The Great Multitude and the 144,000
When the question is asked: “Who shall be able to stand?” it is not just the 144,000 that are included in the answer, there is another group included, called the ‘great multitude.’ It is evident, that the great multitude, is included in the answer because we are dealing with a parenthesis between the sixth and seven seals, and both the 144,000 and the great multitude are included in the parenthesis. In other words, the answer to the question: “Who shall be able to stand?” is only finished and completed when we reach the seventh seal. This conclusion is sound because both the 144,000 and the great multitude ‘stand – the 144,000 are represented as standing on earth and the great multitude are represented as standing in heaven, “before the throne of God” (Rev. 7:15). Therefore, both groups are answering the question about who is able to stand. If both groups are an answer to the question, then this opens up the possibility, that the ‘great multitude’ is the greatest evidence we have, that the 144,000 ought to be understood spiritually and not literally. This is because, the possibility that the 144,000 and the great multitude are two different descriptions of the same people.
When the sealing of the 144,000 is completed, John says: “After this…” He then proceeds to present the “great multitude which no man could number” (Rev. 7:9). The question we need to ask is this: What does John mean by “after this?” Does he mean that after the sealing work is finished, he sees the result of the sealing work and the numbers are so great, that he can only describe the completed sealing work, as being numberless? Or does he mean, that the scene concerning the completed sealing work is now finished and the prophetic picture has moved onto a new event in the unfolding revelation?
If the first proposition is correct, then the great multitude is a classic case of repeat and enlargement of the 144,000, making the 144,000 conclusively a symbolic number. If the latter is correct then the great multitude are a different group and do not share the experience of the 144,000. The purpose of this chapter, is to look at the evidence and determine which of these propositions is correct.
The 144,000 are a Repeat and Enlargement of the Great Multitude
In order to discover what John means by ‘after this,’ we need to firstly compare scripture with scripture and secondly how Ellen White uses scripture, about the great multitude, to describe the 144,000. The first column below, has scripture pertaining to the great multitude and the second column that pertaining to the 144,000:
The Great Multitude
|…and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb. Rev. 7:14.
|And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. Rev. 14:4, 5.
These scriptural examples are perhaps not definitive enough. However, Ellen White follows the Bible lead (repeat and enlarge) and greatly expands the connections between the great multitude and the 144,000. In the two columns below, the left-hand column is the scriptural account of the great multitude. The right-hand column is an account of how Ellen White uses the scripture pertaining to the great multitude, to describe the 144,000:
The Great Multitude
|After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number… stood before the throne and before the Lamb…||Here on the sea of glass the 144,000 stood in a prefect square. EW 16.|
|… clothed with white robes…||And they were all clothed with a glorious white mantle from their shoulders to their feet. EW 16, 17.|
|… and palms in their hands…||He [Jesus] gave us harps of gold and palms of victory. EW 16.|
|These are they which came out of great tribulation…||Come, My people, you have come out of great tribulation, and done my will… EW 19. cf. GC 649.|
|… and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.||You have washed your robes in My blood, stood stiffly for My truth, enter in. EW 17. cf. 649.|
|Therefore, are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple…||And as we were about to enter the holy temple, Jesus raised His lovely voice and said, “Only the 144,000 enter this place,” and we shouted, “Alleluia.” EW 19.|
|… and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.||[This Scripture is quoted (GC 649) and applied to the experience of the 144,000].|
|They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; 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.||They have seen the earth wasted with famine and pestilence, the sun having power to scorch men with great heat, and they themselves have endured suffering, hunger and thirst. But “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; 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 all tears from their eyes. GC 649.|
|For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them.||Come, My people… come into supper, for I will gird Myself, and serve, you…” And I saw a table of pure silver; it was many miles in length, yet our eyes could extend over it. I saw the fruit of the tree of life, the manna, almonds, figs, pomegranates, grapes, and many other kinds of fruit. EW 19.|
Having compared scripture with scripture and scripture with the writings of Ellen White, it should be obvious that the 144,000 are a repeat and enlargement of the great multitude. The biblical principles of interpretation, have already shown us that one of the most commonly used principle used in the composition of the Bible is the principle of repeat and enlarge. We find this principle used extensively in prophecy. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that the great multitude is a repeat and enlargement of the 144,000.
In addition to the above, we have a description of the 144,000 from Ellen White where in order to depict the 144,000 she uses scripture pertaining to the great multitude and the 144,000, blending them together. The following is taken from pages 648, 649 of the ‘Great Controversy’:
With the Lamb on Mount Zion, having the harps of God, they stand, the hundred and forty and four thousand… 144,000
These are they which came out of great tribulation; they have passed through the time of trouble such as never was… Great Multitude
In their mouth was found no guile… are without fault… 144,000
Therefore, are they before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple… They shall hunger no more… Great Multitude
The Great Multitude and the Great Tribulation
Another way to understand, that the great multitude must be the people who ‘stand,’ to see Jesus come back, is to place them in their proper context, in relation to the great tribulation.
When John sees the great multitude, he also hears one of the 24 elders ask a question: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes and whence came they?” John, does not know the answer, therefore the elder answers his own question: “these are they which came out of great tribulation…” (Rev. 7:14).
Which tribulation is the elder referring to? The KJV translation of the word ‘tribulation’ is not quite correct – the Greek text includes the definite article. It should read “they which came out of ‘the’ great tribulation. The inclusion of the definite article tends to point towards a specific tribulation. The context of the sixth seal is the second coming of Christ, therefore if a specific time of tribulation is being indicated here, it can only be the great time of tribulation of the last days [the one that only the 144,000 go through]. Jack Blanco (author of ‘The Clear Word’ – a paraphrase of the Bible), has noticed this discrepancy in the KJV and has paraphrased this portion of Scripture thus:
He said to me, “These are people who have come out of the great tribulation of the last days… The Clear Word.
If one is not comfortable with evidence from an SDA paraphrase, the Amplified Bible makes the same point:
And he said to me, “These are the people who come out of the great tribulation (persecution), and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [because of His atoning sacrifice]. Amplified Bible.
Because the definite article should be included, it is reasonable to conclude that the tribulation referred to, is the last tribulation before the second coming. Therefore, this means, that the great multitude are the people who go through the great time of trouble in the last days. Therefore, because the 144,000 also go through the great time of trouble, they must be the same people. This assertion is further proven by the context. The whole context of chapter seven is answering the question “who is able to stand.” We are then presented with the 144,000 and the great multitude. These are the people who ‘stand.’ What does it mean to ‘stand?’ Answer: they stand for Christ, during the great time of trouble. The 144,000 and the great multitude go through the time of trouble – they are the same people.
As stated at the beginning, the purpose of this chapter, is to establish what John meant by “after this?” Did he mean that after hearing the number 144,000 he saw the result of the sealing work? Or did he mean that heaven was finished with the description of the 144,000 and he was now seeing a completely different entity called the great multitude? This chapter postulates, that the former interpretation is the correct one, for the following reasons:
- Comparing scripture with scripture supports the former interpretation.
- Comparing scripture with Ellen White’s writings supports the former.
- On several occasions Ellen White uses scripture pertaining to the great multitude to describe the 144,000.
- The great multitude go through the great time of trouble.
- The 144,000 go through the great time of trouble.
- If both the 144,000 and the great multitude go through the great time of trouble, they must be the same people – the people of God in the last days.
- If the 144,000 and the great multitude are the same people, then it logically follows, that the number 144,000, must be a symbolic representation of the great multitude.
The reason why the 144,000 and the great multitude, are presented as two different groups, is because John first hears the number 144,000 – then, when he sees what the number is referring to, he sees a great multitude. The first is a portrayal of the sealing work, the second is a portrayal of the result of the sealing work. The first is a work done on earth, the second is the results of the work in heaven.