loves to give!
Christians often misunderstand when this gift is given or that eternal life is theirs RIGHT NOW. We often speak as if the Great Tribulation has nothing good about it and those who have died are the “lucky ones.” Although it is a blessing to have passed from death to life in Jesus Christ, you have this gift by virtue of your baptism. As you grow in wisdom and in stature, your faith is strengthened as you hear the Word and live in your baptismal grace. You are fed with the true Body and true Blood of Jesus. You desire more of what the Lord offers. While all these things happen, your body still decays. You can hide it with makeup. You can tint your hair. You can even work out and lose weight. But you can’t stop the march of death.
The march of death is the sign of mortality. The sign of mortality is the wage that sins pays out. Death, though, is a nap. We live in a culture that celebrates death, but not in the way a Christian celebrates death. The focus of the world is on a “celebration of life” that has a sudden ending. There’s nothing to do once it’s over. You look back on all the good times, shrug your shoulders, and go on about your business. One day the same thing might be said about you.
Not so for a Christian. The “celebration of life” is actually a celebration of Jesus’ life. Jesus’ life, applied to the Christian in the Gifts that Jesus gives His Church, is the only life worth celebrating. The dead in Christ will rise, their bodies changed, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Saint Paul calls those words in First Thessalonians comfort.
The view of those who have come out of the Great Tribulation is also comfort, because you, one day, as the Lord wills, will join that number. Your loved ones will cry when you fall asleep in the Lord, but they won’t cry as those who have no hope. Mourning and sorrow are turned to joy. You are out of the Great Tribulation. You have a wet robe in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. You are in His nearest presence. There’s a palm branch in your hand. You are guided to streams of living water. There are no tears. There is only joy.
You have a glimpse of what is yet to come every time you enter into the house of the Lord for the Divine Service. Our time here is a foretaste of the feast to come. While you live in the Great Tribulation, you have comfort in believing this whole business will come to an end. While you wait, you have comfort in resting in the near presence of God as He gives you the gift of His only-begotten Son in Word, water, bread, and wine.
Who are these? Who are you! You are one of them. Though here now, this picture of what is to come is yours also. Jesus won it for you and gave it to you. He did the heavy lifting and gave you the benefit. Sir, madam, now you know.