“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
John has just recorded an important event: the sealing of the 144,000. Almost all the numbers in this book are symbolic so we are to understand this number to be a symbol of perfection, being a multiple of 12 as in 12 apostles and 12 tribes. The 144,000 simply means the full number of the redeemed, not a literal number. This is confirmed by the fact that what John sees next is a vast uncountable number of people, the redeemed from every tribe and nation, much more than 144,000. These apparently have all faithfully suffered and endured through the great tribulation and received their reward: eternal joy in heaven free from sin, pain, fear and death in the presence of Jesus, the lamb who was slain.
Such a glorious image makes should make us long for our heavenly home. Yet it should also make us long to make the church look like that heavenly assembly now, one made up of people from every ethnicity, race, and language. Years ago I took a course on church growth. One of the main principles that was taught was that like attracts like. A church which seeks to increase its attendance and membership should focus on attracting those individuals and groups most akin to those already in its congregation, that is, of the same or similar socio-economic level, race, or ethnicity. But that principle makes a mockery of this glorious vision. Churches should welcome others of all the different nationalities and ethnicities as far as is possible and so fulfill the Lord’s commission. Our Church ought to reflect the heavenly kingdom: a communion of people from every race, language and ethnicity all united by a common faith in Christ.