Looking across the finish line

Howard Culbertson
Sunday, November 25, 2012

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“There before me was a great multitude no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” -- Revelation 7:9
 
During the 2012 Summer Olympics, Rev. David Rockhoff told his Lutheran congregation in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that Revelation 7 gives us a “look across the finish line.”  In verse 9 of that look-across-the-finish-line John has described people from all over the world at the throne of God giving praise to King Jesus.
 
That heavenly image of a huge crowd of born-again believers from around the globe should not surprise anyone familiar with Scripture.  Indeed, when what John describes comes to pass at some point in the future, it will fulfill statements about world evangelism said to people like Abraham, Isaiah and the Apostles. God’s messages to them included such things as:
 
  • Genesis 12:3, 22:18 -- A promise that through Abraham him and his descendants, spiritual as well as biological, “all nations on earth” will be blessed.
  • Isaiah 49:6 -- A message that God’s people would be “a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
  • Matthew 24:14 -- Jesus’ answer to a question about when the End Times would begin: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
  • Acts 1:8 -- The promise of the Holy Spirit with the result that “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”

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Those passages all speak of world evangelism and all four will be brought to completion by what John described in Revelation 7:9.  Presbyterian minister William Long was right when he wrote that our spirits should soar at the imagery of a “great multitude” from “every nation, tribe, people and language” giving praise. For those believers who have prayed, given and even gone for the cause of world evangelism, the sight will be a joyous one.
 
In the Genesis 11 Tower of Babel story, language differences divided and scattered humanity. What John saw in Revelation 7:9 will reverse that scattering. This look ahead to the finished product of the world missions enterprise should excite all but the most xenophobic among us -- xenophobic being a big word signifying unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers.
 
As God reached out to His rebellious and lost creation, He made some promises to Abraham and others.  The vision John recorded in Revelation 7:9 is about those promises coming true.  Thus, the promise of a blessing for all peoples on earth made to Abraham at the beginning of the Old Testament can be thought of as one “bookend” of salvation history. At the end of the New Testament, John’s “look across the finish line” is the other bookend of that wonderful story in which we are called to actively participate.