Bartimaeus was a family man. He had grown up in Pergamum, married his high school sweetheart, and they were raising their family just blocks from where he had grown up. Bartimaeus was an iron-worker, a man?s man, and all of the men in the Iron Workers Guild had a great respect for him. The Iron Workers Guild was like a modern-day Union, but with a religious flair. The iron workers were a fraternity. They worked hard, gathered at the local pub on the corner at the end of the day, and had their monthly meetings at ?The Hall.?
Each month the men would enter the Hall and pay their tribute to the deities, Zeus and Athena were especially popular. You wouldn?t think that such big, rugged men would be the religious type, but these men wanted the gods to bless them with work so that they could provide for their families. After all, ?it?s not what you know, but who you know? right? Paying tribute to the gods wasn?t all that took place at the Hall. What began as monthly business meetings to inform the men about upcoming work and other matters related to their trade would most often turn into a night out with the boys filled with revelry, booze, and loose living.
I?ve already mentioned that Bartimaeus was a family man. He loved his wife and he was committed to his kids. He attended the Guild meetings because it was expected of him. He didn?t necessarily enjoy all that went on at the meetings, but he often found himself in the middle of the party before the night was over. Bartimaeus? wife, Lydia, didn?t like the Guild. She would come up with every excuse to try to get her husband to miss the monthly meeting, but it never worked, he always went.
One day Bartimaeus came home from work and told his wife that one of his buddies from the Guild, a man named Erastus, had stopped by the shop to see him. The old friends got to talking and Bartimaeus found out that his friend had become a Christian. He laughed at first, but by the end of their two hour conversation Bartimaeus felt bad about laughing at Erastus? faith. On the way home he couldn?t get the conversation off his mind. He knew his wife was a Christian, but she was a woman, the church in Pergamum was filled with women.
Two weeks passed and the night of the Guild meeting came. When Bartimaeus came home from work his wife asked him if he would stay home with the family instead of going to the meeting. Bartimaeus said, ?Honey, I?m not going tonight. I won?t be attending Guild meetings any longer.? She was stunned. ?Did something happen? Are you alright?? Bartimaeus said, ?I?m fine. I?ve been thinking about what Erastus told me and I?ve given my life to Christ. I can?t bow before the gods of the Guild any longer.? Lydia hugged her husband and thanked God all at the same time.
Well, Lydia might have been excited about her husband?s newfound faith, but when the word got out at the Hall the men didn?t share her excitement. First he got letters, then the steady stream of customers slowed to a trickle, and times got tough at Bartimaeus? house. He was ridiculed by some of the Guild thugs, his shop was broken into, and his tools were stolen. Bartimaeus wondered how much longer he could take it.
On Sunday morning he and his family headed to the house of Erastus for worship. When the Elder stood to teach the lesson he said, ?We?ve received a letter from our brother, John the Apostle, who has received the Word of the Lord.? The Elder began to read and in the first paragraph of the letter Bartimaeus heard these words,
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9 NIV)
?Your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance?? now that got Bartimaeus? attention. He was becoming all too familiar with suffering. He was trying to patiently endure the hardships that had come his way since he had accepted Jesus as his Savior. God had Bartimaeus? attention. The Elder continued to read and Bartimaeus? continued to listen. Then Bartimaeus heard these words,
12″To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live– where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city– where Satan lives. (Revelation 2:12-13 NIV)
Bartimaeus? chest swelled, he sat up straight, his resolve was strengthened, and he thought to himself, ?I know where Satan has his throne, but I will remain true to my Savior and my King! They can take my good name. They can try to drive me out of business. They can threaten my life, but I will not cave in. I will serve my King!? The Elder continued to read and Bartimaeus continued to listen. Tears welled up in the big man?s eyes; his calloused hands were raised in worship, as he listened the Elder read the Scripture that we are going to study this morning. Turn with me to Revelation 7:9-17 and let?s read together.
9 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. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes– who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-17 NIV)
Life in Pergamum didn?t get any easier for Bartimaeus and his fellow believers in Pergamum, but they grew strong as they persevered and remained true to their Savior.
I?ve tried to encourage you from week to week to go back to one of the seven churches and read the Scripture we are studying from their vantage point before you try to understand the application for us today. If we will do this then there will be a depth and meaning that will greatly enrich our study and understanding of Revelation.
As we study Revelation 7:9-17 this week we have to remember the first part of chapter 7 that we studied last week. In Revelation 7:1-8 we saw the Church on earth made up of faithful followers sealed by God so that they might be able to endure every hardship and emerge victorious, just as Jesus, the Lamb of God, suffered and emerged as the Conquering King!
Now, in verses 9-17, the scene shifts to Heaven and John sees a vision of the people of God, an assembly so great that he can?t even begin to count them. These are not just Jews, they are from every ?nation, tribe, people, and language.? They are standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb of God. They aren?t wearing Abercrombie & Fitch or Phat Farm, they are dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. Some see this crowd as martyrs, but that is not what the Scripture says. These are the people of God safe and secure, worshipping in the glorious presence of Almighty God. Does their attire hold any significance for us? If you study Revelation then you will notice the reoccurrence of ?white robes? and you will recognize that they symbolize purity. Those who are wearing white robes have been purified; they?ve been made clean by the blood of the Lamb.
What significance do the palm branches hold for us? I?m so glad you asked. Palm branches were often used as expressions of joy or triumph. If you will remember when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the people welcomed Him by waving palm branches. Stephen Smalley sees this vision as being influenced by the Jewish celebration of the Feast of Booths. He writes,
The Feast of Booths was the most important of all the festivals in Judaism. It occurred at the crown of the year, when the harvest was complete; it celebrated the presence and protection of Yahweh during the Exodus wanderings, and anticipated the consummation of the messianic age. During this festival sheaves were carried around the Jerusalem Temple and into it. (Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation To John, pg. 192.)
The Jews celebrated this festival in accordance with the instruction they received from Leviticus 23:40 where we read,
40 On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. (Leviticus 23:40 NIV)
This crowd, which is made up of people from every race and nation and language is standing before the throne of God and the Lamb and they are crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All of the angels were there, along with elders and the four living creatures. The angels fell down on their faces and cried out, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
At that point one of the elders asked John, “These in white robes– who are they, and where did they come from?” John answered him, ?Sir, you know.? Then the elder answered his own question: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
There are two very important words in this verse that we need to understand. The first word is the Greek word, ?evrco,menoi? (erchomenoi) which is translated here ?have come.? The word is a verb in the present tense. Now what does that mean? Well, rather than translating it ?have come? it should be translated ?are coming.? ?Are coming? out of what? They are coming out of the tribulation. The Greek word for ?tribulation? is the word ?qli/yij? (thlipsis). It means, ?pressure, pressing together, or affliction.? The word is found 45 times in the Greek New Testament and it is translated with the words, ?tribulation 21, affliction 17, trouble 3, anguish 1, persecution 1, burdened 1, or to be afflicted.?
The elder says that the ?great multitude? are those who have come out of ?the great tribulation.? That phrase has been understood in many different ways. Last week I shared with you about the view of the Dispensationalists. They believe that the phrase refers to a seven year period of time. Many Dispensationalists believe that the seven year period of time is divided into two different 3 ? year periods. This belief is based on Daniel 7 and Daniel 12 where we read the phrase, ?time, times, and half a time,? and phrases from Revelation.
Dispensationalist believe that the tribulation period will be a time of great suffering, greater than any other time in history, but believers are promised strength and the power to help them endure. Now, you need to know that there are those who believe that the rapture will happen prior to the tribulation, some who believe that the rapture will happen in the middle of the tribulation period, and still others believe in a post tribulation rapture. Are you confused yet?
Alongside of the Futurist/Dispensationalist viewpoint are the Preterist and Historicist interpretations of the tribulation period. For the sake of time I will be brief. Preterists believe that the tribulation took place in 70 AD when the Roman Emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. They believe this view based upon Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In Matthew 24:34 Jesus said,
34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:34 NIV)
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple took place about 40 years after Jesus made this statement. Preterists believe that the Tribulation was a divine judgment visited upon the Jews for their sins and their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. There is much more to their view than we have time to cover this morning, but suffice it to say that their view is based on Scripture, just like the other views are based on Scripture.
The Historicist?s also believe that the tribulation came upon the Jewish people beginning in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin would fall into this camp. Some modern Historicists believe that the tribulation began in 70 AD and continued through the years until the Holocaust happened. They believe that the tribulation ended with the restoration of the nation of Israel.
The Historicists understand Jesus? statement in Matthew 24:21 and His statement in Luke 21:23 about the wrath upon ?this people? as pointing to a time of tribulation for the Jewish people. Let?s read those two verses. Turn to Matthew 24:21.
21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now– and never to be equaled again. (Matthew 24:21 NIV)
Then take a look at Luke 21:23 with me.
23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. (Luke 21:23 NIV)
Where the Preterists and the Historicists differ is that the Preterists believe the fulfillment is totally in the past whereas the Historicists believe the filfillment was ongoing. Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that the Antichrist was present in their day in the form of the papacy and the Islamic invasion of Europe. Modern-day Historicists would say that the tribulation ended at the restoration of the nation of Israel in 1948 or at the return of Jerusalem to Jewish control in 1967. Are you confused yet? (For a more complete discussion of these views you can go to the following website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Tribulation)
Let?s lay aside these various views and just see what we can learn from Scripture. Let?s focus our study on the word, ?tribulation.? What is tribulation? I told you earlier that the word means, ?affliction, pressure, or hardships.? Does it only come at the end of time? Well, that can?t be because we find the Greek word for ?tribulation? four times in Revelation before we ever come to Revelation 7. In Revelation 1 John says that he is our ?companion in the suffering.? In Revelation 2:9 Jesus speaks to the church in Smyrna and says,
9I know your afflictions and your poverty– yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NIV)
In the very next verse Jesus is still speaking to the church in Smyrna when He says,
10Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself. (Revelation 2:10 NIV)
The next time we find the word is in Jesus? letter to the church in Thyatira. He is harsh on the church because they are allowing a false teacher named Jezebel to lead the members of the church astray. Jesus says,
22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. (Revelation 2:22 NIV)
Revelation is not the only place where we find troubles and hardships taking place. Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 16:33 and used the same Greek word that we?ve just seen in Revelation. Jesus said,
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Jesus isn?t the only person who used the word or understood persecution in the New Testament. In Acts, the crowd became furious at Paul?s message. They threw rocks at him and dragged him out of the city. Some time later Paul spoke to the brothers and sisters in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. In Acts 14:21-22 we read,
21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (Acts 14:21-22 NIV)
You can see from the passages of Scripture we?ve looked at that ?hardships? are inevitable for the people of God. Hardships also come in many forms. There is persecution in Ephesus, imprisonment in Smyrna, we read about famine in Revelation 6:5-6, and some believers in Pergamum had even lost their lives. Hardships are not limited to these particular types of troubles. Jesus said, ?In this world you will have trouble.? Nobody would dare dispute that statement!
In Revelation 7 we see that those who are coming through these hardships have washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb. They have turned to Jesus and remained faithful to Him to the end. They have persevered in the faith. This is an important aspect that we need to take a look at.
In Revelation 2-3 we see that three of the seven churches are losing their Christian identity because they have allowed their faith to grow cold or they have allowed false teachers to lead them astray. The church in Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea are losing their distinctiveness. Two other churches, those in Pergamum and Thyatira, are compromising their loyalty to Jesus. This is important for us to recognize because this is not the first time we?ve seen this happen in relation to the words, ?great tribulation.?
In Daniel 11:30-39 and 12:10 we see that the people of God are being persecuted because of their loyalty to God. Some of those who are being persecuted are turning away. Read along with me beginning in Daniel 11:29.
29 “At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. 30 Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. 33″Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34 When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. 35 Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time. (Daniel 11:29-35 NIV)
This Scripture is a prophecy of the coming invasion of Antiochus IV Epiphanes which happened in the spring of 168 B.C. Antiochus slaughtered Jews, attempted to rid the world of God?s people, and desecrated the Temple by slaughtering a pig on the altar. Many Jews turned away from God at that time trying to save their lives or simply abandoning the faith. Verse 35 tells us that the tribulation and troubles will refine, purify, and make God?s people spotless.
In the very next chapter, Daniel 12:1, we find the phrase, ?There will be a great time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.? In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, we find the same word for ?tribulation? that is used in Revelation 7:14! Read along with me in Daniel 12:1 and I will show you where the word appears.
1″At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people– everyone whose name is found written in the book– will be delivered. (Daniel 12:1-2 NIV)
Wow! What can we learn from this? Great question! We are called not only to endure persecution but to remain true to the faith, faithful to Jesus. What a word of exhortation that is for those of us in America. We are watching the slow, but steady watering down of the faith in our day. We don?t know ?tribulation? like many in the world know ?tribulation,? but we sure know what it means to compromise the faith. We must not! We can not compromise the faith. We must teach and live with uncompromising allegiance to our King.
It seems to me like the adversary of the faith is increasingly becoming the Church. There are a growing number of believers who want to make Christianity ?user friendly? for the world. How do we do this? Well, we say things like ?Jesus is a good guy, but isn?t it narrow minded to say that He is the only way to God? The Bible is a good book, but aren?t all holy books full of good things? After all, we are all serving the same God aren?t we??
If you don?t agree with these ideas and you voice your views to those who hold these views then you will find out how unsophisticated and backwoods you are. You will hear, ?Surely you don?t believe that!? Hold fast my friends! Hold uncompromisingly to the Word of God, don?t allow your heart to become divided, hold high the Word of God, and hold fast to the faith!
John?s glorious vision in Revelation should encourage you and me as we seek to live faithfully for the Lord in a pagan society. The numberless mass of faithful followers will enjoy the blessings of the Father. The elder who spoke to John said,
15Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17 NIV)
We may hunger now, but the day is coming when we will never hunger again! There are those who thirst in the world today, but the day is coming when they will thirst no more! We will experience hardships and troubles in this life, but the day is coming when our tribulations will become our triumph because of the victory won by our Savior. I love the phrase, ?For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd?? He will not only be our Shepherd on that day when we gather around God?s throne, but He is our great Shepherd who leads His flock through this life so that we can endure every hardship.
What is your tribulation this morning? Is it sickness or sorrow, a fragmented family or financial hardships? Has your passion for your Savior grown cold and you find yourself compromising what you know to be God?s will for your life? Endure. Persevere. Look to the Lamb of God this morning and allow Him to lead you out of the great tribulation you are facing.
Is He leading you this morning? If not then you are lost my friend. You may think you know where you are going and how to get there, but let me assure you that you are heading to a dead-end. Won?t you surrender your life this morning to the great Shepherd and allow Him to lead you through every heartache, every trouble, and finally to the throne where all of God?s people who have come through the great tribulation of our days will gather to praise our Lord and King!