by Roger McCay
27 February 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 7:9-14
Link to Audio Version
Shortly after the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt, having victoriously crossed the Red Sea, God instructed them to have seven annual feasts, recorded in Lev. 23. Of these feasts, the Feast of the Tabernacles (or Feast of Booths/Succoth) was of particular importance, evidenced by its being mentioned repeatedly through the Scriptures, along with numerous important events that occurred during the time of its celebration.
One site sums up the details of the feast:
The feast [of the Tabernacles] was to be celebrated each year on “the fifteenth day of this seventh month” and was to run for seven days. Like all feasts, it begins with a “holy convocation” or Sabbath day when the Israelites were to stop working to set aside the day for worshiping God. On each day of the feast they were to offer an “offering made by fire to the Lord” and then after seven days of feasting, again the eighth day was to be “a holy convocation” when they were to cease from work and offer another sacrifice to God …. Lasting eight days, the Feast of Tabernacles begins and ends with a Sabbath day of rest. During the eight days of the feast, the Israelites would dwell in booths or tabernacles that were made from the branches of trees. 
The feast was a celebratory time. It also had a dual purpose: a memorial celebration of redemption of the people of Israel from Egypt; and also a feast of the harvest, as it takes place usually around September to mid-October (the 7th month being a reference to the Hebrew calendar). The feast also became a pilgrimage, and required of the men of Israel to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate it. So, with thousands and thousands of folks setting up booths/tabernacles in and around the city, enjoying the Lord’s Day of rest twice, worshipping, singing, offering sacrifices to the Lord in the temple, and feasting together in their temporary dwellings, it was basically a wonderful party, as God’s people fellowshipped together and glorified the Lord.
Today’s passage speaks to what seems a heavenly fulfillment of the Feast of the Tabernacles. Yet, where the Israelites commemorated their redemption from Egypt, the people of God celebrate their redemption from death through the blood of the Lamb.
This passage is written as a comfort, given as an interlude just before the seventh seal is broken, after which God’s judgment and wrath written on the scroll would be carried out. It’s a picture of the people of God gathering in heaven in the very presence of God. And it’s a time of rejoicing.
And this vision of the heavenly celebration was needed, for the Christians, the true people of God, true Israel (both Jew and Gentile), were going through a great tribulation when this was written, circa. AD 65. And this tribulation would continue for a few more years—culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. Multitudes of Christians had died, martyred for their faith, and multitudes more were facing the threat of a violent death during those times for their faith.
Now, it is completely natural to fear our own death and to wonder about our loved ones who died. This was not different for those first century Christians. Our gracious Lord knows this. So, through John, he gives us a picture to keep in mind. It is a true picture into heaven. It pictures believers who have been redeemed, who died, yet are alive, joyously standing before the throne of God. It is a proof vision of the Lord’s faithful fulfillment of the promises repeated to those who overcome, the faithful Christians who endure to the end (Rev. 2-3; Matt. 24:13). And all this emphasized the point that death was nothing to fear. If anything, death is something to embrace with joy, when one’s time comes. And this picture into heaven certainly gives comfort to those whose loved ones have passed on, in the Lord.
Now, as it’s been several months since when I left off at Rev. 7:14, I’m going to do a review, which may help to catch you up, if you are new with us. It also may be a huge help for you if you go to my website for a more in-depth review, as we move forward in John’s Apocalypse. There, I’ve archived everything we’ve done in Revelation. The web address is rogermccay.org.
Chapter 7 follows after the breaking of the sixth of seven seals that were on the scroll that was first presented in ch. 5, v. 1. In Rev. 6:12-17, the sixth seal is broken, and John gives an apocalyptic description of the Lord’s wrath coming down. This follows immediately after the martyrs in heaven’s plea to the Lord for justice, with the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11).
Describing the Lord’s wrath and the horror of those facing it—which includes everyone from the greatest (the rulers of the land) to the least (the slaves)—John used familiar prophetic language, symbolizing the import of Lord’s judgment coming down upon Jerusalem. John is not describing the end of the world. Rather, he uses specific language deliberately crafted in harmony with the Lord’s Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:29), using the Lord’s and the OT prophet’s symbolic apocalyptic language of prophecy concerning the Lord’s wrath coming down on a nation (at times Israel, Judah, also Jerusalem, and also pagan nations). And the symbolism includes the people at ground zero’s response of terror to his looming wrath. Consistent with Jesus’ Discourse, the event symbolized takes place at the end of the great tribulation, as the Lord’s wrath crescendos immediately prior to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Thus, visualizing the drama of the sixth seal, we see a picture of a fleeting moment in time. The hammer of the Lord’s wrath was poised and beginning its descent. The bomb had been dropped. The artillery rounds had been fired and were on their way. And we see the widening of the eyes of the doomed target, the adrenaline spike and terror and futile dodge, when the swing of the lethal strike is sensed just prior to the slice, but too late. And so the doomed cry out, “The great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:17).
In answer, John sees another vision, which is an interlude of sorts that jumps back in time.
The forces unleashed against the Land of Israel, the four winds signifying the four horsemen (from the first four seals), are held at bay by the four angels. Before the horsemen are released to bring havoc upon the Land (and to an extent, the Roman Empire), an angel comes from the east, from the rising of the sun, bearing the seal of the living God and says, “Not yet!” The Lord’s people, the servants of God, must first be sealed. With this command, the birth-pangs of the four horsemen’s trampling of the land was delayed. Their unleashing would occur circa. AD 66, with the beginning of the Jewish Civil Wars and the Land of Israel’s conquest by Rome.
And so the Lord sealed the remnant of ethnic Jews, specifically the Jewish Christians, in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, during the great tribulation. And they are signified by the number 144,000, a symbolic number specific to the tribes of Israel, which signifies the complete fulness of the sealed number of Jewish Christians. Some of these Jewish Christians escaped and some died during the wars in Palestine and the siege of Jerusalem, which lasted from AD 66-70. Yet, like all Christians, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit, of which no other seal could be greater. The Lord was faithful to his promise. He did not abandon his people (in this case the ethnic Jews), and he preserved this remnant to himself (chosen, protected, and preserved). Thus he made them secure in Jesus Christ (their salvation) in the way that most matters. Sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, they would endure to the end and be saved (Matt. 24:13).
John’s attention is then brought back to the heavenly throne room, where he sees a great multitude, one that “no one could number.” And this multitude is “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” These are both Jews and Gentiles, people from all the nations involved in “the great tribulation,” and to whom John is a “partner in the tribulation” (Rev. 1:9). These are Christians who have suffered across the Roman Empire, into Africa, Palestine and the surrounding countries. These are people coming out of the tribulation from the whole known world, to which the gospel had spread, in the time in which John was writing, circa. AD 65, with their numbers rising as the tribulation continued on.
And this great multitude was “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” With the cry of the doomed at the breaking of the sixth seal reverberating through Rev. 7 (“Who can stand?”), we find the answer in the multitudes of those who are dead in Christ, who conquered in Christ (including some of the 144,000—remember some lived and some died) and to whom Jesus promised, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” They did endure to the end, kept the faith, and died in the faith, finding their salvation in Jesus Christ. Even in death, they can stand. The wrath of God passed over them, for they were sealed with the Holy Spirit, and washed in the blood of the Lamb.
They are described, too, in v. 14, as having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, the righteousness of Christ had been imputed to them through the power of the Spirit of God. Thus, they are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and glorified. The blinding white of their robes is the holiness and glory that shines forth in the spirit of every true Christian, although it’s mostly veiled in this sinful world. Yet, in heaven, the veil is lifted and that holy glory is unleashed. They are God’s righteousness, like all Christians. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Cor. 5:21). Thus they are the holy people of God showing forth his glory from within their very being, symbolized by the white robes of righteousness—the victory of Christ, in his people, who stand before his throne.
John further describes that they had “palm branches in their hands,” a symbol of victory and triumph which will be familiar to you from Jesus’ triumphal entry, where they cried out the “Hosannah” (which means “save now”) of Psalm 118:25-26. Further, the palm seems to point to The Feast of Booths or “Tabernacles,” described in Lev. 23, where palm branches were to be gathered. On the last day of the feast, the Jewish people would wave their palm branches and plead the “Hosannah.”  And the priests would wave palm branches around the temple altar, singing Psalm 118, which included the “Hosannah” in v. 25: “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” And this verse comes just after the messianic Psalm, in vv. 21-22: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This was a prophecy we see fulfilled in Jesus Christ, specifically referenced by Peter and John when they stood before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:11, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” Thus, those who have received the salvation of the Lord (the answer to the cry “Hosannah,” “Save us!”) are pictured here in Rev. 7 as standing before the throne of God joyfully singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
So we come to vv. 15-17, God’s blessing on the multitudes.
“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.”
The multitudes, saved by Jesus, robed in Christ’s righteousness, find themselves brought immediately into the presence of God, and so are sheltered by God the Father with his presence.
Note that the NASB translates the latter part of v. 15 thus: “He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.” I prefer this translation, due to context, and as the Greek word in question (translated by the ESV as “shelter” and the NASB as “tabernacle”) has the sense of “to settle or dwell in as if in a tent.” It has the idea of tabernacle in the structure of the word, its morphology – σκηνή, which means “tent,” or “tabernacle.”
So, coming out of the great tribulation, these first century Christians found themselves in the very presence of God, sheltered in his tabernacle, his presence. Like the Jews redeemed from Egypt (having passed through the sea) celebrated The Feast of the Tabernacles, here, in heavenly glory, the redeemed of all the nations on the earth found themselves having passed through death, to be sheltered in the Father’s own tabernacle of his presence, and in the midst of a great celebration. And who can mourn in such a situation? In the Father’s presence, the redeemed in Christ in heaven find all grievous mortal troubles gone, and thus the Father wipes away every tear from their eye.
Even more, the Son (on the throne) removes all the physical troubles of their mortal existence from them, sparing them from God’s wrath forever, and the trouble of sin shepherding his people to springs of living waters, where they will never hunger, nor thirst, nor suffer from the scorching sun or heat. And isn’t it interesting how Jesus, on the last day of The Feast of the Tabernacles, proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (Jn 7:37–38). There, Jesus is talking of the coming of the Spirit of God upon those who believe—the Spirit of life who makes his people to be born again to eternal life, with all its blessings, in Christ. The source never goes dry, and our thirst for God is continually slated, as the Spirit himself indwells us. But until eternity, it is a situation of the already, but not yet. We drink of the living water, but our sin and the sinful world we live in makes us yearn for more. That more we long for, we find in Rev. 7, where the term refers to the abundant life, “‘life’ in all its fullness” as it can only be once our mortal troubles have been cast off, and we find ourselves sheltered in the presence of the Father.
John also is basically quoting from Isa. 49:10 concerning a day of salvation: “they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” The Shepherd who leads us to the living springs of water (which, in this life, involves following Jesus in faith, but in eternity finds its fulness) … after death, the Shepherd, the Lamb who is the Lion, ensures not only that his people will be eternally satisfied in the presence of God, but also that our needs & comforts will be taken care of in toto.
But note that this scene doesn’t portray these eternally satisfied and comforted saints as just lazing about singing on clouds. The Lord puts them to work. These Christians who have come out of the great tribulation are given responsibilities and tasks, remaining busy serving as priests in the Lord’s temple. And, as we know, they reign with Christ, who shares his throne with them (Rev. 2:26, 3:21, & 20:4). Serving the Lord, reigning with the Lord, in the presence of the Lord: with all the myriad of things these encompass, what work could be more satisfying?
Now, the comfort meant for the original readers of Revelation remains valid and true for us today. We need not fear death. Look at what awaits us! And that’s just the beginning. The incredibly satisfying and wonderful existence that awaits us in the Lord’s presence, when we die, is awesome, but it’s going to be even more wonderful come the Lord’s Parousia, in the consummation of his Kingdom at his final return. Resurrection, our becoming whole again, with perfect and glorious bodies, 100% free of sin, as the people of God move on into eternity and all the endless joy and adventures that await us there (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4).
Thus, the ultimate meaning behind the Feast of the Tabernacles is summed up here in Rev. 7, symbolized by the Tabernacle of the Lord’s presence; the hymn of the saints “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb;” and the palms in their hands. These symbolic markers all point to the victorious life awaiting God’s people after death—the ultimate victory of redemption in Jesus Christ. Death is nothing to fear. It’s something to embrace, when it comes.
So, knowing all this, with the ultimate threat made null, what hinders us from being faithful disciples? What hinders us from being the salt and light the Lord calls us to be? Why should we ever be timid about sharing the gospel, living the gospel, and being bold for the gospel of Jesus Christ? We are utterly secure in Christ. Let us live for Christ. Since death is no threat to a Christian, we should not let fear hinder our boldness for the gospel.
 “What is the Feast of Tabernacles / Booths / Sukkot?” Got Questions, 4 January 2022, https://www.gotquestions.org/Feast-of-Tabernacles.html.
 Cf. Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 142-143.
 “σκηνώσει ἐπʼ αὐτούς” (i.e. σκηνώσει over them). The key word is σκηνώσει (FutActInd3sg of σκηνόω). Cf. EDNT – σκηνώσει – “dwell in a tent” “The meaning dwell in a tent is determined by the traditio-historical precedence of the OT, as is the meaning of → σκηνή.” Also LSJ – “pitch tents, encamp;” TDNT – “to live or camp in a tent.” But see BDAG – “live, settle, take up residence … ἐπʼ αὐτούς over or above them, i.e. shelter them, of God (s. σκηνή 1bα) 7:15.”
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 332.