Thursday, March 9, 2017

Revelation 7:9-17 - The Great Multitude

Many Bible Students believe that the "great multitude" will receive spiritual bodies in heaven in the resurrection. We do not agree with them on this, since we believe the scriptural evidence is overwhelming that the great multitude is depicted as being on earth, not in heaven. The symbolic temple (tabernacle, dwelling) of God comes down to earth and dwells with mankind (Revelation 7:15; 21:1-4), thus the "great multitude", having come out of the great tribulation, are symbolized as serving God in that symbolic temple day and night. The tears are wiped from their eyes, which takes place on the earth, not in heaven. (Revelation 7:17; 21:1-4; Isaiah 25:7,8) Before the throne of God is the earth, God's footstool. -- Isaiah 66:1.

Revelation 19:1

Some point to Revelation 19:1 as proof that the "great multitude" go to heaven. The Bible refers many times to a great multitude, but not every time does it mean the same great multitude mentioned in Revelation 7. However, we have no reason to believe that the great multitude spoken of here does not refer in a general way to the same "great multitude" that eventually comes out of the great tribulation.

Nevertheless, "heaven" itself is most often figurative in the book of Revelation. Bible Students should note that C.T. Russell applied the "great multitude" of Revelation 19:1 as speaking of when Babylon the Great falls, thus he applies the "great multitude" as being on the earth at that time. His words: "We think there is good reason to believe that a considerable number who have made a consecration are still in Babylon. We do not know this, however. We are near to the battle of Armageddon, near the time of the overthrow of Babylon; and we are seeking to give the Message of the truth as wide a circulation as possible, to the intent that this class may hear and come out, even though too late to win the great prize. That they are considerable in number is intimated in the 19th chapter of Revelation, where we are told that when Babylon falls, the number of those released at the time will be a great multitude, that the voices of these will be 'as the voice of many waters'." (Reprints 5411:6) We do not necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, as we do not expect the great multitude to be made manifest until after Satan is abyssed, nor before.
See our study:
The context of Revelation 19:1 shows that this "great multitude", whoever they are, are in this "heaven" when Babylon the Great is destroyed, thus before or at the full end of this age. If "heaven" here refers to the heavens where God's throne is, then to fit this scenario the great multitude would need to be resurrected to a spirit life sometime before the destruction of Babylon the Great, before Satan is abyssed, and Babylon the Great would also evidently have to be in heaven where God's throne is before the end of the age, and where the angels see the face of Yahweh. We find no scriptural support for such ideas. Therefore we conclude that the words "in heaven" refer to their religious standing in the symbolic ecclesiastical heavens, not the heavens where God's throne is.

We conclude that this "great multitude" is pictured as being in the ecclesiastical heavens attributing salvation to their God. This figurative "heaven" -- the political and religious ruling elements of this world that now is -- however, is to pass away. (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:7,12) Brother Russell also said, referring to the great multitude as the "great company": "In the 19th of Revelation this company are spoken of as rejoicing in the fall of Babylon and saying, 'Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him; for the Marriage of the Lamb is come, and His Wife hath made Herself ready.' (Vs.7.)" (The Watch Tower, January 15, 1914, page 19) Nevertheless, these are not being depicted as being in the heavenly realm where God's angels always see the face of God; they are depicted as being here on earth.

Brother Russell did, however, believe that the "great multitude"  (the JWs refer to the great multitude as the "great crowd") would eventually go to heaven, being a "left over" class who did not make it as one of the 144,000. He believed they would be taken to heaven early after or during the great tribulation.

But Brother Russell also believed in a another group that would be consecrating, as he put it, "between the ages", for whom there would be no hope of being of the 144,000. This group he identified with those spoken of in Psalm 107:23-31. Yet, he also believed that there was a possibility that this group would go to heaven after the 1,000-year reign.

This last elect group, however, we believe, is identified as being the same group as the "great multitude" of Revelation 7.  While we believe it may be that they may go to heaven after the 1,000 years rulership, we don't see any scripture, however, that gives any real reason to believe this. Brother Russell presented the possibility that the "camp of the saints" spoken of in Revelation 20:9 represents a last group that will go to heaven after the 1,000 years. The idea is that this "camp" means that they do not have permanent residence on earth, so they must be taken to heaven. While we will say this is a possibility, we don't see enough there to actually say that they will be taken to heaven.

Before the Throne - Revelation 7:9

Some claim that since the "great multitude" are pictured "before the throne", that this means that they will go to heaven. Their being before the throne of God is the picture of their reward. The throne of God is pictured in heaven (Psalm 11:4; 66:1; 103:19; Matthew 5:34; 23:22; Acts 7:49; Hebrews 8:1), but being before the throne does not necessarily mean that those before the throne are in heaven. In Revelation 20:12, we read of dead, great and small standing before the throne; these dead are on the earth, not in heaven. "Before", however, often signifies loyal/disloyal service, in harmony/disharmony with, in the sight of the One on the throne, in a place of judgment by the One on the throne, not an actual physical position. -- Genesis 6:11; 17:1; Exodus 10:3; 23:17; Joshua 24:1; 1 Kings 8:25; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 16:1; 2 Chronicles 6:16; 1 Samuel 2:30; 2 Chronicles 7:17; Psalm 50:8; 68:3; Isaiah 66:2,23; Luke 1:6,8; 24:19; 8:21; Acts 10:4; Romans 14:22; 1 Corinthians 1:29; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Revelation 8:4; 11:4.

We need to remember that the book of Revelation is given in signs -- symbolism. "Heaven" in the book of Revelation is not necessarily speaking of being in the spirit realm, or of having what Paul speaks of as "spiritual bodies". Thus, the great multitude are in the figurative religious heavens as depicted in the book of Revelation. Being "before the throne" does not mean that they have been raised from death with spiritual bodies as opposed to earthly bodies.We believe that the great multitude are indeed those spoken of in the symbolic heaven in Revelation 19:1,6. This "heaven" has been styled the "ecclesiastical" heavens as present here on earth. Thus, the great multitude, having become justified in the blood of Christ, are heard speaking from this heaven, but they are actually here on earth, in physical, not spiritual, bodies. Likewise, being 'before the throne' of God does not signify being with spiritual bodies in the spirit realm or celestial realm. Westcott & Hort's Interlinear gives the expression of Revelation 7:9 in its word-for-word translation as: "having stood in sight [Strong's #1799] of the throne and in sight of the Lamb." Revelation 7:14,15 tells us that the reason they have such a standing before the throne and the Lamb is because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

One should note how Strong's #1799 is used throughout the the New Testament.
http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/enopion.html

That "before" or "in the sight of" is depicting a symbolic standing can be seen from Revelation 3:2:

I have found no works of yours perfected before [in the sight of, Strong's #1799] my God.
Was Jesus saying that those members of the church of Sardis had been rasied from the dead and standing in the presence of God in spirit realm? Absolutely not! Indeed, no one will attain the reward of the spiritual body in whom Jesus has "found no works ... perfected."

Revelation 16:19 -  The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of [Strong's #1799] God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.

What can be said about this verse? Is Babylon the Great in heaven in the sight of God; it should be apparent that the usage is not speaking of a physical location.

Further, let us look at Luke 1:6:

They were both righteous before (Strong's #1799) God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of [Jehovah].

Obviously, this is not saying that Zechariah and Elizabeth were in heaven in the sight of God, but that "in the sight of God" -- from the perspective of God, who call things that are not as though they were -- they were reckoned as "righteous."

If one is still not satisfied, perhaps a study of the verses all through the New Testament might be beneficial.

The Greek word corresponds with the Hebrew Strong's #6440, which also see:
http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/kjv/paniym.html

In Revelation 20:12, the worldly are spoken of as being "before" God. Most Bible Students will tell you that these ones who stand before [in sight of] God in Revelation 20:12 are actually on earth, not before God in heaven.  Likewise, we believe the same is true of the "great multitude".

We, therefore, believe the standing of the great multitude before the throne and before the Lamb signifies their standing as having become justified in the blood of the Lamb. (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 1:18,19; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5) Being typified by the mixed multitude that joined with Israel at the last moment, so to speak, the great multitude are depicted as coming out of the great tribulation at the end of this age. Being justified, they are sons of God as was Adam before Adam disobeyed (Luke 3:38), heirs of God (Romans 8:16,17), as Adam was to inherit the dominion given to him, that is, the earth. In Hebrews, we learn that man has not yet obtained this dominion; Paul tells us why in Romans 5:12-19. -- Genesis 1:26,28; Psalm 8:4-8; Hebrews 2:6-8.

In the Temple - Revelation 7:15

Nor does their service "in the temple" signify that they are in heaven anymore than Paul's reference to the church as the "temple of God" (1 Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 5:16) signifies that the first century believers were in heaven. (See also 2 Thessalonians 2:4.) Those worshiping in the temple in Revelation 11 are not generally thought to be "in heaven", nor does the service of the great multitude "in the temple" give any reason to think that the great multitude are in heaven.

He who sits on the throne, Jehovah, dwells among them (Greek: skeenwsei ep autous, literally, tent upon them). This is similar to what is said in Revelation 21:1-4, which speaks of God's dwelling with men on the earth. In Revelation 21:4, however, the Greek phrase is not completely the same as in Revelation 7:15. The phrase in Revelation 21:4, is "skeenwsei met autwn", literally, he will tent with them. The Greek word "ep", however, is sometimes used to mean among/with, as "in" or "into", not upon, and this is probably what is meant in Revelation 7:15. It could be that the phrase in in Revelation 7:15 shows a closer relationship with Jehovah than the world of mankind in general as expressed in Revelation 21:4, and so they are indeed in closer relationship, since the "great multitude", having been justified and consecrated during the days  the great tribulation, deserve greater recognition than the world of mankind in general.
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* See the King James Version at Matthew 13:7; Luke 18:7; Acts 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 12:7.

Revelation 7:16

They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore. This will be true of all who serve God, whether on earth, or in heaven. However, this is obviously a reference to Isaiah 49:10, which refers to the Millennial kingdom, and of conditions on earth, not in heaven.
Nevertheless, in this life, in this present evil age, it is true that he who fully believes on Jesus will never spiritually hunger or thirst, and yet each one's hunger and thirst for truth is filled in varying degrees, according as he has grown in faith. -- John 6:35.

For the great multitude, however, it implies that before their coming out of the great tribulation, and although they had washed their robes in the Lamb's blood (Revelation 7:14), they will still have things to learn in the age to come, for they had not yet been fully led by the Lamb to the living waters  (Revelation 7:17) -- full knowledge which fully quenches the thirst and hunger for truth. Before Satan's empire is destroyed, indicates that they were still blinded to a great extent by the "sun" of this world, and the vain pursuits of the world. (Ecclesiastes 1:14; 2:11; 4:7; Romans 8:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:10) Such appear to be of the two classes spoken of in Luke 12:47,48.

The sun shall not strike them, nor any heat. The sun of this world is the vain false hope that the crooked condition of man offers in this present evil age. (Ecclesiastes 1:2,3, 13-17; Galatians 1:4) Satan, of course, seeks to attract the consecrated with the cares of this world, and with the false glory of the world, even as he sought to attract Jesus. (Matthew 4:18; 13:22; Mark 4:19;  Luke 21:34; Colossians 2:8; James 4:4; 2 Peter 2:20) After Satan is abyssed so that he cannot deceive the heathen (Revelation 20:1-3), this symbolic sun of vanity is darkened, and taken away, so that the great multitude (and also the world in general) is no longer struck by its symbolic rays and symbolic heat.

The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. This is similar to Revelation 21:6, which refers to those on the earth in the Millennial age. The shepherding of this great multitude after the great tribulation indicates that they did not completely come to the full perfection of faith before the end of Satan's empire was accomplished. (1 Thessalonians 3:10; Hebrews 12:1,2) They will still need to be guided further into truth and perfection.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. This is a reference to Isaiah 25:8: The Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces. Isaiah 25:8 is speaking of conditions on earth, not in heaven, for "the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah has spoken it." Likewise, this expression is also found in Revelation 21:4: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes", which is also speaking of on the earth, not in heaven.
We have been asked the question: "Are you suggesting that the 144,000  are not in heaven as spirit creatures, but on earth?"

If this is meant to ask if we believe that the 144,000 do not receive spiritual bodies in the resurrection, we do indeed believe that they will receive spiritual bodies in the resurrection. If it is meant to ask if we believe that the 144,000 are in heaven when they are sealed out of the twelve tribes, no we do not believe that they are heaven when they are sealed, but rather, that they are still on the earth, and do not receive spiritual bodies until they are raised in the first resurrection.

The question has been asked:
If the great multitude come out of the nations during this present evil age and are an earthly class, in what manner would they be then "called out?" in light of Ephesians 4:4-5?
First, let us note that the scripture does not state that the great multitude are "called out" of the great tribulation. Their calling is the of the same calling as all during the Gospel Age. Those who are called out are called out of, separated from, the world reckonenedly, being justified, and no longer reckoned with the world as "sons of disobedience", "children of wrath." (Ephesians 2:2,3) The initial calling out, separation from the world, does not designate the one called out as already having attained the prize of joint-heirship with Jesus. All who are called out of the world are first placed on the level of being earthly, on the same plane of life as Adam had as a son of God before Adam sinned; afterwards, if they attain the mark of the prize of the high calling, then they are reckoned as being joint-heirs with Christ, and to receive a heavenly, spiritual body, in the resurrection.

There is nothing in Ephesians 4:4,5 that says that all who are called out will receive heavenly, spiritual bodies in the resurrection. Of course, all in this age are called in the one hope of the high calling, but not all attain that reward. It should be self-evident that not many of those who are called out will attain the "prize of our high calling," that is, joint-heirship with Jesus. Paul surely did not intend for this to be read as to meaning that all will have the same reward. Nevertheless, all are being called to reach out for the mark of prize of our high calling, and in this sense one might say that we all have that one hope, regardless of which class they actually end up in. Nor do we mean that all will reach that mark so as to attain that hope; the hope is there, but only a few actually attain the highest reward. Strictly speaking, however, the "one hope of our calling" is in God through Jesus, and Jesus' return, regardless of reward. -- 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3,13.

We have been asked:
Would you be saying that the "church" would then be made up of both "spirit begotten" and also nominal believers?
Our understanding is that no one is of the church class except that they be spirit begotten. Those who are spirit-begotten in general during the centuries of Gospel Age are first made part of the Israel of faith, represented in Revelation 7 as the twelve tribes of Israel. Out of these twelve tribes of the Israel of faith are selected the joint-heirs, represented in Revelation 7 as the 144,000 who stand on the heavenly Zion with the Lamb. (Revelation 14:1) Added to the church toward the end of the age are the great multitude who eventually come out of the great tribulation, and finish their overcoming after the great tribulation. All three classes are the church; all three classes are spirit-begotten.

As far as "nominal" is concerned, it depends on what meaning one gives to the word. If by nominal one means "in name only," none who are Christians "in name only" are part of the church. Such are tares, weeds, that have been planted amongst the wheat, the true Christians, by Satan. However, if by nominal one means "minimal," then all the spirit-begotten who fail to attain the prize of the high calling can be called "nominal" Christians in this sense, in that they maintain a minimal acceptance, but do not "overcome" in this age.

How is that they can be spirit-begotten, if they do not receive spiritual bodies in the resurrection? It has been often assumed that spirit-begotten means to be begotten again as a spirit being rather than as a human being. To begotten again, however, signifies that, in this life, a "seed" has been planted by God, as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:35-37. God give (assigns) that seed a body according to what is sown, whether it be a celestial, spiritual body, or whether it be a terrestrial, physical body. However, that which is assigned to seed is first earthly, terrestrial, and only if the sowing reaches the point of being proven incorruptible in this age, is it assigned the celestial, or spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:45) All must eventually put on incorrution (1 Corinthians 15:53), whether in this age, or in the next age, but only a very few do so in this age. Too many are stuck on the idea that to be spirit-begotten means that one has been begotten to spiritual bodies; the Bible never says this. Indeed, when Jesus was spirit-begotten in the womb of Mary, he was not begotten into a spiritual body, but rather into a physical body. (Matthew 1:20) Jesus, of course, sacrificed his glorious physical body for our sins; he now no longer has a physical body, but is now with a glorious spiritual body.

No one becomes of the church class without being called and begotten of the spirit; such "begettal" does indeed give a new life to a new creation equal to what Adam lost, that is, on the earthly plane. The new creature in this life, however, is not the body that is to be, but rather a bare grain, a seed, that has to die. (1 Corinthians 15:36-38) It will be given a body in the resurrection according to what has been sown. It is up to the new creature then to be cultivated as the grain, so as to attain the prize. One only attains the resurrection of Jesus, attaining the mark, through full sacrifice of what has been initially reckoned, that is, the sinless earthly life, as reckoned through faith in the blood of Jesus. Such demands a full development of perfect love, faith and hope amidst a world of sin. If one does not complete that sacrifice before death, the scriptures seem to indicate that such a new creature simply remains on the earthly plane.

The following studies might be helpful: