What God Says About Diversity1
Having just finished another study in the deeply meaningful, but often misunderstood, book of the Revelation, I couldn't help but reflect on how John's vision in chapter 7 speaks to our current, culture-wide conversation about race and inequality. No, John's vision (recorded almost 2000 years ago) does not speak directly to the specific concerns of many today. But it does paint an amazing picture of the very realities that should be foundational to our thinking about cultural diversity, especially for the follower of Jesus.
In Revelation 7:9, John, with visionary lenses, is allowed to peer into the very presence of God. Listen to what he sees...
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...
Notice two powerful truths presented in this vision:
First, in God's presence racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity is readily apparent. John has no problem recognizing people “standing before the throne” who are from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”. This is the way Revelation talks about people from every corner of the world; about human diversity in terms of every distinct race and region, ethnicity and society, language and culture. Such distinctions do not fade in the presence of our Maker. Why would they? He is the Creator and Sustainer of this diverse human family (cf. Acts 14:16, 17; 17:26). Moreover, this diversity glorifies His wide, free, and impartial mercy (Revelation 5:9).
But John's vision also reveals that...
Second, in God's presence racial, ethnic, and cultural unity is readily apparent. Even though the “great multitude” that John observes is a heavenly mosaic of diversity, it is also powerfully unified. Notice that every single person in this “multitude” is 1) “standing before the throne”, 2) “clothed in white robes”, and 3) carrying “palm branches in their hands”. And if we were to continue reading, we would discover that their position, their apparel, and their palms, all point to one united effort and exercise: worship. Verse 10 goes on to tell us they were “crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”
Think about the implications of this stunning vision of redeemed humanity. Racial, ethnic, national, regional, linguistic, and cultural differences shouldn't be reasons for prejudice, but for praise, for they are features featured in the glory-filled, worship-filled presence of God himself. And yet, this vision also reminds us that the entire mosaic of humanity is tinted by the taint of sin. Verse 14 explains the whiteness of the multitude's robes: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Why would their robes need to be washed? Because they were sullied by the me-centered, God-rejecting rebellion that marks every sinner. There is no nation or tribe or people unstained by this corruption. Finally, because of Jesus, because of “the blood of the Lamb”, the many colors of the human race will be eternally displayed on a beautiful canvas of blinding purity. Though we rightly strive to live presently and consistently in light of this vision of dignity and equality, only God can bring the lasting harmony we desperately need. May the closing words of the vision not only comfort us, but also inspire us to honor Jesus daily, as we remember the diversity and unity before his throne:
“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.”