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)
All the angels stood around the throne
In verse 11, John sees all the angels standing around the throne, the elders and the four living creatures. Now it is their turn to offer praise. They fall on their faces before the throne and worship God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (v. 12).
There are three brief observations to share. First, the angels’ position. They stand “around the throne, the elders and the four living creatures,” in close proximity to both their Creator and their fellow servants. The Lord created angels higher in power and intelligence than people, and they stand in His presence, worshipfully reverent and ready to respond immediately to His commands. At the same time, angels do not lord their position over men and women. Twice in the Book of Revelation, John falls at the feet of an angel to worship, and both times he is sternly rebuked. In Rev. 19:10, the angel says, “Don’t do that [worship me]! I am a fellow slave with you and your brothers who have the testimony about Jesus. Worship God.” And in Rev. 22:9, after John tries to worship at the feet of the angel who showed him things to come, the angel says, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow slave with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
Even more interesting, angels lack something given exclusively to people: salvation. The holy angels have no need of it, and the rebellious angels are never offered it, but face a certain eternity in hell, which was created for them (Matt. 25:41). Paul, in fact, reminds believers that we will judge angels – presumably evil angels since there is no biblical reference to a judgment day for the holy ones. Last, in 1 Peter 1:12, we are told that just as the prophets of old did not understand how and when the Messianic prophecies would be fulfilled, even angels “desire to look into these things.”
A second observation is the angels’ posture. First, we see them standing before the throne, attentive to God and ready to respond immediately to His commands. But then, they fall on their faces before the throne and worship God. “Behold the most excellent of all the creatures, who never sinned, who are before him continually, not only covering their faces, but falling down on their faces before the Lord! What humility then, and what profound reverence, become us vile frail creatures, when we come into the presence of God! We should fall down before him; there should be both a reverential frame of spirit and a humble behaviour in all our addresses to God” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 7:1-12).
A third observation is the angels’ praise. They begin with the word “Amen!” This is the transliteration of a Hebrew word signifying that something is certain, valid, truthful, or faithful. It often is used at the end of biblical songs, hymns, and prayers, and is repeated at the end of the angels’ praise in verse 12. It is likely that the angels, in beginning their praise with the word “Amen,” are agreeing with the cries of the vast multitude that honors God the Father and the Lamb in verse 10. The angels then acknowledge the glorious attributes of God – His wisdom, power and strength – and declare that for these divine qualities He is to be blessed, glorified, thanked and honored forever and ever. They close their words of praise with, “Amen,” signifying that their testimony is true.
Next: One of the elders asked me
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
Previously: A bow and a crown (Rev. 6:1-2)
Rev. 6:3 – When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him (HCSB).
The opening of the second seal, like the first, is accompanied by one of the living creatures saying, “Come!” and a horse and rider bursting onto the scene. This is a horse of a different color, however – fiery red – and the horseman has been given the authority to plunge the world into warfare. While the first rider, on a white horse, is given a bow, the second rider is presented with a large sword. Let’s look more closely at these verses and see, first of all, if we may determine what this means to a first-century audience. Then we will explore the possibilities for today’s audience.
Jesus now breaks the second seal on the scroll. Remember that these seals likely are pieces of wax or clay that have been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. They identify the one who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority, in this case the Lamb. Likely, as each seal is broken, it allows another portion of the scroll to be unraveled, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed.
As the seal is opened, John hears the second living creature say, “Come!” As we learned in the last lesson, this call probably is not to John but to the horse and rider, who appear obediently.
Next: A fiery red horse (Rev. 6:3-4)
Previously- A white horse and its rider (Rev. 6:1-2)
Rev. 6:1 –Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer (HCSB).
It’s interesting to note that this rider has a bow, but there is no mention of arrows. Could this be a symbol of political and economic power, or simply a form of sabre rattling that urges his enemies to make peace while there is still time? Those who say the rider is Christ think differently. Matthew Henry, for example, writes: “The convictions impressed by the word of God are sharp arrows, they reach at a distance; and, though the ministers of the word draw the bow at a venture, God can and will direct it to the joints of the harness. This bow, in the hand of Christ, abides in strength, and, like that of Jonathan, never returns empty” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 6:1–2).
This rider wears a stephanos, the garland of a victor, in contrast to a diadema, the crown of a king. When Christ returns in Revelation 19 He wears many crowns (diademata) and is personally attended by the host of heaven. So once again it seems this rider is not the Lamb, but one who appears like him, riding the white horse of victory, wearing a victor’s crown, and with authority to conquer.
Warren Wiersbe puts it in perspective: “Certainly, there is a sense in which Jesus Christ is conquering today, as He releases people from the bondage of sin and Satan (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). But this conquest began with His victory on the cross and certainly did not have to wait for the opening of a seal! We shall note later that the sequence of events in Revelation 6 closely parallels the sequence given by our Lord in His Olivet discourse; and the first item mentioned is the appearance of false Christs (Matt. 24:5)” (The Bible exposition commentary, Re 6:1).
Finally, John writes that a crown is “given to him.” But by whom?For those who say this rider is Jesus, the crown and corresponding authority no doubt would be given Him by God the Father. Futurists, who argue that the rider is the Antichrist, say Jesus has granted the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 3:3) this authority for a short time, or contend that the people of the earth, terrified by the political, economic and spiritual vacuum left in the wake of the rapture of the church, gladly defer to this emerging world leader. In any case, this rider is a conquering world figure, and whatever he does is either enabled or permitted by God.
Three other horsemen soon will appear, bringing war, famine and death to the earth. Together, these four horsemen of the apocalypse are instruments of judgment in the hands of Almighty God.
Next – The second seal (Rev. 6:3-4)
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)