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
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
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
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:
They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 &
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.
As discussed, the palm branches in their hands foreshadow the bliss
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.
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.