God is harvesting his saints in death. He plants seeds, waters them and harvests them. Leithart adds that the blood of the martyrs is not simply the seed of the church, “it is also the founding blood of a new world.” God sprinkles his seeds and collects them at the harvest as a fruitful and plentiful innumerable number.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying: “These dressed in white robes—who are they and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” For this reason, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the the throne will be a shelter over them. No longer will they go hungry, neither will they thirst again; the sun will not beat down upon them, nor any (scorching) heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd them and guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
A couple of quick notes:
a) There is a strong liturgical element in this text beginning earlier in verse 7. The vestments of this martyred group is liturgical in nature. The word for robes is stolē in the Greek. The color “white” also becomes a liturgical color.
b) “Springs of water” in verse 17 appears later in chapter 14 when speaking of God’s control of all creation. The springs is a source of life for sojourners.
c) This post tribulation scenario involves the Lamb providing shepherding for his people. Hence, the heavenly realm still is incomplete until the parousia.
Jehovah’s Witness: Have you ever read the Bible?
Me: I enjoy reading it.
JW: Well, Hurricane Michael destroyed so much. We live in a chaotic world, don’t we?
Me: Yes, we do. And my only hope in this chaotic world is that God is sovereign over Hurricane Michael and all evil. Don’t you agree?
JW: Well, I believe he is very powerful but that Hurricane Michael was outside his control.
Me: Did Hurricane Michael catch God by surprise?
JW: Of course, it did. Think about Adam. Do you believe God thought Adam was going to be deceived?
Me: I actually fully believe God knew all things from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 which means every part of history is carefully orchestrated to give God the greatest amount of glory in heaven above and earth below. Even Adam’s fall was not a cosmic oops to God, but occurred exactly as he planned.
JW: But don’t you believe that Adam was a free agent?
Me: Yes, I do.
JW: So, we are all free agents.
Me: No. Our ability to choose divine things ended in Genesis 3.
JW: Well, that can’t be because in Matthew 4 Jesus chose to reject the devil’s offer and he used his free will to do so.
Me: Precisely, Jesus is the greater Adam who conquered freely what Adam failed to conquer.
JW: OK. Thanks for chatting.
Me: I actually appreciated how your tone
This is a pretty accurate summary of my 10 minute conversation with a JW this morning. It’s not very coherent (it jumped to other related topics without resolving the previous one) and I am sure I could have done a better job communicating my thoughts. Still, these conversations help chrystallize the Christian message. We all need our cozy convictions challenged.
Long ago in the kingdom of Sacramentia lived a righteous king. He loved his people and gave them the best of the land. The people served the king with great joy. Their feasts abounded with the best wine and meat. The people lived a happy life. One day a messenger from the kingdom of Adam came to the gates. The people had heard of the Adamites; they were known to be cruel and deceitful. The officer at the gate lifted his sword and asked: “Adamite, what brings you to Sacramentia?” The messenger said: “I have a message to proclaim!” “Very well,” said the guard. The messenger said: “Thus saith Adam, the great and mighty king: “Bow down to me and I will give you all of the world, including its riches and glory. All you must do is leave the kingdom of Sacramentia and follow me back to my land.”
Surprisingly, several members from various families followed the messenger. The seduction of riches and glory were sufficient to lead them away from their beloved kingdom even though their king was gracious and loved them. The citizens began to leave one by one. Those who stayed cried as they saw friends and family leave them. When the last citizen left, the king of Sacramentia rose from his throne and ordered the guards to shut the gates. As the departing men and women looked back, they were startled by the loud sounds of the gates shutting behind them. They could no longer see their homes and relatives. The greeness of the grass was replaced by a desert filled with uncertainty. “Surely soon we will have everything we once had and much, much more,” one young man said. When the messenger sent from Adam heard it he laughed and said with a loud voice: “This king whom you served could only give you his riches and glory, but my king will give you the world.” When those who departed heard those words, they remembered a saying in Sacramentia: “Those who offer you the world will also destroy your soul.”
Leirthart translates Revelation 14:6 & 7b as: “And I saw another angel flying in mid-sky heaven, having an eternal gospel to gospelize those who dwell on the land…because the hour of judgment has come.” The words “Gospel” and Preach” have the same root. a This premise entails that the gospel is meant as a public means of execution to the nations since Revelation is addressing a time of judgment. The Gospel gospelizes not only for the sake of saving sinners but also to bring judgment upon those who trample on the Son of Man. The Gospel is apocalyptic in nature.
- Leithart, Revelation Commentary, 91 (back)
In Leithart’s monstrous Revelation Commentary he points to Robert Jenson’s observation that God is a talkative God. Jenson observes that the first thing the Bible records is that God speaks and creates by speaking. Leithart concludes:
The Father is never speechless, never silent, never lonely or taken aback, never at a loss of words.
“The State of Theology” survey published by Ligonier Ministries in the last couple of days focused on evangelical responses to various theological questions.
The statement “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” received over 50% agreement from evangelical Christians. And the statement: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” which was espoused by the heretic Arius received 78% agreement from the same group of evangelicals surveyed.
To what do we owe this vast chasm between basic Christian doctrine and widespread confusion?
Recently I had my first experience in a car dealership. The gentleman, kind enough, took us on a tour through the vast array of used cars. We had a budget in mind and we also had a fine mechanic whom we called if we had any questions (Thanks Eddie Hobbs in Pace) Our budget was conspicuously low in comparison to the 20-50K priced vehicles in the lot. But we were firm. We don’t believe in debt and we weren’t going to compromise our principle. Yet, the dealer was persistent. At one time when he pointed us to a vehicle with low mileage and in fine shape and ideal price. We called our mechanic and put the dealer on the phone with him. I couldn’t hear what the mechanic was saying to the dealer, but I could tell by the dealer’s face that we would run from the offer. And run we did.
The experienced wordsmith kept hinting at a certain car that may or may not have been sold. It was as if he was saying there is a hidden treasure in this cornfield and for the sake of the car gods I will find it just for you. And there it was. It was clean and charming. As the morning began to heat up so did his arguments; he wanted to close the deal. We were pleased with the hidden treasure–though wished he had revealed it an hour earlier. It was a fine car to suit our needs but we were not willing to pay for what he offered.
Still, my wife and I drove the vehicle while the dealer kept up with his well-tested pitches. “This is the vehicle for you. I know it.” “I’d buy this car if I could.” “This will fly out of this dealership in the next hour if you don’t buy it.” We walked into the dealership; happy with the vehicle, but still unhappy with the price and unwilling to compromise. So, the manager joins us. He doesn’t argue for the same vehicle. Maybe he sensed our unwillingness. “Would you all be comfortable with this car?” pointing to another vehicle in his inventory. It was in our price range. The dealer jumped up and acted rather surprised: “I had no idea this car was available.” It’s likely he didn’t–benefit of the doubt and all. We took a look at the offer, but when we sat inside the vehicle there were several immediate faults with the car. The dealer looked at us with evangelistic zeal and said: “All you have to do is say yes and this will be yours.” I’ve heard that line before somewhere. “Are you ready to take this home?” “Give us a few minutes to think,” I said. But at that stage, it didn’t take us long to conclude we were both exhausted from the three-hour altar call. We couldn’t go up and sign the dotted line. We couldn’t say the dealer’s prayer. I needed several hours to recover emotionally from that experience.
It has been a long time since I have been actively engaged in debates over TULIP–commonly known as the Five Points of Calvinism. I came to these convictions in college. In fact, I remember when the very mention of the word “Calvinism” was seen as a violation of all that is sacred. I remember a friend indignantly asking me: “What kind of God would violate my will to do His will?” I still remember my calm response: “The kind of God who is gracious enough to love you.” Unfortunately, I can’t say all my responses were with such dignity. Some of you reading this may even remember a time or ten that I opined with excessive zeal.
I recall my roommate’s mom sending him books with bold warnings on the front page: “Danger: This book is written by a Calvinist.” I often wondered why the book wasn’t burnt if it posed such great danger. The answer was/is that these Calvinists were actually producing great material on behalf of the Pro-Life movement (Francis Schaeffer), in favor of inerrancy (R.C. Sproul), biblical apologetics (Greg Bahnsen), etc. They were the leading voices of everything evangelicals thought noble, yet they had this supposed intellectual disability when it came to the doctrines of grace.
Many years later, I continue to find the inestimable value in these Calvinist writers. They continue to shape modern exegesis, hermeneutics, cultural ethics, the role of the Church in society, and more. And since those early days in college, the so-called Calvinist population has increased dramatically due to the popularity of well-known preachers. As a friend recently observed to me: “Uri, when I saw the Bible through the lens of God’s sovereign grace everything began to make sense.”
As Reformation Day approaches, I believe the entire evangelical Church owes a great debt to the Reformation. I am not naive to the critiques and some even right ones, but still, we live these days in the glorious overflow of benefits brought by the labors of our Reformed forefathers.
Soli Deo Gloria.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
― Abraham Kuyper