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Revelation 7:4-8 describes the 144,000. Then another group is mentioned that is the subject for this question.

According to evangelicals, who are the Great Multitude at Re 7:9,

Rev 7:9 After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands (ASV)

who come out of the great tribulation (on earth)

7:14 And I say unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they that come of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb

where they are given life? Don't evangelicals teach that all saved Christians get eternal life when they go to heaven?

7:17 for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.

This question is not about the differences between pre, post tribulation rapture or a-mils. Focus on the identity of the Great Multitude and whether any evangelical group teaches, as per these verses, that this group is not in heaven when they get life, after the 144000 are already in heaven.

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    Evangelicalism is split between pre-, post-, and a-millenials, who all have different answers to questions like this. Even those camps would have people who interpret these passages in different ways.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 10, 2020 at 5:17
  • @curiousdannii A good answer would demonstrate this from what they have published.
    – user47771
    Feb 10, 2020 at 15:06
  • You might want to change the 9:14 to 7:14 above. It could confuse some people, like me. I think 14:1-5 should also be a factor. Feb 11, 2020 at 5:02
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    The only verse in Revelation I could see that has the idea of people being given life is 2:10, which doesn't have anything to do with the 144K. So I'm not sure what you mean by that. Also, you can't just ask for everyone to ignore major eschatological differences and then ask them to explain their theology of something which depends on those differences!
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 11, 2020 at 5:24
  • I agree that the question should be scoped toward a specific denomination. Evangelicals is too broad.
    – Kris
    Jul 31, 2020 at 3:06

3 Answers 3

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Since there is no ruling body for evangelical Christians, each church, preacher, and member could take a different interpretation. In this answer I'll present various articles from generally well-known evangelical sources which provide contradictory answers, to give an idea of some of thing things that are believed amongst evangelicals.

In some cases, they believe both the 144000 and the multitude are the same set of people, and in other cases they don't. Where they believe them to be different, I've tried to explain what they believe both groups are.

All emphasis is quotes are my own.

Pre-millenial Example

This article from GotQuestions (whose Statement of Faith appears consistent with Evangelicalism) appear to hold the pre-millenial view

It is true that there will be people ruling in the millennium with Christ...Furthermore, the millennium is different from the eternal state, which will be established at the completion of the millennial period

They understand the 144000 to be a specific set of Jews at a particular time:

When taken at face value, Revelation 7:4 seems to speak of 144,000 actual people living during the end-times tribulation. Nothing in the passage leads to interpreting the 144,000 as anything but a literal number of Jews

And they (quite strongly!) disagree that it is a literal interpretation of the full number of saved Christians:

Much of the confusion regarding the 144,000 is a result of the false doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses [who] claim that 144,000 is a limit to the number of people who will reign with Christ in heaven and spend eternity with God

But the 144000 are not the multitude described in the rest of the chapter. Instead, this group of Jews goes on to convert large numbers of Christians, and it's these that the multitude is talking about.

As a result of their ministry, millions—“a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9)—will come to faith in Christ.

Contradicting pre-millennial example

John Piper, a well-known US evangelical preacher, describes himself as pre-millenial. This article referencing Revelation 7, directly contradicts this view, suggesting they are not converts from the tribulation.

Unless you restrict this multitude to the converts of the great tribulation and say that God's missionary purpose then is different than it is now, the implication of God's worldwide purpose is clear

Instead, he appears to suggest they represent all Chritians. This is backed up by his use of the words "saints" in this article, where he appears to equate both the 144000 and the multitude to all Christians.

in dying [Jesus] ransomed a great multitude of saints from all the nations

suggests Piper is using the word "saints" to mean "all Christians", which he then equates to both the 144000 and the multitude.

Then before the opening of the final seal John is given a vision of the destiny of the saints in all this upheaval. In 7:1–8 he sees that they will be sealed by God on the earth so they are preserved for his own. Then in 7:9–17 he sees them in the final triumphant state in heaven as an uncountable multitude from every nation serving God in security and joy forever and ever.

A-millennial example

This article is from the Gospel Coallition, which describes itself as "a fellowship of evangelical churches". It is written by Kevin DeYoung, who in another article for TGC describes himself as a-millennial. He also appears to interpret the 144000 as a representation of all Christians.

The 144,000 are not an ethnic Jewish remnant, and certainly not an Anointed Class of saints who became Jehovah’s Witnesses before 1935. The 144,000 represent the entire community of the redeemed.

I take it that, if the 144,000 represent all of God's people, DeYoung is interpreting the whole of Revelation 7 as referring to the same group of people.

Post-millennial Example

I haven't been able to find a great example for this. This article is from someone describing themselves as post-millenial, although doesn't seem to refer to themselves as "evangelical". It's not clear who they think the multitude are, but they draw a strong distinction between them and the 144000, which suggests they don't believe it is a particular set of Jews, at the very least.

The 144,000 saints represent Jewish converts to Christianity who dwell in Israel...John distinguishes them from “the great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev 7:9). John is careful to make this strong distinction between the two groups.

Summary

Evangelical Christians generally disagree over the interpretation of who the multitude are, who the 144000 are, and whether they are the same set of people. Even Christians who appear to hold to the same interpretation of Revelation in general disagree over this passage in particular. However, there is a vague notion that suggests the most common interpretation is that it represents all of God's people.

Edit:

I'm tempted to say that the question of whether this multitude has not yet received life is a separate question, but I'll attempt to answer it anyway. If others feel it should be split out, then I can copy this section of the answer across.

Revelation 7:17 mentioned two things happening: God wiping every tear from their eye, and them being led to the water of life. It seems you've interpretted this to mean that they don't yet have life, and will only receive it when they reach said water of life.

However, if we look later in Revelation, we find that both phrases are used to describe the New Creation. I would therefore interpret these verses as simply telling us in advance, before the trouble we're about the see through Revelation, that this multitude will reach the New Jerusalem.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5 (NIV®)

And

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. Revelation 22:1-2 (NIV®)

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  • I don't see the new creation described in Revelation. That's a term specific to Paul. How do you identify it in John/Revelation?
    – user47771
    Feb 11, 2020 at 13:19
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    I suspect that is a separate question, although a good one! I tend to use the terms "new creation" and "new heaven and a new earth" interchangeably. I'll update the answer to be consistent with Revelation's phrasing
    – Korosia
    Feb 11, 2020 at 13:35
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The Identity of Those in Revelation 7:9-14

Portions of the Book of Daniel, just like Revelation, are the dictations of an angel. When the angel interpreted for Daniel, he always spoke of literal historical details to come which we see contained within the events of the rise of the four empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Jesus, in relating end time events began with the literal destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Matthew 24:2. It is expected that we keep this literal interpretation in mind throughout these apocalyptic passages.

Revelation 6:12-17 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

Revelation 7:9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; ... 7:14 These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Matthew 24:29-31 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

It would be hard to escape our notice that Matthew 24:31-29-31 parallels Revelation 6:12-17 continued through Revelation 7:9-14. Remember, there are no chapter breaks in the original manuscripts. These two sections of Revelation are only separated by 9 verses. We have events on the earth beginning in chapter 6:12-17. The participants look towards the heavens and are taken aback at the presence of Christ. The context next moves from the view of the Lord in the heavens to the church now in heaven. To note, this is not just the church of the believers of history but the church from every tribe, tongue, and nation. This is the complete church that will only exist once the gospel is preached in the whole world.

Matthew 24:14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Revelation 7:9-14 is a view of the end time church as well as the church of history all gathered as the bride of Christ waiting only for the martyrs of the Great Tribulation to make their numbers complete. The connections between these sections of Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 and 7 are 1) the falling stars, 2) the appearance of Christ in the heavens, and 3) the gathering of the saints from the entire planet to heaven. The identification of the body of saints that appears in heaven is unmistakable due to their world-wide outtake from every tribe, tongue, and nation. This the catching up of the church (harpazo) some refer to as the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This clears the road for the rise of the antichrist whose identity would be exposed had the church remained on earth during this time of catastrophe and chaos.

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    Nicely composed! If I am correct that this answer is from a pre-tribulational, pre-millenial viewpoint please consider introducing your answer in such a way. Jul 31, 2020 at 13:16
  • Thanks for your comment. I will take your advice.Years ago, I tended more towards a post-tribulation "catching up." It seemed that there was something noble about surviving through or even giving your life for the cause of the gospel during this period.Then, after some intense study, I came to a literalist/chronological historo-futurist position before realizing that would put me in the pre-tribulation camp. I was a bit annoyed when I realized this consequence of my approach. As I began to see the logic of the position though, it began to embrace it.
    – eenberg
    Aug 2, 2020 at 5:18
  • In the last line of your answer "This clears the road for the rise of the antichrist whose identity would be exposed had the church remained on earth during this time of catastrophe and chaos.", did you mean to say 'would not have been exposed'? Aug 2, 2020 at 12:04
  • If the church remains through the rise of the antichrist, many biblically knowledgeable saints would be pointing attention to the acts and identity of this new leader as described in scripture. Therefore, it fits that the church would be absent at this time, especially as the lead up events to Daniel's 70th week are taking place, and this leader takes on an imperial leadership style during the havoc wrought upon the European Union through this time of troubles.
    – eenberg
    Aug 3, 2020 at 17:43
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Who is the multitude before the throne?

The great multitude before the throne in Revelation 7:9-17 seems very different from the 144,000 (Rev 7:1-8):

The 144,000 are exactly numbered, from the tribe of Israel, on earth, and before the four winds are released (Rev 7:1-3). In contrast, the multitude is before the throne of God, cannot be counted, from all nations, and after the Great Tribulation (Rev 7:14).

A Hear/See Combination

However, some argue that the multitude before the throne is the same as the 144,000 because this is one of the hear/see-combinations in Revelation where John first hears about something and then sees something completely different, but the two things really are the same. For example:

In Revelation 5:5-6, John first hears about a lion and then sees a lamb, but both symbolize Christ.

John first hears that the woman sits on "many waters" (Rev 17:1) but then he sees that she sits on a scarlet beast with seven heads (Rev 17:3).

In the same way, John never sees the 144000. He only hears their number (Rev 7:4). But when he looks, he sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9).

Different perspectives of the same thing

This article proposes that what John first hears and then sees in these hear/see combinations are not exactly the same but different perspectives of the same thing:

The lion and the lamb symbolize two different roles which Christ has. On earth, He was a lamb. But, when He returns, He will be a lion and tread “the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev 19:15). The lamb and the lion, therefore, symbolize different phases of His work.

The waters and the beast on which the woman sits, similarly, are two different perspectives of humanity:

  • The "waters" symbolize all the peoples of the world (Rev 17:15).

  • The beast, on the other hand, has “seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 17:3). The seven heads are the seven phases of the beast (cf. Rev 17:9-10) and the ten horns symbolize the confederacy of “kings” that will oppose God in the end-time (cf. Rev 17:12). The beast, therefore, also symbolizes humanity but humanity divided into nations and kingdoms.

In the same way, the 144,000 and the multitude before the throne are not exactly the same but different perspectives of God's people. To explain:

A Different Time

The sixth seal has been interpreted as the return of Christ. In it, the multitude hiding in the mountains says:

“Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand” (Rev 6:16-17)?

In other words, their question is, who is able to stand when Christ returns? Revelation 7 answers this question in two ways:

The first part (7:1-8) jumps back to the time BEFORE His return to describe the sealing of God's end-time people. Another article concluded that the seal of God will empower God’s people to remain faithful during the end-time crisis.

The second part (7:9-17) describes an innumerable multitude from all the nations, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). The words "stand," "throne," and "Lamb" identify them as the ultimate answer to the question of the multitude hiding in the mountains. That question implies that the multitude before the throne is described on "the great day of their wrath" - interpreted as Christ’s return; AFTER the four winds have already run their course. They, therefore, describe God's people at a later time than the 144,000.

Different People

The innumerable multitude and the 144,000 also do not include the same people. To explain:

The innumerable multitude is “clothed in white robes” (Rev 7:9). This reminds us of the fifth seal which describes a specific point in history when God’s slain people cry for revenge but are given white robes and told to wait for “their fellow servants … who were to be killed even as they had been” (Rev 6:9-11). This point in history divides God’s people between:

  • Those who have already been “slain because of … the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9) and
  • Those who must still be “killed even as they had been” (Rev 6:11).

In the fifth seal, white robes are given to the first group (Rev 6:11). By implication, the second group will also receive white robes. Since they are dressed in white robes, the multitude before the throne includes BOTH groups.

This is confirmed by the statement that the innumerable multitude comes out of "the great tribulation" (Rev 7:14). Given the context, this "great tribulation" refers to the slaughtering of God’s people as described in the first five seals. Since both groups in the fifth seal are martyred, both groups come out of "the great tribulation."

But the 144,000 include only the second group:

Another article has concluded that "the seal of the living God," with which the 144,000 are sealed, comes down out of heaven (Rev 7:2) at the specific time in history to which the fifth seal refers. This means that the 144,000 are only the second group in the fifth seal, namely, God’s end-time people. The multitude before the throne, therefore, includes both the 144,000 and God’s people who have been slain before the point in history in the fifth seal.

At what time are they described?

Another question is, what time is described in Revelation 7:9-17? In particular, does this passage describe the multitude standing before the throne before or after the return of Christ?

After His Return

The following seems to indicate that it describes the time AFTER His Return:

  1. They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17).

  2. Revelation 6:17 asks, “who is able to stand” on "the great day of their wrath?” Since the multitude standing before the throne is the answer to that question, they are described on "the great day of their wrath,” which has been interpreted as Christ’s return.

  3. As discussed, the palm branches in their hands foreshadow the bliss of eternity.

Before His Return

However, the New Testament sometimes describes things that are a permanent and eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized, as if they already happened (e.g., John 5:24; Rev 13:8). Revelation, similarly, often depicts God’s people on earth as if they are already in heaven (Rev 13:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:2). This may also apply to Revelation 7:9-17.

An important aspect of Revelation 7:9-17 is the verb tenses. Prophets normally describe visions in the past tense because the vision was a past experience for the prophet. So, the prophet may even describe events that lie in the prophet’s future in the past tense. However, Revelation sometimes switches to the present and future tenses. That must be significant. In Revelation 7:9-17:

Revelation 7:11-12, describing the song of the heavenly beings, is in the past tense.

Revelation 7:15-17, describing what God will do for His people, is in the future tense. For example: "God will wipe every tear."

On the other hand, the description of the multitude before the throne is in the present tense. For example, they “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). This implies this great multitude is still coming out of the great tribulation. That would mean that Revelation 7 describes the multitude before the throne BEFORE the return of Christ.

Proposal

After the description of Christ’s return at the end of Revelation 6, Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144,000. It is proposed that the description of the great multitude before the throne (Rev 7:9) continues exactly where Revelation 6 left off. In other words, the multitude hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17) and the multitude standing before the throne describe the same point in history, namely, a point in time during the return of Christ.

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