Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats. Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.
On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said. Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth."
The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region. The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.(P) The word of the Lord.
Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands, serve the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful song. (R)
Know that the Lord is God, he made us, his we are, his people, the flock he tends. (R)
The Lord is good: his kindness endures forever, and his faithfulness, to all generations. (R)
I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Then one of the elders said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." "For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said, my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one.”(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
On the Sundays of Easter Season this year, we read some important passages from the Book of Revelation. According to early tradition and sometime around the year 95 A.D. during the persecution of Christians, John the Apostle was allegedly banished by the Roman authorities to the Greek island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation.
John himself writes in the book that while he was on the island and praying on the Lord's day, which most Christians assume to be Sunday and the day of Christ's resurrection, he heard a loud voice. And when He turned to see who was speaking to him, he saw someone "like the Son of Man", that is, Jesus Christ, wearing a long robe and a gold sash and standing among the lampstands. When he fell at Jesus' feet in worship, Jesus comforted him with a touch of love and instructed him to write down all that would be revealed to him. Jesus also reassured him that "He was the first and the last, and the living one." He died, but He is alive forever, and He possesses the keys of death and hades, Revelation (1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19).
In last week's text, we read John's vision of heaven which, in fact, had begun in chapter 4 and for which John was taken into heaven, Revelation (5:11-14). Describing the vision, John said that he saw God on the throne and a great host of angels, elders plus all the creatures in the whole universe surrounding the throne, and heard them singing praises to both God and the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. To Jesus in particular, they sang, "Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honour and glory and blessing."
In today's text, John continues to describe his vision of heaven, Revelation (7:9, 14b-17). He recounts that he saw "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands", John (7:9).
There are four things that we must note about in this verse:
However, while the people who had accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem deserted Him later, the people celebrating the victory of Christ before the throne of God were those who had remained faithful to Him until the end. This was indeed confirmed by an "elder" who was engaged in heavenly worship. In fact, in the verses before this, which are omitted in today's reading, the elder himself had asked John, who these people in heaven with white robes were and where they came from, John (7:13-14a). Only when John replied that he did not know, the elder explained to John that "these are the ones who survived the time of great distress, they had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb", John (7:14).
How can we understand this verse? First of all, "tribulation" and "distress" in the Bible are general terms denoting the suffering of God's people. Actually, the Bible tells Christians to expect suffering. For instance, the Apostle Peter admonishes all Christians in his letter, "not to be surprised" when persecution comes, or think that "some strange thing" is happening to them when they are persecuted as Christians, 1 Peter (4:12). So does the Apostle Paul in his epistles as he speaks of a suffering for Jesus Christ in a very real and hopeful way, Romans (8:35-36); 1 Thessalonians (3:3-4); Acts (9:15-16).
Moreover, Jesus Himself had told his disciples that they would be called to suffer for His sake. He had even warned them that they would be killed, just as the prophets of the Old Testament were killed by the Israelites, John (15:18); Matthew (24:21-22); Mark (13:14-23); Luke (21:20-24). So, the survivors of the "great distress" in John's vision refer to those who had endured severe trials, persecution and affliction for their faith in Christ. Among them, John probably saw his own contemporaries who were martyred for their refusal to "worship" the Roman emperor and other idols.
Secondly, and literally speaking, we do not use blood to clean or wash clothes. We use only water, with soap. So, "washing the clothes and making them white in the blood" is strange and highly paradoxical. If this is the case, what does it mean to be washed white in blood? The word "white" occurs seventy-five times in the Bible and, it has several representations or meanings. White is often used to depict purity, holiness and the deliverance of man from sin, Psalm (51:7); Isaiah (1:18). It also represents the absolute purity of God and of Christ, Daniel (7:9); Revelation (2:17).
It is a symbol of God's judgement on the white throne, as well as God's victory over the powers of evil, Zechariah (6:3; 6:6); Revelation (19:11, 20:11). Additionally, white is often associated with the righteousness of God, sometimes specifically to Christ's righteousness, Daniel (7:9); Matthew (17:2); Mark (9:3). When Jesus cleanses us from sin, He makes us "white as snow" by giving us His righteousness, 2 Corinthians (5:21). So, in the metaphorical or figurative sense, "the garments made white in blood of the Lamb" can be understood in two ways.
"For this reason" the elder further told John that these people were given the privilege to stand before the throne and worship God day and night in His temple; they would be under God's protective care; they would neither hunger or thirst anymore; they would be led by the Lamb of God to springs of life-giving water; and their tears would be wiped away by God. In other words, those who are standing before the throne of God have left the earth and all its turmoil and, are now in the presence of the Lord where there is no hunger, thirst, pain, suffering, sorrow or death but only joy and peace.
What is the message for us?
God Bless You!