Lesson for May 15, 2011: Thankful Worship (Revelation 7:9-17)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for May 15) is written by Phil Roberts who serves with Hill-N-Dale Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.


Thankful Worship (Revelation 7:9-17)

By Phil Roberts

Consider these two questions:

1. What is the richest worship you’ve ever experienced?

Maybe it still brings tears to your eyes—that worship service where it seemed praise just flowed from you, where you experienced the majesty of God the Father.

2. What is the most difficult time of trial through which the Lord has brought you?

Maybe it still brings tears to your eyes—that time it seemed there was little hope, and your only possible chance to overcome was to cling to the mercy and grace of God.

In this week’s lesson. John’s vision of a heavenly worship experience reveals the answers to these two seemingly unrelated questions that may, in fact, be eternally intertwined.

Questions for discussion: How does the Lord’s deliverance in your life affect your worship? What might be the danger(s) of compartmentalizing our trials and our worship?

The Proclamation of a Multiethnic Multitude (Revelation 7:9, 10)

Revelation 7:9 is packed with information.

John writes of a great multitude no one could count (this stands in contrast to the precisely numbered 144,000 Jews mentioned earlier in the chapter). He then reveals this innumerable group was multiethnic—“from every nation, tribe, people and language.” This heavenly multitude beckons the reader to Genesis 22:17, in which God promises Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Romans 9:8 and Galatians 3:7 clarify how Gentiles who have faith in Christ are now considered descendants of Abraham.)

John next describes the commonality of this multitude’s appearance: they were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. Two symbolic clues are given to John here: White robes represent purity, and palm branches signify victory.

Yet this multitude’s proclamation in verse 10 shifts the focus from the crowd to the Crowned: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Even before John understands who this group is and their significance in eternity, he hears them echo before the throne the eternal truth of John 14:6 and Acts 4:12: The hope of salvation for mankind is an exclusive possession of God the Father and Jesus the Lamb.

Questions for discussion: What is significant about the multitude’s size? Ethnic makeup? The white robes? The palm branches they were holding? Why might the multitude’s proclamation be considered controversial in a pluralistic society?

An Angelic Attribution (Revelation 7:11, 12)

Also before the throne were angels—heavenly beings distinct from the multitude of people just mentioned. The angels, whom we typically picture as majestic and powerful, are first seen standing, and then falling down on their faces (“let angels prostrate fall”) before the throne in worship.

To God they attribute seven expressions or characteristics that are rightfully and eternally his: praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength. Angels appear to fully understand that our God is completely holy and deserving of worship, absolutely worthy of all gratitude, and omnipotent (all-powerful). There is no limit to his greatness.

In both the multitude and the angels we see a kind of thankful worship that takes place in Heaven—and that should take place on earth as well. Those who find themselves in the presence of the throne (see Hebrews 4:16) are awestruck by the attributes of a holy God who holds out salvation to his children.

Questions for discussion: Consider how each of the seven attributes mentioned by the angels belongs wholly to God. What might be missing from our earthly times of worship whenever we fail to be awestruck and fall prostrate in the presence of our God?

The Ultimate Reward (Revelation 7:13-17)

Revelation 7 ends with interesting dialogue. John is asked to identify the white-robed multitude, and he politely declines to answer. He is told they have emerged from the great tribulation (presumably that mentioned in the book of Daniel and in Matthew 24) and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Suddenly the multitude is seen as more than a melting pot of nationalities floating along on a cloud. These are real people who on earth had experienced the darkest trials known to man. Their salvation, which they earlier attributed to God the Father and Jesus the Lamb, is directly connected with the blood that Jesus shed for them on the cross. Indeed, they understand they are only there because of the mercy and grace of God seen in Jesus.

John is then informed of details of the eternal reward they have received after their temporary tribulation. They are literally in the presence of God, with the joyful privilege of serving him eternally. God the Father has sheltered them and protects them forevermore. No longer will they want for anything, nor will any pains of the flesh ever touch them again. They are eternally shepherded by Jesus the Lamb (the heavenly and permanent fulfillment of Psalm 23!), and God himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

John’s vision in these verses depicts the demographics of Heaven: a diverse group of eternally grateful people who allowed the blood of Jesus to cleanse them from their sin, and who depended on the promises and faithfulness of God to bring them through trial, testing, and tribulation.

Do you and I fit into those demographics?


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

May 9: Psalm 23
May 10: Ezekiel 34:11-16
May 11: John 10:11-16
May 12: Matthew 9:35-38
May 13: Matthew 25:31-40
May 14: Psalm 107:1-9
May 15: Revelation 7:9-17

ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Phil Roberts is senior minister with Hill-N-Dale Church. He and his wife, Lisa, have four children. He is author of a memoir book, In the Shadow of a Manger, and travels with Mulberry International to reach at-risk children in Ukraine.

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  1. Ester Bennett
    May 12, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Thank you Thank you, for your help. I’m a new sunday school teacher and this has helped me very much. We have this same lesson book. I’m looking forward to next week lesson, I’m sure it will be a big help to me and my class. Will you be keeping on with the rest of the book in your web site? I really need help to bring the lesson to life. Thanks again for the lesson. Ester.

  2. april
    May 12, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Really enjoyed this article especially the questions posed great job

  3. May 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Your weekly lessons are a blessing to me. My sunday class and I get a better undestanding of what we are reading and discussing. Please continue the great job.

  4. Daphne
    May 15, 2011 at 12:10 am

    I thank God for your website. It has really been a life line for me to come to and it helps me to really understand what I have read and to share it with my middle school Sunday school class!

  5. Angela
    May 15, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Thank you for this site, This really helps me in my studying, as well as to prepare me to teach the intermediate and senior youths at my church. God’s blessing continues to flow upon you.

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