Sunday, September 5, 2010
REVELATION: THE 144,000
The book of Revelation clearly reveals twelve distinct keys that identify the 144,000. Each key is a characteristic that unmistakably proves that this unique assembly is the first resurrection in its entirety--but what about the great multitude? Are they not also in the first resurrection? Doesn't the Bible state that they attain this reward, having gone through the Great Tribulation that comes on the whole world? The Apostle John continues his vision, he states: After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues...These are they which came out of a great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-14).
Many read these verses, and assume they refer to the Great Tribulation which comes upon the whole world at the end of the age. Armed with this assumption, readers may then conclude that the great multitude must be a part of the first resurrection.
All the evidence, presented thus far, has shown that the 144,000 are the entirety of the first resurrection. They are spiritual Israel, the redeemed, and the firstfruits. Therefore, the great multitude cannot be part of the first resurrection.
If this is true, then what does the Scripture mean when it states that the great multitude come out of great tribulation? The answer is found in the fact that there are different tribulations mentioned in the Bible. One type comes upon individuals, another upon specific churches, and one is a worldwide ordeal that lasts three and one-half years at the end of man's misrule. Which of these does the great multitude experience?
THE GREAT TRIBULATION THAT COMES ON ALL THE WORLD
The word "tribulation" has a wide range of usage in the New Testament. In the broadest sense, it means any difficulty or trouble. In all but one case in the New Testament, the word "tribulation" is translated from the Greek word "Thlipsis," which can mean "trouble," "pressure," "affliction," "anguish," or "persecution."
When the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the world, the Savior used this word, "thilipis" to describe the time of terrible trouble called the "Great Tribulation." The Lord answered them, saying: For then shall be Great Tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:21).
The Tribulation that Christ speaks of in this Olivet Prophecy occurs only one time in the whole history of mankind. It is so awesome, frightening, and destructive that if God did not intervene, there would be no flesh left alive on the earth (Matthew 24:21-22).
This Tribulation is a three and one-half year period of Satan's wrath, beginning shortly after the armies of the beast surround Jerusalem and the abomination that makes desolate is set up (Matthew 24:15-16). It culminates in Christ's triumphant return to rule the earth as King of kings.
This end time Tribulation is perpetrated by a political, military leader the Bible calls the beast. This beast leads a united Europe, fueled by religious fervor. This combined European power forges an awesome military machine that will control Eastern Civilization. It will destroy any opposition, whether it be military or religious.
This Great Tribulation will span the entire globe, but it primarily focuses upon the modern day descendants of Israel. As Jeremiah states: Alas! for the day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it (Jeremiah 30:17).
The modern day descendants of Jacob, including the United States, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, will suffer more than any other people ever have. They will experience an even greater time of trouble that the Jewish people suffered during world War II.
Eventually, the other great powers, such as Russia, India, China, and Japan will be pulled into the fray, but only at the very end (Revelation 16:12). Small groups in many third world countries, described in Revelation seven as "every tribe and tongue," may be little affected by the Tribulation until the day of the Lord. This "day," which lasts an entire year, is God's wrath. It will affect all the inhabitants of the world.
Some believe that this is the "Great Tribulation: from which the innumerable multitude emerge. However, such a belief contradicts all the previous evidence that makes it clear that the 144,000 are the entirety of the first resurrection.
Consider the fact that the majority of those who lose their lives in the end time Tribulation are physical Israelites. The description of the great multitude as being "of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," cannot possibly apply to a group primarily composed of Israelites.
Is it possible that the tribulation which the great multitude comes through is not the Great Tribulation that engulfs the whole world at the end time? Could it be that the Bible be speaking of another type of tribulation?
TRIBULATION EXPERIENCED BY SPECIFIC CHURCHES
The Bible also speaks of tribulation that is to come on specific churches. The messages in Revelation, chapters two and three, were sent to seven Churches on a mail route in Asia Minor. Each of these individual churches were representative. Each pictured the entirety of God's Church during a specific era of time as history flowed down through the centuries culminating at Christ's return.
The first church on the route was Ephesus, and Christ explained that this church experienced tribulation (Revelation 2:9). This tribulation was the persecution by the Jews and the martyrdom perpetrated by the Roman Emperor Nero.
Jesus also predicted ten days (years) of tribulation that would fall upon the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:10; Ezekiel 4:6). This was actually fulfilled by a ten year persecution against Christians instituted by Diocletian in 303 AD and abolished by the edict of toleration in 313 AD.
Christ further threatened Thyatira, representing the Church during the Middle Ages, with "great tribulation." Jesus Christ said: Behold, I will cast her (Thyatira) into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds (Revelation 2:22).
The "great tribulation" spoken of in the above verse was actually the Crusades and the inquisition, not the Great Tribulation which will come at the end of the age. It is not the tribulation the great multitude experiences, nor is it the one to come on the entire world at the end of the age. The great multitude come out of a kind of tribulation different than either of the two types mentioned thus far.
TRIBULATION ON INDIVIDUALS
While imprisoned and suffering on the island of Patmos, John spoke of being a companion to other Christians who were in tribulation (Revelation 1:9). In another case, Christ explained to His followers that Christians should expect tribulation simply because they were required to live in this world (John 16:33).
Paul also suffered many difficulties and troubles as he performed God's work of preaching the gospel. As a result, this great apostle reminded believers down through the ages that Christ's followers should also anticipate tribulation. Paul taught Christians: To continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
While tribulation is certainly part of the Christian life, non-Christians are by no means exempt. Suffering occurs in even greater degrees to those who know nothing of the truth. Paul states that every person who does not obey the truth will suffer tribulation.
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the gentile (Romans 2:9).
It is this kind of anguishing tribulation from which the great multitude emerges. Rather than being firstfruits, the great multitude is all the rest of mankind who are not now called to salvation. They are not God's true Church, and are not sealed with the Holy Spirit during this life. Instead, they are those who, in their lifetime, have experienced the tremendous suffering that all mankind has endured throughout the ages--the consequence of sin.
OUT OF GREAT TRIBULATION
Every generation has suffered tribulation in its lifetime. Violence has covered the globe. Terrible atrocities have been endured, but also perpetrated, by virtually every race and religion throughout the history of mankind.
Jews, Albanians, Rwandans, Kurds, Armenians and Africans, to name just a few, have all suffered terrible tribulation during their lifetime--some even the specter of genocide. Many who will read this are facing some sort of suffering and tribulation of their own even now.
Beginning with Cain and Abel, man's history has been a parade of violence, and a path of blood. Since mankind was evicted from the garden of Eden, and cut off from God, the character of our world has not changed. In the last four thousand years, the world has only known some two hundred and fifty years of relatively calm and peaceful times!
The vast numbers of people, since the time of Adam and Eve, have experienced tribulation of one kind or another! All have borne some of the heartache, pain and suffering that this present life brings. All have witnessed the terrible ravages of illness and disease such as smallpox, cancer and AIDS, and more recently mankind's latest affliction, SARS. Everyone eventually loses loved ones, and everyone eventually comes face-to-face with his or her own death (Hebrews (9:27).
In the course of human history, there have been millions who have suffered terrible upheavals of nature. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, bitter cold, scorching heat and floods have exacted a heavy toll in the form of human lives. Many have lost everything.
The earth naturally responds to the anguish mankind has brought upon it. From God's perspective, the planet actually groans with the suffering of this world. It convulses within itself as a consequence of all the destruction inflicted upon both it and mankind (Romans 8:22-23).
In addition, the vast majority of people on earth exist in suffocating poverty and oppressive squalor. Most inhabitants of the west have no idea of the tribulation that afflicts those who live in third world countries on a daily basis. For many millions of people around the world the greatest challenge, each day, is to find enough food to survive one more day.
The tribulation this world suffers is a direct result of man's human nature. Man's greed and self-centered way of life have caused pain to everyone. None have escaped the tragic consequences of living in Satan's world (II Corinthians 4:4; James 4:1-6).
This is the kind of great tribulation the innumerable multitude comes out from. It is the tribulation each person experiences from living in Satan's world.
Although Satan is prevented from influencing the world during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ, he is once again loosed at the end of the thousand years. He will once again create the kind of suffering that man has repeatedly known for 6,000 years. He will influence men to wage war.
Christ will put down this rebellion, but people will again suffer under the devil's power and influence. Those who live at this time will be required to overcome his sway, both in the world and in their personal lives.
This is what the Scripture means when it states that the multitude come out of "great tribulation." It is not speaking of the Great Tribulation that comes on the whole world just prior to Christ's return. It is speaking of the tribulation that each person experiences while living in a world influenced by Satan, both during the first six thousand years of human history and the "little season" when Satan is once again free to sway the minds of men.
The great multitude is a collection of all those who will be saved after a second resurrection. All those who lived and died without knowing the true Jesus Christ will be raised.
They will be given physical life at the end of one thousand years of God's Kingdom, and with that new life, their real and first chance at salvation. This is their time of judgement (Revelation 20:5-6; 12). During this time, the great multitude must overcome Satan's influence. In this way, they follow the example of the 144,000, but are called at a different time and for a different purpose. They are not called now. They are not called to be Christ's bride, or to have rulership roles in the Kingdom.
They will receive salvation and have eternal life, but not the same reward as those who are called to the first resurrection. For this reason, they are not called firstfruits, or Israel. Instead, they are called the "great multitude." Their story is a fascinating one, and it also proves the identity of the 144,000.