What Christian hasn’t been moved by the beautiful vision of Revelation 7? John sees a powerful display of what God means to accomplish—and, indeed, what he is accomplishing and will accomplish—through the gospel of Jesus Christ. “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!’” (7:9–10). In the Old Testament there were two peoples—Jews and Gentiles. But in Christ there is just one people—Christians. These Christians span every possible type or category or division of men.
Revelation 7 has long been used as a motivator to global missions, and well it should be. Many believers have been stirred by this vision to take the gospel to nations, tribes, peoples, and languages where that gospel has not been heard or where it has not been widely accepted. They’ve understood that John’s vision is not one God means to realize apart from the diligent commitment of his people, but through it. God’s plan was never to zap his gospel into those distant nations and places, but to have his people carry it there.
And so missionaries have been called and commissioned and sent. They’ve gone and returned with harrowing, inspiring stories of how God has acted. They’ve gone and told the world about Jesus and seen people come to Christ. They’ve had the pleasure of then experiencing a small foretaste of the realization of John’s vision. They’ve been able to worship Jesus Christ with people who are very different from themselves, people who represent a different ethnicity and who inhabit a different culture and who speak a different language. Many missionaries have had the divine pleasure of that small glimpse of heaven.
But what these missionaries could not have foreseen is that a day would come when the nations, tribes, peoples, and languages would come to the places the missionaries had been sent from. In a very short period of time the world would dramatically shrink and humanity would gain a whole new kind of mobility. In a generation, cities like Toronto would be completely transformed so that today 51 percent of its residents have been born in another country. In our largest city, “new” Canadians now outnumber “old” Canadians. Visibility minorities are now the majority. Today there are far more Indian unbelievers in Canada than Canadian missionaries in India, more Chinese unbelievers in Canada than Canadian missionaries in China, and so on. And these numbers are not dissimilar to those in so many other world cities. A great change is afoot. What a time to be alive! What a time to preach the gospel!
Revelation describes a great multitude from every nation, but today it just as easily describes “a great multitude in every nation.” What used to be a call to global missions is, in today’s new world, equally a call to local evangelism. Of course we can never be apathetic about the call to go to distant lands, but we must also understand our responsibility to reach nearby neighborhoods. Today we do not only get to see Revelation 7 realized out there, but also right here.