Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at stories from the Bible that teach us about unity through the metaphor of language. We’ve seen how the world became such a divided place as a result of sin, and we’ve seen how every once a while, we get glimpses of unity breaking back into the world. In our final story, we’re going to see God’s ultimate plan for uniting humanity come to fruition, and we’re going to discuss how we can be a part of that. Let’s get to it.
This week’s story is unique in that it hasn’t actually happened yet. But we can read about it in Revelation 7. In this chapter, we get a preview of what worship is going to be like in eternity. Starting in verse nine, we read John’s account:
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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Now, we’ll skip down to verse 13:
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 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.
“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. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”
What an incredible future God has in store for his people!
In this passage, we get a glimpse of what heaven is going to be like. John tells us here that he sees a crowd standing before God made up of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language. This means that, in eternity, believers from every corner of the world will come together and worship our God.
Back in Revelation 5.9-10, some of the inhabitants of heaven are praising Jesus, and they say, “Worthy are you… for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom…” And now, just a couple of chapters later, that kingdom has been assembled before the throne of its king.
God’s kingdom is made up of believers from every earthly kingdom that exists now, has existed before, or ever will exist. It includes people of every background, of every shade, who speak every language that’s ever been spoken. In God’s kingdom, there will be people from China, from North Korea, from Uganda, from Iran, from here, from there, and from everywhere. And at the end of time, we will all come together before the throne of God, and we will say with one voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who is on the throne!”
We won’t have any language barriers then. There will be no disconnect, no division, no differences. We will be united as one kingdom: God’s kingdom. Because before the throne of God, the tower of Babel crumbles into nothing, and the division and brokenness that it caused disappear. They are no more. Because in God’s kingdom, we are all one. We are perfectly united, just the way God intended for us to be.
That’s the future we have to look forward to. Someday, we will live in a perfect place with no pain, no strife, and no conflict. And in that perfect place will be our brothers and in sisters in Christ from all over the world, and we’ll live in perfect harmony and unity under one shepherd. There won’t be any ingroups and outgroups. There will be only one group: us. The kingdom of God.
These stories teach us that God’s end goal for humanity is for us to be united in him. But they also remind us that we don’t have to wait until the end of time to participate in that unity. We can catch glimpses of it now, and we can choose to live into the reality of it even as we await its completion.
Did you know that while Jesus was on earth, he prayed for his followers? We read about it in John 17. In the passage, he starts by praying for the disciples who were with him right then and there, but then, he turns and prays for all of those who would come after them, including believers today. Here’s what he says in verses 20 and 21:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…
It was Jesus’ prayer for us as believers that we be united in him. That’s what he wanted for us. Unfortunately, we sometimes allow things to come between us, to divide us. This should not be so. Because there is nothing that could ever come between us, whether it be a disagreement or physical distance or a language barrier or anything else, that can take precedence over our bond as brothers and sisters in Christ.
One quick example, and then I’ll be done: Katherine and I recently got married, which means my family just got a whole lot bigger. Something you may or may not know about my wife is that she is Hispanic. If you look back a few generations, part of her family comes from Mexico. Which means that now, part of my family comes from Mexico.
So now, when I hear people talk about those of Hispanic descent, they’re not just talking about some faceless mass of people I don’t know. They’re talking about my wife, my grandmother, my siblings. When Katherine and I have children, they will, through their mother, inherit that legacy. So someday, they’ll be talking about my kids. And those of you who are parents know what it’s like when someone says something about your kids. For the rest of my life, through my family connection, I have a stake in what happens to that community and how they’re talked about because those are my people.
But if you’re a believer, a brother or sister in Christ, doesn’t that make them your people, too? In reality, we’ve got family—siblings—who come from every nation, tribe, people, and language living on this planet right now. And they’re all our people.
There is no us-versus-them in the body of Christ. There is no “not our problem” in the body of Christ. There are no barriers, language or otherwise, in the body of Christ because we are all one body. We are all one kingdom: the kingdom of God. And we are called to unity.
Their struggle is our struggle. Their pain is our pain. Their victory is our victory. And their concerns should be our concerns. If we are to live up to the unity that God has called us to, then we must remember this simple truth: We have brothers and sisters all around the world, and they are our people. We are called by God to be concerned for them because his kingdom has brought us together, and we shouldn’t allow anything to tear us apart.
Unity is hard. The tower of Babel teaches us that. But God is working in the world to create that unity among his people, and one day, he will finish his work. In the meantime, we’re getting glimpses, and we’re invited to share in his unifying work. Here’s the question for you: Will you take part? How will you take part?
Maybe it’s simply by choosing to remember that when we talk about events going on in the world, we’re talking about real people who are created by God in his image for a purpose and who are loved by him. We’re talking about our brothers and sisters. And every time we choose to speak, we need to keep in mind who we’re speaking about.
Maybe it’s by reaching out and getting to know someone who looks a little different than you do, or speaks a little differently than you do, or sees the world a little differently than you do. Honestly, how can you say you’re participating in God’s unifying work if all of your friends and loved ones look, act, and believe the same way as you? We’re called to do more than just sit contently in our ingroups. We can do better.
Maybe it’s by inviting others to share in God’s unifying work, as I’ve tried to do through this series. Or maybe it’s another way. However the Holy Spirit leads you, we are each called to participate in this work, because it is God’s work. He wants us to be united, and one day he will bring us all together in his kingdom. Until then, he’s leaving it up to us.
The world can be a less divided place, but only if we make it that way. I say we do it, together.