The great multitude
Mar 18, 2016
After the 144,000 were sealed, John saw a great multitude praising God. This is the same multitude that he had seen earlier in Revelation 5:13. He sees the future, where all of creation sings praise to God, after the divine plan is complete. Revelation 7:9, 10 says,
9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation [Yeshua] to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
This great multitude is celebrating the feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, for they are waving palm branches as instructed in Leviticus 23:39, 40,
39 On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. 40 Now on the first day [of the feast of Tabernacles] you shall for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
It should be noted that that when this feast is finally celebrated in its greatest fulfillment, people from every nation are seen keeping it in accordance with the prophetic command in Deuteronomy 16:13-15,
13 You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat, 14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son, and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger [ger, “alien, foreigner”] and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. 15 Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful.
All are commanded to keep the feast, and all rejoice, whether Israelite or non-Israelite. All are blessed together in the ultimate sense when Revelation 7:9-10 is fulfilled. It marks the final success of the call of Abraham to be a blessing to all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).
Hence, the blessing of Abraham extends to all nations when all men are “clothed in white robes,” which are the “garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10). The Hebrew word for “salvation” is yasha, or yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus. Whenever Scripture speaks of “salvation,” it is a prophecy of Jesus Christ. Hence, when this great multitude at the ultimate Tabernacles feast cry out, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb,” they are recognizing Jesus Christ as King.
The Angelic Witness
Revelation 7:11, 12 continues,
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the Throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
These angels in heaven say “Amen” to the people on earth. This is where heaven and earth finally bear witness to the truth in the fullest sense. The Lord’s Prayer is finally seen in the earth, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is not the first time that John has gotten a glimpse of the end, for the great Amen was seen also in Revelation 5:14.
It is clear, then, that when tribulation is revealed to John, God also shows him its end in order to encourage him and others during their trials. We see this in the revelation of the sixth seal, where the martyrs were compared to unripe figs being cast to the ground. God then reveals their final victory at the end of the age, as the kings of the earth flee from the light and glory of God’s presence in the saints.
Meanwhile, however, during the course of history, the martyrs are pictured as souls under the altar (Revelation 6:9), who are given white robes (6:11). Yet they were told that the day of justice would have to wait “until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed, even as they had been, should be completed also” (6:11).
So again in Revelation 7, after sealing the 144,000 during the time of persecution and war against the saints, we are projected to the end of time to see the outcome of the history. Philippians 1:6 says,
6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Though Paul applies this personally and individually to the Philippian believers, we see also that from the beginning God created all things “good” and “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He “began a good work” at the beginning, and He “will perfect it” until the end, when, once again, His creation will be pronounced “very good.”
The Elder’s Question
Revelation 7:13 says,
13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?” 14 And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
It seemed important for one of the elders to ask John, “from where have they come?” This again focuses upon the fact that these come “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9). Obviously, the elder knew the answer to his own question, for John responds, “My lord, you know.” Yes, both John and the elder knew the truth, but it was important to write this down and to emphasize it once again for the benefit of those who want to restrict this great multitude in any way.
The elder then says that these had come out of the great affliction, or tribulation. The metaphor of washing one’s robes in the blood of the Lamb to make them white is a biblical way of expressing the Hebrew concept of purification, or cleansing. Hebrews 9:22, 23 says,
22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 Therefore it was necessary for the [earthly] copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these [i.e., physical blood], but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these [i.e., Jesus’ blood].
John uses this metaphor to describe the purpose of tribulation. While many have put a short time frame on this tribulation, usually limited it to seven years, it is much broader than that. John puts no time limit on this tribulation, because it covers all the martyrs from Abel until the last martyr is killed. Jesus Himself acknowledged Abel as the first martyr in Matthew 23:35, and in the Genesis Book of Psalms, this is reflected in Psalms 2-6.
In the broadest application of this time of tribulation, it can be applied to God’s sentence upon Adam, when his estate (creation) was sold into slavery on account of his sin. This was the point where the whole earth began to be afflicted, or put into tribulation. Christ came to redeem the whole creation—everything that was sold into slavery—and thus bring an end to the tribulation of creation.
So if we understand “the great multitude” in Revelation 7:9, 10 to be the same as “every created thing” in Revelation 5:13, then the definition of a martyr reaches its widest possible application. Both groups praise God in the end, and their praise is witnessed by the elders’ “Amen.”
Their Final Position
Revelation 7:15-17 concludes with the final state, or position of this great multitude, saying,
15 For this reason [that is, by washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb], they are the before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night [or, continually] in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.
This is not only a reference to the feast of Tabernacles, or Booths (Sukkah), but also to the theme of marriage. In Hebrew thought, this painted a picture of a Husband and wife under a marriage canopy as they consummated their marriage.
This also fulfills the meaning of the name Immanuel, “God with us.” It was prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would conceive and bring forth a son named Immanuel. Matthew 1:23 quotes this and applies it to Jesus, even though Mary was instructed (1:21) to call His name Jesus. In the end, this prophetic name is fulfilled in Revelation 21:3,
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell [“tabernacle”] among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.
This comes in the context of the “new Jerusalem” being “a bride adorned for her husband.”
Revelation 7:16, 17 continues,
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.
Again, this is a preview of the Immanuel scene in Revelation 21, where we read in 21:4,
4 and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
It is clear, then, that the vision John had of the great multitude in Revelation 7, like the vision in Revelation 5, spoke of the future when all of creation would be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Then, when the good work that God began at creation is completed at the end of the age, all tribulation and hardship will cease, and all of creation will give praise to the rightful Heir of all things sitting on the throne.
This is part 59 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones