“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’ … These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.”
Thoughts… The Scripture is pretty clear that the great tribulation will be a time of unspeakable evil under the worldwide rule of “the beast.” Under his one-world government, he will actually demand that all people everywhere worship him, and the vast majority of humanity will gladly do so.
And for those who don’t, great hardship awaits. They will be economically deprived, socially isolated, physically tortured and ultimately executed. These are the ones John is describing here in this chapter. They were martyred for the faith they had placed in Jesus Christ.
My theology leads me to believe in the rapture of the church prior to this great tribulation. I believe Jesus will suddenly take his church out of the world, and this, then, will launch the seven-year period of tribulation that John describes. I realize that many believers don’t hold to this theology—so we can agree to disagree on this issue (although I suspect they secretly hope that my position is correct!).
When I was a child learning about the rapture of the church and the great tribulation, I sometimes thought that if I was bad enough to miss the rapture, then, according to these verses, I would have a second chance in the tribulation to get my act together. When push came to shove, I would refuse the mark of the beast, place my faith in Jesus Christ, be martyred and go straight to heaven.
But by and by, my immature theology was rudely awakened to the reality that if I was not able to live for Christ in the good times of the here and now, what made me think I would have the guts to die for Christ under the diabolical pressures and intense evil of the tribulation? In truth, standing for Christ when that had not been the track record of my pre-tribulation life would be an exceedingly unlikely thing when standing for him during the tribulation would mean certain death.
Yes, there will be some who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb during the great tribulation. They will be martyred for their refusal to worship the beast. But those who share the escape-hatch theology of my childhood ought to think again. If you cannot courageously live for Christ today, it is most unlikely you will bravely die for Christ then.
Today is the acceptable day of salvation the Bible says. The tribulation is not the time to make a decision to live for Christ. Don’t wait to get right with God, or you might very well find that you have been left behind.
Prayer… Father, strengthen me to live in a way that honors you in the good times, so that if hard times ever come, I will only be doing what is consistent with my long-held beliefs and practices.
One More Thing… “Persecution often does in this life what the last day will do completely—separate the wheat from the tares.” —Lord Milner.