A Great Crowd Before Jehovah’s Throne
1. (a) Before either pre-Christian servants of God or the 144,000 receive their reward, what must they experience? (b) But what will be possible for a great crowd who are living when the “great tribulation” strikes?
ALTHOUGH faithful servants of God from Abel to John the Baptizer put the doing of God’s will first in their lives, they all had to die and wait for a resurrection. The 144,000 who will be with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom must also die before they can receive their reward. In contrast, the apostle John was shown in vision that there would be a great crowd that would actually survive the “great tribulation” and, without dying, have the prospect of living forever.—Rev. 7:9-17.
Identifying the “Great Crowd”
2. What led up to a clear understanding of the identity of the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9?
2 For centuries the identity of this “great crowd” was not understood. But the progressive understanding of related prophecies prepared the way. In 1923 it was discerned that the “sheep” of Jesus’ parable at Matthew 25:31-46 and the “other sheep” to which he referred at John 10:16 were persons now living who would have opportunity to dwell forever here on earth. In 1931 the ones described in Ezekiel 9:1-11 as being marked in their foreheads by the man with the secretary’s inkhorn were identified with the “sheep” of Matthew chapter 25. Then, in 1935, the “great multitude,” or “great crowd,” of Revelation 7:9-17 was seen to be the same as the “sheep” of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats. Although back in 1923 it was realized that some such sheeplike individuals had already begun to manifest themselves, it was not until 1935 that their numbers began to grow rapidly. Today there are literally millions who are seeking to be identified as part of that divinely favored “great crowd” of the “other sheep.”
3. Why does their “standing before the throne” not mean that they are a heavenly class?
3 Those of the “great crowd” are distinguished from the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel, referred to earlier in the same chapter of Revelation. In his vision John did not see this “great crowd” as being in heaven. Their “standing before the throne” (Greek: e·noʹpi·on tou throʹnou, “in sight of the throne”) of God does not require that they be in heaven. Their position is simply “in sight” of God, who tells us that from heaven he beholds the sons of men. (Rev. 7:9; Ps. 11:4; compare Psalm 100:1, 2, also Luke 1:74, 75 and Acts 10:33, Kingdom Interlinear.) Likewise, it is not necessary for “all the nations” to be in heaven for them to be before the throne of Christ (literally, “in front of him”), as described at Matthew 25:31, 32. The fact that the “great crowd, which no man was able to number,” is not a heavenly class is shown by comparison with Revelation 7:4-8 and Re 14:1-4, where the specific number of those taken from the earth to be in heaven is revealed.
4. (a) What is the “great tribulation” that they survive? (b) As stated at Revelation 7:11, 12, who observe the “great crowd” and share with them in worship?
4 In identifying the “great crowd,” John writes: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation.” What they survive will be, indeed, the greatest tribulation ever experienced on earth. (Rev. 7:13, 14; Matt. 24:21) Survivors of that fear-inspiring day of Jehovah will have no doubt as to who is responsible for their deliverance. When they thankfully attribute their salvation to God and to the Lamb, then, as John saw in vision, all the faithful creatures in heaven will unite their voices with them in worship of the only true God, saying: “Amen! The blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”—Rev. 7:11, 12.
Tested as to Worthiness of Survival
5. (a) How can we determine what is required in order to be part of the “great crowd” that will be preserved? (b) By answering the questions at the end of this paragraph, explain what is required to survive the “great tribulation.”
5 The preservation of the “great crowd” takes place in harmony with Jehovah’s own righteous standards. Clear indications of the identifying traits of those who will be delivered are embodied in the Bible’s prophetic references to them. Thus it is possible for lovers of righteousness to act now with a view to surviving. We have already referred to the scriptures that follow. But now analyze them carefully, with the help of the additional texts cited, and consider what you must do in order to fit these prophetic descriptions.
“Other sheep” referred to at John 10:16
What does it mean for a person really to listen to Jesus’ voice? (John 10:27; Matt. 9:9; Eph. 4:17-24)
How can we show that we acknowledge Christ as our “one shepherd”? (Matt. 23:10, 11)
“Sheep” in Jesus’ illustration of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46)
Who are the “brothers” of Christ to whom these do good? (Heb. 2:10, 11; 3:1)
Under what difficult circumstances are they called on to identify themselves with Christ’s brothers on earth? And in what work do they give loyal assistance? (Rev. 12:12, 17; Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20)
Persons marked for survival by the man with the secretary’s inkhorn (Ezek. 9:1-11)
How do they show that they are not in harmony with the detestable things done in antitypical Jerusalem, or Christendom? (Rev. 18:4, 5)
What is included in the “mark” that differentiates them from pretending Christians and puts them in line for preservation? (1 Pet. 3:21; Matt. 7:21-27; John 13:35)
6. How does John’s description of the “great crowd” help us to understand why they were preserved?
6 The description of the “great crowd” as found at Revelation 7:9-15 adds further important details. In telling us how those of the “great crowd” appear after the “great tribulation,” the Scriptures also draw attention to factors that led to their being preserved.
7. What did they do before the “great tribulation,” and how is this suggested?
7 Though they come from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, they are shown unitedly “standing before the throne,” giving recognition to Jehovah, the One seated on the throne, as the Universal Sovereign. They have proved by their way of life that they are loyal upholders of his rulership. The fact that they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” indicates that they have recognized their need of the sin-atoning merit of Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb of God. (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2) In faith they have dedicated themselves to God on the basis of that sacrifice, have symbolized this by water immersion and now enjoy a clean standing before God, as pictured by their white robes. They have not held back from publicly making known their faith in God’s Son. (Matt. 10:32, 33) Consistent with all of this, they are shown as being in God’s temple, or universal house of worship, as worshipers who render to God “sacred service day and night.” Thus they have made a record as loyal supporters of true worship and proclaimers of his Kingdom.—Isa. 2:2, 3.
8. For this information to benefit us, what must we do?
8 Do the details of these prophetic pictures fit you? Are there ways in which you need to bring your life more fully into line with what is here described? If so, now is the time to do it!
Living in a Spiritual Paradise
9. How does John describe spiritual blessings enjoyed by the “great crowd” even now?
9 Are you one who hopes to survive as part of the “great crowd”? If you have conformed to Jehovah’s righteous ways, then you are no doubt already beginning to enjoy the promised conditions that have appropriately been termed a spiritual paradise. The apostle John was told: “They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:16, 17) How has this proved true in your case?
10. (a) In a spiritual sense how is it true that the “great crowd” “hunger no more nor thirst anymore”? (b) Have you experienced this?
10 Before coming under the loving care of the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, were you hungering and thirsting for righteousness? (Compare Matthew 5:6.) If so, what you craved was something that could be provided only by Jehovah through his Son. When you learned about Jehovah’s righteous ways—his purpose to destroy the wicked, yet his undeserved kindness in making possible salvation for the offspring of Adam—then, no doubt, for the first time in your life you felt truly content. Spiritual food and drink from God’s Word, as served through his organization, have continued to bring you satisfaction. (Isa. 65:13, 14) And if you have dedicated yourself to God through Christ you now have a real purpose in life. (Compare John 4:32-34.) Before you is the joyful prospect of eternal life on a Paradise earth, because the Lamb “will guide [the “great crowd”] to fountains of waters of life.”
11. (a) In what way is it true that ‘neither the sun nor any scorching heat beats down upon them anymore’? (b) How important is that to you?
11 As trusting “sheep,” those of the “great crowd” are also protected and safely guided by the Fine Shepherd. That is why, figuratively speaking, ‘neither the sun nor any scorching heat beats down upon them anymore.’ This does not mean that, as one of the “great crowd,” you will suffer no persecution from the world. Rather, it signifies that you are safeguarded from the scorching heat of God’s own displeasure. And when he rains down divine destruction on the wicked, it will not bring you to ruin. This favored relationship can continue forever.—Ezek. 38:22, 23; compare Psalms 11:6; 85:3, 4.
12. How have tears been wiped out of your eyes even now?
12 What wonderful reasons for joy are yours if you truly are one of that “great crowd”! You have the marvelous hope of seeing the wicked completely removed and then having your own mind and body actually freed of all the effects of sin. But even now the grief experienced by people because they are ignorant of God does not afflict you. You are beginning to know the joy that belongs only to the people whose God is Jehovah. (Ps. 144:15b) In this way you are already beginning to experience fulfillment of the promise: “God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”
13. What will add to the joys of the spiritual paradise as Christ’s millennial reign progresses?
13 Even as the “great crowd” will survive the end of this system of things, so will the spiritual paradise. If you are one of them, then you will continue to enjoy a spiritual feast of fat things as the millennial reign of Christ progresses. Your knowledge of God himself will deepen as you see his unfailing purpose come to glorious realization. Your joy will be enhanced as you share in welcoming back a growing multitude from the dead to be united with you in true worship. And the physical blessings that are then provided will be especially precious to all loyal servants of God as they are seen to be expressions of the love of Jehovah himself.—Isa. 25:6-9; Jas. 1:17.
● With what extraordinary event does the Bible associate the “great crowd,” and how?
● If we really want to be included in that divinely favored “great crowd,” what must we do now?
● How important to you are the blessings of the spiritual paradise?