The Great Multitude in Heaven: Page 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
Isaiah says: “We have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua clothed in filthy garments and hears God say: “Remove the filthy garments from him . . . Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel” (Zechariah 3:1-5). In preparation for the receiving of the commandments from God, Moses orders the people wash their garments (Exodus 19:10, 14). The psalmist prays to God to wash him thoroughly from his inequity, to purge him with hyssop, to wash him until he is whiter than snow (Psalm 51:1-7). The prophet hears the promise that the sins which are as Scarlett will be as white as snow and those that were red like crimson will be as wool (Isaiah 1:18). Paul reminds his people in Corinth that they have been washed and sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Here is a picture which his present all through scripture, of the man who has stained his garments with sin and who has been cleansed by the grace of God. It is of the greatest importance to remember that this love of God does not only forgive a man his stained garments, it makes them clean.
To us blood indicates death, and certainly the blood of Jesus Christ speaks of His death. But to the Hebrews the blood stood for the life. That was why the orthodox Jew never would—and still will not—eat anything which has blood in it (Genesis 9:4). The blood is the life and the life belongs to God; and the blood must always be sacrificed to Him. The identification of blood and life is not unnatural. When a man’s blood ebbs away, so does his life. When the New Testament speaks about the blood of Jesus Christ, it means not only his death but his life and death. The blood of Christ stands for all Christ did for us in His life and in His death. With that in our minds let us see what the New Testament says about that blood.
It is the blood of Jesus Christ which is cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It is the blood of Jesus Christ which makes expiation (atonement; redemption) for us (Romans 3:25), and it is through His blood that we are justified (Romans 5:9). It is through His blood that we have redemption (Ephesians 1:7), and we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ—a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19). It is through his blood that we have peace with God (Colossians 1:20). His blood purges our conscience from the dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
At this time, let’s unite the two ideas of which we have been thinking. The blessed ones have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Let us try to express as simply as possible what that means.
The white robes always stand for two things. They stand for purity, for the life cleansed from the taint of past sin, the infection of present sin and the impact of future sin. They stand for victory, for the life which has found the secret of victorious living. Put at its very simplest, this means that the blessed ones have found the secret of purity and the secret of victory in all that Jesus Christ did for them in His life and in his death.
Now let’s try to see the meaning of “in the blood of the Lamb”. There are two possibilities.
(1) It may mean in the power of the blood of the Lamb or at the cost of the blood of the Lamb. This would then be a vivid way of saying that this purity and victory were won in the power and at the cost of all that Jesus did for man in His life and in His death.
(2) But it may be even more probable that the picture is to be taken literally; and that John envisions the blessed ones as having washed their robes in the blood which flows from the wounds of Jesus Christ. To us that is a strange and perhaps even repulsive picture; and it is illogical to think of robes becoming white when washed in the scarlet of blood. But it would not seem strange to the people of John’s day; too many of them it would be literally familiar. The greatest religious force of the time was the mystery religions. These were exciting, spectacular religions which by deeply moving ceremonies offered to men a rebirth and a promise of eternal life. Perhaps the most famous was Mithraism, at whose center was the god Mithra. Mithraism had its devotees all over the world; it was the favorite religion of the Roman army and even in Britain there are relics of the chapels of Mithra where the Roman soldiers met for worship. The most sacred ceremony of Mithraism was the taurobolium, the bath of bull’s blood. This is how a Christian poet described it. “A trench was dug, over which was erected a platform of planks, which were perforated with holes. Upon this platform a sacrificial bull was slaughtered. Below
the platform knelt the worshipper who was to be initiated. The blood of the slaughtered bull dripped through onto the worshipper below. He exposed his head and all his garments to be saturated with blood; and then he turned round and held up his neck that the blood might trickle upon his lips, ears, eyes and nostrils; he moistened his tongue with the blood which he then drank as a sacramental act. He came out from this certain that he was reborn for all eternity.”
This may sound gruesome and terrible to us; but in the last analysis it is not the picture which matters but the truth behind the picture. And the great and unchanging truth is that through the life and death of Jesus Christ, there has come to the Christian that purity and victory which he could never achieve for himself.
15 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.
There is a very significant fact hidden here. Serving God day and night was part of the task of the Levites and the priests (1 Chronicles 9:33). Now those who are before the throne of God in this vision are, as we have already seen in verse 9, drawn from every race and tribe and people and tongue. Here is a revolutionary concept for Paul’s day. The half-hidden fact here is that in the heavenly temple the way to the presence of God is open to people of every race.
The phrase “day and night” means continuous, unceasing service to God—that “service” refers to worship and praise (22:3-5). The “temple” is not limited to some particular building in heaven, nor is it a reference to the temple in Jerusalem; instead, all of heaven is God’s sanctuary.
The Lord’s cherished ones are there not only to see, but also to serve. “They are
before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.” It is a fitting role for those who can prompt worship from angels. And remember, they are Gentiles! These are not Jews, nor are they members of the church. These are the Gentile victors from the tribulation. They have an access and an activity in heaven which must cause the evil one to gnash his teeth in rage. They were given the special privilege of being before God’s throne and serving Him day and night in His temple. “Temple” refers to the inner sanctuary of the temple rather than the outer court (11:19). To think that the very worst he could do to these he hated the most turns out to be the very best he could do for them! Truly, God makes the wrath of man—and the wrath of the devil, too—to praise Him. This verse clearly shows us that this great multitude is not the Bride—the church. The Bride will reign with Jesus here on earth. “They . . . serve him day and night in his temple” provides further proof that this is not the church for the church is never identified with the temple. At the end of this book, when the church is in the New Jerusalem, there is no temple there. The church will never have a temple. There is going to be one here on the earth, but there is not one in heaven where the church is. Therefore, this could not be the church. “His temple” refers to the heavenly throne of God (11:19). During the millennium, there will be a temple on earth—a special holy place where God dwells in a partially restored but still fallen universe (Ezekiel 40-48). In the final eternal state with its new heaven and earth, there is no temple; God himself, who will fill all, will be its temple (21:22).
“And he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” This fulfills the Old Testament promises (Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 2:10). “Dwell among them.” The preferred reading is that He “will spread His tent over them.” God’s presence will become their canopy of shelter to protect them from all the terrors of a fallen world and the indescribable horrors they had experienced on the earth during the time of Tribulation.
In this section, John gave a beautiful description of these people—the great multitude.
First, they were accepted, for they stood before God’s throne (v. 9) and the Lamb. No doubt they had been rejected on earth for they stood for truth at a time when lies were popular and Satan was in charge.
Second, they were joyful. They sang praises to the Father and to the Lamb (vs. 11, 12); and their worship was joined by all those who surrounded the throne.
Third, they were rewarded. They had the privilege of being before God’s throne and of serving Him (v. 15). When God’s people go to heaven, there will be work to do! We shall be able to serve Him perfectly! The Lamb will shepherd us and satisfy us with every good thing (Isaiah 49:10; Revelation 21:4). Every physical and spiritual need will be met by God the Father who will shelter them. The very center of their existence would be the Lamb their shepherd (v. 7).