The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 55

The Tribulation Martyrs

Revelation 7:9.     After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.

     John had observed the sealing of the 144,000 for a ministry on earth; now he saw another great drama in heaven, once again at the throne of the Lamb.  On earth he had seen twelve thousand from each tribe of Israel; in heaven, standing before the throne, he saw such a great throng that it would be impossible for any one man to count.

    These were not Israelites but Gentiles, coming from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  Christ’s great commission had been to “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19), promising that when His gospel of the kingdom of God had been preached “for a witness unto all nations” (Matthew 24:14), then the end of the age would finally come. At this point, the gospel apparently has been preached “unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8) and some have indeed been won to Christ from every tribe and language.

     The fact that these are all arrayed in white robes suggests that they included the martyred saints of the early part of the tribulation period, since they had been given white robes.  They were to be arrayed along with others who would be slain for their testimony and would join them (Revelation 6:11).  The fact that they are no longer beneath the altar but standing before the throne waving palm branches (perhaps the antitype of the first “Palm Sunday”), indicates that John’s vision in this case was of the still future time when all the martyred saints, to the very end of the tribulation period, had been gathered together at the throne.

    Although the text does not say so explicitly, the fact that John sees the great redeemed multitude immediately after he sees the 144,000 Israelites sealed for special service strongly suggests a causal connection.  Jews who are truly saved and become “completed Jews,” born again through faith in the Lord Jesus, become strong witnesses for Christ.  We are justified in inferring that the testimony of these 144,000, supplemented by the worldwide impact of the two witnesses of Revelation 11, along with the sobering effect of the great troubles in the world, is largely the explanation for the conversion of the great hosts of Gentiles now at the throne.

Revelation 7:10.     And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

     Such a vast multitude could indeed cry with a loud voice.  The doxology – “Salvation to our God,” is essentially the same as the cry “Hosanna!” which another multitude had voiced on the Sunday of the so-called triumphal entry, when they also waved palm branches and acknowledged Christ as King (John 12:13).

Revelation 7:11.     And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God.

     A similar shout and anthem of praise around the throne had been recorded earlier by John (Revelation 5:9-14).  On that occasion, as shown earlier, all the resurrected and raptured believers, specifically represented by the twenty-four elders, joined with all the holy angels, the time being just prior to the first judgments of the seven-year tribulation period.

     On this occasion, all these are joined by a new host gathered from every nation and tribe on earth.  These are clearly different from the elders and, therefore, from the group of resurrected believers represented by the elders.  This is a group which has reached the heavenly throne after the beginning of the tribulation. As noted before, they apparently consist of those martyred for Christ after becoming Christians during the tribulation.

Revelation 7:12.   Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.  Amen.

     This time, the great assembly breaks into a sevenfold doxology, beginning and ending with “Amen.”  Each of the ascribed attributes is, in the original, preceded by the definite article – “the blessing, and the glory, . . .” – thus emphasizing that God is deserving of all the blessing and glory that exists.  He is the Creator of all, and Savior of all, therefore, deserving of all.

   The testimony of praise in Revelation 5:12 contains the same seven attributes as the inscription of praise here in 7:12, with one exception.  In 5:12, the Lamb is adjudged worthy to receive “riches.”  In 7:12, God receives “thanksgiving.”  The martyred, but redeemed, tribulation saints, knowing that God indeed owns all the riches of the universe, find it more appropriate and satisfying to offer Him “thanksgiving.”

Revelation 7:13.     And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?

     Here there is an obvious distinction between the white-robed multitude and the crowned elder.  The question asked John by the elder is obviously rhetorical, intended as an opportunity for an important item of instructional information.  John has not yet seen the events on earth in the later years of the tribulation period, and so had seen neither the multitudes who came to believe in Christ nor the terrible persecutions which would result in their martyrdom.  Rather, in this parenthetical vision, he is carried forward to the end to see the final result in the great redeemed multitude.

Revelation 7:14.     And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest.  And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

    John, recognizing the rhetorical nature of the elder’s query, and acknowledging his preeminent position among the glorified saints (addressing him as “kurios,” translated “sir,” but often also rendered “lord”), expectantly awaits the answer.  The amazing fact is, he is told, this tremendous throng has come out of “the great tribulation.”  It is not just that they (like many Christians before them) have endured great tribulation in their life and service for Christ.  Nor have they gone through the tribulation.  Rather they were translated to the throne in the heavens “out of” (Greek ek) “the tribulation – the great one” (literal rendering). 

     The great tribulation spoken of must refer to the same period mentioned by the Lord Jesus in His prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, shortly before His crucifixion (as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21).  “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).

     The word “then” in this reference, ties back to Mathew 24:15: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:).”  That is, the great tribulation will follow immediately when the “abomination” is placed in the holy place – that is, in the place established for God to meet with the high priest, in the temple.  The term “abomination” has particular reference to idolatry.

     There is much further discussion of this theme in Revelation 13.  Here the important point is that the great tribulation is a definite future chronological period, beginning with the setting up of the abomination in the holy place and ending with the return of Christ to the earth to set up His kingdom.  “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29, 30).

     It is this great tribulation from which the multitude in heaven will come.  It is remarkable that the period of greatest suffering and persecution the world will ever see is to be also the time of the greatest wave of genuine conversions the world will ever see.

     A strong word of caution and exhortation is in order, however.  This redeemed multitude will come from among those who were still unsaved at the time of the rapture, when living believers were taken out of the world to be with the Lord.  But they will almost certainly not include those who had heard and knowingly rejected the gospel before the rapture.  This seems to be the teaching of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, which deals with this same period: “. . . because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

     Just as death terminates the day of possible salvation for those who reject Christ, so in all probability will the rapture.  Nevertheless there are perhaps at least two billion people in the world to day who have never heard and understood enough of the gospel either to accept or reject it.  It is among these that the great numbers of tribulation converts will be gleaned.  The testimony of the 144,000 sealed Israelites, as well as the Bibles and volumes of true Christian literature left in the world by the raptured believers, along with the great calamities occurring in the world, and perhaps other influences, will be used to lead these people to saving faith in Christ.  Many, perhaps most, will lose their lives before the end of the tribulation, and their souls will be arrayed in white robes with the others at the heavenly altar (Revelation 6:9-10).  Those who survive will live on into the millennial period – but more on this subject in connection with Revelation 20.

     These martyred tribulation saints have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  The white robes of the victorious saints are later said to represent “the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8).  Even the righteous acts of believers, however, are meritorious only because of the shed blood of Christ, the Lamb of God.  Those who are saved during the tribulation period will be saved on exactly the same basis as those before the tribulation period and, for that matter, in every age, which is by the atoning death and justifying resurrection of the Son of man.

Revelation 7:15.     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.

     Martyrs have a special reward, called “the crown of life” (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).  In addition these tribulation martyrs will have the special privilege of dwelling in the very presence of God during the coming millennial age, serving Him “day and night in his temple.”  This promise looks beyond their immediate circumstances as souls under the altar, but does not look on to their eternal state.  In the new earth there will be “no temple therein” and “no night there” (Revelation 21:22, 25).  Consequently, this particular promise must be fulfilled during the millennium.  At that time, there will indeed be a great temple in Jerusalem, where the Lord will dwell (Ezekiel 43:1-7).  All the glorified saints will serve as kings and priests with Christ during His thousand-year reign (Revelation 20:4-6), but these tribulation saints (“beheaded for the witness of Jesus”) will have this special place and service of blessing.

Revelation 7:16.     They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.

     During the most intense persecutions of the tribulation period, it will be illegal for believers to buy food or drink (Revelation 13:17), and they will be slain whenever they can be apprehended (Revelation 13:15; 20:4).  No doubt many of these, like their Jewish Christian brethren, will have to flee into wilderness areas, living off the land as best they can, suffering from heat and hunger and thirst (compare Revelation 11:14; Matthew 24:16; Isaiah 26:20, 21), most of them eventually dying under these sufferings.  It is conceivable that these are the ones specifically mentioned by the Lord in connection with His coming judgment of the nations at the end of the tribulation period.  “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  . . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

     The kingdom of which He speaks here is probably the millennial kingdom.  Those who, at great danger to themselves, will help those being persecuted as above during the tribulation, may thus be privileged to enter (still in their natural physical bodies) this great kingdom on the earth.

Revelation 7:17.     For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them into living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

     This is surely one of the most beautiful sentences and most gracious promises in the Word of God.  “Living fountains of waters!”  There will be an abundance of refreshing waters in the new Jerusalem, and its inhabitants will never thirst again.  A river of pure water will flow in copious supply from the very throne of the Lamb, becoming a great river (Revelation 22:1, 2) which will water the entire earth.  John himself had seen a fountain of both blood and water emerge from the side of the smitten Lamb when He was on the cross (John 19:34, 35), and with amazement had commented on it.  Later, he wrote of the united witness of “The Spirit, and the water, and the blood” (1 John 5:6-8), all speaking of God’s gracious gift of eternal life to all who believe – the Spirit imparting it, the water sustaining it, the blood securing it.

    And that living fountain, opened on Calvary, will still flow eternally, from the Lamb Himself, in the midst of the throne.  The water is physical water, but also spiritual water, such as the Lord had long ago promised the poor woman at the well (John 4:10-14).  He Himself is the water of life and will satisfy the thirst of the soul for ever, even as the physical water He created will satisfy the glorified bodies of His loved ones throughout eternity.

     Even from the millennial temple will emerge a great flowing river of fresh waters (Ezekiel 47:1-5), possibly taping vast underground reservoirs in the Jerusalem aquifers, established by the tremendous earth upheavals during the tribulation period.  This literal river will constitute a type of the great river of life flowing from the Lamb in the new Jerusalem.

     Not only will He remove all thirst but also all hunger and all tears.  The slain Lamb becomes the great Shepherd, who will “feed his flock” (Isaiah 40:11).  He will wipe away all tears from their eyes (Revelation 21:4).  Christians have shed many tears throughout the ages, especially in times of persecution, seeing their possessions stolen away, watching loved ones put to death, experiencing the scornful rejection of those they desired to lead to Christ and salvation.  Finally, however, in the new earth, all tears will be wiped away by God Himself, and the former things will “not be remembered, nor come into mind”  (Isaiah 65:17-19) in the joy of Christ’s presence (Psalm 16:11) for ever.

     These promises apply to all believers as is evident form their repetition and amplification in the last chapter of Revelation.  There is no doubt, however, that they will be peculiarly precious and encouraging to those new, but suffering, believers who will be reading them in their wilderness retreats and hidden cellars during the terrible days of the great tribulation that may soon be coming on the earth.

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