“Look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”—REV. 7:9.
SONG 60 It Means Their Life
1. What was the apostle John’s situation at the end of the first century C.E.?
AT THE end of the first century C.E., the apostle John was in a distressing situation. He was elderly, confined to the isle of Patmos, and likely the only apostle alive. (Rev. 1:9) He knew that opposers were misleading congregations and causing divisions. It may have seemed that the small flame of Christianity was about to be extinguished.—Jude 4; Rev. 2:15, 20; 3:1, 17.
2. According to Revelation 7:9-14, what exciting prophetic vision did John receive? (See cover picture.)
2 Amid these dire circumstances, John received an exciting prophetic vision. In it, angels are told to hold back the destructive winds of the great tribulation until the final sealing of a group of slaves. (Rev. 7:1-3) That group is made up of 144,000 who will rule with Jesus in heaven. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:4) Then John mentions another group, so vast that he exclaims: “Look!”—an expression that may indicate his surprise at seeing something unexpected. What does John see? “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 before the Lamb.” (Read Revelation 7:9-14.) Imagine how happy John must have been to learn about myriads of people practicing true worship in the future!
3. (a) Why should John’s vision strengthen our faith? (b) What will we learn in this article?
3 That vision no doubt strengthened John’s faith. How much more should it strengthen our faith, since we live in the time of the fulfillment of the vision! We have seen the gathering of millions whose hope is to survive the great tribulation and live forever on earth. In this article, we will learn how Jehovah revealed the identity of that great crowd to his people more than eight decades ago. Then we will consider two features of that crowd: (1) its size and (2) its diversity. These points should strengthen the faith of all who hope to be part of that blessed group.
WHERE WILL THE GREAT CROWD LIVE?
4. What Scriptural truth does Christendom not understand, and how did the Bible Students differ in this regard?
4 Christendom generally does not teach the Scriptural truth that one day obedient humans will live forever on earth. (2 Cor. 4:3, 4) Today, most religions in Christendom teach that all good people go to heaven when they die. It was different, however, with the small group of Bible Students who were publishing the Watch Tower in the late 1800’s. They understood that God would restore Paradise on earth and that millions of obedient humans would live here on earth—not in heaven. However, it took time for them to discern clearly who these obedient humans would be.—Matt. 6:10.
5. What did the Bible Students believe about the 144,000?
5 Of course, the Bible Students also discerned from the Scriptures that some would be “bought from the earth” to rule with Jesus in heaven. (Rev. 14:3) That group would be made up of 144,000 zealous and dedicated Christians who had served God faithfully while on earth. What about the great crowd?
6. What did the Bible Students believe about the great crowd?
6 In his vision, John saw that group “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9) Those words led the Bible Students to conclude that, like the 144,000, the great crowd would reside in heaven. If both the 144,000 and the great crowd were to live in heaven, how would one group differ from the other? The Bible Students thought that the great crowd must be made up of Christians who had not been fully obedient to God while on earth. Although leading reasonably clean lives, some of them may have remained in Christendom’s churches. The Bible Students concluded that such ones demonstrated a measure of zeal but not enough to rule with Jesus. Because their love for God had not been sufficiently fervent, the great crowd would qualify to be in heaven before the throne but not to sit on thrones.
7. Who, according to the Bible Students, would live on earth during the Millennium, and what did the Bible Students believe about the faithful men of old?
7 Who, then, would live on earth? The Bible Students believed that after the 144,000 and the great crowd were gathered to heaven, millions of others would be granted life on earth to experience the blessings of Christ’s Millennial Reign. The Bible Students did not expect those millions to serve Jehovah before the start of Christ’s Reign. Rather, it was thought that this group would be educated in Jehovah’s ways during the Millennium. Thereafter, those who conformed to Jehovah’s standards would be blessed with everlasting life on earth, whereas those who rebelled would be destroyed. The Bible Students also thought that perhaps some who would serve as earthly “princes” during that time—including the resurrected “ancient worthies” (faithful men who died before Christ)—would somehow be rewarded with heavenly life at the end of the Millennium.—Ps. 45:16.
8. What three groups seemed to have a place in God’s purpose?
8 Thus, the Bible Students felt that there were three groups: (1) the 144,000, who would rule with Jesus in heaven; (2) the great crowd of less zealous Christians, who would stand before the throne of Jesus in heaven; and (3) millions of people who would be educated in Jehovah’s ways on earth during Christ’s Thousand Year Reign. * In Jehovah’s due time, however, the light of truth began to shine ever brighter on this topic.—Prov. 4:18.
THE LIGHT OF TRUTH SHINES BRIGHTER
9. (a) In what way could the great crowd on earth stand “before the throne and before the Lamb”? (b) Why does this understanding of Revelation 7:9 make sense?
9 In 1935 the identity of the great crowd in John’s vision was clarified. Jehovah’s Witnesses came to realize that the great crowd do not literally have to be in heaven to stand “before the throne and before the Lamb.” Rather, their position is figurative. Even though they would live on earth, the great crowd could stand “before the throne” by recognizing Jehovah’s authority and by submitting to his sovereignty. (Isa. 66:1) They could stand “before the Lamb” by exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. Similarly, at Matthew 25:31, 32, “all the nations”—including the wicked—are said to be “gathered before” Jesus on his glorious throne. Clearly, all these nations are, not in heaven, but on earth. This adjusted understanding makes sense. It explains why the Bible does not say that the great crowd is raised to heaven. Only one group is promised everlasting life in heaven—the 144,000, who will “rule as kings over the earth” with Jesus.—Rev. 5:10.
10. Why would it be necessary for the great crowd to be educated in Jehovah’s ways before the Millennium?
10 Since 1935, Jehovah’s Witnesses have thus understood that the great crowd of John’s vision is made up of a group of faithful Christians who have the prospect of living forever on earth. In order to survive the great tribulation, the great crowd would have to be educated in Jehovah’s ways before the Millennium begins. They would need to show strong faith in order to “succeed in escaping all these things that must occur” before Christ’s Thousand Year Reign.—Luke 21:34-36.
11. Why might some Bible Students have thought that some would perhaps be raised to heaven after the Millennium?
11 What about the view that some exemplary ones on earth would be raised to heaven after the Millennium? That possibility was suggested years ago in the February 15, 1913, issue of The Watch Tower. One could have reasoned, ‘Why would faithful men of old receive a mere earthly inheritance but Christians who were somewhat negligent be rewarded with life in heaven?’ Of course, that thinking was influenced by two incorrect assumptions: (1) that the great crowd would reside in heaven and (2) that the great crowd would be made up of less zealous Christians.
12-13. What do both the anointed and the great crowd recognize about their reward?
12 As we have seen, however, since 1935, Jehovah’s Witnesses have clearly understood that the survivors of Armageddon are the great crowd of John’s vision. They will “come out of the great tribulation” right here on earth, and they will “keep shouting with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Rev. 7:10, 14) Furthermore, the Scriptures teach that those who are resurrected to heavenly life receive “something better” than do the faithful men of old. (Heb. 11:40) Our brothers accordingly began enthusiastically inviting people to serve Jehovah with the hope of living forever on earth.
13 Those of the great crowd rejoice in their hope. They understand that Jehovah determines where his faithful worshippers will serve him, whether in heaven or on earth. Both the anointed and the great crowd recognize that their reward is possible only because of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness as expressed through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ.—Rom. 3:24.
GREAT IN SIZE
14. After 1935, why did many wonder how the prophecy about a great crowd would be fulfilled?
14 After the understanding of Jehovah’s people was clarified in 1935, many still wondered just how those with an earthly hope could become a crowd great in size. For example, Ronald Parkin was 12 years old when the identity of the great crowd was made clear. “At that time,” he recalls, “there were about 56,000 publishers worldwide and many, perhaps most of them, were anointed. So the great crowd did not seem very great.”
15. How has the gathering of the great crowd continued to progress?
15 In the following decades, however, missionaries were sent to many lands, and the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses steadily increased. Then, in 1968, a Bible study program was started using the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. Its simple explanation of Bible truth attracted meek people as never before. Within four years, more than half a million new disciples got baptized. As the Catholic Church began to lose its grip on Latin America and other countries and as restrictions on our work were lifted in Eastern Europe and parts of Africa, millions more got baptized. (Isa. 60:22) In more recent years, Jehovah’s organization has produced a number of other effective tools to help people learn what the Bible teaches. There is no doubt that a great crowd—now numbering more than eight million—has been gathered.
A DIVERSE GREAT CROWD
16. From where is the great crowd being gathered?
16 In recording his vision, John noted that the great crowd would come from “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” The prophet Zechariah had earlier foretold something similar. He wrote: “In those days ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will take firm hold of the robe of a Jew, saying: ‘We want to go with you, for we have heard that God is with you people.’”—Zech. 8:23.
17. What is being done to help people of all nations and tongues?
17 Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that for people of all languages to be gathered, the good news must be preached in many languages. We have been translating Bible study material for over 130 years, but now we are carrying out the greatest translation effort in history in hundreds of languages. Clearly, Jehovah is performing a modern-day miracle—gathering a great crowd from all nations. Thanks to the availability of spiritual food in more and more languages, this diverse group is united in worship. And the Witnesses are well-known for their zealous preaching and their brotherly love. How faith-strengthening that is!—Matt. 24:14; John 13:35.
WHAT DOES THE VISION MEAN FOR US?
18. (a) In line with Isaiah 46:10, 11, why are we not surprised that Jehovah has fulfilled the prophecy about the great crowd? (b) Why do those who hope to live on earth not feel left out?
18 We have every reason to be excited about the prophecy of a great crowd! We are not surprised that Jehovah has fulfilled that prophecy in such a marvelous way. (Read Isaiah 46:10, 11.) Those of the great crowd are grateful for the hope Jehovah has given them. They do not feel left out because they are not anointed by God’s spirit to serve with Jesus in heaven. Throughout the Scriptures, we read of men and women of faith who were deeply influenced by holy spirit; yet they are not part of the 144,000. John the Baptist is one example. (Matt. 11:11) David is another. (Acts 2:34) They and countless others will be resurrected to life on a paradise earth. All of them—along with the great crowd—will have the opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to Jehovah and his sovereignty.
19. How does the fulfillment of John’s vision of a great crowd emphasize the urgency of the times in which we live?
19 Never before in human history has God united millions of people from all nations. Whether our hope is to live in heaven or on earth, we need to help as many as possible to become part of the great crowd of “other sheep.” (John 10:16) Soon, Jehovah will bring the foretold great tribulation that will destroy the governments and religions that have afflicted mankind. What an outstanding privilege lies before all members of the great crowd—to serve Jehovah on earth forever!—Rev. 7:14.
SONG 139 See Yourself When All Is New