April 25, 2010
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Revelation 7:9-17

“They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

I have on my desk a picture of my granddaughter in the baptistery with her pastor. She is in a white robe, and so is he. The robes are a long-standing part of our tradition. They do not make anyone pure, but they might remind us of the purity that comes only as a grace gift. What is the symbolism of the white robes and palm branches in our text?

White Robes: There is Power in the Blood of the Lamb to Make us Pure
The Baptist theologian and seminary professor W.T. Conner once asked his class a hypothetical question: “If you had been at the cross of Christ and able to collect all the blood shed, what would you do with it?” I’m sure it made students think.

Baptists and most other evangelicals are not into the veneration of relics no matter how we value the work of Calvary. I think it was Conner’s way of saying that it is not the blood as such but the dying that brings life.

When the angel told John those in the heavenly vision had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” he was saying there is power in the death of Christ to do what no other power in the universe can do. The white robes do not make anyone pure; they are emblematic of that purity and personal holiness that comes only from the sacrifice of Christ. White is throughout the Book of the Revelation an emblem of holiness.

Palm Branches: Life and Salvation Call for Praise and Adoration to the Savior from Those Made Pure
Palm trees in the holy land grow to more than 80 feet tall and live 200 years in some species. They are prominent in ancient architectural relief and other art. While some see these branches as emblems of victory, they are fitting symbols for life and salvation. They are in the hands of the redeemed in this scene.

The first company in this scene is the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel. The second group is a multitude from every human culture. These have the white robes and palms. Third, there are the angels around the throne. Fourth, there are the four living creatures. All of them fall on their faces in adoration of the Lamb.

Imagine yourself standing in John’s sandals as the angel shows you this innumerable company. Each one is robed in white. In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus promised the faithful would be clothed in white robes. Here it is so, and they are waving palm branches—emblems of the eternal life of God’s own. This is not a thousand or 10 thousand but a numberless throng. White and green, white and green, white robes and green palms.

There are faces of every color: black, white, bronze, tan, yellow and red—every human hue; for they are “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Their great chorus is “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). When Jesus came to Jerusalem on Passion Week, the throng shouted “Hosanna.” That was a request: “Lord, save; Lord, grant help” (Matthew 21:9). These now sing His praise for answering that prayer. Salvation has been granted.

The angels have a chorus, also. In their worship, they ascribe: (1) praise or blessing to God from whom all blessings flow. This word is also translated benediction; (2) glory to God, the King of kings and Lord of lords; (3) wisdom to God, the Giver of all knowledge and Source of all truth; (4) thanksgiving to God, who created us and our universe; (5) honor to God as God, not our celestial Santa but the One we are called to worship and to whom we give ourselves in full surrender; (6) power to God who has no weakness; and (7) strength to the only almighty One. Some translations, including the KJV, translate this last ascription as might.

The passage ends with a wonderful threefold promise: (1) the Lamb/Shepherd will shepherd His people; (2) He will lead His people to plentiful artesian wells; and (3) He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

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