We’ve reached the astonishing vision of Rev. 7 in Redcliffe’s module on Revelation. I’ve posted before on this chapter when considering what James Brownson describes as the multicultural presence of God. This time Chris Wright provides the insights in a chapter on Particularity and Universality in the Bible, in his The Mission of God (pp249-251, his italics):
Revelation 4-7 is a comprehensive single vision-a neck-searching, mind-boggling vision-in which John “sees” the whole universe from the vantage point of God’s throne at its center. The meaning of the history of the world is symbolized in a scroll in God’s right hand, which was slain. In other words, the cross of Christ is the key to the unfolding purposes of history; or, in terms of our argument here, the unfolding mission of God. Why is Christ worthy to govern history? Because he was slain. And what difference has that made? The song of the living creatures and twenty-four elders explain it for John, and for us.
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth. (Rev 5:9-10)
The song gives three reasons why the cross is the key to history.
• First, it is redemptive. People who were lost, defeated, or enslaved in sin have been “purchased” for God. Humanity will not go down the drainpipe of history into the abyss.
• Second, it is universal. Those who have been so redeemed will come from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
• Third, it is victorious. The Lamb wins! He and his redeemed people will reign on the earth.
The echoes of Old Testament Scripture are clear. The universality of the Abrahamic promise is captured in the list of tribe, language, people and nation. And the specific calling on Israel in Exodus 19:5-6, to be God’s kingdom of priests in the midst of all the nations of the whole earth, has now itself been internationalized and projected into an eternal future of serving God (as priests) and reigning on earth (as kings). The rightful place of redeemed humanity is that they are restored to their original status and role within creation: under God and over creation, serving and ruling. This is the wonderful combination of priesthood and kingship that redeemed humanity will exercise in the redeemed creation.
The climax of this vision, with the sixth seal, brings together the 144,000 crowd, representative of the historic twelve tribes of Israel, with the immediately following panorama of that innumerable multinational host of the redeemed, the final fulfillment of what God promised Abraham:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:7-9)
If, when God first called Abraham and designated him and his barren wide in their old age to be the fountainhead of his whole mission to rescue creation and humanity from the woes of Genesis 3-11, we imagined the sharp intake of breath among the astonished heavenly hosts, then in John’s vision we are not left merely to our own imagination. For he goes on to tell us:
All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Rev 7:11-12)
And God, in the midst of the resounding praises, will turn to Abraham and say, “There you are. I kept my promise. Mission accomplished.”