A Great Crowd of True Worshipers—From Where Have They Come?
“Look! a great crowd, . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”—REVELATION 7:9.
1. Why are the prophetic visions in Revelation of great interest to us today?
TOWARD the end of the first century C.E., the apostle John saw visions of marvelous events in connection with Jehovah’s purpose. Some of the things that he saw in vision are being fulfilled right now. Others are due to be fulfilled in the immediate future. All of these revolve around the dramatic culmination of Jehovah’s grand purpose to sanctify his name before all creation. (Ezekiel 38:23; Revelation 4:11; 5:13) Moreover, they involve the life prospects of each one of us. How is that so?
2. (a) What did the apostle John see in his fourth vision? (b) What questions regarding this vision are we going to consider?
2 In the fourth of the series of Revelation visions, John saw angels holding back winds of destruction until “the slaves of our God” are sealed in their foreheads. Then he saw a most exciting development—“a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” united in worshiping Jehovah and honoring his Son. These, John was told, were people who would come out of the great tribulation. (Revelation 7:1-17) Who are the ones described as “slaves of our God”? And who will make up the “great crowd” of tribulation survivors? Will you be one of them?
Who Are “the Slaves of Our God”?
3. (a) At John 10:1-18, how did Jesus illustrate his relationship to his followers? (b) What did Jesus make possible for his sheep by means of his sacrificial death?
3 About four months before his death, Jesus spoke of himself as “the fine shepherd” and his followers as “sheep” for whom he would lay down his life. He made special mention of sheep found by him within a figurative sheepfold and thereafter given special care by him. (John 10:1-18)* Lovingly, Jesus did surrender his soul in behalf of his sheep, providing the ransom price that was needed in order for them to be freed from sin and death.
4. Who are the first ones collected as sheep in line with what Jesus here said?
4 Before doing that, however, Jesus as the Fine Shepherd personally gathered disciples. The first ones were introduced to him by John the Baptist, the “doorkeeper” of Jesus’ illustration. Jesus was looking for people who would respond to the opportunity to become part of the composite ‘seed of Abraham.’ (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16, 29) He cultivated in their hearts appreciation for the Kingdom of the heavens, and he assured them that he was going to prepare a place for them in the house of his heavenly Father. (Matthew 13:44-46; John 14:2, 3) Fittingly he said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it.” (Matthew 11:12) These who followed him so as to attain that goal proved to be within the sheepfold of which Jesus spoke.
5. (a) Who are “the slaves of our God” referred to at Revelation 7:3-8? (b) What shows that many more would join in worship with the spiritual Israelites?
5 At Revelation 7:3-8, those who successfully press forward toward that heavenly goal are also referred to as “the slaves of our God.” (See 1 Peter 2:9, 16.) Are the 144,000 there mentioned only natural Jews? Are those within the figurative sheepfold of Jesus’ illustration only Jews? Definitely not; they are members of the spiritual Israel of God, all of them associates with Christ in the spiritual seed of Abraham. (Galatians 3:28, 29; 6:16; Revelation 14:1, 3) The time would eventually come, of course, when the fixed number would be filled. Then what? As the Bible had foretold, others—a great crowd of them—would join with these spiritual Israelites in worshiping Jehovah.—Zechariah 8:23.
The “Other Sheep”—Are They Gentile Christians?
6. To what development does John 10:16 point?
6 After mentioning one sheepfold at John 10:7-15, Jesus brought another group into the picture, saying: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Who are those “other sheep”?
7, 8. (a) Why is the idea that the other sheep are Gentile Christians built on a wrong premise? (b) What facts regarding God’s purpose for the earth should have a bearing on our understanding of who the other sheep are?
7 Christendom’s commentators generally take the view that these other sheep are Gentile Christians and that those in the sheepfold referred to earlier are Jewish, those who were under the Law covenant, and that both groups go to heaven. But Jesus was born a Jew and was by birth under the Law covenant. (Galatians 4:4) Furthermore, those who view the other sheep as Gentile Christians who will be rewarded with heavenly life are failing to take into account an important aspect of God’s purpose. When Jehovah created the first humans and put them in the garden of Eden, he made it clear that his purpose was that the earth be populated, that all of it be a paradise, and that its human caretakers enjoy life forever—on the condition that they respect and obey their Creator.—Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17; Isaiah 45:18.
8 When Adam sinned, Jehovah’s purpose was not thwarted. God lovingly made provision for Adam’s offspring to have the opportunity to enjoy what Adam had failed to appreciate. Jehovah foretold that he would raise up a deliverer, a seed, through whom blessings would be made available to all nations. (Genesis 3:15; 22:18) That promise did not mean that all good people on earth would be taken to heaven. Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:9, 10) Not long before he spoke the illustration recorded at John 10:1-16, Jesus had told his disciples that it was only to a “little flock” that his Father had approved of giving the heavenly Kingdom. (Luke 12:32, 33) So when we read Jesus’ illustration of himself as the Fine Shepherd who surrenders his soul in behalf of his sheep, it would be a mistake to exclude from the picture the majority of those whom Jesus brings under his loving care, the ones who become earthly subjects of his heavenly Kingdom.—John 3:16.
9. As early as 1884, what did the Bible Students understand the identity of the other sheep to be?
9 As early as 1884, the Watch Tower identified the other sheep as being people who would be given opportunity to live on this earth under conditions that would fulfill God’s original purpose. Those early Bible Students realized that some of these other sheep would be people who had lived and died before Jesus’ earthly ministry. There were, however, some details that they did not understand correctly. For example, they thought that the gathering of the other sheep would take place after all the anointed ones had received their heavenly reward. Still, they did definitely realize that the other sheep were not simply Gentile Christians. The opportunity to become one of the other sheep is open to both Jews and Gentiles, to people of all nations and races.—Compare Acts 10:34, 35.
10. In order for us to be those whom Jesus really views as his other sheep, what must be true of us?
10 To fit the description given by Jesus, the other sheep must be people who, regardless of racial or ethnic background, recognize Jesus Christ as the Fine Shepherd. What does that include? They must manifest meekness and a willingness to be led, which qualities are characteristic of sheep. (Psalm 37:11) As is true of the little flock, they must “know [the fine shepherd’s] voice” and not allow themselves to be led off by others who may seek to influence them. (John 10:4; 2 John 9, 10) They must appreciate the importance of what Jesus did in surrendering his soul in behalf of his sheep and exercise full faith in that provision. (Acts 4:12) They must “listen” to the voice of the Fine Shepherd when he urges them to render sacred service only to Jehovah, to keep on seeking first the Kingdom, to keep separate from the world, and to show self-sacrificing love for one another. (Matthew 4:10; 6:31-33; John 15:12, 13, 19) Do you fit that description of those whom Jesus views as his other sheep? Do you want to? What a precious relationship opens up to all who truly become Jesus’ other sheep!
Respect for Kingdom Authority
11. (a) In the sign of his presence, what did Jesus say about the sheep and the goats? (b) Who are the brothers to whom Jesus refers?
11 Several months after he gave the above illustration, Jesus was again in Jerusalem. When seated on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple area, he provided his disciples with details of ‘the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.’ (Matthew 24:3) He again spoke of the gathering of sheep. Among other things, he said: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.” In this parable, Jesus showed that those thus given attention by the King would be judged on the basis of how they dealt with his “brothers.” (Matthew 25:31-46) Who are these brothers? They are spirit-begotten Christians who are therefore “God’s sons.” Jesus is God’s firstborn Son. Hence, they are Christ’s brothers. They are “the slaves of our God” mentioned at Revelation 7:3, the ones chosen from among humankind to share with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom.—Romans 8:14-17.
12. Why is the way that people deal with Christ’s brothers of great importance?
12 The way in which other humans deal with these heirs of the Kingdom is of vital importance. Do you view them as Jesus Christ does and as Jehovah does? (Matthew 24:45-47; 2 Thessalonians 2:13) A person’s attitude toward these anointed ones reflects his attitude toward Jesus Christ himself and toward his Father, the Universal Sovereign.—Matthew 10:40; 25:34-46.
13. To what extent did the Bible Students in 1884 understand the parable of the sheep and the goats?
13 In its issue of August 1884, the Watch Tower correctly pointed out that the “sheep” in this parable are ones who would have set before them the prospect of perfect life on earth. It was also understood that the parable must have application when Christ is ruling from his glorious heavenly throne. Yet, at that time they did not clearly discern when he would begin the separating work there described or how long it would last.
14. How did a convention discourse in 1923 help the Bible Students to appreciate when Jesus’ prophetic parable was to be fulfilled?
14 However, in 1923, in a convention discourse, J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, clarified the time for the fulfillment of the parable of the sheep and the goats. Why? In part, because the parable shows that the King’s brothers—at least some of them—would still be on earth. Among humans, only his spirit-begotten followers could truly be called his brothers. (Hebrews 2:10-12) These would not be on earth throughout the Millennium, affording opportunity for people to do good to them in the ways that Jesus described.—Revelation 20:6.
15. (a) What developments helped the Bible Students to identify correctly the sheep of Jesus’ parable? (b) How have the sheep given evidence of their appreciation for the Kingdom?
15 In that discourse in 1923, an effort was made to identify those who fit the Lord’s description of the sheep and of the goats, but other matters needed to be understood before the full import of the parable would be clear. During the following years, Jehovah progressively drew these important details to the attention of his servants. These included clearly understanding, in 1927, that “the faithful and discreet slave” is the entire body of spirit-anointed Christians on earth; also appreciating, in 1932, the need to identify oneself fearlessly with Jehovah’s anointed servants, as Jonadab did with Jehu. (Matthew 24:45; 2 Kings 10:15) At that time, on the basis of Revelation 22:17, these sheeplike ones were specifically encouraged to share in taking the Kingdom message to others. Their appreciation for the Messianic Kingdom would move them not merely to extend humanitarian kindness to the Lord’s anointed ones but to dedicate their lives to Jehovah through Christ and to become closely associated with his anointed ones, sharing zealously in the work that they are doing. Are you doing that? To those who do, the King will say: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.” Before them will be the grand prospect of everlasting life in perfection in the earthly realm of the Kingdom.—Matthew 25:34, 46.
The “Great Crowd”—Where Are They Going?
16. (a) What misconceptions did the early Bible Students have regarding the identity of the great multitude, or great crowd, of Revelation 7:9? (b) When and on what basis was their view corrected?
16 For a time Jehovah’s servants believed that the great multitude (or, great crowd) of Revelation 7:9, 10 was different from the other sheep of John 10:16 and the sheep of Matthew 25:33. Because the Bible says that they are “standing before the throne,” it was thought that they would be in heaven, not on thrones, ruling as joint heirs with Christ, but in a secondary place in front of the throne. They were viewed as less faithful Christians, ones who did not show a spirit of true self-sacrifice. In 1935 that view was corrected.* An examination of Revelation 7:9 in the light of texts such as Matthew 25:31, 32 made it clear that people here on earth could be “before the throne.” Also it was pointed out that God does not have two standards of faithfulness. All who would have his approval must maintain integrity to him.—Matthew 22:37, 38; Luke 16:10.
17, 18. (a) What accounts for the great increase, since 1935, in the number of those looking forward to eternal life on earth? (b) In what vital work are those of the great crowd zealously sharing?
17 For many years Jehovah’s people had talked about God’s promises regarding the earth. Because of what they expected to occur back in the 1920’s, they proclaimed that “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” But there were not millions who embraced God’s provisions for life at that time. In the majority who did accept the truth, holy spirit engendered the hope of heavenly life. Especially after 1935, however, a marked change took place. It was not that The Watchtower had ignored the hope of eternal life on earth. For decades Jehovah’s servants had talked about this and had looked for those who fit the Bible’s description. In Jehovah’s due time, though, he saw to it that these manifested themselves.
18 The available records show that for many years most Memorial attenders partook of the emblems. But within 25 years after 1935, the attendance at the annual Memorial of Christ’s death soared to over one hundred times the number of those who were partaking. Who were these others? Prospective members of the great crowd. Clearly, Jehovah’s time had come to gather them and to prepare them for surviving the great tribulation just ahead. As foretold, they have come “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Revelation 7:9) They are zealously sharing in the work that Jesus foretold when he said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:14.
The Watchtower, August 1 and 15, 1935.
What Is Your Comment?
□ Why is the vision in Revelation chapter 7 of special interest?
□ Why are the other sheep of John 10:16 not limited to Gentile Christians?
□ What must be true of those who fit the Bible’s description of the other sheep?
□ How does the parable of the sheep and the goats highlight respect for Kingdom authority?
□ What shows when Jehovah’s time came to gather the great crowd of Revelation 7:9?