This title is a phrase which comes from (and gives away, of course) my High Anglican upbringing.
Church Triumphant;= Those already experiencing the fruits of God's victory, in heaven. As against-
Church Militant;= Those still experiencing the various struggles and troubles of life on earth.
I want to offer some thoughts on that great human crowd which can be seen, in heaven, at various intervals in Revelation.
I'm going to be asking the question; who are these people (and what are they doing)?
We see them on four different occasions.
1) From ch7 v1, immediately following the sealing of the servants of God.
2) From ch14 v1, immediately following the account of the Beast and its "war on the saints".
(But also immediately preceding the proclamation of the fall of Babylon)
3) From ch15 v2, at the beginning of the destruction of Babylon.
4) From ch19 v1, immediately following the destruction of Babylon.
Who are they?
They're introduced to us in ch7 as "a great multitude which no man could number".
We're told that they come from "every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues".
This is the same extent as the authority of the Beast in ch13, which implies that they've been part of its realm.
Further information comes from dialogue between John and one of the Elders;
Elder; "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?"
John; "Sir, you know".
The Elder then answers both his own questions; "These are they who have come ouf of (EK) the great tribulation.
I take this to mean that they've had experience of the tribulation; they've passed through it, as it were, and come out the other side.
This exchange echoes the dialogue in Ezekiel ch37 v3;
The Lord; "Son of Man, can these bones live?"
Ezekiel; "O Lord God, thou knowest"
In Ezekiel's vision, the answer is that the bones are revived by the power in the Spirit of God.
The parallel implies that the crowd in John's vision have also passed from death to life by the power of the Spirit of God.
The Elder says their robes are white because they've been washed "in the blood of the Lamb".
In other words, they've been redeemed, purged of their sin by the death and resurrection of Christ.
He says they are before the throne of God and "serve him day and night within his temple", which can be compared to ch3 v12;
"He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it."
And the remainder of the Elder's explanation echoes a promise made in the time of thr first redemption from Babylon;
"They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them,
For he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them"- Isaiah ch49 v10.
"He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces"- Isaiah ch25 v8
In short, their life is to be the life promised to the redeemed.
In the words of ch14 v4, they have been redeemed from mankind as "first fruits" for God and the Lamb.
On their next appearance, in ch14, John identifies them as the "one hundred and forty four thousand"; that is to say, as the servants of God who were
"sealed" in the first part of ch7, in preparation for the conflict with the Beast.
I've already given my interpretation of this number;- 144,000
The total is built up in a way which combines the overtones of the number "12" ("God's people") and the number "10" ("completeness"); I came to the
conclusion that it represents "the fullness of God's people occupying the fullness of God's world".
(And if the total is not meant to be understood literally, there's no genuine clash with the previous estimate of "a great multitude which no man
They have the Lamb's name and his Father's name written on their foreheads (which is presumably the sign of their sealing).
This must be the counterpart of the mark of the Beast, which is placed in the same location.
It marks them out as belonging to God's company, not the Beast's.
John says they are chaste, "they have not defiled themselves with women". This will be a metaphor about their spiritual
fidelity, in the same
way that the "fornication" of the Harlot of Babylon is a metaphor about her spiritual
infidelity. They're not a company of bachelors, but the
complete assembly of God's faithful people, whether single or married, male or female.
And he also says that no lie has been found in their mouth.
Once again ,this echoes a promise made in the Old Testament, about the time when God has dealt with the enemies of his people;
""Those who are left in Israel,
They shall do no wrong, and utter no lies,
Neither shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue".
All these details are pointing towards the fact that this crowd have been faithful to God and to the Lamb.
They have, by their fidelity, "conquered the Beast and its image and the number of its name" (as we're told in ch15 v2).
Their fidelity, we presume, has been carried to the point of martyrdom.
And since they've been found faithful to the Lamb, they're allowed to follow him wherever he goes.
What are they doing?
The appearance of this crowd in ch7 seems to mark the moment when they first arrive in heaven.
They're holding palm branches and crying with a loud voice; "Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb!"
In the same way that the crowd in Jerusalem were waving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna!" ("Save us!"), when Jesus was entering the city as their
king, "mounted upon an ass".
We may like to understand this crowd themselves as the new Jerusalem, acknowledging his kingship once again.
When we see them in ch14, they have a new song which nobody else can learn.
This may be because their new mode of life is beyond our current comprehension.
However, that phrase, "a new song", carries echoes from the Old Testament, which may be instructive.
Thus, in Isaiah ch42 v10, the instruction to "Sing to the Lord a new song" comes in the middle of the Servant Songs, and is followed by the promise
that the Lord will lead his people out of Babylon.
Psalm 96 begins in the same way, with praise about the glory and strength of God, and ends with the proclamation that the Lord is coming to judge the
"He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth."- Psalm 96 v13
As already observed, this appearance of the crowd in ch14 is placed between the accounts of the rise of the Beast and of the fall of Babylon. This
kind of message- the "new song" which describes a fresh expression of God's saving power- would be very appropriate for both parts of the setting.
In ch15, at the beginning of the destruction of Babylon and the Beast, they add their praise to the event by singing "the song of Moses and the song
of the Lamb".
The Song draws the lesson that God alone is holy and to be feared, because he brings justice and truth.
Presumably it is called after the "Song of Moses" because it celebrates the same kind of event;
God is overcoming the power of the oppressor, and preparing the way for a new covenant relationship.
Perhaps we can implicitly include in their message the last words of the original model;
"Thou hast led in thy steadfast love the people whom thou hast redeemed,
Thou hast guided them by thy strength to thy holy abode...
Thou wilt bring them in and plant them on thy own mountain,
The place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thy abode,
The sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established"- Exodus ch15 v13, v17
Finally, in ch19, they lead the praise for the completed destruction of Babylon, focussing on the points in which they are most interested.
In the first place, it means that the blood of the servants of God has been avenged (as the "souls under the altar" were demanding, back in ch6).
In the second place, it means that the way has been cleared for the arrival of the Lamb's true bride. They themselves, as God's faithful people, are
about to "inherit the earth".
The common factor in all these passages, of course, is the praise of the power of God.
A possible objection?
In ch7, the servants of God are being sealed, on earth, almost at the same time as the great multitude are waving palm branches in heaven.
This seems to make it necessary to distinguish between them and regard them as two distinct groups.
On that basis, the crowd in ch14 can be identified with one or the other, but not both.
There must be either at least two different human groups in heaven, or two different groups numbered as "one hundred and forty four thousand".
At least, that's the argument followed in many interpretations.
That line of argument is based on the assumption that "they cannot be in earth and in heaven at the same time"- but I'm going to question that
We're told in Ephesians that God has "made us alive together with Christ... and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places
in Christ Jesus"- Ephesians ch2 vv5-6
These are all things which God has already done, which means that we're already sitting in those "heavenly places".
Similarly, Jesus says about the "little ones" who believe in hin;
"I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven"- Matthew ch18 v10.
In other words, they have something of a presence in heaven even while they are alive.
This may be compared, again, with such teaching in John's gospel as;
"He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgement but has passed [not "will pass"] from death to
life"- John ch5 v24
The believer's enjoyment of eternal life has already begun, before his physical life has ended.
Therefore I see no reason why the great multitude waving palm branches in the second part of ch7 should not represent the immediate presence in
heaven- even before their martyrdom- of those who have just been "sealed" in the first part of the chapter.
Therefore there is no need for us to "multiply entities", as Occam might say.
This crowd are one body- "the blessed company of all faithful people".
edit on 12-12-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)