On this Thanksgiving day, we have much to be thankful for, sure there are the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the food we eat, the health we enjoy etc. but aren’t the most thankful people, in your experience, not the ones who have been blessed, but the ones who have been rescued from some calamity?
Doesn’t our experience tell us that the parent who has walked safely away from a total of their car is more thankful than the one who drives their car every day and hasn’t been rescued from such danger? Doesn’t our experience tell us that the woman, whose husband has been living an adulterous or alcoholic or abusive life and has been pursuing it to the max, isn’t she more thankful when he repents than the couple that has had a simple, easy relationship? Doesn’t history show that the survivors of war, plague and famine exhibit more gratitude when good times come than those who have never experienced hardship?
On this Thanksgiving Day, it is imperative that we recognize the wrath from which we have been saved, if we are to truly overflow with gratitude. If all the judgments listed in chapter 6 were coming on the earth and you were spared from experiencing the wrath of God wouldn’t it be good news? [Get Audience Response]
Since we are continuing our study in Revelation and I am skipping over chapter 6 since it is thanksgiving, let me give you a short course in chapter 6 so you can understand what today is all about. Chapter 6 is all about God’s wrath. It is a description of the various ways God is judging the inhabited world for her refusal to repent of idolatry and to love him completely. We are told in chapter 6 that this judgment comes through war, murder, famine, economic disparity, and even through plague and attacks by wild animals and pestilence. Simply said, God is using the natural world and human sinfulness to reign down his judgment and wrath.
As we come into chapter 7 we see all of this declared in one quick brush stroke with the angels who are holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree (Rv 7:1) and in the very next verse we are told these angels had been given power to harm the land and the sea (Rv 7:2). Chapter 7 takes everything in chapter six and condenses it down into a new image. The four corners of the earth, i.e. all the earth, will experience harm. The word “to harm” can also be translated as to judge. So in this section John is relating a vision of God judging the earth completely and totally. His four winds represent his full judgment coming upon the full earth and all her inhabitants.
And so the question posed at the end of Revelation 6:17 is an especially important question to answer. That question is “The great day of their wrath (God and the Lamb) has come, who can stand?”
Before answering that let me give you some background to the image of the sealing of the 144,000 so that we see how clear God wants to make the idea of being rescued from his wrath. In Ezekiel 8-9 God is upset about the idolatrous worship that has been occurring within the temple and among the people, and he gives his prophet a vision of the angels of God and an angelic scribe going through the city and marking the elect remnant who will be saved and slaughtering all the rest. Listen, (Ezek. 9:3-5) “Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” 5 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion.”
This complete and deadly wrath of God is what the believer is rescued from. Every stubborn refusal to submit to God’s name and God’s word brings about the wrath of God. That is what chapter 6 is all about, but John sees a group of people who have been rescued and who are able to stand when the wrath of God and the Lamb is poured out upon the earth. Who are these people? They are the People of God, sealed with the name of the Lord on their foreheads and indwelt by his powerful life-giving Spirit. In chapter 7 they are simply called the 144,000 or the great multitude.
These folks have received “a seal on the forehead’ since they are servants of God (Rv 7:3). Though we aren’t told what that seal is in chapter 7, in chapter 14 we are told these same 144,000 have his name (Lamb’s) and his Father’s name written on their foreheads (Rv 14:1). Literally God’s seal of ownership is embedded into the heart, mind and body of the believer. Their life has been purchased. They have been brought from death to life (Rom 6:13), from idolatry to true worship, from being an object of wrath to being an object of mercy (Eph 2:3-4). Furthermore, the Spirit of God indwells those who are rescued according to 2Corinthians and Ephesians. (2Cor. 1:21-22) Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (Eph. 1:13) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.
These sealed believers are so thankful for their salvation that they respond in utter graciousness. They become servants of the living God. No longer do they look like the world that is being judged. No longer do they engage in the practices of the world being judged. No longer are they instruments of the world being used to extend the idolatry of the world. They are servants of God who worship before the throne and serve him day and night (Rev 7:15). This is their act of thanks and worship.
They are a people from every tribe and nation and people and language who have been set apart from the world and who have committed themselves and been committed to Jesus Christ. They are the reconstituted people of God. They are wearing white robes which verse 14 tells us have been made white in the blood of the Lamb. They feast on the food he supplies, they experience his protection from the elements; they are led by him and comforted by him.
People of God, the great gift of Christ isn’t just the forgiveness of sins, though that is wonderful. And it isn’t just the gift of righteousness and holiness, though that is awesome as well. But the great gift of Christ according to the 7th chapter of Revelation is his ability to save his people from the wrath of God that is being poured out on those who don’t believe (Rom 1:18).
And isn’t that what the communion table is all about: the provision of the Lord, his protection from judgment, his promise to comfort his people, to dress them in robes of righteousness and to shepherd them from this world into the heavenly Jerusalem? 2
And so, on this day of thanksgiving we have an awful lot for which to be thankful. For we are part of those whom Jonathan Edwards declares are daily coming from the east, west, north and south and who were once in the miserable condition [of living under God’s wrath but who] are now in a happy state, with hearts filled with love to him who has loved [us], and washed [us] from [our] sins [with] his own blood rejoicing in [the] hope of the glory of God. 1
1 Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html
“The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.”1
“Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”
2 The scriptural support for all of this would be numerous for a holiday sermon, so today, I will simply remind you of these words from the Heidelberg catechism:
First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross…he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood. (Q75)
Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as the members of our body are by one soul. (Q76)