The last passage of the book of Revelation that we studied before commencing on a brief detour to gain better understanding of the passion of Jesus Christ and the meaning of being washed in the blood of the Lamb were

Revelation 7:13, 14  Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?” 14I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

A brief recap on what we discussed on this passage might be in order. Having washed one’s robe in the blood of the Lamb means to seek one’s liberty from sin in Christ, while here on earth in this life. There is no other way possible for one to obtain that white robe but through the blood of Christ. Those who fled to Christ in this life and through their faith, worked in them by the Holy Spirit, they now find themselves before the throne of God in white robes. Because of the one they received the other.

I John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Hebrews 9:13, 14 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.

Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

As we have studied earlier, the elder asks John a question that he already knows the answer to, to give John an opportunity to admit his ignorance. John acknowledges that the elder is the representative of the congregation and acknowledges his knowledge of those in the white robes by responding, “Sir, you know.”  Then the answer comes, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The Greek word for “have come out of” is Erchomai which indicates an ongoing process meaning that those who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb continues to be added to the number in heaven as we speak. With that we know that the great tribulation is the entire era before the Second Coming of Christ and not some special period with accelerated persecution. This position concurs with the other revelations of Scripture and the prophets that there would not be another coming of Christ except the final, Second Coming.

Those whose robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb are those who fled to Christ in the repentance of the sins, claiming through faith their redemption before the Father.

Revelation 7:15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them."

This passage starts with the word “therefore” which indicates that what is in this passage is consequential upon what is in the previous passage. The washing in the blood of the Lamb results in those being before the throne of God, serving him day and night.  And one cannot be washed in the blood of the Lamb unless one repents of one’s sins and accepts the merits of Christ’s sacrifice as one’s own and only path to the white robe, so to speak. To accept the merits of Christ’s sacrifice can only happen by faith, which the Holy Spirit freely gives to those whom God predestined to receive it.

So, nobody can apply the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, to put it differently, come to the Father, unless it is through Christ through faith. Christ gave the authority to the visible church to exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

If some argue that the 144,000 is a physical people -- such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do, who ran into trouble with their reasoning when their number increased beyond 144,000 and then flip-flopped to declare that they now believe that only 144,000 of their number are elected admitting that some of their saints may be hypocrites – it appears to be inescapable that they end up believing that the 144,000 is a number from the original Israelites who are chosen believers in Jesus who are protected throughout the great tribulation as a sign. It also appears inescapable that they will argue that these people are some kind of superaddition to the church because, according to their reasoning, their repentance came too late for the Gospel.

If, according to their reasoning, some can be saved after the time for the Gospel has ended, it means that some can be saved without going through the gateway of the grave and without being resurrected.

If that is the case then Christ didn’t give the visible church the keys of heaven as revealed in Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23. Or it is possible that some may come to the Father without having to repent their sins, or without having to claim the merits of Christ through faith in the gospel.  At best it seems that their reasoning should make provision for a parallel gospel, which has not been revealed to the church and of which there is no mention in Scripture, which brings other passages that the Word of God is complete and cannot be added to or taken away from in jeopardy. It becomes totally bizarre as the illogical is further propagated to try to salvage what was an erroneous premise.

This is the kind of reasoning that produces all kinds of heresies and as they go along making up what appears to be rational in human terms, they bend the truth of Scripture and end up developing their own brand of idolatry.  Those who dissent from them are intimidated by further declarations of falsehoods and deceit, threatening them with eternal damnation if they do not obey their brand of religious beliefs. In the meanwhile Scripture sufficiently reveals all that is necessary for salvation and glorification of God to those who earnestly seek that knowledge of God because they love Him and not because of anything else.

Revelation 7:15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them."

The sealed and numbered army of Israel shows the faithful church on earth, shielded from apostasy and from God’s wrath by our union with the Lamb, bearing his name, sealed by his Spirit.  The innumerable assembly of nations shows the victorious church in heaven, emerging triumphant from tribulation not through a painless rapture, but through a faithful death, day-by-day as this era before the final, triumphant return of our Lord Jesus Christ speeds towards its conclusion.

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

Romans 8:36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

Hebrews 2:14, 15  Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Spreading his tent over them means that God has caused his people to be in his midst before his throne because they desired to be there – desired to be in his presence more than life on earth itself. Like a tent He covers them allowing them to live in his holy presence. God’s tent stretches into this life to the saints who have their hope in Him through faith in Jesus Christ.

Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, 'Destroy him!'

Day and night they served God in his temple. Day and night the saints pray, suffer and persevere under the strain of tribulation, praising God already here in this life. Day and night God protects them, even in this life casting his tent over them.

Philippians 3:2, 3  Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh 3for it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.

Luke 2:36, 37  There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

Romans 1:9, 10 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

Hebrews 9:14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.

Revelation 7:16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

They have known hunger, thirst, exposure, and tears; but the woes to be released on the world in final judgment of human sin cannot touch those who dwell in God’s sanctuary, shepherded by the Lamb to the springs of the water of life.

These earthly concerns and tribulations will not be there any longer.

Isaiah 49:10 They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.

Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. 3He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber. 4Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5The LORD watches over you--the LORD is your shade at your right hand. 6The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7The LORD will keep you from all harm--he will watch over your life. 8The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

It is interesting to note that there is a quartet of hardships mentioned: hunger, thirst, sun, and heat. The burden of these hardships is removed from those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. The number 4, as we have shown, is the complete number of mankind and is sometimes mentioned in terms of the four wind directions. Here their hardships would be removed and the four hardships are echoed in the prophecies.  We will encounter again the number 4 as the complete number for mankind and the number 3 as the complete heavenly number.

We must remember that God gave the prophets Isaiah and David revelations to pass on to the saints to comfort them, so that they can remain faithful. The price God apportioned for the salvation of his people was enormous and He would not let anything or anyone, ever, snatch them out of his hand. They are destined to be at his side in heaven.

Revelation 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This passage also starts with a leading word, namely, “For” indicating the cause of an effect that was shown in the previous passage.  The reason why there will never be hunger and thirst again is because the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

When the Lamb opened the scroll He was among the four living creatures and the 24 elders around the throne.

Revelation 5:6, 7  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.

Now, however, the Lamb is at the center of the throne, which is the place from where the King would rule. He has accepted authority over all things. The image of the shepherd is consistently used throughout Scripture indicating the relationship between Christ and his congregation.

Psalm 23:1, 2 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.

Psalms 80:1 Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

Ezekiel 34:1, 2  The word of the LORD came to me: 2"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock."

John 10:11  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Revelation 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Water is consistently used in Scripture to represent the efficacy of the Holy Spirit and indicate the eternal qualities of the merits of Christ and how one should perceive them.

Isaiah 55:1  "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."

John 7:37 - 39 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Revelation 22:1, 2  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations

Revelation 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Isn’t that an amazing image? It strongly reminds us of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples declaring “if I don’t’ wash your feet you have no part of me.”  Here God wipes away every tear from their eyes and we can safely assume that if God does not wipe away every tear from our eyes, we have no part of him.  How is it that God acts like the meek and mild Jesus serving his brothers by washing their feet? Shouldn’t God be the almighty King ruling over his subjects? No, God is not portrayed here as meek and mild, but as the High Priest who has ultimate compassion with his children: a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.  In human terms it has been a very long wait for the elect to arrive in heaven after having started in the garden of Eden, setting out on this incredible journey to heaven, with everything planned and ordained in salvation history before the beginning of time.

It is God himself who wipes their tears from their eyes, knowing it was not a matter of chance that they completed their journey, but it was a matter of preordination.

Wiping the tears from their eyes indicate the complete removal of all concerns and cares life on earth. Believers in this life can already enjoy the wiping of their tears and the effects thereof in the gospel, in the sacraments that are the signs by and through which believers may lawfully praise and worship God, and the participation in the assembly of believers.

Isaiah 25:7, 8 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations. 8He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

Revelation 21:4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

These visions assure the Lamb’s flock that nothing in the present or the future will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ. Those marked as God’s treasure by the seal of his name are secured and sheltered from his burning wrath to come. They are the people of his covenant, portrayed as twelve complete tribes. But now that the Lamb has conquered through his death, God’s covenant embraces all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. The Israel secured by God’s seal is a multiethnic multitude, dressed in robes washed white in the Lamb’s blood and praising him for his salvation.

Revelation 8:1 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

The seventh seal is the final seal containing the ultimate will of God. One might expect the last seal to reveal the new creation that is to come since the previous seal illustrated the destruction of the earth and sky.

Instead, nothing appears to happen. There is a great silence in heaven. The half an hour duration is not a literally timed period, but indicates that it is an unusually long time that there will be complete silence, especially since up to now there were a lot of activity and sounds, such as the continuous praises from the four living creatures, the uproar of the martyrs and the twenty four elders. Suddenly there is this complete silence and not only for mere moments, but for a full half an hour. What an extraordinary event contrasting the usual activities surrounding the throne of God.

Some say that the half an hour of silence is the expression of sympathy of all heavenly beings with the people struck by tribulation on earth (Rev 8:3).  Some say that it is creation’s expectant response to the Lord’s impending announcement.

Deuteronomy 27:9  Then Moses and the priests, who are Levites, said to all Israel, "Be silent, O Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the LORD your God!

Isaiah 41:1  "Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment."

Habakkuk 2:20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.

Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.

It is not as if nothing is happening during this period of silence because the seven angels who are about to receive the seven trumpets are preparing. 

Revelation 8:2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.

It is the first time that the presence of these seven angels is revealed to us, but John does not refer to them as if they were not there before. So, it appears as if he is familiar with them standing before God. The number seven indicates a completeness of God’s actions with creation. They stand before God indicating that they are of the highest rank among the angels and are ready to execute any command that they receive from the throne.

Luke 1:19  The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news."

The giving of the trumpets to the seven angels symbolizes the giving of the commands contained within the trumpets’ effectual duties, which will be released whenever the angels sound them.

Revelation 8:3  Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.

An angel, other than one of the seven before the throne of God, which indicates that he has a lower rank than the seven, but with a very important commission, came and stood at the altar like a priest.  In Revelation 5:8 we read about the golden bowls of incense held by the twenty-four elders containing the prayers of the saints.

There is a striking difference between the golden bowls of incense containing the prayers of the saints that the twenty-four elders held and the golden censer that the angel here offers with the prayers of the saints.  Here the angel does not only hold the prayers of the saints, but he is also given much incense from God to offer with the prayers of the saints.  This reveals to us that the prayers, even those of the holy saints, are so tainted with sin and depravation that, on their own, they would be unable to rise before God. Unless God provides the incense from heaven with which the prayers of the saints would rise up as a pleasing aroma before his throne, their prayers would remain without any aroma or presence. Without God providing the means for the prayers of the saints to be heard, they would go unanswered.

John now also reveals to us the position of the altar and what it is made of. Because the altar is a symbolic representation, it sometimes represent a sacrificial altar, such as we saw in Rev 6:9, and other times as an altar of incense as we see here.

Revelation 8:4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.

Now that the prayers of the saints are offered together with the incense from heaven, they rise up before God from the angel’s hand, and they are heard.

Psalm 141:1, 2 O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. 2May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Revelation 8:5, 6 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. 6Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

This action of the angel symbolizes God’s acknowledgment that the prayers of the saints have been heard and He answers their petitions with the fire from the altar indicating that His response is alive, decisive, and burning with righteousness.  Again we see the fourfold sign showing complete judgment on the sins of mankind: peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.  God’s judgment, bringing relief for the souls of the martyrs and the tribulation of the saints, is in full swing and the seven angels are ready to bring the seven trumpets of judgment and woes to the people of earth.

II Samuel 22:7 - 9 In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears. 8The earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook; they trembled because he was angry. 9Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.

Psalm 18:13 The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.

Isaiah 29:6 The LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.

Isaiah 30:30 The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail.

Isaiah 66:6, 14 – 16 Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve. 14When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes. 15See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD.

Luke 12:49  "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.”

Revelation 8:5, 6 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. 6Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

Once God set his judgment in motion the angels got their cue to proceed with the sounding of the trumpets. Their actions, following the lead of God’s execution of his judgment, indicate that the hearing of prayers in the form of incense is followed by action. We are assured by this revelation how, and that God not only hear our prayers but that He acts on them decisively.

The seven trumpets are divided into two divisions: first there are the four trumpets of judgment, which affected that which supported human life and the surrounding nature. The last three are commonly called the trumpets of woe.  They affect the hearts of men directly, exposing their corruption and depravity. The first division, again, contains the complete number of man, while the latter the complete number of heaven, indicating that the latter three trumpets target the soul of man, which has been lost due to sin.

[1]As the trumpets begin to sound and the scene shifts to earth, fiery judgments fall from heaven to earth. In other words, the judgments symbolized in the trumpet cycle come from the altar on which the incense of the saints’ prayers has been offered as God’s answer to his people’s petitions from the midst of the battle.

John’s first hearers would see Roman society shaken by scandal, split by intrigue, and threatened by external assault, but they were not to be paralyzed in fear. Such traumas were and are merely instruments in the hand of the Lamb, exposing the emptiness of human arrogance and summoning the nations to repentance.

The vision of the angel at the altar, offering the incense with the saints’ prayers in heaven’s silence, links the seal cycle to the trumpet cycle. The breaking of the seven seals was preparatory to disclosing and executing the scroll’s contents.  The seal visions profile forces that will be at work in the cycle of trumpet judgments, and they assure us that the most threatening powers must always be subject to the Lamb, to do his will. Thus the riders depicted in the first four seals – insatiable politco-military expansionism, armed conflict, famine, and pestilence, leading to the grave – are means by which the Lamb who controls providence will thwart the pretensions of his human rivals. Though he seems to delay the justice for which his martyrs long, as revealed in seal 5, and the deliverance for which his saints pray, as revealed in seal 7, his patience will not wait forever. When He brings judgment – whether limited calamities of providence in history or the unrestrained catastrophe at the end – He does so to rescue and vindicate his suffering church.  When He finally and fully reveals his wrath, only those sealed as his property, bearing his name, will greet that day with joy.

[1] Reworked from Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis E. Johnson.