SYNOPSIS – One of the twenty-four “elders” interpreted the vision of the innumerable multitude standing before the Throne – Revelation 7:13-17.
In the vision of the Throne, one of the twenty-four “elders” pointed to the “Lamb” as the one who fulfills the messianic role of the “lion of the tribe of Judah.” Likewise, at the end of the vision of the “sealing of God’s servants” and the “144,000 men numbered” out of the “tribes of Israel,” one of the “elders” provided John with the interpretation by answering two questions – The “innumerable multitude” of redeemed men and women “standing” before the “Lamb” – Who are they, 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.” When the fifth seal was opened, the martyrs under the altar were told to wait until the full number of witnesses was assembled. That promise is fulfilled now in the innumerable multitude – The completed “number” of witnesses gathered from the “Great Tribulation.”
“Who is able to stand?” The question left hanging at the end of the sixth seal opening is now answered – The men and women “standing” before the Throne and the “Lamb” are enabled to do so by the “blood of the Lamb.” “Standing before the Throne,” the multitude receives vindication and 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” 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 exiting the “great tribulation” to stand before the “Lamb.”
They endured “tribulation” but do not undergo “wrath” – Tribulation and wrath are not synonymous in Revelation. The term “great tribulation” alludes to a passage from Daniel, one that is 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.”
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).
On the Isle of Patmos, for example, John labeled himself a fellow-participant “in the tribulation.” He endured the same “tribulation” as the seven churches of Asia. His statement indicates the “tribulation” was underway already when he wrote to the churches.
In the vision, the “innumerable multitude” is in the process of “coming” out of the “great tribulation.” This translates a present tense Greek participle, signifying continuous action – Here, an ongoing process that continues until the full number of the redeemed is assembled before the Throne.
Washing robes to “make them white” alludes to another passage from 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.”
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 in the book of Revelation is the unsealing of the formerly sealed scroll. The “time of the end” foretold by Daniel began in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the “Lamb” who unseals the sealed scroll.
The saints are exiting 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 1:5, 3:21, 7:14,12:11).
The redeemed “render divine service (latreuô) day and night in his sanctuary.” The Greek verb latreuo and its noun form, latreia, are used in the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible for the ritual services performed by the priests in the Tabernacle. Its usage here stresses the priestly role of the saints:
- (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 multitude correspond to the priestly vestments that were worn by the Levitical priests when they performed their functions in the Tabernacle. However, regardless of gender or ethnicity, every member of the innumerable multitude is arrayed and functions as a priest – (Exodus 28:2-4, 29:5, Leviticus 8:30).
The picture reflects the new covenant promises from Ezekiel, which are quoted more fully in the vision of New Jerusalem:
- (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.”
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This alludes to a promise from the book of Isaiah made originally to Israel:
(Isaiah 25:8) – “I will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.”
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 found in the New Creation. Once more, the language occurs also in the vision of New Jerusalem:
- (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.”
Thus, 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 full assembly of “royal priests” stands at the ready, sealed by God, and prepared for any eventuality. 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.
While the imagery has changed from scene to scene, the same group remains in view, one that includes the seven churches of Asia. This 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).