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The Controversy Over the "Great Crowd" of Revelation Chapter 7

By Hal Flemings
September 1995

Especially, since the late 1970s, a number of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and sympathetic supporters from mainstream churches, have publicly challenged the understanding that Jehovah’s Witnesses have of the "great crowd" mentioned in Revelation chapter 7. These antagonists, by and large, believe that the great crowd’’ will be elevated to life in heaven along with the 144,000 mentioned in the same chapter. Their principal arguments seem to be:

(1) Since Revelation 7:15 clearly states that the "great crowd" "serve [God] day and night in his temple" and since other passages in the book of Revelation identify God’s temple with heaven, then the "great crowd" must of necessity wind up in heaven. Cites making the point that God’s temple is associated with heaven are: Revelation 11:19 which says: "Then God’s TEMPLE IN HEAVEN was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of the covenant..." And, Revelation 14:17 which reports: "Another angel came out of the TEMPLE IN HEAVEN..."

And,

(2) A "great crowd" is seen in heaven at Revelation 19:1,6 which says: "After this I heard what seemed like the loud voice of a GREAT CROWD IN HEAVEN saying ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. . .And I heard what seemed as if it were the voices of a GREAT CROWD and the sound of much water and the pealing of strong thunders, all saying ‘Hallelujah, because the Lord our God Almighty has come into his reign’" --THE BIBLE IN LIVING ENGLISH. It is believed that the "great crowd" ( "great multitude" in many translations) in both Revelation 7 and Revelation 19 are one and the same. If this is so, it is certainly the case that the "great crowd" in Revelation 19 is in heaven and that would, of course, have an influence over how the "great crowd" of Revelation 7 is to be viewed.

This paper disagrees with the conclusions just stated for the reasons that follow.

DISMANTLING THE ‘GREAT CROWD’ ARGUMENT

The Greek text at Revelation 7:9 refers to the "great crowd" as the "οχλος πολυς". Similarly the Greek text refers to the "great crowd" at Revelation 19:1 as the "οχλου πολλου". However, throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures this term describes ANY large group of individuals. For example, a large group of individuals that were disputing with the apostles of Christ are called "οχλον πολυν" at Mark 9:14. Also, when Judas Iscariot came to betray Christ on the night before his death, the text at Matthew 26:47 tells us that a "οχλος πολυς" came with him. John, the writer of the book of Revelation, in his Gospel of John describes a group of individuals that followed Jesus "because they were beholding the signs he was performing upon those who were ill" as a "οχλος πολυς" at John 6:2.

In several places, the Bible describes the angels as composing a substantial community. Consider these references:

Hebrews 12:22 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION): "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly".

Daniel 7:9,10 (REVISED STANDARD VERSION): "As I looked, thrones were placed and the one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him".

Revelation 5:11,12 (NEW ENGLISH BIBLE): "Then as I looked I heard the voices of countless angels. These were all round the throne and the living creatures and the elders. Myriads upon myriads there were, thousands upon thousands, and they cried aloud: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain, to receive all power and wealth, wisdom and might, honour and glory and praise!".

The argument should be evident at this point: There is equal if not superior reason for concluding that the "great crowd" of Revelation 19 is the huge community of angels inhabiting heaven. If they are not the "great crowd" here, then they are conspicuous by their absence.

DISMANTLING THE TEMPLE ARGUMENT

It may be significant in more ways than one that in Revelation 11:19 the text speaks of "God’s temple IN HEAVEN". We must remember that the physical temple of God in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans many years before the book of Revelation was written. Given that fact, one may wonder why John found it necessary to indicate that this temple was "in heaven". Was there another from which it had to be distinguished? Or, like the "woman" of Revelation 12, was there a HEAVENLY aspect (See Revelation 12:1) and then an EARTHLY aspect (See Revelation 12:9,13)?

Did not some Christian Greek Scripture writers speak of anointed Christians living on the earth as God’s temple? A few citations may establish an affirmative response to that question:

1 Peter 2:5 (KING JAMES VERSION): "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."

1 Corinthians 3:16,17 (KING JAMES VERSION): "Know ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."

In the context of this aspect of God’s temple could not the "great crowd" serve in God’s temple here on the earth? Obviously, so.

There is another perspective that can not be ignored. In Hebrews chapter 9, the apostle Paul drew parallels between the physical temple of God that existed in Jerusalem and the spiritual temple of God. Interestingly, in this discussion the apostle Paul mentioned that the room in the temple called the Most Holy represented heaven. He compared the return of Jesus to heaven with the value of his blood in behalf of mankind to the entrance of the Jewish high priest once a year into the Most Holy with the blood of animals in behalf of the nation of Israel. Here are the specifics:

Hebrews 9:7, 8, 12, 24 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION): "But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing... [Jesus] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption or Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence."

Within the temple there were two major compartments: The Most Holy and The Holy. These rooms were separated by a curtain. Paul identifies the "curtain" of the spiritual temple in these words found at Hebrews 10:19-22 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION):

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."

In the context of our subject, the value of this passage is that it places the area outside of the Most Holy outside of heaven. The only way to get to heaven, represented by the Most Holy, was through the earthly sacrifice of Jesus, represented by the curtain. That meant, ipso facto, that The Holy represented the "priestly" services of the anointed on the earth. In other words, we would have a part of the spiritual temple that did not represent heaven. Other areas outside of the Most Holy would also represent the earth. Given this information, the "great crowd" could serve God in his temple and still not be in heaven.

THE EARTH CENTERED VISION ARGUMENT

The seventh chapter of Revelation seems to pinpoint exactly where the whole vision is centered. That place is the earth. What else could the following mean?:

Revelation 7:1-3 (NEW WORLD TRANSLATION): "After this I saw four angels standing upon the four corners of the EARTH, holding tight the four winds of the EARTH, that no wind might blow upon the EARTH or upon the sea or upon any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the sunrising, having a seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the EARTH and the sea, saying ‘Do not harm the EARTH or the sea or the trees until after we have sealed the slaves of our God in their foreheads.’"

Nothing in the rest of the chapter tells us that we have left the earth as the site of the vision unless we interpret the "temple" references to mean heaven.

THE FUTURE BLESSINGS ARGUMENT

It is of interest that while the "great crowd" are serving God in his temple that they are promised a number of blessings: "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 hunger no more nor thirst anymore, 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." (Revelation 7:15-17 NWT) Paul told us at 1 Corinthians 15:42-54 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 that those who will go to heaven will be instantly given immortality. That certainly means that they will not be" GUIDED to fountains of waters of life" while they are serving God "day and night" in the heavenly part of the great spiritual temple. It ought to be clear that once those who go to heaven are in heaven the promises become realities right away. On the other hand, the seventh chapter of Revelation describes individuals who while serving God day and night in his temple look forward to the blessings mentioned, and that would mean that they are not in heaven in this vision.

THE REVELATION CHAPTER 14 ARGUMENT

Many will agree that the 144,000 featured in the fourteenth chapter of the book of Revelation are seen in their glorified station in heaven. In this account, the 144,000 have been redeemed from the earth and are present with Christ Jesus in heavenly Mount Zion. (Compare Hebrews 12:22-24 with Revelation 14:1) The question is this: If the "great crowd" also go to heaven why are they not acknowledged in Revelation 14:1-5? While it is true that it could be argued that the "great crowd" are inferentially acknowledged by the fact that the 144,000 are called the "firstfruits to God and to the Lamb", thereby indicating 'afterfruits', they are not seen in the HEAVENLY tableau, while the 144,000 are.

THE SURVIVOR ARGUMENT

In certain pre-Christian scriptures we are informed that during the "great day of Jehovah" some individuals will survive the destruction and live on into the next world on the earth. In other words, while it is true some will go to heaven during the end times, some will survive over into the "new earth". (See Isaiah 66:19-24; Isaiah 24:1-6) Thus the view that at Armageddon all survivors which would include the remainder of the 144,000 and "great crowd" will go to heaven is subject to question since these passages show that some will remain here on the earth in the flesh to worship Jehovah from ‘Sabbath to Sabbath’ (week to week) and ‘new moon’ to ‘new moon’, (month to month).

CONCLUSION

No, the "great crowd" will not go to heaven but many of them, like Noah and his family, will survive the coming "great tribulation" to alight on an earth rid of the wicked . They will live to see God's will done on the EARTH as it is in heaven. That is their hope and treasure.

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