Sermon on Revelation 7:9 – “With Palm Branches in Their Hands”

Sermon on Revelation 7:9 – “With Palm Branches in Their Hands”

Sermon for Sunday, March 24th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Lev 23:33-44 ESV] 33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work. 37 “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the LORD food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day, 38 besides the LORD’s Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides all your vow offerings and besides all your freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD. 39 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” 44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the LORD.

New Testament reading:

[Rev 7:9-17 ESV] 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 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. 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. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 12:12-19 ESV] 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Introduction

From our New Testament reading today, the sermon text is a single verse:

[Rev 7:9 ESV] 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

With Palm Branches in their hands.

I came upon this verse in my readings sometime during the past year and I said to myself, “Self, here is a good verse for a Palm Sunday sermon.”

It is not the typical or common verse emphasized on Palm Sunday, but it has a strong connection to that day.

In fact, this is the fulfillment in heaven of that day on earth.

In Jerusalem, Christ was welcomed by a multitude with palm branches.

In heaven, one day, when ALL the elect of God are gathered together — John sees in a vision — that they will have palm branches in their hands.

I’ve thought for some years that I would like to preach on the Book of Revelation. And that I would do so after preaching through books that have a bearing on the subject matter. Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and the Gospels in the New Testament.

But today gives us a chance to jump right into this enigmatic book. Right into John’s vision of heaven.

I. A Vision of All the Elect

What does John see? And this is a revelation from Jesus Christ himself TO John the Apostle, so it is the Word of God and recognized as such by the church from the earliest days.

And in this vision — this glorious vision — John sees a multitude in heaven.

A. All sorts of people

And of this multitude there are people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.

What a glorious sight. Peoples of all sorts, brought together in that common bond of Christ.

All the differences and disputes between the peoples are no more.

There are Eskimos and Arabs, Russians and Rwandans, Germans and Guamanians all together.

The Gospel has spread to the nations. The knowledge of salvation by the Grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ known by faith has succeeded.

ALL the elect are gathered together in heaven praising God, saying “Amen! Blessing and gory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”

OUR God. Not the God just of the Jews. But the God of the Gentiles too. The God even of the Barbarians, Scythians, slaves, and free. The God of ALL is OUR God, they proclaim.

I can only keep saying the word “Glorious!”

It is the Great commission fulfilled. A great multitude of disciples of all nations.

B. Having come through great tribulation

This multitude of people is said to have come out of “the great tribulation.” (v. 14)

In Matthew 24, Christ speaks of tribulation before his return. There will be a time of great tribulation.

But it would be incorrect to think that this multitude is ONLY those who went through the final tribulation. They are, rather, ALL the elect, each of whom has gone through tribulation in their own time.

The point is clear: They are now in heaven, and their suffering is over. This is a vision of comfort.

In heaven, the elect of God will have Christ as their shepherd, he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes.

Our eyes! All Christians will be there.

C. Innumerable to Man, not to God

The number of believers, saved of God, is innumerable.

It is more than John could count. More than any man could count. But it is a number God can count.

While some places in the scripture seem to indicate that few are saved, other places emphasize the magnitude. The magnitude of the multitude.

There are FEW that find the narrow gate. [Matthew 7:14]

And Christ says to his follows in Luke 12:32, “Fear not LITTLE flock.”

And throughout the Scriptures we find there is a small remnant who believer. As few as 8 in Noah’s ark.

Sometimes the church is quite small. At others times it is larger.

But when you add up the church — ALL the believers through ALL the ages — there is a great multitude.

That is what is seen in John’s vision. The multitude in heaven.

And this great uncountable number emphasizes the great victory of Christ. He has died not to save just an elite few, but an elect multitude, chosen not for their greatness but to display His greatness.

This multitude is that fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 that his seed would be “as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” A great uncountable multitude.

II. The Meaning of the Palm Branches

Now we find that this multitude is seen “with palm branches in their hands.”

And it is important that we investigate what this means.

Many sources will tell you that palm branches are a symbol of victory in Greek and Roman times. The Greeks, for examples, bestowed palm leaves upon victorious Olympic athletes.

Other sources will note that palm branches were use to welcome kings.

Each of these may be true, but when in comes to the New Testament it is a best practice to look for understanding NOT to the secular world but to the Old Testament. THAT is where the New Testament writers live and breath; in the Word of God.

And in the Old Testament we find palm branches at the Feast of Tabernacles.

What do we find there?

Let me read again the relevant section from Leviticus:

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year.”

So the Palm branch is a symbol, not only of victory but of joy and of thanksgiving for the ingathered fruits.

The scene we then have in heaven is the waving of palm branches when ALL the people of God are ingathered! The harvest of the elect is complete, the victory is won, the tribulation over, and the celebration and joy eternal.

Joel Beeke also says that the feast of tabernacles was a “celebration of their deliverance from Egypt and anticipated arrival in the promised land.” (Beeke, p. 246)

So we have in John’s vision a celebrated of deliverance from tribulation and the welcome arrival in heaven of all the elect of God.

And “with palm branches in their hands.”

Another commentator points out that the Palm Branches at the Feast of Tabernacles were used to make the booths in which the people temporarily lived in. And so they symbolized God’s protection of Israel during her years of pilgrimage and wandering in the desert.

So I think we can safely say there is a lot of meaning, various meanings for palm branches. But all “good.” They are victory, joy, ingathering, protecting, deliverance, and celebration. All because of God.

So John sees the people “with palm branches in their hands.”

The same was done at the coming of Christ into Jerusalem before a multitude of people.

Now it is done again, but as the completed proclamation by the multitude in heaven.

This is where the triumphal entry points; where it is leading, ultimately to Christ eternally victorious, eternally king, eternally having gathered His people together in heaven.

There is something more. Not only do the people have palm branches in their hands, but they are wearing white robes. They are “washed in the blood of the lamb.”

III. Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

Here we see the difference in the people.

In the triumphal entry it was a mixed crowd; some would fall away in disbelief.

But here in heaven, in John’s vision, all are believers, all have been washed in the blood of the lamb and so wearing white robes. All their sins have been forgiven. They are then holy as God is holy.

This is the church in glory. Or some call it “the church triumphant.” THEN the people of God are more fully appreciating and taking joy in the triumphal entry of Christ. They find joy in the fact that Christ has come TO DIE FOR HIS PEOPLE. It is not Christ’s death itself in which they revel, but in the fact that God would do so for undeserving sinners. That HE would make our robes white.

No wonder they are waving palm branches. They know their savior, their king, and their shepherd and are glorying in his victory.

So in this passage we find a great encouragement to Christians, that though they have tribulation, they are numbered among the elect of God and shall see the Lord and his triumph. That triumph is a completion of God’s gathering of his sheep. And if the angels rejoice when one man comes to Christ, imagine that day when the multitude is gathered in. Our afflictions are temporary, but our joy is eternal.

Throughout this we must realize that It is not Christians who are triumphant, it is Christ who is triumphant. That is why the multitude says: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Salvation belongs not to the good, or to those who are better at shunning evil, but Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And so we have a description of heaven:

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The glory of God both in this world at the triumphal entry and in the world to come in heaven are fitting places for the waving of palm branches. So we should let these branches be a reminder to us of God’s grace, His victory, and the completion of his purposes in Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen. And let us pray.