“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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””That is what St. John saw as he wrote the book of Revelation. Who is it that he saw? He saw the saints, that is, the believers in Christ.
This is a different view from those who say that this is all there is in life, that when you die, you are dead and that’s that. But what a sad view of life that is! Not only is it sad, it is wrong. There is indeed eternal life – eternal life in heaven or eternal life in hell. John sees beyond this earthly life and his focus is not on the now on earth, but rather, the now that is in heaven.
John sees that which is impossible by man, but possible by God. He sees a great cloud of witnesses, those who bear witness to the Lamb who was slain. On earth, they saw the Savior with the eyes of faith, whom having not seen they loved. Now they see Him. The veil of sense and the limitations of earth no longer obstruct their sight. They are forever with their God, in His immediate presence, where they wished and longed to be.
These saints look different, different than what we see them as, for they are seen for who they are, clothed in white robes, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. These are the ones whom Christ has marked as belonging to Him. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and so they appear before God pure and spotless, arrayed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness.
One of the elders asks John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come from?”They come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”Sin brought about a separation from God, not for some, but for all. That separation is done away with in Christ. Its effects disappear because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. There is no longer any difference between peoples, for they are all one in Christ.
By John’s response, we see exactly who Christ is for – all peoples from all time and all places. No distinction is made on the part of John, for all have been created by God and He seeks to unite all peoples unto His Son. He desires to grant to all the gift of everlasting life, won solely by Christ and His shed blood for them.
It is interesting that the elder askes John from where they came. John responds by saying they have come out of the great tribulation. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, they have faced on earth, they have left all of that behind and are now free from it, for Christ has atoned for them and has sanctified them, washing over their sins with His shed blood.
As saints of God, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.”In other words, nothing shall be able to detract from the holiness that Christ has earned for them. There, “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.”
Sainthood sounds absolutely wonderful, perfect even, for those who have died in the faith. But what about you? Too bad you are still alive and unable to receive that sainthood, right? That is where you would be wrong, where a particular Christian denomination would be wrong. You see, sainthood isn’t something that you receive after you have died and have been deemed to have a led a virtuous life. Sainthood is yours, right now.
Turning to our Epistle reading from 1 John, we hear these words of comfort: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”God your heavenly Father has granted this to you already. He has granted it to you through His Son. By His actions of keeping the Father’s Law in your place, by His death and resurrection so that He may wash over you with His crimson blood, you have been made a saint. You have sins forgiven. You have eternal life in His name. The only difference between you and the saints that are spoken of in Revelation is that you are still among the living, the Church Militant. You still face trial and tribulation, but in spite of that, you are a saint, a blood-bought and purchased child of God.
We are not able to see the face of Jesus as the saints see it. However, we see Jesus in a different way as the Church Militant. We see Jesus as He is revealed to us through the Word of God and in the Sacraments. We see “the love the Father has given to us”as it is revealed to us on earth. He calls us to follow Him. His Words gives us the vision of all those saints who have gone on before us. The Lamb, our Savior Jesus, has made us children of the Father. Like the saints before us, we know we live and love only by grace. Every day, we come before the Lord, confessing our many sins, doubts, and failures. We take comfort in the words that we heard earlier: “…in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” This has happened only because of the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for you and your sins. We are washed clean “in the blood of Jesus his Son [which] cleanses us from all sin.”That blood of Jesus is what you receive when you come to this altar. That blood of Jesus is what forgave you all your sins in your Baptism. Now, God looks at us in Jesus – forgiven, washed, covered, made alive with His life, wearing the white robe of His goodness covering all our sins.
On this All Saints’ Day, St. John invites his readers to marvel with him the greatness of God the Father’s love. We marvel at the love shown to us before we were born. We marvel at the fact that God has chosen us to be His children. We marvel at the fact that though we deserve death, we have received life. John takes the status believers enjoy, that of children of God, and uses that status to instill an eager expectation for the future glory that will be ours. Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, has given His life for us and called us His own. Our sinful name is washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. Being baptized into Christ, we have received the Father’s family name, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Now our names and the names of all God’s saints are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Because our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, we will continue to come into the holy city of Jerusalem because the gates will never be shut. When we are brought into Christ through baptism, nothing can keep us separated from Him because He has bridged the gap of separation with His own body and blood. Rejoice, for you are a beloved saint of God. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.
(Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3)