23 August 2013

Revelation 7:9-17

“The Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (v. 17)


Today we enter the third of our pictures of the worship of heaven and sing another song of eternal praise. The dramatic story set out in Revelation - the opening of the seven seals and the defeat of all opposition to God's righteous rule - is paused for a moment as we see how the struggle on earth is reflected in the life of heaven. We start with a reminder of our first two scenes from the divine throne room, the vast multitudes of angels, elders and living creatures united in praise of God and the Lamb on the throne. But the new focus is on the martyrs, "they who have come out of the great ordeal" (v. 14) and who are now robed in white and leading the worship of heaven.

Christians inherited from Judaism an appreciation of those whose witness to their faith was steadfast even in the face of persecution and death. God would not abandon them, but would receive them and care for them. The words of verses 15-17 - taking up the language of the Psalms and the prophet Isaiah - give a vision of what has already happened to those who have died for their faith. But they must surely be intended as encouragement for those who are still struggling in the face of persecution. The Lamb on the throne is also the shepherd who cares, protects, guides, feeds and heals. It is hard not to be moved by this vision and promise, and there are many Christian communities in the world today who desperately need to know that reassurance.

John the Divine's vision of heavenly worship may seem remote from the week-by-week experience of church. But that was not his intention. The 'whole company of heaven' is present in any act of Christian worship, however small in scale or however simple. In the same way, our worship is joined with the martyrs, saints and angels who are now before the throne of God. We are, in a profound sense, all one family, whether on earth or in heaven.

To Ponder

  • Which stories of Christian martyrs have inspired you? Are they ancient or more recent? What effect do their stories have on you?
  • What can you find out about contemporary Christians who are facing 'the great ordeal'? In what way could you be in solidarity with them?
  • How can contemporary Christian worship be 'in tune with heaven' and express the unity of current Christians and the 'great cloud of witnesses' in heaven? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.