Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Revelation 7: The Lord’s Redeemed
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. [...]
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 before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All 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, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 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. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For 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 NIV)

People generally imagine that apocalyptic writings deal with “the end of the world.” But in fact, these chapters of the Book of Revelation use images of the end to speak, not of a cosmic conflagration that would destroy the universe, but rather of the end of a world, namely a world based on the rejection of God and of injustice among human beings. What causes this reversal of this situation and the road to “a new earth, where justice dwells” (2 Peter 3:13) is nothing other than the gift of Christ’s life, his act of love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence. That is “the great tribulation” mentioned in this chapter and described in coded language in the account of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17) under the heading of “the wrath of the Lamb.”

But before the disappearance of evil and the definitive installation of a world renewed by God, some people are redeemed in advance. God sets his seal on them, a symbol of protection as well as of the validation of their testimony in favor of him. This group is described in two ways: twelve thousand people from each tribe of Israel and then “a great multitude that no one could count.” Since the numbers in this book are all symbolic, the first description simply means the full number of the people of the Covenant and does not contradict the affirmation that the redeemed form a universal community “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Because the image of a seal is used in the New Testament to indicate the entry into God’s people (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22) and is always linked to the gift of the Spirit, it probably refers to baptism. We would not be mistaken then to see this group as the Christian community, the Church, made up of Jews and Gentiles.

These men and women already participate in some sense in the final victory of Christ. They have already crossed over with him from death to life. The author describes this by a somewhat incongruous image: “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” “Made white by blood” evokes well the paradox that the road to communion in God necessarily passes through trials (see Acts 14:22), through inner and outer resistances. This sometimes painful journey with Christ turns them into beings who are called to live in constantly praising and giving thanks to God. But at the same time they are still on the road, indicated by another paradoxical image: the Lamb, the smallest member of the flock, becomes the shepherd. Their mission is thus “to follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4).

- Do I recognize myself in this portrait of the disciples of Christ? Why or why not?

- What resistances are awakened in me by the invitation to “follow the Lamb”? What could that mean?

- How can we, alone and in our communities, take part in the cosmic praise of God?

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Last updated: 1 September 2023