We shift to the believers being sealed on earth to now being in heaven. If we look at a chronological approach to how the believers get to heaven, then we must break it down to 3 scenes. The first chronological scene happens in 7:1-8 where the believers are sealed The second chronological scene happens in 6:9-11 where we see the martyrs crying out to God “How long?” And finally, we have the “full number” of the martyrs (6:11) and “complete” number of the believers (7:4 and note on 144,000) in heaven in 7:9-17.
We must keep in mind this vision is relayed in symbols. Like the parables used by Jesus to reflect a different reality, this vision is translated in words and images that might make sense to us, that is, in context of the Church at that time and all that transpired up to that point. The closer we can come to placing ourselves in the minds and sandals of those hearing these words for the first time, the closer we can come to “hear” the words ourselves.
9 After these things, I looked and behold, a huge1 crowd, which no one was able to count2, from every nation, tribe, people, and language3, standing before the throne and before the lamb4. They were clothed5 in white robes6 and had palm branches in their hands7. 10 And they cry out8 in a great voice saying,
“Salvation9 by our God10 who is sitting on the throne and by the lamb11.”
11 And all the angels had stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures and they fell down before the throne on their faces and worshipped God 12 saying,
“Amen! The blessing, the glory, the wisdom, the thanksgiving, the honor, the power, and the might12 to our God forever. Amen!”13
13 And one of the elders14 answered15 saying, “Who are these who are clothed16 in white robes and where have they come from?” 14 And I said17 to him, “My lord, you know.”18 And he said to me, “These are the ones who have come19 from the great affliction20 and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. 15 For this reason,
they are before the throne of God
and serve21 him day and night22 in his temple23.
And the One who is sitting on the throne
will take up residence with them24 .
16 They will not hunger anymore,
nor will they thirst anymore,
nor will the sun fall on them,
nor any scorching heat25,
17 because the lamb upon the middle of the throne
will shepherd them26,
and will lead27 them to the springs of the water of life.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.28”
1 πολύς (huge)
2 The ancients would have seen 144,000 people as being a huge number, but now they see the actual imagery that 144,000 represents a number that can not be counted. Osborne*** (Pg. 318) Mounce** concludes that this crowd represents all believers throughout the entire christian age. (Pg. 171).
There are some commentators who interpret the 144,000 as a group that can be numbered.
MacArthur's New Testament Commentary
These Jewish believers and evangelists are the firstfruits of Israel, which as a nation will be redeemed before Christ returns ( Zech. 12:10 - 13:1 , 8 - 9; Rom. 11:26 ). The 144,000 are not all Jewish believers at that time, but a unique group selected to proclaim the gospel in that day (cf. 12:17; 14:1 - 5 ).
The fact is that "no clear-cut example of the church being called 'Israel' exists in the NT or in ancient church writings until A.D. 160. . . . This fact is crippling to any attempt to identify Israel as the church in Rev. 7:4" (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1992],
Though Israel failed in its mission to be a witness nation in the Old Testament, that will not be the case in the future. From the Jewish people will come the greatest missionary force the world has ever known. The result of their effort will be a redeemed Israel, as promised by God, and innumerable redeemed Gentiles.
While the Church replaces the Old Testament covenant of works with the New Testament covenant of grace, it may not be clear that the Church displaces Israel. It is written that God will not destroy Israel, but save a remnant. He has regathered Israel as a people not long ago, to the amazement of many. Israel seems to be the focal point of God’s plan of redemption and at the center of the battle between Christ and the enemies of God.
3 This is a parallel to 5:9 and refers to the same group that is listed there. Osborne*** (Pgs. 318-319) It also needs to be pointed out that “nation” is in the singular while “tribe”, “people”, and “language” are in the plural. I translated the plurals as singulars as παντὸς (every) implies the plural.
This multitude is described to be without number. While the first group appears confined to coming from the tribes of Israel, this group seems to be inclusive of every other people.
4 A place of honor has been given to them. This is the first time where humans are placed before the throne of God. Osborne*** (Pg. 319).
5 περιβεβλημένους (They were clothed)
Greek: “having been clothed”. The participle is in the perfect tense.
6 White robes are given to the conquers in 3:4-5 and to the martyrs in 6:11. Here, they represent “victory robes”. In the Roman Empire, the Romans would parade a conquering general, wearing a pure white toga, through the streets of Rome after a victory. Osborne*** (Pg. 319).
The white robes also represent “purity” as the believers have made their robes with by washing them in the blood of the lamb.
Believers are the ones that overcome the world, as as such we are more than conquerors. The stain of sin has been washed away by the sacrifice of Christ and these robes will serve as wedding garments when He comes back.
7 Carrying palm branches was a sign of rejoicing. People carried them when they rejoiced at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Beale* see this as an allusion of the Feast of Tabernacles where Israelite celebrated the harvest and the deliverance from Egypt by wearing white garments and carrying palms (Pg. 428).
The life and customs of Israel, along with their experiences and trials, contained in Old Testament are part of God’s revelation. The OT provides meaning and imagery, which is used and assumed in the New Testament. The Hebrew notion of prophesy as repetition is displayed in “types”, things are shadows or foreshadow the true things, such as the tabernacle and the feasts. As Abraham said long ago, “God will provide the lamb”.
8 κράζουσιν (they cry out)
The verb is in the present tense. Since the present tense verb carries a
continual aspect, the huge crowd was continually crying out.
9 ἡ σωτηρία (Salvation)
or “deliverance” or “victory”. Deliverance or victory may be a better translation here as the scene is that of victory. Beale* (Pgs. 431-432). Some commentators point out that this is an allusion to Psalms 3:8.
10 τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν (by our God)
An instrumental dative which means that the victory of the saints was achieved by God on their behalf. The best example of an instrumental dative that everyone knows occurs in Ephesians 2:8a. Τῇ γὰρ χάριτί (For by grace...)
11 τῷ ἀρνίῳ (by the lamb)
See above note.
12 or “strength”.
13 Osborne*** (Pg. 321) points out that this is the only hymn that starts with “Amen” and ends with “Amen”. Also note that the praise is sevenfold. As in the theme of the book, “completeness” is always in mind. Mounce** draws attention to the use of the article before every attribute. (ἡ εὐλογία/the blessing) “...it is not a blessing which the angelic host have in mind, but the blessing.” (Pg. 172).
14 εἷς ἐκ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων (one of the elders)
Greek: “one from the elders”.
15 The use of “answered” may seem a little out of place as no question has been asked, but most likely refers to an unasked question by John.
16 See note on verse 9.
17 εἴρηκα (said)
Greek: “had said”. This verb is in the perfect tense. John is turning the Greek language on its head again.
18 In other words, “you know, but I don’t know”.
19 οἱ ἐρχόμενοι (who have come)
This participle is in the present tense, but the context supports a “past” tense because of the main verbs “have washed” and “made white”. Therefore, the present participle takes on the “force” of the main verb or verbs. Wallace+ (Pgs. 625-626).
20 ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης (from the great affliction)
It is worth noting here that the Apocalypse uses “affliction/tribulation as a general term for the suffering of saints. It is not an “event” as much as it is a “happening”. Osborne*** agrees. (Pg. 324). To add to that, the affliction is probably “timeless” as it probably refers to the affliction/ tribulation of all believers throughout all time. We must always keep in mind that this book is “figurative” and it tell us that right up front in verse 1 (he signified). See note there.
It is safe to say that time as used here is not the same time we measure with a watch, just as the word order of events in Revelation does not constrain those events to our sense of chronology. There are repetitions and interludes, even a pause in time as this vision unfolds.
With that said, the addition of the article here τῆς (the) may refer to the final conflict between the dragon and the saints where God allows the dragon to conquer the saints for a short period of time. Osborne*** (Pgs. 324-325). Mounce** sees this as final set of woes that precede the very end. (Pg. 173).
Beale* points out that this passage doesn’t just point to martyrs. It is best to view these believers as “all believers who must suffer”. (Pgs. 432-433). He goes on to say that “the great tribulation” is an ongoing affliction that started with Christ’s death and intensifies as the end approaches. (Pg. 435). Beale* also offers a great background for this, but it is too long to place here. (Pgs. 433-435).
21 λατρεύουσιν (serve)
“to perform religious rites as a part of worship”. From the context of the scene, the throne of God is in the new temple and places the believers in the role of priests. Osborne*** (Pg. 327).
22 ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς (day and night)
An idiom suggesting a “continual” action.
23 Since it is clear that there will be no temple in the new Jerusalem (21:22), then we must take this figuratively.
24 σκηνώσει ἐπ ̓ αὐτούς (will take up residence with them)
Greek: “will pitch a tent on/over them”. The basic meaning is “to dwell”. God will spread his tabernacle over the believers thus they will be part of his household. The verb is also used in John 1:14a: Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν (And the Word became flesh and “pitched a tent” among us). This is an obvious echo of the “tent of meeting/tabernacle” of the OT.
Beale* see the allusion to Ezekiel 37:26-28.
27c...καὶ θήσω τὰ ἅγιά μου ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. 27 καὶ ἔσται ἡ κατασκήνωσίς μου ἐν αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἔσομαι αὐτοῖς θεός, καὶ αὐτοί μου ἔσονται λαός. 28 καὶ γνώσονται τὰ ἔθνη ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος ὁ ἁγιάζων αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ εἶναι τὰ ἅγιά μου ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
27c...and I will place my sanctuary in the middle of them forever. 27 And my tabernacle will be on/over them, and I will be to them God, and they will be my people. 28 And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them when my sanctuary is in the middle of them forever.
By John doing this, he is placing the OT prophecy of Israel’s latter-day restoration as being fulfilled by the believers who are now before the throne of God! There will be more on this as there is another fuller allusion to this passage in Ezekiel in 21:3. (Pgs. 440-441).
The tabernacle contained the ark in the Holy of Holies, the inner most part. The ark contained the stone tablets of the commandments, the jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff that had re-budded and produced fruit. On its top was the mercy seat.
It was written that God would write His commandments in the hearts of His people. Jesus said He is the bread(manna) from heaven and that He is the vine that we would bear fruit. Through Him mercy came. The new Holy of Holies, the place of God’s presence and dwelling, is in the heart of the believer. He is with us.
25 An allusion to Isaiah 49:10 where it speaks of the Israelites returning from Babylon. Mounce** (Pg. 175) and Beale* (Pgs. 441-442).
26 Note that it is now the lamb who shepherds. An echo of Ezekiel 34:23.
It would seem no accident that the birth of Jesus is announced to shepherds tending their flock at night. Who would be better to receive proclamation of the Great Shepherd? The world was in darkness until the light of the world appeared. There were some that tended to their flocks while waiting.
27 Or “guide”.
28 An echo of Isaiah 25:8.
John 4:14 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. ”
The Garden was lush and green.
The land is now sand and rock, a desert, dry bones.
The living water brings life where there was none.
Poured out into each believer, a spring that wells up within.
Tears dry will dry, but the well from Him never does.
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 7·9 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, 10 καὶ κράζουσιν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγοντες·
ἡ σωτηρία τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ καὶ τῷ ἀρνίῳ. 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 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. Ἀποκάλυψις 7·13 Καὶ ἀπεκρίθη εἷς ἐκ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λέγων μοι· οὗτοι οἱ περιβεβλημένοι τὰς στολὰς τὰς λευκὰς τίνες εἰσὶν καὶ πόθεν ἦλθον; 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.
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 ἐπ ̓ αὐτούς.
οὐ πεινάσουσιν ἔτι οὐδὲ διψήσουσιν ἔτι οὐδὲ μὴ πέσῃ ἐπ ̓ αὐτοὺς ὁ
16 ἥλιος οὐδὲ πᾶν καῦμα, 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.