|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2000|
|Last month Dr. Thomas explains who the 144,000 are—and aren’t. Now he tackles the question of the “crowd too large to count” to see if the Bible identifies them as well.|
THE CROWD TOO LARGE TO COUNT: WHO ARE THEY?
After his vision of the 144,000 Israelites from each of the twelve tribes (Rev. 7:1-8), John had another vision of a different group (Rev. 7:9-17). This is another body of people because, instead of a definite number 144,000, it comprised a crowd so large that no one could count how many there were. Instead of coming from the twelve tribes of Israel, this crowd came from every nation. Instead of being prepared for imminent danger as were the 144,000, this group was resting secure and celebrating victory.
The fact that this large group “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14) demonstrates that they have believed in Christ and had their sins forgiven. This large a gathering of believers—so large that they cannot be counted—may seem a bit surprising in light of Jesus’ teaching that many are called but only few chosen (Matt. 22:14) and that only a few enter through the narrow gate to find eternal life (Matt. 7:14). Yet with the rate of growth of the world’s population so rapid, a few or a small percentage of the vast number now living still constitutes a considerable group, and world population will become larger as time goes on. Remember that this crowd comes from “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” throughout the world (Rev. 7:9), so even though they are a small minority, the number is still significantly large.
The Time of the Crowd’s Celebration
We have already established that the time frame of fulfillment for Revelation 6:1-17 is the first half of Daniel’s future seventieth week and that the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8 is the midpoint of that week. Since the two visions of Revelation 7 fall between the sixth and seventh seals of Revelation 6:12-17 and 8:1, good reason exists to locate the heavenly scene of Revelation 7:9-17 at the midpoint of that future seven-year period too. The people who compose this vast crowd will have departed from this earthly scene before the Great Tribulation that comprises the last half of the week (Rev. 7:14). We know the time of the Great Tribulation through Jesus’ teaching in His Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 24:15, 21 He indicated that the Great Tribulation would be the period that follows the “abomination of desolation,” an event marking the midpoint of the week in Daniel’s prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27.
Since this great crowd will have gone to heaven during that first three-and-a-half-year span, they must be both Gentile and Jewish believers who will die either natural or violent deaths during the period of the first six seals. Some have wanted to locate the time of this vision’s fulfillment during the future millennium on earth or else during the future eternal state. The former suggestion is not good because the multitude is in heaven, not on earth as the redeemed will be during the millennium. The latter suggestion is no better because the people in this vision worship in the temple (Rev. 7:15), a worship center that will not exist during the eternal state (Rev. 21:22). Because of these factors and because of the vision’s location between the sixth and seventh seals, the better choice is to understand this scene to be the celebration of people who have weathered the storm of opposition that will face believers during the period of the first six seals and who have died and gone to heaven.
The Worship of the Crowd
The location of the crowd before the throne and before the Lamb in heaven (Rev. 7:9) facilitates their capacity for worshiping the Father and the Son. The palm branches in their hands recall the Feast of Tabernacles and anticipate the promise later in the vision of God being a tabernacle over His people (Rev. 7:15). This feast was an annual time of joy among the Jews as they anticipated the feast’s fulfillment in their promised kingdom (see Deut. 16:13-15; Neh. 8:15). Though the millennial kingdom has not yet arrived, this multitude is enjoying a foretaste of that promised blessing. As a part of their worship they shout, “Salvation (or Victory) to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10). They ascribe the victory to God and the Lamb in sustaining them through the period of persecution on earth.
The vibrant song of the innumerable multitude prompts the angelic host of heaven to join with them in worship (Rev. 7:11). Various orders of angelic beings endorse the tribute of the large crowd of redeemed humans with the words, “Amen; blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength to our God forever and ever; amen” (7:12). The sevenfold characterization of God echoes a similar doxology directed to the Lamb in Revelation 5:12 by an innumerable multitude of angelic beings.
The Identification of the Crowd
One of the twenty-four elders, whom we have previously identified as angelic beings, helps John with an identification of the large crowd: “These are those who are coming out from the Great Tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). The point from which these saints will depart is the earth, which is the scene of “the Great Tribulation.” “The Great Tribulation” will be a period of eschatological tribulation and distress immediately before Christ returns in power to establish His kingdom. The period relates to the time of punitive action included in the interval called “the hour of trial” in Revelation 3:10 and “the great day” of the wrath of God and of the Lamb in Revelation 6:17. Jesus coined the expression “the Great Tribulation” in Matthew 24:21 and limited it to the second half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20; see Dan. 9:27). It will be a period that will surpass all past and subsequent periods in its intensity of suffering on earth.
No wonder this crowd is celebrating God’s victory! They have experienced persecution already, during the first three-and-a-half years of the seventieth week, a persecution not nearly so severe as what the 144,000 on earth will endure during the last half of the week. They have come through their hardships, have now arrived at their heavenly resting place, and will not be called on to face the more severe persecution by the beast during the last half of the period. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14)—figurative language that indicates they have trusted Christ and had their sins forgiven—and that is all that matters.
The elder who has identified the group for John continues to elaborate on the blessed state of that group when he speaks of their uninterrupted worship of God and God’s immediate presence to shelter and protect them from all harm (7:15). They will be free from hunger and thirst and from harmful effects of the sun’s rays and scorching heat (7:16). The Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to the spiritual fountain where they can drink the water of life (7:17a). Wiping tears from their eyes, God Himself will counteract any lingering effects of sorrow (7:17b). They will have experienced recent struggles, but He will transform that past into delightful bliss.
A visit with this victorious crowd is refreshing when compared with many disappointments and frustrations that we encounter in this life. A glimpse at what it will be like when all our struggles are ended gives us a stimulus to remain faithful so that we may reap the same rewards as this large crowd of redeemed people. Unending happiness awaits us at the end of the road. In light of this certain destiny, let us “be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [our] toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Note: For more details about the 144,000, see my discussion in Revelation 1–7 (Moody Press, 1992), pages 482-504 To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.