(13) Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” (14) I 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.
One of the elders starts the conversation with John about the identity of the great multitude. John’s reply of “Sir, you know” is a wonderful statement, and I would imagine that John could properly interpret this vision; I think he could recognize a picture of his own brethren. But for whatever reason, he does not answer the question of the elder. I like to think that maybe he is echoing the response of Ezekiel when he saw the vision of dry bones, and was asked “Son of man, can these bones live?” and Ezekiel’s response was “O Lord GOD, you know” (Ezekiel 37:3).
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” This is such an important picture for that generation of Christians, and equally applicable for us today. This was written to the very people who are going through the tribulation of those days, this is a snapshot of them after it is all over with. The Lord is allowing them to see themselves after the trials of that day if they would only endure and overcome.
“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These have washed their garments in blood, not in the blood shed in the days of vengeance but in the blood of the Lamb. Washing garments in all other blood will result in a terribly stained robe but washing in the pure blood of the precious Lamb of God makes the robe white by his power. This is an image of the pure life of Christ worn daily by the saints in the light (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).
This is a visual of the promises Christ made to the churches earlier in Revelation 3:4-5, 18. “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.”
(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.
I’m sure that this is true of all the faithful who have passed from this earth, but this vision seems more focused on the physical survivors of the great tribulation. As I also commented on 4:4 and 7:9-10, it is important to understand that those living in Christ on this earth are in fact before the throne of God. Colossians 2:12 shows how the Christians has been: 1. Buried with Him (this is by baptism; without baptism we cannot have a part in the burial of Christ), 2. Raised with Him (this is by faith through baptism; without it we are not resurrected from our sins), 3. Made alive together with Him. We are now alive together with Christ! That is, we are alive (no longer dead in sins), and we are “with Him!” Where is he that we can be with him? Why he is at the throne of God, or course! Yes, so that is where we serve him too. Later, in Colossians 3:1-4, Paul describes how or life is “hidden with Christ,” so that when he appears, “then you also will appear with him.” Ephesians 2:1-7 does a fantastic job of discussing these same spiritual truths. Therein it says: 1. He has “made us alive together with Christ,” 2. He “raised us up with him,” 3. He “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” This is what we have now that we are a Christian (if we are a true Christian). We are holy now. We are without condemnation now. We now belong in the heavenly places, serving our God day and night.
“In his temple.” It is important to recognize what the temple of God is today. The temple is not that physical building that was to be burned up only a year or two after the writing of Revelation! Notice how the New Testament speaks of the identity of the temple:
“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
“In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22).
“If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
“But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:6).
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
It is evident from the biblical record that the temple and house of God is the Church. The symbol here in Revelation 7:15 of serving him day and night “in his temple” is a figure of the servants of God which make up the church of Christ.