Who is the Great Multitude in Revelation 7?
Will it consist of people who have already died? Will they be part of the 144,000? Will they go to heaven before Christ’s return?
In the previous Q&A, we discussed the question, “Do the 144,000, mentioned in Revelation 7, describe spiritual Israelites prior to the Great Tribulation including those who have already died?”
We explained that Revelation 7:1-8 describes 144,000 Israelites who will be sealed after the beginning of the Great Tribulation to be protected from the plagues of the Day of the Lord. In addition, Revelation 7:9-10, 13-17 continues to describe a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, who came out of the Great Tribulation.
Many ideas exist as to who the great multitude describes. Some claim that the great multitude is identical with the 144,000, or that the 144,000 are part of the great multitude. Some claim that the multitude consists of all Gentile Christians from the beginning of the creation of man, and that the number is innumerable as it is not yet determined. Some claim that the great multitude will be in heaven after the beginning of the Great Tribulation, but before the Day of the Lord begins.
Halley’s Bible Handbook gives a most confusing picture of these different concepts, saying:
“The ‘144,000’ of verse 4, and the ‘Great Multitude,’ of verse 9, seem to be two different groups. One is the Elect of Israel. The other is from All Nations. With one group the scene was on Earth. With the other the scene is in Heaven. One group was sealed against a Coming Tribulation. With the other group, the Tribulation is Past. Yet they may be One and the Same group, under different aspects…”
Just about all of these comments are incorrect. For instance, when relating to the 144,000, we saw in the previous Q&A that they will be sealed BEFORE the Day of the Lord begins… meaning that they too had to go through and experience the beginning of the Great Tribulation. As for the remaining comments quoted above, the only correct assessment is that two different groups are described, as we will explain (even though that assessment is questioned in the last sentence of the quoted paragraph above by the same commentary.)
First of all, let us note the time setting as to when the 144,000 and the great multitude are described. It clearly relates to protection from the Day of the Lord (Revelation 6:17). The question is asked there: “For the great day of His wrath is come, and who is able to STAND?” In describing the great multitude, we read in Revelation 7:9 that they STAND before the throne of God and the Lamb. In Luke 21:36, Christ admonishes us to “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to STAND before the Son of Man.” Even though the great multitude won’t be worthy to escape the Great Tribulation, as we will see, they WILL BE counted worthy to escape and be protected from the plagues of the Day of the Lord, and to STAND before the Son of Man—the Lamb—and the throne of God.
Therefore, the great multitude does not consist of or include people who died prior to the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
What is meant with the term, “great multitude which no one could number”? Does this mean, as some say, that the number is not yet determined and that therefore no one, not even God, could tell us the exact number of the great multitude?
We say the following in chapter 9 of our free booklet, Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation:
“After that event [of sealing 144,000 Israelites], John sees a great multitude which ‘no one could number,’ from ‘all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues,’ standing before the Lamb with white garments (Revelation 7:9). They ‘came out of the great tribulation…and washed their robes and made them white’ (Revelation 7:14)… the great multitude had to go through the Great Tribulation, but they will be protected—together with the 144,000—from the plagues of the Day of the Lord.”
We read in Hebrews 12:22-24 that in prayer to God, we come to the heavenly Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the “innumerable company of angels,” the general assembly and church of the first-begotten registered in heaven, and to the spirits of the just men made perfect.
Now note the following excerpts from our free booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World”:
“Man has no comprehension of how many angels exist. The revealed number is indeed mind-boggling. In Revelation 5:11, the number of angels that had assembled before the throne of God is given as ‘…ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.’ Hebrews 12:22 goes even further: ‘But you have come to… an innumerable company of angels.’ The Greek word for ‘innumerable’ is ‘anarithmethos,’ literally meaning, ‘unnumbered’ or ‘without number.’ Certainly God knows how many angels He created but for man, angels are ‘without number.’”
The Greek word in Revelation 7:9 is arithmeo, where it is said that no one can number (arithmeo) the great multitude. This expression conveys the same meaning as in Hebrews 12:22, where we read about the “innumerable” (Greek: anarithmetos) company of angels—which is the opposite or the negative to something that you can number (compare W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: “arithmeo to number”). The same Greek word arithmeo is also used in Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7 (“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered”).
The term “innumerable” (in Greek, anarithmetos) is also used in Hebrews 11:12: “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.” A similar expression is found in Revelation 20:8: “[Satan] will go out and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number (Greek, arithmos) is as the sand of the sea.”
Even though it may be difficult for man to number all the descendants of Abraham, it is most certainly not difficult for God. The point is, the “innumerable” multitude of Abraham’s offspring is not innumerable for God.
We also find a reference to an innumerable multitude in Luke 12:1, saying that at the time of Christ’s first coming, “an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another.” However, the Greek word here is murias. It is also used in Hebrews 12:22, when referring to the “company” of angels. Vine’s defines it as “a myriad, of vast numbers.” Therefore, the “innumerable company of angels” in Hebrews 12:22 describes a myriad of angels which man would not be able to count if they manifested themselves to the human eye, as man could not count the sand of the sea or the hair on his head… but we understand that God can and DOES most certainly count and number them all.
What Revelation 7:9 describes is the fact that John saw in a vision a huge multitude of people—too many for him to count or to number.
Continuing with Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation:
“Strauss comments on pages 175–178: ‘The number … is beyond all counting, as far as man is concerned. The exact number is known to God (2 Timothy 2:19)… John saw ‘palms in their hands’ ([Revelation 7,] verse 9)… the palms may be in celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles… palm branches express the joy of complete deliverance (John 12:12–13). They are celebrating the triumph of having been brought through the awful period of tribulation…’”
When comparing the number (Greek arithmos, Revelation 7:4) of the 144,000 sealed Israelites with the great and “innumerable” multitude of Gentile nations, we must conclude that their number will far exceed 144,000. This would be in conformity with Paul’s statement in Romans 11:25, where we read: “… blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” We find today a fulfillment of this phenomenon: While many members of “Gentile nations” respond, to an extent, to the gospel which is being proclaimed by the Church of God, stiff-necked and stubborn Americans, Brits, Canadians and other English-speaking peoples continue in their blindness and unwillingness to react to the message of God.
Something similar happened in Paul’s days, when he had to say: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). This is not to say that Paul ceased preaching to the Israelites, and God’s end-time Church will not cease either in preaching to the modern peoples of the Houses of Israel and Judah, but we have to conclude that a greater spiritual harvest from Gentile nations than from Israelite nations is prophesied in these very last days, just prior to the Day of the Lord. This fact might also be revealed in a prophecy for the end-time in Revelation 10:11 where an angel gives John a little book to swallow, stating: “And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy AGAIN BEFORE many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (Authorized Version). The Greek word for “before” is epi and can also mean, “in the presence of.” Compare Mark 13:9 (“before rulers and kings”); 1 Timothy 6:13 (“before Pilate”). This might indicate that even in the end times, the gospel would first be preached “in the presence of” or to Israelite nations, but then again with strength and power to the Gentile nations.
Some claim that the 144,000 are identical with or part of the great multitude, but this is clearly not the case.
We say in our free booklet, Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation:
“In considering the Biblical revelation regarding the 144,000 and the great multitude, we can see the following: … The ‘great multitude’ is not a part of the 144,000, but it is a separate group of peoples… The ‘great multitude,’ which ‘no one can number,’ consists ‘of ALL [other, that is, non-Israelite] nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.’ …”
Some commentaries understand that there is a clear distinction between the 144,000 and the great multitude. For instance, J.H. Blunt, The Annotated Bible, says:
“These [the great multitude] are clearly distinguished from the preceding body by being called an innumerable multitude, whereas the others are definitely described as being an hundred and forty and four thousand in number; and also by the statement that they are ‘of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,’ whereas the others are ‘of all the tribes of the children of Israel’ [verse 4].”
In addition, some commentaries understand that the great multitude will come out of the THE Great Tribulation—not only some trials in general:
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary states: “The other multitude is of a universal nature—certainly not confined to Israel… These… are they… that have come out of great tribulation…The great tribulation can be none other than that referred to in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24:9,21,29).”
The Nelson Study Bible states:
“This vast majority has come out of the great tribulation, referring to the ‘hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world’ (3:10)… the great tribulation, predicted in Dan. 12:1, will be of an intensity ‘such as has not been since the beginning of the world unto this time, no, nor ever shall be’ (Matt. 24:21).”
The Ryrie Study Bible adds:
“This multitude is composed of many racial and geographic groups who will be redeemed during the tribulation period (vs. 14). In these difficult days, many will find Christ as Savior.”
Will the great multitude find protection after the beginning of the Great Tribulation and before the Day of the Lord and if so, how?
We state the following in our free booklet, Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation:
“The ‘great multitude’ had to go through the Great Tribulation as well. They will not be at a place of safety, to be protected from the Great Tribulation. Revelation 7:14 reads: ‘These are the ones who COME OUT OF the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’
“Today, neither the 144,000 nor the great multitude have turned to God. But they will—when they remember the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, which is being preached today, and which will continue to be preached by God’s Church (compare Matthew 24:14; 28:18–20), combined with the activities of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:1–6), the martyrdom of some of the saints (Revelation 6:9–11; 12:13–17) and the sufferings of national Israelites and Jews during the Great Tribulation, and the heavenly signs… When the 144,000 and the great multitude turn to God, become converted and receive the Holy Spirit, they will be protected from the plagues of the Day of the Lord. Their conversion is still in the future. It will take place after they have experienced the fiery trial of the Great Tribulation.”
We also say this in our Q&A, “Will God’s people be protected from the terrible times to come?”
“It appears that the 144,000 and the great multitude will consist mainly of people who will come to conversion during the trials of the Great Tribulation. Especially addressing the great multitude, for example, we read in Revelation 7:14: ‘These are the ones who COME OUT OF the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ We also read in Jeremiah 30:7 that later on, the modern descendants of the house of Jacob or Israel [the 144,000] will be saved OUT OF the Day of the Lord. [To clarify, Jeremiah 30:7 does not convey that the 144,000 will only be saved “out of” the plagues of the Day of the Lord, after they had been punished by them. The New American Bible translates: “How mighty is that day—none like it! A time of distress for Jacob, though he shall be saved from it.” Similar the New Jerusalem Bible, and Tanakh says: “… he shall be delivered from it.” Still clearer the Revised English Bible: “How awful is that day: when has there been its like? A time of anguish for Jacob, yet he will come through it safely.”]
“In addition, it is possible that some who will be protected during the time of God’s great wrath will include converted members in God’s Church (commonly referred to as those belonging to the lukewarm ‘Laodicea’ group in Revelation 3:14-22) who were not found worthy enough to be protected at the place of safety from the Great Tribulation, but who worked on their conversion with fear and trembling and who overcame their nature, Satan and society IN and DURING the Great Tribulation. They survived these terrible times and will be declared worthy to be protected from God’s wrath during the Day of the Lord.”
Some claim that the 144,000 and the great multitude will be in heaven to be protected from the Day of the Lord and/or to celebrate the marriage supper with the Lamb. However, this is an erroneous conclusion.
We address this question in our Q&A, “Where will the marriage supper between Christ and His Church be held?”
“Some have suggested that Revelation 14 [addressing 144,000 firstfruits] speaks of a marriage supper in heaven. However, Revelation 14 does not mention a marriage supper. It states that the Lamb and 144,000 of those ‘who were redeemed from the earth’ stand on Mount Zion (verse 1), and that they are ‘without fault before the throne of God’ (verse 5)… Even today, we appear daily ‘before’ God’s throne in heaven, through prayer…
“[Another] Scripture quoted to support the speculation that the marriage supper takes place in heaven is Revelation 7:9-17… We are told that a great multitude of all nations stands before the throne and before the Lamb. This is clearly another vision — such as the vision of dead souls under God’s altar that cry out with a loud voice (Revelation 6:9-11). Still, even when analyzing carefully the text of the vision in Revelation 7, we find that the described event does not occur in heaven. Revelation 7:14 says that the saints ‘washed their robes and made them white.’ Verse 15 says, ‘Therefore they ARE before the throne of God, and SERVE Him day and night in His temple.’ This cannot be happening in heaven, as the last part of the verse says that God ‘WILL dwell among them.’ If this passage described a situation in heaven, God would ALREADY dwell among them. [In addition, God the Father will only dwell among them and all of His (by then) immortal Spirit-born sons and daughters when He comes down from a new heaven to a new earth, long AFTER the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment, compare Revelation 21:1-3].
“The passage conveys, however, that those of the great multitude, who had to go through the Great Tribulation to become spiritually clean, will from that time on serve God daily in His temple — the Church, a spiritual organism, the bride of Christ. We are today the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 2:21). But we are not in heaven.”
The conclusion that the great multitude is not pictured as being in heaven, is shared by The New Unger’s Bible Handbook, stating:
“They are apparently unglorified people on the earth, envisioned as ‘saved’ and therefore seen ‘before the throne and in front of the Lamb… they have experienced unparalleled suffering in the Great Tribulation… having been brought to salvation by the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom…”
In conclusion, the great multitude consists of people from all nations who will be ALIVE when the Great Tribulation begins. They will come to conversion during the Great Tribulation and before the Day of the Lord. They will be protected from the plagues of the wrath of God and they will become worthy to STAND before the Son of Man, when He appears. Sadly, they will have to suffer much before they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, obtain forgiveness of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who hear God’s message today should respond at once to be spared from the terrible times to come upon this world in a VERY few years from now.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link