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"Then Is Finished The Mystery Of God"



Chapter 15

Earthly Survivors of "The Great Tribulation"

Revelation 7:9-17

WITH inspired vision the Christian apostle John looked far beyond his own imprisonment on the penal isle of Patmos and saw the worst of troubles ever to hit mankind brewing. Why has it not hit the earth before now? Because Almighty God is holding it back by his angels until 144,000 spiritual Israelites will have received the stamp of His ownership, the identifying seal in their forehead, figuratively speaking. This reason for holding back the earth-wide storm of destructive trouble was foretold and illustrated to the inspired apostle John. (Revelation 7:1-8) This holding back of the storm has benefited more than the remnant of those sealed as spiritual Israelites who are in the new covenant with Jehovah God. It has benefited and will yet benefit a crowd of unsealed humans, the number of whom has not been fixed or declared like the number of the spiritual Israelites. Why, then, this benefit to them, since they are not sealed? Who are they anyhow? Will they be fatally hurt by the storm soon to be let loose? What can we learn on this from what John saw and heard?

After hearing the number of those who were to be sealed as spiritual Israelites but before seeing the terrific storm let loose from the four corners of the earth, the apostle John says: "After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and

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before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: 'Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:9, 10) John sees here, not the gathering of the "great crowd" in progress, but the completed picture, the fully gathered though unnumbered "great crowd." An older person speaks of them as the comers out of the great tribulation, as those who "have come out of the great tribulation." (Revelation 7:14, RS; Mo; NEB)* Since they are standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb Jesus Christ, are they up in heaven?

No! They are on earth and they will stay on earth. They do not need to be up in heaven as spirit creatures in order to stand before the throne of Almighty God and before his Lamb any more than "all the nations" have to be up in heaven when they are gathered before the Son of man when he comes and sits down on his glorious throne to separate the "sheep" and the "goats." — Matthew 25:31, 32.

In this age of radar and television we can appreciate how the Almighty God and his Lamb Jesus Christ can have before them this "great crowd" even though here on earth. (Psalm 11:4, 5; Proverbs 15:3; Revelation 5:6) Also, by eyes of faith this "great crowd" has had God on his throne of the universe and also his heavenly Lamb in view. It is with them as Psalm 16:8 says: "I have placed Jehovah in front of me constantly." (Acts 2:25) They recognize that there is only one living and true God and that he is King over all, the divine Ruler of heaven and earth, and they acknowledge themselves as being His earthly subjects. Besides this they acknowledge the Lamb, that is, Jesus Christ, the one who was slaughtered like an inoffensive, unresisting lamb in sacrifice to God.

It is not to any earthly throne and its occupant


* See the interlinear reading under the Greek text of Revelation 7:14 in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published in 1969.
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that they address themselves. Rather, to the heavenly throne and its divine Occupant and to his once sacrificed Lamb they address themselves, saying: "Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb." For thus openly confessing that their salvation comes from the Ruler of the universe and through his lamblike Son, they are indeed standing before God's throne even though they are in the flesh on earth. No occupant of a throne on earth hears such an ascription of salvation from this "great crowd"; only the heavenly enthroned God does, and so does His Lamb. This works for their having a spotless appearance in God's eyes. To picture this, they are said to be "dressed in white robes," with nothing unseemly showing to make them offensive in appearance before the enthroned God and his Lamb. This obliges them to put the law of God above the law of man; and, when there is any conflict between the law of God and the law of earthly man, they take the stand of the apostles of the Lamb Jesus Christ, saying: "We must obey God as ruler rather than men." — Acts 5:29.

Although this "great crowd, which no man was able to number," keeps coming "out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues," yet they do not let their tribal, national, racial or language differences set them at odds with themselves. They surmount all these divisive things of this world and stand united in openly confessing the reigning God Jehovah and his Lamb Jesus Christ as the source and the channel of their salvation. They salute no humans or emblems in an attributing to these their salvation. With the inspired psalmist they say: "Salvation belongs to Jehovah." (Psalm 3:8, NW; AS; Yg) They are jubilant about their God of salvation and about his Lamb, and this fact is pictured by this feature of the "great crowd": "There were palm branches in their hands," and "they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: 'Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.'"

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(Revelation 7:9, 10) Such palm branches in their hands do not mean that they suffered a martyr's death or gained victory, but they ascribe the victory to their God and to his Lamb who died as a perfect human sacrifice. They hail these ones as Saviors.

At the vision of this the apostle John quite likely thought of what he witnessed at the time of the triumph-like ride of the Lamb Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on Nisan 9 of 33 C.E. About this John himself wrote, saying: "The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival, on hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. And they began to shout: 'Save, we pray you! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah's name, even the king of Israel!' " (John 12:12, 13) John could remember also that at the celebration of the joyous festival of booths in the seventh lunar month (Tishri) his people were told to use the fronds of palm trees. (Nehemiah 8:14, 15) Palm branches were very suitable to be waved before Jehovah God on his throne because, on the walls of the temple built by wise King Solomon at Jerusalem, there were carved palm-tree figures as well as cherubs. — 1 Kings 6:29-35.

In the Revelation vision to John it appeared very appropriate that the unnumbered "great crowd" should be standing before the enthroned God and his Lamb holding up palm branches in symbol of their great joy and their grateful appreciation to these Saviors.

Those making up the "great crowd" in this twentieth century can be much encouraged by the fact that the holy creatures of the invisible heavens back them up in what they are crying out by exclaiming Amen! Right after describing the vision of the "great crowd," the apostle John proceeds to add: "And all the angels were standing around the throne and the older persons and the four living creatures, and they fell upon their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: 'Amen! The blessing and the glory and

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the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength be to our God forever and ever.' " (Revelation 7:11, 12) Thus all those other creatures worship the same God as the "great crowd" on earth does. They render to Him glory, thanksgiving and honor, and they confess that He is the divine Source of all blessing, wisdom, power and strength. If it were not for God's blessing, wisdom, power and strength, the salvation of the "great crowd" could not be brought about through the Lamb Jesus Christ.

WHO ARE THEY AND FROM WHERE?

The apostle John knew that this "great crowd," for whom no man can fix a definite number, was not the same as the 144,000 spiritual Israelites with the seal of the living God in their foreheads, and was not a part of those 144,000 spiritual Israelites. Well, then, was the "great crowd" a picture of all the saved ones of mankind? Or whom does the "great crowd" picture? John had to admit that he did not know, when the question was put to him by one of the twenty-four older persons who had earlier been seen seated on thrones about God's central throne. (Revelation 4:4-6) The information that John got he shares with us, writing:

"And in response one of the older persons said to me: These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?' So right away I said to him: 'My lord, you are the one that knows.' And he said to me: 'These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the one seated on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will hunger no more nor thirst any more, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne,

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will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.'" — Revelation 7:13-17.

The group of twenty-four older persons is one of the several Revelation symbols of the 144,000 spiritual Israelites who are to reign with the Lamb Jesus Christ during the coming millennium. So the one older person who gave the apostle John this information would stand for a part of that congregation of Kingdom heirs. Ever since the end of the first world war on November 11, 1918, there has been a remnant of these Kingdom heirs on earth. In recent years their number has been dwindling, whereas the number of the "great crowd" has been increasing steadily. Quite nicely, then, John's getting the explanation from the informative older person prefigured that in this time of the fulfillment of the Revelation the enlightening information about who and from where are the "great crowd" would be given through this anointed remnant as God's visible channel.

Indeed, the long-looked-for, satisfying information did come to us just that way, in the year 1935. In that year the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, the board of directors of which must all be members of the anointed remnant, published in its official magazine (The Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence) its latest explanation of Revelation 7:9-17 concerning the "great crowd," or, "great multitude." (AV; AS; RS) This appeared in the August 1 and 15, 1935, issues of The Watchtower, in the two-part article entitled "The Great Multitude." However, eight weeks earlier that same year, on Friday evening, May 31, at 5:00-6:30 p.m., at the Washington, D.C., convention of Jehovah's witnesses, this same information was presented to the visible audience and to the invisible radio audience by the then president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Pennsylvania corporation, namely, Joseph F. Rutherford, who spoke on the subject "The Great Multitude." Both this convention talk and the later Watchtower article set

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forth that the "great multitude" was not to go to heaven but was to live forever on a paradise earth.

Since the older person told John that "these are the ones that come out of the great tribulation," does this mean that they must go through great persecution? It would not altogether exclude that, inasmuch as in the Revelation the word "tribulation" is used at times to mean persecution or suffering as a Christian, specifically of the congregation of spirit-begotten, anointed ones. (Revelation 1:9; 2:9, 10) However, the "great crowd" are foretold to "come out of the great tribulation," and this could hardly mean that the "great crowd" suffer more persecution and hardship than the anointed remnant does so that theirs is "the great tribulation." The "great crowd" may suffer persecution along with the anointed remnant, but the persecution upon the "great crowd" is not to be put separate and magnified by the expression "the great tribulation." What, then, appears more reasonable as the meaning of that expression? This, namely, the exceptional "tribulation" that comes when the "four angels" at the four corners of the earth let loose the "four winds of the earth" to blow upon the earth, sea and trees. — Revelation 7:1-3.

When the Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples the prophecy on the "sign" of his invisible second presence and the "conclusion of the system of things," he foretold "great tribulation" that would come in connection with the destruction of antitypical Jerusalem (or, Christendom). He said: "Then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world's beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short." (Matthew 24:3, 21, 22; also Mark 13:19, 20) There the expression "great tribulation" hardly means persecution of Christians or suffering as Christians, but means the execution of God's righteous judgment, outstandingly against Christendom, inasmuch as Christendom was

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foreshadowed by the unfaithful Jerusalem that was destroyed in a horrible time of trouble in the year 70 C.E. Of course, thus far a large part of the "great crowd" has come out from Christendom, the antitypical Jerusalem. However, the "great tribulation" spoken of in Revelation 7:14 is not there mentioned in connection with any city. Hence this "great tribulation" means the execution of God's judgment against the whole world of mankind, the "four corners of the earth." — Revelation 7:1.

Out of this, "the great tribulation," the white-robed "great crowd" will come as earthly survivors, whereas this wicked system of things and all those who support it will be destroyed. This distinguishing feature about the "great crowd" makes it certain that the "great crowd" does not picture all of mankind who will eventually be saved to live in an earthly paradise, for it cannot be said of all these that they have "come out of the great tribulation." The patriarch Noah and his family, eight human souls all together, came out of the tribulation of the year 2370-2369 B.C.E., the earth-wide deluge. But at this "time of the end," the as yet unknown number of the "great crowd" of earthly survivors will come "out of the great tribulation" that destroys this system of things and its supporters. (Matthew 24:36-39) Since those of the "great crowd" "come out of the great tribulation," that is, survive it, the gathering of them must have begun during the time that the four angels at the "four corners of the earth" were holding back the "four winds" from harmfully blowing upon the earth. — Revelation 7:1-3.

WASHING THEIR ROBES WHITE

Since the year 1935 C.E. and its identification of the mysterious "great crowd" the faith that Christendom claims to have in the perfect human sacrifice of the Lamb Jesus Christ as a ransomer has been shown to be dead. How so? Because Christendom's profession of faith therein is not proved by her works.

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(James 2:20-26) For this reason she will not be preserved through the "great tribulation." Not so, however, with the white-robed members of the "great crowd." Their faith is alive and is portrayed in the fact that the older person said of them: "And they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:14) Prior to this, when they were people of the sinful world, their robes of identification were soiled and spotted with the world, not presentable in God's sight. (James 1:27) They could not wash these robes and make them white in their own blood through its being shed in violent martyrdom. Neither are they forced into washing and whitening them by being put through any future disciplinary "great tribulation." They could wash them spotlessly white only in the "blood of the Lamb." How?

They did their washing by acting out their belief that "unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place" and that Jesus Christ is "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." (Hebrews 9:22; John 1:29, 36) How? By dedication to God. In the issue of August 15, 1934, pages 249, 250, of The Watchtower it was published that, even for a person to put himself in line for gaining everlasting life on the paradise earth in God's new order, he must make an irrevocable dedication of himself to Jehovah God and then symbolize this dedication by complete baptism in water. He could not be a disciple of Jesus Christ unless he did so, in obedience to Jesus' words in Matthew 28:19, 20.

It is Jehovah God who determines whether the dedicated, baptized person shall be called with the heavenly calling to the Kingdom or shall be assigned to life and service on earth in His new order of things. Such a dedication can be made to God and accepted only if one makes this dedication through the Lamb Jesus Christ, believing that his shed blood provides for God to forgive one's sins and thus make one acceptable in God's sight.

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So, by making this unconditional dedication of themselves to God through the Lamb whose blood was shed, those who came to be of the present-day "great crowd" figuratively "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." That is how they can stand before God on his throne, in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. They keep these robes white by openly confessing before men their faith in the Lamb's blood and by continually asking God to forgive them their sins through the shed blood of his Lamb. Particularly since the year 1938 they have been attending the annual celebration of the Lord's Supper (or evening meal) as celebrated by Jehovah's witnesses on the anniversary of Christ's introduction of the Lord's Supper on the Passover night of the year 33 C.E. Although at such annual celebrations of the memorial of Christ's death they do not partake of the emblems as the anointed remnant does, they do believe that the unleavened bread means Christ's body and the red wine means Christ's shed blood. In 1969 the "great crowd" attended such a memorial of Christ's death on Tuesday, April 1, after 6 p.m.*

At the opening of the sixth seal of the mysterious scroll by the Lamb of God, the guilt-stricken, frightened worldlings of this system of things were shown calling upon the mountains and the rock-masses to hide them. Hide them from what? "From the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:15-17) The "great crowd" does not join those worldlings in calling upon earthly strongholds to hide them. They seek the face of the divine One seated on the heavenly throne, and they do not fear the "wrath of the Lamb." In answer to the question raised


* World wide this celebration of the Lord's Supper in 1968 was attended by a total of 2,493,519, of whom only 10,619 took of the bread and the wine as evidence of their being of the anointed remnant. Among the remaining 2,482,900 were included members of the faithful "great crowd."
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by the self-condemned worldlings, "Who is able to stand?" the faithful ones of the "great crowd" show who is able. They stand, yes, before the throne of God and before the Lamb, "dressed in white robes" and having "palm branches in their hands." They ascribe their salvation, not to the mountains and the rock-masses, but to their God Jehovah and to his Lamb Jesus Christ.

Because of their clean appearance in washed, whitened robes, this "great crowd," although not being spiritual Israelites, are in a proper spiritual condition to have a standing before God, who is seated on the throne of the universe, as pictured in Revelation 7:9. "That is why," explains Revelation 7:15, "they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple." They clearly recognize that Jehovah God reigns by means of his Messianic kingdom that he brought to

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birth at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 C.E. In turn, the reigning God is pleased to give them recognition from his heavenly throne by assigning to them a part in the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy: "This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come." (Matthew 24: 14) The "great crowd" carries on an expanding part in this Kingdom preaching along with the anointed remnant of spiritual Israelites, who act as "ambassadors substituting for Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:20) The "great crowd" act as envoys under supervision of these Kingdom heirs.

RENDERING SACRED SERVICE IN GOD'S TEMPLE

The work that the members of the "great crowd" are doing is a sacred work. It is said that "they are rendering [God] sacred service day and night in his temple." This does not make them priests of God such as the anointed remnant are. (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) It is not said that, as Jesus Christ said to the congregation in ancient Philadelphia, those of the "great crowd" are made pillars in the temple of his God. (Revelation 3:12) Neither is it said of those of the "great crowd" that "they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years." (Revelation 20:6) Hence those of the "great crowd" are not a priestly class. Why or how is it, then, that they are seen rendering sacred service "day and night in his temple"?

It is because there are still an anointed remnant of members of the spiritual temple class yet on earth. So, since 1934-1935 C.E., the white-robed "great crowd" has been rendering their continual service to Jehovah God in immediate contact with this remnant of the temple class, those spiritual 'pillars' in the temple of God. Thus they are in, but not a part of God's temple. Besides that, they put God's worship foremost in their lives, but they cannot worship God except through his spiritual temple of which Jesus

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Christ is the "foundation cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:20-22) Through it they will forever serve God.

Because they refrain from the profane, death-dealing works of this unholy world but constantly render service of a sacred kind to Jehovah God, he protects and shelters them. It is as Revelation 7:15 says: "The one seated on the throne will spread his tent over them." Furthermore, after the "great crowd" survives "the great tribulation," it will be true of them as well as of mankind who are thereafter to be resurrected, as foretold in Revelation 21:3: "Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside [tent; tabernacle, Greek] with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them." So since God now spreads his tent over the "great crowd," it means that he protectively takes care of them and that they have close fellowship with him.

"OTHER SHEEP"

The God to whom the members of the "great crowd" are now 'rendering sacred service day and night in his temple' also sets a Shepherd over them. The benefits of having this shepherd are told in Revelation 7:16, 17: "They will hunger no more nor thirst any more, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes."

In this way persons belonging to the "great crowd" are likened to sheep and the Lamb of God is likened to their Shepherd. Evidently this is the beginning of the gathering work that Jesus Christ foretold after speaking of himself as "the fine shepherd," over the fold of 144,000 sheep who have the heavenly calling. He said: "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:1-16) Since those of the "great crowd" are brought by the "fine shepherd"

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before the great tribulation, they are the first ones of the "other sheep" of ransomed mankind whom the "fine shepherd" brings. Because this bringing of these "other sheep" occurs while the anointed remnant of Kingdom heirs are yet on earth, the "great crowd" of "other sheep" now become "one flock" with the remnant under the "one shepherd." Due to such unification this "one flock" of symbolic sheep on earth has already grown to far more than 144,000 clear around the inhabited earth, but all are under the "one shepherd," the glorified Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God."

A faithful shepherd sees to it that his sheep are fed and watered well. Just so, too, the "great crowd" of "other sheep" do not hunger or thirst anymore in a spiritual sense. They are regularly taught and given an understanding of the nutritious Word of God, the Holy Bible, and they are given a generous share in Kingdom service, "sacred service," which is like food and drink to them, as in Jesus' own case. — John 4:32.

Besides such food and drink, the "fine shepherd" finds ample shade for his "other sheep." It is not the hot wrath of man that they have to fear because of their doing what is right; it is, rather, the burning wrath of God that they need to fear because of doing anything to merit his displeasure. So their "fine shepherd" guides and instructs them in doing God's will in order that they may have the divine approval, blessing and refreshment. Through their "fine shepherd" they can gain God's forgiveness of their sins, and keep their symbolic white robes clean. Their "fine shepherd" will shield these "other sheep" from the "scorching heat" that will blast down during the great tribulation.

Instead of burning rays from the sun and scorching heat from God's displeasure, there will be refreshment for the "great crowd" of these "other sheep" by means of his Shepherd Guide. They will not suffer death-dealing dehydration and desiccation and fatal

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lack of mineral salts. The "fine shepherd" "will guide them to fountains of waters of life." No piped, chemically tainted water this, but clear, cool, wholesome water right from the fountains. These symbolic waters mean not just waters in the sense of Bible truths but, rather, all of God's provisions for the "great crowd" to attain to everlasting perfect human life in happiness amid the earthly paradise of God's new order.

Thus through associating with the anointed remnant of the "little flock" before the "great tribulation," this "great crowd" of "other sheep" now enjoy things similar to those that were foretold for the remnant after they got out of Babylon the Great and were restored to Jehovah God's organization: "They will not go hungry, neither will they go thirsty, nor will parching heat or sun strike them. For the One who is haying pity upon them will lead them, and by the springs of water he will conduct them."  — Isaiah 49:10.

God loves this growing "great crowd" of these "other sheep" who are rendering sacred service to him day and night at his spiritual temple. Whereas in the past they may have wept because of their religious ignorance and because of their bad relationship with the one living and true God, now in their cleansed standing before God's throne and in their precious sacred service to him at his temple they weep no more. His promise regarding them is being fulfilled: "And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17) They rejoice in the salvation they owe to him through his Lamb Jesus Christ. But they look higher than their own personal salvation through the Lamb. They joyfully look forward to seeing the universal sovereignty of Jehovah God vindicated and his glorious name sanctified by his bringing the "great tribulation" that will cleanse the whole earth of the present wicked system of things of which Satan the Devil has been the god. What a joy it will be for them to survive that great tribulation!



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