At the conclusion of the 13th installment of this series, we ended by saying that Jesus warned the disciples, and by extension all of us, that the end of the age would come with a sudden, unexpected, cataclysmic destruction. The Sixth Seal and all events connected to it certainly fit the description Jesus warned about. 

As we look at Revelation 7, we first find a description in verses 1-8 of a group of 144,000 ‘mysterious’ people that are specially set apart by God for His purposes during the first half of the Apocalypse. I referred to these 144,000 as ‘mysterious’, though Revelation 7 is quite clear that these are Jews, represented by 12,000 from each of the 12 Jewish tribes.  While this group is not a mystery to Bible readers, there have been many religious organizations that have made claims that these special people belong to their particular organization — the Jehovah’s Witnesses probably being the most notorious. There have also been others that may not be so well known. On one occasion when I was pastoring a church, on the day of our monthly potluck, two young people dropped in. They had not attended the regular service but walked in afterward. They were dressed in what looked like rough sheets, more like gunny sacks than anything. When I went to speak with them, asking where they were from, they told me they were evangelists for their Messiah. When I asked who their Messiah was, they said his name was Jesus Christ Lightning Amen. As they told me their story, I learned that Mr. Amen had spent time in the deserts of California and, while meditating during his fast, had been given the names of all 144,000 witnesses. The young man and woman standing before me claimed to be two of them. I won’t go into the rest of the conversation, but suffice it to say, since they were not Jews, they were not part of the 144,000 evangelists of Revelation 7.

The second half of Revelation 7, starting at verse 9 reads like this:

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne, and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” 14 And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   Revelation 7:9-17

So that we can get a feel for where we are on the chronological line, let’s review what has happened up to this point?

  • Jesus has opened the first four seals; also, the first four horses of the apocalypse and their spirit riders have been released to their task, starting in the first century until the present. Rev 6:1-8 
  • By this time, the full number of Gentiles will have been brought into the new covenant. Romans 11:25 
  • The murder of the final pre-Sixth Seal believers will have been completed, completing the full number of martyrs to be found under the altar before the throne of God prior to God’s judgment upon the earth. Revelation 6:11
  • The resurrection of the dead in Christ will have been accomplished and both the dead and the living at the time of the Rapture will have been transformed from mortal to immortal. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, Isaiah 26:19-20, Philippians 3:20-21
  • The Sixth Seal events, including a massive shaking of the earth causing a shift of all mountains and islands as well as the frightful signs in the cosmos, and possible magnetic or crustal pole shift will have happened. Revelation 6:12-17
  • The sight of the heavens being rolled back and the separating of the veil between our 3-dimensional world and God’s Throne Room with the Almighty God on His Throne and the Lamb of God, Jesus, standing at His side, brings a declaration from the people of the earth that the arrival of the Day of the Lord’s Wrath has come. The blood of the innocents will now be avenged and a wicked Christ-rejecting world will be judged.

The Identity of the Multitude

A question arises: Who are these that are gathered at the Throne of God in the passage above? I personally have held the opinion, although not obstinately, that this multitude came out of the Great Tribulation. After studying commentaries of a number of Bible scholars, I have altered my view and I will explain below. And, in case there are those who might wonder if it really matters, yes, I believe it really does! 

There are really only two options as to who they are. They are either: 1. A massive multitude of saints that have come out of the Great Tribulation having been martyred for their faith; or, 2. They represent all of the righteous up to the opening of the Sixth Seal. After much study, the second option makes the most sense and I will attempt to show why.

The enormous multitude of martyrs before the Throne in Revelation 7 is not found anywhere else in the Book of Revelation. They are described as coming from nations, tribes, people, and languages; their number is much too large to be made up solely of the martyrs coming out of the 7 years of The Great Tribulation (Apocalypse) mentioned in Revelation 20:4. The martyrs of the Church Age, those Raptured along with the dead in Christ as well as those living at the time, are not the same as those who are slain for their faith during the Apocalypse because they would not worship the Beast. These post-Rapture martyrs are resurrected after Jesus returns in Revelation 19.

….I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  Revelation 20:4

Distinguishing these martyrs already in God’s presence in Revelation 7, from the martyrs of the time of the Apocalypse in Revelation 15:2, we find this description of the final tribulation martyrs:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.  Revelation 15:2

Several questions are answered in this verse: 1. How did those in this people group die? They were beheaded by refusing the Antichrist’s demand to take the mark of the beast. 2. What is their resurrection status as opposed to the Revelation 7 multitude? They are not yet resurrected, and won’t be until Jesus returns to earth to set up His millennial kingdom, as we find in Revelation 20:4.

There are other contrasts between the two groups as well: 

  • The chapter 7 group is described as enormous, in fact, so large that no man could number them — which means beyond the ability of you and I to imagine.  
  • For the tribulation martyrs standing on the sea of glass, no description or number is given. 
  • It makes no sense that Jesus would show John the same group twice, once before the Beast (or Antichrist) is revealed and then again after the revealing.
  • In our reading of Revelation chapters 4-7, this is the only reference to an enormous innumerable multitude of people in Heaven that is made up of all the nations of the earth, which could be identified with the resurrected and caught-up group of believers. 
  • The conclusion must be that they are two separate groups. 

Did this great multitude come out of “great tribulations,” or “The Great Tribulation?” 

There is a controversy surrounding this question and it seems the source of this controversy is because of a phrase in Revelation 7:14. I’ll add verse 13 so we catch the context. 

13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” 14 And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “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.”

In an excellent book by author David W. Lowe, “Then His Voice Shook The Earth”, he discusses the controversial phrase. 

“This verse has caused a great deal of confusion with respect to the chronological flow of Revelation chapter 4-7. The traditional interpretation is that this enormous group of people is seen in soul-state under the altar during the opening of the fifth seal where each one is given a white robe, then in Revelation chapter 7, the group is seen before the throne. Still in their white robes, which they had to make white by enduring the beast, his image, and his mark, they came out of “the great tribulation.” In order for this idea to be viable, the chronology of Revelation is “fast-forwarded,” so to speak, such that this Revelation chapter 7 group is said to be killed by the beast, and then come out of the great tribulation. This even before the beast and his image are introduced within the Revelation chronology. In my view, this interpretation leaves much to be desired and is inconsistent with the basic chronology of the visions of Revelation.”

Much of the controversy regarding the “great” tribulation is centered on the use of the Greek word “thlipsis.” There are many Scriptures in which “thlipsis” is used. Some examples are: Revelation 2:22, Acts 7:11, 2 Corinthians 1:8, Matthew 24:9, John 16:21, 2 Corinthians 8:13, Acts 11:19. The word is translated into a variety of English words, examples being: tribulation, affliction, trouble, afflicted, anguish, burdened, and persecution. Whereas one Greek word is used, several English words were used by the translators. How did the translators decide which one to use? Let’s look at some examples.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  Matthew 24:21

Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance.  Acts 7:11

For in those days there will be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.  Mark 13:19

In the three examples above, “thlipsis” is used. Yet, “great tribulation” could just as easily be the “great affliction,” or “great burden,” great trouble,” or “great anguish.” Matthew 24:21 and Mark 13:19 are parallel Scriptures, giving the same exact details about the very same segment of time. Why was “great tribulation” used in the Matthew verse while in the parallel Mark passage “affliction” is used in the King James Version, “tribulation” in the New King James Version, “anguish” in the New Living Testament, “days of distress” in the New International Version, and “suffering” in the New English Translation. I could probably have found more if I had continued my search. The point becomes rather obvious, because the word “thlipsis” is used in numerous Scriptures and a number of English words are used in many of the passages, much confusion is caused when we try to determine exactly what time period is being referred to with the word. 

Author David W. Lowe adds his commentary: 

“Bible commentators after the Protestant Reformation agreed that “tes thlipseos tes megales” of Revelation 7 probably refers not to a particular time of trouble, but to great trial and anguish experienced during the life of every faithful member of the body of Christ, which anguish will be left behind. In his ‘Notes on the Bible’ for Revelation 7:14, Albert Barnes noted, “The word rendered ‘tribulation’ — “thlipsis” is a word of general character, meaning ‘affliction,’ though perhaps there is here an allusion to persecution. The sense, however, would be better expressed by the phrase ‘great trials’. John Wesley agreed that the massive group before the throne must be all the righteous since the beginning of the world when he wrote in his ‘Explanatory Notes’ for Revelation 7:14, “…as all the angels appear here, so do all the souls of the righteous who had lived from the beginning of the world.” 

The point is, when translators rendered “thlipsis” as “the great tribulation,” readers will usually attribute this to the time period of the Apocalypse. I believe it’s worth taking a second look at what is being referred to in Revelation 7:14. No human, including we as Christ-followers, are exempted from the afflictions of life in this fallen world and the suffering it can bring. When we walk in God’s ways, we will often run into opposition, sometimes actual persecution. The light of God’s truth exposes the dark works of the Evil One, but here is Jesus’ promise:

These things have I spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.  Matthew 16:33

The promised peace comes from the fact that the Holy Spirit resides within the believer. And yet, we find Jesus saying these words in Matthew 24:8-9:

8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 

Here tribulation is chosen to translate the word “thlipsis” though other translations use affliction, persecution, tribulation, or oppression. It is true, followers of Jesus have suffered great affliction, persecution, tribulation, and oppression over the past 2,000 years of Church history. No one knows how many followers of Jesus have been martyred since the first Christian martyr, Stephen was stoned to death, but it is in the tens of millions, if not more. It has been said that there have been more Christians murdered for their faith since the beginning of the 20th century than all the previous centuries combined. We are certainly in the days of the beginning of sorrows. The birth pangs in our current time, however, are swiftly becoming much more intense and frequent. 

All of the original apostles were martyred for their faith with the exception of John — although it wasn’t because the Roman Emperor didn’t try. John was put into a pot of boiling oil but God didn’t let him die. John’s tasks had not yet been completed. The Apostle Paul also went through great persecutions and tribulations, and eventually was beheaded at the order of the Roman Emperor. True believers and followers of Jesus are well aware of the narrow road that leads to eternal life. Jesus referred to this narrow road:

13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it; 14 because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Matthew 7:13-14 

Jesus made it very clear that the narrow path leads to life and the broad path to eternal destruction. That narrow path goes right through Jesus Christ. There is no wiggle room. There are religious leaders all around the world that say that there are many ways to God. Not so! Is this narrow-minded? Absolutely! Might this explain why the multitude before God’s Throne in Revelation 7 is described as those who have come out of “great tribulation,” or “tes thlipseus tes megales”, as it is in the Greek New Testament? Instead of this group having come out of “The Great Tribulation” or the Apocalypse, I believe this is a description of those who have lived their lives, taking the difficult narrow road which leads to and through the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. The suffering of life under the evil god of this world has been the trial and tribulation that has defined the Church Age since the Day of Pentecost. The Apostles Peter and John wrote about this in the New Testament:

But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.  1 Peter 4:7

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.   1 John 2:18   

Anguish…like childbirth

Jesus told His disciples that the sorrow and hardships they were going to experience is like the pain and anguish a woman goes through in childbirth. 

21 A woman when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.  John 16:21-22

The Apostle Paul also made an interesting reference to the pain and suffering of life in this fallen world. He put it in these words:

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  Romans 8:22-23

When does the end of the “groaning” come? At the “redemption of our bodies” — the resurrection of the righteous dead. The “groaning” will also come to an end for the remnant of true followers of Jesus when God’s great trumpet voice calls us into His presence at the Rapture — the great catching away. Until then, we groan in anticipation of this supernatural event. The understanding of this Scripture is solidly confirmed by the prophet Isaiah. God allowed him to foresee the people of God being hidden away for the duration of His judgment of an evil Christ-rejecting world. Isaiah also described the anguish which God’s people will be spared using the metaphor of the pains of childbirth.

17 As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O LORD. 18 We have been with child, we have been in pain; we have, as it were, brought forth wind; we have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.  Isaiah 26:17-18 

Isaiah is describing all of the straining, crying out, and suffering as seeming to be for nothing, fruitless, because it doesn’t bring deliverance to the earth. That is because this is a deliverance only God Himself can bring. 

Isaiah then goes on to describe two events that must happen before God unleashes His judgment upon the earth, thereby avenging the blood of the righteous which has been shed upon the earth: 1. the resurrection of the dead, and 2. the hiding away of all followers of Jesus before God’s judgment begins, and until it is over. 

When we examine the entire passage from verses 17-21, we see that it clearly shows that God’s people first suffer the pains of life in this fallen world but then are removed. Our mortal bodies are instantly changed from mortal to immortal and we are ushered into God’s presence. Those of us who are still alive are even now experiencing the suffering that is associated with the increase of the frequency and pain of the birth pangs which bring about the inevitable “birth.” This is how the last few verses read:

19 Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. 20 Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. 21 For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain.  Isaiah 26:19-21

In summary: As the Scripture passages are carefully examined, the great crowd of people before God’s throne in Revelation 7:9-17 are not martyred believers coming out of the 7 years of “The Great Tribulation” during which God judges the wicked of the earth, but they are rather the righteous from all the ages past and up to the Rapture event itself, including those who were martyred during the Church Age described in the Fifth Seal in Revelation 6:9-11.

At the same time this great multitude of believers is standing before the Throne of Almighty God in Revelation 7, the earth below is left to try to recover from the opening of the Sixth Seal and all the cataclysmic events associated with it. 

The question is often asked if anyone will have the opportunity to come to Jesus for forgiveness during the Great Tribulation? The answer is yes. It will be the task of the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 and the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of Revelation 7:1-8 to proclaim God’s message to the world during the first 42 months of the Apocalypse. God uses them to bring in another massive harvest of souls. Even after their ministry is completed, we find that God sends an angel that preaches the everlasting Gospel to the entire world: every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. God goes to great lengths to bring in as many as will surrender to His authority.

But, it would be colossal foolishness to put off accepting God’s free gift of salvation, thinking that one can always make the decision during the Apocalypse. Almost all who make that decision then will pay for it with their lives, if they haven’t already died from the enormous geologic upheavals, incoming objects from the cosmos, and a plethora of other catastrophes that will come upon the earth. No one should want to be on this earth when these things are unleashed! Jesus warned that the seven years of the Apocalypse will be the worst time people on this earth have ever experienced, or will ever experience. That includes the time of the great flood of Noah. He did not exaggerate, nor does His word ever fail to come to pass. The Day of Salvation is TODAY.   

As we look ahead to Part 15 of this series, we will study one more Seal that must be broken before the judgment of God can begin. The opening of the Seventh Seal is an event containing a mysterious ceremony in the heavenly realm in which the High Priest of Heaven performs a special incense ceremony. The completion of this ceremony brings about a paradigm shift in which there is a blending or cross-over between our 3-dimensional world and the heavenly realm. This will usher in the Trumpet Judgments.

–To Be Continued in Part Fifteen–


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