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06 September 2019

Innumerable Multitude

SYNOPSIS:  John now sees an innumerable multitude from all nations exiting the tribulation to “stand” before the Lamb and the Throne – Revelation 7:9-17.

Harvesting Wheat Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
By Jamie Street on Unsplash
In Chapter 7, the same group of saints is portrayed with two different images - The tribes of Israel assembled for travel, and the innumerable multitude standing and celebrating before the Lamb and the One Who Sits on the Throne. In this next vision, the imagery continues to be drawn from the story of ancient Israel in the Wilderness during its sojourn from Egypt to the Promised Land.

(Revelation 7:9-12) – “After these things, I saw, and 1o! a great multitude,—which, to number it! no one was able,—of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues; standing before the throne, and before the Lamb; arrayed in white robes, and palm-branches in their hands;— and they cry out with a loud voice, saying—Salvation unto our God who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb! And all the messengers were standing round about the throne and the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and rendered homage unto God, saying—Amen! The blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honour, and the power, and the might,—be unto our God, unto the ages of ages. [Amen]!

John first “heard” the number of the sealed, or the arithmos, 12,000 men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Now he “sees” a vast multitude that no one can number (arithmeō). “Number” links what he heard to what he now sees. Just as the roaring “lion of Judah” became a “slain Lamb,” so, now, a numerically defined group of Israelites from the “tribes of Israel” become an innumerable multitude of men and women from every “tribe” and nation.

The sacrificial Lamb fulfills his messianic role by redeeming men and women “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”. Now John sees a vast multitude of men and women “from every nation, tribe and people and tongue”, a clear verbal link to his earlier vision of the “slain Lamb”:

(Revelation 5:9-10) – “And they sing a new song, saying—Worthy art thou, to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests,—and they reign on the earth.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 7:9) – “After these things, I saw, and 1o! a great multitude,—which, to number it! no one was able,—of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues; standing before the throne, and before the Lamb” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The members of the multitude are “arrayed in white robes.” What the “white robes” signify or how the group obtained them is not stated at this point. The same term was applied previously to the martyrs “underneath the altar” in the fifth seal – They were issued “white robes” and told to wait until the full number of their “fellow servants” was assembled. The “white robes” link the two groups. They are of the same kind, if not identical.

Palm-branches” are reminiscent of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, a time of great joy and celebration at the time of the harvest and the ingathering of the “fruits of the land”:

(Leviticus 23:39-40) – “Howbeit on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep the feast of Jehovah seven days: on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days.”

In Chapter 5, John saw “many angels about the Throne and the Living Creatures and the elders,” all of whom proclaimed the Lamb worthy “to receive the power, riches, wisdommighthonorglory and blessing.” So now, also, “all the angels standing about the throne and the elders and the four Living Creatures” ascribe blessingglorywisdom, thanksgiving, honorpower and might to our God. The narrative is now back before the Throne at the center of the Cosmos, only, a new group has been added to the mix – The “innumerable multitude” from every nation.

In both Chapter 5 and here, seven honorific qualities are ascribed to the One Who is being adored. The verbal links are deliberate; Chapter 5 pictures the overcoming Lamb; Chapter 7 presents the multitude of redeemed men and women that follows him out of the Wilderness to the Promised Land of plenty.

From every nation and tribe and people and tongue.” The reference to the international scope of the multitude alludes to key messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. The “obedience of the nations” was promised to the future “lion of Judah” and the Davidic king. The promises are now fulfilled as the “innumerable multitude” of men and women from every tribe and nation appear before the Throne and the Lamb:

(Genesis 49:9-10) – “lion’s whelp is Judah, From the prey, my son hast thou come up! He hath stooped—hath crouched As a lion—or as a lioness, Who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor the commanders staff a from between his feet,—Until that he come in as a Shiloh, And his be the obedience of the peoples.
(Psalm 2:7-9) – “I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
(Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night, when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man, was coming,—and, unto the Ancient of days, he approached, and, before him, they brought him near; 14 and, unto him, were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues, unto him, should do service,—his dominion, was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and, his kingdom, that which should not be destroyed.

This vast multitude of men and women is “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This is in contrast with the sixth seal opening when men from every level of society attempted to hide from the impending “wrath.” On the Day of the Lord, no one is able to “stand” before the Lamb or the Throne, yet, now, a vast multitude that no one can number is observed “standing” before the Throne and Lamb, and, in celebration, not dread. How is this possible? Who is able “to stand?”

The Interpretation

In Chapter 5, one of the elders pointed to the Lamb as one who fulfills the messianic role of the victorious “lion of the tribe of Judah.” Likewise, at the end of Chapter 7, “one from among the elders says” provides John with the interpretation of the sealed company, the vast “innumerable multitude” he saw “standing” in celebration before the Throne and the Lamb. Two questions are answered:  Who are these men and women, and, from where did they come?

(Revelation 7:13-17) – “And one of the elders began, saying unto me—These who are arrayed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they? And I at once said to him—My lord! thou, knowest! And he said unto me—These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; For this cause, are they before the throne of God, and are rendering divine service unto him, day and night, in his sanctuary; and he that sitteth upon the throne shall spread his tent over them; They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither in any wise shall the sun fall upon them, nor any burning heat; Because the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them, and shall lead them unto life’s fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The “innumerable multitude” is comprised of men and women from every nation who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The martyrs under the altar were told to wait until the full number of witnesses was assembled. That promise is fulfilled in the innumerable multitude. The completed “number” is being gathered.

Who is able to stand?” The question left hanging at the end of the sixth seal opening is now answered - The men and women John sees “standing” before the Throne and the Lamb have been enabled to do so by the blood of the Lamb. Standing before the Throne, the multitude receives vindication, not “wrath.” Rather than attempt to hide in caves or under rocks, they stand “day and night” offering worship before the Throne.

The 144,000 male “servants of God” from the tribes of Israel were sealed before the first four seal openings.  The scene now shifts to the other side of the “great tribulation” - The “innumerable multitude” of men and women from every nation and “tribe” is seen by John exiting the “great tribulation” to stand before the Lamb. They endured “tribulation,” however, they do not undergo “wrath” - Tribulation and wrath in the book of Revelation are not synonymous.

The “great tribulation” alludes to a passage from Daniel, one applied several times in Revelation:

(Daniel 12:1-3) - “And at that time will Michael, the great ruler who standeth for the sons of thy people, make a stand, and there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, up to that time,—and at that time shall thy people be delivered, every one found written in the hook; and many of the sleepers in the dusty ground shall awake,—these [shall be] to age-abiding life, but those to reproach and age-abiding abhorrence; and they who make wise shall shine like the shining of the expanse,—and they who bring the many to righteousness, like the stars to times age-abiding and beyond.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The “tribulation” is called “great,” however, its duration is not specified; however long it is, the reader is not told. The term “tribulation” occurs five times in the book, almost always applied to saints. “Tribulation” is what the followers of the Lamb endure because of their testimony. It is not identical with “wrath.” It is what the Dragon and its allies inflict on the “saints” (Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 2:22, 7:14).

For example, on the Isle of Patmos, John labeled himself a “fellow-participant in the tribulation.” He endured the same “tribulation” as the seven churches of Asia. Although not stated, his statement indicates the “tribulation” was underway even at the time he wrote.

John saw the “innumerable multitude” in the process of “coming” out of the “great tribulation.” This translates a present tense Greek participle, which signifies continuous action. This is not a one-time event but an ongoing process, one that continues until the full number of witnesses is assembled before the Throne.

Washing robes to “make them white” alludes to another passage from the book of Daniel. The “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, up to that time” was to refine God’s people:

(Daniel 12:9-10) – “Then said he, Go thy way, Daniel; for closed up and sealed are the words until the time of the end. Many will purify themselves and be made white and be refined, but the lawless will act lawlessly, and none of the lawless shall understand,—but they who make wise shall understand.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

In Daniel, the vision was “sealed” shut until the “time of the end,” a vision that included a time of horrific “tribulation,” a resurrection, and purified saints. A key theme of the book of Revelation is the unsealing of the formerly Sealed Scroll. The “time of the end” foretold to the prophet Daniel had arrived in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb who puts the contents of the Sealed Scroll into motion.

In the interpretation, the saints are coming out of the “great tribulation,” having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In so doing, they emulate the Lamb by becoming “faithful witnesses,” a process that continues “up to the time of the end” (Revelation 1:53:21, 7:14, 12:11).

The multitude “renders divine service (latreuôday and night in his sanctuary.” The Greek verb latreuo and its noun form, latreia, are commonly used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament for the ritual services performed by the priests in the Tabernacle. Its usage now emphasizes the priestly role of the saints, an important theme elsewhere in the book:

(Revelation 1:5-6) – “Jesus Christ,—The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us out of our sins with his blood,— and he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father.
(Revelation 5:10) – “And they sing a new song, saying—Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests,—and they reign on the earth.
(Revelation 20:6) – “Happy and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: upon these, the second death hath no authority; but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.

Likewise, the white “robes” or stolé of the men and women of the multitude correspond to the priestly vestments worn by the Levitical priests when they performed their priestly functions in the Tabernacle. However, every member of this group, regardless of ethnicity or sex, is arrayed and functions as a priest (Exodus 28:2-429:5Leviticus 8:30).

The picture reflects the new covenant promises from Ezekiel, and quoted more fully in Chapter 21 of Revelation:

(Ezekiel 37:21-28) – “I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land…and I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(Revelation 21:3-4) – “And I heard a loud voice out of the throne, saying—Lo! the tent of God is with men, and he will tabernacle with them, and they shall be his peoples, and he shall be God with them; And he will wipe away every tear out of their eyes,—and death shall be no more, and grief and outcry and pain shall be no more.

The final three verses of Chapter 7 describe how “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The clause alludes to the book of Isaiah, originally, a promise to ancient Israel:

(Isaiah 25:8) - “I will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all facesand the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.”

The interpreting angel now explains - God “will spread his tent over” His victorious saints. They will neither hunger nor thirst ever again, as the Lamb leads them to fountains of waters. This can only refer to the resurrection life in the New Creation. The same language occurs again in the portrait of New Jerusalem (see above):

(Isaiah 49:10-12) - “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will smite them the glowing sand or the glaring sun, for he that has compassion upon them will lead them and to springs of water will he conduct them.”
(Revelation 22:1-5) – “And he pointed out to me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, issuing forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the broadway thereof. And on this side of the river and on that, was a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, every several month yielding its fruit; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations, And no curse shall there be any more; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein,—and his servants will render divine service (latreuô) unto him, and they shall see his face, and his name [shall be] upon their foreheads. And night shall be no more; and they have no need of the light of a lamp or the light of a sun, because the Lord God will give them light,—and they shall reign unto the ages of ages.

In the interpretation, the image of Israel assembled for the journey to the Promised Land is transformed into a vast gathering of men and women from every nation “standing” in victory and celebration before the Lamb and the Throne in New Jerusalem.
The Lamb has prepared his priestly kingdom to march to the Promised Land, New Jerusalem. The completed assembly of “royal priests” stands at the ready, sealed by God, and, thus, prepared for any eventuality. The Lamb vindicates the saints fully, whether past, present, or future, but not before all of them are assembled and “standing” before him and the Throne. 

Every man and woman who “washes his priestly robes in the blood of the Lamb” is well able to stand before the Lamb and the Throne. Saints achieve victory by persevering in the “great tribulation,” even submitting to martyrdom when necessary.

While the imagery has changed from scene to scene, the same group remains in view, one that includes the seven churches of Asia. The triumphant image echoes the promises made to the seven churches of Asia, to every saint who “overcomes.” He or she will “eat of the tree of life,” be “arrayed in white robes,” become a “pillar in God’s temple,” and “sit down with him in his throne, just as he overcame and sat down on his Father’s throne” (Revelation 2:7, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21).

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