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“Behold a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches … in their hands … saying, Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10. All quotations from NASB, 1963).
God’s heavenly call is only to the 144,000, the Bride, the little flock, but provision has been made for a great multitude who start well, falter along the way, yet eventually overcome. “I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven … And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunders saying, Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (Revelation 19:1,6). Whether they are then physically in heaven, or their hopes are in heaven, this great multitude is evidently to be a heavenly class.
The Church of the first-born includes all the spirit-begotten, the little flock and the great multitude. These all have entered into the cov- enant by sacrifice, have been anointed with the holy Spirit, and have given up all hope of earthly life in the future Kingdom. Both must prove faithful unto death in order to receive the gift of life on any plane.
The little flock are more than conquerors: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). They receive the greatest gift of all, the divine nature and its immortality. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). The great multitude, because they ultimately prevail against the forces of evil, are also rewarded with spiritual life, not as immor- tal beings such as the little flock, but more like the angels, whose lives are sustained by God.
In Revelation 7 this great multitude class is identified: “These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and from where have they come? And I said to him, My lord, you know. And he said to me, These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and he who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them” (Revelation 7:13-15). This thrilling scene depicts the great multitude as finally triumphant, serving God in His temple. (The saints “are the temple of the living God,” 2 Corinthians 6:16.)
Br. Russell describes the great multitude: “We are not to esteem the ‘great company’ ignoble and traitorous toward the Lord and his cause, for none such will be acceptable for eternal life on any plane. They have the same love for truth and righteousness and for the brethren as the ‘little flock,’ the ‘royal priesthood’ have, but in less degree; they show less zeal” (Reprint 4648).
This class at the end of the age is to come up “out of the great tribulation.” Whether all members of the great multitude are raised together at the end of the gospel age, or if those who fell asleep in death earlier in the gospel age were raised at the same time as the sleeping saints in 1878, we might not be certain. However we can be certain, because of the love and compassion of our wonderful heavenly Father, that joy and gladness await the great multitude when they are raised to their reward.
The great multitude is also portrayed in the Old Testament. Genesis chapters 18 and 19 describe the visit of the angelic host to Abraham and then to Lot. The conversations between the heavenly visitors and Abraham, and subsequently with Lot, reveal a considerable difference in demeanor and largeness of spirit between the father of the faithful and his nephew, although Lot is also esteemed a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7-8).
In their consecration, the Levites washed their robes, thus identifying them with the great multitude, who do the same (Numbers 8:7, Revelation 7:14). The first-born of Israel were exchanged for the whole tribe of Levi. “You shall thus give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the sons of Israel” (Numbers 3:5-10). Thus, the great multitude will serve Christ and the Church.
The great multitude is prophetically illustrated as Levites in Ezekiel chapter 44, having a special work to do concerning the spiritual temple during the millennial kingdom. “But the Levites who went far from Me, when Is- rael went astray, who went astray from Me after their idols, shall bear the punishment for their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house and ministering in the house … and they shall not come near to Me to serve as a priest to Me, nor come near to any of My holy things, to the things that are most holy; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the house, of all its service and of all that shall be done in it” (Ezekiel 44:10-14). They have erred greatly but will serve.
In contrast, the royal priesthood is described continuing with verse 15: “But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge” (Ezekiel 44: 15-16). (Zadok was High priest at the time of David.) The priesthood alone shall have part in the sin-offering.
Another reference to this great multitude class is: “We have a little sister and she has no breasts; what shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for?” (Song of Solomon 8:8). This pictures those who receive the truth with joy but do not develop as they must, and remain babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 10-15).
“The King’s daughter is all glorious with- in; her clothing is interwoven with gold. She will be led to the King in embroidered work; the virgins, her companions who follow her will be brought to Thee. They will be led forth with gladness and rejoicing; they will enter into the King’s palace” (Psalm 45:13-15). The King’s daughter is the little flock, and the companions who follow are the great company, or great multitude, who also enter the King’s palace.
“I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking … I have taken off my dress, how can I put it on again. I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again … I opened to my beloved but my beloved had turned away and had gone” (Song of Solomon 5:2,3,6). Some of these spirit-begotten ones tarry too long to come out of Babylon, and when they finally do leave, the door to the high- est reward has closed (Revelation 18:4).
The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins clearly distinguishes between the little flock and the great multitude: “The Kingdom of Heaven will be comparable to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the Bridegroom. And five of them were fool- ish and five were prudent. For when the fool- ish took their lamps they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.” A trimmed lamp with oil burns brightly. With too little oil, it puts out puffs of smoke and less light. (Do we sometimes gener- ate more heat than light?)
The oil pictures the holy Spirit. An ample portion is necessary to strengthen us in order to finish the journey into the promised kingdom of God. One must grow in the holy Spirit; it cannot be borrowed (Matthew 25:1-12). So the Lord no longer recognized these virgins as the bride, the little flock. The door had been closed to the greatest of opportunities.