The first liturgical vestment I purchased was a long white robe called an Alb. This is the typical robe for clergy in the Anglican denomination. The Alb I purchased was thin, light, durable, and easy to wash.
I wore this Alb on a weekly basis for over four years; that is until a small red thread made its way into the washing machine. From that day on, if the light caught me just right, I would shine with a pinkish glow.
In normal circumstances, white robes do not mix well with the color red. Yet John’s vision of heaven includes this reality.
As John peers into the heavenly realms, he sees the heavenly multitude dressed in “robes made white in the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14). In the kingdom of God, the crimson blood of Jesus washes all robes spotless and white.
It is safe to say that John’s vision of the white robes is more than just a picture of the clothes we will wear in heaven. The white robes of the saints, rather, indicate the eternal blessings that await the faithful.
The description of the heavenly saints, clad in blood-washed white robes speaks to the divine blessings we will enjoy in God’s eternal kingdom. The question we must ask is: what do the white robes represent? More specifically, what truth might this speak to us today?
1. Clad in White Robes
In the kingdom of heaven, the faithful will not wear jeans or cut-offs, tailored suits, or formal evening wear. No, the saints are clothed in long, white, robes.
John’s vision is incredibly specific, “After this I looked up and there before me was a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe and people and language. . . they were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (7:9).
Within the context of John’s vision, the robes speak not to clothing, but to identity. White robes declare the identity of the great multitude.
Throughout Scripture, the color white is a reference to purity and righteousness. Forgiveness is often imaged as the removal of stain or dirt. King David, for example, prays, “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
Being washed white, therefore, is an image of redemption and forgiveness. The multitude of heaven, therefore, are those who are forgiven their sins. They are redeemed by Jesus and brought into the heavenly kingdom.
This, however, is only half the image. While this explains why the saints are clad in white, this does not explain why the saints wear robes. To understand this we must recognize that, in the first-century world, white robes were worn by temple priests.
The consecration of Aaron as Israel’s first priest, for example, involves him being “clothed with a robe” (Leviticus 8:7). The sanctity or “set-apartness” of the Levitical priesthood was signified through the donning of robes.
We should not miss the radicalness of this image. The saints of God, from every tribe, nation, and tongue, are made priests of God. John views the traditional picture of the temple priest and sees it applied to all the faithful.
John records that “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in the temple” (Revelation 7:15). This is not a new thought.
In fact, there are several places throughout Scripture where God describes the community of faith as a nation of priests (Exodus19:6; Isaiah 61:6; Revelation 1:6). Scripture is clear that; in the resurrection, all are priests.
2. Washed in Blood
The eternal priests of heaven are spotless and undefiled. Such spotlessness, however, is not because they are perfect. Rather, the robes of the saints are made white through Christ’s blood.
The angelic guide for John’s vision describes the saints as those “who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). The saints are those who had clung to Jesus despite tribulation and martyrdom.
This image would have been significant for John’s readers. At that time, the Christian community was going through extreme persecution. Churches had been pillaged and Christians were being slaughtered.
John’s vision, therefore, would have been a great encouragement to a suffering and rejected community.
Persecution did not mean divine rejection; the community of faith was covered by Christ’s blood. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross secures for the saints their salvation and redemption, and because of this, they could delight in their eternal victory.
This is the truth spoken into our lives as well. We too can be encouraged as we walk through times of suffering and struggle. While we may not feel that we undergo a great tribulation, this doesn’t mean our Christian lives are always easy.
In each of our lives, there are times when we encounter challenges or struggles, where the life of faith seems hard or difficult. There are times when we feel like we face an arduous climb. Even the smallest hill can seem mountainous when it comes out of the blue.
In these instances, we can be assured that we are covered by the blood of Jesus. During our struggles, we are immersed in His loving sacrifice. As the saints in heaven dwell in divine closeness for eternity, we can be assured today that we are not abandoned by God.
Furthermore, when the struggles of our lives appear insurmountable, we can rest in the truth that we will pass through our suffering into the blessedness of resurrection. This is a promise written in blood and sealed in God’s love.
3. Covered in the Robes of Jesus
John’s vision is encouraging and hope-filled. In the resurrection, the faithful are pictured as being priests around the throne of God. This conveys a deep intimacy between us and our Lord. Yet John’s vision of the saints is not complete.
To top it all off, John envisions the one seated upon the throne sheltering the saints in his presence (7:15). Literally, this image is of Jesus “tabernacling” or “spreading his tent” over them.
This is a startling image of our fellowship with the Lord. The multitude of saints, clad in white robes, are gathered under the white robes of Jesus.
The glorious presence of Jesus isn’t just a delightful object we look at for eternity. Saints enjoy deep intimacy with God. The deep yearnings of our hearts are satisfied in the presence of Jesus.
Never again will we hunger, never again will we thirst, never again will anything oppressive or harmful befall us. All are thwarted by the victory of the cross.
A saint is not someone who does miracles, or who has gained a certain level of holiness or moral perfection. A saint describes someone who holds onto Jesus in this life, and therefore, is guaranteed to enjoy the blessing of Christ’s presence in the next.
For further reading:
What Is the Significance of the Crown of Thorns?
What Do We Know about the Second Coming of Jesus?
What Is Heaven Like According to the Bible?
What Does it Mean That Our Citizenship Is in Heaven?
What Happens after We Die According to the Bible?
Photo Credit: ©iStockGettyImagesPlusRomoloTavani
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.