“By the white robes (Rev 7:9) he means the gift of the Holy Spirit.” — Caesareus of Arels
It is Jerusalem at the commemoration of Judas Maccabaeus’ rededication of the Temple after the successful revolt over the Greeks about 200 years prior. The religious leadership is approaching Jesus again. They keep asking the question: “Are you the Messiah.” By now Jesus has done six of his great signs with the raising of Lazarus the only one remaining. Yet, for some reason, the question: “Are you the Messiah,” will just not go away. Investigations into the miracles have been had (Ch 9) but no conclusions were reached.
Yes, Jesus has been questioned. He has said that he was the door for the sheep and that he was the Good Shepherd. It really does not get more obvious than that. Yet, on a day that nationalism runs high in an occupied Jerusalem perhaps one can forgive the question: “Are you the Messiah?” If he is the one, why is he not doing Judas Maccabaeus one better?
We will not read it on Sunday, but there is a good reason Jesus is not terribly clear. The simple fact is that no one really wants to hear the answer. When the discussion in today’s text ends, stones are picked up because suddenly those who want the Messiah are angry that the Messiah, the son of the blessed, would actually stand before them. To be honest, if the Messiah can’t admit that he is the Messiah because you would stone said Messiah for saying that we was the Messiah then can you ever actually have a Messiah?
Yes, they ask the question: “are you the Messiah,” but they really have no way to handle the answer if there was a hint that the answer might be “yes.” The information is not for them. You either see or you do not. You see the signs and believe as the beloved disciple does. You see the folded grave clothes and believe. Or you do not. Somehow there seems to be a barrier. It is either up or you hear the voice of Jesus and believe.
To put it another way: The Father has either called you and led you to Jesus or, well, the Father hasn’t. (Jn 6:44) You are of Jesus’ flock or you ain’t. When he speaks you either hear God speak or you do not. When you see a charcoal fire at dawn with an enigmatic figure inviting you to have breakfast of bread and fish — fish you know not how they were gotten because you certainly had caught nothing all night (Jn 21) — you either realize it is the Lord or you do not. When bread and cup are lifted you realize the Lord in with and under the bread and vine or you do not. In other words, if you have to ask: “Are you the Messiah,” then you are not one of Jesus’ flock.
Somewhere in heaven “seals” have been opened. That opening brings on calamity on a, pardon the pun, biblical scale. The horsemen of the Apocalypse are being released and visit their tribulations onto the world. It gets so bad that the martyrs beg the Ancient of Days: “please, let this end,” only to watch the mighty and the lowly alike being overcome by catastrophe and begging the mountains to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. (Rev 6:17) “The wrath of the Lamb?” That’s a phrase you don’t hear too often, but here it is.
Then there is an interlude. The multitude of 144,000 are sealed. Note: John of Patmos knows their number and origin: they are from the tribes of Israel. Right after that, another multitude, one that no one can number (7:9) is seen and they are singing of blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might given to God and to the Lamb upon the throne.
This multitude, who are they? They are those who have persevered in their allegiance to Christ in spite of all the calamity and catastrophe that was thrown at them. They are dressed in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb — not their own blood; these are not the martyrs, those were in 7:11 where they too are given their white robes. No, all these robes are made white in Christ’s blood. They are those who were baptized and the angel of eternal death passed over them. They stand at the ready to serve Christ in Heaven as they had been on earth.
The white robes, they are the Holy Spirit, says Ceasareus of Arels. Those who are clothed with the Holy Spirt do not ask of Christ: “Who are you?” They do not have to. Instead they praise him, says Revelation. They look to the beach and know it is the Lord and do not dare ask: “Who are you” for they all know it is the Lord because the Holy Spirit has counseled them concerning it, says the Gospel of John, though it seems they need time to get used to it. (Jn 21:12)
In a way the problem really is in the question: “Are you the one?” The better question would have been: “Tell us who we are?” But, that question assumes that you would accept the answer and that you would acknowledge Jesus as the authority with the answer.
When Jesus says: “I am the vine you are the branches,” it is said to the disciples who have accepted that authority. When he asks: “do you love me,” to the point that you ache that he is asking (Jn 21:17), you bear with it because you are his disciple, his lamb, his branch, even if right then your are being pruned. To pull away is unthinkable. It would mean death by the predators in the wild or oblivion on the burn pile where the dry, dead branches go. (Jn 15:6) John of Patmos has a burn pile as well. (Rev 20:10)
It is Good Shepherd Sunday again. Yes, “I am the Good Shepherd” is in Chapter 10 somewhere and it is the claim that brings on the argument that unfolds and drives Jesus to slip away until it is time to save Lazarus. Once the shepherd is discovered the next question is really simple: “Who am I?” The next thing to do is also very simple: “Will you follow?” And a third question is like it: “Will I live in Faith no matter what comes?”
These are Easter questions. Now that I have seen the Resurrection — though I am to so sure what I just saw and how it figures — will I rearrange some things in life because though life looks the same today, and maybe worse, in all reality, all has changed? And the Holy Spirit whispers: “Your cup, it overflows. Sing! Sing of blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might to God and to the Lamb. He was and is and is to come. Amen!”