Marching to Victory
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 7: 16-17 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… If you feel depressed after watching the evening news, or after reading the news websites, try reading the book of Revelation. The evening news and the news websites certainly reveal the corruption and wickedness of mankind. But even more depressing is that we Christians seem to be on the losing side. We are so tempted to lose heart. We are so tempted to think God doesn’t care, that He’s far away. That’s exactly why we need Revelation. That’s also why we need All Saints’ Day. You see, the saints of God march through the tribulations of this world to the goal of Christ’s eternal victory – and all by the work of Christ.
Our first reading comes right after some events that make the evening news look like children trick-or-treating. Four horsemen ride in and bring trials such as tyranny, warfare, famine, and death. Martyred Christian souls are asking, “How long [O Lord] before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). The sun becomes black; the moon becomes blood red; the stars fall from the sky; the sky rolls up like a curtain; and the earth quakes all over the place.
Then we come to Revelation 7 where there are two scenes which provide comfort and hope. In the first scene God sends four angels to push the “pause” button on the news of cosmic chaos. These angels hold back the winds of God’s wrath on corrupt humanity. A fifth angel then arises from the east, from the dawn of new life; he brings “the seal of the living God” (Rev. 7:2). And what is that seal, that signet ring? It is God’s own mark of ownership, care, and protection. And He places that seal on His redeemed people who are traveling through this chaotic world filled with trials.
Think of the sign of the holy cross that was put on your forehead and your heart when you were baptized. What does it tell you? It tells you that you belong to God. God knows you, God cares for you, and God protects you in the midst of this troubled, corrupt, chaotic and coming-apart-at-the-seams world. In fact, God even holds back those horsemen and the troubles they bring into your life in order that you may grow in the grace and knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. And even when He lets those horsemen and their chaos loose, He still guards and protects you.
Then we get the roll call of all Israel. 144,000 – the perfect number of 12 x 12 x 1000 – the number of complete completeness. And the tribes of Israel are listed – 12,000 in each tribe. This list is different from the Old Testament lists: Dan is missing, and so is Ephraim, for they had turned away from Yahweh. In their place we see Joseph and Levi who were faithful to God. This list of God’s people has been cleansed of idolatry and apostasy. And it is Judah who heads the list, quite possibly because the Lord Jesus comes from his line. Here, then, is the perfect number of God’s people on earth, people who belong to Jesus Christ. And it is not a literal number, so put your bean counter away for a while. All the tribes are equal in number; none is greater or lesser than another.
This list draws our attention back to ancient Israel as they wandered through the wilderness. When they camped around the tabernacle – God’s dwelling place on earth – each tribe had its assigned place. When they broke camp to march on, they marched in a God-given order on their mission to the Promised Land.
And so it is for God’s redeemed people in this world of trials and chaos. You, dear fellow redeemed, are among the perfect number of God’s people in the Church Militant. You dwell in your assigned place. You are ready for the mission, the marching order, He has given you: “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations.” (Lk. 24:47) “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet. 3:15)
We are the Church Militant, and we are marching through this sin-ravaged, death-plagued world; we won’t stay here, we’re just passing through. We are on a mission, to be sure: the mission of confessing Christ and giving the reason for the hope we have in Him, but it is still a cosmic warfare. That is why there are trials; that is why there are persecutions. And that is why we have the Lord’s seal of ownership, care, and protection on us. Jesus even said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
And so we come to the second scene that gives comfort and hope to all saints. Now the saints praise God in heaven. Here is the eternal victory celebration. And who is in the party? John tells us: “A great multitude which no one could number” (Revelation 7:9). And notice that the saints come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). So, no, Christianity is not just for Westerners, not just for certain colors or languages. It is for all people: white, black, brown – they’re all there – those who speak English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Bosnian–they’re all there.
And what are they doing? They’re celebrating! Think of when your team last won the World Series or the Super Bowl or even the high school state championship. Everyone was elated! Everyone had a party! You went through the highlights of the game and you congratulated the players. Well, for us, heaven is that final celebration, that final victory, that eternal victory. And it is eternally better than any championship. Sports victories may last only for a season, but God’s victory is forever!
And, as they celebrate, what do they say? “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). They go through the highlights of the salvation story. They congratulate the “players” – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You see, it is only because of our God and the Lamb that we have this victory. God has saved you, His saints; He has made you holy, He has saved you through the Lamb and His blood shed on the cross. God has rescued you from your enemies – from sour-puss Satan, from the chaotic, hostile world; and even from death itself. Here you have a picture of the final goal which is eternal life with your God and Savior who loves you through Jesus’ death.
And who else chimes in? The whole heavenly court: ”all the angels…standing around the throne and…the elders and the four living creatures” (Revelation 7:11). They all praise God for His work of winning the cosmic war.
In this second scene all the saints have come “out of the great tribulation.” That is the way the Scripture speak when it means for all time and all events since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. But this is no mere escapist fantasy. For some, it might look like it’s too good to be true. But this is no flight from reality. It is the very picture of hope.
You see, dear fellow redeemed, the Church does not live from one triumph to another. There is no such thing as victorious living; there is no such thing as “your best life now.” Those who teach and preach those things are speaking lies for the devil, for those things do not exist on this side of heaven. No, the Church and every Christian in it lives in the way of the cross. God does not lead His Church, His saints, around suffering; He leads us through the suffering. And as He does, “He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.” (Rev. 7:15-17).
So, when those opposed to God seem to be stronger, when the Church seems to be on the brink of extinction, when you in your personal faith and life feel so weak and battered and bruised that it seems as if God has not kept His promises, take heart! Be comforted! Have hope! God has not forsaken you or His Church. All of that is par for the course for the Church and her Christians. It is your Savior Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who shed His innocent blood. It is your Savior Jesus who brings you to the goal, and all by His grace and mercy.
You see, dear friends, you are also “the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” You just happen to be still on the march toward that goal. And you have also “washed [your] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” No, not because you are so pure and strong yourself. Rather, it is because Jesus is the pure One; Jesus is the strong One. You are holy because He is holy and He makes you holy. And saints belong to God. Saints stay with God, because He stays with them.
Therefore, do not be afraid to be “out of date” or strange because you are a Christian. Do not be unsettled when adversity comes your way or to the Church herself. Your God and Savior promises to be with you; He promises to keep you as His own, and to care for you and protect you as you march toward His eternal victory.
Most of all, stay in your Baptism. Martin Luther said this about living in your Baptism: “We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’” (LC IV 44).
That, dear fellow saints, and all of God’s promises, are yours for certain in Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.