Feasting with God #42
The Lamb Will Be the Shepherd
Text: Revelation 7:14-17
14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15“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.
16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“What will heaven be like?” This question has occurred to the minds of probably every Christian at some point in his life. Children are fascinated by the question. The illustrations from children’s Bible Story Books usually picture a fluffy-white cloudy Middle-Eastern city with tones of gold and sunlight. I’ve also heard heaven described as eternal happiness, where there’s no pain or sadness or sorrow, ultimately making it sound something like the Nirvana of Buddhism. I’ve also heard that there’s no possible way we on this earth can conceive what that heaven will be like.
No doubt there’s truth to all of these things. But rather than speculate, what does Scripture say? The Apostle, St. John, in the vision he received in his old age on the isle of Patmos, describes in this enigmatic way what the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” experienced in their heavenly joy (Rev. 7:9-10).
First the elder to whom John spoke explained how this multitude was able to come into this joy: they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These are the saints, so called because they are sanctified—made holy—on account of the blood shed by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. This teaches us what forgiveness ultimately means: although these people had grubby, mud-spattered robes, the Lamb’s blood is given to them freely, the only substance which can wash the grime of sin away. Therefore even though they are sinful themselves, they are given the free white robes that allow them to take their place before the throne of God. Here is the first comfort of this picture: we have a free pass into heaven, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
And the second comfort comes afterward: this is the comfort of what heaven will be like. We who have these white robes are in God’s presence continually, able to stand in the glorious warm light of the Lord almighty, and there he shelters us—he is himself our home. We will not hunger; we will not thirst; we will not be pained by the elements. God is our shelter, our home, and he is our nourishment, our feast.
And this fascinating irony: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.” When Jesus appeared for the beginning of his public ministry on earth, John the Baptist pointed to him and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus the Messiah was the sacrifice for sin, so that his blood could be shed in order to wash us clean. But that same Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). We are the sheep, and he is our Lord, our leader, our guide, our master. In this vision from Revelation, St. John hears explained how this one Messiah can be both Lamb and shepherd. Having been sacrificed for sin, he rises victorious to be our master forever: so the Lamb who was slain has become King over all us saints.
The elder who speaks with St. John then seems to paraphrase a portion of Psalm 23, saying: “he will guide them to springs of living water,” as that psalm says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. / He makes me lie down in green pastures. / He leads me beside still waters” (Ps. 23:1-2). This Shepherd who was our sacrificial Lamb is now intimately and only concerned with our never-ending joy and comfort, and for this reason the elder concludes: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This Shepherd who was a Lamb, who is God, is at our side, our companion, our friend, our comfort who holds us and walks with us. This is what heaven is like.
Lord Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.