Thursday, 17 December 2020
And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14
In the previous verse, an elder is said to have asked John about the great multitude in white standing before the throne. His words were, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” With that in mind, we read John’s words, saying, “And I said to him.” The verb is present tense and should read, “And I have said to him.” We are being drawn into the narrative with the use of the present. With that understood, John continues, “Sir, you know.”
The Greek reads Kyrie mou sy oidas, “My Lord, you know.” It is a respectful way of acknowledging him as an authority or superior. Further, it is a veiled way of saying, “I have no idea.” He is implicitly acknowledging that the information is surely known to the elder, but John has not been able to grasp it. This takes us back to a similar dialog from the Old Testament. When Ezekiel was taken to the Valley of Dry Bones, it reads –
“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’
So I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know.’” Ezekiel 37:3
These questions are not to make the one being asked look uninformed or naïve about a matter. Rather, they are asked to highlight the matter to the reader of the account. It is a way of drawing those who read the words into the narrative in order to focus more precisely on what is being conveyed. Further, it then highlights the superlative nature of what is being presented.
Standing in a valley full of dry bones, one would think, “There is only death and decay evidenced here.” But the question, “Can these bones live?” highlights the otherwise impossible nature of the question. The same is true here in Revelation. Asking, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” highlights the source of their position. Just like dry bones coming to life, what would otherwise be impossible is now to be presented and explained to the one viewing the scene. With that understood, we read, “So he said to me.”
What John had hoped for was not to be kept from him. The answer to the question that eluded him is provided with the words, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.” The structure of the Greek reads, “These are the (ones) coming out of the tribulation the great.”
First, the Greek is a present participle. The people “are coming” and continue to come out. In this, one must remember the lesson from Revelation 1:19 which said, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” In short, “the things which are” was explained as the set time known as the church age. After that comes “the things which will take place after this,” meaning after the church age. That was then initiated in Revelation 4:1, saying, “After these things.” In other words, John is viewing the events of the tribulation period, and there are people “coming out” of it before his eyes. The host standing before the throne is being added to.
Further, in saying, “the tribulation the great,” it is a superlative way of saying that there is a time of tribulation which exceeds other times of tribulation. It is those, during that time of great tribulation, that are coming out, and who have “washed their robes.”
A clearer reading of the Greek would be, “and they did wash their robes” (YLT). It is an aorist verb. In their coming out, they have washed their robes. It is a completed action; the robes are clean. It is the same symbolism already seen in Revelation. Their robes were unclean, and they have now been purified. The sense is seen in Isaiah 1:18 –
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.’”
The robe is the visible garment, and it thus symbolizes the state of the person. These people were impure, and now they are pure. They were deemed sinful, and now they are deemed sinless. The elder then explains how this happened with the words, “and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
It is important to notice that it is not in their shed blood that they are deemed righteous. It does not say, “they were martyred and have thus earned the right to purification.” It is certain that during this great tribulation many will be martyred, and for a host of various reasons. However, only those who have come to God through faith in Christ will stand before the throne, purified and holy. It is the blood of Christ that purifies from sin, and only that. Any other blood is either in a different category, and it cannot purify (see Hebrews 10:4), or it is already tainted with sin if it is in a human being (due to original sin), and it can only increase the impurity before God.
Life application: Some believe the tribulation being mentioned encompasses the entire church age, beginning right in the first century. Various passages and statements from both Jesus and the apostles seem to indicate this. In Acts 14:22, we read this – “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
Others believe that the tribulation being mentioned refers only to the second half of the tribulation period. In other words, the tribulation doesn’t turn into the “Great Tribulation” until a set point just before the opening of the seventh seal.
Although the first option, the entire church age, is seemingly a possibility, it dismisses the clear timeline set by the Lord in verse 1:19 (noted above) and which is then defined in verse 4:1 (noted above). Further, it dismisses the clear distinction between “tribulation” in general and “the tribulation the great” highlighted here. The structure of the words, and the use of the two definite articles, sets this period apart from all others. Thus, this option is incorrect.
Another option is that it is referring to the second half of the tribulation period. This is not clearly thought out. The reason is that if the church age ends at the rapture, and these redeemed are only from the second half of the tribulation period, then you have all the people between the rapture and this expected “Great Tribulation” period in some sort of limbo that the Bible doesn’t mention. It is not a good view.
Rather, what is spoken of in Revelation (such as the four horsemen and the disaster they bring on the earth) encompasses the entire seven-year period foretold in Daniel 9:24-27. And so, verse 14 is a clear indication that this multitude encompasses the entire tribulation period. The events in this heavenly scene (which is going from category to category) are not to be taken chronologically in order to set forth a doctrine of mid-tribulation, pre-wrath, or post-tribulation rapture. Rather, what is being viewed here is an overall panorama of what occurs during the tribulation period.
To attempt to shove these events into a chronological sequence in order to justify a personal opinion on the timing of the rapture is unsound, and it will lead to a convoluted hermeneutic. The sequence of the rapture is defined by Paul in his writings. We are to look for it there, and then apply that doctrine – meaning pre-tribulation – to our theology.
With this understood, many people will face the hard choice of accepting Christ and being martyred, but they will prevail. Because they properly direct their faith, they will have their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. The immense grace of God is demonstrated, even in this time of great tribulation. Faith has been, is, and always will be the way to be right with God. This is because of the nature of God, what He expects from man – meaning for us to highlight Him and what He has done, and not to exalt ourselves and what we have done – in order to be in a right standing with Him.
And what God has done for the redemption of man comes down to one thing, and one thing alone – the giving of His Son to bring us back to Him. The Bible is, above all else, about JESUS!
Lord Jesus, we know that there is no point in time where Your grace and mercy will fail. Instead, You remain the same yesterday, today, and forever. All You ask is that we have faith in Your work on our behalf and understand that our work is insufficient to bring us back to You. All the credit belongs to You alone. And so, all the praise – for all eternity – belongs to You alone. Praise You, O God, amen.