A Multitudinous Great Crowd
A Multitudinous Great Crowd
1. After describing the sealing of the 144,000, what other group does John see?
HAVING described the sealing of the 144,000, John goes on to report one of the most exciting revelations in all Scripture. His heart must have leaped with joy as he reported it, saying: “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 before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9) Yes, the holding back of the four winds allows for the salvation of another group besides the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel: a multilanguage, international great crowd. *—Revelation 7:1.
2. How have worldly commentators explained the great crowd, and how did even the Bible Students in the past view this group?
2 Worldly commentators have interpreted this great crowd to be fleshly non-Jews converted to Christianity or to be heaven-bound Christian martyrs. Even the Bible Students in the past regarded them as a secondary heavenly class, as noted in 1886 in Volume I of Studies in the Scriptures, The Divine Plan of the Ages: “They lose the prize of the throne and the divine nature, but will finally reach birth as spirit beings of an order lower than the divine nature. Though these are truly consecrated, they are overcome by the worldly spirit to such an extent that they fail to render their lives in sacrifice.” And as late as 1930, the thought was expressed in Light, Book One: “Those who make up this great crowd fail to respond to the invitation to become the zealous witnesses for the Lord.” They were described as a self-righteous group that had a knowledge of the truth but did little about preaching it. They were to get to heaven as a secondary class that would not share in reigning with Christ.
3. (a) What hope was held out to certain righthearted ones who later became zealous in the preaching work? (b) How did The Watch Tower in 1923 explain the parable of the sheep and the goats?
3 There were, however, other associates of the anointed Christians who later became most zealous in the preaching work. They had no aspirations of going to heaven. Indeed, their hope was in line with the title of a public talk featured by Jehovah’s people from 1918 to 1922. Originally, this was “The World Has Ended—Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” * Soon thereafter, the Watch Tower magazine of October 15, 1923, explained Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), stating: “Sheep represent all the peoples of the nations, not spirit-begotten but disposed toward righteousness, who mentally acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord and who are looking for and hoping for a better time under his reign.”
4. How did the light regarding the earthly class become brighter in 1931? in 1932? in 1934?
4 Some years later, in 1931, Vindication, Book One, discussed Ezekiel chapter 9, identifying those persons marked on the forehead for preservation at the world’s end as the sheep of the above parable. Vindication, Book Three, released in 1932, described the upright heart attitude of the non-Israelite man Jehonadab, who joined Israel’s anointed King Jehu in his chariot and went along to see Jehu’s zeal in executing false religionists. (2 Kings 10:15-17) The book commented: “Jehonadab represented or foreshadowed that class of people now on the earth during the time that the Jehu work [of declaring Jehovah’s judgments] is in progress who are of good will, are out of harmony with Satan’s organization, who take their stand on the side of righteousness, and are the ones whom the Lord will preserve during the time of Armageddon, take them through that trouble, and give them everlasting life on the earth. These constitute the ‘sheep’ class.” In 1934 The Watchtower made it clear that these Christians with earthly hopes should make a dedication to Jehovah and be baptized. The light regarding this earthly class was shining ever brighter.—Proverbs 4:18.
5. (a) What identification of the great crowd was made in 1935? (b) When J. F. Rutherford in 1935 asked conventioners who had the hope of living forever on earth to stand up, what happened?
5 The understanding of Revelation 7:9-17 was now about to burst forth in all its sparkling brilliance! (Psalm 97:11) The Watchtower magazine had repeatedly expressed the hope that a convention scheduled for May 30 to June 3, 1935, in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., would be “a real comfort and benefit” to those pictured by Jehonadab. That it proved to be! In a stirring talk on “The Great Multitude,” delivered to about 20,000 conventioners, J. F. Rutherford, who at that time took the lead in the worldwide preaching work, gave Scriptural proof that the modern-day other sheep are identical with that great crowd of Revelation 7:9. At the climax of this talk, the speaker asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” As a large part of the audience stood up, the speaker declared: “Behold! The great multitude!” There was a hush, followed by thunderous cheering. How elated was the John class—and also the Jehonadab group! On the following day, 840 new Witnesses were baptized, most of these professing to be of that great crowd.
Confirming the Identity of the Great Crowd
6. (a) Why can we clearly understand that the great crowd is the modern-day group of dedicated Christians who hope to live forever on earth? (b) What do the white robes of the great crowd symbolize?
6 How can we state so positively that the great crowd is this modern-day group of dedicated Christians who hope to live forever on God’s earth? Previously, John had seen in vision the heavenly group “bought . . . for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9, 10) The great crowd have a similar origin but a different destiny. Unlike the Israel of God, their number is not predetermined. No man can tell in advance how many there will be. Their robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb, symbolizing that they have a righteous standing before Jehovah by virtue of their faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. (Revelation 7:14) And they are waving palm branches, hailing Messiah as their King.
7, 8. (a) The waving of palm branches doubtless reminded the apostle John of what events? (b) What is the significance of the fact that those of the great crowd are waving palm branches?
7 As he looks on in this vision, John’s thoughts must be taking him back more than 60 years to Jesus’ last week on earth. On Nisan 9, 33 C.E., when the crowds flocked to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, they “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) In like fashion, the waving of palm branches and crying out on the part of the great crowd shows their unbridled joy in accepting Jesus as Jehovah’s appointed King.
8 Doubtless, the palm branches and exulting cries also remind John of the ancient Israelite Festival of Booths. For this festival Jehovah commanded: “And you must take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, the fronds of palm trees and the boughs of branchy trees and poplars of the torrent valley, and you must rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days.” The palm branches were used as a mark of rejoicing. The temporary booths were a reminder that Jehovah had saved his people out of Egypt, to live in tents in the wilderness. “The alien resident and the fatherless boy and the widow” shared in this festival. All Israel were to “become nothing but joyful.”—Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.
9. In what joyful cry do the great crowd join?
9 It is fitting, then, that the great crowd, though no part of spiritual Israel, should wave palm branches, since they joyfully and gratefully ascribe the victory and salvation to God and to the Lamb, as John here observes: “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 7:10) Although they have been separated out of all ethnic groups, the great crowd cry out with just that one “loud voice.” How can they do this, despite their diversity of nations and languages?
10. How can the great crowd cry out unitedly with one “loud voice” despite the diversity of nations and languages?
10 This great crowd is part of the only truly Isaiah 2:4) They are not divided into sects or denominations, so that they shout confused or mutually contradictory messages as do the religions of Christendom; nor do they leave it to a professional clergy class to do their praising for them. They do not cry out that they owe salvation to the holy spirit, for they are not servants of a trinitarian god. In some 200 geographical territories around the earth, they are at one in calling upon the name of Jehovah as they speak the one pure language of truth. (Zephaniah 3:9) Properly, they publicly acknowledge that their salvation comes from Jehovah, the God of salvation, through Jesus Christ, His Chief Agent of salvation.—Psalm 3:8; Hebrews 2:10.united multinational organization on earth today. They do not have different standards for different countries but apply the Bible’s right principles consistently wherever they live. They are not involved in nationalistic, revolutionary movements but have truly ‘beaten swords into plowshares.’ (
11. How has modern technology helped those of the great crowd to render their loud voice even louder?
11 Modern technology has helped to make the loud voice of the united great crowd sound even louder. No other religious group on earth has need of publishing Bible study aids in more than 400 languages, since no other group is interested in reaching all peoples of earth with one united message. As a further aid in this, under the supervision of the anointed Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System (MEPS) was developed. At the time of this printing, various forms of MEPS are used in more than 125 locations around the earth, and this has helped to make possible publication of the semimonthly journal, The Watchtower, in over 130 languages simultaneously. Jehovah’s people also simultaneously publish books, such as this one, in a number of languages. Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, of whom the great crowd make up the vast majority, are able yearly to distribute hundreds of millions of publications in all the better-known languages, enabling additional throngs out of all tribes and tongues to study God’s Word and join their voices to the loud voice of the great crowd.—Isaiah 42:10, 12.
In Heaven or on Earth?
12, 13. In what way is the great crowd “standing before the throne and before the Lamb”?
12 How do we know that “standing before the throne” does not mean that the great crowd is in heaven? There is much clear evidence on this point. For example, the Greek word here translated “before” (e·noʹpi·on) literally means “in [the] sight [of]” and is used several times of humans on earth who are “before” or “in the sight of” Jehovah. (1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:14; Romans 14:22; Galatians 1:20) On one occasion when the Israelites were in the wilderness, Moses said to Aaron: “Say to the entire assembly of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before Jehovah, because he has heard your murmurings.’” (Exodus 16:9) The Israelites did not have to be transported to heaven in order to stand before Jehovah on that occasion. (Compare Leviticus 24:8.) Rather, right there in the wilderness they stood in Jehovah’s view, and his attention was on them.
13 Additionally, we read: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory . . . all the nations will be gathered before him.” * The whole human race will not be in heaven when this prophecy is fulfilled. Certainly, those who “depart into everlasting cutting-off” will not be in heaven. (Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46) Instead, mankind stands on earth in Jesus’ view, and he turns his attention to judging them. Similarly, the great crowd is “before the throne and before the Lamb” in that it stands in the view of Jehovah and his King, Christ Jesus, from whom it receives a favorable judgment.
14. (a) Who are described as being “round about the throne” and “upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion”? (b) Though the great crowd serve God “in his temple,” why does this not make them a priestly class?
14 The 24 elders and the anointed group of 144,000 are described as being “round about the throne” of Jehovah and “upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion.” (Revelation 4:4; 14:1) The great crowd is not a priestly class and does not attain to that exalted position. True, it is later described at Revelation 7:15 as serving God “in his temple.” But this temple does not refer to the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy. Rather, it is the earthly courtyard of God’s spiritual temple. The Greek word na·osʹ, here translated “temple,” often conveys the broad sense of the entire edifice erected for Jehovah’s worship. Today, this is a spiritual structure that embraces both heaven and earth.—Compare Matthew 26:61; 27:5, 39, 40; Mark 15:29, 30; John 2:19-21, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
A Universal Shout of Praise
15, 16. (a) What is the reaction in heaven to the appearance of the great crowd? (b) How does Jehovah’s spirit creation react to each new revelation of his purpose? (c) How can we on earth join in the song of praise?
15 The great crowd is praising Jehovah, but others are also singing his praises. John reports: “And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders 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 the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’”—Revelation 7:11, 12.
16 When Jehovah created the earth, all of his holy angels “joyfully cried out together, and all the sons of God began shouting in applause.” (Job 38:7) Each new revelation of Jehovah’s purpose must have evoked similar angelic shouts of praise. When the 24 elders—the 144,000 in their heavenly glory—cry aloud in recognition of the Lamb, all others of God’s heavenly creatures chime in with praises for Jesus and for Jehovah God. (Revelation 5:9-14) Already, these creatures have been overjoyed to observe the fulfillment of Jehovah’s purpose in his resurrecting faithful anointed humans to a glorious place in the spirit realm. Now, all of Jehovah’s faithful heavenly creatures burst into melodious praise as the great crowd appears. Truly, for all of Jehovah’s servants, the Lord’s day is a thrilling time in which to be living. (Revelation 1:10) Here on earth, how privileged we are to share in the song of praise by witnessing to Jehovah’s Kingdom!
The Great Crowd Makes Its Appearance
17. (a) What question is raised by one of the 24 elders, and the fact that the elder could locate the answer suggests what? (b) When was the elder’s question answered?
17 From the time of the apostle John and on into the Lord’s day, anointed Christians Revelation 7:13, 14a) Yes, that elder could locate the answer and give it to John. This suggests that resurrected ones of the 24-elders group may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today. For their part, those of the John class on earth got to learn the identity of the great crowd by closely observing what Jehovah was performing in their midst. They were quick to appreciate the dazzling flash of divine light that emblazoned the theocratic firmament in 1935, at Jehovah’s due time.were puzzled as to the identity of the great crowd. It is fitting, then, that one of the 24 elders, representing anointed ones already in heaven, should stir John’s thinking by raising a pertinent question. “And in response one of the elders 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.’” (
18, 19. (a) What hope was stressed by the John class during the 1920’s and 1930’s, but who responded to the message in increasing numbers? (b) The identification of the great crowd in 1935 indicated what with regard to the 144,000? (c) What do Memorial statistics reveal?
18 During the 1920’s and early 1930’s, the John class had stressed the heavenly hope, both in the publications and in the preaching work. Apparently, the full number of the 144,000 had yet to be filled. But increasing numbers of those who heeded the message and who showed zeal in the witness work came to profess an interest in living forever on the Paradise earth. They had no desire to go to heaven. That was not their calling. They were no part of the little flock but rather of the other sheep. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16) Their being identified in 1935 as the great crowd of other sheep was an indication that the choosing of the 144,000 was then about complete.
19 Do statistics support this conclusion? Yes, they do. In 1938, worldwide, 59,047 Witnesses of Jehovah shared in the ministry. Of these, 36,732 partook of the emblems at the annual celebration of the Memorial of Jesus’ death, thus indicating that they had a heavenly calling. In the years since then, the number of these partakers has progressively decreased, principally because faithful Witnesses of Jehovah finished their earthly life course in death. In 2005 only 8,524 partook of the Memorial emblems—0.05 percent of the 16,390,116 attending that global observance.
20. (a) During World War II, what comment did J. F. Rutherford privately make about the great crowd? (b) What facts now show that the great crowd is indeed a great one?
20 When the second world war broke out, Satan put forth bitter efforts to stop the harvesting of the great crowd. Jehovah’s work was restricted in many countries. During those dark days, and shortly before his death in January 1942, J. F. Rutherford was heard to say: “Well . . . it looks as though the great multitude is not going to be so great after all.” But divine blessing directed otherwise! By 1946 the number of Witnesses ministering worldwide had jumped to 176,456—most of these being of the great crowd. In 2005 there were 6,390,022 Witnesses who were serving Jehovah faithfully in 235 different lands—truly A GREAT CROWD! And the number keeps on increasing.
21. (a) How has the harvesting of God’s people during the Lord’s day been in full harmony with John’s vision? (b) How did certain important prophecies begin to be fulfilled?
21 The harvesting of God’s people during the Lord’s day has thus been in full harmony with John’s vision: first the work of gathering the remaining ones of the 144,000; then the gathering of the great crowd. As Isaiah prophesied, now “in the final part of the days,” people of all nations are streaming to share in Jehovah’s pure worship. And, indeed, we exult in appreciation of Jehovah’s creation of “new heavens and a new earth.” (Isaiah 2:2-4; 65:17, 18) God is gathering “all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:10) The anointed heirs of the heavenly Kingdom—chosen over the centuries since Jesus’ day—are “the things in the heavens.” And now, the great crowd of the other sheep appear as initial ones of “the things on the earth.” Your serving in harmony with that arrangement can mean eternal happiness for you.
The Blessings of the Great Crowd
22. What further information does John receive regarding the great crowd?
22 Through the divine channel, John receives further information regarding this great crowd: “And he [the elder] 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.’”—Revelation 7:14b, 15.
23. What is the great tribulation from which the great crowd “come out”?
23 On an earlier occasion, Jesus had said that his presence in Kingdom glory would culminate in “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:21, 22) In fulfillment of that prophecy, the angels will unleash the four winds of the earth to devastate Satan’s world system. First to go will be Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. Then, at the peak of the tribulation, Jesus will deliver the remaining ones of the 144,000 on earth, together with the multitudinous great crowd.—Revelation 7:1; 18:2.
24. How do individuals of the great crowd qualify for survival?
24 How do individuals of the great crowd qualify for survival? The elder tells John that they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, they have exercised faith in Jesus as their Ransomer, have made a dedication to Jehovah, have symbolized their dedication by water baptism, and “hold a good conscience” by their upright conduct. (1 Peter 3:16, 21; Matthew 20:28) Thus, they are clean and righteous in Jehovah’s eyes. And they keep themselves “without spot from the world.”—James 1:27.
25. (a) How is the great crowd rendering Jehovah “sacred service day and night in his temple”? (b) How does Jehovah “spread his tent” over the great crowd?
25 Further, they have become zealous Witnesses of Jehovah—“rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple.” Are you one of this dedicated great crowd? If so, it is your privilege to serve Jehovah without letup in the earthly courtyard of his great spiritual temple. Today, under the direction of the anointed ones, the great crowd is performing by far the greater part of the witness work. Despite secular responsibilities, hundreds of thousands of them have made room for the full-time ministry as pioneers. But whether you are in that group or not, as a dedicated member of the great crowd, you can rejoice that because of your faith and works you are declared righteous as a friend of God and are welcomed as a guest in his tent. (Psalm 15:1-5; James 2:21-26) Jehovah thus ‘spreads his tent’ over those who love him and, as a good host, protects them.—Proverbs 18:10.
26. What other blessings will the great crowd enjoy?
26 The elder continues: “They will 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 7:16, 17) Yes, Jehovah is truly hospitable! But what depth of meaning is there to these words?
27. (a) How did Isaiah prophesy something similar to the words of the elder? (b) What shows that Isaiah’s prophecy began to be fulfilled on the Christian congregation in Paul’s day?
Isaiah 49:8, 10; see also Psalm 121:5, 6.) The apostle Paul quoted part of this prophecy and applied it to the “day of salvation” that began at Pentecost 33 C.E. He wrote: “For he [Jehovah] says: ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and in a day of salvation I helped you.’ Look! Now is the especially acceptable time. Look! Now is the day of salvation.”—2 Corinthians 6:2.27 Let us consider a similarly worded prophecy: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘In a time of goodwill I have answered you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you . . . They will not go hungry, neither will they go thirsty, nor will parching heat or sun strike them. For the One who is having pity upon them will lead them, and by the springs of water he will conduct them.’” (
28, 29. (a) How were Isaiah’s words fulfilled in the first century? (b) How are the words of Revelation 7:16 fulfilled with regard to the great crowd? (c) What will result from the great crowd’s being guided to “fountains of waters of life”? (d) Why will the great crowd be unique among mankind?
28 What application did the promise about not getting hungry or thirsty or suffering parching heat have back then? Certainly, Christians in the first century did suffer literal hunger and thirst at times. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27) In a spiritual way, though, they had an abundance. They were richly provided for, so that they did not go hungry or thirsty for spiritual things. Moreover, Jehovah did not cause the heat of his anger to blaze against them when he destroyed the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. The words of Revelation 7:16 have a similar spiritual fulfillment for the great crowd today. Along with the anointed Christians, they enjoy bounteous spiritual provisions.—Isaiah 65:13; Nahum 1:6, 7.
29 If you are one of that great crowd, your good condition of heart will make you “cry out joyfully,” no matter what you have to endure in the way of privations and pressures during the twilight years of Satan’s system. (Isaiah 65:14) In that sense, even now, Jehovah can ‘wipe out every tear from your eyes.’ No longer does God’s torrid “sun” of adverse judgment threaten you, and when the four winds of destruction are unleashed, you may be spared the “scorching heat” of Jehovah’s displeasure. After that destruction is over, the Lamb will guide you to benefit fully from the revitalizing “fountains of waters of life,” these representing all the provisions that Jehovah makes for your gaining everlasting life. Your faith in the blood of the Lamb will be vindicated in that you will gradually be raised to human perfection. You of the great crowd will be unique among mankind as the “millions” that did not even have to die! In the fullest sense, every tear will have been wiped from your eyes.—Revelation 21:4.
Making the Calling Sure
30. What magnificent vista opens up to us in John’s vision, and who will be able to “stand”?
30 What a magnificent vista these words open up to us! Jehovah himself is on his throne, and all his servants, heavenly and earthly, unite in praising him. His earthly servants appreciate what an awesome privilege it is to share in this swelling chorus of praise. Very soon, Jehovah and Christ Jesus will execute judgment, and the cry will be heard: “The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17) The answer? Only a minority of mankind, including any of the sealed 144,000 who might still be remaining in the flesh and a great crowd of other sheep who will “stand,” that is, survive with them.—Jeremiah 35:19; 1 Corinthians 16:13.
31. How should the fulfillment of John’s vision affect Christians, both of the anointed and of the great crowd?
31 In view of this fact, anointed Christians of the John class exert themselves vigorously in “pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) They are fully aware that events during these days call for special endurance on their part. (Revelation 13:10) After loyally serving Jehovah for so many years, they hold fast to the faith, rejoicing that their names are “inscribed in the heavens.” (Luke 10:20; Revelation 3:5) Those of the great crowd too know that only “he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) While the great crowd as a group is marked to come out of the great tribulation, individuals thereof must exert themselves to remain clean and active.
32. What urgent situation is highlighted by the fact that only two groups will “stand” in the day of Jehovah’s wrath?
^ par. 1 See New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
^ par. 3 The Watch Tower, April 1, 1918, page 98.
^ par. 13 Literally, “in front of him,” The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.
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Interpretations Belong to God
For many decades the John class inquired as to the identity of the great crowd but without finding a satisfactory explanation. Why? We find the answer in the words of faithful Joseph, when he said: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) When and how does God interpret the fulfillment of his prophecies? Usually, it is when they are due to be fulfilled or are in course of fulfillment so that their message can be clearly discerned by his searching servants. This understanding is given “for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Romans 15:4.
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Members of the great crowd
▪ come out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues
▪ stand before Jehovah’s throne
▪ have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb
▪ ascribe salvation to Jehovah and to Jesus
▪ come out of the great tribulation
▪ serve Jehovah in his temple day and night
▪ receive Jehovah’s loving protection and care
▪ are shepherded by Jesus to fountains of waters of life
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The great crowd owes salvation to God and to the Lamb
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The Lamb will guide the great crowd to fountains of waters of life