The Multitude before the Throne
This first interlude of Revelation consists of two visions. The first we discussed yesterday—the 144,000—who are sealed by the angels as God’s own people. These are all believers in Christ Jesus who live through that time described in the first six seals—in other words, all of Church history from our Lord’s ascension to his return. These are the pilgrims scattered all over the world throughout the centuries, but who are just passing through (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:9-12; Hebrews 11:16).
Now John sees a second vision. This one is “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” And as they shout, the angels, elders, and cherubim fall down and worship. But “who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come,” the angel asks John. John pleads his ignorance, so the angel answers, “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.”
I agree with those who see these as the same believers who make up the 144,000, only from the viewpoint of heaven. In other words, the first vision is of the redeemed passing through their exile in this world; the second vision is of their victory and reward in the next. Some may object that the words, “the great tribulation,” refer to a special period of tribulation at the end of time, but I see no reason for such a limit. There have been such times before now. The first three-hundred years saw incredible persecution of Christians under Rome. The early Anabaptists were crushed in sixteenth-century Europe. Millions of Christians have suffered brutally under Communist and Muslim regimes.
But beside these are the humble, run-of-the-mill, Christians who seek to follow Christ every day. Each day, this world meets us with trials and temptations, and every day, we must be about killing sin and living to God. Christ said that we must take up the cross and follow him every day. The Christian life is a life of testimony, which is to say a life of martyrdom, for that is what the martyr does: He testifies to the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and are ready to give theirs. And for this, the 144,000 will finally make it home.