Greetings all! We’ve come to the last installment of our study of Revelation chapters 6 and 7. In the last post, we talked about the identity of the four angels that were assigned to hold back the winds of heaven from blowing on the earth. In this post, we’re going to identify the “great multitude of saints in heaven.” And we’re going to talk about how we’ve changed the meaning of the word “tribulation.” Keep reading.
Revelation Chapter 7
Fifth in a Five-Part Series
By Karen Thompson
A Great Multitude of Saints in Heaven
Rev. 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
After John saw the 144,000 servants being sealed, a new scenario suddenly opened up before him. He described seeing a great multitude in heaven: “Lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb” (v. 9). When reading this, the first thing that comes to mind is how abruptly the subject changed. We go from reading about the angels holding back the four winds of heaven so the 144,000 can be sealed, and then all of a sudden, John is describing seeing a great multitude in heaven. Though it’s not yet readily apparent at this point, the reason the scenario changed so quickly is because as soon as the full number of the 144,000 servants are sealed, they are caught up to God (or raptured) in heaven. This will become apparent in chapters 12 and 13.
John saw far more than the 144,000 servants in heaven. He described seeing a great multitude so large that “no man could number.” The multitude was made up of people from all nations, people groups, and different languages. They are standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb. They were all given white robes, which were robes of righteousness. White clothing is one of the overcomer’s rewards (Rev. 3:5). The people in the great multitude are being rewarded for their faithfulness.
Palm Trees Symbolize Righteousness
In addition to wearing white robes, verse nine says the saints in heaven are holding palms in their hands. Let’s talk about the symbolism of the palm tree. Carvings of palm trees were all over the temple, as they too were a symbol of righteousness: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree” (Ps. 92:12). Also, the palm branch was used in the festival of booths, a seven-day feast called a season of rejoicing. On the first day of the feast, they were to take branches of four species of trees, the palm branch being one of them, and then holding them together, wave them in six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down) while reciting a blessing (Lev. 23:40).
Lastly, when Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples, He knew He was going to His death. When the people heard Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him, saying, “Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:12–13). They were expecting Him to become King of Israel, but Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing He was going to be the sacrificial Lamb for His people, for the whole world! The people laid down their palm branches, a symbol of His righteousness, before Him as He passed.
And now this multitude in heaven is standing before God the Father and the Lamb wearing white robes with palm branches in their hands, both symbols of righteousness.
God and the Lamb Are Worshiped
After John described the multitude standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb with palm branches in their hands, he said they worshiped God and the Lamb saying, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (v.10). John then further described the scenario saying the angels were standing around God’s throne, around the 24 elders, and around the four beasts. They fell down before the throne and worshiped God saying, “Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (v. 12). The worship began with “amen” and ended with “amen.” And it was seven-fold: 1) blessing, 2) glory, 3) wisdom, 4) thanksgiving, 5) honor, 6) power, and 7) might.
The Identity of the Multitude
After the worship was over, one of the elders asked John, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” (v. 13). Who is this multitude of people decked out in white robes, and where did they come from? John’s response to the elder’s question was “Sir, you know.” The angel identified the multitude saying, “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). Two things identify the multitude: 1) they came out of great tribulation, and 2) they washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
Let’s first talk about the multitude washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb. It’s another way of saying their sins were cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, as it says in Revelation 1:5: “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness … Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Hebrews chapter nine tells us that Jesus offered up His own blood for our sins in the heavenly holy of holies: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:11–14). Simply put, all the people in the great multitude are Christians. They had all received Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The Definition of the Word “Tribulation”
Now let’s look at the other factor. The angel also identified the multitude as those that “came out of great tribulation.” If you’re not careful, it would be easy to interpret this phrase incorrectly. What does it mean when it says they came out of great tribulation? Does it mean they went through the entire seven-year period of Daniel’s 70th week? Were they subjected to the diabolical machinations of the Antichrist beast and his false prophet?
In order to understand what John meant when he said these saints went through great tribulation, we need to have a discussion about the word tribulation. First of all, the word translated as tribulation is the Greek word thelipsis, and the Strong’s Concordance defines it as “pressure, oppression, affliction, distress, and tribulation.” In the King James Bible, it is translated as tribulation 21 times, affliction 17 times, trouble 3 times, and one time each for the words anguish, persecution, and burdened.
The word tribulation is used five times in the book of Revelation. Four times John used the word tribulation to describe what he and his fellow companions were experiencing.
Rev. 1:9, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Rev. 2:9–10, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
Rev. 2:22, “Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.”
Only once did John use it in reference to what the believers would experience in the end times: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
Here’s the thing you must bear in mind when interpreting this verse. In order to interpret what John was saying about these end time Christians, you must use John’s definition of the word tribulation. We present-day Christians have changed the definition for tribulation. How we use the word tribulation is different than the way John used the word tribulation. We did the same thing with the word apocalypse. The Greek word apocalypse means “revelation.” John’s vision of end times is called “The Apocalypse” in the Greek language, but in English, it is called “The Revelation.” But today, no one uses the word apocalypse to mean revelation. Because of the events in the book of Revelation, the meaning of apocalypse has come to be known as worldwide devastation or destruction.
In the same way, we have changed the meaning of tribulation. We use the word tribulation to refer to the end time events described in the book of Revelation. I have surveyed a number of people and asked them to define for me the word tribulation. Without exception, they all define it to mean the end times in Revelation. They use it as a sort of blanket description for the events in Revelation. When I ask them to be more specific, they are stumped. All of them. No one can describe specifically what they mean by tribulation. It’s a nebulous term for events that apply to end times. But that is not how John is using the word tribulation.
When John says this great multitude in heaven came out of great tribulation, he is saying they experienced great adversity, pressure, oppression, affliction, or anguish. In fact, John went on to describe what he meant by great tribulation. In verses 16–17, John described their tribulation: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Most definitely, they will have come through the time of “wars and rumors of wars” when hunger and thirst and death was all around them. So when John says these Christians “came out of great tribulation,” in no way can you interpret that to mean they experienced the time of God’s wrath being poured out upon the nations.
If you fail to use the correct interpretations for words in end time prophecy, you can easily come to incorrect or wrong conclusions. Always keep that in mind when studying Revelation.
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