Innumerable Multitude Before the Lamb

SYNOPSIS:  John now sees an innumerable multitude from all nations exiting the tribulation; what he sees interprets the number he heard, the 144,000 men from the twelve tribes of Israel - Revelation 7:9-17

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash
Andrew Seaman on Unsplash
In Chapter 7, the same group of saints is portrayed with two different images:  the tribes of Israel assembled for travel and the innumerable multitude exiting the “great tribulation.” In the end, the full number of the saints is found “standing before the Lamb and the Throne.”

The sealing of God’s servants uses imagery from the Exodus story of Israel. The full number of martyrs is assembled for the march to the Promised Land, New Jerusalem. The vision of the innumerable multitude presents those same saints “standing” victorious before the Lamb at the end of their journey in the New Jerusalem, having persevered through the great tribulation.

The vision of an Innumerable Multitude (7:9-12)

John first “hears” the number (arithmos) of the sealed, then “sees” a vast multitude that no one can number (arithmeĊ). “Number” links what he hears to what he sees. The roaring Lion became a slain Lamb; now, a numerically defined group of Israelites become an innumerable multitude of men and women from every nation.

The sacrificial Lamb fulfilled his messianic role by redeeming men and women “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”. Now John sees a vast multitude of men and women “from every nation, tribe and people and tongue”, another verbal link between the two visions (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).

Just as the Lamb overcame through his sacrificial death, so the multitude overcame by washing its robes “in the blood of the Lamb.” God’s servants emulate Christ through faithful witness, even unto death (Revelation 1:52:102:133:143:21).

In Chapter 5, “many angels about the Throne and the Living Creatures and the elders,” proclaimed the Lamb worthy, “to receive the power, riches, wisdommighthonorglory and blessing.” So now, “all the angels standing about the throne and the elders and the four Living Creatures” ascribe blessingglorywisdom, thanksgiving, honorpower and might to our God.

In both visions, seven honorific qualities are assigned to the one who is adored. The verbal links are deliberate; Chapter 5 pictures the overcoming Lamb; Chapter 7 the redeemed multitude that follows him.

From every nation and tribe and people and tongue.” This alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 where the one like a Son of Man was given “dominion, glory and a kingdom that all people, nations and languages should serve him” (see Genesis 49:10, Judah’s lion will be “the obedience of the peoples”).

Yahweh’s covenant promises to Abraham included innumerable descendants from Gentile nations. This vision in Revelation graphically portrays the fulfillment of said promises by the Lamb. Note the following parallels:

(Genesis 13:16) - “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted.”

(Genesis 12:2) - “By you, all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”

(Genesis 15:5) - “And he said, look toward heaven and number the stars if you are able to number themSo shall your descendants be.”

(Genesis 18:18) - “All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him.”

The multitude is seen “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This is being contrasted with the men from all levels of society under “wrath” in the sixth seal. They sought concealment under rocks and in caves, for “Who can stand” before his wrath?

Members of the innumerable multitude are arrayed in “white robes,” the same term used for the martyrs under the altar who were issued “white robes.” This links the two groups; they are of the same kind, if not, one and the same. “Palm-branches” are reminiscent of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40-43).

The Interpretation (7:13-17)

In Chapter 5, one of the elders pointed to the Lamb, so now, in verse 13, “one from among the elders says” gives John the interpretation. The multitude is comprised of men and women who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The martyrs under the altar were told to wait until their full number was added and assembled, which is fulfilled in the innumerable multitude.
Who is able to stand” is now answered; the multitude “stands” before the throne and the Lamb. Men and women redeemed by the Lamb’s blood are enabled to stand; they experience vindication, not wrath.
The 144,000 “servants of God” from the twelve tribes of Israel were sealed before the first four seal openings.  The scene now shifts to the other side of the “great tribulation”; the innumerable multitude from every nation is seen exiting the tribulation to stand before the Lamb. They endured “tribulation,” not “wrath.”

The “great tribulation” alludes to Daniel 12:1, “there shall be such tribulation as has not been from the time that there was a nation on the earth until that time.” It is called “great,” but its length is not specified. The term “tribulation” occurs five times in Revelation, almost always applied to saints. “Tribulation” is what the Lamb’s followers endure and it is not synonymous with “wrath.” It is what the Dragon and its allies inflict on the followers of the Lamb (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,” along with the seven churches of Asia. Though not stated, an implication is that the tribulation was already in progress in his day.

Saints are in the process of “coming” out of the tribulation. This translates a present tense Greek participle, which signifies continuous action. This is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. It continues until the full number of witnesses is assembled.

Washing robes to “make them white” alludes to another passage from Daniel; the tribulation would refine God’s people: “to purify and to make them white up to the time of the end” (Daniel 11:3512:10).

Now, in Revelation, saints coming through the tribulation, “wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In so doing, they emulate the Lamb and become “faithful witnesses” (Revelation 1:53:21, 7:14, 12:11). This process continues “up to the time of the end.”

The image of Israel assembled for the journey to the Promised Land is transformed into a gathering of men and women from every nation that stands before the Lamb and the Throne in New Jerusalem.

The innumerable multitude “renders divine service (latreuo) day and night in his sanctuary.” The Greek verb latreuo and its noun form, latreia, are commonly used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament for ritual services performed by priests (see Luke 2:37, Acts 7:7, Romans 9:4, 12:1, Hebrews 8:5, 9:1, 9:6, 12:28, 13:10Revelation 22:3).

This usage emphasizes the role of saints as “priests” (Revelation 1:65:10). Likewise, the “robes” or stole worn by them are the same priestly vestments used by the Levitical priests (Exodus 28:2-429:5Leviticus 8:30). However, every member of this group, regardless of ethnicity or sex, is arrayed and functions as a priest.

This picture reflects new covenant promises from Ezekiel 37:21-28 (quoted more fully in Revelation 21:3-4):

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 forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The final three verses of the interpretation describe how “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” which is derived from Isaiah 25:8. Yahweh promised:

I will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all facesand the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (cp. Revelation 21:4).

The interpreting angel explains that God “will spread his tent over” His victorious saints; they neither hunger nor thirst ever again, as the Lamb leads them to fountains of waters. This can only refer to resurrection life in the New Creation. The same language occurs again in the portrait of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:3-4Isaiah 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..”

In the vision and its interpretation, language and imagery originally applied to national Israel is now applied to faithful witnesses from every nation. The promise to Abraham of a vast number of descendants from the nations is brought to fruition by the Lamb.


The Lamb has prepared his priestly kingdom to march into the Promised Land.  All tribes, sections and members move together; the completed assembly stands at the ready, sealed by God and, thus, prepared for any eventuality. The Lamb vindicates God’s saints, past, present and future, but not before all are gathered to stand before the Throne.

Every man and woman who “washes his priestly robes in the blood of the Lamb” is enabled to stand before the Lamb and the Throne. Saints achieve victory by persevering in tribulation, even submitting to martyrdom when called to do so.

While the imagery changes from scene to scene, the same group is kept in view, a group that includes the seven churches of Asia. As Jesus promised, the overcoming church will pass through the tribulation to stand before the Throne. The Lamb in their midst will shepherd them to living waters in the greater promised land, the New Creation.

This triumphant picture echoes the promises made to the seven churches of Asia, to every saint who “overcomes” by heeding the Spirit. 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).


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