The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
The Concordant Version
THE THRONG INNUMERABLE
THE hundred and forty-four thousand are the firstfruit of the millennial harvest (14:4; Lev.23:10). The vast throng are symbolized by the festival of ingathering (Lev.23:39-42). They appear with palm branches in their hands (7:9). They dwell in the tabernacle or booth of the Enthroned One (7:15). These, as well as the hundred and forty-four thousand who are sealed, are able to stand in the great day of His indignation.
Perhaps there is nothing in the history of nations so remarkable as the dispersion of the Jews. Not only are there American Jews and English Jews, and French, German, Russian, and Polish Jews, besides the special Spanish branch, but we are assured that there are Chinese Jews. Indeed, it would be venturesome to say that any nation was entirely free from any admixture of the Semitic strain. And the process is still proceeding. Persecution has transplanted them into every known nation. They speak every language.
Even Moses predicted such a dispersion. "It will come to be, when all these things come on you, the blessing and the malediction which I put before you, that you will recall them to your heart among all the nations where Yahweh your Elohim will have expelled you and that you will return again to Yahweh your Elohim and hearken to His voice according to all that I am instructing you today, you and your sons, with all your heart and with all your soul. Then Yahweh your Elohim will reverse your captivity and show compassion to you; He will return and convene you from all the peoples where Yahweh your Elohim will have scattered you." (Deut.30:1-3, C.V.).
This fact seems to have been overlooked in the identification of the innumerable throng. All the symbolism employed places them among the saved of the sacred nation. Israel itself did not keep the feast of ingathering (Neh.8:16,17) until after the return from Babylon. Then they celebrated it with great rejoicing (Ezra 3:11,12). How can it possibly figure a company of aliens, to whom these festivals do not apply? It was never kept in the wilderness, because it was reserved for the land, when they dwelt in houses. It was to remind them of the wilderness, when they dwelt in booths.
All this typical teaching is for naught if we transfer this scene to the nations. We have a firstfruit, but no harvest, in Israel. We have a limited number saved, all males, scarcely more than one percent of the nation. We have the favored people doubly decimated, and bring unnumbered aliens into their fold. The vast throng, as well as the hundred and forty-four thousand, are Israelites, to whom the promises pertain.
In response to the question: "Who is able to stand?" (6:17), we are given a view of all those who will be saved in the royal nation, including the vast throng who stand before the throne (7:9). The hundred and forty-four thousand are manifestly only a part, for they are not only called a firstfruit, but, being celibates, cannot be the nucleus of the millennial nation. There is not a woman among them. The saints who are raised from the dead will have no part in the marvelous growth of the nation during the millennium. This can come only from such a company as the vast throng we are considering.
For the nations, the present is a day of salvation: that will be a day of destruction. For Israel, it will be the day of their deliverance. Hence the significance of the song they sing:
"Salvation be our God's*,
Who is sitting on the throne,
And the Lambkin's!"
"Our God" is intensely appropriate to the only nation whose God was Yahweh. On the lips of other nations, it might suggest the idols of their hands or minds, to whom they do obeisance. The theme of their song is the thrilling fact that their God, Yahweh, has at length resumed the reins of earth's government and will save them by His outstretched arm, as He did at the exodus from Egypt in the days of old. There is to be redemption by power. But there is also ransom by blood. The long despised Lambkin, whose blood was shed for them, as a nation, is the basis of Yahweh's blessing. Long have they tried to save themselves and despised the Lamb of God. Now they base all on His blood.
The representatives of all creation, celestial and terrestrial, as well as the intermediate messengers, respond with their paean of praise. They glimpse the grandeur of this great crisis and its effect on the glory of God. The forces of evil and sin have been in the ascendant, but the salvation of the vast throng is the inauguration of a better day, in which His glorious attributes will be publicly displayed. Hence they sing:
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks
And honor and power and strength be our God's
For the eons of the eons.
The positive proof that this company is not composed of aliens but Israelites is found in the clue given John for their identification. "These are those who are coming out of the great tribulation." If we take "the great tribulation," as it is usually called, merely as a general term to indicate the worldwide troubles of the end time, this identification is of little help. But when we find that "the great affliction" is a special phrase denoting the sufferings of the faithful in Israel at the hands of the other nations, the identification is complete.
Our Lord, speaking of it, says that they shall be hated by all nations for His name's sake (Matt.24:9). The greatest of all afflictions is to come on the saints in Israel by the hands of the other nations. This term is not used of the indignation of God against the nations. None of the gentiles are in the great affliction. Hence none of them can come out of it. The phrase is used only in this passage and by our Lord in His discourse on the mount of Olives (Matt.24). Anyone reading that prophecy will readily see that the great affliction is not concerned with the wars among the nations or the divine visitations of judgment, but with the treatment of Messiah's faithful disciples in the land of Israel. Traveling is exceedingly disagreeable and difficult, even under normal conditions, during the torrential rains of winter in Palestine. And only Jews, strict observers of the sabbath, on which no lengthy journey could be undertaken, would be hindered from flight should the persecution break out on the seventh day of the week.
Some suggestion of their suffering is seen in the negative description of their bliss. Hunger and thirst, and scorching heat will be theirs, and eyes blinded with bitter tears. We are, in spirit, carried through their trials, and see them among millennial joys, worshiping in His temple or shepherded by the Lambkin Who leads them by green pastures and living springs. Not theirs the high honors of the kingdom. Not theirs the song of the hundred and forty-four thousand. But their cup will be full and their joys abound. They have suffered earth's severest affliction and they will enjoy earth's balmiest bliss.
In contrast with the present grace, there has always been a series of castes in Israel. Their ritual involved class distinctions. The privileges of the priest placed him above the populace. The courts of the sanctuary made a division between the people in regard to their approach to Yahweh.
So it is also in their salvation. Being based on a mingling of works with faith, we find various bodies of believers. In the ecclesias, the conquering ones are in a class by themselves, and they will be accorded special privileges in the kingdom. In this part of the apocalypse, concerned with the throne and Israel's sovereignty over the nations, we are first introduced to the special class who are to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Subsequently, under the temple section, we see them again as religious leaders. But the hundred and forty-four thousand is only the upper class among the redeemed in Israel. The vast throng complete the number of the saved.
There has been the constant tendency to introduce such divisions into the present grace. But that is because the transcendence and purity of the grace has not been apprehended. When salvation and blessing are absolutely divorced from merit or work, and flow only from the unforced favor of God, there is no possibility of various castes among the saints.
There is now only one body (Eph.4:4). And that body is a joint-body, in which every member is peer of every other. Knowledge gives no superiority, attainment monopolizes no privileges which are not the portion of all. He that has, or thinks he has, something more than his fellow saints, is reminded that he has nothing which be has not received. The glorious grace which is ours in Christ Jesus is equally lavish to all who are its recipients.
The realization of this grace, the church's most precious possession, was soon lost, and ecclesiastic hierarchies arose. Where all are welcome within the holiest, there is no need for a priestly caste. But the church has become divided into priest and people, clergy and laymen, and the servant of the church has become its minister.
This retreat from the high plane of grace soon led to the loss of the special teaching for the church, as found in Paul's epistles. And this, in turn, led to the confusion of the creeds and the multiplicity of "bodies" in the church. They are all founded on the Bible, yet strange to say, they appeal to that part of the Bible which was never written for their use, and practically ignore that which was especially revealed for their guidance.
Those of us who are learning some of the glorious truths which are our special heritage in this economy need to be on our guard lest we confound the grace of God with it's apprehension. Let us not imagine that the ignorance of others places them in an inferior position. To the Hebrews, it was written that Christ will appear to them that look for Him. His coming to them is connected with vigilance. But not so now. So gracious is our salvation that not a saint will fail to respond when He is present. Whether we watch, or are drowsy, we shall all live together with Him (1 Thess.5:10). We will not be divided when He comes. Though we should not even be worthy of a place in the vast throng, grace will give us a portion immeasurably above that of the hundred and forty-four thousand. The lowest in the celestial glory will gain a place the best of earth will not attain.
*The Greek is, literally, "to our God," and it is usual to render it so. But this hazily suggests the desire that God should be saved, in English. The dative locates. Its most characteristic connective is in. The almost equally valuable reading of Alexandrinus is "of our God." Hence our rendering, "in our God."
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