Revelation 7:9-17


The sixth chapter of Revelation describes the Lamb's opening of the six of the seven seals.  Here we have frightening judgments of God: the first is the white horse which represents either the Antichrist or perhaps some successful military power.  The second is the red horse, murder and death.  The third is the black horse which represents famine and scarcity on earth.  The fourth is the pale horse, widespread death on earth.  The fifth is the cry of the martyrs.  And the sixth depicts cosmic disturbances which cause universal panic among men.

The seventh chapter opens with a brief description of four angels, evidently Satan's agents, whose intention it is to do universal harm on the earth.  But another angel, who has the seal of the living God on him, prohibits the evil angels from doing harm until the total number of God's elect is sealed.  This introduces the first of the two visions in chapter seven.

In the first vision, verses 4 to 8, we are told about God's elect in the Church Militant.  They are described as 144,000 people under the figure of the twelve tribes of Israel.  It is clear from text and context that the writer is speaking about the total number of the elect among both Jews and Gentiles.

This is followed by the second vision, verses 9 to 17, the multitude of the great white host surrounding the throne of God in heaven.

Chapter seven is one of the most important sections in the Book of Revelation.  Saints in all ages need daily assurance of life everlasting in heaven.  They so easily lose their courage and convictions.

Swete: Perhaps no passage in Apocalypse has had so wide an influence on popular eschatology.
Very likely millions have received refreshment from this wonderful passage.  it is suggested that, if this text be used for the sermon, the hymn entitled  "Behold a Host, Arrayed in White" (The Lutheran Hymnal #656, Lutheran Worship #192)  be used as the sermon hymn.

Verses 4-8 remind us of Jesus' Word at John 10:27-28:  "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand."  And verses 9-17 remind us of His words at John 14:2-3:  "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

It is a great host so large that no one is able to number it.  That is said from man's point of view.  In verse 4 we were told that the number was 144,000.  That was said from God's point of view.

Kittel: From the standpoint of the divine this sealing is a marking of all the members of the people, of the people in it entirety, as belonging to God, as God's possession.  Hence this seal keeps them through the terrible events of the end time.
God's elect come from all parts of the world.  Note that they are standing.  They do so in honor of God and the Lamb.  The word  "white"  denotes purity, the righteousness of Christ.

This passage may be a reference to the Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:33-44, especially verse 40:  "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days."

Franzmann: The palm branches borne by those who kept the Feast of Booths when Israel, the year's work done, gave thanks for the ingathered harvest and recalled the hard but blessed days of her wanderings in the wilderness.
The Concordia Bible with Notes:  The innumerable great multitude is the same as the numbered tribes of Israel, seen from another point of view.  While the 144,000 stresses the certainty of God's elective purpose, the innumerable multitude expresses the overwhelming greatness of His ultimate triumph.
Lenski: The whole New Testament Era and its church are here compressed into one vision, and the glorified church into its complementary vision.  The sealing has, indeed, been done on earth; that is why this host is now in heaven.
Mounce: Without doubt verses 9 through 17 is one of the most exalted portrayals of the heavenly state to be found anywhere in Scripture.  The lyric prose of verses 15-17 is charged with a spiritual excitement that has caused the faithful of all ages to yearn for that final redemption.  As God promised Abraham, they are in number as the stars of heaven, Genesis 15:5, and the sand of the sea, Genesis 32:12.  Those who went out to meet Jesus as he rode toward Jerusalem on the day of the triumphal entry carried palm branches.
Kretzmann: Here is the antitype of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Christian Church in the vestments of victory, ready to celebrate the joyous festival of the final entrance into glory.

Revelation 7:10 And they cried out in a loud voice:  "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."

On earth their songs were often weak but not now.  Note that there is no other salvation.  This reminds us of the truth found in Acts 4:12.  TEV translates:  "Our salvation comes from God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!"  Beck:  "We are saved by our God who sits on the throne and by the Lamb."  What they confess is in keeping with the first commandment.

Franzmann: 'Salvation,' victorious deliverance from a desperate situation by the vertical miracle of God's help, Exodus 14:13-14, has no human author, Psalm 3:8.
Lenski says this is full and complete salvation from sin, death, and damnation.
Mounce: It is deliverance from everything which stands over against the blessedness portrayed in verses 15-17.  It is salvation from sin and all its dire consequences.

To our God and to the Lamb, we owe our salvation!

Revelation 7:11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

Andreas: Behold one church of angels and men!
Old Concordia Bible with Notes:  'Worshiped' in view of the wondrous manifestation of God in the salvation of His people.
Mounce: If there is 'joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents' Luke 15:10, how unbelievably great will be the joyful adoration of the heavenly host when ALL the redeemed stand before their God!
Kretzmann: When the praise of God is sung, the angels cannot remain silent.  As they praise the Lord before the opening of the seals, so their voices are raised in glorious harmony now that the fate of mankind has been unfolded.
Note how total their adoration: they stood, they fell on their faces, they worshiped God.  Why?  Because of the redemption of mankind.  We are in the presence of the gracious Deliverer Who rules forever and eternally protects those whom He caused to overcome in great affliction.

Revelation 7:12 saying:  "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"

This is the only instance in the New Testament of a prayer beginning and ending with  "Amen."

Swete: The ascription is sevenfold, as in 5:12, but it does not exactly agree with any of the previous doxologies, although each of its features has occurred in one or more of them.  As in 5:12, each word is emphasized by the article.
Lenski: All the ascriptions refer to the 'salvation' mentioned in verse 10.  'To our God' in no way excludes the Lamb as we see in 5:12.

Both these observations are apt and important.  God is to be blessed because He saved man.  God is to be praised because He saved man.  God's wisdom shows itself especially in the Gospel.  God deserves special thanks for His salvation.  He deserves honor.  He used and still uses His power and might in the interest of the church.  No wonder we have two  "Amen!" And the Lamb shares equally in all this adoration of the angels.

Mounce: The two 'Amens' are liturgical, prefacing and concluding the angelic doxology.  The repetition of the article before each attribute tends to heighten its meaning. . . Six of the seven attributes occur in an earlier doxology, 5:12, but in a totally different order.  'Thanksgiving' in 7:12 replaces 'riches' in 5:12. Blessing is that spontaneous act of thanks which men utter when they realize more vividly than ever before their happiness.  Glory is the radiance of the divine person.  In this context wisdom is the divine knowledge God exhibited in his plan of redemption, look at Ephesians 3:19.  Thanksgiving is the appropriate response for salvation, and honor is public acknowledgement.  If power is God's ability to act, might is his redemptive presence in the events of history.  This ascription of praise is apparently directed both to God and the Lamb, although the latter is not specifically mentioned here, compare verses 12, 14, 17.

Revelation 7:13 Then one of the elders asked me,  "These in white robes -- who are they, and where did they come from?"

Franzmann: Of all the visions recorded in the Revelation to John only two receive a detailed explanation, the present one of the great white-robed multitude and that of 'the judgement of the great harlot,' Babylon in 17:1-18.
Swete: An Elder intervenes, as in 5:5, to interpret the vision.  The Elder anticipates the questions which the Seer was ready to put.  He asks in order to teach.  The vision was not a mere spectacular display, but a revelation; and its points must not be missed.

Revelation 7:14 I answered,  "Sir, you know."  And he said,  "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The Living Bible capitalizes thus:  "The Great Tribulation."  Chiliasts and millennialists do this in the interest of their false teaching.  They limit  "tribulation"  to the very last times.

Lenski: Chiliasts and futurists usually spell this expression with capitals 'the Great Tribulation' in order the more to make this refer to the terrible time yet to come.  They point to Daniel 12:1, as though this settles the matter, but especially to Matthew 24:21-28, which plainly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. 'Great' gathers up all of it.  In Acts 14:22 the word 'many' spreads out the great multitude of tribulations.  We do not understand how anyone can refer this 'great multitude' to the martyrs of the last days and can connect their martyrdom with the antichrist who is assigned only to the last days.  The washing in this blood removes all sin and all stain and thus renders clean, white, and holy.  Blood is red, yet the Lamb's blood whitens.  The blessed wash and whiten themselves when the Lord cleanses them.  On the cleansing power of this blood note Hebrews 9:14 and 1 John 1:7-9.  Here on earth our robes still become stained, John 13:10, and need constant cleansing, 1 John 1:9, in heaven they will remain white in holiness forever.
Rienecker: The idea of making robes white by washing them in blood is a striking paradox.

Perhaps the TEV gives a millennialistic translation:  "These are the people who have come safely through the great persecution."  The fact that this substantival participle is present tense forbids us to limit it to the last times of the world.  Note that most translations correctly translate  "the"  before  "tribulation."  Why the definite article?  Because he is speaking about the specific tribulation experienced by Christians.  For them, though it was often bitter, it was actually a blessing in disguise.  The KJV omits the article:  "These are they which came out of great tribulation."  Beck offers a thought provoking rendition:  "They are the people who have come through great suffering."  Good.  In every age throughout New Testament history Christians have comforted themselves with this verse.

Franzmann: They have come victorious out of the great tribulation foretold by Daniel 12:1, a prophecy reiterated by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:21.
Lenski notes that Matthew 24:21 plainly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.  But the destruction of Jerusalem and the deliverance of believers at that time are applicable as warning and comfort to believers in all generations.
Swete: The Great Tribulation is the superlatively great crisis of trial through which all must pass, 3:10, and from which the servants of God alone emerge unscathed.  The present vision, which anticipates the issue of the final judgement, represents the latter as already delivered out of the evil to come.

Revelation 7:15 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 spread his tent over them.

They stand in the very presence of God, before God's throne, because they are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.  In verse 10 we were told that the saints in glory confess God's and the Lamb's salvation.  Here we are told that they serve Him. Confession and service summarize the life of the Christian.  It also applies in the Kingdom of glory.

There is no day and night in heaven, Revelation 22:5.

Lenski: This expression is used because here below changes of day and night affect us; there they shall no longer be so.

"In His temple"  means  "in His presence"  and has the added idea of temple-service typically spoken of in the Old Testament.  All Christians are priests who serve in God's temple.

Mounce: The promise that God shall spread his tabernacle over them would evoke memories of the tabernacle in the wilderness, Leviticus 26, the pillar of cloud and of fire, Exodus 13:21-22, and the Shekinah glory, the radiance of God's presence in the midst of his people, see Exodus 40:34-38 and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.  It is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise that God will dwell in the midst of his people, Ezekiel 37:27 and Zechariah 2:10.
Kretzmann: The presence of God will overshadow the elect in heaven, in order to be united with them in intimate fellowship and to satisfy them with the rich gifts of His house, Psalm 36:9 and Isaiah 49:10
Franzmann: They stand where angels stand, compare 8:2, before the throne of God, and they serve Him in His temple.
Swete: In the last part of verse 15 John now passes from the present tense to the future.  The vision becomes a prediction.
Lenski: What the church does so imperfectly in its earthly sanctuaries shall there be done in supreme perfection.
Christianity is not for lazy people.  As in this life, so in the one to come, ceaseless confession and service will occur.

Revelation 7:16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

This verse is quoted from Isaiah 49:10.  These words were originally a promise of God to the children of Israel returning from the Babylonian Captivity.  The language and through of the Old Testament, always a major influence in Revelation, are especially prominent here.  Look at Isaiah 49:9-10; Psalm 121:6; Ezekiel 34:23; Psalm 23; Isaiah 25:8.

Lenski: The imagery here used recalls the hardships and the sufferings of the Israelites on their desert journey.  This is a picture of the long, great tribulation.  Hunger, thirst, sun, and heat symbolize all the hardships, trials, afflictions, pains, weariness, etc., of the faithful.  The future tenses portray what ever awaits the blessed.
Mounce: The promise goes beyond physical privation.  It points to that ultimate satisfaction of the soul's deepest longing for spiritual wholeness. John 6:25; 4:14; 7:37.
In this list it is impossible to avoid the curse which sin brought upon mankind, Genesis 3:16-19.  But in the life to come the redeemed will endure no more evils of any kind.

Revelation 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." 

The Old Testament language and thought are continued.  Note the importance of  "for"  which could be translated  "because."  All this is possible because of Jesus, the Lamb of God.  This phrase stresses the divinity of Jesus.  And more.  The attributes of the divine nature are now fully used by the human nature.

Two metaphors are mixed here.  The Lamb becomes an active shepherd.

Various translations:  "Springs of living water."   "Living fountains of waters."  "Springs of the water of life."

Lenski: Compare 22:1. All that 'life' means, the very essence of life shall be ours in heavenly riches.  This Lamb is the Life, John 14:6.  But even in heaven all the blessed are dependent on the Lamb for life.
Mounce: As God has led in the past, so will he lead in the future.  As a fresh-water spring in a semi-arid land would be to a shepherd and his thirsty flock, so will be the eternal presence of God to redeemed man in his longing for spiritual wholeness.

Look at Isaiah 25:8.

Franzmann: God Himself, having swallowed up death forever, will wipe away all tears from their eyes.

The metaphor reminds one of a parent comforting a weeping child.  And the words remind us of Matthew 5:4:  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Swete: The whole of the episode 7:9-17 finds echoes in the last two chapters of the book, where the climax here anticipated is fully described.
Mounce: Christ is pictured as the good shepherd, John 10:1-30; 21:15-17; compare 1 John 3:16 and John 10:11.  The metaphor builds on the Old Testament picture of God as the shepherd of Israel.  Such passages as Psalm 23:1 and Isaiah 40:11 speak of the gentle care and daily provision of the ancient shepherd.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 110-115. Used with permission.

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