Innumerable Servants of God

SYNOPSIS – Next, John now sees the sealed servants of God as an innumerable multitude from all nations “standing” before the Lamb – Revelation 7:9-17

Mount Rainier - Photo by Devin H on Unsplash
In the vision recorded in chapter 7, the “servants of God” are sealed, then portrayed with two different images - The “twelve tribes of Israel” assembled for travel, and the “innumerable multitude standing” before the “Lamb” and the Throne at the center of the Cosmos. The imagery is drawn from the story of ancient Israel in the Wilderness and its sojourn from Egypt to the Promised Land. - [Mount Rainier - Photo by Devin H on Unsplash].
  • (Revelation 7:9-12) – “After these things, I saw, and lo! a great multitude, — which, to number it! no one was able, — of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues; standing before the throne and before the Lamb; arrayed in white robes and palm-branches in their hands; — and they cry out with a loud voice, saying — Salvation unto our God who sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb! And all the messengers were standing round about the throne and the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and rendered homage unto God, saying — Amen! The blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honour, and the power, and the might, — be unto our God, unto the ages of ages. [Amen]!
Vision

First, John “heard” the number of the sealed servants – arithmos - 12,000 men from each of the “twelve tribes of Israel.” Next, he “saw” a multitude so vast that no one could number it (arithmeō).

Number” provides the verbal link between what he heard and what he saw. Just as the roaring “lion of Judah” became a “slain Lamb,” the numerically defined group of males numbered from the “tribes of Israel” became an innumerable multitude of men and women from every “tribe” and nation.

The sacrificial Lamb fulfilled his messianic role by redeeming men and women “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Likewise, John saw a multitude of men and women “from every nation, tribe and people and tongue,” a verbal link to his earlier vision of the “slain Lamb” - The same group of redeemed men and women is in view:
  • (Revelation 5:9-10) – “And they sing a new song, saying — Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests, — and they reign on the earth.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
  • (Revelation 7:9) – “After these things, I saw and lo! a great multitude, — which, to number it! no one was able, — of every nation, and [of all] tribes, and peoples, and tongues; standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.”
The members of this multitude were “arrayed in white robes.” The same term was applied to the martyrs “underneath the altar” in the fifth seal – They, also, were issued “white robes” and told to wait until the full number of their “fellow servants” was assembled. The “white robes” link the two groups.

Palm-branches” are reminiscent of the annual Feast of Tabernacles at the time of the harvest and the ingathering of the “fruits of the land”:
  • (Leviticus 23:39-40) – “Howbeit on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep the feast of Jehovah seven days: on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days.”
Previously, John saw “many angels about the Throne and the Living Creatures and the elders,” all of whom proclaimed the Lamb worthy “to receive the power, riches, wisdommighthonorglory and blessing.” Likewise, now, he sees “all the angels standing about the throne and the elders and the four Living Creatures” ascribing blessingglorywisdom, thanksgiving, honorpower and might to God.

In both visions, seven honorific qualities are ascribed to the individual who is being adored. The verbal links are deliberate. The earlier vision pictured the overcoming “Lamb.” The vision of the sealed servants of God presents the redeemed that follow the “Lamb” from the Wilderness to the Promised Land of plenty.

From every nation and tribe and people and tongue.” The reference to the international scope of the multitude alludes to key messianic prophecies from the Hebrew Bible. The “obedience of the nations” was promised to the future “lion of Judah,” and to the king who would sit on the throne of David. Now, the promises being fulfilled as the “innumerable multitude” of men and women from every and nation appear before the Throne and the Lamb:
  • (Genesis 49:9-10) – “lion’s whelp is Judah, From the prey, my son hast thou come up! He hath stooped — hath crouched As a lion — or as a lioness, Who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor the commanders staff a from between his feet, — Until that he come in as a Shiloh, And his be the obedience of the peoples.
  • (Psalm 2:7-9) – “I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”
  • (Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night, when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming…and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service.
The multitude is seen “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This is in contrast with the sixth seal opening when men from every level of society attempted to hide from the impending “wrath.” On the “Day of the Lord,” no one will be able to “stand” before the “Lamb” and the Throne. However, now, an innumerable gathering of men and women is seen “standing” before the “Lamb,” and in celebration rather than dread. How is this possible?

Interpretation

In chapter 5, one of the “elders” pointed to the “Lamb” as the one who fulfills the calling of the “lion of the tribe of Judah.” Likewise, at the end of chapter 7, an “elder” provides John with the interpretation of the sealed company. Two questions are answered - Who are these men and women? From where did they come?
  • (Revelation 7:13-17) – “And one of the elders began, saying unto me — These who are arrayed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they? And I at once said to him — My lord! thou, knowest! And he said unto me — These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; For this cause are they before the throne of God, and are rendering divine service unto him day and night in his sanctuary; and he that sitteth upon the throne shall spread his tent over them; They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither in any wise shall the sun fall upon them, nor any burning heat; Because the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them, and shall lead them unto life’s fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.
The group is comprised of men and women from every nation who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” When the fifth seal was opened, the martyrs “under the altar” were told to wait until the full number of witnesses was gathered. That promise is being fulfilled as the innumerable multitude is exiting the “great tribulation.”

Who is able to stand?” The question left hanging at the end of the sixth seal opening is answered - The men and women “standing” before the “Lamb” are enabled to do so by the “blood of the Lamb.” Rather than attempt to hide in caves or under rocks, they stand “day and night” offering worship before the Throne.

The 144,000 male “servants of God” from the 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 and “tribe” is seen exiting the “tribulation” to stand before the “Lamb.”

The “great tribulation” alludes to a passage from Daniel, which is applied several times in the book of Revelation:
  • (Daniel 12:1-3) - “And at that time will Michael, the great ruler who standeth for the sons of thy people, make a stand, and there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, up to that time,—and at that time shall thy people be delivered, every one found written in the hook; and many of the sleepers in the dusty ground shall awake,—these [shall be] to age-abiding life, but those to reproach and age-abiding abhorrence; and they who make wise shall shine like the shining of the expanse,—and they who bring the many to righteousness, like the stars to times age-abiding and beyond.
The term “tribulation” occurs five times in the book, almost always applied to saints. “Tribulation” is what the followers of the “Lamb” endure because of their testimony. It is not identical with “wrath” - (Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 2:22, 7:14).

Washing robes to “make them white” alludes to another passage from the book of Daniel. The “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, up to that time” was to refine God’s people:
  • (Daniel 12:9-10) – “Then said he, Go thy way, Daniel; for closed up and sealed are the words until the time of the end. Many will purify themselves and be made white and be refined, but the lawless will act lawlessly, and none of the lawless shall understand,—but they who make wise shall understand.
In Daniel, the vision was “sealed” shut until the “time of the end,” a vision that included a time of horrific “tribulation,” a resurrection, and the purification of the saints. In Revelation, the scroll is unsealed by the “Lamb” - The “time of the end” foretold by Daniel arrived in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

In the interpretation, the saints have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In so doing, they emulate the Lamb by becoming “faithful witnesses,” a process that continues “up to the time of the end” - (Revelation 1:53:21, 7:14, 12:11).

The multitude “renders divine service (latreuôday and night in his sanctuary.” The Greek verb latreuo and its noun form, latreia, are commonly used in the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible for the ritual services performed by the priests in the Tabernacle. Its usage stresses the priestly role of the saints:
  • (Revelation 1:5-6) – “Jesus Christ, — The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us and loosed us out of our sins with his blood, — and he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father.
  • (Revelation 5:10) – “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests, — and they reign on the earth.
  • (Revelation 20:6) – “Happy and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: upon these, the second death hath no authority; but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ and shall reign with him for the thousand years.
The “white robes” or stolé correspond to the priestly vestments worn by the Levitical priests in the Tabernacle. However, every member of this group, regardless of ethnicity or gender, is arrayed as a priest - (Exodus 28:2-429:5Leviticus 8:30).

River Rainier - Photo by Daniel Bosse on Unsplash
Photo by Daniel Bosse on Unsplash

The picture echoes the new covenant promises from Ezekiel, which are quoted more fully in Chapter 21 in the vision of New Jerusalem:
  • (Ezekiel 37:21-28) – “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 for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
  • (Revelation 21:3-4) – “And I heard a loud voice out of the throne, saying — Lo! the tent of God is with men, and he will tabernacle with them, and they shall be his peoples and he shall be God with them; And he will wipe away every tear out of their eyes, — and death shall be no more, and grief and outcry and pain shall be no more.
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This clause alludes to the book of Isaiah, a promise made originally to ancient Israel:
  • (Isaiah 25:8) - “I will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all facesand the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.”
God “will spread his tent over” the victorious saints, and they will neither hunger nor thirst ever again. This can only refer to the resurrection life in the New Creation. The same language occurs again in the portrait of New Jerusalem:
  • (Isaiah 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.”
  • (Revelation 22:1-5) – “And he pointed out to me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, issuing forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb…And no curse shall there be any more; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein, — and his servants will render divine service (latreuô) unto him, and they shall see his face, and his name [shall be] upon their foreheads. And night shall be no more; and they have no need of the light of a lamp or the light of a sun, because the Lord God will give them light, — and they shall reign unto the ages of ages.
The image of Israel assembled to journey to the Promised Land is transformed into a vast gathering of men and women from every nation “standing” in victory before the “Lamb” in New Jerusalem.

The “Lamb” has prepared his priestly servants to march to the Promised Land - New Jerusalem. The completed assembly of “royal priests” stands at the ready, sealed by God. Every man and woman who “washes his priestly robes in the blood of the Lamb” is well able to stand before the “Lamb” and the Throne.

While the imagery has changed from scene to scene, the same group has remained in view, and it includes the seven churches of Asia. The triumphant picture echoes the promises made to the seven churches of Asia, to every saint who “overcomes.” 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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