Who and when is the Great Multitude of Revelation 7:9-17?

PURPOSE

This article discusses Revelation 7:9-17 verse-by-verse. Two of the main questions in this passage are:

      • WHO is the Innumerable Multitude? Are they the same as the 144000?
      • WHEN are they described; before or after the return of Christ?

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

REVELATION 7:9

After these things I looked, and behold,
a great multitude which no one could count,

It is not literally true that they cannot be counted. This is a way of saying that this is a very large group.

from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues,

Revelation uses such four-fold descriptions of people (e.g., Rev 10:11; 14:6; 17:15) because the number 4 symbolizes worldwide extension.

In contrast, the first 8 verses of Revelation 7 describe the sealing of the 144000 from the 12 tribes of Israel. 

standing before the throne and before the Lamb,

The multitude hiding in the mountains, asked: “Hide us from … Him who sits on the throne … for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:16). Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to that question. This also implies that this multitude is described as on “the great day of their wrath.

clothed in white robes,
and palm branches were in their hands;

In Revelation, the color white always describes Christ and His people. Since white robes were given to the people who have been martyred “because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9-11), the great multitude includes all who have died for their faith. However, in Revelation, symbolically, all of God’s people die for their faith. In other words, the great multitude includes all of God’s people from all ages.

REVELATION 7:10

and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,

In the fifth seal, God’s martyrs cried for revenge also “with a loud voice” (Rev 6:10). Now, they no longer cry for revenge, which implies that the time of the vision is after that judgment has been executed.

“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

While the hiding multitude acknowledges their doom (Rev 6:16), this great multitude acknowledges that they are not the authors of their salvation; they were saved by God and the Lamb.

REVELATION 7:11-12

and all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures;

This is similar to the scene in Revelation 5 of a multitude of angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures in the heavenly throne room (Rev 5:11).

and they fell on their faces
before the throne and worshiped God saying,
“Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The Greek words translated “fell on their faces” and “worship” have a similar meaning. For is a discussion, see the discussion of Rev 4:10 or 5:8 above, or Worship in God’s presence.

REVELATION 7:13-14

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me,
“These who are clothed in the white robes,
who are they,
and where have they come from?”

I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me,
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation,

Many translations put “come out” in the past tense (e.g., KJV), but it translates an extremely continuous Greek expression, implying that the multitude is still coming out of the tribulation. In other words, their dwelling in heaven is an eternal reality but not yet visible or experienced.

Tribulation” means oppression and affliction (e.g., Matt 24:9), or simply difficult circumstances (e.g., 2 Cor 8:13). But, in this chapter, it is “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). It refers to one particular tribulation that the reader already knows about. Given the context, it is the martyrdom of God’s people during the entire church age as emphasized by the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11).

and they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The CrossIt is not literally possible to make clothes white in blood. This is a metaphor: The discussion of the sealed book proposes that Christ’s blood is a symbol for His death. Furthermore, His death does not only refer to His last moment but to His final hours when the tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him. But the hours of His death were His greatest victory, for He overcame by remaining “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). Through faith, He subjected Himself to God’s will.

The people with the white robes had to wash their own robes because “God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6). This is discussed in the next section.

PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS

White robes are a sign of being right with God (cf. Rev 3:4-5). The people clothed in the white robes had to wash their own robes (Rev 7:14). This principle, that people must work for their salvation, is expressed several times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 3:4-5; 19:7-8; 16:15).

Judged by deeds – This principle consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible that man is judged by his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12). It is sometimes said that Paul taught something different, but he taught the same thing (Rom 2:5-8; 9-13; 8:13).

Works of the law – Sometimes people have difficulty reconciling the principle that man is judged by his deeds with the fact that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20). However, these “works of the law” refer to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law and are very different from the “deeds” by which people are judged.

Faith – People also struggle to reconcile judgment of deeds with salvation by faith, but these are two ways of saying the same thing. Firstly, salvation by faith does require a judgment of the person’s faith. Secondly, God sees and judges the entire being. The “deeds” by which people are judged include character, words, deeds, thoughts, desires, and faith.

Grace – Another objection which people may offer to judgment by deeds is that we are saved by grace. But that is also not a challenge, for people are judged by their deeds but saved by grace. People DO NOT EARN salvation through their deeds. Judgment by deeds determines WHO must be saved. By grace is HOW those people are saved. For a more detailed discussion, see People are not justified by the works of the law but are judged by their deeds.

REVELATION 7:15

For this reason,

Because they have washed their robes.

they are before the throne of God;
and they serve Him day and night

“Day and night” means continually.

in His temple;

There is no temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22). There is no physical temple in heaven either. The temple on earth was a symbolic representation of heavenly realities; of how God deals with sin. John’s visions use things from the Old Testament as symbols. The throne of God, which is in His temple (Rev 16:17), is a symbol of God’s presence. This is what Revelation 21:22 confirms: “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

and He who sits on the throne
will spread His tabernacle over them.

Revelation 21:3, depicting the time after the millennium, when God has come down to earth with the New Jerusalem, describes God’s “tabernacle” as where God lives. 

REVELATION 7:16-17

They will hunger no longer,
nor thirst anymore;
nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat

In this life, being a believer does not guarantee physical comfort. But, in eternity, things will be different.

for the Lamb in the center of the throne

The Lamb is not “around the throne,” like the elders and the angels (Rev 4:4; 5:11), or “before the throne,” like the great multitude (Rev 7:9, 15); He is “in the center of the throne.”  This confirms that He ascended to the throne of God when He took the sealed book (Rev 5:7). He had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (e.g., Acts 2:33).

will be their shepherd,

That “the Lamb” will be “their shepherd” is a bit ironic, but shows the symbolic nature of Revelation.

and will guide them to springs of the water of life;
and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 21:4 repeats: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The sorrow, which the innumerable multitude suffered during the great tribulation, will end.

If this passage was the end of the Book of Revelation, we would not have noticed anything missing. It describes the glorious reward of the eternal life of the redeemed, as explained in more detail in Revelation chapters 21-22.

WHO ARE THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE?

While the 144000 are exactly numbered, from the tribes of Israel, and on earth (Rev 7:1-3), the great multitude cannot be counted, is from every nation, and before the throne of God, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19).

One way to describe the relationship between the innumerable multitude and the 144000 is as a hear/see combination. In Revelation, in these combinations, the prophet first hears about something, but when he looks, he sees something completely different. For example, John hears about a Lion but then sees a Lamb (Rev 5:5-6). What John first hears and then sees is not exactly the same. In this example, both the lion and the lamb represent Jesus but different aspects of His work. Similarly, John hears the number of the 144000 (Rev 7:4-8) but sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9). They are not exactly the same but different perspectives of God’s people.

While the 144000 symbolizes His end-time people, based on the following, the innumerable multitude includes all of God’s people of all time:

The fifth seal divides God’s people into those that have already died and those who still must die. In that seal, those that have already died receive white robes. By implication, the people who must still die will also receive white robes. The innumerable multitude, since they are dressed in white robes, includes both groups. On the other hand, the article on the Sealing shows that the point in time in the fifth seal is when the seal comes down out of heaven. This implies that those in the fifth seal who must still die, are the 144000; God’s end-time people.

The innumerable multitude has come through “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). Since both groups of people in the fifth seal are martyred, both came out of “the great tribulation.

WHEN – AT WHAT TIME ARE THEY DESCRIBED?

AFTER HIS RETURN

Does Revelation 7:9-17 describe the time before or after Christ’s return? The following seems to indicate that it describes the time AFTER His Return:

    • They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17).
    • Revelation 6:17 asks, “who is able to stand” on “the great day of their wrath?” Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to this question. This implies that the time is “the great day of their wrath,” namely Christ’s return.
    • The palm branches in their hands foreshadow the bliss of eternity.
    • The souls under the altar cried out for revenge. The multitude does not. This implies that they have had their revenge.

BEFORE HIS RETURN

However, the New Testament sometimes describes things that are an eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized, as if they already happened (e.g., John 5:24). Revelation, similarly, often depicts God’s people on earth as if they are in heaven (Rev 13:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:2). This may also apply to Revelation 7:9-17.

An important aspect of Revelation 7:9-17 is the verb tenses. Verses 15 to 17, describing what God will do for His people, are in the future tense. For example: “God will wipe every tear.” In contrast, the activities of the great multitude are in the present tense. For example, they “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). This implies that Revelation 7:9-17 describes the time BEFORE the return of Christ.

PROPOSAL

Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000. It is proposed that verse 9 continues exactly where Revelation 6 left off. In other words, the hiding multitude (Rev 6:15-17) and the great multitude describe the same point in history; immediately BEFORE the return of Christ.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

REVELATION 7:9

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;

After these things – This phrase often signals a new section in Revelation. The previous verses described what John heard. The current verse and the remainder of the chapter describe what he saw.

Great multitude – In Revelation 5:11, John saw another great multitude, numbering millions and millions, but that was a multitude of angels. The multitude in this verse is people.

Which no one could count – Jesus said: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). Still, the image of the Innumerable Multitude assures us that God’s people are vast and diversified.

In reality, this multitude can be counted.  This is symbolic language to say that this group is without limit. In contrast to the 144000, who are a specific subset of God’s people, the Innumerable Multitude comes from all times and places.

From every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues – This four-fold grouping signifies that the redeemed will come from all over the world; from all nations (cf. Rev 10:11; 14:6). The number 4 in Revelation symbolizes ‘worldwide’ (cf. Rev 7:1).

STANDING BEFORE THE THRONE
AND BEFORE THE LAMB

Revelation 7:1-8 described things on earth. Standing before the throne shifts the focus from earth to heaven. To stand before the throne implies two things.

      1. This is the highest possible position. The ultimate goal of every intelligent creature is to be as close as possible to the One who exists without cause and who created all things.
      2. Standing before the throne also implies readiness to serve, as stated in Revelation 7:15: “They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night.” Or, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you” (Luke 1:19). The redeemed will not be idle. They will be very busy people. “They will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10).

WHAT TIME IS IN VIEW?

Since this great multitude is before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17), this scene seems to be AFTER the Second Coming of Christ. However, it is also possible to take this as a symbolic description of God’s people BEFORE His return:

      • Throughout the book of Revelation, “those who live on the earth” (Rev 14:6; cf. 1:7; 3:10; 6:10) are the people who rebel against God.
      • By contrast, God’s people on earth are often depicted as in heaven (Rev 13:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:2).

So, it is possible to understand the Innumerable Multitude as standing before the throne as a permanent and eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized. The New Testament sometimes presents things are ‘already, but not yet’. For example:

I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

AT HIS RETURN

On the other hand, the great multitude, hiding in the mountains, asked:

Hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:16).

Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to the question of the hiding multitude. This implies that this is “the great day of their wrath,” to which the hiding multitude refers, which is the return of Christ.

To stand “before the throne” is what Jesus promised in Revelation 3:21 when He said, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

DRESSED IN WHITE ROBES

They are “clothed in white robes” because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). Similarly, the overcomers in Sardis have been promised that they will “be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:5). And, Laodicea is also advised to buy from Christ “white garments” to cover their nakedness (Rev 3:18). As shown in the discussion of the white horse of the first seal, the color white in the book of Revelation always refers to Christ and His people.

Since white robes were given to the people who have been martyred for their faith (fifth seal – Rev 6:11) and since the great multitude has come through “great tribulation” (Rev 7:14), the great multitude is or includes all people who have died for their faith (Rev 6:9). As discussed, these “souls underneath the altar” represent all of God’s people; including those who have not literally died for their faith (cf. Rev 20:4). In Revelation, all of God’s people have symbolically died for their faith. In other words, the Innumerable Multitude includes God’s people of all ages.

HAVING PALM BRANCHES IN THEIR HANDS

Palm branches are associated with “the Feast of Booths” (Lev 23:33, 40; Neh 8:14-15). This was the last feast of the year; starting 5 days after “the day of atonement” (Yom Kippur—the great judgment day):

You shall take … palm branches … and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days” (Lev 23:40).

The Feast of Booths, therefore, foreshadowed the bliss of eternity. Consequently, the palm branches in the hands of the Innumerable Multitude imply that that great destiny has been reached; the wonderful new world.

REVELATION 7:10

and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

CRY OUT

Cry out” is in the present tense, which implies that this is an ongoing activity; not just a single event.  They continually thank God and the Lamb who “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

In the fifth seal, God’s martyrs also “cried out with a loud voice,” but there they cried for revenge (Rev 6:10). Now, they have had their revenge, which implies that the time of the vision is after the return of Christ.

SALVATION TO OUR GOD
WHO SITS ON THE THRONE,
AND TO THE LAMB

Most translations interpret the grammar as implying salvation “belongs to” our God. The hiding multitude acknowledges their doom (6:16) but this great multitude acknowledges that they are not the authors of their salvation; they were saved by God and the Lamb.

These people “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). They have been saved from sin and its consequences. But, in particular, they have been delivered from the murderous intentions of the beast, the image of the beast, and Babylon (Rev 13:15; 17:6; 18:24).

In this verse, only God and the Lamb are praised for this salvation. Although “the seven spirits before the throne” are included in the heavenly trio (Rev 1:4-5), nowhere in Revelation is the Spirit praised.

REVELATION 7:11

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

ALL THE ANGELS … ELDERS … FOUR LIVING CREATURES

This refers to the scene in Revelation 5 of a multitude of angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures in the heavenly throne room (Rev 5:11). The current verse (Rev 7:11), therefore, depicts two vast groups – an innumerable multitude of people and millions of angels.

FELL ON THEIR FACES BEFORE THE THRONE
AND WORSHIPED GOD

The Greek words translated “fell on their faces” and “worship” have a similar meaning. This doubled language of worship also appears in Rev 4:8-10 and 5:14. For a discussion, see worship in God’s presence.

In the previous verse, the Innumerable Multitude gave praise to both God and the Lamb but now these heavenly beings only worship God.

REVELATION 7:12

saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The first song in this chapter was sung by the great multitude of redeemed humanity (Rev 7:10). This second song in the current verse is sung by angels and the twenty-four elders.

The song begins and ends with “Amen.” The origin of the term is in the Hebrew Bible (âmên). The LXX translated âmên with “may it be.” “Amen,” therefore, strongly affirms the truth of something that has been said previously. So, this song begins by affirming the truth of the song of the great multitude in verse ten.

The heavenly host offers a seven-fold praise to God that is very similar to the one in Rev 5:12, with four differences:

      • In Rev 5:12, the seven nouns are all introduced with a single article. In Rev 7:12, each noun has its own article.
      • The nouns are listed in a different order.
      • Riches” (Rev 5:12) is replaced by “thanks” (Rev 7:12).
      • The seven-fold praise in Rev 5:12 is directed to the Lamb. Here it is directed to “our God”.

In Revelation, the number 7 signifies completeness in time. The fact that the praise is seven-fold indicates that this praise is for all time.

REVELATION 7:13

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me,
“These who are clothed in the white robes,
who are they,
and where have they come from?”

This is one of the twenty-four elders introduced in Revelation 4.

The word “answered” seems odd because John has not asked a question. But the elder discerns that the previous vision does not make sense to John and moves in to provide additional information.

The reference to white robes identifies this as the great multitude of verse nine. Therefore, this passage explains to John the vision of the great multitude in Rev 7:9-10, rather than the worship of the heavenly host in Rev 7:11-12. The elder’s explanation continues to the end of the chapter.

By commencing his explanation with a question, the elder provides dramatic vividness which will make the explanation easier to follow.

REVELATION 7:14

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.

In verse 13, the elder asked two questions:

      • Who are these dressed in white robes, and
      • From where have they come?

the current verse answers these two questions:

      • They are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
      • They have come out of the Great Tribulation.

MY LORD

My Lord” (Greek: kurie mou) is a typical term of respect in the ancient world. It is usually directed to a superior by one who is inferior in rank or age. In John 4:11, the woman at the well addressed Jesus using the same term. In that instance, the NASB translates it as “Sir.” Similarly, some Greeks said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).

John addresses the elder respectfully as “my lord” because he saw the elders around the throne of God and he knows that that suggests a very high status in the universal order of things.

WHO COME OUT OF

Many translations put this phrase in the past tense, for example, “came out of” (KJV) or “have come out” (NIV), but it translates an extremely continuous Greek expression. In other words, they don’t come out of the Great Tribulation all at once, but over time. The focus is more on the process than on the conclusion.

The tense supports the idea that the great multitude is still coming out of the tribulation. In other words, their dwelling in heaven is an eternal reality but not yet visibly and experientially realized. They are counted as already being “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6) and “having already passed from death to life” (John 5:24), even while in the midst of suffering. This is very compatible with the “already, not yet” perspective of the New Testament.

THE GREAT TRIBULATION

To readers of Revelation who are still in the midst of “tribulation,” it is encouraging to know that those who endure with patience (Rev 13:7; 14:12) will be triumphant at the end.

The word “tribulation,” in general, means oppression and affliction (Matt 24:9; Acts 11:19; Col 1:24), or in some instances, simply difficult circumstances (2 Cor 8:13; James 1:27). In other words, it is not limited to religious persecution. But, in the current verse (Rev 7:14), where it is “the great tribulation,” it refers to one particular tribulation that readers already know about. Given the context, “the great tribulation” refers to the martyrdom of God’s people in the seals; as emphasized in the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11).

This is the only time that the phrase “the great tribulation” occurs in Revelation. Rev 3:10 refers to “the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world,” but that is not limited to God’s people and might refer to the seven last plagues.

The angel in Daniel 12 referred to similar events when he said: “There will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1). That verse is followed by the resurrection of God’s people (Dan 12:2). This, therefore, also seems to refer to the end-time catastrophic events, symbolized in Revelation by the seven last plagues and the Sixth Seal.

In Matthew 24:21, Jesus spoke of “great tribulation” (without the article). In that case, it seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem (compare Luke with 21:20).

Great tribulation” without the article (the) in Acts 7:11 refers to the slavery in Egypt before the Exodus. This phrase also appears in Revelation 2:22, but that is a tribulation specifically on “those who commit adultery.

THEY HAVE WASHED THEIR ROBES AND
MADE THEM WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.

The Greek word for “washed” is in the past tense, compared to the “come out” earlier in this verse, which is in the present tense. This implies that the washing was completed before they come out of the great tribulation.

METAPHOR

It is not possible to make clothes white in blood. This is a metaphor:

      1. Christ’s blood is a symbol of His death.
      2. His death symbolizes His entire life.
        If Jesus submitted to Satan’s temptations anywhere during His life, His death would have had no value. The hours of His death was the most severe temptation He had to resist His entire life on earth but, through faith, He continued to subject Himself to God’s will. For that reason, His death, understood as the last hours of His life on earth, symbolizes His entire life.

PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS

White robes are a sign of being right with God (or justified, if one prefers Latin-sounding words). For example:

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:4-5).

IN REVELATION, PEOPLE WASH THEIR OWN ROBES.

The people clothed in white robes had to wash their own robes (Rev 7:14). White robes or garments are mentioned a number of times in Revelation and consistently indicate that people must work for their salvation. For example:

      • He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments” (Rev 3:4-5).
      • His bride has made herself ready.
        The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). (Robes symbolize character.)
      • Blessed is the one who … keeps his clothes” (Rev 16:15).

BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS.

The principle that people must clean their own robes is consistent with the principle argued above that Christ will refute Satan’s accusations through the deeds of His people. It is also consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible that man is judged by his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12). It is sometimes said that Paul taught something different, but he taught the same. For example:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds: To those who by perseverance in DOING GOOD … eternal life; but to those who … OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, wrath and indignation” (Rom 2:5-8; cf. 2:9-13)

If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13; See Smashing Idols for a more complete list of examples.).

NOBODY WILL BE SAVED BY THE “WORKS OF THE LAW.”

Paul also taught that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20). This does not contradict the principle that people will be judged by their deeds. Paul’s references to the “works of the law” must be read in their historical context. In his day, some Pharisees who became Christians argued:

Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

It is necessary to circumcise them (the Gentile Christians) and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).

In their view, sins are washed away by these ceremonies and rituals. It was to oppose this erroneous view that Paul stated that NOBODY is “justified” by the “works of the law.These works of the law” refer to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law, of which circumcision is the leading example, by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God and are very different from the “deeds” by which people are judged.

TO BE SAVED THROUGH FAITH
IS TO BE JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS.

By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).

To be saved “saved through faith” is the same as to be judged by our deeds:

Firstly, to be saved “through faith” does require a judgment of the person. God assesses or judges the person’s faith.

Secondly, God does not judge only our external deeds. He also sees and judges the “inner man.” That God judges our deeds means that He judges the entire being, including his words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. These things are summarized by the word “faith.”

WE ARE JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS BUT SAVED BY GRACE.

People are judged by their deeds but saved by grace, for all have sinned. We are all doomed if we are to be judged by our deeds alone, for all have sinned. God’s people DO NOT EARN salvation through their deeds. This is also indicated in Revelation:

      • They wash their clothes “in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).
      • They must “buy” white garments from Christ (Rev 3:18).
      • Christ “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:5).

Similarly, when “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel,” the angel (Jesus?) gave instructions that the filthy garments be removed from him and said to Joshua: “See, I have taken your iniquity away” (Zech 3:3).

Judgment by deeds determines WHO must be saved. By grace is HOW those people are saved.

CONCLUSION

The Jewish system of salvation can be compared as follows with Paul’s proposed system:

    • The same moral principles apply in both systems.
    • The difference is in how our sins are forgiven, for the Jews agreed with Paul that we have all sinned:
        • In the Jewish system, sins are washed away by the rituals of the law. In other words, people are saved by the “works of the law.
        • For Paul, sins are forgiven by grace.

People dislike the idea of being judged by their deeds because they know that their deeds are evil.  But that fear must be replaced by faith. To have faith in God does not simply mean to know that He exists, it also means to trust Him. We must be concerned about our sins but then we must put our trust in God. We must know that He loves us and we must trust His promises (e.g., John 3:16).

This is a subject about which confusion reigns in the Christian world.  For a more detailed discussion, see People are not justified by the works of the law but are judged by their deeds.

ATONEMENT

They cleaned their own robes, but without the sacrifice (blood) of the Lamb, that would not have been possible. He “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:5), but the question is, HOW did His death do that? This matter is highly disputed.

Compare the phrase, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” to the following statement:

Christ … loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25-27).

Note the similarities:

      • Gave Himself up for her” is equivalent to His blood (His death).
      • Sanctify her,” “cleansed her” and “that she would be holy and blameless” are symbolized in Revelation 7 by clean robes.
      • Both verses refer to washing, but in Ephesians, it is not a mysterious washing with blood; simply “sanctify her … by the washing of water with the word.

Several articles are available on this website on the Atonement and on the question, Why did Jesus have to die?

REVELATION 7:15

For this reason,
they are before the throne of God;
and they serve Him day and night in His temple;
and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.

For this reason – This points back to the previous verse where the great multitude have washed their robes. That gave them the right to stand before the throne.

Before the throne of God – See the discussion of Rev 7:9.

And they serve Him – Since the throne of God is the governing center of the universe, to serve Him is to rule with Him.

Day and night – This phrase occurs five times in the book of Revelation (Rev 4:8; 7:15; 12:10; 14:11; 20:10). It means “constantly” or “continually.” Day and night together constitute the whole of time. On earth, daily toil is suspended so people can rest during the night. But in heaven, there will be no weariness or a need for rest.

In his templeThis is the heavenly temple (Greek: naô), which is mentioned frequently in the book of Revelation (Rev 8:3-5; 11:19; 15:5-8, etc.).

While there is a temple in heaven in this verse, there is no temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22): “I saw no temple in it.” I would like to explain this as follows:

There is no physical temple in heaven. The temple on earth was a symbolic representation of heavenly realities; of how God deals with sin. For an example of the symbolism, “he who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple“ (Rev 3:12).

John’s visions use things from the Old Testament as symbols. This also applies to the temple. The throne of God, which is in His temple (Rev 16:17), is a symbol of God’s presence. This is what Revelation 21:22 confirms: “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

HE WHO SITS ON THE THRONE
WILL SPREAD HIS TABERNACLE OVER THEM.

Revelation 21:3, describing the time after the millennium, when God has come down to earth with the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2-3), also refers to God’s “tabernacle:”

Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men,
and He will dwell among them
.”

The similarity of the two phrases implies that, to “spread His tabernacle over them,” means to “dwell among them.

The word “will” perhaps implies that Revelation 7:15 describes the time BEFORE the return of Christ.

The “tabernacle” is another connection to the Feast of Tabernacles (or “booths”). 

REVELATION 7:16

They will hunger no longer,
nor thirst anymore;
nor will the sun beat down on them,
nor any heat

This verse is a series of four negatives. It tells us what the life of eternity will not be, in sharp contrast to the experience of the wicked in the fourth bowl-plague (Rev 16:8):

The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.  Men were scorched with fierce heat” (Rev 16:8-9).

In this life, being a believer is no guarantee of adequate food and drink and certainly does not guarantee physical comfort. But, in eternity, things will be different.

In the New Jerusalem, the sun won’t even be needed “for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23).

This whole verse is one of the strongest verbal parallels to the Old Testament in the whole book of Revelation for Isaiah 49:10 promised that, after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon, “they will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them“ (NIV). This promise was never literally fulfilled to Old Testament Israel, but here Revelation re-activates it and applies it spiritually to New Earth and the New Jerusalem.

REVELATION 7:17

for the Lamb in the center of the throne
will be their shepherd,
and will guide them to springs of the water of life;
and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

If this was the end of the Book of Revelation, we would not have noticed anything missing. Although it is still fairly early in the narrative of Revelation, this passage describes the glorious reward of the eternal life of the redeemed. This is explained in more detail in Revelation 21-22.

IN THE CENTER OF THE THRONE

The Lamb is not “around the throne,” like the elders and the angels (Rev 4:4; 5:11). He is also not “before the throne,” like the Great Multitude (Rev 7:9, 15). He is “in the center of the throne.” This confirms that He ascended to the throne of God when He moved from “between the throne … and the elders” (Rev 5:6) to take the sealed book (Rev 5:7). He had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33; 7:55; Rom 8:34; etc.)

THEIR SHEPHERD

That “the Lamb” will be “their shepherd” is a bit ironic, but it shows the symbolic nature of Revelation.

SPRINGS OF THE WATER OF LIFE

Revelation 22:17 also mentions the “water of life.” This “water” is still another allusion to the Feast of Booths. Zechariah 14 predicts the return of Christ and the new world. Notice how that passage connects the “living waters” to “the Feast of Booths:”

A day is coming” (Rev 14:1) when “the LORD will … fight against those nations” (Rev 14:3). “Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him” (Rev 14:5; cf. 19:11-14). “In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle” (14:6). 

In that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem” (Rev 14:8) “and the LORD will be king over all the earth” (Rev 14:9). “Any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths” (Rev 14:16).

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 21:4 repeats this statement. The sorrow which the Innumerable Multitude suffered during the Tribulation will come to an end. Eternal life will be a mixture of joyous things added to human existence and unhappy things that will be removed.

WHO IS THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE?

As stated at the beginning of this article, one of the questions that must be answered is whether the Innumerable Multitude is the same as the 144000.

Hear/see combinations

One of the arguments used to show that these two groups are the same is the hear/see combinations in Revelation. We will, therefore, start by discussing these combinations: 

In the sixth seal, at the end of Revelation 6, after the cataclysmic events preceding the Second Coming of Christ, the rebellious portion of the human race acknowledges that it is doomed and cries out:

The great day of his wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?
” (Rev 6:17)

In other words, who is able to stand when Christ returns? Revelation 7 answers that question by describing two groups of people:

      • 144000 from the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:1-8) and
      • An Innumerable Multitude from all the nations, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-17).

OPPOSITES

At first glance, these two groups are complete opposites:

144000 INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE
Exactly numbered (Rev 7:4) Cannot be counted (Rev 7:9)
From the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:4) From every nation (Rev 7:9)
On earth (Rev 7:1-3) Before the throne of God (Rev 7:9)
Before the four winds are released (Rev 7:1-3) After the Great Tribulation (Rev 7:14)
Seal of God on their foreheads Clothed in white robes

HEAR/SEE-COMBINATIONS

However, they are not opposites. Revelation uses hear/see combinations in which the prophet first hears about something, but when he looks, he sees something completely different. Nevertheless, the two things are different symbols or perspectives for the same or similar realities.

Revelation 7 is one of these hear/see combinations. John never sees the 144000. He hears their number (Rev 7:4). But when he looks, he sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9). Does that mean that the 144000 are the same as the innumerable multitude? Consider other hear/see combinations:

      • John hears about a Lion but then sees a Lamb (Rev 5:5-6). Both represent Jesus, namely different aspects or phases of His work.
      • John hears that the harlot sits on “many waters” but then sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads (Rev 17:1, 3). The waters represent the multitudes of people of the world (Rev 17:15). The beast symbolizes the “kings” of the world (Rev 17:9), which is the political powers into which the people are divided (Rev 17:18). The “many waters” and the scarlet beast, therefore, are different parts of the (population of) world. The harlot’s influence on the two groups is also different:

CONCLUSION

Based on these two examples, when John hears one thing and sees something completely different, what John hears and sees are NOT exactly the same. Rather, they are different perspectives or aspects of the same reality. They are different enough for us to conclude that the 144000 and the Innumerable Multitude are different parts or perspectives of God’s people.

Opposites

Secondly, the differences in the descriptions of the 144000 and the Innumerable Multitude (e.g., from Israel – from all nations) indicate that they are not exactly the same. From time to time, Revelation gives different names to the same thing or group, but never describes the same thing in such contradictory terms.

White Robes

Thirdly, the fifth seal refers to a specific point in history when white robes are given to God’s martyred people. But the fifth seal also mentions people who must still be “killed even as they had been” (Rev 6:11).  By implication, the people who must still be killed will also receive white robes. The Innumerable Multitude is clothed in white robes. They, presumable, therefore include all people in white robes; both groups of people in the fifth seal.

Further evidence of this is that the Innumerable Multitude has come through “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). This confirms that this group includes both groups of people in the fifth seal.

Now comes the important point: The discussion of the Sealing has concluded that the 144000 are the same as the people in the fifth seal who must still be killed. Therefore, the Innumerable Multitude includes both the martyred souls that receive white robes in the fifth seal and the 144000.

Conclusion

It is, therefore, fairly clear that:

      • The 144000 are God’s end-time people in the time of restraint before the winds are loosed (Rev 7:1-3).
      • The Innumerable Multitude represents all of God’s people.

WHAT POINT IN TIME IS IN VIEW?

Another question is, what time is described in Rev 7:9-17? Does this passage describe the Innumerable Multitude before or after the return of Christ? 

After Christ’s Return

Factors to consider include the following:

      • They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17).
      • Revelation 6:17 asks, “who is able to stand” on “the great day of their wrath?” Since we see the Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne, this, presumably, is the answer to the question and “the great day of their wrath,” which is the return of Christ.
      • The palm branches in their hands are associated with “the Feast of Booths,” which foreshadowed the bliss of eternity.
      • Like the souls under the altar, they are clothed in white robes, but unlike the souls under the altar, they do not cry for revenge. This implies that they have had their revenge.

These factors seem to indicate that the point in time is AFTER the Return of Christ. However, as explained above, the New Testament sometimes describes things that are a permanent and eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized, as if it already happened. This may also apply to Revelation 7:9-17.

Before Christ’s Return

Prophets normally describe visions as in the past tense because the vision was a past experience for the prophet. So, the prophet may even describe events that lie in the prophet’s future in the past tense.  However, Revelation sometimes switches to the present and future tenses.  That must be significant. In Rev 7:9-17:

      • Rev 7:11 and 12, describing the song of the heavenly beings, are in the past tense.
      • Rev 7:15 to 17, describing what God will do for His people, are in the future tense, for example, “God will wipe every tear.
      • On the other hand, the activities of the Innumerable Multitude are described in the present tense:

        • standing before the throne (Rev 7:9);
        • clothed in white robes (Rev 7:9);
        • cry out with a loud voice (Rev 7:10)
        • come out of the great tribulation (Rev 7:14);
        • are before the throne of God (Rev 7:15);
        • serve Him day and night (Rev 7:15).

There are two exceptions to this, but both can be explained:

      • Palm branches were in their hands” (Rev 7:9) (past tense) but this is not something which the multitude does. This is the normal way of relating a vision.
      • They have washed their robes” (Rev 7:14) is also in the past tense, but this is because they washed their robes before they “come out of the great tribulation.”

This present tense, when describing the Innumerable Multitude, therefore, seems to be intentional. Combined with the future tense of verses 15-17, the implication seems to be that Revelation 7:9-17 describes the time before the return of Christ.

Proposal

It is proposed that Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000. The description of the Innumerable Multitude then continues where the sixth seal left off. In other words, the hiding multitude (Rev 6:15-17) and the Innumerable Multitude describe the same point in time; namely immediately before the return of Christ. That would make the seventh seal the Return of Christ.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      • The great tribulation refers to the martyrdom of God’s people in the seals.
      • Christ’s blood is a symbol of His death.
      • His death symbolizes His entire life.
      • God will render to each person according to his deeds
      • The 144000 and the Innumerable Multitude are not the same.
      • The Innumerable Multitude includes God’s people of all ages.
      • The Innumerable Multitude describes the same point in time as the hiding multitude in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-17), namely immediately before the return of Christ.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

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