After this powerful message, the scene turns to a multitude of people before the throne in heaven. This is where we will pick up our discussion in this post.
The Great Multitude From Every Nation Before The Heavenly Throne. 7:9-12
In 7:9a the vision switches from emphasizing the full number of the people of God in this age, as was the case in 7:1-8, to emphasizing the large number of the saved people of God in this age: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number….” This part of the vision is very encouraging, for it unveils for us that there will be no small number of those whom God saves. They will be so many that no one can count them.
In 7:9b the vision emphasizes the diversity of the saved: “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages….” This same set of terms is used in different order in Rev. 5:9 also to speak of the redeemed from all over the world and from among all kinds of people. We also see the same terms used in Rev. 11:9 to speak of people from all over the world and from all kinds of people who look upon slain Christian witnesses and most likely are among those who are judged for their opposition to Christ. The point here is that God has redeemed and will bring to him all kinds of people from all over the world.
In 7:9c-12 we discover what this innumerable multitude is doing. They are standing before the throne of God in heaven and before the Lamb and they are worshiping:
…standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.
There are a number of more specific things we learn about this multitude of saints as they worship. To begin, the most obvious is that they have died and are in heaven (9c). As we affirmed in our last blog, these saints are also the 144,000 alluded to in 7:1-8. What this means is that God has protected and preserved them so that they did not fail and fall in the ultimate way. This view, then, of the saints is the outcome, the culmination of God’s promised sealing and protection of them in 7:1-8.
What is more, they are “clothed in white robes” (9d), which elsewhere in Revelation is a picture of right standing with God. It is a picture of those who have washed their robes (i.e. they have been forgiven of sins and a righteous standing with God has been imputed to them) in the blood of the Lamb, that is, they have rested upon the substitutionary atoning death of Christ (7:13-14) and so they have been given salvation that is accomplished and applied by Jesus Christ and cannot be earned by them (3:18, understood in context). The result of their being genuinely clothed in the righteousness of Christ is they desire to and can live a persevering life of practical righteousness so that they can enjoy the reward of full eternal life (3:4-5; 6:11; 19:8; 22:14). The picture we have here, then, is of persevering saints who have been saved and preserved by Jesus Christ.
Additionally, we see that these saints are depicted “with palm branches in their hands” (9e). Palm branches were used in the Israelite celebration of the feast of tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40-43), a feast that commenorates the divine protection of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. This picture, then, of saints “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” who are also pictured as celebrating the ultimate protection by God through wilderness wanderings (the ultimate fulfillment of the feast of tabernacles) communicates at least three truths: (1) These saints from among all peoples in the world are now seen as the true Israel, a reality that fits with the picture in 7:1-8 and elsewhere in Revelation (e.g. 19:6; 21:1-2). (2) God has protected and preserved these saints and brought them into the ultimate promised land, that is, their eternal reward. (3) What they have come out of is pictured as wilderness wanderings with all its trials, discipline, and judgment (for those not true believers). This suggests the difficulty of life in this current age within a broken and sin-cursed world.
Finally, in verses 10-12 we read of what these saints in heaven are exclaiming as they praise God the Father and God the Son (the Lamb), accompanied also by the angelic ministers (the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders) who represent the church and intensify the picture of praise and worship coming to God for who he is and what he has done.
More specifically, in these three verses we see the saints and angelic beings praising God the Father and Son because “salvation belongs to [them].” Elsewhere the Bible affirms that God and God alone saves (Exodus 14:3; 15:2; Joshua 24:1-13; Psalms 37:39; 51:14; 68:19; 98:2-3; 118:21; Isaiah 12:2; 25:9b; 33:22; 43:11; 45:18-25; Hosea 13:4; Jonah 2:9). Here, these saints affirm that God and God alone saves, but they include the Father and the Son/Lamb, for the Father saves in and through the Son (see elsewhere for example John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26). They affirm that the Son/Lamb, then, is God and that only God can save. This salvation, in context, not only means their being initially declared righteous, forgiven, and adopted into the family of God, but also the subsequent and ongoing sanctification, perseverance, and their final perfection. They praise God for he has saved them from beginning to end!
In verse 12 the angelic beings agree with the saints (“Amen!”) and add that it should be recognized that for all eternity praise belongs to our God (in context probably Father and Son), he should be seen fully for how magnificant he is (he has “glory”), he should be acknowledged as knowing how to bring about his purposes and good ends (he has “wisdom”), he should be thanked, honored, and it should be acknowledged that ultimate power and might (especially to redeem mankind and all else) belong to him! There is no question that in this full and rich praise initial, ongoing, and ultimate salvation is attributed to the Father and Son. It is not man’s doing, nor does man add to it. It is God’s work alone (see John 1:12-13; 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10).
Revelation 7:9-12 not only promises that God will preserve and make secure his true followers, his elect (cf. Rom. 8:28-39), but it also gives a wonderful example of how we should worship God and view salvation. It is his work and he deserves the glory!
In the remainder of this interlude we discover even more about who this multitude is and the world out of which they have been saved.
The More Detailed Identity Of This Multitude. 7:13-17
What John experiences next in this vision is that one of the twenty-four elders asks him a question so that the answer can be revealed to and through John The question and answer have to do with revealing a more detailed description of this multitude in heaven, just who they are, and what they have experienced. Here is what we read in 7:13-14: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”
It should be clear from the near context and the larger context of Revelation (especially in light of all the ground we have covered in these first seven chapters) that “the great tribulation” of which John speaks is not merely a period at the very end of this age, but instead covers this entire age. Since in other places the tribulation is spoken of as a three and a half year period or two periods of three and a half years, and since the most popular end-times understanding in our lifetime has seen the tribulation as a literal seven year period at the very end of the this age, I will blog on this subject in my next post and explain more fully how we know the numbers are intended to be read figuratively and thus the tribulation is a time that spans this entire age.
What we want to see in verses 13-14 for now, however, are two important points: (1) This multitude has received and rested upon Christ and his life, substitutionary atoning death, and his resurrection for eternal life and forgiveness and, as such, they have been able to persevere and enter into their eternal reward. (2) Over and over again in the book of Revelation it is assumed and taught directly that the Church in this current age experiences trials, persecution, and discipline, and so they go through tribulation (see especially 2:10, 22; 3:10; 16:1-21). In my estimation it has been a dangerously mistaken teaching in the church to suggest that the Christian life now can be lived free or mostly free of tribulation and that such pressing pain and difficulty are only or mainly for a future time. It has warped our expectations for the Christian life now and opened up the door for us to equate the “American dream” or the “good life” with the Christian life. As a result, it also has warped our view of what our mission in the world will look like. In fact it has contributed to a false assumption that it is fine to be a Christian and yet not live on mission at all.
Equally as illuminating are the remaining two truths about this multitude that John shares in verses 15-17:
(1) These saints are viewed as priests who serve God continually: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple…” (15a-b). The verb translated “serve” (latreuō) was often used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to speak both of the worshipful service of God by all God’s people in general, but also particularly of the service of priests and Levites in the tabernacle and later the temple that was part of their worship of God and also made right worship of God possible for others (Exodus 3:12; 7:16, 26; 10:3, 7f., 24, 26; 20:5; 23:24; Deut. 4:19, 28; 5:9; 6:13; 7:4, 16; Josh. 22:27; 24:14-24, 31). The fact that they are pictured serving God “in his temple” clarifies they all, without exception, are viewed as priests. This also enhances the sense in Revelation that Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers both are considered the true Israel, the people of God. It should also be noted that saints in heaven and then later in the new heaven and new earth (cf. Rev. 22:3) are not sedintary or merely sitting on clouds playing harps. Instead, they are viewed as active in service and worship of God.
(2) In verses 15-17 we see, as is promised elsewhere in the Old Testament (Lev. 26:3-13; Ps. 121; Isaiah 25:8; 32:2, 15-20; 33:21; 65:17-25) and also shown as fulfilled elsewhere in Revelation (21:3-7; 22:1-5), these believers experience the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to his people and the complete restoration of true and full life:
…and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
So, what we have in this chapter is a series of visions and explanations that let the redeemed, that is, genuine followers of Jesus (cf. Rev. 14:1, 4), know God will save them in the ultimate way so that they can enter into their eternal reward. This is designed to encourage faithfulness and perseverance in this age and in the midst of the trials we face (see Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 25-28; 3:4-5, 12, 21; 22:6-21 [esp. 22:14]).
Joyfully Persevering In Christ With You,
 In 5:9 all the terms are singular. Here in 7:9 “nation” is singular and the rest plural. The difference in number does not appear to change the meaning. Rather they are different ways of saying the same thing.
 For similar uses of the terms (but fewer terms) to speak of people from all over the world and all kinds facing judgment, see Rev. 10:9; 17:15.
 Since the seventh seal in Rev. 8:1-5 takes us to the final judgment (which precedes the new heaven and new earth), we are to understand that the view of the saints in Rev. 7:9-17 is of them in the current heaven in their intermediate or disembodied state. This state is glorious and far better than the life experienced in this world in this age (see Rev. 20:4). However, they still await their bodily resurrection (Rev. 11:11-12; see also 1Cor. 15:35-58; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thes. 4:13-18) and the future eternal abode for the saved, the new heaven and new earth (see Rev. 21-22).
 This understanding of the relationship of 7:1-8 to 7:9-17 is confirmed by John’s tendency elsewhere in Revelation either to explain further what he has just seen through what he subsequently hears (compare 5:6 with 5:7-14; 14:1 with 14:2-5; 15:2 with 15:3-4; 17:1-6 with 17:7-18) or to explain further what he has just heard through what he subsequently sees (compare 5:5 with 5:6; 9:13-16 with 9:17-21). Here in Rev. 7:1-8 John both sees a vision, but also hears an explanation. Then, in 7:9-17, there is a further explanation or elaboration so he can see and hear more precisely who these ones are pictured and described in 7:1-8.
 For Old Testament background to this, see Zechariah 3:1-10.
 A careful reading of all the robe and dressed-in-white references lead us to this understanding that the declared righteousness of saints before God, i.e. the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ himself (from his life, death, burial, and resurrection), leads to the practice of righteousness on the part of saints and their perseverence therein. Another way this is seen is in a comparison of Revelation 19:8, where we discover that it was divinely given to the bride of Christ to “clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (showing that God’s gracious saving work makes possible the growth in practical righteousness or sanctification on the part of saints that ends in their perfection in heaven), with the picture of the purified, righteous, holy bride of Revelation 21:2, where we read of the New Jerusalem that it is, “prepared as a bride adorned adorned for her husband” (a clause that emphasizes the divine work in the bride to transform and beautify her ethically). It is God’s initiating and ongoing work in saints that enables them to act and persevere in faith, righteousness, and holiness, resulting in their future reward of perfection.
 This is not to suggest, however, that the tribulation does not intensify and get worse as this age progresses. It does. See Rev. 11:7-10; 16:12-16; 20:7-9.
 Its noun form is used in Romans 12:1 to speak of the service or worshipful service that flows out of God’s saving mercies in our lives. We see the same verb in Rev. 22:3 to describe the worshipful service of God’s servants in the new heaven and new earth.