Out of Great Tribulation
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ( Rev. 7:13, 14)
It seems as though the eyes of John the Theologian reveal the wonder that fills his soul at the spectacle of the innumerable multitude who, arrayed in white robes, throng around the great white throne, singing and making merry. For we read that one of the elders answered, saying unto him: "What are these which are arrayed in white robes and whence came they?" It reads: answered. But John had not said a word at all. And surely the question was not put to John for the reason that the elder did not know. For, firstly, John says, "Sir, thou knowest." And, secondly, the elder gives him in the following verse the answer to his own question. He knew it all the time. Hence, it seems that the elder saw the look of wonder in John's eyes and interpreted it in his question.
And what an answer!
The answer of the elder gives in a few words the whole history of redemption. The throng that are before the great white throne have come out of the great tribulation: they are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb: and they are consequently arrayed in white robes.
Hence, it is the manifestation of the Marvel of Divine Grace.
And how marvelous!
They have come out of the great tribulation. For so the translation ought to read. It is the great tribulation. That little definite article the ought to be retained. It marks the tribulation as the one outstanding tribulation of all other woes.
There is a tribulation for every creature that exists. Especially clear this will be when we consider the meaning of that word. It means to be in narrow straits, to be in a place that is too small for us. Not necessarily in the local, physical sense, but more in the spiritual sense of the word. To be in tribulation means to be cramped on every hand from the point of view of our spirits. To be free and in the open spiritually means to be in the loving arms of God and to rest in His bosom. That is the very reverse of tribulation. And the awful fact is that man is far from that loving embrace. He is in the claws of the devil. And that works to his untold misery. God, instead of embracing him untold affection, curses him as the day is long. For the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked.
I will admit, however, that the worldly man and woman do their best to counteract that awful tribulation. They try hard but all to no avail. And although they laugh and scream of the great fun they have, it all is but a very hollow sound. The more they fight their tribulation the more miserable they become through the ages. There is a great tribulation in world among men and there is a great tribulation among the devils that is unutterable.
And the worst of it is, that they will never come out of it. They remain in their narrow straits and their narrow straits become ever more narrow. And the culmination of their tribulation is indeed when they shall rather be crushed by the splitting rocks and mountains than to enter the place that is prepared for the devil and his fellows.
Descriptive of this tribulation is the ever repeated Woe, Woe, Woe of Jesus and His angels in the Book of Revelation.
But these souls that John sees in his vision have come out of the great tribulation.
What is its meaning?
Ah, that is a great question!
And the answer is equally great. It is the tribulation of the ages.
In order to find the correct answer we must consider first of all that these souls are very particular persons. They are, as is very clear from the immediate context, the elect of God. Because we read in the beginning of this 7th chapter that they are sealed by God's servants out of the tribes of Israel and they are a great multitude of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues. They are not all of Israel as it has appeared and does appear in history. Only so many and no more are sealed by the willing workers of God's heaven. They are not all the nations and kindreds and people and tongues. Oh, no, they are the sealed only.
Secondly, we note the purpose of this sealing process. The final hurt wherewith God will hurt the world cannot come while they are in their midst. It is a seal that protects them from real hurt and harm. It is a negative way of saying that they shall be blessed indeed. Blessing is in store for them. It is a seal of blessedness. And another Scripture tells me that too. Paul tells us in II Timothy 2 :19 that the foundation of God has this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His, and: Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. The latter tells me that the former is true. True in me, that is, that the loving knowledge of God hath found its purpose in a Godly walk in me.
And. thirdly, it is because of this seal of God that I am in the great tribulation. And it shows also that only when the love of God dwells in me do I know of this great tribulation.
You see. the soul that is loved by God from all eternity receives the birth from above. Through it he becomes a new heavenly creature. I say purposely heavenly creature. His life is from above. That is, the life of the new man in him. And his inner desire is henceforth to live that life on the earth in the midst of the godless world. It is his meat and drink, in a measure, to do the will of God always. For the love of God dwells in him.
And that. my friends. brings with it the great tribulation.
From the moment that the new. heavenly. spiritual life comes to the fore in his consciousness, thoughts, words and deeds. from that moment on he, that is, the new man is killed all the day long. You may be sure that he is counted as a sheep for the slaughter. From that moment on that he appears on the stage of history, all things will try to put him in a place that is altogether too small for him. He wants to be in the unadulterated atmosphere of endless perfection and the love of God, but finds himself in the midst of the godless and the devils, in the midst of the very atmosphere of hell. The very air is laden with the cancerous stench of sin and iniquity. That stench and that devilish, hellish, godless atmosphere spells suffering such as cannot be described. And they say: Flee as a bird to your mountain!
Yes, indeed, flee as a bird he would, if he could. But the Lord's solemn statement must be lived: My dear sheep, I send you in the midst of wolves.
But, God be blessed, they all come out of it.
And I assure you that it is no wonder that John the Theologian marvels at it. So do you.
Or would you not marvel when you notice that after all things are done and said you are ushered in heavenly places? Suppose, dear reader, that you fall dead this very instant, and you open your eyes in heaven: would you not marvel? Your ears have almost become accustomed to the swearing, cursing, ranting brawl of the wicked throng; would you not marvel if, all in a moment, you were to hear nothing but the most wonderful singing and chanting? If you were to hear the ever-recurring theme, accompanied by heavenly music: Thou art worthy, O God, to receive honor and blessing and thanksgiving, and majesty?
But there is much more cause to marvel than this.
You. who know the misery, the benauwdheid, because of your rotten nature; you. who know what it means to swim up against the current of the power of sin, that dwells in you and that always will draw you to sin and deceit and darkness: I ask you, would you not marvel, when all of a sudden that current disappears and you find yourself so clean and so pure and so holy ? And when you notice that for once all within you bless His holy name?
Ah. yes. the believer is scarcely saved.
Marvel of God's grace.
You see, the Lord our God has a very firm hold of everyone of His saints. When they were not as yet; when the world was not yet; amid His glad song of the Covenant in the millions of years of eternity before there were any creatures at all (therefore there were no years as yet: foolish notion of me): from everlasting to everlasting. oh how long, long ago: He saw them, He knew them, He loved them, He grasped these Divine Thoughts in the palms of His hands: He willed them with an everlasting will to become conformed to the image of Jesus: the heart of the Father's love.
Attend, that when these saints were born and fell in the mire of sin; when they were lost in the wilderness, He loved them still and never lost them out of His sight. He loved us when we were still sinners. Oh the depth!
He loved us when we hated Him and sent the seeking Shepherd. He desired to have us come out of the tribulation of the misery of sin. And He found us.
Marvel of Divine Grace, for He regenerated us and doing so He made contact between our inner heart and His own heart. And we call that contact Faith. And that Faith works by Love and that Love is spread abroad in the heart through the Holy Ghost of Christ Jesus.
And there the great tribulation began. Then a pain was born in the inner heart that beggars description. Then a grief was felt that tears as it bites as it devours. All the powers of darkness war against my regenerated and converted soul. Yea, I hate myself; I war against myself; I am my own greatest enemy. I love God but listen to Satan. I strive for the entrance of the pearly gates, but my feet are leaden and impotent: so often I tread forbidden paths that lead to hell. I find in my mouth sweet strains of songs of redemption: yet there also lurks the bitterness of sin, poison of the adder, the asp. And all things around me, both visible and invisible tend to draw me to the devil and to sin.
But through it all Jesus prays for me that my faith fail not. He strengthens it by His Word and Spirit. He nurtures it when I am spiritually sick and makes me healthy again. When I would wander, He upholds me through the medium of Faith: it is the cleaving love of God to the Word Divine. That bond of Faith is made ever stronger and draws, draws me to God.
Therefore. you may freely tempt me with the riches of Egypt: I am going to choose the desert with its fiery serpents and the wrath of Amalek, the children of the devil. For Faith draws me to His Word. And in Canaan I must come. He beckons me through the wild waves of Jordan to the other side of peace and harmonious singing.
So travels my soul in a sinful body, amidst fierce tribulation to peace, to God. So travels the Church of Christ through great. through the great tribulation to where the fountains are ever flowing.
I will admit that you will keep my body under the power of death: it is but for a short period. After all God's people have died in faith and inherited the promises, God shall quicken our mortal bodies through the same holy Ghost that dwelleth in us.
All this has made me a sadder but a wiser man. So, I would kindly ask you to leave me the characteristics of the pilgrim. I am a stranger as my fathers were. Indeed, I am a pilgrim and I am a stranger: I can tarry, I can tarry but a solitary night. Do not detain me, for God's sake, do not detain me for I must come out of the great tribulation. God beckons me, His angels would serve me on the way; Christ's voice I hear and His sweetly calling voice sounds ever more urgent: I must go home!
Never more to roam.
Rev. Gerrit Vos in the Standard Bearer, July 1, 1958
Last modified: 13-Nov-2001