The second half of Revelation 7 is another vision. Again, similar to the first part of chapter 7 we begin verse 9 with "after this". Not linear, not chronological, part of, but separate - this vision moves from a Jewish view of God's redeemed people (the 144,000 made up from the 12 tribes), to a new and different picture, the great multitude.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 9a)
This image calls upon various verses from the book of Genesis:
"I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted." (Genesis 13:16)
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”(Genesis 32:12)
This encouraging and uplifting truth is made all the sweeter by the description that they are clothed in white robes. Pointing to the righteousness we share in because of Christ. These are God's redeemed people, who, through forgiveness, can share, and do share, in His victory over death. They hold palm branches in their hands. This draws upon the imagery that we think of with Palm Sunday and Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The association we have with a military leader from that time, returning home after a great victory. The second meaning that often gets downplayed (because we're not Jewish) is the link palm leaves have with the Feast of Tabernacles (known as Sukkot, or sometimes known as the Feast of Booths). The main reason for this feast is to remember how the Lord brought Israel out of the wilderness, where they lived in temporary dwellings, and into the promised land (Leviticus 23:33-43, focusing specifically on verse 40). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, the crowds gathered placing palm branches along the road, proclaiming, “Lord save us,” and “Blessed is the King of Israel,” which is a direct Messianic title. The crowds used palm branches as an allusion to Sukkot, expressing their hope for the coming Messianic Kingdom. We now see the great multitude with palms in their hands.
In verse 14 we see that this group, dressed in white robes, are those who have come out of the great tribulation. Now, this is a huge topic and one that we discussed as a group. Let me add a few extra bullet points:
The likely origin of this great tribulation is Daniel 12:1. Only appears elsewhere in Matthew 24:21 which is more explicitly linked to Daniel 12:1
In Daniel 12:1 it is linked to those who are persecuted because they have remained loyal to the covenant with God
Thinking back to the 7 churches, 3 (Ephesus, Sardis, Laodicea) are in danger of losing their identity in Christ, while 2 (Pergamum, Thyatira) are in the process of being seriously compromised
In Rev 7:3-8 the faithful are sealed/marked to remain faithful
"Great" does not necessarily mean a one-off event, it could mean increasing intensity or the sum of all tribulations. This could be from the start of the church age for anyone who follows Jesus, or even from Daniel's time (second century BC)
A counter-argument to this is in Rev 3:10 ("keep you from the hour of trial") which suggests (like 7:14) that John is talking about the final trial at the end of time
Final thought is that the tribulation to come in the future is a continuation of what has already begun.
Summary of Beale, NIGTC Book of Revelation commentary,1999.
While this interlude is interesting, I don't believe we should get that hung up about it, because the core message is that we, as believers in Christ, are marked and protected, whether the tribulation is now or to come, or both!
Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.(Isaiah 4:5-6)
We also see John reframe Isaiah 49:10, where the source of our fulfilment (from hunger and thirst), who provides us with shade, who is compassionate, and who will lead us to living water is no longer God the Father, the God of Isreal, but rather the Lamb at the center of the throne. What's more is that this Lamb, who is the most vulnerable of the flock, with sheep being the most vulnerable of animals, has now become the shepherd. What a contrast put in front of us. YAHWEH of Isreal has become The Lamb to all nations. He will lead and protect us. We will never be hungry and thirst again. The sun will not beat down on us and we have access to a fresh, endless supply of water. The biblical promises to Isreal have now become the hope of believers from all the nations!
This is the Gospel to all nations, and proof again that God's grace triumphs over all and that God's love for the lost is true. Halleluja!