A. Past Lessons
- The Four Horsemen (Rev 6:1-8)
- The Fifth and Sixth Seal’s Effects on the Earth (Rev 6: 9-17)
- The 144,000 Are Marked with the Seal of God (Rev 7:1-8)
B. Text of Rev 7:9-17
“9After this I looked and behold: A great crowd which no one was able to count. The crowd was from every ethnicity, nation, people, and language and stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God—the one who sits on the throne—and to the Lamb.’ 11All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, the four living beings, and they fell before the throne on their faces and they worshipped God 12saying, ‘Amen! Praise, honor, wisdom, thanksgiving, reverence, power, and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen!’ 13Then one of the elders asked me, ‘Who are these clothed in long white robes and where did they come from?’ 14Then I replied to him, ‘My lord, you know the answer.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming from out of the great persecution, clothed in their long-flowing robes, and made white through the blood of the Lamb.’ 15This is why they are in front of the throne of God and serve him during the day and during the night in his Temple. The one sitting on the throne will live with them. 16They will not be hungry nor will they be thirsty, nor will the sun fall on them or its burning heat 17because the Lamb in the midst of the throne shepherds them and leads them to the fountain of living water. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:9-17) 1
Photo Credit: Nheyob
C. General Remarks
“The verbs in this section are very diverse, combining present, future, aorist, and perfect tenses. There is a great debate as to the temporal orientation of the passages, with some contending for a preterist interpretation (applying to the members of the seven churches), others to a millennial setting, still others to the time just before eternity is ushered in, and finally many to eternity itself” (Osborne, Revelation, 334).
“But, as so often in Revelation (and in Christian thinking generally), present and future overlap and interlock in various confusing ways, and already some of the blessings of the final city are to be experienced by these people – by these people who, John is eager to say, are you, you who are about to suffer in Ephesus, or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or wherever” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 75).
II. PRAISE FROM THE HEAVENS (Rev 7:9-12)
A. The Crowd in White Robes (v. 9)
Μετὰ ταῦτα εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὄχλος πολύς, ὃν ἀριθμῆσαι αὐτὸν οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο, ἐκ παντὸς ἔθνους καὶ φυλῶν καὶ λαῶν καὶ γλωσσῶν ἑστῶτες ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου περιβεβλημένους στολὰς λευκὰς καὶ φοίνικες ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτῶν,
“After this I looked and behold: A great crowd which no one was able to count. The crowd was from every ethnicity, nation, people, and language and stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and held palm branches in their hands.” (Rev 7:9)
1. After This
Some commentators (Wright, Revelation for Everyone) see the vision of Rev 7:1-8 and Rev 7:9-17 as the same vision at the same time. However, the phrase “μετα τουτο / after this” indicates that this is a new vision just as the phrase indicated in Rev 4:1 and will do in Rev 7:9. Also see Rev 15:5; 18:1; 19:1 (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 483).
2. Palm Branches
Palm branches were used at both the Feasts of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication. What are these two feasts?
In the Feast of Tabernacles (also known as the Feast of Shelters) palm branches were used in a way to remember the Exodus as well as a way to erect tents that symbolized the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness (Lev 23:33-43; Neh 8:15; 2 Macc 10:7). This fits the idea of God living with his people (Rev 7:15) and the living water (Rev 7:15; cf. John 7:37-39) (See Osborne, Revelation, 334).
In the Feast of Dedication palm branches helped celebrate the liberating and rededication of the temple after the great sacrilege by the Greeks (most notably, Antiochus Epiphanes; cf. 1 Macc 4:54:59; 13:51; 2 Macc 10:6-7). If the Feast of Dedication is the background to these palm branches, then the palm branches would signify the defeat of the Antichrist and the joy of the temple in heaven (Rev 7:15).
In this example, I do not think it is an “either/or” scenario where we need to pick one feast over the other. Instead, Jesus is revealing this vision to John uses palm branches as a way to show victory over the armies of Egypt and Maccabean victor over the Syrians.
3. White Robes
The color “white” was used in Rome to symbol Roman triumph by a conquering general. That conquering general would lead a victory procession through the streets of Rome wearing a pure white toga (Osborne, Revelation, 319). Yet, in this context white does not only symbolizes triumph but it also symbolizes purity (Rev 7:14).
B. The Crowd’s Shout (v. 10)
καὶ κράζουσιν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγοντες· ἡ σωτηρία τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ καὶ τῷ ἀρνίῳ.
“They cried out in a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God—the one who sits on the throne—and to the Lamb.’” (Rev 7:10)
1. The Salvation
Thomas says that the short phrase, “ἡ σωτηρία / Salvation” is the chief note of this song (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 489). Much like the use of the word “salvation” in Rev 12:10 and 19:1, salvation here means that saints have been rescued:
- “Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, ‘It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night.’” (Revelation 12:10, NLT, emphasis added)
- “After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting, ‘Praise the LORD! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.’” (Revelation 19:1, NLT, emphasis added)
2. Christ’s Work on the Cross
There are five things that I like to use to describe what Christ did on the cross. These five items are often included in the theological doctrine of soteriology.
- Substitution: Christ died in our place and took the sinners’ just punishment (Lev 1:1-5; Mark 20:28; Rom 5:6-8).
- Redemption: Christ paid the price to free sinners from the power, consequences, and condemnation of their sins (Isa 41:14; Matt 20:28; 1 Cor 6:19-20; Rom 5:9; 2 Peter 2:1).
- Propitiation: God’s holy wrath against our sin is satisfied through Christ’s death (Isa 1:21-26; Jer 4:27-28; 6:19; John 3:36).
- Reconciliation: Christ’s death allows for forgiveness of man’s sin and restoration of our relationship with God in love (Gen 3:22-24; Eph 2:16; 2 Cor 5:20).
- Justification: We are made might right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 1:17; 3:19-26; 4:1-5).
C. The Angels around the Throne (v. 11)
Καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι εἱστήκεισαν κύκλῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων καὶ ἔπεσαν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου ἐπὶ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ θεῷ
“All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, the four living beings, and they fell before the throne on their faces and they worshiped God” (Rev 7:11)
Earlier we saw the elders fall in front of the throne (Rev 4:10), the living beings and elders fall down before the throne (Rev 5:8), and the elders again fall down and worship (Rev 5:14). This is the fourth time we see this happen.
D. The Angels’ Song (v. 12)
λέγοντες· ἀμήν, ἡ εὐλογία καὶ ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ σοφία καὶ ἡ εὐχαριστία καὶ ἡ τιμὴ καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ ἰσχὺς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
“saying, ‘Amen! Praise, honor, wisdom, thanksgiving, reverence, power, and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen!’” (Rev 7:12)
This is the only song from the Bible that uses “amen” at both the beginning and the end. It is the same phrase as Rev 5:12 except with a couple small differences. One difference is that there is no “amen” in 5:12. Another difference is the swap between “wealth” in 5:12 with “thanksgiving” here in 7:12.
2. Eternal God
One of the key attributes of God is that he is everlasting—living forever—never dying and never changing. The eternal glory of God and Christ is seen in the book of Revelation (1:18; 4:9, 10; 10:6; 11:15; 15:3, 7; 22:13) as well as throughout the rest of the Bible (Gen 21:33; Exod 3:14; Job 36:26; Pss 29:10; 48; 90:2; Isa 9:6; 40:28; 45:21; 46:9-10; Mic 5:2; John 1:3; 8:58; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16: Heb 1:2; 2 Peter 3:8)
III. THE TWENTY-FOUR ELDERS’ INTERPRETATION (Rev 7:13-17)
A. One of the Elders’ Inquiry (v. 13)
Καὶ ἀπεκρίθη εἷς ἐκ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λέγων μοι· οὗτοι οἱ περιβεβλημένοι τὰς στολὰς τὰς λευκὰς τίνες εἰσὶν καὶ πόθεν ἦλθον;
“Then one of the elders asked me, ‘Who are these clothed in long white robes and where did they come from?’” (Rev 7:13)
Throughout the entire book of Revelation angels reveal the visions to John (Rev 1:1; 14:13; 17:1-18; 19:9; 21:5-6, 9-27; 22:1, 8-16). This technique is common in prophetic and apocalyptic literature (Jer 11:1ff; Ezek 40:1-2; Dan 7:15-16; Amos 7:7-8, 8:2-3; Zeck 4:1-2; Apocalpsye of Abraham 10.1-2; Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 9.25-26).
B. One of the Elders’ Interpretation (v. 14)
καὶ εἴρηκα αὐτῷ· κύριέ μου, σὺ οἶδας. καὶ εἶπέν μοι· οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐρχόμενοι ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης καὶ ἔπλυναν τὰς στολὰς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐλεύκαναν αὐτὰς ἐν τῷ αἵματι τοῦ ἀρνίου.
“Then I replied to him, ‘My lord, you know the answer.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming from out of the great persecution, clothed in their long-flowing robes, and made white through the blood of the Lamb.’” (Rev 7:14)
The use of “lord” here shows the reference that John has for the angel/elder. It is interesting because some might think that because John calls this being “lord” that it is Christ Jesus himself. Yet, in Rev 19:10 and 22:29 John falls before this angel in worship and the angel tells John to get up because the angel is a fellow slave just as John is. Therefore this elder cannot be Christ.
2. The Great Persecution
The “great persecution” is not a technical term that refers to the seven years of tribulation, but it does describe a difficult time (Dan 12:1).
According to some, this phrase refers to the last war against the saints waged by the dragon (Rev 12) (Osborne, Revelation, 324).
Others say it is a different time (see Matt 24:21) of great persecution in the future (Walvoord, Revelation, 143).
Yet, some commentators see this “tribulation” being any specific persecution that exists throughout all time (Mulholland, Revelation, , 480).
It is clear that Christian believers will be killed during the Tribulation period. Some will die as martyrs, some will be killed by earthquakes and war and, others will be killed by special persecution from a world ruler (Rev 13:15).
“Persecution is on the way, and they must be ready for it. What he is offering them here is part of his continuing vision; and it’s a vision not of nice dreams in his head, but of the heavenly reality which is the absolute, utter truth against which the nightmare must be measured” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 73).
Blood is where life is (Gen 9:5-7; Lev 17:14). Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). The church has been purchased through the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). Christ is the propitiation of sins (Rom 3:25). Christians have been justified by Christ’s blood (Rom 5:9). Our redemption is through Christ’s blood (Eph 1:7). Through the blood shed on the cross, Christ has made peace (Col 1:20).
The most exciting part of this is that the “creator God and the lamb have already won the victory, the victory which means that those who follow the lamb are rescued from harm” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 73-74).
C. The Crowd’s Service (v. 15)
διὰ τοῦτό εἰσιν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ λατρεύουσιν αὐτῷ ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς ἐν τῷ ναῷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου σκηνώσει ἐπʼ αὐτούς.
“This is why they are in front of the throne of God and serve him during the day and during the night in his Temple. The one sitting on the throne will live with them.” (Rev 7:15)
1. Service Day and Night
The Greek word used here for “serve” is a rich term that describes service and worship of God. When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the word λατρευω was used to translate the Hebrew word עבד (to serve) when the word was used in a religious way. However, when the Hebrew word עבד was used in a humanistic way, the Greek translation of the Old Testament would translate the word with δουλευειν, and not λατρευω (Strathmann, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by Kittel 60).
That same Old Testament idea is carried over into the New Testament except with a little more freedom. The word is used in the following ways:
- “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1, NLT, emphasis added)
- “For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort,” (Philippians 3:3, NLT, emphasis added)
The insertion of this phrase into the picture of the heavenly crowd is important because it shows that heaven is not just a place of rest from the worldly struggles, but instead it is a place of privileged worship of God (Walvoord, Revelation, 146).
2. Heavenly Temple
Rev 21:22 says that there will be no temple in eternity; therefore, the temple mentioned here in Rev 7:15 and in 3:12 must be metaphorical as a reference to God’s immediate presence.
D. The Crowd’s Hunger and Thirst (v. 16)
οὐ πεινάσουσιν ἔτι οὐδὲ διψήσουσιν ἔτι οὐδὲ μὴ πέσῃ ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς ὁ ἥλιος οὐδὲ πᾶν καῦμα,
“They will not be hungry nor will they be thirsty, nor will the sun fall on them or its burning heat” (Rev 7:16)
To the exiles in Babylon God once said, “They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun will not reach them anymore. For the LORD in his mercy will lead them; he will lead them beside cool waters.” (Isaiah 49:10, NLT). Revelation 7:16 is an expansion of this promise.
E. The Crowd’s Shepherd (v. 17)
ὅτι τὸ ἀρνίον τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς καὶ ὁδηγήσει αὐτοὺς ἐπὶ ζωῆς πηγὰς ὑδάτων, καὶ ἐξαλείψει ὁ θεὸς πᾶν δάκρυον ἐκ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν.
“because the Lamb in the midst of the throne shepherds them and leads them to the fountain of living water. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:17)
1. Christ as Shepherd
Christ as shepherd is not a new idea. God the father is described by Isaac as the “God who has been my shepherd” (Gen 48:15, NLT). Furthermore, God is the shepherd before his flock (Pss 68:7), he guides it (Pss 23:3), leads it to pasture (Jer 50:19), leads it to springs of water (Pss 23:2; Isa 40:11), protects it with his staff (Pss 23:4), gathers the dispersed (Zech 10:8; Isa 56:8), and carries them close to his heart (Isa 40:11) (Jeremiahs, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 6, 487). Christ as the right hand man of God the Father also serves as shepherd of his people. Christ is the good shepherd that knows his sheep, calls them by name, and lays down his life for them (John 10:3-14). He came to earth to gather the lost sheep (Matt 15:24; cf. 10:6)
2. Christ as Leader
The verb used here for “lead” is the Greek verb ὀδηγεω. This verb is frequently used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuigant referred to as the LXX) for God leading his people in the Exodus (Exod 13:17; 15:13) and through a pillar of fire and cloud (Deut 1:33). In the Psalms God is a guide of the faithful and the nations (Pss 31:3; 67:4). During difficult and easy times, Christ leads us.
3. Living Water
The word “living” in the Greek (ζωῆ) is placed first in the phrase for emphasis. The emphasis is on “living.” The water here is a symbol for life. In the Old Testament God guides the flock to green pastures and pleasant waters (Pss 23:2; 36:8; 46:4; Ezek 34:10-16).
4. He Will Wipe Every Tear
This phrase here and in Rev 21:4 is likely a fulfillment of a prophesy of Isaiah, “He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken!” (Isa 25:8, NLT). When God wipes away the tears the tears will not come back. They will be gone forever.
IV. VIEWS ON THE GREAT CROWD
A. The Identity of the Great Crowd
1. The Redeemed from All of Christian History
Held by Mulholland, Revelation (2011), 480.
2. Believers from the Great Tribulation (7 years) or Shorter Span
Support for this view is that these are people in a same time period of the 144,000 of Rev 7:1-8, yet these people are in heaven (while the 144,000 were on earth).
Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 485.
B. Time Period of the Great Crowd
1. All of Christian History
Mulholland, Revelation (2011), 480.
2. The Great Tribulation (7 years)
This is the best view for several reasons. First, it fits the natural reading of the book of Revelation with the great crowd existing about mid-way through the Tribulation period.
Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 485.
3. A Specific and Intense Time of Persecution During the Great Tribulation
4. Millennial Kingdom
Strengths for this view are, first, the Feast of Tabernacles (if that is a reference with the palm branches) was a feast of rest, and rest fits the idea of the Millennial Kingdom. Second, is silence since there is no crying or pain. A weaknesses of this view is that this vision is way back in Rev 7, while the Millennial Kingdom does not come until Rev 20.
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Christ is our shepherd and guides our life.
Christ is our leader and shepherd. He is the one who Christians follow. Christians do not follow their spiritual “mentor” or “pastor.” Instead, they ultimately follow Christ. He is our shepherd and mediator to God.
B. Salvation only comes through the Lamb.
Years ago when I was worked at the United Way of Stanislaus County, I had a discussion about religion with a group of coworkers. One of the coworkers looked at me and said, “But Christopher, don’t all paths lead to God, right?” I had to look the lady in the eye and say, “That is not what Jesus said. Jesus was clear that the only way to get to heaven is through faith through him and him only.” In a pluralistic and secular world that wants to be accepting and tolerant of all people, it is easy to slip into the idea that all people get to heaven through their own religious experience. However, if we read the Bible carefully it is clear that salvation only comes to people through Jesus Christ.
- Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own ↩