The Fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant1
The portrayal by John of his vision of the “innumerable multitude” in Revelation 7 may go a long way in helping us understand how the promise of the Abrahamic covenant is ultimately fulfilled. We read this in Revelation 7:9-12.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”
The “great multitude” that John sees are precisely those in Revelation 5:9 whom Jesus redeemed “from every tribe and language and people and nation”. The language John uses, “a great multitude, that no one could number,” sounds remarkably similar to the promise given to Abraham. That promise consisted primarily of two elements.
First, Abraham was promised that he would have innumerable descendants, described as “the dust of the earth,” “the stars of the sky,” and “the sand of the sea” (Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 22:17-18). In Genesis 16:10 God said to Abraham: “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” This promise was repeated to Isaac (Gen. 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen. 28:14; 32:12), and is found in numerous other OT texts (Ex. 32:13; Deut. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kings 3:8; 4:20; Neh. 9:23; Isa. 10:22; 48:19; 51:2; Hosea 1:10).
Second, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4-6, 16), a promise also repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 28:14; 32:12; 35:11; 48:19).
In these OT texts it is the physical progeny of Israel who are in view. But amazingly here in Revelation 7:9 it is the Church in whom those promises appear to be fulfilled. Verse 9a points to the fulfillment of the first promise above, while verse 9b points to the fulfillment of the second. It may well be, then, that John views the innumerable multitude of Revelation 7:9 as the consummate fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. And those who inherit these promises include all believing Jews, all those who have descended physically from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and have put their trust in Christ, as well as, equally and together with all believing Gentiles.
One more comment is in order. There has been a debate raging in the church for 2,000 years about whether the number of those who will be saved is small or large, or perhaps somewhere in between. Of course, those who call themselves universalists insist that every human being will ultimately be saved, regardless of whether or not they believe in Jesus or in any concept of God. Needless to say, this is profoundly unbiblical. It may even be heretical!
Others argue that the number of those who will finally be saved is very small. They appeal to the concept in Scripture of the believing remnant. The remnant is that small portion of the whole of mankind who truly trust Christ.
But perhaps the best and most biblical answer to this question is here in Revelation 7:9. John describes a “great multitude that no one could number.” That sure sounds to me like a whole bunch of people! I don’t know how many. I don’t know if this means the majority of people will ultimately be saved. What I do know is that it is far more than a tiny remnant. It is a multitude of men and women that is so great, so large, so numerous, that it was impossible for John to count them. They are “innumerable”!