“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!'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This is really an incredible picture, and a challenging one for the modern church. John hears the sound of the famed 144,000, but when he turns he sees a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language gathered before the throne of God and giving Him praise. What John sees here is a picture of the church universal gathered for worship.
And what does the church look like? It is multi-colored, multi-traditional, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual. I wonder: How many of our churches look like that today? While there are certainly some which are intentional about making this their goal, most don’t. Most are all a single color, a single language, a single culture, a single tradition.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many communities are pretty homogenous and so it only makes sense that the churches ministering to them will be reflective of their communities. But, many communities are incredibly diverse and yet the churches that minister to them are not. What’s more, there are not a few churches out there who are openly resistant to becoming multicultural because they don’t want to be.
And the truth is that being multicultural as a church can be really difficult. Taking different traditions and customs and worship preferences and combining them in a single body requires a lot of effort. It requires a lot of humility and a willingness to give up my comforts and norms for the sake of someone else. It requires us to love one another as Jesus loved us. When you add multiple different languages into the mix things become even more complicated. And this is before you factor in the mess that sin makes of this whole process!
But, the reality is that learning how to do this now is just active preparation for what the church will be like in the final kingdom of God and thereafter for all of eternity. There is no reason to think that in Heaven everyone will speak the same language. Perhaps by a gift of God we will be able to understand each other anyway, or better yet, we can use the time we’ll have (a whole eternity of it) to learn a world of languages, but either way, we can look forward to a beautifully multi-cultural kingdom when heaven comes down to earth. Why not start getting ready now?