Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17

Notes (NET Translation)

9 After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands.

The saints that were sealed in 7:1-8 are now seen in heaven. That they are standing before the throne (of God) and the Lamb indicates they have been given a place of honor because of their faithfulness. The white robes are signs of purity and victory. The palm branches are a sign of rejoicing (Jn 12:13).

10 They were shouting out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Whereas the cry of the martyrs in 6:9-11 was for justice, the cry of the saints in 7:10 is rejoicing for justice being done. In this verse “salvation” refers to the deliverance of the saints and the victory achieved by God on behalf of his people.

The dative τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν could be possessive (“belongs to our God”) or instrumental (“has been achieved by God”). In this instance with the copulative verb presupposed, a possessive force is most likely. As BDF §189 states, the genitive normally places the emphasis on the possessor, and the dative on the object possessed. Thus here the stress is on God’s victory over the forces of evil. The emphasis on “our God” shows his special relationship with his people. Elsewhere, “our God” is primarily on the lips of the angels (7:3, 12; 19:1, 5), so where his people utter this covenant formula (here and in 12:10) it has special meaning. Moreover, God is once more seen “sitting on the throne” (6:16; 7:9), for it his sovereign power that has achieved the victory. Finally, “the Lamb” stands alongside God as “savior” of his people. It is the Lamb who in 5:5–6 became the conquering ram and the lion of Judah by virtue of his sacrificial death, and it is the Lamb who in 19:11–21 achieves the final victory. (Osborne 320–321)

11 And all the angels stood there in a circle around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground before the throne and worshiped God,

We are back in the heavenly throne room described in chapters 4-5.

12 saying, “Amen! Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanksgiving, and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

Glory is the radiance of the divine Person. In this context wisdom is the divine knowledge God exhibited in his plan of redemption (cf. Eph 3:10). Thanks is the appropriate response for salvation, and honor its public acknowledgment. If power is God’s ability to act, strength is his redemptive presence in the events of history. This ascription of praise is apparently directed both to God and the Lamb, although the latter is not specifically mentioned here (cf. vv. 12, 14, 17). (Mounce loc. 3231-3234).

The Greek behind the phrase “God for ever and ever” could be taken to mean either that the worship is eternal or that God is eternal. Osborne believes it most likely refers to God being eternal.

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes – who are they and where have they come from?”

This rhetorical question allows John and the reader to understand the vision.

14 So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!

Those “who have come out of the great tribulation” includes both those who were martyred and those who were not.

This latter word [tribulation] is a most unfortunate—and quite unnecessary—carryover from preceding English translations, since it was co-opted over a century ago by some interpreters to refer to a specific time period. But time is of no interest at all to John in the present sentence. Rather he is referring specifically to the great trial that the church of his own time is experiencing, and about which he speaks prophetically as something that will get far worse before it ever gets better. Thus what was intended primarily as a word of assurance to his own readers has been co-opted by later interpreters to refer to something that is yet to come. But for John they are those who have come through/out of the present great trial, which John anticipates (rightly) lies immediately ahead for his readers. But for all of that, the two Greek words rendered (correctly) “have come out of” are in fact in the present tense (“those coming out of”), not because their “coming out” is already happening, but because their great tribulation is already on the scene. These words thus seem intended to reassure the churches that any who have been, or will be, martyred because of their being followers of the Slain Lamb, are to be understood as already in the Divine Presence. (Fee 113-114)

The image of washing their robes with the blood of the Lamb speaks of moral and spiritual revival, not specifically martyrdom (cf. 22:14). Hence we should see this countless multitude as including all the saints who came through the great tribulation, not just the martyrs.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them.

The phrase “for this reason” indicates that the blessed state occurs because of the blood of the Lamb. Although there is no night and no temple (21:22-23) in the final state, the other similarities between 7:15-17 and chapter 21 suggest that this passage is speaking of the final state and that the phrase “serve him day and night in his temple” should not be taken too literally. It is an idiom indicating that the saints will continuously worship God. The “temple” is the presence of God. The Greek behind the word “shelter” indicates that God will “tent” or “dwell” among his people (21:3). It also indicates that he will protect and comfort them in fulfillment of prophecy (Ezek 37:26-28; Zech 2:10-11).

16 They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat,

This verse (and part of the next) draws on Isaiah 49:10: “They will not be hungry or thirsty; the sun’s oppressive heat will not beat down on them, for one who has compassion on them will guide them; he will lead them to springs of water.”

The promise that they will neither hunger nor thirst would be especially meaningful in an ancient land where both were constant threats. Yet the promise goes beyond physical privation. It points to that ultimate satisfaction of the soul’s deepest longing for spiritual wholeness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” said Jesus, “for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). And again, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35; cf. 4:14; 7:37). In the age to come neither sun nor scorching east wind will strike the redeemed. They are sheltered from all discomfort by the presence of God. (Mounce Locations 3281-3286)

17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The image of the Lamb acting as a shepherd is an ironic exchange of roles.

Here the Lamb is found ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου (ana meson tou thronou, at the center of the throne). This makes more specific the emphasis in 4:2 and 5:6, where the Lamb joins God “in the midst of/near (ἐν μέσῳ) the throne.” It is not just the Messiah but the very God-man who shepherds the flock of God in eternity (see Mark 12:35–38, where Jesus said that as Lord, he was more than “the son of David”). (Osborne 331–332)

The verb “will wipe away” (exaleipsei) is a strong verb that has the sense of “destroy” or “obliterate”. All earthly pain and suffering will be removed entirely by God.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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