Rev. 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! 11All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16no longer will they hunger; no longer will they thirst; no longer will the sun strike them, or any heat. 17Because the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (HCSB).
After hearing the roll call of the 144,000, John now sees “a vast multitude” of redeemed people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number” (v. 9). They lift their voices in praise for the salvation belonging to God and to the Lamb. Then the angels, elders and four living creatures fall on their faces before the throne in worship. An elder asks John for the identity of the vast multitude of people, and when John confesses his ignorance, the elder provides the answer: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (v. 14).
Who are these people? To what great tribulation is the elder referring? How does this multitude relate to the 144,000? What do John’s first-century readers make of this passage? And what does it say to us today? Let’s take a closer look.
A vast multitude
John sees a “vast multitude” that “no one could number” from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” (v. 9). As in the new song of Rev. 5:9, these are redeemed people of the earth, purchased by the blood of the Lamb and for God the Father. That they are in heaven, before the throne of God and the Lamb, should put to rest the Jehovah’s Witness contention that only 144,000 will enjoy this great honor. The King’s banquet house is full (Matt. 22:10) and the marriage supper of the Lamb is well attended. No doubt many will enjoy eternal fellowship with God in heaven. Yet it is foolish for us to place restrictions on the number who will stand around the throne, or to be universalist in our assumptions by declaring that all people will be saved.
As Jesus is passing through the towns and villages on his way to Jerusalem, someone asks, “Lord, are there few being saved?” (Luke 13:23). This is the perfect opportunity for the Savior to provide an exact number of those who will receive Him by faith. Instead, He directs a warning to His listeners: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able …” (Luke 13:24). In parables and other teachings, Jesus makes it clear that the way of salvation is narrow, and some who think they’ve found it are in for a rude awakening on judgment day.
- Many who claim, “We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets,” will be told “I don’t know you or where you’re from. Get away from Me, all you workers of unrighteousness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but yourselves thrown out” (Luke 13:26-28).
- Jesus warns, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
- Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved …” (John 10:9). “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 10:25).
- Jesus continues, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but [only] the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me. ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers’” (Matt. 7:21-22). “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish …” (Luke 13:3).
- Peter states boldly, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven [except the name of Jesus] given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
We could cite many more passages, but the message is clear: Jesus is the only way of salvation. Apart from faith in Him, no one receives forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Those who seek to find their own way – through religious ritual, aestheticism, heritage, good works, or any number of other pursuits – will find themselves like the man cast out of the wedding for the king’s son because he is not properly dressed. The king has provided all guests proper attire – white robes – but this guest prefers the filthy rags of his own righteousness and thereby is unceremoniously cast into outer darkness for insulting the king and dishonoring his son (Matt. 22:1-14).
Are only a few saved?
This makes it seem as if few will be saved. However, we see through John’s eyes that people from every corner of the earth, every walk of life, and every language – an uncountable throng – stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb, robed in white (the imputed righteousness of Christ) and holding palm branches in their hands (a symbol of victory). Yes, the way is narrow. A relatively small number of the earth’s billions of inhabitants through time will find the way. Yet a vast multitude that Christ redeems by His blood will enter through the heavenly portals and sing the song of the redeemed. We are foolish to speculate how many, and we are in danger of judgment to decide who is worthy and who is not. But we are unfaithful to scripture if we insist that the number of redeemed in heaven are any fewer than the “vast multitude” John sees before the throne.
As for the white clothing, we have addressed this in previous lessons (see, for example, the notes on Rev. 3:1-6); however, it’s good to be reminded of its significance. Candidates for Christian baptism in the ancient church wore white robes as a symbol of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Further, Paul writes in Eph. 5:27 that Jesus gave Himself for the church “to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless.” And in Rev. 19:8 we see the church depicted as a bride, “permitted to wear fine linen, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.” On earth, believers are declared righteous, or justified; in heaven, they are made righteous, or glorified. In either case, their white robes depict the righteousness of Christ.
Concerning the palm branches in the hands of the redeemed, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown share this insight: “The palm branch is the symbol of joy and triumph. It was used at the feast of tabernacles, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when they kept [a] feast to God in thanksgiving for the ingathered fruits. The antitype shall be the completed gathering in of the harvest of the elect redeemed here described. Compare Zec 14:16, whence it appears that the earthly feast of tabernacles will be renewed, in commemoration of Israel’s preservation in her long wilderness-like sojourn among the nations from which she shall now be delivered, just as the original typical feast was to commemorate her dwelling for forty years in booths or tabernacles in the literal wilderness” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Rev. 7:9–10).
Next: They cried out in a loud voice — Rev. 7:9-17
Rev. 5:11 – Then I looked, and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures, and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousand. 12They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! (HCSB).
In verses 9-10 we hear the song of the church, a song of redemption through the blood of the Lamb. Now, in verses 11-12, angels join in with the elders and the living creatures to proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing – seven possessions the Messiah most certainly had in His pre-incarnate life, all set aside and risked as the eternal Son of God became man. But because He is victorious on the cross and over the grave, He is worthy to redeem a sinful and lost human race and reclaim what is rightfully His – the former trappings of a great and righteous king.
Many angels around the throne
We don’t know how many angels there are, but John tells us there are “countless thousands,” or “myriads of myriads” as the Greek puts it. One commentary translates it “hundreds of millions.” In any case, there is an innumerable host of holy angels around the throne. And while angels do not experience personal redemption – the holy angels have no need of it and the demons are not offered it – they rejoice with the church in Christ’s work on behalf of sinful people.
The phrase “countless thousands” seems to be a reference to Dan. 7:9-10 in which Daniel is given a glimpse into heaven’s throne room: “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of His head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from His presence. Thousands upon thousands served Him; ten thousand time ten thousand stood before Him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.”
While angels go obediently out of heaven’s throne room to fulfill God’s commands to protect, rescue and visit people, and even to battle demons in the unseen realm, they are most at home in the immediate presence of the Creator, joining with the saints around the throne in voicing praises to the Lamb who is worthy.
One interesting side note: John records that while the elders “sang” (Gr. adousin), the angels “said” (Gr. legontes). Some commentators argue that angels are never recorded singing in the Bible; this is a pleasure reserved for people. Whether that’s true is hard to know with certainty. Even if angels don’t sing in scripture, that doesn’t mean they never raise their voices in melodious praise.
Next: The Lamb is worthy (Rev. 5:12)
Rev. 5:8 – When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth (HCSB).
And they sang a new song
Matthew Henry argues that the remainder of chapter 5 consists of a song in three parts: 1) the song of the church; 2) the song of the church and the angels; and 3) the song of all creatures. The church sings about its redemption by the slaughtered Lamb.
His blood has purchased people from every tribe and language, people and nation. Imagine the scene in heaven when the Arapaho joins the Armenian in praise, the Chilean lifts her voice in harmony with the Chinese; and the Hebrew worships Yahweh with the Hmong. There are no forgotten people in God’s economy, no lost civilization on earth. The same God who created all people sent His Son to redeem them, and no matter how diverse the human population becomes, it is well represented in the throne room of heaven.
Warren Wiersbe writes: “John affirms that the Lamb died for the whole world! (John 1:29) The more you meditate on the power and scope of Christ’s work on the cross, the more humbled and worshipful you become. This song was also a missionary song. Sinners were redeemed ‘out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation’ (Rev. 5:9). Kindred refers to a common ancestor and tongue to a common language. People means a common race, and nation a common rule or government. God loves a whole world (John 3:16) and His desire is that the message of redemption be taken to a whole world (Matt. 28:18–20)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
A textual challenge
It should be noted that there is a textual problem in these verses. The King James Version says, “Thou … has redeemed us to God … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests” (v. 9), while modern translations such as the New International Version say, “You purchased men for God … You have made them to be a kingdom and priests …”
If the song is impersonal, as the NIV suggests, then it’s possible that the 24 elders are not men but angels. If, however, the correct translation is personal in nature, then the elders most certainly are human, and either the four living creatures represent mankind or only the elders are singing. In any case, angels are not redeemed and could not legitimately sing personally about being purchased by Christ’s blood.
“While scholars differ on this point, it would seem that since the elders are on thrones and are crowned as victors, they represent the church rather than angels. Angels have not been judged and rewarded at this point in the program of God. But angels soon join the creatures and the elders in praising the Lamb (5:11-12). The two different interpretations here should not mar the beauty of the picture and the wonder of this song of praise” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Re 5:9-10).
A slaughtered Lamb
Two words come into play repeatedly in chapter 5: worthy and slaughtered. In verse 6 John sees Jesus as “a slaughtered lamb.” In verse 9 He is “slaughtered.” And in verse 11 He is “slaughtered.” These words take us back to Isaiah’s prophecy more than 700 years earlier: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
While the slaughter of Jesus remains the most heinous crime ever committed, it is not a senseless loss of life but a purposeful payment for the sins of fallen people. Because Jesus is slaughtered – get this, because He is slaughtered – He is worthy: Worthy to take the scroll (the title deed to earth); worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. A Messiah who is only a conquering king is not worthy to take the scroll, but a slaughtered Lamb is worthy to become a conquering king and receive all things from His Father.
Take note of what Matthew Henry writes about the redeemed being made kings and priests unto God: “Every ransomed slave is not immediately preferred to honour; he thinks it a great favour to be restored to liberty. But when the elect of God were made slaves by sin and Satan, in every nation of the world, Christ not only purchased their liberty for them, but the highest honour and preferment, made them kings and priests – kings, to rule over their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he has made them priests, given them access to himself, and liberty to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and they shall reign on the earth; they shall with him judge the world at the great day” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 5:6–14).
The new song of Revelation 5 is simply and profoundly a new chapter in the old, old story. The slaughtered Lamb is proclaimed worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of the same Father who sent Him to die. The sending itself was neither cruel nor reactive; it was foreordained and carried out in love, securing eternal life, priesthood and kingship for people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Indeed, worthy is the Lamb.
Next: The voice of many angels (Rev. 5:11-12)
Rev. 5:6 – Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth (HCSB).
John sees Jesus as “one like a slaughtered lamb” (v. 6). He stands near the throne and amidst the four living creatures and the elders. He has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God. Is this really how the exalted Son of God looks – like a baby sheep with multiple horns and eyes? Of course not. John is using apocalyptic language to describe the same person he earlier depicted as having white hair, eyes like blazing fire, feet like fine bronze, and a mouth giving way to a two-edged sword (Rev. 1:14-16). So, what’s the significance of these new traits?
Let’s look first at the lamb. Jesus is called “the Lamb” nearly 30 times in the Book of Revelation. The Greek word literally means “a little pet lamb,” and the meaning becomes clear as we follow the lamb through scripture. Jesus identifies Himself to John as “the Living One” who was dead but now is “alive forever and ever” (Rev. 1:18). This is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Lord’s Servant, as Isaiah depicts Him, is like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7), bearing the iniquities of all mankind:
He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities, punishment for peace was upon Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5-6).
The apostle Peter writes:
For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the times for you …” (1 Peter 1:18-20).
John’s view of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb is not to be taken literally but conveys to his first-century readers – and to us – the key truth that Jesus’ suffering and death is both a great sacrifice and a great victory. God became flesh and died for us, defeating Satan and his works and reclaiming all that was lost in Adam’s fall. How vulnerable, how defenseless Jesus made Himself for us – just like a sacrificial lamb. Yet God the Father was “pleased to crush Him” (Isa. 53:10). Jesus, in His humanity, “learned obedience through what He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). And, “for the joy that lay before Him,” Jesus “endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Heb. 12:2).
One other note: It is significant that the resurrected and glorified Jesus bears the marks of His crucifixion. John’s description of Him as “a slaughtered lamb” (v. 6) is consistent with Zechariah’s prophecy of the glorious appearance of the Messiah, who has been “pierced” (Zech. 14:10). It’s also in tune with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, in which He invites followers like Thomas to both examine and touch His wounds (John 20:27). But why does Jesus retain earthly scars when we are assured perfect bodies in the future? Two reasons seem clear. First, Jesus’ scars are an everlasting testimony of His sacrifice for us. Second, we are cautioned that many false Messiahs will arise; when Jesus returns, His crucifixion scars will identify Him as the true Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Surely John’s description of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb resonates with believers of all ages.
But what about the seven horns? In scripture, horns symbolize great power. David pens these words after the Lord rescues him from his enemies: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (Ps. 18:2). In Daniel’s vision of the four beasts (Dan. 7), the 10 horns on the fourth beast symbolize 10 kings. And in Zechariah’s night visions, he sees four horns, symbolizing the power of Israel’s enemies (Zech. 1:18-21). No doubt, the seven horns on the slaughtered lamb in John’s vision portray the full power of deity that resides in Jesus.
Finally, we read that the Lamb has seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. As we learned earlier, the phrase “seven spirits” ties back to Rev. 1:4 and may be translated “the seven-fold Spirit,” likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. Christ has “received the Holy Spirit without measure, in all perfection of light, and life, and power, by which he is able to teach and rule all parts of the earth” (Matthew Henry, Re 5:6-14). The emphasis here seems to be on Christ’s place in the Godhead and His authority as the One who has all the fullness of the Spirit (see Isa. 11:2-5). The number seven represents fullness or completeness; it is the number of God. No doubt the Lamb’s knowledge and authority extends through all the earth.
Warren Wiersbe summarizes well the portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb: “The description of the Lamb (Rev. 5:6), if produced literally by an artist, would provide a grotesque picture; but when understood symbolically, conveys spiritual truth. Since seven is the number of perfection, we have here perfect power (seven horns), perfect wisdom (seven eyes), and perfect presence (seven Spirits in all the earth). The theologians would call these qualities omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; and all three are attributes of God. The Lamb is God the Son, Christ Jesus!” (Re 5:1).
Next: Worthy is the Lamb (Rev. 5:8-10)
Previously: A mighty angel – Rev. 5:2-4
Rev. 5:5 – Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne (HCSB).
John’s cries of anguish are about to end. Just when he despairs that the hidden plans of God are about to remain hidden, one of the 24 elders – probably representatives of redeemed people throughout the ages – steps forward and simply says, “Stop crying.” Literally, John has described himself as one who “kept on shedding many tears.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “No wonder John wept, for he realized that God’s glorious redemption plan for mankind could never be completed until the scroll was opened. The redeemer had to be near of kin, willing to redeem, and able to redeem. Jesus Christ meets all of the qualifications. He became flesh, so He is our Kinsman. He loves us and is willing to redeem; and He paid the price, so He is able to redeem” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
But what tone does the elder take in addressing John? Is he annoyed, as if the apostle is a sniveling crybaby? Is he grieved because John lacks faith that a worthy kinsman will step forward? Or is he an over-excited observer who happens to be the first to catch a glimpse of the glorified Messiah? Probably neither of these explanations will do. It’s more likely that the elder, understanding John’s desperate sorrow, seeks to comfort and encourage him. “The elders in heaven round God’s throne know better than John, still in the flesh, the far-reaching power of Christ” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 5:5).
We might imagine the elder’s voice as firm but gentle. We can almost see him lay a warm and steady hand on John’s convulsing shoulder. His rebuke – if there even is one – is mild, followed quickly by the imperative to “look!” What follows quickly turns John’s sense of foreboding into unspeakable joy. The elder identifies the Redeemer as the lion from the tribe of Judah and the Root of David. John then describes Him as one like a slaughtered lamb. In our next post, we will look more closely at these three descriptive titles for Jesus.
Next: The lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)