Wednesday, 16 December 2020
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” Revelation 7:13
John’s eyes have seen and his ears have heard the resounding doxology of praise to God from the great multitude standing before the throne. But John is not understanding the meaning of it all. This is apparent, and so verse 13 begins with, “Then one of the elders answered.”
In common usage, the word “answer” signifies to reply to the submission (be it a question, interjection, and so on) of another. However, to answer in the Bible – at times – is a form of speaking that presupposes a question in the mind of another, even if no question has been asked. Thus, there is the taking up of a conversation, answering, without being specifically asked about a matter first. One example of this is found in John 12 –
27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die. John 12:27-33
Jesus knew the people were pondering where the voice came from, and without being asked directly about it, He initiated a response to answer the question He knew existed in their minds or between themselves. This is the case now in Revelation. The elder knows John wants to ask what is going on and where all these people came from. In order to preempt him, the elder answers. As John says, “saying to me.”
This identifies John specifically as the focus of the narrative. In other words, the heavenly vision has been given specifically for John to record. But he cannot properly record that which he does not fully understand in order to make it meaningful to those who will later read it.
Previously, several options of who these twenty-four elders are were given. One was that they were the twelve Patriarchs from the Old Testament and the twelve Apostles from the New. If this is correct, and it is mere speculation, then which of them has come before John to answer him? The question cannot be definitively answered, but if it were one of the twelve apostles, which would it be, and wouldn’t John recognize him? If the elders represent the Patriarchs and Apostles, then there is a 50/50 chance that John already knew the elder. For all we know, it could be a vision of John (of the future) answering his own question that he knew perplexed him when he was given the vision while at Patmos.
That is simply a fanciful speculation, but it is one possibility. Regardless though, the question which is set before him, even though he never asked it, is “Who are these arrayed in white robes.” The order of the Greek is different. It literally reads –
“These, who have been arrayed with the white robes — who are they, and whence came they?” YLT
The highlight is on the robes. It is understood already from Revelation 3:4, 5 that the white robes signify righteousness, and that from an external source –
“You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy [righteousness]. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments [externally granted], and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
John does not understand why there is such a highlight on this particular group of saved believers, standing there before the throne. What sets them apart from others who were saved by the Lamb? John knows that this is the period of time after the church age. This was made evident previously.
There is a time coming on the earth when there will be great judgment, as is testified to by the visions he has already seen. But in the midst of the scenes of these woes, there is also a place for great rejoicing in heaven. In John’s inability to understand, the elder states the question in order to offer an answer. He does this by first asking who these people in white robes are. He then asks, “and where did they come from?”
John is looking, he sees these people introduced in the middle of an explanation of the terrors coming upon the world, and he is confused. “The world is being judged for rejecting God’s offer of Christ Jesus. The Lamb has sealed Jews during this period, but who are all these people, and where have they come from?” The obvious meaning is “when” are they from. It is as if John’s mind is asking, “If the world is in judgment, these must be (?) from some other time. Or am I missing something?”
The answer is next to be provided.
Life application: As noted above, the elder’s question implies that John should know the answer. He may have been getting him to think on the matter. John had already heard the words of Jesus in Revelation 3:5 about those who “shall be clothed in white garments.”
This is a good lesson for all teachers of the Bible, and even for those who are simply sharing the gospel with others. Just because you know the answer, it doesn’t mean you should just give it out. Asking questions of those you are teaching or evangelizing will stimulate them to think for themselves. Likewise, when studying your Bible, you should ask questions of the text and pray for God to illuminate the glorious words of life to you.
Who are these clothed in white? Stand by for the answer. But remember the lesson of righteousness – we overcome the world through properly directed faith in Jesus Christ. When we do, we are covered in His righteousness and will be granted eternal life. What a bargain for those who have been offenders before God, and yet who are now accepted by Him. In His grace, He sent us the remedy. In His love, He sent JESUS!
Yes, Lord God! How wonderfully beautiful it is to stand in Your glorious presence and to know that we are free from the guilt of sin – not because we deserve it, but because of simple faith in the work of Jesus! We stand grateful and humbled by the wondrous workings of You in our lives. All glory, all power, all majesty, all honor – these belong to You alone! Amen.