Revelation 7:9 ~ The Great Multitude
Revelation 7:9 ~ The Great Multitude
“After this I looked again, and behold! A great multitude, which no one could count, from every country, clan, people and language, was standing before the Throne and before the Lamb. They had been arrayed in white robes and held palms in their hands…” Revelation 7:9.
Some of the commentators argue that the symbol does not represent martyrs because the text Revelation 7:9 does not explicitly describe them as such. To this I can only reply that the text does depict them as martyrs. Using the highly communicative, albeit non-verbal, medium of symbols, the Prophet paints an explicit picture that can lead to no other conclusion.
The accouterments of the Great Multitude indicate that they are martyrs.
The White Robe
In the blogs that proceeded this one we saw that the garment of a person was indicative of his life’s work and representative of his true character. A white garment, therefore, symbolizes the righteous acts of the Christian. This is the way John uses the symbol in the Apocalypse.
“And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints.” Revelation 19:8
But John also uses the symbol in a deeper sense, to represent those who are martyred during the Tribulation Period. The idea stated in Revelation 7:9 is intimated in the Letters to Sardis and Laodicea, stated plainly in the description of the Fifth Seal, and vividly suggested in the present vision.
The symbol has been interpreted in this way from the earliest times. Both Cyprian and Tertullian understood the text found in Revelation 7:9 in this manner, although they erred to the extent of identifying the Great Multitude with the martyrs of their own day. There is an important truth that should be understood, in this connection, before we proceed with our commentary. If the Great Multitude symbolizes martyrdom in any manner, and we contend that it does, the symbol cannot represent the entire Church from Pentecost to the Parousia. The widest possible interpretation could only include those martyred during this period. But the language of the text prohibits even this modest conclusion.
“These are they who came out of the Great Tribulation.” Revelation 7:14.
The word rendered “palms” in the Authorized Version would more properly be rendered “palm trees.” The palm was always a sign of festival joy and victory in the ancient world, and the peoples of the east considered the palm to be the perfect tree. In an ancient Sumerian Seal that Steven Langdon interprets as a depiction of the Temptation, “the tree of life is the date palm.” This idea is echoed in Egyptian symbolism, where the hieroglyphic sign of a palm branch represented fresh vegetation and youth. According to Egyptologist W. Max Muller, the palm, as it is used in the Book of the Dead, symbolizes both time, as it is embodied in the renewal of the yearly cycle, and infinite space.
The Palms mentioned in Revelation 7:9 appears infrequently in the Scriptures, mostly in connection with the decoration of Solomon’s Temple and the millennial temple envisioned by Ezekiel. The most interesting use of the symbol, however, is found in the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. This was a most important feast for the Jews and it climaxed their “week” of feasts. These seven feasts, which take place during the first seven months of the Jewish year, reach their culmination in the seventh month with the feasts of trumpets, atonement, and tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted seven days, was a commemoration of the 40 years Israel wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus experience. At the beginning of the feast the Jews made “booths” to dwell in for the entire week. The top, and probably the sides of these “booths” were covered with palm branches.