A Multitudinous Great Crowd
1. After describing the sealing of the 144,000, what other group does John see?
HAVING described the sealing of the 144,000, John goes on to report one of the most exciting revelations in all Scripture. His heart must have leaped with joy as he reported it, saying: “After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9) Yes, the holding back of the four winds allows for the salvation of another group besides the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel: a multilanguage, international great crowd.*—Revelation 7:1.
2. How have worldly commentators explained the great crowd, and how did even the Bible Students in the past view this group?
2 Worldly commentators have interpreted this great crowd to be fleshly non-Jews converted to Christianity or to be heaven-bound Christian martyrs. Even the Bible Students in the past regarded them as a secondary heavenly class, as noted in 1886 in Volume I of Studies in the Scriptures, The Divine Plan of the Ages: “They lose the prize of the throne and the divine nature, but will finally reach birth as spirit beings of an order lower than the divine nature. Though these are truly consecrated, they are overcome by the worldly spirit to such an extent that they fail to render their lives in sacrifice.” And as late as 1930, the thought was expressed in Light, Book One: “Those who make up this great crowd fail to respond to the invitation to become the zealous witnesses for the Lord.” They were described as a self-righteous group that had a knowledge of the truth but did little about preaching it. They were to get to heaven as a secondary class that would not share in reigning with Christ.
3. (a) What hope was held out to certain righthearted ones who later became zealous in the preaching work? (b) How did The Watch Tower in 1923 explain the parable of the sheep and the goats?
3 There were, however, other associates of the anointed Christians who later became most zealous in the preaching work. They had no aspirations of going to heaven. Indeed, their hope was in line with the title of a public talk featured by Jehovah’s people from 1918 to 1922. Originally, this was “The World Has Ended—Millions Now Living Will Never Die.”* Soon thereafter, the Watch Tower magazine of October 15, 1923, explained Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), stating: “Sheep represent all the peoples of the nations, not spirit-begotten but disposed toward righteousness, who mentally acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord and who are looking for and hoping for a better time under his reign.”
4. How did the light regarding the earthly class become brighter in 1931? in 1932? in 1934?
4 Some years later, in 1931, Vindication, Book One, discussed Ezekiel chapter 9, identifying those persons marked on the forehead for preservation at the world’s end as the sheep of the above parable. Vindication, Book Three, released in 1932, described the upright heart attitude of the non-Israelite man Jehonadab, who joined Israel’s anointed King Jehu in his chariot and went along to see Jehu’s zeal in executing false religionists. (2 Kings 10:15-17) The book commented: “Jehonadab represented or foreshadowed that class of people now on the earth during the time that the Jehu work [of declaring Jehovah’s judgments] is in progress who are of good will, are out of harmony with Satan’s organization, who take their stand on the side of righteousness, and are the ones whom the Lord will preserve during the time of Armageddon, take them through that trouble, and give them everlasting life on the earth. These constitute the ‘sheep’ class.” In 1934 The Watchtower made it clear that these Christians with earthly hopes should make a dedication to Jehovah and be baptized. The light regarding this earthly class was shining ever brighter.—Proverbs 4:18.
5. (a) What identification of the great crowd was made in 1935? (b) When J. F. Rutherford in 1935 asked conventioners who had the hope of living forever on earth to stand up, what happened?
5 The understanding of Revelation 7:9-17 was now about to burst forth in all its sparkling brilliance! (Psalm 97:11) The Watchtower magazine had repeatedly expressed the hope that a convention scheduled for May 30 to June 3, 1935, in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., would be “a real comfort and benefit” to those pictured by Jehonadab. That it proved to be! In a stirring talk on “The Great Multitude,” delivered to about 20,000 conventioners, J. F. Rutherford, who at that time took the lead in the worldwide preaching work, gave Scriptural proof that the modern-day other sheep are identical with that great crowd of Revelation 7:9. At the climax of this talk, the speaker asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” As a large part of the audience stood up, the speaker declared: “Behold! The great multitude!” There was a hush, followed by thunderous cheering. How elated was the John class—and also the Jehonadab group! On the following day, 840 new Witnesses were baptized, most of these professing to be of that great crowd.
Confirming the Identity of the Great Crowd
6. (a) Why can we clearly understand that the great crowd is the modern-day group of dedicated Christians who hope to live forever on earth? (b) What do the white robes of the great crowd symbolize?
6 How can we state so positively that the great crowd is this modern-day group of dedicated Christians who hope to live forever on God’s earth? Previously, John had seen in vision the heavenly group “bought . . . for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9, 10) The great crowd have a similar origin but a different destiny. Unlike the Israel of God, their number is not predetermined. No man can tell in advance how many there will be. Their robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb, symbolizing that they have a righteous standing before Jehovah by virtue of their faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. (Revelation 7:14) And they are waving palm branches, hailing Messiah as their King.
7, 8. (a) The waving of palm branches doubtless reminded the apostle John of what events? (b) What is the significance of the fact that those of the great crowd are waving palm branches?
7 As he looks on in this vision, John’s thoughts must be taking him back more than 60 years to Jesus’ last week on earth. On Nisan 9, 33 C.E., when the crowds flocked to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, they “took the branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. And they began to shout: ‘Save, we pray you! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name, even the king of Israel!’” (John 12:12, 13) In like fashion, the waving of palm branches and crying out on the part of the great crowd shows their unbridled joy in accepting Jesus as Jehovah’s appointed King.
8 Doubtless, the palm branches and exulting cries also remind John of the ancient Israelite Festival of Booths. For this festival Jehovah commanded: “And you must take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, the fronds of palm trees and the boughs of branchy trees and poplars of the torrent valley, and you must rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days.” The palm branches were used as a mark of rejoicing. The temporary booths were a reminder that Jehovah had saved his people out of Egypt, to live in tents in the wilderness. “The alien resident and the fatherless boy and the widow” shared in this festival. All Israel were to “become nothing but joyful.”—Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.
9. In what joyful cry do the great crowd join?
9 It is fitting, then, that the great crowd, though no part of spiritual Israel, should wave palm branches, since they joyfully and gratefully ascribe the victory and salvation to God and to the Lamb, as John here observes: “And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:10) Although they have been separated out of all ethnic groups, the great crowd cry out with just that one “loud voice.” How can they do this, despite their diversity of nations and languages?
10. How can the great crowd cry out unitedly with one “loud voice” despite the diversity of nations and languages?
10 This great crowd is part of the only truly united multinational organization on earth today. They do not have different standards for different countries but apply the Bible’s right principles consistently wherever they live. They are not involved in nationalistic, revolutionary movements but have truly ‘beaten swords into plowshares.’ (Isaiah 2:4) They are not divided into sects or denominations, so that they shout confused or mutually contradictory messages as do the religions of Christendom; nor do they leave it to a professional clergy class to do their praising for them. They do not cry out that they owe salvation to the holy spirit, for they are not servants of a trinitarian god. In some 200 geographical territories around the earth, they are at one in calling upon the name of Jehovah as they speak the one pure language of truth. (Zephaniah 3:9) Properly, they publicly acknowledge that their salvation comes from Jehovah, the God of salvation, through Jesus Christ, His Chief Agent of salvation.—Psalm 3:8; Hebrews 2:10.
11. How has modern technology helped those of the great crowd to render their loud voice even louder?
11 Modern technology has helped to make the loud voice of the united great crowd sound even louder. No other religious group on earth has need of publishing Bible study aids in more than 400 languages, since no other group is interested in reaching all peoples of earth with one united message. As a further aid in this, under the supervision of the anointed Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System (MEPS) was developed. At the time of this printing, various forms of MEPS are used in more than 125 locations around the earth, and this has helped to make possible publication of the semimonthly journal, The Watchtower, in over 130 languages simultaneously. Jehovah’s people also simultaneously publish books, such as this one, in a number of languages. Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, of whom the great crowd make up the vast majority, are able yearly to distribute hundreds of millions of publications in all the better-known languages, enabling additional throngs out of all tribes and tongues to study God’s Word and join their voices to the loud voice of the great crowd.—Isaiah 42:10, 12.
In Heaven or on Earth?
12, 13. In what way is the great crowd “standing before the throne and before the Lamb”?
12 How do we know that “standing before the throne” does not mean that the great crowd is in heaven? There is much clear evidence on this point. For example, the Greek word here translated “before” (e·noʹpi·on) literally means “in [the] sight [of]” and is used several times of humans on earth who are “before” or “in the sight of” Jehovah. (1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:14; Romans 14:22; Galatians 1:20) On one occasion when the Israelites were in the wilderness, Moses said to Aaron: “Say to the entire assembly of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before Jehovah, because he has heard your murmurings.’” (Exodus 16:9) The Israelites did not have to be transported to heaven in order to stand before Jehovah on that occasion. (Compare Leviticus 24:8.) Rather, right there in the wilderness they stood in Jehovah’s view, and his attention was on them.
13 Additionally, we read: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory . . . all the nations will be gathered before him.”* The whole human race will not be in heaven when this prophecy is fulfilled. Certainly, those who “depart into everlasting cutting-off” will not be in heaven. (Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46) Instead, mankind stands on earth in Jesus’ view, and he turns his attention to judging them. Similarly, the great crowd is “before the throne and before the Lamb” in that it stands in the view of Jehovah and his King, Christ Jesus, from whom it receives a favorable judgment.
14. (a) Who are described as being “round about the throne” and “upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion”? (b) Though the great crowd serve God “in his temple,” why does this not make them a priestly class?
14 The 24 elders and the anointed group of 144,000 are described as being “round about the throne” of Jehovah and “upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion.” (Revelation 4:4; 14:1) The great crowd is not a priestly class and does not attain to that exalted position. True, it is later described at Revelation 7:15 as serving God “in his temple.” But this temple does not refer to the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy. Rather, it is the earthly courtyard of God’s spiritual temple. The Greek word na·osʹ, here translated “temple,” often conveys the broad sense of the entire edifice erected for Jehovah’s worship. Today, this is a spiritual structure that embraces both heaven and earth.—Compare Matthew 26:61; 27:5, 39, 40; Mark 15:29, 30; John 2:19-21, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
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