Have you ever done a research paper? I remember some of my first attempts at doing research papers in school. I was always the worst at it. There were deadlines for notecards and outlines and first drafts and revised drafts. I never could seem to get into a rhythm of getting things done on time or of getting things done with any measure of excitement. Every time that a teacher would announce “we are going to start a research paper” a small part of me would die at the prospect of the step by step laboring and the series of new deadlines that would arrive in my life. At the beginning of the school year the end of the research paper always seemed so far away and almost impossible. It was hard to imagine that through a few trips to the library, and weeks of work that eventually a fully completed research paper would emerge. (Sidenote: If you ask my teachers they will confirm my abysmal performance at these projects.)
I wonder what it was like for the first century church as they began plugging away at gospel living and gospel declaration. The gospel was spreading, but so was heresy. New churches were being started, but persecution was swallowing one congregation after another. Would the church ever be able to grow? Pentecost had proven to be an anomaly with thousands converted, and that must have been exciting for the Apostles, but would all of those who were added to the church that day remain in the church?
With this in mind as we come to John’s vision in Revelation 7, I can only imagine the joy and excitement that John felt as he beheld the spectacle of a countless host of believers. There was no such thing as a countless host of believers in the first century church. Now, on the precipice of eternity, John gazed on a throng that was so immense and so diverse that he had no way of tabulating its number. The message that he labored to teach in Asia Minor to churches that were now under threat of being cast away, that message would prevail. There would be millions more to come who would hear it and believe it. The gospel would not die at the end of the first century with heresy and persecution. No, the gospel would prevail and would spread and eventually in Revelation 4 and Revelation 7 believers from every nation, kindred, and tongue would join together in worship around the throne of God.
“Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” – Revelation 7:12
The praise of those who had seen the mighty work of God was incredibly broad, yet it somehow understated the full reality of who God is. With the inability to fully fathom His immensity and splendor, in the inexpressible and ineffable awesomeness of His character, and because of the incomprehensibility of His manifold greatnesses, this group of saints roared with the profoundly simple praises that they could muster. The dread of persecution was gone, and God was now their provision, warmth and joy.
For John, a leader of the first century church, this glimpse of the future hosts of heaven worshipping God from all over the world must have left him with a renewed vigor to spread the gospel as far as he could. Similarly, as other saints have read John’s vision of a multi-cultural, ethnically diverse, God-glorifying multitude, they have counted their temporal life as nothing and have plunged into cross-cultural evangelism and missions work knowing that God planned to redeem some from all over the world. May we be encouraged to join the ranks of those who have gone before us and have gotten excited about the glimpses of these great masses. For John the research project was just beginning, but how exciting it was to realize that the massive work God would be accomplished through the gospel.
Reflect: What would John perhaps feel as he beheld the hosts of converted saints in heaven? What could that motivate him to do? What should this motivate us to do?