Things are not what they seem. That's the heart of the message of Revelation. Most of us have seen some conjuring tricks: by a sleight of the hand or a trick of the eye, the conjurer shocks us with something that seems impossible. How did he pull that rabbit out of the hat? And as we look at Revelation 7, it is amazing what God is pulling out of the hat.

In the 60's, the real 60's when John was alive rather than the 1960's which we tend to see as the start of the problems of the modern church,  the church looked like it was in trouble. Hebrews was written to Christians who thought they had made a mistake in jumping into Christianity: Judaism still thrived unimpeded in the Roman Empire but the church was under attack. "Don't neglect to meet together!" was the message as church attendance began to dwindle. "Does the church have a future?" was the question of the day. Or even more pointedly, "Does the future have a church?"

And now John is on Patmos - probably the only believer for miles around. He was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, but the worship service was even smaller than the churches that he had left behind that were becoming scattered and fragmented under the persecution. One only greeter that day - with only himself to greet! Just one coffee-maker, and only himself to drink it. Only one person to preach, and only himself to listen. Does the church have a future? The present seemed so bleak.

But then, as he worshiped - the worship leader leading only himself - he saw that things are not what they seem. He was not alone. The church is not dispersed and fragmented and dwindling. He saw as a present reality (as well as a future hope) a crowd that nobody could number. It was explained to him as being those "who are coming (present tense) out of the great tribulation" (v.14). This was what was happening right before his eyes, the reality that was presently emerging. Seemingly impossible, except that he was watching it with his own eyes.

It was not like the conjurer pulling a rabbit out of the hat. More like when they pull those colourful silk scarves out of the hat. An endless stream of knotted handkerchiefs that keeps coming out for ever. The white robed saints, with their red and yellow, black and white faces, endlessly, relentlessly being pulled out of the black hole of the tribulation. The blacker it gets the more they keep coming. The Gospel is far more successful than anyone can imagine. And the church just keeps growing until the fullness depicted in that mysterious symbolic number of 144,000 comes to its completeness.