13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”
14 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.”
Yesterday morning someone asked me a question about who are the ones who are left behind to face the great tribulation spoken of in Revelation chapter 6. The assumption was that by the time of the tribulation, the church of Jesus Christ had been raptured–taken up with Jesus into heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17)–and that only a remnant is left behind to face the terrible events that unfold with the four horsemen. It is not entirely clear from the text of the book of Revelation that the rapture of the church happens before the tribulation, but the question is still a good one: Who are these believers who will face the tribulation and come out on the other side “arrayed in white robes”?
So later that morning, as I considered the question that had been asked, I started formulating my own questions:
• Are we living for the Rapture or are we living for the Tribulation?
• Are we resting in some assurance that we will be among the elect believers who will not face the terrors of the four horsemen and the earth itself turning against mankind?
• Or are we storing up strength in the Lord so when that terrible day comes we will say “I am strong in the strength of the Lord”?
• Are we trying to store up treasures in heaven, thinking they will pay for our ticket on those clouds of glory?
• Or are we sure that, whatever happens, the price has already been paid by the One in whose love and salvation we stand?
• Who will be the greater witness for the Lord: the man who panics when his neighbor is caught up with the Lord and he is not, or the man who, regardless of whether he is raptured or not, stands firm in the salvation and grace of the Lord?
• In whom is there more glory for the Lord: the one who comes to Him out of fear and sudden realization of having been left behind, or the one who faces those terrible trials and does not cease glorifying the Lord?
1 Peter 1:6-9
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 receiving the end of your faith–the salvation of your souls.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to us:
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
And just before He was arrested, He spoke to His disciples and told them:
1 “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.
2 “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.
3 “And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.”
I look at the folks who are so certain they will be among the ones who will NOT face the great tribulation, and I wonder how many of them will be among those surprised to be left behind. (Matthew 24:40-41) I wonder how many who are so sure of their own righteousness will face the great trials of persecution and disasters and find themselves failing because their surety was in their desire to walk in legalism and pride and NOT in the strength of the Lord.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
10 “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
11 “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
12 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
13 “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
“He who endures” shall be saved. He who stands up before the wrath of God, who knows that he is counted righteous not from any works or deeds but because of the blood of Jesus Christ, this one shall endure and be saved.
2 “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
3 “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
4 “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.
5 “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
To the church of Sardis, Jesus said “strengthen the things that remain.” Strengthen the faith, strengthen the hope, strengthen the love, for these three remain, but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) It is our love that must be built up. But not just any old love, not just love for a wayward spouse, not love for a troublesome relative, not love for someone who does not return our love, and not even love for those who persecute us.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 “This is the first and great commandment.”
How will we overcome? How will we endure great trials? How will we stand firm in the face of the tribulation that is to come? How will we be strengthened and not fail? How will we live for Christ? Love for the Lord our God. All the rest will follow from that.
Among some churches in America today, there is much hatred and disdain for the unsaved, but at the other end of the spectrum there are churches who compromise with society and ignore the Word of God. There are many who think they will not be left behind to face the great tribulation, and others who despair of ever being good enough to be loved by God in Christ. When the rich ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him “Follow me.”
Follow Jesus along dusty roads with no certainty of a place to stay nor food to eat.
Follow Jesus into places where you will be reviled and persecuted for His name’s sake.
Follow Jesus to bring healing and redemption to the lost and unsaved.
Follow Jesus to Galilee and call others to follow.
Follow Jesus into Samaria and speak to those who are shunned and oppressed.
Follow Jesus into Jerusalem and cry out against hypocrisy and false religion.
Follow Jesus up the hill of Calvary to be slain in innocence.
Follow Jesus out of the tomb and into eternal life.
Who are these believers who will face the tribulation and come out on the other side “arrayed in white robes”? Those who follow Jesus out of love for the Lord their God. Those who find their strength in the Lord and not in works nor esoteric laws. Those who care less for trying to figure out the day or the hour of Jesus’ return but instead focus on standing watch and preaching the gospel of Christ so that many will repent and be saved.
2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.”
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be caught up in trying to interpret prophecy in some vain attempt to prove we will be among those caught up with our Lord. Let us not get so enamored of doom-saying that we forget our first love. Let us not fall into the temptation of pride and assume we will not face the tribulation that is certain to come. Whether or not you and I will face the great tribulation foretold by Jesus, it is certain that we will face trials and persecution for standing up for Him today. It is certain that if we hold fast to the Word of God, many will revile us and accuse us of wrongdoing. However, it is also certain that if we hold fast to our love of God, if we believe in His Son as our salvation and our strength, if we are obedient and stand watch and preach the gospel with boldness and love, then we will indeed be among those who stand before the throne of God “arrayed in white robes” to serve and worship Him for all eternity.
Blessed Lord God, holy, holy, holy is Your name! Holy is the name of Jesus Christ! Holy is Your Word. Holy Your mercy. Holy Your grace. Holy, holy, holy is Your salvation. Father God, we thank You and praise You for the strength to endure. In the Cross of Christ alone is found salvation. In His blood alone are we washed white as snow. Therefore, O Lord, let us speak Your gospel with grace and love, sharing Your merciful Word with a broken and hurting world that is hungry for You. Guide us into Your truth–not the truth of knowing the hour or Your return but the truth of knowing Your love and Your peace, the truth, Father, of being adopted as your sons and daughters. Search my heart, O Lord, and show me how I may serve You today. Amen.