Article of the Month

August 2008

Just What IS This "Great Multitude" Thing?

 

Exceedingly few Christians are aware of the Biblical doctrine of “The Great Multitude.”  The general ignorance of the teaching is even revealed in the primary text dealing with this class.  In Revelation 7:9 the Apostle John sees this “Great Multitude.”  In verse 13, one of the “Elders” (probably representing the prophecies of Moses) admits his unfamiliarity with this “Great Multitude.”  He says, “Who are they?  And from whence have they come?”  This article will try to give a short answer to these two questions.

 

The Philosophy of “Going to Heaven”

    

“Christianity” long ago lost sight of God’s plans for humanity.  It corrupted the Gospel into teaching that Christians will go to heaven and everyone else will be “lost.”  It lost sight of the TWO SALVATIONS in God’s plan—one salvation in heaven, the other on a perfected earth.  Losing sight of this seems so improbable since most of Christianity constantly repeats “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6) which pleads for the day when God’s Kingdom would come FOR THE VERY PURPOSE that His will should be done IN EARTH as well as in heaven.  This is a big topic.  An entire book could be written dealing with the two salvations.  The Scriptures are bursting with references in proof of the matter.  As the Apostle Paul summarizes it, “God…is the savior of ALL MEN, ESPECIALLY (i.e., in heaven) of believers.”  (I Timothy 4:10)  Clearly there is a “salvation” for those who, in this life, HAVE NOT BELIEVED!

 

Since most of mankind will eternally inhabit a restored earthly paradise (Acts 3:20, 21), why would some people “go to heaven”?  The reason is that God intended from the beginning to have a personal “family” of His own. (Ephesians 1:4) 

 

They will be like Him, having LIFE IN THEMSELVES—death-proofness or immortality—even as God does and as He gave to Jesus. (John 5:26)  Because this class of beings is to be indestructible, they must have been fully tested under the most severe circumstances before receiving “immortality.”  This is why God is creating them OUT OF THE HUMAN RACE.  He calls them His “church.”  The Greek word for “church” is EKKLESIA which means A CALLING OUT.  Thus, at the present time God is calling out or taking out of mankind “a people for His name.”  (Acts 15:14)

 

We can see the seriousness of this matter.  God is not taking people to heaven to keep them from being lost!  He is taking them there to be the “bride” for His son.  He is taking them there to reign over the earth as the inheritors of the promise made to Abraham that Abraham’s seed would “Bless all the families of the earth.”  (Revelation 5:10; Galatians 3:29; Revelation 21:2-4.  God has LIMITED THIS GROUP so that its number will be only 144,000.  (Revelation 14:1, 3)  Since God set aside about 2,000 years to select this group, ON THE AVERAGE only about 72 persons per year become a part of this immortal church, the “bride of Christ.”  It is a very “HIGH CALLING”—not a common calling for anyone who calls himself a Christian.  (Philippians 3:14)

 

The question of God’s “calling” for Christians has certain LEGAL considerations in His mind.  Whoever answers the call FORFEITS his life on earth.  In other words, God considers the person’s future earthly resurrection as sacrificed. 

 

To make up for this, God “begets” this person to a NEW NATURE.  He becomes NO LONGER a son of Adam, but a SON OF GOD—A NEW CREATION.  (I John 3:2; II Corinthians 5:17)  If such a person fails to “make his calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10)—if he fails to become one of the 144,000,

WHAT HAPPENS TO HIM?  He cannot return to his inheritance as a human.  Yet he has not denied the Lord so as to make him worthy of destruction. 

This is where the doctrine of the Great Multitude comes in.

 

A “Full Reward”

 

The doctrine of the “Great Multitude” is relatively obscure in the Bible.  It is obscure on purpose.  God is not promoting falling short (Hebrews 4:1) of the hope of our calling.  Thus, He makes the Great Multitude a by-product—not something to be promoted.  There is ONLY ONE CALLING (Ephesians 4:4). 

 

The immense number of Christians who fail to secure that for which the Lord has called them are the ones who constitute this “Great Multitude.”  It is a mercy class.  No one has been called to it.  It is a sub-salvation arranged for by God for those who enter the race for the prize of the High Calling (Philippians 3:14), but who fail to obtain it.

 

Hints of this class, however, appear a number of places in Scripture.  We will consider only a few of them.

 

In II John 8, the Apostle John makes an interesting comment.  He uses the term “A FULL REWARD.”  Because Scripture is not a casual collection of writings, but rather the INSPIRED WORD OF GOD (II Timothy 3:16), we not only CAN rely on its details, but we MUST do so.  Thus, it is clear that John is aware of some Christians (a Great Multitude) who will receive NOT a FULL but a PARTIAL reward.  This aptly describes those Christians who will attain heaven, but who will not be immortal (death-proof) nor part of the “bride

of Christ,” the 144,000.

 

Recall the “Elder’s” questions in Revelation 7:13:  “Who are they?  And from where have they come?”  In verse 14, John assures this “Elder” that, if he stops and thinks about it, he will realize that his prophecies and types talk about this Great Multitude.  John says:  “You know!”  John was referring to the truth spoken by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 10:1.  Paul points out that the Jewish Law was “a shadow of good things to come.”  Paul then refers to “the same sacrifices year by year.”  Let’s look at just one of those once-a-year sacrifices made under the Law which ACTUALLY FORESHADOWS this Great Multitude class.

 

In Leviticus 16 is the very holy and significant Day-of-Atonement sacrifices which, once completed, provided for Israel’s continuance under the Law for the next year.  Paul said this was “A SHADOW OF GOOD THINGS TO COME.”  The Atonement Day itself pictured the Christian Age during which Jesus and his church are offered for the benefit of the world.  The ensuing year pictured the Millennial Age during which the world will receive the benefits of those sacrifices.  The sacrifice of the bull for a sin offering pictured the sacrifice of Jesus.  But notice Leviticus 16:5.  Taken from among the congregation (THE PEOPLE) are “two goats for a sin offering.”  BOTH ARE CALLED TO BE THE SIN OFFERING WITH JESUS (the bull); but ONLY ONE actually becomes a sin offering.  The other becomes “the scapegoat.”  “You are all called IN THE ONE HOPE of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4); but not all attain that one hope.  The scapegoat is here a HIDDEN type in this ceremony of the Law—a foreshadowing of the Great Multitude of Christians who DO NOT become part of the sin offering.  It is no wonder that when John told the “Elder” (Revelation 7:14), “You know,” that the Elder REALIZED he had foretold the matter in the typical nature of his own prophetic writings.

 

Some Characteristics

 

In Luke 12:47 and 48, the Great Multitude of Christians is portrayed as falling short of its goals for two reasons.  Some among them know but fail to do what Jesus requests of them.  This quality is portrayed as worthy of severe discipline.  (Luke 12:47)  Others among them are ill-informed.  (Luke 12:48)  The implication is that this is in itself a sin because the Lord will not keep His servants in darkness.  (John 15:15)  If they seek, they WILL find.  (Luke 11:9)  Nevertheless, this second grouping of Great Multitude Christians don’t do BECAUSE they don’t know.  They also receive discipline, but not as severely.  Collectively, their failings (in terms of Revelation 7:14) are characterized as dirty robes—a lack of sufficient appreciation for the clothing (justification) the Lord has provided for them.  THEY ULTIMATELY REFORM (“wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb”)—but too late to receive a “full reward.”

 

Another contrast between church and Great Multitude is important.  It is one of attitude.  Paul (as a representative of a faithful Christian’s attitude) says that his course is a “momentary, light affliction.”  (II Corinthians 4:17)  The Great Multitude, however, views its walk as “great tribulation.”  (Revelation 7:14)  It is not that the experiences differ; it is that the attitude differs.  Consequently, the church will become “a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)  The Great Multitude, on the other hand, will not become water-of-life SOURCES; they will yet need to DRINK to receive their eternal sustenance.  (Revelation 7:17)

 

 

The Missing Tribes

 

Finally, consider the entire seventh chapter of Revelation.  It begins with a listing of the symbolic tribes of Israel.  (In Revelation, Jews represent Christians.)

 

It is important to note that the Bible does not always list the twelve tribes of Israel THE SAME!  For instance, in Genesis 49, the listing shows the actual twelve sons of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel).  This listing is for purposes of GENEALOGY.  But, in Numbers 2, there is a listing not for genealogy; it is for INHERITANCE.  Since the tribe of Levi has no inheritance in the land, it is omitted from this list.  Instead, the two sons of Joseph are listed (Ephraim and Manasseh).  Joseph is omitted because his inheritance is shown through his two sons.

 

When we come to Revelation 7, we are not talking about literal Israel at all!   We are talking in symbol about the church.   (Galatians 6:16)  Paul calls the church “The Israel of God.”

 

In this listing Joseph and Levi are restored but Dan and Ephraim are MISSING!  Why?  Remember, Revelation 7 is not about Israel, genealogy, or land inheritance.  It is about PROPHECY.   It is about who will constitute the promised church of 144,000 members.  Dan represents those disciples who because of complete failure will be DESTROYED.  (Jacob’s prophecy indicates the serpent-like nature of this group.  See Genesis 49:17.)  Thus the Dan class of Christians is excluded from the church and is missing from this list.

 

Also missing is EPHRAIM.  His name means MULTI-FRUITFUL.  Since those called to be part of the church are called “firstfruits” (James 1:18), how appropriate for EPHRAIM (multi-fruitful) to represent the Great Multitude!

 

Therefore, reconsider Revelation 7.  Dan has disappeared into “second death” (Revelation 20:14, 15).  John has counted 144,000 faithful to constitute the “Israel of God.”  THEN (in verse 9) he sees the other “missing tribe” of Ephraim—the Great Multitude, and he explains all about them to the end of the chapter.  They are not a part of the church of 144,000 (the “body of Christ”).  They are, however, part of a heavenly resurrection serving God “”in His temple.”

 

SUMMARY
 

God’s plan for humanity is centered around the restoration of the earth as an eternal and perfect home for the billions of resurrected mankind.  Out of mankind, however, He is calling out a group to be tested and developed for a heavenly resurrection.  These are to reign with Christ for his thousand years of raising and perfecting mankind.  However, among the many who are called and chosen to run for the prize of the High calling, only 144,000 will be faithful to this calling.  (Revelation 17:14)  The multitude of others in the race will, indeed, receive a resurrection in heaven, but will not receive the “full reward” to which they were called.  They will, however, be a blessed class and will participate with the church in dispensing magnificent blessings for those on earth.  “Thy Kingdom come!  They will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

 

The doctrine of the Great Multitude, while obscure, is clearly taught in the Bible and is reflective of God’s infinite wisdom and grace.  This doctrine clarifies many questions regarding the heavenly call.  It should be cherished by all who search The Word diligently to discern the mind of God.