The Blood-Washed Multitude
June 3rd, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE BLOOD-WASHED MULTITUDE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-3-62 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the early morning message. I wish all of you who listen on the radio who will not have opportunity to come in the services of the day could be here to see us. For the sign of summer is not the moving of the sun from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, nor the gathering of the swallows in Capistrano, but the sign of summer is when the platform bedecks itself in ice cream popcorn suits and all of us are gloriously washed clean and white. And this certainly fits the sermon of this morning: The Blood-Washed Multitude, which is a reading in the text in the seventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation. And if you would like to follow the sermon, we can easily do so by turning to the Book of the Revelation, chapter 7, and our reading, and the text, is from verses 9 through 17. Revelation 7; and this is the reading of the Word:
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, 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 sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four cherubim, and fell down before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God,
Saying, Amen: The blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honor, and the power, and the might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, Who are these who are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. I do not. And he said to me, These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, who are coming out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
I shall preach several sermons on this vision. The seventh chapter of the book is a parenthesis. The sixth chapter is the opening of the first six seals [Revelation 6:1-17]; and the eighth chapter is the opening of the seventh seal [Revelation 8:1-13]. And in between those visitations of the judgment of the Almighty, in between is this parenthesis, written for the comfort and consolation of God’s people, lest we think the entire earth is given to damnation and rejection [Revelation 7:1-17]. The seventh chapter has two very distinct visions in it, introduced by the same and identical words. In the English version, you have it translated, chapter 7, verse 1, "And after these things I saw" [Revelation 7:1], and then verse 9, "After this I beheld," [Revelation 7:9]. But the Greek words are identical: Meta tauta eidon, meta tauta eidon, "After these things I saw," Now the first vision was the sealing of one hundred forty-four thousand elect out of the tribes of the children of Israel; twelve thousand from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand from the tribe of Gad, and so through twelve elect tribes of the children of Israel; twelve thousand elect, selected, chosen, set apart, and sealed. And last Sunday morning we looked at that word "sealed" [Revelation 7:2-8]. The seal of God is the presence of His Holy Spirit, "Ye are sealed unto that day of promise,grieve not the Holy Spirit by which ye are sealed" [Ephesians 4:30]. So when God sealed them, He gave them an unction and a baptism, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God. Here is another Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], another outpouring, the sealing of the presence, and the power, and the ableness, and the enduement of God [Revelation 7:1-4]. And then last Sunday, we mentioned the fact that if you were to look at one of them, this sealing, the fourteenth chapter refers to it as the writing [Revelation 14:13], the mark of the name of the Father God in their foreheads [Revelation 7:3], if you were to see one of them, how would it be? It would be like looking at Moses when he came down from the mount, having spoken to the Lord face to face: "And his face shone, and the glory of God was in him; and the fearlessness of the Lord was upon him" [Exodus 34:29-30]. Same kind of a thing as had you seen Stephen in the midst of his murderers: they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the power by which he spake of the glory and exaltation of Christ [Acts 6:10]. And they looked upon him, and his face was as if a man looked upon the face of an angel [Acts 6:15], filled with the Holy Spirit of God, the seal of the Almighty. Now these elect, twelve thousand from each one of the tribes of Israel, these have the seal of God upon them, protected, set apart, filled with wisdom and power, as they proclaim the glorious gospel of the Son of God [Revelation 7:1-8]. That’s the first vision, and what a vision, what a prospect, what a thing!
Then the second vision is a vision of a Gentile host out of every tribe, and kindred, and tongue, and language, and nation, standing before God, and before the Lamb [Revelation 7:9-17]. This second vision, the great multitude of Gentiles who have come into the faith, who have been saved by the blood of the Crucified One, well, who are they? Who are they? "And he said unto me, Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from? Who are these?" [Revelation 7:13]. Well, to my surprise there are as many variegated ideas and explanations and theories concerning who this multitude is as there is concerning who those one hundred forty-four thousand sealed ones are [Revelation 7:4]. Ah, every interpreter has his own idea; and every interpreter has his own explanation. And hardly any two of them agree. There is a riot and a confusion in the identification of this great multitude that is second only to the riot and confusion you find in the identification of the one hundred forty-four thousand out of the tribes of the children of Israel. It is interesting to read them.
For example, there are some who say this great multitude [Revelation 7:9], are men who live in the flesh down here in this earth; they are people who live, who are still living, as John looks upon them, they are still down here in the flesh, in the earth. Then there are those who say, "No, they are disembodied spirits. They’re like the souls under the fifth seal; they are disembodied spirits that John saw in heaven before the great resurrection day of the Lord" [Revelation 6:9-11]. Then, "No," others say, "these are the glorified, resurrected saints in heaven." Then there are those who say this great multitude are those early primitive Christians who came out of the sorrows and persecutions of the primitive church. Then there are others who say, "No, this great multitude represents the marvelous victory of the church of Christ, when Constantine became a Christian and when Christianity triumphed in the Roman Empire." Then there are others who say, "No, this great multitude represents the accessions to the church through the centuries after the conversion of Constantine." Then there are those who say, "No, this great multitude is the one hundred forty-four thousand sealed previously, who now you look upon in their glorified form. The one hundred forty-four thousand out of Israel represent the same group that you see here, glorified before God." Then there are those who say this great multitude represents the church in the millennium. Then of course you’ll always find these ultra, ultra liberals who don’t see anything factual in anything in the Bible, and they look upon this great multitude as being nothing other than a symbol of, a picture of, the glorious triumph of the gospel of Christ in the earth, and the vision itself has no particular pertinency or significance or identification.
Well, who are these, this great multitude? Out of all the nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, whose robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb, who have palm branches in their hands, and who praise and worship God day and night in His presence, who are these? [Revelation 7:9-14]. Now, this is my interpretation. Everyone has his interpretation; this is mine. First of all, you get a key, you get an opening, you get a suggestion, a very definite one, in the perplexity of John.
When the elder asked John, "Do you know who these are, and do you know where they came from?" [Revelation 7:13], evidently the elder was doing no other thing than voicing John’s astonishment and amazement as he looked upon them. For, John replied, the seer replied, "Sir, I don’t know. I don’t know. I never saw them before. I never dreamed of their presence. I don’t recognize a face in that vast group. I don’t understand. I don’t know" [Revelation 7:14]. Now, I say in his perplexity you have a very definite suggestion as to who these are, even before the elder identifies them. For you see, all through this book we have identified the glorified and raptured church with the elders; those four and twenty elders represent God’s redeemed, God’s sainted. And at the end of chapter 3, when the church is mentioned no more [Revelation 3 :22], not referred to, not seen until the Lord comes again in chapter 19 at the end of the conclusion of the great denouement of history [Revelation 19:11-15], immediately, at the end of chapter 3, when John himself is raptured up to heaven, there he sees the throne of God and the enthroned elders [Revelation 4:1-4]. And all through this book we have identified those elders as being the glorified, enraptured, immortalized, resurrected church of God, the blood-bought church of Jesus Christ. And there they are, and John sees them before the throne, seated in the presence of God, gold-crowned, robed, glorified; that is His raptured church.
Now, in the presence of those elders [Revelation 7:11] – and they’re mentioned here in this passage, this vision we’ve just read – in the presence of those elders there is this other great multitude out of the Gentile nations of the earth, out of the kindreds, and the people, and the tongues, and the tribes. There they stand before God, and before the Lamb, and before those elders [Revelation 7:9-11]. And that was the perplexity of John [Revelation 7:13-14]. For the church and the people in God’s redeemed church are already there, resurrected, raptured, taken up into heaven [Revelation 4:1-4], and John sees them and then this group beside.
Now had this great multitude been those redeemed in His church, John would have expected it, he would have looked for it; and there were many in that group, as you, whom you could have recognized. But the perplexity of John lay in the fact that here is the church, already raptured, already redeemed, already glorified, already resurrected, already in heaven [Revelation 4:1-4], and beside them, represented in these elders, are these multitudes beside [Revelation 7:9]. And John couldn’t understand. "Where did these come from? And who are they? I do not recognize a one of them" [Revelation 7:13-14] – the great multitude beside [Revelation 7:9].
Then you have one of the redeemed himself representing God’s sainted church people, then you have one of the redeemed himself, one of the elders, said, "You know who these are? [Revelation 7:13]. These are they who are coming, erchomenoi thlipsis," present tense,
These are they who are coming out of he thlipsis he megale, the tribulation, the great. These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation. And in turning, and in repentance, and in confession, and in faith, and in looking to Jesus have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Out of the trial in the earth, out of the sorrow in the earth, out of the judgments in the earth, these are they who turn, who believe, who repented, who confessed, and who are coming out of the great blood bath, the great tribulation in the earth.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? And who would have ever have dreamed of it? And who would ever have thought of it? And who would ever have known it? And that was the amazement and the astonishment and the perplexity of John: "I never dreamed of this group. This group is not the church of the firstborn; this great multitude, this is the congregation of the after-born." This is God’s blood-bought, tribulation saints that nobody in the earth would ever have known would exist had it not been for the special revelation of Jesus Christ. And John looks upon them in amazement and in astonishment.
Well, this is the parenthesis of comfort, and of cheer, and of glory, and of gladness; for in the days of that awful trial, the wicked become more wicked, and those who defy God become more defiant, and the blasphemers blaspheme yet more, and the world rushes on to its final and terrible judgment until eventually the waves of hell roll over it forever, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth forever [Revelation 14:11]. But lest you think that it might be all of damnation and all of perdition, God writes these parenthetical chapters, of which this is the first one; you’ll see them all along. God places this parenthetical chapter that you might know that in wrath He is still a God of grace and of mercy, and He saves His own, and calls His own, and elects His own, even in the days of the great tribulation [Revelation 7:13-14]. The prophet Daniel saw in a vision those saints of tribulation [Daniel 12:1]. And Peter uses the same kind of an idea and word of Daniel as he speaks of that salvation and those that are saved in that last season [2 Peter 3:3-9]. These are tribulation saints [Revelation 7:13-14].
And oh, what a blessedness, and what a glory, and what an amazement as we look upon them; this great multitude out of all the kindreds, and nations, and peoples, and tongues standing before God, the congregation of the after-born, not the firstborn, these that came in at a later time [Revelation 7:9]. These, the fruits of the ministry of these God empowered, Christ empowered evangelists who spread the good tidings of Jesus over this earth [Revelation 7:2-8] – what an amazing thing as we look upon them, and oh, what a blessedness, what a blessedness.
Now, I think they are in heaven. There they stand before the throne of God; and I have marked seven times in this brief passage it is mentioned "they stand before the throne of God" [Revelation 7:9, 11, 15, 17, 8:2, 3]. Well, so many interpreters say they’re down here in this earth; this great multitude are down here in this earth. Well, there is a sense in which they are down here in this earth – but not when John sees them; for John is in heaven [Revelation 4:1-2], and up there in heaven he sees first the throne of God, then the elders, then the cherubim, then the serried ranks of the angels [Revelation 4:4-10, 7:11]. And it is in that same place, the throne of God, the elders, the four cherubim, and the serried ranks of the angels, it’s that same place that he sees the great multitude coming, coming, coming [Revelation 7:9-11].
Now, this great multitude was in the earth but only in the sense that they were sinful people. They were lost sinners, and they were left behind in the rapture of God’s church out of the earth [Revelation 4:1-11]. These are among those that were left behind [Revelation 7:13-14]. For when the Lord comes, this earth shall be given mostly to infidelity and unbelief. "Yea," said our Lord, "When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the earth" [Luke 18:8]: "Two shall be in a field; one taken, and the other left [Luke 17:36]. Two shall be asleep in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34]. Two shall be grinding at a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left" [Luke 17:35]. And out of these that were left behind when God’s church was taken away, out of these that are left behind, these are they who have turned in repentance and in faith in the gospel of the Son of God and have been saved in those dark and tragic days of the great tribulation [Revelation 7:14]. They have changed.
Whereas once they philosophized about the truth, now they accept the gospel of Jesus as the reality of God itself. Whereas once they were given to unbelief and to rejection, now they open their hearts to the gospel of the Son of God. Whereas once they were naked, now they are clothed. Whereas once they were sinners, now they are holy. Whereas once they turned aside from the saving message of Christ, now in repentance and faith they look to Jesus. These are converts who have been changed, and John sees them as they come out of the great tribulation, and he sees them as they stand before God in heaven. I would suppose they’re martyred in the blood of the earth, and under the awful aegis of the beast and the false prophet and the terrible days when this world is given to riot and to sin, these are God’s people who are coming out of it, apparently out of martyrdom, giving their lives for Jesus. And John sees them in glory, as they come up before the throne of God. "These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation" [Revelation 7:14].
You notice they’re not sealed. They’re not sealed. The one hundred forty-four thousand were sealed for protection that they might continue in their ministry [Revelation 7:2-4]. These are not sealed. The reason is very obvious: they don’t need the seal of God anymore, they don’t need the protection of God anymore down here in this earth; they are before the Lord in heaven [Revelation 7:9]. And there do they worship Him [Revelation 7:9-10]. Oh, what an incomparable thing to say about anybody! He is in heaven. These are in heaven. They’re in the presence of the Almighty on His throne. They’re in the presence of the Lamb who loved us and gave Himself for us [Ephesians 5:2; Galatians 2:20]. They’re in the presence of the gold-crowned elders [Revelation 4:4]. They’re in the presence of the angelic hosts, in serried ranks, glory upon glory. They’re where God is worshiped purely, beautifully, day and night, forever and ever. They are in heaven [Revelation 7:9-17]. A Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom is far beyond a Dives living in his most luxurious sumptuousness [Luke 16:19-26]. These are in heaven.
Now, for the moment that remains, I want you to look at the description of them as it is here in the Book. Now first of all, three times it is said that they are "clothed in white robes" [Revelation 7:9, 13, 14], and that’s one of the most beautiful references in the Bible. The peculiar thing about John is that he invents this phrase of washing robes, washing robes, washing robes; and three times he refers to that in this passage. And it is a magnificent picture. Tas stolas tas leukas. You women who have a beautiful stole, s-t-o-l-e, that’s the Greek word exactly "stole." These white robes, Tas stolas, tas leukas, you know if you were to translate that in the imagery of it it’d be this: the stole in the Greek world was the beautiful outer garment that was worn for distinction and dignity, and it was peculiarly and especially a marriage garment. And if you were to translate that you’d say, "These who are dressed in the richest marriage garments of purest white, dazzling white, the garments of dignity, the garments of glory, the garments of beauty." Oh, what they must look like, what they must look like.
Now, they are "made white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. Let me tell you something, which is the Lord’s honest truth: the Apocalypse is the most Jewish Hebraistic book in the New Testament; but it is also the most Christian. It is sum up the law, and the prophets, and the martyrs, and the apostles, and things past, and things to come, and the old creation, and the new creation, but every syllable of its glory and of its power and of its blessedness is grounded upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Now look at it here in the text: "These are they coming out of the great tribulation, who washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14]. Dia touton," you have it translated, "Therefore are they before the throne of God" [Revelation 7:15]. A better translation of dia touton would be, "On this ground," or, "on this account," or "by reason of this, on account of the blood of Jesus, on account of the sacrifice of the Son of God, on account of the glory of His cross, on account of what He has washed out of our souls, the stain of sin, in His own blood [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], on this account are they before the throne of God" [Revelation 7:9]. Oh, what a marvelous thing! It is of Jesus: "Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, unto Him be glory and power and dominion world without end, forever and ever" [Revelation 1:5-6] – on this account, therefore, on the basis of the atonement and the sacrifice of the Son of God.
All right, look at them again: and he sees them not only dressed in those white robes, but with palm branches in their hands [Revelation 7:9]. Now that is an Old Testament figure of the Feast of the Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. You can read of it in the Book of Nehemiah; and there is a sentence there, "And they were all filled with great gladness" [Nehemiah 8:17]. The palm branches, living in booths, it was a memorial of the deliverance of God out of the slavery of Egypt, and in Nehemiah a recognition that God had delivered them again out of the bondage of Babylon, and here a glory to God who has delivered us out of sin and death and the judgments of this flesh – with palm branches in their hands, glory to the Lord [Revelation 7:9]. And then, these remarkable passages like this: "And He that sitteth on the throne, the Lord," now you have it translated here, "shall dwell among them" [Revelation 7:15]. That is the weakest translation that I could imagine. You’d have to study to translate it that weak. Now I want to show you what that word means there. The Greek word for "tent," "tabernacle" is skēnē, and the Greek word for "tabernacling, tenting" is skēnoō. Now, that’s the word that he used here: "And God shall skēnoō" Epi autou; epi – upon, autous – them, or "over them"; "And the Lord God will be the shekinah glory tabernacling over them" [Revelation 7:15].
The imagery is again, as all the Revelation, get out of the Old Testament, when the Lord brought His pilgrims out of Egypt: over them was a glory, over them was a shield, over them was the protecting presence of God. And when you looked at it in the daytime it looked like a cloud; when you looked at it in the nighttime, it looked like a blazing fire; God’s protecting care over His children [Exodus 13:21]. And that’s the imagery here; and that’s what John says here, "And the shekinah glory and the presence of God shall overshadow them, shall bless them and keep them" [Revelation 7:15-17].
Then if we had time, we’d expatiate in these negatives, double negatives, triple negatives, these "no mores" [Revelation 7:16]. You know, it’s a funny thing how language differs. In the English language, if you have a double negative, why, first of all you’re grammatically incorrect, and then one negative cancels the other. But it’s not that way in the Greek language. You can just pile up negatives, negatives, negatives, negatives, negatives, in the Greek language, and it just makes it more emphatic. And I still can’t understand why that isn’t good grammar. For example, if I come up to you and say, "I don’t know nothing nohow," brother, you sure get the idea. Now that’s marvelous Greek, that’s marvelous Greek; poor English, but that’s the way the Greek would be. "You don’t know nobody nowhere what wants to hire nobody to do nothing, do you?" The guy wants a job, and you know it. That’s the way with these negatives here. We haven’t time to speak of them, just pointing it out. These hungry-no-mores, and thirsting-no-mores, and the harsh burning heat as they slave in this earth not scorch them and burn them anymore [Revelation 7:16].
And I close with this little last observation, look at it: "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters" [Revelation 7:17]. Where did you ever hear a thing like that before?
The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He maketh me to lie down in those green pastures. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
And the Lamb, our Shepherd, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters.
You know I’d give anything that I know if I could pound into the heads of our teachers and especially of our Sunday School Board that little children can learn the Word of God. See they don’t believe that; they think all little children can do is just make mud pies and work in putty. And when you go up there and look at them, well, that’s what they’re doing. Well, we’re just experimenting. We have a little grandson, as you know, we’re rearing in our home and he’s two years old. And already he’s learned half of the twenty-third Psalm. Why, that’ll stick in that little boy’s head if he lives to be an old man ninety-eight years old. When he lies down at night, those words will go through is mind. What’s wrong with that? Teaching children the Word of God, why not? Why not? Oh, the beauty!
Let me make one other sentence before I leave. This is in keeping with the interpretation of the text. As being a king is greater than being a servant, as wearing a crown of gold is greater than waving a palm branch, as being seated on a throne is greater than standing before it, so is the opportunity we have today in this day of grace: beside the sorrow and the tribulation out of which these martyrs come, when the day of grace had been taken away, oh, the infinite opportunity and privilege we have now, we have now, to belong to the body of Christ, to be a member of the bride of the Son of God, to reign with Him, what an infinite glory to come to Jesus now! [Revelation 22:12, 17].
Come now. [Yesterday] we have lost, and tomorrow may be forever and eternally too late; but we have now. And while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus; somebody you, coming into the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word and as the Lord shall lead us in the way, make that decision this morning. Do it now. A family you, coming into the church, or just one somebody you, while we sing the song, while we make the appeal, would you come? On the first note of this first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.
THE BLOOD-WASHED MULTITUDE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. There are many different opinions, theories, explanations concerning this great multitude
1. Some say these are people who live in the flesh on earth, who have been saved by trust in Christ
2. Some say it is the vast host of disembodied spirits
3. Some say they represent the early, primitive Christians coming out of persecution and trial of first centuries
4. Some say they represent the triumph of the Christian faith under conversion of Constantine
5. Some say they represent those who were added to the church in centuries following conversion of Roman Caesar
6. Some say it is the 144,000
7. Some say it is the church in its millennial glory
8. Some, who spiritualize the Scriptures, say it does not represent anything except the triumph of the gospel in the earth
B. A key as to who they are found in the perplexity of John himself
1. Elder places in language John’s questioning spirit – "Who are these?"
2. If multitude represents the redeemed, John would have recognized them
C. The church is raptured at end of chapter 3, and John raptured at beginning of chapter 4
1. Sees saints under symbol of the twenty-four elders(Revelation 4:1-4)
2. Then beside, over and beyond the glorified church he sees this great multitude of Gentiles in white robes, worshiping
3. Great distinction between the two
D. Elder answers – these are they who are, present tense, coming out of the great tribulation
1. God in His mercy has saved and is saving them in that great final trial
2. Not a time of universal damnation – even in darkest days God remembers mercy
a. Daniel foresaw these tribulation saints; Peter writes of them
II. People whom the rapture left behind
A. That day came as a thief in the night – these were unprepared(Luke 17:34-36, 18:8)
B. The great change they made
1. Listen to the sealed 144,000 as they preach the gospel
2. They were repudiators and blasphemers, now servants of the Lord
III. They are in heaven (Revelation 7:9-14)
A. John was taken up into heaven at beginning of chapter 4, and sees same things in this vision – throne, elders, angels
B. The 144,000 are in earth, and are sealed, protected from harm(Revelation 7:1-8)
1. These are not sealed – no need
IV. They are saved by the blood of the crucified One
A. Three times their white robes are referred to(Revelation 7:9, 13, 14)
B. The ground on which they stand and basis by which they look into God’s face and live lies in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ
V. They live in gladness supernal
A. Palm branches in their hands – reference to Feast of Tabernacles
B. The protecting favor of God over them
1. Skenoo – "to cast a tent, to tabernacle"
C. The emphatic negation – hunger no more, thirst no more (Revelation 7:16)
D. The Lamb is their Shepherd (Revelation 7:17, 22:17, Psalm 23)