Revelation 7:9-17 When we say our final goodbyes to our loved ones who have died in Christ, as Christian people we believe that they are not gone forever—but have simply gone home.
We know that, just because we can’t see them, it doesn’t mean that they have ceased to exist. We are parted from them for a time—but they have not left us forever.
Their life goes on-- and ours does too and we look forward to that day when we will see them again in the heavenly home we will share with them.
On this All Saints Sunday, God pulls back the curtain that hides our departed loved ones from our sight and lets us view their life in heaven—and our life to come—with the promise that the Lamb of God will lead us safely to our heavenly home too. St. John writes:
I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,
When we say our final goodbyes to a loved one who has died in Christ—we may be lonely—but they are not all alone. There is an empty place in our life--but they have more friends in heaven than they did in this earthly life.
They are reunited with loved ones and fellow believers who have gone before--welcomed into heaven by a great multitude of people who have shared the same faith and worshiped the same God and gone through the same earthly difficulties and trials.
We are sad to see them go—but they are filled with joy as they add their voices to that great hymn of praise to their Savior God who brought them safely home.
When we say our final goodbye to a loved one, our thoughts are often turned to them—we look back at the life we had with them—we are lonely for them and mourn for them—but the focus of their lives is not what is past, but on the Lamb who saved them. The Bible says that: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
When sin and death entered into the world, God promised that he would restore what man had destroyed—that he would send a Savior who would conquer the devil and death. Over salvation history, God renewed this promise again and again. He told the patriarchs that their descendants would be so great that no one could number them.
God kept his promise. He sent his Son as a sacrificial Lamb whose blood set us free from sin and death and as St. John looked upon that great multitude of saved sinners clothed in the righteousness of Christ, he could not count them all—so great was their number.
But because they cannot be counted-- that does not mean that they cannot be recognized. There is Lindy and Allan and Bill etc.
In that great multitude are your loved ones who trusted in Jesus and now stand in his presence giving him thanks and praise for their salvation. And not only do they give him their thanks and praise, they are joined in that song of praise by the whole company of heaven. The Bible says that:
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
The sad story of our fall into sin and death is not just the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience—it is also the story of an angelic rebellion—a war in heaven.
Before the creation of man, God created the angels and some of those angels rebelled against him and made the destruction of man their goal so that Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin against God and evil entered into the world and death came to man.
The moral and physical evil that we witness every day is a direct result of that first sin and the death and destruction that the devil brought into the world.
Though the devil won that battle in the Garden of Eden, God promised that Satan would not win the war—but that God would send the Seed of the Woman, Mary’s Son Jesus, to destroy the devil and have the final victory.
From that moment on in salvation history, recorded in the pages of the Bible, we see the heavenly angels doing their part to bring about God’s saving purpose in our lives. They visited God’s people to comfort them. They waged war against God’s enemies. They served as God’s messengers to announce his salvation.
That salvation was accomplished when Jesus rose up from the dead and the angels were right there to tell the world that God had kept his promise and destroyed the power of death and the devil through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We have to be careful not to go beyond the Bible but I think it is fair to say that it must have been crushing to the good angels to know that some of their fellow angels had destroyed all the good God had created. They must have yearned for Christ’s victory!
What we can say with certainty is that all of the heavenly host (angels and archangels, seraphim and cherubim, the elders and the four living creatures) have joined with all of God’s redeemed people around the throne of the Lamb to thank and praise God for his mighty work of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Can you just imagine the joy of our loved ones in heaven being in the presence of these heavenly beings, who though unseen, were beside them each step of the way on life’s journey, fighting on their behalf, so that they would reach their heavenly home despite the tribulations of this life? St. John writes that:
One of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.”
The fall into sin has made life on this earth a hardship for us that God never intended. Earthly toil is often drudgery rather than a joy. Bringing forth new life involves suffering. There is conflict with those closest to us. There is sickness and finally there is death. We go through life with trials and tribulation. With each funeral it seems that sin and defeat have the last word about us and those we love.
But our departed loved ones in heaven are depicted with palm branches in their hands and are clothed in white robes. Waving palm branches was an ancient custom to welcome a conquering king and the white robes were a sign of holiness and purity.
And so…How do our loved ones come to possess this sign of righteousness and what victorious King do they praise?
The Bible says that: They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is one of the most powerful images of our salvation in the Bible and it is meant to be because it portrays the greatest truth of the Bible!
Those who are delivered from earthly tribulation into the joys of heaven—those who can stand unashamed and unafraid before the throne of the true and living God—those who can celebrate their King’s victory—are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
In other words, the saints in heaven are those are those who have put their faith and trust in in sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. They are the one who have safely gone through the great tribulation and enjoy a new home in heaven.
St. John tells us about that heavenly life that our departed loved ones are enjoying right now-- and the life that we too will live in heaven when the Lord calls us home.
“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. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”
When we say goodbye to a loved one, there are tears that we shed. There is no shame in that and neither is it a sign of a lack of faith. Jesus wept at the graveside of Lazarus and the Bible says that we grieve—but not as though who have no hope—because the tears that we shed, ARE NOT shed, by our departed loved ones.
When our loved ones depart from us we are grieved—but they enter into the joys of heaven and God wipes away their tears and they never experience hardship or sorrow again. Life for them is the way that God meant it to be for all of us—a life of peace and plenty in his presence.
That is so important for us to remember! Often times our last moments with a loved one are painful—illness or an accident or just the frailty of old age has done its ugly work and the image of their brokenness burdens us and stays with us.
But on this All Saints Sunday God pulls back the curtain that hides heaven from our view because he wants us to lift up our eyes from that sorrowful scene and feast our eyes on what is really true for those we love who have gone home to heaven: no more sorrow—no more suffering—no more trial or tribulation of any kind-- for they are safely home just as Jesus promised.
Unless the Lord comes first, all of us will one day say goodbye to this earthly life and goodbye to our loved ones we leave behind. But that is not the last word for us-- and it is nothing to fear --because salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb and he will lead us safely to our heavenly home. Amen.