The Blood-Washed Multitude
June 3rd, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
THE BLOOD-WASHED MULTITUDE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
6-3-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Blood-Washed Multitude. In our preaching through the Bible we have come, after these many years, to the last and the climactic book: the Revelation. In our preaching through the Revelation we have come to chapter 7, and the sermon last Sunday morning was on the first vision in chapter 7, found in verses 1 through 8 [Revelation 7:1-8].
Now the sermon this morning is on the second vision, found in verses 9 through 17 [Revelation 7:9-17]. If you will take your Bible and open it to the place, you can easily follow the message of this morning’s hour. Revelation 7, beginning at verse 9:
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 palms [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. And he said to me, These are they who came 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 shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Truly one of the most meaning and comforting and precious of all the passages in the Word of God, but at the same time one of the most unusually difficult.
There are as many different opinions, and fancies, and theories, and explanations concerning this great multitude as there are concerning the identification of the one hundred forty-four thousand sealed out of all the tribes of the children of Israel [Revelation 7:1-8]. Who is this great multitude out of all of the nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, and tribes who stand before the throne of God? [Revelation 7:9]. There are some expositors who say these are people who live in the flesh on the earth; they are just folks down here in the world who have been saved by trust in Christ.
There are those who say that that great multitude is the vast host of disembodied spirits—souls of dead people whom John saw in heaven, as he saw the souls of those who were martyred at the fifth seal [Revelation 6:9-11]. So these are the souls, the disembodied spirits, of those who have died for the Lord in the earth; and John sees them before the great and final resurrection. Then there are others who say this great multitude is the redeemed of the Lord who are resurrected and glorified and now immortalized in glory. Then there are others who say this great multitude represents the early, primitive Christians as in persecution and in trial they came out of those sorrows of the first Christian centuries. Then there are others who say this great multitude represents the triumph of the Christian faith under the conversion of Constantine, when the Christians were given liberty and victory at the conversion of the Roman emperor. Then there are those who say that this great multitude represents those who were added to the church, the great accession to the church in the centuries following the conversion of the Roman Caesar. Then there are others who say this great multitude is the one hundred forty-four thousand that were sealed in the first vision [Revelation 7:4]; to them, that one hundred forty-four thousand—twelve thousand from each of the tribes of Israel—represent the redeemed of God, all of the redeemed of God. And he saw them sealed in the first vision, and now he sees them glorified in the second vision. Then there are those who say this great multitude represents the church in its millennial glory. Then finally, there are those who spiritualize especially the Scriptures, and they say it doesn’t represent anything except the triumph of the gospel message in the earth. It has no particular significance in itself, no particular pertinency or reference in itself, but it represents the triumph of the gospel in the earth. Well, these are just a few of the many identifications of this great multitude that John sees standing before the throne of God, and of the Lamb [Revelation 7:9].
Well, who are they? I think that you have a most pertinent reference, a key, a suggestion as to who they are to be found in the perplexity of John himself. “One of the elders answered, saying unto John” [Revelation 7:13]. Answered saying—John hadn’t said anything—there is no recorded conversation before, yet “one of the elders answered, saying unto John…”[Revelation 7:13]. That is, he recognized John’s perplexity, and John’s amazement, and John’s astonishment, and John’s ignorance as to who that great multitude was [Revelation 7:9]. And the elder places in language John’s questioning spirit, “Who are these arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” [Revelation 7:13] And John said, “Sir, I do not know [Revelation 7:14], I never saw them before. There is not a face in that vast throng I recognize. I do not know who they are.”
Isn’t that an astonishing thing? For if this multitude represents the church—the saved, the redeemed of Christ in this age, there would have been no perplexity on the part of John. That’s what he would have expected: to see the redeemed of Christ in heaven. And he would have recognized some of them, just as you would today if you were to see the redeemed of Christ’s church in heaven. There are many, many of those faces that you would recognize. “There’s my family. These are my people. Here are my friends.” There are many of them you would have known. But John recognizes none of them: “I never saw them before. I have no idea who they are”; the perplexity of John [Revelation 7:13-14].
Then there’s another thing that enters into the astonishment of the seer. At the end of chapter 3, the church age runs its course [Revelation 3:22], and the church disappears from the Revelation—never mentioned, never referred to, until finally the church is seen coming with Christ in glory at the denouement, at the consummation, at the end of the age, in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 19:7-8].
At the end of chapter 3, the Book says John was raptured up into glory [Revelation 4:1-2]. And when he was caught up into heaven, he saw there the church of Jesus Christ, the bride of our Lord; and he saw that church enthroned, and crowned, and glorified; resurrected, immortalized, raptured; he saw that throne under the form of the four and twenty elders [Revelation 4:2-4]. Those elders represent the church of the living God, and at the end of the church age when John is caught up into heaven he sees the church, there enthroned before the throne of God [Revelation 4:1-3].
Now he sees both of them here. For in the seventh chapter of this Revelation, there is the throne of God and there are those four and twenty elders; and there are the four cherubim and around them, glory upon glory, are the serried ranks of the angels [Revelation 7:9-12], just as he had seen the church raptured at the beginning of the fourth chapter [Revelation 4:1-4].
Then beside and over and beyond the glorified church, he sees—in amazement and in astonishment, he sees this great multitude of Gentiles out of every tongue, and kindred, and language, and people in this earth washed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, worshiping and serving God, day and night [Revelation 7:9-12]. No wonder the perplexity of John! [Revelation 7:13-14]. And it perplexes us, this great multitude added to; these after-comers, this congregation of the after-born [Revelation 7:9]. Not the firstborn; who are they? And whence came they? [Revelation 7:13].
There is a great distinction between this group and the church, the enthroned elders [Revelation 4:4]. These have no thrones; they stand in the presence of the throne. These have no crowns, they have palm branches [Revelation 7:9] and they have come after the resurrection and after the rapture and after the church has been taken up into glory. “Who are these that are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” [Revelation 7:13-14]. And John said: “Sir, I do not know [Revelation 7:14]. I do not understand. I am surprised. I am amazed. I am astonished.”
Then you have the answer of the elders, “These are they who ĕrchŏmenoi,” present linear action; you’d say in English, “present tense.” There are no tenses in Greek, there are just kinds of action. “These are they,” says the elder, “who are ĕrchŏmenoi,” these are they who are “coming out.” John, in heaven, sees them as they “come out” of the great tribulation, he thlipsis, he mĕgalē. These are they who are “coming out” of “the tribulation, the great,” the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:13-14].
These are tribulation saints; these are those God hath saved in His mercy and in His remembrance and in His love. These are they that God hath saved and is saving in that great and final trial that shall come upon the earth [Revelation 7:13-14]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? No wonder John didn’t know who they were [Revelation 7:14]; no man would have ever have known or guessed such a thing, had it not been by the grace of the revelation of God Himself. For you see, this time of terrible trial is not [only] a time of universal damnation and perdition; but it is also a time of God’s grace, and God’s mercy, and God’s salvation, and God’s forgiveness. For this earth, after the church is taken away, this earth becomes more confirmed in its defiance of God until, finally, the waves of hell roll over it for ever, “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” [Revelation 14:11].
But even in those dark and tragic days, “in wrath, God remembers mercy” [Habakkuk 3:2]. And He elects these one hundred forty-four thousand; He seals them [Revelation 7:2-4]. He baptizes them with the unction of Pentecostal power. And in that awful and trying day, there are those who listening to the preachers of Christ in the power and glory of the Lord as they proclaim His message in the earth; there are those even in that day of sorrow, and trial, and perdition who turn in faith to Christ, “who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. Daniel the prophet foresaw those tribulation saints [Daniel 12:1-2], and Simon Peter writes of them in the same spirit and language of the prophet Daniel when he saw those who would be saved in that final and last season [2 Peter 3:10-15].
So these are they who were left in the earth at the coming of our Lord, when He takes His people back with Him up to glory [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. These are they who were left behind; for when the Lord comes for His own, and His church is taken out of the earth, most of this earth will be full of gainsayers, and blasphemers, and rejecters, and unbelievers. Most of the professing church will be left behind in this earth; they’re not born again, they’re not saved! Their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12,15, 21:27].
And when the Lord comes, so vast will be the evil and the darkness on the face of this earth, that Christ Himself asked, “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8]
Two in a field; one taken, and the other left.
Two sleeping in a bed; one taken, and the other left.
Two grinding in a mill; one taken, and the other left.
These are they who were left behind in this earth; they were among those who blasphemed God. They were among those who said “no” to Christ. They were among those who were not born again, whose name was not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. These were left behind.
But oh, what a change! What a change! As they listen to the incomparable preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, and as these evangelists and missionaries sow the world down with the seed of the Word of the blessed Jesus, these are they who, in that time of trial and sorrow, their stained garments, they wash in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14].
Their philosophizing, they exchange for the simplicities of the gospel of faith; their rejection of Christ, they change into an affirmation of the sonship, and the deity, and the saviorhood of our Lord. They were sinners, and now they are saints! They were lost, and now they are found! They were rejectors, and now they are acceptors! They were repudiators and blasphemers, now, they are the servants of the Most High God! The great multitude, no man could number, of every nation and tribe and tongue, standing before the Lord with robes washed white, and with palm branches in their hands [Revelation 7:9].
Another thing about them; they are in heaven. So many of the interpreters who read this passage think of this group as if they were in the earth, still in the earth; I cannot understand such an identification. For to me, plainly, the group is in heaven. I would think that because for one thing, when John was taken up into heaven at the beginning of the fourth chapter in the Revelation, when John was taken up into heaven, the first thing that he saw was the throne of God, “And He that sat upon the throne” [Revelation 4:1-2]. Then he saw the four and twenty elders enthroned around the throne of God [Revelation 4:4]. Then he saw the four cherubim [Revelation 4:6,8]. Then he saw the angels, their serried ranks beyond, and beyond, and beyond the innumerable host of the heavenly worshipers of our Lord [Revelation 4:4-10].
Now in the seventh chapter, in this vision, John sees the same thing. There is the throne of God, and there is the throne of the Lamb [Revelation 7:9], and there are the elders, and there are the cherubim, and there are the angels [Revelation 7:11]. And then he sees this great multitude coming out of the great tribulation [Revelation 7:9-14]. To me, it is in heaven; the language is heavenly, the very nomenclature of the passage is like the twenty-first chapter that describes the glories of our Lord and His benedictions to us in heaven [Revelation 21:1-27]. And in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, this group is described as standing on the sea of glass—all of it a heavenly scene [Revelation 15:2-8].
Another thing that would make me think they are in heaven: the one hundred forty-four thousand are in the earth; and they are sealed by the Spirit of God and they are protected and kept from harm and death by the sealing of God in their foreheads [Revelation 7:2-4]. But nothing is said about the sealing of this great multitude [Revelation 7:9], simply because they don’t need it any longer. They are in heaven; they are there before the throne of God and they worship the Lord and serve Him in His temple and call upon His name, and they look into His face, and live [Revelation 7:9-12].
I would suppose they are martyred. In the days of that awful trial, the great tribulation, in that time of sorrow and blood, these who have accepted the love of Christ and name the name of Jesus, these are martyred [Revelation 7:14-15]. And John in heaven, as he sees the seals that are broken [Revelation 6:1-12], and as he sees the earth that is shaken [Revelation 6:13], and as he sees the one hundred forty-four thousand sealed by the Spirit of God—the baptism of the unction of the Father [Revelation 7:1-4]—he also sees from heaven, in heaven, he sees that great multitude coming out of the blood, and the trials, and the tears, and the sorrows of that awful hour. And he sees them as they come home to God [Revelation 7:9-14].
Oh, what a marvelous thing! What an incomparably glorious thing in heaven. Where the Almighty is, where the Lamb is, where the enthroned elders are, where the angels in their ranks of glory worship God, in heaven. Why that would be a great thing to say about anybody, “He is in heaven.” Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22], infinitely more blessed than Dives in the most luxurious sumptuousness this earth could ever afford [Luke 16:22-23]. “These are in heaven.”
Another thing about them: they stand—their accounting is based upon their trust in Jesus as their Savior; they stand there with their garments washed white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:9,14]. And three different times, in that short passage, their beautiful white robes are referred to [Revelation 7:9,13,14]. That is a peculiar idiosyncrasy of John, describing the washing of robes in the blood of the Lamb. That is, the basis of their entrance into heaven lies in the completed sacrifice and atonement of Christ [Revelation 5:9].
“These are they who come out of the great tribulation [Revelation 7:14]…therefore are they before the throne of God” [Revelation 7:15]. And that “therefore” is very emphatic: dia tŏutŏ, “on this basis,” on this account, “because of this” they are before the throne of God [Revelation 7:14-15]. The ground on which they stand and the basis by which they look into God’s face and live, lies in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ; the washing of their sins away in the blood, in the pouring out of the life of the Son of God [Revelation 1:5].
And what a beautiful reference: “In white robes,” tas stŏlas tas lĕukas [Revelation 7:9]. My, what an effective picture that is! You women have a word, s-t-o-l-e, stole. If you have a whole lot of money, you can buy a beautiful ermine stole, white. Oh, it won’t cost you but fifty thousand dollars. That’s just for a stole. If you got a beautiful white ermine robe, coat—I don’t know, you’d have to belong to the government to have something like that. That is the picture here; the Greek word stŏlē, s-t-o-l-e, “stole” refers to an outer garment, worn for dignity, and grace, and beauty, and distinction. And when the phrase is used, “tas stŏlas tas lĕukas,” actually what it means is, what it refers to: dressed in richest wedding garment of purest dazzling white. Oh, you can just see it! You can just see it! God’s blood-bought; washed, clean, pure, stainless in the presence of the Almighty God Himself. And the basis of their standing: because they have looked in faith, in repentance, in trust to the atoning Lamb of God [Revelation 5:9].
Then, what a marvelous description of them! And they stand there, not only in their robes of purity, and dignity, and glory, and beauty; but they stand there with palm branches in their hands [Revelation 7:9]. That’s an Old Testament reference to the Feast of the Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43, Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. You read of one of those glad occasions in the Book of Nehemiah, when the sentence is said in the passage: “And there was very great gladness” [Nehemiah 8:17].
The Feast of Tabernacles, when they sat in booths and when they carried palm branches; it was a remembrance of the deliverance of God [Leviticus 23:33-43, Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. Those slaves out of the darkness of the servitude of Egypt, and now they are free unto God. And in Nehemiah, celebrating also the deliverance from the Babylonian captivity, these with palm branches in their hands [Nehemiah 8:15-17], delivered from the captivity of the sin and the death of this world. And they are glad and praise the name of God with palm branches in their hand.
“And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” [Revelation 7:15]. That is the poorest of all of the translations that you can think of. “And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” Oh, no! The Greek word for tent, for “tabernacle,” is skēnē. The Greek word for “to tent,” to tabernacle, “to cast a tent,” is skēnŏō. And “among them,” epi, “on,” autŏs, “them.” What John wrote there is: “and God shall tabernacle” [Revelation 7:15]. God’s grace, and love, and mercy, and protection will be cast above them—on top of them, over them.
Now the reference again, is the Old Testament story of the children of Israel coming out of the land of Egypt and the shekinah glory of God was above them. In the daytime, it looked like a cloud; in the nighttime, it looked like a pillar of fire [Exodus 13:21]. But whether in the day or whether in the night, they were under the sheltering, shepherdly, keeping, protecting, loving care of God. And the great God that sits on the throne shall skēnŏō epi autŏs, “shall tabernacle,” the shekinah glory of God shall cover above them [Revelation 7:15].
Then the next description, “They shall hunger no more, they shall thirst no more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat” [Revelation 7:16], these negatives. And how many times will you find that in the Revelation? When you turn to the twenty-first chapter, where it describes heaven, there you will find that abundance of negatives [Revelation 21:1-8]. And these Greeks, as they wrote those things, had such an empathic way to write it down. In English, a double negative eliminates one another: if you say, “I don’t not,” why then “you do,” that would be English. But in Greek, the more of those negatives you can pile up, the more emphatic it is. And you sure get the meaning, even in English, when you do that. When a guy says to you, “I don’t know nothing, no how,” brother! You get the idea he doesn’t know anything. If a man comes up to you and he asked for a job, “You don’t know nobody nowhere what wants nobody to work for you, don’t you?” Well, you know he’s asking you for a job. That is good Greek; may be bad English, but it’s marvelous Greek. And that is what God says here. He just piles up these negatives—no, not, neither, nor—and just adds one to the other as He describes God’s shepherdly remembrance and care for His people.
And then the last verse, “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 of that before? Listen, as a small child, I could wish for you, as for me, that somebody who loved you, taught you the twenty-third Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in the green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul…
May be all broken up, and caved in, and washed out, and may be in pieces and sorrows that overwhelm us like a flood, and disappointments that carry us away, “He restoreth my soul!” [Psalm 23:3]
Same thing, ”For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them” [Revelation 7:17]; “He prepareth a table before me” [Psalm 23:5], in my hunger, in my thirst, and in my want, “And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters” [Revelation 7:17].
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.
And let him that heareth say, Come.
And let him that is athirst come.
And whosoever will, let him drink of the fountain of life freely.
. . . and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters:
and God, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
In both of the beautiful special numbers this morning, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” [Revelation 7:17].
This isn’t the only sermon I’m going to preach on this passage. I have several I want to preach. We must stop now. May I make this observation? Because the sermon is written down and mimeographed and sent all over this world now—in order to complete the exegesis of the passage, may I point out to you: these, as blessed as they are, we who are in this day of grace and have opportunity to accept Jesus now, and to become a part of the bride of Christ, the enthroned elders [Revelation 4:4]—ah, we have so greater opportunity than these. As much greater as a king is than a servant, as much greater as it is to be on a throne as to stand before it, as much greater as it is to have a crown over a palm branch; so it is greater for us now, who have opportunity to come into the throne, into the enthroned presence of God as an elder, as a member of the church, this is our present opportunity. They missed it; it was too late for them and they were plunged into the sorrow, and into the trial, and into the bloodbath of this great judgment. And out of that sorrow, and trial, and martyrdom, they were brought up to heaven, to stand in the presence of God [Revelation 6:9]. Never a part of the enthroned elders, never a part of the great and true bride of Christ—just standing there, having missed the great and comparable day of grace and opportunity.
And that’s what we have now! That’s what we have now! Man, it is now God’s time. It is now accessions are made to the body of Christ; it is now that God makes us a part of the holy bride. It is now in this day of grace we have the incomparable opportunity to be added to Him. Our Head is, our great Head is in heaven, our Lord is in heaven [Colossians 1:18]. We now have opportunity to become a part of His body [1 Corinthians 12:13]. And someday, with our Lord, to be joined to Him forever in heaven, an elder, enthroned [Revelation 4:4]. These missed it [Revelation 3:21].
If a man is ever going to be saved, be saved now! [2 Corinthians 6:2]. If ever you’re going to give your heart to Jesus, give your heart to Him now! [Romans 10:8-13]. If ever you intend to walk in the love, and the glory, and the presence of God, do it now! If ever you intend to give the preacher your hand and your heart to God, give the preacher your hand now and give your heart to God now! If you ever intend to choose Jesus, choose Him now, for the day of grace is now! [Matthew 11:28, Ephesians 2:8]. Make it now! Make it now!
While we sing this song of appeal, in that balcony round, on this lower floor, somebody you, somebody you come this morning. “Preacher, just in simple faith and trust, I give my heart, and my soul, and my life to Jesus, and here I am” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “This is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming this morning.” As the Spirit of the Lord shall lead in the way, and shall make the appeal, come now on the first note of the first stanza. “I make my decision now, right where I am. And when we stand to sing, I’m going to stand coming.” Do it, and God bless and keep you and strengthen you in the decision, as you come, while we stand and while we sing.