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Who are the “great multitude” in Revelation 7?

Revelation 7:9-17 is a picture of the spiritual classes involved in God’s plan of which the “great multitude” is a piece of this puzzle. The setting of the picture is heaven, or the spiritual plane.

The first participant in the picture is God Himself.

The second participant in the picture is the glorified Christ.

The head of the Christ is the glorified Jesus, and the body, or “bride” of the Christ class are those who are judged as having satisfactorily delivered on their vows of living consecrated lives of service to God.

These two participants, God and the Christ class, are pictured together on one “tier,” indicating that they are of the same nature (the divine nature).

The third participant in the picture is a “great multitude” or, as is sometimes translated, a “great company.” This group is pictured as standing before God and the glorified Christ. This difference indicates that while they are on the same spiritual plane, they are still on a different “tier” of existence (not the same divine nature as God or the church class).

This group is described as having been required to come through a great deal of tribulation to obtain their heavenly, spiritual position “in front” of God and the glorified Christ. This “great company” is also described as serving God “day and night” and not “hungering or thirsting” any longer (implying that this class did hunger or thirst at some point).

The last participants in this picture, the angels, are only mentioned briefly. They are described as also being before God and the glorified Christ class and worshipping them. In summary, there are four distinct participants or participant groups in this picture of the heavenly portion of God’s plan.

Before proposing an identity of “the great multitude” or “great company,” it is first necessary to prove where Revelation 7:9-17 takes place. Notice that verses 9 and 10 indicate the “great company” is standing “before the throne” and that “God sitteth upon the throne.

Scriptures such as Psalm 11:4 and Psalm 103:19 plainly state that God’s throne is in heaven. The fact that these groups are standing either by the throne (the glorified Christ, head and body) or before the throne (the “great company” and the angels), places them all on the same plane of existence; namely heaven, or the spirit plane of being.

The next reasonable question is, who are the “great company?”

While it is true that all mankind will eventually be raised with the opportunity to be restored to the human perfection lost due to Adam’s disobedience (sometimes referred to as “the earthly phase of God’s kingdom” or the “restitution of all things” in Acts 3:21), the heavenly setting of Revelation 7:9-17 indicates that the “great company” cannot be mankind. The “great company” cannot be the glorified members of Christ’s church either, since the “great company” stands before the glorified Church. The “great company” is also not the angelic host, since they are called out as a separate group in verse 11. So, who, then, comprise this “great company?”

When Jesus taught in parables, he often strung together several sequential parables to convey different aspects of the same concept. Consider first, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. In this parable, the two groups of virgins both start out to meet the bridegroom with lamps. The wise group has oil, but the foolish group goes forward with enough oil in their lamps to have them lit, but not enough for them to stay lit until the bridegroom arrives. Oil in this parable represents the God’s holy spirit, or power, which is given to those who dedicate, or consecrate, their lives to God (see John 14:26 and Acts chapter 2, for example). While the foolish virgins scrambled to search for more oil, the bridegroom came and granted entry to the waiting wise virgins. When the foolish virgins returned, the bridegroom did not allow them entry into the wedding. The parable ends here.

The foolish virgins, therefore, are a group who started out with the holy spirit, but through negligence, did not keep their supply, or access to it, sustained for the required period of time. They were thus shut out of the bride class. This class does not seem, then, to represent the world of mankind who, not having lived consecrated lives or received the holy spirit, were not eligible to be members of the bride class. This group started out as potential members of the bride class to the point of having received the “oil” of the holy spirit but were not faithful in maintaining what they had.

Consider Jesus’ next parable, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

In this parable, a man gives his servants money, or talents, to use in his service while he goes away. When he returns, most of the servants showed at least some increase above what they were entrusted with. One servant, however, buried his talent in the ground and offered only that same single talent back to the master. The master was extremely displeased, indicating that he expected to see an increase, and cast the unprofitable servant out. The talents in this parable again represent the holy spirit and is only given to the master’s servants. The master in the parable is Jesus. This parable indicates that those who are granted the holy spirit are expected to work with it, to increase it in the Master’s service. Again, the holy spirit is not granted to the world of mankind; only to those who consecrate their lives to God.

The unprofitable servant, like the foolish virgins, represents a group of those who consecrate their lives to God (“entering the master’s service”), and while not turning their backs on God completely (“remaining a servant of the master”), do not satisfactorily use the holy spirit they have been granted. While the foolish virgins were not allowed entry into the bride class, the unprofitable servant was “cast into outer darkness” where they “wept and gnashed their teeth.” This indicates this group was not destroyed, as in the oblivion of second death, where they could not feel the regret or anguish that would cause “weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Being “cast into outer darkness” is the equivalent of the foolish virgins being shut out of the light of the glories bestowed on the faithful bride of Christ. This invitation is not being delivered to the general population of mankind, now or in the future, and is a further indication that the “great company” is comprised of a group of individuals that were invited but failed to keep their vows necessary for maintaining that invitation.

When one consecrates their lives to God, that consecration is intended to be a dedication of all one’s heart and mind.

It is a complete surrendering and sacrifice of one’s goals and ambitions in favor of service to God. It is also a sacrifice of the future human resurrection and opportunity to return to a life of human perfection.

From this perspective, there are only two salvations as indicated in God’s original promise to Abraham (Genesis 22:17): the “stars of heaven” (the heavenly salvation of answering “the high calling) and the “sands of the seashore” (the earthly salvation of resurrection and restitution to human perfection). There is no “third salvation.” Membership in the “great company” is not something to aspire to; it is not a “way out” of the vows one has made. Thinking that living up to one’s vows in the narrow way is too difficult and it is an easier course to “settle” for membership in the “great company” is a misunderstanding and misapplication of God’s mercy.

Those who make a vow of consecration to God, and while not turning completely away from God or completely disavowing Jesus’s sacrifice, nevertheless allow themselves to live a life that falls short of the vows they have made, run the risk of losing the reward they originally sought. While God may, in His mercy, decide not to permanently destroy those who demonstrate an insufficient faith to complete their vows, these nonetheless will experience “great tribulation” and will need to endure “sufferings” in order to fully appreciate Jesus (“washing their bespotted robes white in the blood of the Lamb”).

In the end, our faith, our character and our hearts are what we have to offer God. The best course is to remain focused on maintaining the vows of full devotion and consecration to God, each and every day of our lives, and to leave the final judgment up to Him who is in all things too wise to error.

To learn more about the role of the great multitude in God’s plan listen to,

“What Will We Be Doing When We Get to Heaven? (Part III)”