Who Are These?

Today we observe the ancient feast of All Saints Day. It is a time to remember the great totality of the saints of God, those who have gone before us, those who we know and those of which we have never heard. It is also an opportunity to remember that the great timeline of all history is actually leading somewhere. There will be a culmination. There will be an end to all things as we know it. On All Saints Day we recall the glorious promise of our Lord that there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth, that all those who die in faith will rise again and we will see them. We will join them in a great reunion in the age to come. And if that were not enough to get you excited about celebrating All Saints Day, the hymns the Church sings on this day are simply awesome. In fact, I think the assigned Hymn of the Day for All Saints Day is the greatest hymn of the church. “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia, Alleluia!” It is a hymn about the enduring promises God makes to His people. They are never forgotten, never removed from the book of life. They rest from their labors, but they are not overlooked, not by our Lord, and so not by us.

All Saints Day lifts our eyes beyond the daily struggle of our lives. It calls for us to hear again the promises of our Lord. They are not promises which have us overlook or downplay the trials we face day in and day out. Rather, the promises of God would have us face them with the assurance, the confidence there is something greater coming. Just as the hymn confesses how all those who have died in faith are now with our Lord, that they are resting and reside in the blessed assurance of the Father, so it turns us toward the future. In stanza seven we sing, “But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of glory passes on His way. Alleluia, Alleluia!” A yet more glorious day, a day of resurrection, a day when you will see with your eyes the great multitude of the saints of God, a day of glorious reunion.

This is the image we are greeted with in Revelation chapter 7. What an incredible vision John is given here. Notice the play between what is heard and what is seen. He hears the 144,000 are sealed, he hears the list of all the tribes of Israel from which they are selected; 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes. He hears them listed out but when he turns to see them, what does he see? He sees a multitude so vast no one could number them. And they are not just from the twelve tribes of Israel. No, they are from every nation, from all the tribes, peoples, and languages. What he sees is an image of the saints of God, an image of the whole Church victorious. There they are before his eyes gathered around the Throne of God, dressed in white robes, and singing His praises. It is an image of victory, an image of hope, an image of the fulfillment of the promises of our Lord.

And what do they say? What do these saints triumphant declare? They say, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10) Salvation is the property of God. Salvation belongs to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now for us today, overhearing the cries of the saints, seeing them gathered around the Throne of God, we ought to feel great comfort and assurance in this. For no matter what problems linger in your life, no matter what obstacles are thrown in your path, their cry ought to give you hope. For salvation belongs to the Lamb and the Lamb has freely given it to you. The Lamb is for you. The Lamb is on your side. He has taken up your cause. He knows your name. He forgives your sins. He opens to you the Kingdom of God. We can point out the Lamb and shout, “Hey, that’s our guy. We’re with Him!”

One of the elders comes to John and asks him, “Who are these?” “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” These are the ones who have come through the Great Tribulation. These are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. But just who are they? Who are the saints we find gathered around the Throne and the Lamb? They are not all unknown faces. Some of them you know, you know really well. Some greet you with a smile. Some you run toward and jump into their arms, for these are your husbands and your wives, your dear friends who walked with you along the path of faith. These are the grandparents and children who have come through the Tribulation. These are your brothers and sisters who wait for that more glorious day to come. These are those who long for the reunion, to embrace you around the Throne of God, as you add your voice to theirs in ceaseless praise.

The Tribulation is the struggle you now feel. It is the realities of a life of faith lived in a world of doubt and opposition. The Tribulation can be the outright persecution of those who take up the cross and follow our Lord. It can be like the martyrs who handed-on the faith through blood, sweat, and tears. But it can also be the disjointed nature of your life, the living in hope of the resurrection when all around you is decay and destruction. It can be the struggle of love and loss, of hope and grief which mix into everything you do. Then again, the Tribulation is often the internal struggle of being a saint and a sinner at the same time. It is the crushing confession that you cannot by your own reason or strength gain Heaven. It is to realize you are not able to carry out the good you want to do. Like an addict, you repeatedly return to the sin and brokenness of your life. All such tribulation marks your existence. It seeks to pull you down, to drown you in despair.

But there remains hope, for there is a way through the Tribulation. In fact, there is a way through all the dirt and grime of this age, a way which will not only get you through but a way you can come out on the other side clean and pure and holy. And that way has nothing to do with what you can achieve or what you can overcome. Rather, it has everything to do with what the Lamb can overcome, what He does. For the way through is through the blood of the Lamb. Blood shed for you. Blood given as the perfect and last sacrifice. Blood proclaiming hope and salvation for each and every saint of God. Blood washed over you in the waters of baptism. Blood that washes you clean when you hear again how you are forgiven. It is His Blood which sets you aside as the Saints of God.

This means those we see gathered around the Lamb, those dressed in white robes are not only those who have gone before us, they are you as well. They are a figure of your reality in Christ. They are a picture of the hope that is yours this very day. The joy that is pictured is your future, the reunion is your promise. And what promises He makes: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore… The Lamb will be their shepherd and guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” I had someone say to me how comforting it is to think God cares about our tears. I mean think about that for a minute. Consider all the tears you have shed, all the times you have cried behind closed doors, the times no one else knew the pain and heartache of your life. Your God sees them, and He promises to end them, to dry every tear.

Today we lift our heads in hopeful anticipation of the promises of God. We celebrate, and rightly so, that this age is not all there is. A more glorious day will break, and we will join in the great multitude. We will sing and celebrate with those who have gone before us and declare, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”