After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds…
It is a refreshing thing to look away for a moment from the strife and uncharitableness of human systems and conclusions, each disposed to narrow heaven within its own pale and party, and to behold "a multitude, such as no man could number," entering by the gate into the everlasting city. But whilst we may justly rejoice in being able to appeal from human judgment to Divine, in having the authority of Scripture for not only assigning vast capacity to heaven, but for regarding it as the home of an interminable throng, we are to take heed that we lower not the conditions of admission, as though the entrance must be easy, because a great multitude shall be there. The great, the solemn truth remains, that "there shall enter into the city nothing which defileth," "neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the Lamb's book of life." And a glance at the context should suffice to keep down any rising thought that, because there shall be "a great multitude" in heaven, and, therefore, perhaps, numbers whom their fellow-men never expected to be there, some may find admission who have taken no pains to secure so great a blessing. So far from there being anything for you to reckon upon, ye who are not striving after a moral fitness for heaven, in the alleged vastness of the multitude which is to occupy heaven, there is much to admonish and warn you: if ye know nothing of the "great tribulation," of the warfare with "the world, the flesh, and the devil," ye may forfeit your places: but those places will not stand empty: "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham"; and He will not be reduced through the want of faithful disciples to the admitting into His presence the rebellious and unclean. Yea, and over and above there being a warning to us in the fact that heaven shall be peopled to the full, even should we ourselves come short of the inheritance, is it not an animating thing to be told of all "nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," as contributing to the occupancy of the majestic abode? Oh, glorious society which shall thus be gathered from all ages, all ranks, all countries! There is beauty in diversity, there is majesty in combination. Even now it is felt to be an ennobling, inspiriting association, if the eminent of a single Church, the illustrious of a solitary country, be gathered together in one great conclave. How do meaner men flock to the spot; with what interest, what awe, do they look upon persons so renowned in their day; what a privilege do they account it if they mingle awhile with sages so profound, with saints so devoted; how do they treasure the sayings which reach them in so precious an intercourse. And shall we think little of heaven when we hear of it as the meeting-place of all that hath been truly great, for of all that hath been truly good; of all that hath been really wise, for of all that hath yielded itself to the teachings of God's Spirit, from Adam to his remotest descendant? But it is not merely as asserting the vastness of the multitude which shall finally be gathered into heaven that our text presents matter for devout meditation. We are not to overlook the attitude assigned to the celestial assembly, an attitude of rest and of triumph, as though there had been labour and warfare, and the wearied combatants were henceforward to enjoy unbroken quiet. "They stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." Not that by repose we are to understand inactivity, for Scripture is most express on the continued engagement of every faculty of a glorified saint in the service of the Creator and Redeemer. The great multitude stand before the throne — the attitude implying that they wait to execute the commands of the Lord; and they join in a high song of praise and exultation, "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." No idleness then, though there is perfect repose. But rest, as opposed to anything that is painful or toilsome in employment — repose, as implying that there shall never again be weariness, exhaustion, difficulty, or danger, notwithstanding that there shall be the consecration of the whole man to the work of magnifying the Lord. What an attractive, what an animating view of heaven is that of its being a state of repose, as contrasted with our present state of warfare and toil — the white robe in place of the "whole armour of God"; the palm in place of the sword in the hand. For — let the course of the Divine dealings with any member of the Church be the very smoothest that is compatible with a state of probation, still, compassed about as we all are with infirmity, called upon to do many things to which we are naturally disinclined, which we can neither perform without painful effort nor omit without sinful neglect; exposed to temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil — indeed it were hard to under. stand how any believer could often be other than "weary and heavy laden." It is not that he would give up the service of God, but that he would be able to serve God without weariness. It is not that he would be released from the struggle with corruption, but that he would have no corruption to struggle with, the final touches of sanctification having been given, so that he is "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." And such a state of repose awaits us in heaven. There is another distinguishing feature of the heavenly state which may be gathered from our text. You cannot fail to observe that, though the great multitude is collected from all nations and tribes, there is perfect concord or agreement; they form but one company and join in one anthem. The redeemed are to constitute one rejoicing company. Nay, and the representation may almost be said to go beyond this. How are they to constitute this one company, associated by close ties, and joining in the same song, unless they are to know one the other hereafter? When Christ speaks of many as coming from the east and the west, He speaks also of their sitting down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. But this were apparently no privilege, unless they are to know these patriarchs. It argues a heart still bound up in selfishness, if it be little to us that, admitted into heaven, we are to be freed from all petty bounds and distinctions, and to form part of one close but countless community. The soul should be stirred within us as we think of patriarchs, and prophets, and priests, and kings — of apostles, confessors, and martyrs; of the illustrious, not by earthly achievements which too often dazzle by a false glare; but the illustrious in the fight of faith — and not only of the illustrious whose names go down in Christian biography, the precious legacy of age to age; but of that unknown, that unremembered multitude, the good, the godly, of successive generations, who, in the quiet privacies of ordinary life, have served their God and their Redeemer — for "he," saith Christ, "that overcometh shall inherit all things" — oh, I say, the soul should be stirred within us as we think of such an assembly, and hear ourselves invited to join it, and are told that we may have the friendship of each and every one in the interminable gathering.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
WEB: After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.