Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 16 - The Great Multitude (7:9-17)

There can be little doubt that the palm-bearing multitude and the 144,000 who are sealed are one and the same community. The evidence on this is fairly strong. But before it is detailed one obvious objection must be considered: How can the same assembly of people be represented by (a) a precise number of 144,000, and also by (b) a “great multitude which no man could number?” Isn’t this the plainest of all points of distinction?

This numbering is not an ordinary numbering. Reference to Exodus 30 is necessary. “When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them” (Exodus 30:12). And twice it is added that this half-shekel payment is “an atonement for your souls.” In this sense the redeemed of Revelation 7 are a “multitude which no man could number”; for no man could “give a ransom unto the Lord” for them, no man can “make atonement for their souls,” because no man “can by any means redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49: 7); also, these were “numbered,” that is “ransomed,” already - by the blood of Christ.[30]


And now to identify this great multitude with the 144,000:

It is important to observe that John did not see the 144,000; he only heard of their sealing. And then immediately he beheld the great multitude.

The vision of the 144,000 is repeated later (ch. 14), but throughout the book there is no further mention of the great multitude.

The details of ch. 14:1-5 are such as make certain the identification proposed here. What is written in ch. 14 of the 144,000 is the same as that written in ch. 7 of the multitude.

Chapter 14: The 144,000
Chapter 7: The Great Multitude

1. With the Lamb (v. 1).
Before the Lamb (v. 9).

2. Before the throne (v. 3).
Before the throne (v. 9).

3. They sung a new song (v. 3)
They cried: “Salvation to our God, and unto the Lamb” (v. 10).

4. No man could learn that song (v. 3).
(Cp. Revelation 2:17.)

5. Redeemed from the earth (v. 3).
Which no man could “number;” i.e. ransom or redeem (v. 9).

6. These follow the Lamb (v. 4).
The Lamb shall be their shepherd (v. 17 R.V.).

7. They are without fault (blemish) before the throne of God (v. 5).
These have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (v. 14).

This correspondence is virtually decisive.

(d)         The two sections of chapter 7 are bound together by a detailed series of allusions to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt at Passover and to the ensuing wilderness journey:

v. 3
The sealing of the 144,000 with the name of God. Cp. the sign of the blood on the doorposts and lintel.

v. 4
The twelve tribes of Israel.

v. 9
“Palms in their hands.” The allusion is to the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23: 40), which celebrated the wilderness wandering.

v. 9
The great multitude. Cp. the mixed multitude[31], which left Egypt (Ex. 12: 38)?

v. 14
“These came out of the great tribulation” - Egyptian bondage.

v. 14
“The blood of the Lamb” - the Paschal Lamb.

v. 15 R.V.
“He that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them” - the Tabernacle in the wilderness, or (just possibly) the canopy of the pillar of cloud (Psalm 105 :39).

v. 16
“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more” - manna, and water from the smitten rock, in the wilderness.

v. 17 R.V.
“The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall lead them”- the blood sprinkled ark going before to guide Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 10:33; Psalm 80:1).

Details of this kind afford strong presumptive evidence that, throughout the chapter is speaking of the same class of people and not of two different groups.


To what time should this vision of the palm-bearing multitude be referred? The answer suggested by a number of details is that the vision describes the saints shortly before their appearing before Christ in the day of glory. Behind them are the disciplines and trials of life in the world. Before them are the ineffable spiritual joys of the life everlasting. Evidence for this:

1. The parallels between Revelation 6, 7 and the Olivet Prophecy include:

Revelation 7:9, 11, 16,17
Matthew 25:31, 32, 37

A great multitude out of all nations.
Before him shall be gathered all nations.

Before the throne, and before the Lamb.
Then shall he sit on the throne of his glory, and before him ...

All the angels round about the throne.
All the holy angels with him.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.
I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat ... thirsty, and ye gave me drink.

The Lamb shall be their shepherd.
As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.

To these may be added v. 10: “Salvation (Hosanna) to our God” and v. 9: “palms in their hands” with their echoes of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem - which, as already mentioned, was itself a “dress rehearsal” of the Second Coming (see Zechariah 9:9-11).

2. The tenses in v. 14-17 are significant. “These are they which are coming out of the great tribulation ... they did wash their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb ... they are before the throne of God and they are serving him day and night ... he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger and thirst no more ... the Lamb shall be their shepherd, and shall lead them ... God shall wipe away all tears.”

Their sanctification (through baptism) is past; their service is continuing from the past into the future; their deliverance is now about to take place; and their blessings of immortality all lie before them.

In particular, the words: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (quoted from Isaiah 25:8) can be read only as a figurative description of the matchless experience when, once and for all, this corruptible puts on incorruption.

Nearly all the details of the description of the palm-bearing multitude are of special interest. These can now be considered point by point.

“In the multitude of the people is the king’s honour” (Proverbs 14:28). Then what shall be said of the King whose people no man can number? Here are the fruits of God’s olive tree, including those of the wild olive, which, “contrary to nature,” has been grafted in. So Paul writes: “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel (whether Jew or Gentile) shall be saved” (Romans 11: 25, 26).


Their doxology begins and ends with Amen to emphasize that what was promised is now about to be realized. It is identical with that of the angels, (ch. 5:13), save that here each separate word has the definite article, as though in an attempt to enumerate with separate and distinct emphasis all the wealth of blessing which the redeemed can now enjoy through the loving kindness of their God. There is actually a change of one word, “thanksgiving” being substituted for “riches.” In all respects the saints are now equal to the angels, save in this - that they have grounds for thanksgiving to God such as no immortal angels can ever know, for are they not even now being finally redeemed from the overpowering ever-present curse of sin and death?


These blessed ones are described as “coming out of the great tribulation.” The primary reference is, doubtless, to the escape of faithful Christians from doomed Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The identical Greek word is used in Moses’ prophecy of the horrors of that time (Deuteronomy 28:53, 55 LXX, where the A.V. has “straitness”). “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).

But other ideas crowd in. If weight be given to the figure, already worked out in much detail, of a wilderness journey, this “great tribulation” is the counterpart in the life of God’s people to Egyptian bondage. There can be little doubt what that is.

The parallel with the Olivet Prophecy, also demonstrated earlier, provides a further impressive idea. In the Last Days, Jesus asserts, for his saints there will be a special deliverance from tribulation: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days ... shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven ... and he shall send his angels ... and they shall gather together his elect” (Matthew 24:29-31. See Chapter 15 - The Hundred and Forty-four Thousand (ch. 7) on this).


“They washed their robes, and made them white in (or, possibly, by means of) the blood of the Lamb.” The figure is one of the most graphic used in Scripture - scarlet sins washed away by the blood of sacrifice (Isaiah 1:18). In Jacob’s prophecy concerning Judah, the Messiah is described as “binding his (Gentile) foal unto the (Jewish) vine.” The prophecy then indicates how this Messiah from Judah shares in the redemption he has provided for his people: “he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:11). At the other end of the Book, John enunciates it explicitly: “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin” (l John 1:7). It is a salvation for all who will have it, whether it be a David, king of Israel, sinful but penitent (Psalm 51:7), or a Gentile new-born by faith into the commonwealth of Israel (Acts 15:9 R.V.). All such find a place in the Lamb’s multitudinous Bride who through the merits of the Bridegroom is “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

It is not improbable that this profound passage in Revelation 7 is the basis of yet another allusion made in Hebrews to the Apocalypse: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God cleanse (7:14) your conscience from dead works to serve (7:15) the living God (the God of the Living Creatures)” (Hebrews 9: 14).


“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.” The word “temple” here is riot to be taken as implying a building in the normal sense of the term, for - even apart from the normal symbolism of the passage - the idea of a tabernacle is used in the next verse (R.V.). This “temple” is the inner sanctuary, corresponding to the Holy of Holies. The saints have access there through the blood of Christ because in his death the veil (Christ’s human nature) was rent in twain. Thus the saints are now presented before the throne of God (which is above the Cherubim and the ark of the covenant) and there they serve as priests “day and night.” This last phrase alludes to the morning and evening sacrifice, which symbolized the formal consecration of national Israel to the service of their God (Exodus 30:8; 1 Chronicles 9:33). It is this which Paul had in mind when he spoke of “our twelve tribes instantly serving God day and night” (Acts 26: 7), a service which was but a dim type of a fuller finer service offered by the true spiritual “Israel of God.”


The prophecy continues in terms of the Feast of Tabernacles: “he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them.” Quite a number of the other details chime in with this. There is the allusion to the palm branches, the cry of “Salvation” (Hosanna), and in the mention of “living fountains of waters” a reference to the ceremonial water-pouring, which at Tabernacles reminded Israel of the Smitten Rock (John 7:37, 38).

The spreading of God’s canopy over His people in the wilderness is celebrated by the Psalmist: “He spread a cloud for a covering: and a fire to give light in the night” (Psalm 105:39). The same blessing is promised in even greater fulness in the age to come: “And I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezekiel 37:26b, 27). Is it this which Paul speaks of, when - in allusion to the weakness of his own mortality - he says: “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may spread a tabernacle over me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 R.V.m)?


The promise to these redeemed is: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (7:16, 17).

Several of these phrases are derived - with what appropriateness - from a wonderful Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 49. The entire chapter should be studied. It travels in a comprehensive sweep from Jesus in Gethsemane, contemplating his life’s work and effort apparently in ruins, to the glorious climax when he is able to rejoice in a vast multitude called out from Israel and the Gentiles to experience the marvels of God’s gracious salvation.

In the words: “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more,” is to be recognized the fulfilment of all that the Manna and the Smitten Rock foreshadowed in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:3, 4) - the fulfilment also of Christ’s own promise: “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Those hungering and thirsting after righteousness find full satisfaction at last. It is an appropriate return from him whom, all unknowing, they fed when he was hungry and to whom they gave the cup of cold water when he was athirst (Matthew 25:35 and 10:42).

An interesting idea emerges from the words: “neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.” This word “heat” (in Isaiah 35:7: “parched ground”) Gesenius dogmatically translates: “mirage.” There is marvellous appropriateness about this. The mirage of an oasis or pool leads the weary thirsty traveller on in hope. In the same way an anticipation of the nearness of the return of the Lord has buoyed up many a weary traveller to the Kingdom. What seemed so near in time has proved in fact to be remote. Many who thought to live to see the Kingdom established have gone to their sleep, some to a long, long sleep, but this prophecy in Revelation assures the faithful that the day surely comes when mirage will give place to reality, and faith to sight. And to make the assurance all the more emphatic, the phrase is introduced by a double negative: “no, never shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.”


Instead, “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd.” This astonishing paradox of a Lamb being a Shepherd also has its roots in Israel’s wilderness journey. It is the figure of God’s people being guided to the end of their wilderness wandering by the blood-sprinkled ark and cherubim leading the host through the trackless desert: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:33, 34; cp. Psalm 80:1).

The figure is continued by Jesus himself: “When he (the Good Shepherd) putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:4). And in the day when “David my servant shall be king over them, they all shall have one shepherd” (Ezekiel 37:24). But by contrast the angel of Death shall be the shepherd of those who are in honour and yet understand not the way of God (Psalm 49: 14 R.V., 20).

The thirst and the hardship of a life of weariness in a spiritual desert is to culminate in the most longed for of all satisfactions: “the Lamb shall lead them unto fountains of waters of life.” When Israel reached the end of their toilsome journey to the Land of Promise, the water from a Smitten Rock was no longer necessary, for now as soon as they were within their own promised borders, they experienced the joy of a new and permanent and abundant supply. “Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it: the (twelve) princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver” (Numbers 21: 17, 18).

This type also Jesus appropriated to himself: “the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). God will wipe away (literally: anoint out) all tears from their eyes.[32] He will do it through the abundant gift of his Holy Spirit in the day of resurrection - “the oil of joy for mourning” - as these words from Isaiah 25: 8 abundantly prove, for does not Paul apply the same passage to the Day of Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:54)?

[30] Yet another line of thought is suggested by Psalm 40:5 and its context, where God’s “wonderful works to usward” are assuredly His fashioning of new rnen in Christ out of old men in Adam (cp. Psalm 145:4-10).
[31] This mixed multitude must have been believing Gentiles, who for some time before the deliverance identified themselves with Israel (note Exodus 9:20, 21) by accepting circumcision and who at the last kept the Passover as Israelites (Exodus 12: 48).
[32] The Hebrew for “eyes” also means “fountains”!
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