All Saints Means All Saints (Revelation 7)
1. The Apostle John received two visions of comfort in our First Reading this morning. He was shown the one holy, Christian and apostolic Church. First, Jesus reveals to John the church militant--the saints on earth. Second, Jesus reveals to him the church triumphant--the saints before the throne of God in Heaven. Jesus shows John that All Saints means all saints.
2. In the first vision, John sees an angel coming from the rising of the sun. He proclaims to the four angels who are holding the four winds back from abusing the earth, "Do not harm the earth nor the sea nor the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads" (v3). The seal shows that these are God's people. What is the sealing? It's the waters of Baptism. In our rite of Baptism, we see this seal come into sharp focus as the one being baptized is told, "Receive the sign of the holy Cross both upon your forehead and your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified" [LSB p. 268]. When you were baptized, you were sealed as a servant of God forever. That's why we can sing, "Bold shall I stand in that great day, cleansed and redeemed, no debt to pay; fully absolved through these I am from sin and fear, from guilt and shame" (LSB #563.2). John sees the holy Christian Church being sealed so that no matter what happens to them in the end times, they are still God's people whom He will not forsake.
3. Did you catch the number John saw being sealed? 144,000. This number has been given great significance by many groups over the last two thousand years. What is the REAL meaning of the number? It's simply symbolic of the entire Christian Church on earth. It's twelve times twelve times ten cubed. Twelve for the people of God--twelve tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles. Ten is the apocalyptic number of perfection. Three is the Trinity. Therefore, the 144,000 is simply the complete revelation of the Trinity given to us through the twelve tribes of Israel--God's Old Testament people--and the twelve Apostles--God's New Testament Church. In other words, it's you and me and every other Christian sitting in a pew everywhere else in the world. We are the 144,000. It's not a literal number. It's a symbol that includes all Christians.
4. The second vision has not 144,000, but an innumerable multitude standing before the throne of God in Heaven. Where the 144,000 are described as being from the tribes of Israel, the innumerable throng are from every nation, tribe, people and tongue. This is truly the multitude that "comes from the east and the west to sit at the feast of salvation" (LSB #510.1). The church triumphant has found their peace and their eternal reward in Heaven. The crowd is innumerable because it is the entire Christian Church of all time: the saints of the past "who from their labors rest" (LSB #677.1); the saints now who seek to "faithful, true, and bold, fight as the sainrs who nobly fought of old" (LSB #677.3) and the saints yet to come. Everyone who has received salvation through Jesus Christ. They have white garments that have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb (vv9,14). They carry palm branches to worship the Lamb--their King who has triumphed over death, sin and Hell for them. Our closing hymn summarizes this second crowd, "Behold a host, arrayed in white, like thousand snow-clad mountains bright! With palms they stand; who is this band before the throne of light? These are the saints of glorious fame, who from the great affliction came and in the flood of Jesus' blood are cleansed from guilt and shame" (LSB #676.1). These are they who have preceded us into Heaven and shout gladly, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (v10).
5. These two visions give the Apostle John great comfort and they should comfort you as well. Today we not only celebrate the faith of those who have departed this life in the Christian faith. We rightly celebrate All Saints' Day--whether in the Church Triumphant in Heaven or the Church Militant on earth. This is a day for all saints. And All Saints means all saints. That includes you. Amen.