One of the twenty-four “elders” interpreted the vision of the innumerable saints standing before the Lamb and the throne – Revelation 7:13-17.
We have reached the point where the two questions have been answered – How long must the martyrs wait for vindication, and “who is able to stand” before the “wrath of the Lamb” and he “who sits on the throne.” Having been sealed, numbered, and assembled, John has witnessed all the saints “standing” before Jesus and his Father in victorious worship.
The first four seals put hardships into motion that impacted the churches, including the martyrs that John discovered “underneath the altar” when the fifth seal was opened. When they pleaded for vindication and judgment, God encouraged them to “rest” until the full number of “witnesses” had been gathered.
The opening of the sixth seal produced the day of the “wrath of the Lamb” when all men attempted to hide from their impending doom, all to no avail for there was no escape. The scene ended with the question – “Who is able to stand before the Lamb and the One Who sits on the throne?”
Before the opening of the last seal, four angels were commanded to restrain the “winds” from the “four corners of the earth” until the saints had been “sealed,” which explains how the saints were able to endure and “overcome” the forces released by the first four seal openings.
In answer to the martyrs’ plea, John “heard” the “number” of the saints, 144,000 “males from the “twelve tribes of Israel.” When he looked, however, he “saw” a vast multitude so numerous that “no one could number them,” an assembly of men and women from every “nation and tribe,” and the full complement of “witnesses” that were “standing before the Lamb.”
Next, one of the “twenty-four elders” explains the image of the “innumerable multitude” – Who they are, and how they came to be “standing” before Jesus.
- (Revelation 7:13-17) – “And one of the elders began saying to me: These who are arrayed in white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And I at once said to him: My lord, you know. And he said to 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 render divine service to him day and night in his sanctuary, and he that sits upon the throne shall spread his tent over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst at all, neither in any way will the sun fall upon them, nor any burning heat; because the Lamb that is in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to life’s fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.”
The multitude consisted of men and women from every nation who had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” When the “fifth seal” was opened, the martyrs were told to wait until their full number had been assembled. That promise was fulfilled in the gathering of the “innumerable multitude” from the “great tribulation.”
“Who is able to stand?” That question was left hanging after the “sixth seal” was opened, but now, it has been answered – The men and women “standing” before the “Lamb” were enabled to do so by his “blood.” And as they “stand” before him, they receive life and vindication, not “wrath.” Rather than attempt to hide in caves or under rocks from the “wrath of the Lamb,” they stand “day and night” rendering divine service in his “sanctuary.”
The 144,000 “servants of God” were sealed before the “winds of the earth” were released. The present scene has shifted to the conclusion of the story when redeemed saints are seen exiting the “great tribulation” to stand before the “Lamb.” The duration of the “tribulation” is not stated. The term occurs five times in the book and is applied to the saints. “Tribulation” is what the followers of the “Lamb” endure because of their testimony. For example, at the outset, John on Patmos called himself a “fellow participant in the tribulation” – (Daniel 12:1-3, Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 2:22, 7:14).
The saints had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In so doing, they emulated the “Lamb” by becoming “faithful witnesses,” just as he did. The “white robes” also link the “innumerable multitude” to the martyrs “underneath the altar” in the fifth seal, each of whom received a “white robe.” The clause also links the image to chapter 12 where the “brethren overcame the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto death” – (Revelation 1:5, 3:21, 7:14, 12:11).
In chapter 7, the saints “render divine service (latreuô) day and night in his sanctuary.” The Greek verb latreuo and its noun form were used in the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible for the ritual services performed by the priests in the Tabernacle. Here, its usage stresses the priestly role and status of the saints, something described several times in the book – (Revelation 1:5-6, 5:10, 20:6).
Likewise, the white “robes” or stolé received by 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 as a priest – (Exodus 28:2-4, 29:5, Leviticus 8:30).
The image of the saints “rendering divine service in the sanctuary” reflects the new covenant promises from Ezekiel, which are employed 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 their midst forevermore. 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: Behold, the tent of God is with men, and he will tabernacle with them, and they shall be his peoples, and he shall be God with them; And he will wipe away every tear out of their eyes, and death shall be no more, and grief and outcry and pain shall be no more.”
The description of God “wiping away every tear” alludes to the promise from Isaiah, one made originally to Ancient Israel but now applied to the churches – “I will swallow up death forever, and the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” And previously, overcoming saints at Philadelphia were promised this very thing – (Isaiah 25:8, 49:10-12).
- “He that overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and he shall go out thence no more. And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God, and mine own new name” – (Revelation 3:12).
- “And there shall be no curse any longer, and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein: and his servants shall render divine serve to him” – (Revelation 22:1-5).
Likewise, the declaration that God would “tabernacle” with His people and “wipe away their tears” is reiterated at the descent of “New Jerusalem” from heaven:
- “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any longer” – (Revelation 21:2-5).
Moreover, the “Lamb that is in the middle of the throne will shepherd” this vast multitude of men “from every nation,” which is in fulfillment of the second Psalm and identified the “Lamb” as the Son of Yahweh and the promised Messiah. It is through his redemption that Jesus is “shepherding” the “nations”:
- (Psalm 2:7-9) – “Yahweh said to me: You are my son. This day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You will shepherd them with a rod of iron” – (Compare Revelation 12:5, 19:15).
Thus, the image of Israel assembled for the journey to the Promised Land is transformed into the vast gathering of men and women from every nation to “stand” victorious before the “Lamb” in “New Jerusalem,” the full assembly of “royal priests” at the ready, sealed by God, and prepared for any eventuality. They are in the process of “coming out of the great tribulation” because the priestly nation is on the march to its ultimate destination, the “city of New Jerusalem,” where they will “stand” before the “Lamb” and “tabernacle” with the “One who sits on the throne.”
While the imagery changes from scene to scene, the same group remains in view, and one that includes the “seven churches of Asia.” The triumphant image echoes the promises made in the letters to the churches, to every saint that “overcomes.” The overcoming believer 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).
The full number of the “witnesses” has been gathered, and they have been vindicated by the “Lamb.” The stage is now set for the opening of the “seventh seal,” which will begin the process of taking “vengeance” against the “inhabitants of the earth” that “slew” the “witnesses” because of the “testimony for Jesus.”