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Revelation 7:9-17, The Multitude in White Robes

Marcelo is the pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, and the author of Biblical Prayer for Today's Believers: Transform Your Prayer Life.

Traits of the Multitude (7:9-10)

A multitude stands before God's throne and before the Lamb. These are the characteristics of this multitude:

  • There are so many people, no one can number them.
  • They are from all nations.
  • They are from all tribes.
  • They are from all peoples.
  • They are from all languages.
  • They are clothed in white robes.
  • They are hold palm branches in their hands.
  • They are ascribing salvation to God and the Lamb.

The Angels Respond (7:11-12)

All the angels are standing around God's throne and the Lamb, and around the four living creatures and the 24 elders. They fall on their faces and worship God.

They ascribe to God (a) blessing, (b) glory, (c) wisdom, (d) thanksgiving, (e) honor, (f) power, and (g) might.

The Elder Explains the Multitude (7:13-15)

One of the 24 elders asked John two rhetorical questions about the multitude: (1) who are they? (2) where do they come from? John doesn't know, but he is sure the elder knows.

The elder doesn't correct John: he knows who the multitude is and where it comes from. So he explains:

They have come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes white with the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before God's throne and serve Him in his temple.

The Bliss of the Multitude (7:15-17)

The elder describes the happy state of the multitude.

  • God will shelter them with his presence.
  • They will not suffer hunger anymore.
  • They will not suffer thirst anymore.
  • They will not be affected by the sun anymore.
  • They will not be affected by the heat anymore.
  • The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd. Note that this is a fulfillment of Ezekiel 34:23.
  • The Lamb will guide them to springs of living water (Compare to Psalm 23:2)/
  • God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (this seems to imply that they will be comforted from everything that caused them to cry, and they will no more suffer). Note that this is a reference to Isaiah 25:8.

Interpreting the Multitude

The great multitude in white robes are most likely not the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11. The martyrs are under the altar and cry for justice and vengeance; the multitude is standing around God's throne and ascribes salvation to God and the lamb. The martyrs' cry for justice and vengeance appears to be the consequence of the opening of the fifth seal, but the multitude's praise is not the consequence of the opening of the sixth seal: that consequence was the cataclysm in 6:12-14, and the impact on the weather of the Earth (7:1). Thus, even though the multitude wears white robes, like the white robes given to the martyrs, it is unlikely that these two groups are related; and even though the martyrs were told to wait for their brothers who would be slain, the multitude does not necessarily represent those brothers.

Clearly, the great multitude stands in contrast to the one hundred and forty-four thousand: the one hundred and forty-four thousand are Jews, but the great multitude are gentiles.

The elder tells John that this great multitude has come out of the great tribulation. In other words, this multitude has been through the great tribulation, but now it is no longer in the great tribulation.

The elder tells John that this great multitude have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. Rather than focusing on the identity of the multitude as believers in Christ, the elder's explanation appears to focus on the conversion of the multitude. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: they have converted to Jesus Christ.

It is like that the multitude is ascribing salvation to God because they have converted to Jesus Christ during the events of the great tribulation.

Thus, the multitude in white robes is composed of those who converted to Christ during the great tribulation.

How Did the Multitude Get to Heaven?

It is difficult to assert how the multitude in white robes arrived to heaven. Clearly, the one hundred and forty-four thousand are found on Earth at the time they were sealed by the angels, for the purpose of the seal was to protect them from the disasters that struck the Earth when the sixth seal was open.

But the multitude is in Heaven, surrounding God's throne and the Lamb. According to the elder, they are in God's temple, and they serve God day and night. The elder also explains that they will never again suffer thirst, hunger, or heat; that all their tears will be wiped away, and that the Lamb will now lead them to living waters. Indeed, the elder has clarified that they have come out of the great tribulation.

Thus, the great question before us is how did they get to heaven? Yes, we know that through faith in the blood of Jesus they were forgiven and admitted into Heaven, but how exactly did they transition from being on planet Earth to being in Heaven?

Although the ways in which a saint transitions from Earth to Heaven are limited, normally by death (like Moses) or through a rapture (like Enoch and Elijah), the immediate context does not make mention of either of these experiences. Revelation 7 makes not mention of this multitude dying or being raptured to Heaven. If we want to read these into the passage, we are reading them into the passage without any contextual reason other than our own theological preferences.

For this reason, it seems to me that John's vision about the multitude is not give for the purpose of establishing the chronology of events, but to establish that, even though God will resume during the great tribulation his plan to save the nation of Israel, He will still be at work saving gentile souls during the tribulation through the gospel of Christ.

This makes sense to me! For what a great witness of Christ will the words of this prophetic book be during the days of the great tribulation.

© 2020 Marcelo Carcach