American Christian University

Revelation 7:9  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

These words introduce to us a new vision. In verse 1 we were focused on things on earth -- “I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth…” – where the church militant is operating. Verse 9 introduces us to a vision focused on things in heaven where we find the church triumphant.

Revelation 7:9  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

The church were represented to us in verses 4 – 8 as a numbered, exact, and predetermined number of people, while here we are shown a multitude that cannot be counted. The difference in representation between the exact number of the elect that stands before the throne of Christ, and the uncountable number also standing before the throne, is the location where they operated. The exact number shown symbolically in the 144,000 is part of the vision dealing with things on earth and they represent the exact number of the faithful on earth, shielded from apostasy and from God’s wrath by our union with the Lamb (bearing his name, shielded by his Spirit.)  The innumerable assembly of nations shows the victorious church in heaven, emerging triumphant from tribulation not through a painless rapture, but through a faithful death.  They are the ones who did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

On earth they have known hunger, thirst, exposure, and tears; but the woes to be released on the world in final judgment on human sin cannot touch those who dwell in God’s sanctuary, shepherded by the Lamb to the spring of the water of life. We will deal with that in more detail in Rev. 7:15 cf.

Judah’s Lion proved to be the slain Lamb, displaying royal power through the miraculous power of his sacrifice, so the flock he protects sounds like a precisely numbered, exclusively Israelite army braced for battle but is in reality an international crowd celebrating the victory already won. The victory was won by the Lamb when He was slain to purchase this multitude from the peoples to become God’s treasured kingdom of priests. 

Revelation 5:5, 9 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 9And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

In the Old Testament Greek the word used for ‘robe’ is the same word used for the robe of a priest (Exodus 28:31 – 34), a prophet (I Samuel 15:27), and a prince (I Samuel 18:4).  Their robes were white because they were washed in the blood of the Lamb, for this blood silences our accuser’s charges forever.  Their white robes show that these joyful victors are, paradoxically, the martyrs whose souls John saw poured out like sacrificial blood beneath the altar, whose lament was answered by God’s consoling counsel and his gift of white robes.

The lamenting martyrs, awaiting justice, and the celebrating victors, praising the God who saves, are the same group, viewed from different perspectives.  Both perspectives are true: nothing less than Jesus’ return, bringing the resurrection of the saints and the destruction of death, the last enemy, can satisfy our longing for God’s justice to prevail.

I Corinthians 15:21 - 26 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power, 25for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Yet, between now and then, those who die in the Lord are blessed in his presence.

II Corinthians 5:5 – 10 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 6Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7We live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Just as the images of lion and lamb carried distinct and complementary messages about Christ and his victory, so the two images in Revelation 7 enable us to see the church from complementary perspectives: the people of God’s covenant, arrayed for battle; and from the peoples of the world, those redeemed by the Lamb, already celebrating his victory.

The difference between the 144,000 “Israelites” and the countless multitude is not in the ethnic composition of the two groups but in their location. The international multitude gathers to celebrate their triumphant king. The palm branches in their hands were used in the ancient world to show praise, as they were when a crowd welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with the shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13). The white-robed worshipers now lead the heavenly assembly into a new dimension of praise. 

This is the first time that we hear the church sing to its Sovereign, so it is fitting that this assembly of purchased, purified peoples introduces a new theme to the divine excellencies that were celebrated in Revelation 4-5.  The church’s praise is answered by the chorus of angels, elders, and living creatures in a sevenfold doxology, which virtually replicates the earlier sevenfold praise of the Lamb, with one substitution: in place of ‘wealth’, our God now receives ‘thanksgiving,’ his creatures’ fitting response to his saving grace.

The elder shows John the safety of this multitude in imagery drawn from Isaiah:

Isaiah 49:10 They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.

In this prophecy God is the Shepherd who leads his flock to springs of water.

Psalm 23:1, 2 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.

Ezekiel 34:13 – 15 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD.

In Revelation the Lamb is their shepherd. This is fitting, since he is ‘in the center of the throne’ and with the Father receives worship from all creatures everywhere. To shelter his flock from sun and heat their Protector ‘will spread His tabernacle over them’ and he ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes’. These victors already taste the joys of the new Jerusalem, where God will ‘dwell’ among his people, wipe every tear from their eyes, and cause them to drink of the water of life.

In response to the sixth seal’s terrifying preview of final judgment and the desperate question, “Who is able to stand?” these visions assure the Lamb’s flock that nothing in the present or the future will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Those marked as God’s treasure by the seal of his name are secured and sheltered from his burning wrath to come. They are the people of his covenant, portrayed as twelve complete tribes. But now that the Lamb has conquered through his death, God’s covenant embraces all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues. The Israel secured by God’s seal is a multiethnic multitude, dressed in robes washed white in the Lamb’s blood and praising him for his salvation.

Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.

Psalm 72:7 - 11 In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. 8He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 9The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. 10The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. 11All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.

Isaiah 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Isaiah 49:7 This is what the LORD says--the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel--to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Isaiah 60:2 – 5 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4"Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. 5Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.”

Jeremiah 3:17 At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.

Hosea 1:10  "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.”

Zechariah 2:11 "Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.”

John 12:13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!”

Revelation 7:10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

The loud voice indicates to us their joy and the complete expression of their hearts. The martyrs also cried out with a loud voice after the fifth seal was opened, expressing the desires of their hearts. They acknowledge that God is their Savior.

Psalm 3:8 From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.

Psalm 37:39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

Psalm 68:19, 20 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. 20Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.

Isaiah 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.

Isaiah 45:15 Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.

Isaiah 45:21 Declare what is to be, present it--let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.

Jeremiah 3:23 Surely the [idolatrous] commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.

Hosea 13:4 "But I am the LORD your God, [who brought you] out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.”

Jonah 2:9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.

John 1:29  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Revelation 7:11, 12 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

The different groups are named from the outer circle to the inner circle. They all fell down on their faces and worshiped God.  Here again we see the sevenfold praise, which indicates perfection: Praise, Glory, Wisdom, Thanks, Honor, Power and Strength.

Romans 11:33 – 36 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out, 34"Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? 35Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Psalm 41:13 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

Psalm 72:19 Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.

Psalm 95:2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

Psalm 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

Psalm 106:48 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, "Amen!" Praise the LORD!

Jeremiah 33:11 The sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying, "Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever." For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the LORD.

II Corinthians 4:15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Colossians 2:7 Rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Jude 1:25 To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Revelation 7:13, 14 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The elder inquires about the multitude before the throne of Christ; he inquires about their well-being and where they are from.  John responds by acknowledging his ignorance. He knows that the elder, as representative of the congregation, knows the answer to those questions.  Then the elder answered John: ‘They are those who have come out of the great tribulation.”

The elder’s words ‘they who have come’ require more in-depth study because we need to know what exactly the elder meant here. If he meant that there would be nobody else coming out of the great tribulation, then we must assume that the great tribulation has ended by the time this vision comes to pass and the full number of the elect now stands before the throne of Christ. If, however, the elder says to John that these are those who have come out of the great tribulation so far, but the harvest is ongoing, then it changes the entire perspective of the great tribulation.

The word the elder uses here for ‘come’ is erchomai {er'-khom-ahee} in Greek, which is the middle voice of a primary verb (used only in the present and imperfect tenses, the others being supplied by a kindred [middle voice] eleuthomai {el-yoo'-thom-ahee}, or [active] eltho {el'-tho}, which do not otherwise occur). It means

  1. to come
    1. relating to persons

to come from one place to another, and used both of persons arriving and departing

to appear, make one's appearance, come before the public

  1. metaphoric
    1. to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence
    2. be established, become known, to come (fall) into or unto
  2. to go, to follow one

Erchomai is used in many places in Scripture and it always shows forth continuation.  Here are only some of the passages:

Matthew 2:8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Matthew 5:17  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Matthew 3:7  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath.”

Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Acts 2:20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

Romans 1:10 In my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

Romans 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

Romans 9:9 For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

Romans 15:29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

Galatians 3:19  What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.

Galatians 3:25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Galatians 4:4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.

Ephesians 5:6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

Philippians 2:24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

Philippians 1:27  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.

Hebrews 6:7  Land that drinks in the rain often falling [coming from] on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.

Hebrews 8:8 But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

II Peter 3:3  First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.

Jude 1:14  Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy one.”

Revelation 1:4  John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne.

Revelation 1:7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

Revelation 1:8  "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

What does this mean? If Erchomai indicates an ongoing process, such as we see that it does in Scripture, especially the very clear use of the word in Revelation 1:4 and 1:8, then we must place the great tribulation as the entire period before the Second Coming of Christ.  There is, then, no special period of heightened persecution, but the persecution happens here in this life, right now. 

Since the Second Person of the Godhead came visibly on earth to openly take up his office as Head of the church, there has been severe strife and contradiction between the church of Christ and the world, which will intensify rather than abate. Believers go through the Great tribulation in this life and martyrs are slain on a daily basis, as we know. They, and the others dying in the name of Christ, join the multitude before Christ’s throne, and they immediately begin to praise and worship the Lamb, as we have seen.

Psalm 90:10 The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

John 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

John 16:33  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world..

Acts 14:22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.

Ephesians 2:1 – 7 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 6:11 – 18 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes 12for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

I Peter 5:8 - 10 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

We see especially the tribulation announced in Revelation 6:3-17, which we have studied. These things happen around us today. Look what people, created in the image of Christ, are prepared to do to other people, created in the image of Christ. Christians are tortured and killed purely because they profess the name of Christ and peacefully live lives emulating that of Christ.  But without consideration for their own physical welfare they remain faithful and consider being home with the Lord as of far more value than being in this life without being able to profess their love for their Savior.

When we live in a country where religious freedom is as commonplace as day and night, one tends to seek the great tribulation elsewhere. We tend to regard the gospel like a vacuum cleaner: out of the closet when we need it, and out of sight when we are done.  Our greatest sacrifice is coming to church on Sundays and then we tell Christ to wait because we are too tired or busy and we cannot come to worship him today or in the evenings.  Meeting our Savior in the worship service and in the sacraments is not a big thing anymore. The sacrifices we bring for our faith pale in comparison to those who have to suffer persecution and torture. They remain in prayer and in search of God their entire lives, relying on only God’s promise and Jesus’ merits for their worldly existence. We bring, ‘if I feel like it’ to the altar; or ‘I am going to church once every Sunday and that ought to be sufficient,’ or ‘I am a good person, basically, so I should be okay.’ 

The 144,000 are presented to us as warriors, an army, which is the church militant, which is us. But we fight for the kingdom of God while fast asleep complaining about trivial things, things that we allow to eliminate us in battle. No wonder some of us seek the great tribulation elsewhere.

Revelation 7:13, 14 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Having washed one’s robe in the blood of the Lamb means to seek one’s liberty from sin in Christ, while here on earth in this life. There is no other way possible for one to obtain that white robe but through the blood of Christ. Verse 15 starts with the word ‘therefore’ which indicates a cause and an effect. They fled to Christ in this life and through their faith worked in them by the Holy Spirit they now find themselves before the throne of God in white robes. Because of the one they received the other.

I John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Hebrews 9:13, 14 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.

Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.