So you're born again... But will you walk with Jesus in white? Part 3
We have been learning about what is necessary to win the glories of the ages to come. How important it is to remain stedfast in our confession and testimony! Our next passage for consideration views newly martyred saints out of the Great Tribulation.
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying,"How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
These martyrs “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” They remained stedfast in their confession, even unto death! These, examples for each one of us, died for their faith and were therefore accordingly given white robes. Holding firm to our confession in the face of torture and deadly persecution is the most difficult work of all, yet is rewarded with the highest honors.
Will the examination of your works at the Judgment Seat of Christ merit such honor? There is still time to live a life worthy of reward! The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has this advice for each of us in light of the many examples of faithful endurance presented to us in the scriptures (Christ being the ultimate exemplar):
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)
A multitude of individuals coming out of the Great Tribulation arrayed in white robes (Rev 7:9-17)
Many Gentiles will be saved during the tribulation and the majority of these will die as martyrs. They will be the objects of special persecution by the world ruler. Much like the Jews of World War II, they will be hounded to death. Their stedfast resolve to not worship the beast will be a death sentence: “[The false prophet] was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev 13:15). The result will be multiplied thousands of martyrs (see John Walvoord, op. cit., p 146).
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hand… Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?" And I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "
At first blush, and upon a careless reading, one may get the impression that the robe represents nothing other than the positional, eternal forgiveness of Christ that was made possible by His sacrificial death. Yet there are several, very strong reasons to dismiss this understanding as premature.
First, let it be noted that every single instance of the white robe thus far in the Revelation text is found couched in the language of works and merit. Remember, those at the church at Sardis had to be found worthy in order to walk with Jesus in white by shunning defilement and victorious endurance until the end. Also, those at the church of Laodicea were counseled to “buy” white garments. And the martyrs of the Fifth Seal, upon their deaths for the word of God and their stedfast testimony, were given white robes. We learn that this multitude, in the text being considered, consisting of many nations, were “clothed with white robes.” Why are we going to expect that they received theirs any different than has been determined for the rest?
Second, this group from the nations are martyrs themselves as the text clearly states. Make note that “these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.” Their deaths were testimonies unto Christ, whereof they faithfully endured until the end. They overcame unto death, thus fulfilling the requirements to walk with Jesus in white.
Third, the scene at hand pictures these saints, whose testimony unto Christ was sealed with their blood, with palm branches in their hands. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states that palm branches are “connected with the idea of triumph and victory” (ISBE, Vol IV, pg 2236). It goes on to state how that Simon Maccabaeus entered the Akra at Jerusalem after its capture, “with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and with viols, and hymns, and songs: because there was destroyed a great enemy out of Israel” (1 Macc 13:51). These martyrs had victoriously endured their persecutions and trials. This now was a time of profound triumph, afforded by their faithful confession of Christ in the midst of great tribulation, where they have been honored by sharing in Christ’s glory!
Lastly, and most importantly, the martyrs themselves both “washed their robes” and “made them white.” This is something that they, themselves did! The Reformed traditions always try to protect God’s glory and sovereignty by noting that it is God alone who saves, thus it is only God who washes one unto forgiveness, and this apart from anything that the lost does (even exercising faith!). But in this context it is incontrovertibly shown that it is the martyrs themselves who do the washing and making! The theology of the Traditionalists should prevent them from perpetrating their tragic mistakes with regard to the ‘garment’ texts. But it doesn’t.
Obviously this type of literary construction (where the martyrs are working in cooperation and fellowship with Jesus) is to be distinguished and contrasted with verses such as this one found elsewhere in Revelation: “[Jesus] loves us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev 1:5). The distinctions here are easily noticed by the careful reader of Revelation. On the one hand Jesus “washed us from our sins in His own blood.” This was His action alone that He alone receives the glory for. Yet on the other hand the martyrs shed their blood by remaining stedfast in their confession and were found arrayed in white garments which they, themselves had “washed” and “made” white in the blood of the Lamb. And for such deeds as these they are worthy of glory!
Since we have ruled out the idea that these martyrs are dressed in white solely because of the salvation they received as an absolutely free gift, we must grapple with what the text does mean. As in the other instances, we must consider the garments as the expression and culmination of the martyrs’ preparation for glory while here on earth. With that firmly in mind we see that their Christian practice that capacitated them for the superlative glories in the kingdom evidenced itself in participation in the sufferings of Christ (which the blood of the Lamb represents) that they shared in. By faithfully enduring persecution for their confession and dying for Christ they actively kept themselves undefiled, overcoming in victorious perseverance. They thus prepared to share in the glory of Christ by first sharing in His sufferings.
Such an idea as this is not foreign to the text of scripture. For example Paul states:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God; and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Rom 8:16-17)
By mere virtue of the fact that one is a child of God (simply by believing in the name of Jesus, cf. Jn 1:12) he is an heir of God. But being a joint heir, or co-heir with Christ in the coming kingdom is conditioned on suffering with Him. Co-heirship is contingent on co-suffering with Christ so that we may be co-glorified! For Jesus, there was no crown without the cross (see Lk 24:26; Heb 12:2). This is the same for those who are to be His companions, those who partake of His glory. Unless one suffers with Christ, he will not be glorified with Him. Peter also states:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Pt 4:12-13)
To endure in one’s faithful confession of Jesus Christ in the midst of persecutions and trials is to share in Christ’s sufferings, where the reward for doing so is being “glad with exceeding joy.” Remember in the parable of the talents that the two servants who maximized the potential which was given to them by increasing the money allotted to them 100% were blessed by entering “into the joy of [their] lord” (Matt 25:21, 23). These servants were allowed to participate in the peculiar joy belonging to their lord. This is the same as the parable of the Wedding Feast. The joy is that particular joy of Christ, and unless one is prepared, he will not be privileged to share in it. Lastly we are met again with the words of Paul:
… I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ… that I may know Him… and the fellowship [or sharing] of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the [out]-resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me… I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:7-14)
Paul wished to participate in the sufferings of Christ, conforming his life to Christ’s obedience wherein He died on the cross, so that he would, by any means that he could manage within the limitations of his body, attain to the out-resurrection (Gk: eksanastasis) from the dead. Paul, along with anyone else who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, already knew that he would be resurrected unto life (see Jn 11:25-26). Everyone who simply believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be resurrected (Gk: anastasis). But only those who persevere suffering with Christ will attain to the out-resurrection (Gk: eksanastasis) from the dead. Re-read God’s gallery of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. Notice that the characters in this passage faithfully work their deeds of righteousness with the superlative rewards of glory in the forefronts of their mind. To illustrate what Paul desired (the out-resurrection from among the dead), consider Hebrews 11:35b: “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Indeed, Paul suffered all things, sharing in Christ’s sufferings and death, so that he might obtain a better resurrection, the “out-resurrection.”
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
Are you willing to suffer affliction, esteeming the reproach of Christ, for the purpose of being found worthy of glory in the coming kingdom? Brothers, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility” (Col 2:18). The minimalization of the great incentive of rewards, wherein its motivations are essentially neutered by all strains of Lordship Salvation advocates, will lull those thereby decieved into slothful complacency. It is nothing but false humility that disobeys Christ's command to store up treasures in heaven.
Joseph Dillow sums it up best: In the Calvinistic Lordship “view, all who are Christians will be rewarded, and some more than others. Thus, they have created a version of Christianity where complete commitment is optional and not necessary. All that can be lost is a higher degree of blessedness, but all will be blessed. Could it be that this happy ending has lulled many into thinking they can continue their lukewarmness with no eternal consequences to pay?” (The Reign of the Servant Kings, pg 23).
(to be continued...)