We’ve just come through the passage about the 144,000 last week and as we press on tonight do not forget what we concluded then. Though some do believe the 144,000 to be a literal number/group of people we do not. Instead we believe the 144,000 to be a symbolic number of the Church as the true restored remnant of Israel, whose salvation has been secured.[1] John used an exact number to identify them to display how God has exactly determined who His true servants will be. In v9 John transitions not to another group but to the same group of people described differently. In v9-17 we see this same redeemed remnant from their actual vast number, a multitudinous throng.[2] Or we could say it like this. Just as John earlier, in 5:5-6, heard about a victorious lion and saw how that victory was achieved by then seeing a lamb standing though slain, here in v9-17 something similar is happening. John hears about a number, 144,000 and then more completely understands what that means when he sees a vision of an innumerable multitude.[3]

If you recall last week Andrew covered five views scholars believe the 144,000 to be. In the fourth option (see the podcast if you need a refresher) he mentioned that some believe military might or an army is in view. I think this is further seen here in v9-17. The word translated as ‘multitude’ in v9 is translated in other apocalyptic passages as ‘army.’ Also ‘white robes’ as well as ‘palm branches’ carry loads of military meaning in other passages, and lastly the word ‘salvation’ in v10 could be translated ‘victory.’[4] If all of this is in view, than the exact number of the true restored remnant of Israel seen in v1-8 is now seen in v9-17 as a host far greater than any John has ever seen.

The God Worshiped (v9-12)

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

As the passage begins in v9 John says “After this…” meaning not that what he sees occurs historically after the events of v1-8 but only that the vision of v9-17 occurs after the vision v1-8.[5] In this vision, very similar to that of 5:9-10, there is a multitude beyond count from “…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” And as they were standing before the Lamb in chapter 5 they’re doing the same here. This language again brings us back to God’s promise to Abraham. Not only would God bless every family on earth through him (Gen. 12:3) but God would so increase and build his family that they’ll be more numerous than the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:5). Those promises are couple together in one statement to Abraham later on in Genesis 22:17-18, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…” Of course, that promise would begin to come to pass as the people of Israel grew into a multitude beyond count in Egypt. And as they’re enslaved and redeemed by God in the Exodus the picture of God’s innumerable victorious redeemed people continues to come into view. Back then they were not only a people hard to count because they had grown so large (Num. 20:25), they were also a victorious people not because of their own might but because of God’s work to save them and defeat their enemies, ultimately bringing them before Sinai to worship Him. So too here John sees the fulfillment of that image. Christ’s greater Exodus results in this group of redeemed, impossible to number and victorious not because of their own might but because of Christ’s work to save them and defeat their enemy in His greater exodus, ultimately bringing them before His throne to worship Him.

In v9b-10 John sees the vast multitude in white robes and palm branches in their hands saying “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” That their robes are white is made clear later in text in v13-14 where it says they washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, which displays not only the sin-stained people they used to be, but the purity and righteousness of Christ freely given to them by faith. That their holding palms indicates, not that they’re from Florida, but that this redeemed host is celebrating an end time feast of booths. Israel once did this to remember and rejoice how God led them out of Egypt (Lev. 23:40), now this group is doing it to remember and rejoice how God saved them in and through Christ. Once they proclaim aloud their praise to God the whole of heaven responds. The angels, elders, and four living creatures around the throne all fall on their faces and worship God making their own proclamation in v12, which begins and ends with the word ‘amen’ to emphatically confirm the rightness of this praise to God and the Lamb.[6] This too is also something of a mirror image to what we saw in chapter 5, and as it was there so it is here that the God who saves and is victorious for His people is in view. He alone is due such praise for who He is and He alone deserves such praise for what He has done.

The Throng Worshiping (v13-17)

“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We know find out a bit more about this multitudinous throng. One of the elders comes to John, asks him is he knows who these white robed people are and where they come from. John honestly admits he doesn’t know and humbly responds by asking the elder who they are. The elder responds and gives John two things: first they are “from the great tribulation” and second, they are the ones who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We’ll take them one at a time. 

What does the elder refer to when he says this vast host is from the great tribulation?[7] The origin of this kind of language is from Daniel 12:1 which says, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” In Daniel’s context this time of trouble, or great tribulation, describes a time when God’s people are being severely persecuted because of their loyalty and devotion to God. Some turned away from God during this time, others remained faithful who were then persecuted more strongly for it. The same kind of reality is in view in the book of Revelation. In chapters 2-3 we saw churches, most of whom were in the exact same struggle Daniel 12 mentions. A world that hates them, a world that is strongly opposing them, and a world that is putting some of them to death for holding fast to Christ. The great tribulation then, is a time where there is great pressure to compromise, to give in or give up, and turn your back on Christ. This consisted of social pressures, economic pressures, and physical pressures to save their lives by denying Christ. This elder tells John that this host is from that time. Notice here, according to all of this, the great tribulation isn’t something that will just occur at the end of all things as is commonly held, but is something that occurs all throughout the age that Christ’s Church is expanding and spreading throughout the world.[8] So for John, and the churches addressed in his apocalypse, this tribulation wasn’t something they were waiting for but was very much a present reality. Sure there will be great tribulation in the end, but see that the tribulation present in the end of all things isn’t new but is the continuation of the tribulation that’s already begun.

So we first learn this host is from the great tribulation. But we also learn this host is the group that has “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We’ve already mentioned this once before when the white robes were mentioned back in v9, but now we can take it one step further and say that the only reason this host can stand before the God and the Lamb properly clothed is on the ground and sure foundation of the Lamb’s death for them. His death washed them clean, made them white, and secured their redemption. v15 straight away picks this thread up and says it is for this reason alone that they: 1) have such direct access to God, 2) can be before the throne of God, 3) enjoy serving God day and night, and 4) enjoy being sheltered by the presence of God. Question: who was it who dwelt in the presence of God and ministered to Him in the Old Testament tabernacle/temple? Answer: the priests! Only they could come and do this. See here how the whole innumerable host of the redeemed does this. Why do they do this? Because they are to God a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.[9]

And by being in the presence of God this host enjoys the blessings of God. Specifically, blessings promised to Israel back in Isaiah 25:8 and 49:9-10 concerning their ultimate restoration. But in v16-17 see that even though national Israel received this promise originally and tasted it’s fulfillment in part, it is God’s new Israel, the multitude of believers from all nations, who enjoy these blessings. No hunger, no thirst, no heat begins this list in v16 indicating Christ’s full ability to satisfy every need of His own. It then concludes with a grand statement in v17 where John hears that a great and glorious Lamb-Shepherd to lead them, guide them, and comfort them.

[1] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 2013), 424.

[2] R. C. Sproul, ed., Reformation Study Bible-ESV, 2015 Edition (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2015), 2314.

[3] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 425.

[4] Leon Morris, Revelation – TNTC, accessed via Accordance Bible software, 10/15/19, see also Beale, 425.

[5] Beale, 426.

[6] Beale, 432.

[7] Sproul, Reformation Study Bible-ESV, 2314. Very helpful and concise here.

[8] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 434.

[9] Beale, 439–40.

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