After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for 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.’
Here John gives us a preview of the way things are to be. Believers are wearing the white robe of purity, and they carry palm branches as signs of victory and joy following war. In the Gospel story the prodigal son is given a new robe, not just so that he had something clean to wear but as a sign of his restored place in the family.
One of the heavenly beings asks John the meaning of the vision. John appropriately turns the question back to the elder, who as the heavenly being is the one to interpret.
Believers stand before God’s throne and worship God. God, in turn, will shelter them. The word translated as shelter is the word that also is translated as dwell. God’s presence, God’s shekinah in Old Testament terms, will remain with them. There is no place here for despair or sadness. The presence of God will fulfil every need, as a spring of living water, taking away all the difficulties and pain of our human experience, leaving only the shepherding love of God and our worship of God.
It’s the lamb that will shepherd them. In the Old Testament lambs were the most vulnerable members of the flock, who most needed a shepherd to protect them. Yet our shepherd is also a lamb who was slain; he understands our suffering because he became one of us and shared that suffering.
We will no longer be hungry or thirsty, nor suffer from sin or heat; our shepherd will guide us to springs of water. Whatever we suffer, we may remain confident that our Lord loves us. For our sake he has already experienced suffering and death; he understands what we suffer. He is with us now and he will be with us forever. Weeping may endure for a night; but morning is coming when our Lord will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Loving God we long for the day when people from every nation, every tribe and clan, every culture and language, stand before your throne to praise you. We long for the day when your praises are sung day and night because there is no more conflict or violence, no more corruption or injustice, no more poverty or needless suffering, because you are there to wipe away all tears and turn our sorrow into rejoicing. Amen.
The Reverend Sue Henderson retired minister worshipping at United Church Bradford on Avon