In Revelation 7, the progression of thought is from Israel to a great multitude. First, we see Israel being sealed. Then, we find a new scene being introduced: an innumerable amount of people with white robes. As we’ve discussed back in Revelation 3:5, the white robes seem to be an illustration of resurrection. Of course, we see that the white robes are “the righteous acts of the saints” in Rev 19:8, if we grant that the fine linen given to the Bride is the same as these white robes. Notice, though, that the context of these white robes is never displayed as obtaining them before the coming of Christ. In chapter 6 we saw the martyrs crying out (fifth seal), and they were given white robes. This is placed just before the return of Christ – most likely the resurrection that Paul addresses in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, where the dead will rise first.
After these things I looked and behold a great multitude, which no one was able to number, out of every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and the Lamb, having been clothed with white robes, and palm branches in their hands. And crying with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God sitting on the throne and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they all fell before the throne upon their faces and worshiped God saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength to our God to the ages of the ages! Amen.”
This great multitude is μετα – after and with. It is after the sealing in progression of vision, but this multitude is to be understood as “with” the 144,000. They are only distinguished by symbolism, namely, what the 144,000 represent. These two groups are united. The one represents the first fruits of “all Israel”, and the other represents all who came out of the Great Tribulation (verse 14). We can see in Romans 11 and Ephesians 2:12-16 this concept of the two coming together.
Having palm branches signifies the Feast of Tabernacles. The apostle John uses the language of the feasts quite regularly, focusing in upon their messianic and prophetic significance. He points out Jesus as our Passover Lamb (dying at the exact moment the lambs were being slain), our first fruits (resurrecting three days later, on the day after the Sabbath), Christ is our sacrifice of atonement and our scapegoat (the significance being that he not only made atonement for us, but also for the whole world – just like the Day of Atonement was for the sins of the whole nation of Israel), Jesus returns at the Last Trump (signifying the Feast of Trumpets), and finally we see here with the metaphor of the Millennial Kingdom that the multitude wave palm branches.
When we go to Leviticus 23:40, we find the command to wave these branches. The disciples used this as a metaphor for both the triumphal entry (John 12:13) and the second coming (as seen here). The idea of the Feast of Tabernacles is that God has “tabernacled” with us. We see this language in the Gospel of John, at the very beginning in 1:14. He has “tabernacled” with us. Yet, there is still a future expectation of His return, which also is quite emphasized in John’s Gospel. It is to that return that we believe God to actually dwell with us.
Leviticus 26:11-12 gives the promise that God will actually dwell among His people and walk in their midst. How is it that God will actually walk in the midst of His people? There is the obvious connotation to get us back to Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, where God walked in the cool of the day. However, even with God walking in the Garden, the question is posed, “How can a God who is spirit walk upon the earth?” The answer is found in Isaiah 9:6. We read that a child will be born, which implies humanity. Yet, one of the names of this child is “Mighty God.” You don’t give a mere human being the title of “Mighty God”. That title is for HaShem alone. So, we find this implicit. Unto us a child will be born – human – and he will be called Might God – incarnation. The Feast of Tabernacles has been fulfilled. Here it is that Jesus has returned and God walks in our midst. God Himself is in our midst.
Compare the praise given by this multitude to the praise found later in Rev 12:10 and 19:1. It is derived from Psalm 3:8. Interesting that on the Feast of Tabernacles, on the last and greatest day, the crowd would chant hosanna (God save us!) louder and louder as the high priest poured out living water and wine down the isle of the sanctuary. We find later in Rev 22:1, we read of a river of life flowing from the throne of God – more Tabernacles language. Here the cry of “God save us” is no longer heard. Now the praise is unto the God who has saved.
And one of the elders answered saying to me, “Who are these having been clothed with white robes, and from where do they come?” And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are those coming out of the Great Tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Because of this, ‘they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and the One sitting on the throne will tabernacle over them. They will not hunger any more, neither will they thirst anymore, nor shall the sun fall upon them, nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them, and he will lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
We can compare this question of who this multitude is with the question Joshua asks in Joshua 9:8. Jonah 1:8 also holds a similar way of posing the question, when the sailors ask Jonah to tell them about himself.
John calls the angel – this elder – his Lord (κυριε). See Genesis 19:2, Daniel 10:16, Zechariah 1:9, and in addressing a man, Gen 23:6, 31:35, and John 12:21. Compare this statement to Ezekiel 37:3.
The “great tribulation” seems to recall Daniel 12:1, Matthew 24:29, and Mark 13:19, where we read of “unequalled distress”. Only here in all of Scripture is it called “the Great Tribulation”, to be distinct from all other tribulation mentioned in 1:9. “Ye shall have tribulation”, but this one is something altogether different. This one is unequalled from any other time in history, and therefore cannot be placed in the past (what event do we dare to say is “unequalled”, and by what right do we claim there will not be a greater in the future?).
The statement “in the blood of the Lamb” should probably be “through the blood”. Compare 12:11. See also 1 John 1:7, Romans 3:25, 5:9, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:2, Exodus 19:10, 14, Isaiah 1:8, and 1 Corinthians 6:11.
This final and glorious three-verse explanation has much reference to both the Feast of Tabernacles and the book of Isaiah. For this service day and night see Philippians 3:3, Acts 24:7, Romans 9:4, and 12:1. This goes back to Revelation 4 – the throne room being the Holy of Holies. The eternal service unto God is one of servanthood, which is ruling. This cannot be New Jerusalem. There has to be an intermediate stage between the end of the age and New Jerusalem, where the Christ will reign and we will reign with Him. This kind of service cannot happen at the New Jerusalem, because in 21:22, we read that there is no more night in the New Jerusalem. There absolutely must be some sort of segueing between this age and that age – found in the Millennial Kingdom.
The “tabernacling over”, or “spreading a tent over” comes from Isaiah 4:5-6 and 30:22. It represents a chuppa, which is signifying marriage. Examine Isaiah 62:4-5 for this marriage of God unto the Land and His people. This denotes marriage as well as protection. Once again, this language of tabernacle goes back to the completion of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Compare verse 16 with Isaiah 49:10. Also se Psalm 121:6. For thirst, see John 4:14, and see Rev 7:17 – “He will lead them to springs…” All of this once again goes back to the Feast of Tabernacles, not only because the final day has the pouring out of the living water, but because throughout the week they are teaching and learning of how salvation and living water are paralleled, and how God is the one who brings us to streams of living water, and how God’s Spirit is likened to Living Water. While all of this is being taught, the people are living in “booths” (tabernacles) to remember what it was like to come out of Egypt and live in tents. It is a reminder of the old tent, which we can see in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 is our natural bodies we currently preside in. God dwelt among us in a tabernacle as well, but that kind of dwelling could never be the expected glory that was promised. We, with the Israelites, look forward to a day when God will dwell upon the earth in unadulterated splendor, and we will be clothed in new bodies – incorruptible – to see Him face-to-face and yet live.
Compare Revelation 7:17 with Ezekiel 34:23-24, John 10:11, 14, Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 2:25, Isaiah 40:11, and Psalm 23:1, 3. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” – see Isaiah 25:8.