Redeemed of the Earth

OVERVIEW - In Revelation, the redeemed people of God is comprised of men and women from every nation purchased by the blood of the Lamb

Photo by Sven Wilhelm on Unsplash
By Sven Wilhelm on Unsplash
The book of Revelation uses a variety of terms and symbols to portray a church under assault from within and without, all while bearing witness in a hostile world. The company of men and women “redeemed by the Lamb” is a multi-ethnic group that transcends all national, social, and cultural boundaries. The faithful members of the seven churches of Asia are included among this company. Tribulation and persecution are not aberrations to be avoided at all costs, but part and parcel of what it means to “overcome” and follow the Lamb. And at the end of its visions, all the nations of the earth ally with the Devil in a final attempt to annihilate the saints.

(Revelation 20:7-9) – “And as soon as the thousand years shall be ended the Accuser shall be loosed out of his prison, and will go forth to deceive the nations that are in the four corners of the earth, the Gog and Magog, to gather them together unto the battle—the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they came up over the breadth of the land and surrounded the camp of the saints, and the beloved city. And there came down fire out of heaven and devoured them.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The church does not escape from these hostile forces through removal from the earth, nor does it resist the onslaughts with violence.  Instead, it “overcomes” by following the Lamb wherever he goes, even if doing so means suffering and martyrdom. It is in this way that the redeemed people of God “overcome” to enter the New Jerusalem, the greater and true Promised Land.

What sets this company apart is its composition of men and women redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. They have been purchased by the sacrificial death of Jesus and, thus, become a “kingdom of priests” to mediate the light of the Gospel in a darkened world.

This redemptive purpose is presented from the opening paragraph of the book. Jesus is the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth,” a description that points to his past death, resurrection, and enthronement for the basis of his present sovereignty (Revelation 1:4-6):

(Psalm 2:2-8) – “The kings of earth take their station, and grave men have met by appointment together—against Yahweh and against his Anointed One…Yet I have installed my king—on Zion my holy mountain. Let me tell of a decree—Yahweh hath said unto me, My son, thou art, I, to-day, have begotten thee: Ask of me and let me give nations as thine inheritance, and as thy possession, the ends of the earth.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

By the shedding of his blood, Jesus “loosed us from our sins” and, thus, constituted us as a “kingdom of priests.” The mission assigned by Yahweh long ago to Israel has now fallen to the church:

(Exodus 19:4-6) – “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians—And how I bare you upon wings of eagles, And brought you in unto myself:— Now, therefore, if ye will indeed hearken to my voice, And keep my covenant, Then shall ye be mine as a treasure beyond all the peoples, For mine is all the earth; But ye shall be mine, As a kingdom of priests And a holy nation.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 5:9-10) – “And they sing a new song, saying—Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS—and they reign on the earth.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 20:6) – “Happy and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: upon these the second death hath no authority; but THEY SHALL BE PRIESTS OF GOD AND OF THE CHRIST, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

In the very first verse of the book, its recipients are identified as the “servants” of God, or douloi. The immediate addressees are the “seven churches” or “assemblies” of Asia, congregations located in key cities of the Province of Asia (Revelation 1:1-4, 2:207:1-3, 11:18, 19:5, 22:3-6).
The seven churches are “fellow participants” with John in the “Tribulation and kingdom and perseverance in Jesus.” He was on the isle of Patmos, “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” John and his churches experienced “the tribulation” in the late first century on account of their association with Jesus (Revelation 1:8-9).

In Chapter 5, John sees a glorious figure seated on a Throne at the epicenter of creation. He is holding a scroll sealed with seven seals. No one in the entire Cosmos is found who is worthy to open it; that is, not until the arrival of Jesus symbolized by a freshly sacrificed lamb. The Lamb is declared worthy to open the scroll, precisely, because “he was slain and redeemed to God by his blood men out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and made them a kingdom and priests to our God.” This group is not national Israel or the Jewish people but, instead, all the men and women of every nation who have been redeemed by the Lamb (Revelation 5:9-10).

The same category applied previously to the churches of Asia is now applied to this great multitude of men and women from every nation; that is, a “kingdom of priests.” This vast company is larger than the seven small congregations of Asia, yet it also includes them.

In Chapter 7, John “hears” the “number” of God’s servants that are “sealed,” twelve thousand males from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, 144,000 in total. But when he looks, he “sees” a vast multitude that “no one could number out of every nation, and all tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the Throne and the Lamb.” What John “sees” interprets what he “hears,” and the innumerable multitude he now sees is the same company he saw previously from “every nation, and all tribes, and peoples, and tongues.” In both passages, the blood of the Lamb redeemed the men and women from every nation. Thus, for example, the members of the innumerable multitude are arrayed in white garments, having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 5:9-107:1-17).
In this way, the book of Revelation transforms the image of the tribes of Israel assembled for march to the land of Canaan into a vast multitude of men and women redeemed by Jesus from every nation and seen “coming out of the great tribulation.” Upon exit, they stand “before the throne of God” in his “sanctuary” where the Lamb shepherds and “leads them to life’s fountains of waters,” a picture of life in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 7:13-1721:1-6).
The Two Witnesses in Chapter 11 are called the “two lampstands.” This means that in some capacity they represent churches. Revelation is consistent with its symbolism. They are also called “prophets.” When their ministry is finished, the Beast that is to “ascend from the Abyss will wage war with them, overcome and slay them.” This clause borrows language is from Daniel’s vision of the “little horn” that waged war on the “saints”:

(Daniel 7:20-21) – “Also concerning the ten horns, which were in his head, and the other which came up, and there fell—from among them that were before it—three—and this horn which had eyes and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was more proud than his fellows: I continued looking when this horn made war with the holy ones—and prevailed against them.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 11:7) – “And as soon as they have completed their witnessing, the wild-beast that is to come up out of the abyss WILL MAKE WAR WITH THEM, AND OVERCOME THEM, and slay them.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The “Beast from the Abyss” cannot kill the Two Witnesses until authorized to do so by a higher authority. But their violent deaths do not mean a defeat for the Lamb. Their martyrdom produces the Day of the Lord and the consummation of the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15-19).

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
In Chapter 12, Satan is expelled from heaven and, therefore, finds he no longer can “accuse our brethren before God”; he has lost his prosecutorial powers. Enraged, he gathers his forces to “wage war against the seed of the woman, those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.” This passage also uses the same language from Daniel to describe the Dragon’s violent assault against the Woman’s “seed.” This group is identified by its association with Jesus, those who have the “testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:9-17).

Likewise, the “brethren” overcome the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, and because they love not their life even unto death.” Clearly, this group belongs to the Lamb. They have been purchased by his lifeblood, tasked with bearing witness, and are willing to die a martyr’s death if required. They pursue perseverance in tribulation, not escape from it (Revelation 12:11).

The “Beast that ascends from the sea” will, likewise, “wage war with the saints and overcome them.” Once again, language from Daniel’s vision of the “little horn” is employed to describe the Beast’s war against the followers of the Lamb. It parallels the descriptions of the Beast’s war against the Two Witnesses and that of the Dragon against the “seed of the Woman.” Whether attacked by the Beast from the Abyss, the Dragon, or the Beast from the sea, Satan is the driving force behind the assault (Revelation 13:1-10).

(Revelation 13:7-10) – “And it was given unto him TO MAKE WAR WITH THE SAINTS, AND TO OVERCOME THEM; and there was given him authority against every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all they who are dwelling upon the earth will do homage unto him—every one whose name is not written in the scroll of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If anyone hath an ear: let him hear. If anyone into captivity, into captivity he goeth away. If anyone with a sword doth slay, he must with a sword be slain. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

When the Beast “wages war” with the saints, believers who are destined for captivity must go into captivity. Likewise, those given over to be slain by the sword must with the sword be slain.  This is “the perseverance and the faith of the saints,” their martyrdom, not their escape from the space-time continuum (see - Revelation 14:12).

The “saints” in Chapter 13 are identified in the following chapter as “they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus,” a clause virtually identical to the one in Revelation 12:17, “They who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).

Next, the “Beast from the earth” causes all the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the image of the Beast from the sea and to take its “mark.” In contrast, the sealed company of the redeemed stand with the Lamb on “Zion,” having his Father’s “name written on their foreheads.” Thus, humanity falls into two groups:  those men sealed by God who follow the Lamb, and the “inhabitants of the earth” who take the Beast’s mark. There is no middle ground (Revelation 13:15-18, 14:1-5).

(Revelation 14:12) – “Here is the endurance of the saints—they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice out of heaven, saying—Write! Happy the dead who in the Lord do die from henceforth. Yea! (saith the Spirit) that they may rest from their toils, for their works do follow with them.

The redeemed gathered on “Zion” sing a “new song,” just as the four Living Creatures and the twenty-four Elders did before the throne. The 144,000 “males” constitute the same company described previously, only now from a different perspective (“they were redeemed from mankind” – 14:4). This group is comprised of those “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” the “redeemed from the earth.”

At the commencement of the seven bowls of wrath, the company of the redeemed is described with imagery from the Exodus story.  Those who “overcome” the Beast are seen “standing upon the glassy sea having harps of God, and they are singing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb.”

(Revelation 15:1-4) – “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous—seven messengers having seven plagues, the last, because in them was ended the wrath of God. And I saw as a glassy sea mingled with fire, and them who escape victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing upon the glassy sea, having harps of God; and they sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying—Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God, the Almighty! Righteous and true are thy ways, O King of the ages! Who shall in anywise not be put in fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name—because alone full of lovingkindness; because all the nations will have come and will do homage before thee, because thy righteous deeds were made manifest?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Overcome” translates the same verb used in the messages to the seven churches for the faithful saints who “overcome.” It is the same verb found when the “brethren overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb.” Once again, the same company of the redeemed is seen, although from a different perspective. Nevertheless, it is the same group of redeemed saints seen previously.
Saints overcome the Beast, not by escaping persecution, but by faithfully enduring whatever the Beast inflicts. Those destined for captivity go into captivity; those for death by the sword are killed with sword. This is the “perseverance of the saints.” Like the 144,000 on standing with the Lamb on “Zion,” the faithful saints that John now sees standing on the sea of glass sing the “song of the Lamb.” This “song” links the two groups; they are one and the same.
Babylon” is judged and destroyed for her egregious sins, among them, her persecution of the saints, apostles, and the prophets. John sees her “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” The saints rejoice over her destruction because it means their vindication. In the interim, the redeemed “people” of God are exhorted to “come out of her that they may have no fellowship with her sins and of her plagues they may not receive” (Revelation 17:1-19:10).

The fall of Babylon causes rejoicing on the earth and in heaven.  It is the time for the “marriage of the Lamb, for his wife has made herself ready.” She is “arrayed in fine linen,” which represents the “righteous acts of the saints.” Christians who heed the Spirit and overcome are, likewise, “arrayed in white garments”; so also Likewise, believers who come out of the great tribulation are also seen “arrayed in white garments,” having washed and made them white “in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 3:53:187:9-17).

From start to finish, the focus of the book of Revelation is on the church, the people of God consisting of men and women from every nation redeemed by the Lamb. Her struggles, challenges, conflicts, and final victory are the concern of the book. A variety of terms and images are used to portray this single company, terms mostly derived from the Old Testament story of Israel. The book of Revelation reapplies them to the followers of the Lamb.

The mission of the church assigned by its risen Lord is not to escape tribulation but to persevere through it, bearing faithful witness along the way. She is a royal body that reigns with Jesus but does so in a priestly role. The churches are lampstands intended to shine the light of the Lamb in the world, and that goal cannot be accomplished if the church is removed from the earth.

Like John on the isle of Patmos, the saints are summoned to become “fellow participants in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus.”


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