“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palm branches in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9,10).

Who are the great multitude? Some commentators have identified them as the saved of all ages. However, in verse 14 the angel specifically says that “these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” In the original Greek it reads “the tribulation the great,” in other words, a specific great tribulation, not the general tribulation that has plagued this planet during the entire reign of sin. The great tribulation that is mentioned specifically in the Bible described in Daniel 12:1: “There shall be a time of trouble[1] such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered.” This is the tribulation that occurs just before Jesus comes, the same tribulation that the great multitude comes out of.

Other commentators have considered the great multitude to be the same as the 144,000,[2] with John first hearing a symbolic number (v.4) and then seeing the literal people (v.9).[3] However, from the verses in Chapters 14 and 18 that were considered above, it is obvious that there are two sub-groups of God's people at the very end: God’s people who are in Babylon, who have committed spiritual adultery with her but who are called to come out of her (18:1-4), and the 144,000 who are virgins, having never been in Babylon, who are calling the great multitude to come out of Babylon. The Greek wording used to show their origins[4] also suggests the distinction between the two groups—the 144,000 are sealed from “all the tribes of the children of Israel” (7:4) while the great multitude are “of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues” (7:9).

Although there is a distinction between the two groups at the time the 144,000 give the great appeal to come out of Babylon, this distinction is not permanent. The great multitude will come out of Babylon and will join the 144,000, and together they will stand by faith on the sea of glass before the throne, waiting for the final plagues to finish and for Jesus to come (See Revelation 15: 2-7).

The chapter ends with a reference to the glorious eternal inheritance of those “who come out of the Great Tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14 NKJV). They have suffered hunger, thirst, and the scorching heat of the sun (Revelation 7:16). They have gained “the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name” (Revelation 15:2), and they finally see Him coming whom they have waited for. Just as the multitudes welcomed Jesus with palm branches at His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem (John 12:13), so also the great multitude have “palm branches in their hands” and cry out in triumph, “salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” as they welcome Jesus at His Second Coming.“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God…Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:16,17). And then “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

[1] The same Greek word, thlipsis, is used in both Revelation 7:14 (great tribulation), Daniel 12:1 (time of trouble) and Matthew 24:21 (great tribulation).

[2] See for example, Stefanovic, Ranko, Revelation of Jesus Christ, 2002, (Berrien Springs, MI, Andrews University Press) Pgs. 264-271 “They are not a select group of God’s people separated from the larger body and granted special privileges…in God’s kingdom there are no clans, cliques, or ranks.” This misses the point that within the church of God the various members have a variety of roles, some with various spiritual gifts, others with positions of responsibility such as elders and deacons. The 144,000 are not a heavenly clique, but a group with a special role during the time of trouble. However, once the great multitude has come out of Babylon there will no longer be any differentiation between them and the 144,000. In the resurrection the only special mention is for “those who had been beheaded for their witness” (chapter 20:4).

[3] There are a few instances in which John uses this literary device of introducing something orally and then displaying it visually, most notably in Revelation 1:10-13, 5:5,6, 21:9,10. However, in the majority of cases John either hears something and sees nothing or sees something unrelated. Sometimes he sees first and then hears. The pattern does not seem to be so clear or consistent that it could provide a basis for interpretation (See for example Revelation 4:1, 5:11,13, 8:13, 9:13, 10:4,8, 11:12, 12:10, 14:1,2,13,14, 16:1,5,7, 18:1,4, 19: 1,6, 21:2,3, 22:8.

[4] In both verse 4 and 9 the Greek uses the word ek (out of) and pas (all), but the 144,000 are out of all the tribes of Israel and the Great Multitude are out of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. In other words, the origin of the 144,000 emphasizes limitation (from the tribes of Israel, and not even from all of the tribes) while the origin of the great multitude emphasizes universality.