Preaching on Revelation 7 requires us to take a lesson in Holy Scripture, especially the theology of St. John. Some things seem rather obvious: the scene from Revelation 7 is the Holy Church gathered for the heavenly liturgy. “I saw … ὄχλος πολύς,” John says, “a number that nobody could count.” All of our bickering about church growth and that embarrassing thing that pastors ask each other, “How many you worshiping?” is rendered ridiculous. It’s an innumerable multitude; it always has been. They have been gathered. Where are they? They are gathered around the throne and the Lamb. But where is that? We want to say it’s strictly in heaven, because they have washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb—a peek into the church triumphant. After all, isn’t it the martyrs drenched in blood who have come up out of the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14)? The heavenly host is surely included here in this worship, but the Revelation paints all things from a heavenly perspective, including the church’s worship around the throne and the Lamb on earth.
St. John is watching the saints gather in Burlington, Vermont and Helsinki, Finland and first-century Palestine, and in your hometown. He sees the church who gathers “on the Lord’s Day” again and again. To quote the prophet Ezekiel 37 from the Easter Vigil readings, John sees “an exceedingly great army” gathered around the throne and shouting praise for the Lamb who was slain. This passage will reveal something of the preacher’s ecclesiology. Do you really believe with all the saints that the church is one in Christ? Or are you the pragmatist who teaches your people that the church is broken, filled with sinners and false doctrine, and only in heaven will things be perfect? Have you complained that your people are not as holy as they ought to be or reverent as they should be? Have you complained about your brothers in Christ’s ministry and pressed a wedge between your congregation and theirs? This texts does not teach us to complain about the church but to confess the church—and she is marvelous!
Those who worship are clothed, wrapped up and shining like their Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, “στολὰς λευκὰς,” and they greet Him as their Lord as the merry multitude had at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “φοίνικες ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτῶν” and they cried out in a loud voice, φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, just as their Lord enthroned on the cross cried out to the Father (Matt. 27:23) and as He calls forth Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43). He is the one who holds the keys of death and life and has mastered death, and yet He is made known as the Exalted One in His wounds. As in the Gospel of John, so also here in Revelation 7 Jesus’ death or hour is not seen in humiliation but in exaltation, in the lifting up onto His throne. In John’s Gospel, Jesus hands over His Spirit, and from His wounded side, which Thomas can’t get out of his mind, blood and water flow. From Him the sacramental life of the church flows, and from Him the lambs are washed, sheltered, and nourished. So we have three: the Spirit, the blood, and the water (1 John 5). The Lamb who sits on the throne is the One who came by blood and water for us. Reason will not understand this, but the sheep know Jesus in the blood and the water, and in the Spirit, whose “voice” they hear whenever Jesus speaks. The Spirit’s voice is the voice of Jesus and the voice of Jesus is the Spirit’s voice. See here the discussion of Jesus with Nicodemus in John 3 and His use of “φωνή.”
Once you have this perspective, you will rejoice to see them gathered before the throne on the Lord’s Day. And it will not be their ascent into the heights, but the One who sits on the throne will tabernacle over them (v. 15: σκηνώσει ἐπ᾽ αὐτούς). He will wipe away every tear from their eye, week-in and week-out, as blood and water flow from His altar, cleansing us again and again, until we behold the host arrayed in white and the Lamb face to face. For now, we have the water, the blood, and the voice.
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Revelation 7:9-17.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Revelation 7:9-17.