A Scriptural Meditation on our Vision by Michael Daily, Pastor*
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. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" (Revelation 7:11-12; NIV)
Late in life, John, one of Jesus’ first twelve disciples, is given visions which are written down and preserved for us in the last book of the Bible, The Revelation. In this particular passage, he describes a scene from the afterlife.
Three things from his vision stand out to me. First, people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” are gathered around God’s throne. In other words, individuals from diverse cultures, class and upbringing have been brought together because of a common interest that somehow transcends their differences. Second, these people are consumed in enthusiastic worship. They are crying in a loud voice. Their worship is exuberant, passionate and filled with gratitude. And lastly, their white robes testify to their righteousness. In other passages from the Revelation (Revelation 3:4-5; 7:14), we learn the significance of the robes—these are saints who have “overcome”. They have been purified, and are considered worthy to be in the presence of the Lamb.
Now for me, all this is very disturbing. Why? Because this snapshot of heaven looks so unlike the average worship service here on earth. By and large our congregations are made up of people very much like one another. Visit the average church service on Sunday morning and you’ll notice that everyone looks and talks very much like everyone else. Each person has about the same level of education and generally has the same sort of interests. Just down the street, however, is another church where the people are very different from the congregation described above, but in appearance, very much like one another.
Then there’s the matter of worship. To be sure, you can find enthusiastic worship in many of today’s churches. But how often is it coupled with serious, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, passionate living for the glory of the savior? Michael Horton, author and theologian, points out that highly respected pollsters such as The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general."
What’s wrong with this picture? The church on earth appears vastly different than the one in heaven. The church in heaven is racially and culturally varied; churches on earth are homogenized. The church in heaven is consumed with passionate Christ-centered worship; churches on earth are frequently lukewarm and self-focused. The church in heaven is made up of righteous overcomers; churches on earth are filled with people whose lives are indistinguishable from those of non-Christians.
Is there hope for the church on earth? To ignore the heavenly vision that John preserved for us is to practically guarantee things here on earth will remain the same as they are today. Perhaps if we make it our prayer and our goal to have church on earth as it is in heaven, we will begin to move in that direction. Isn’t it time that we make the attempt? I’m not sure heaven can wait.
* For the ideas presented here, I am indebted to Michael Campbell, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS for exploring the implications of the Revelation 7 passage on ethnic relations in the church during his presentation at the 2006 Bethlehem Pastor's Conference.
 Cited by Ron Sider in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Baker, 2004).