After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
– Revelation 7:9-14 [ESV]
Revelation 7 is one of my favorite Bible passages. I discovered it when I was in college and encountered some Jehovah’s Witness so-called kingdom workers who claimed that there would be only 144,000 in heaven. It was remarkable to me that they also said they didn’t want to be in heaven! Their contention was that only the Jews from the 12 tribes would be in heaven. Never mind the remainder of this chapter (the verses above)!
Indeed the first verses of Revelation 7 lists the 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes as sealed – and therefore in heaven. But, then “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” And they are all singing God’s praises, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Salvation belongs to the Lamb who shares it with peoples from all nations, tribes, and languages. And somehow their languages are melded into one hymn of praise.
When I first joined the Lutheran church I made the comment about Lutheran music, something to the effect that it needed some help; it wasn’t all that great in my mind. Since that time I’ve come to love the substance of Lutheran hymnody. Some is more challenging to sing than others. But what some consider to be difficult many find edifying. And in heaven there will be no barrier to hymnic appreciation. All the peoples of all the languages are singing this hymn. It must surely be an angelic sound!
And just so we’re clear on this, the elders and living creatures offer their antiphon of affirmation, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
These hymns acknowledge a reality of God’s sovereign and gracious character. They acknowledge God’s gift of salvation – something that is his alone to give. They glorify God by these acknowledgments. And it’s not that God needs it for the sake of his ego. And though he commands that we honor him as God and our only good, it is not to stroke his ego. It’s not to prop up a petty fiefdom. It is to give witness to the world of God’s glory. It is to allow our joys to be expressed. It is to let out what we feel inside and tie it to the reality of God’s true glory, might, power, and grace.
Sometimes we state the obvious and it seems completely unnecessary. It sure is hot. This is Monday. But in this case the obvious in heaven is spoken as a reminder to us on earth. These hymns give testimony to us who are yet on earth and who must live by faith, not by sight. Their hymns not only glorify God, they edify us. They not only flow from hearts overflowing with joy and grace. They encourage us to look forward to joining that hymn. And even if you don’t think you can sing, it’s an invitation you will certainly be blessed to accept.