In our last lesson we saw the image of the 144,000. We are told that the 144,000 are the servants of God (7:3). They are sealed in spiritual protection from the tribulation events. The sealing also pictures that they are owned by God because they are faithful to him. After seeing the 144,000 John turns to see a new image of a great multitude.
The Unnumbered Multitude (7:9-10)
John sees a great multitude, so great that no one can number them. They come from every nation, peoples, and languages and they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Further, the great multitude is clothed in white and have palm branches in their hands. We have seen the imagery of the white robes many times in this book. In Revelation 6:11 we see the servants of God who have been slain for the word of God are each given a white robe. We observed in Revelation 6 that the white robes picture conquering and victory (6:2). Just as we saw with the servants of God who had been killed, the picture is victory because they have remained pure and faithful to God.
In a similar way, palm branches were also a symbol of victory. In John 12:13 we read about Jesus and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people are crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed in he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Remember that the people who are crying out these words are holding palm branches. In John 12 the palm branches denote the victory of Christ as the ruling king. In Revelation it is the great multitude that is pictured victorious. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches signifying the victory this unnumbered multitude has obtained.
This victory and deliverance is not because of themselves or because of who they are. Verse 10 tells us why this unnumbered multitude has victory. The multitude is crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The multitude recognizes that their victory is really God’s victory. Salvation belongs to our God and because of this truth we experience salvation and deliverance.
Calling this large group, “a great multitude that no one could number” is the picture of God fulfilling his promise to Abraham. Recall the promises God gave to Abraham. When Abraham questioned if he would have any offspring, notice God’s response.
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5 ESV)
Then when Jacob fears for his life because Esau is going to kill him, Jacob prays to God and counts the promise that was made to his grandfather Abraham.
But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:12 ESV)
Revelation 7 is picturing this innumerable multitude. We will see this further explained in verses 14-17.
Worship God (7:11-12)
Verse 11 brings back the scene revealed to us in chapter 4. All the angels around the throne of God fall on their faces before the throne and worship God. They worship God declaring that God is worthy of worship. Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might belong to God forever and ever. Verse 12 is a statement about who has the power. God has the power. Nations do not have the power, even though they are killing the people of God. God brings salvation and deliverance. God has power and is in control.
Who Is The Unnumbered Multitude? (7:13-17)
Verse 13 draws the question to the forefront that we have wondered while reading this text. Who are these that are clothed in white robes and where have they come from? One of the 24 elders asks John this question. It is not that the elder does not know because is going to give an answer in a moment. Rather, the elder is wanting John to consider this question. Who are this people? John reveals that he does not know but that the elder does.
The first thing we are told is that these are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. This is a very important statement and gives a picture about who is the object of God’s wrath. We noted in chapter 5 that the scroll whose seals are being opened is the same scroll that is sealed in Daniel 12. We have also noted that the contents of the scroll are the same. Notice the similar language about this tribulation in Daniel 12:1.
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. (Daniel 12:1 ESV)
There are a couple key pictures to keep in mind. It is called a “time of trouble.” Some other translations read, “Time of anguish” or “time of distress.” However, this is a unique event because it unequaled somehow. We are not told how this time of tribulation will be different. The prophecy is simply that it is such that never has been since there was a nation till that time. Jesus spoke about the same event and used the same language that we are looking at in Daniel 12:1 and Revelation 7:14. In speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus said,
Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. (Matthew 24:20–21 ESV)
Outside of the book of Revelation there is only one place in the New Testament where the phrase, “The great tribulation” is used. It is right here in Matthew 24:21. Notice how Jesus speaks of it the same way that the angel spoke of it in the prophecy of Daniel. This event is one that never has been from the beginning of the world. The people of God are pictured coming through and enduring the tribulation. We know that these are the servants of God because they are described as having their robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
So how do we explain the image of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8 and the image of the great multitude in Revelation 7:9-17? Haven’t I just shown that the 144,000 represents the complete number of God’s servants and now shown the great multitude to also be the complete number of God’s servants? How can these two images be the same group of people? When we put this chapter back into its context I think we can see the point of both of these images. Chapter 7 began by declaring that these sweeping judgments cannot begin until the servants of God are sealed. The first eight verses of chapter 7 show the servants of God are sealed. They are spiritually protected from these judgments. Further, every servant of God is sealed, hence the numbering of 12,000 from each tribe. The second image of the great multitude that cannot be numbered is showing what happens to the 144,000. Verses 9-17 reveals that what was promised to the sealed people of God came about. The first half of the chapter show the promise of them being sealed. The second half of the chapter shows the promise being kept. They are protected and they are before the throne of God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches. The promise has been kept. They have remained faithful and they are victorious in Christ.
Victory In Christ (7:15-17)
Notice that this is the point of the rest of the chapter. One of the 24 elders is explaining the outcome of the people of God. They have come through the tribulation. Piecing the images together in this book the implication is that these are Christians who have died for their faithfulness to Christ. Revelation 6:11 revealed that more of the servants of God must die. Now the servants of God are pictured in heaven around the throne of God. Why are they there? They are there because they lost their lives for the cause of Christ. This is the point of saying that their robes were made white in the blood of the Lamb. How do you make robes white in the blood of the Lamb? Remember that the white stands for victory. These are victorious for their faithfulness to Christ. Why say the robes were washed in the blood of the Lamb? The reason is that Christians have died for the Lamb. Just as Christ was killed in faithfulness to the Father so also these Christians have died in faithfulness to the Lamb.
Verses 15-17 are showing the victory these slain servants of God have received. Look at what these have been given. (1) They are before the throne of God day and night. This is a priestly picture of serving in the temple before the Lord. These servants are before God’s throne continually because of their faithfulness. (2) He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Nothing else is going to happen to these Christians. God is with them and sheltering them. They have nothing more to worry about. (3) They are no longer suffering, but are comforted. They cannot be afflicted by the world anymore. They are safe in the hands of the Father. (4) The Lamb is their shepherd who is shielding them and comforting them. This picture will be amplified in Revelation 21 when we see the Lord in the midst of New Jerusalem. (5) The Lamb will act as a shepherd and guide them to living waters. Living waters is use consistently by Jesus to refer to eternal life (John 4:14; 7:38)
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14 ESV)
This is the life of eternal fellowship with God and Christ. Notice that this fellowship is offered to those who maintain their faith in Christ, even though experiencing physical suffering and death. These are the ones who remain faithful to the Lord no matter the circumstances. It is important to also observe that these images refer to a prophecy in Isaiah. Isaiah spoke about the restoration of God’s people.
“Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Appear.” They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. (Isaiah 49:9–10 ESV)
Revelation shows us that it is the Lamb who is guiding and protecting his people. The Lord comforts his people as he wipes away the tears from their eyes. While the book of Revelation is speaking to those early century Christians who were going to suffer persecution for the cause of Christ. But their reward is no different from the reward given to all Christians. What a blessing to know what lies ahead for us if we will remain faithful and steadfast to the Lord!