The great multitude in the context of the Tabernacle
The term 'great crowd' which appears in Rev. 7:9 was popularised among the students of the Bible in recent years mainly by Jehovah's Witnesses and their New World Translation. Most translations prefer the 'great multitude'; few of them take different versions, parallel in meaning, like 'the huge crowd' or 'the great army of people'. It does not seem, thoug, that a choice of a particular translation has a substantial importance. What is more important is the definition of this group and its characteristics. The book of Revelation defines three classes of the Lord's people: 24 elders, 144000 elect and the great multitude. They were all represented typically in the Tabernacle under the Old Covenant. 24 elders and 144000 represent the Most Holy and the Holy, respectively. The great multitude was shown in the levites, whose tasks were connected with transportation of the Tabernacle and with its Courtyard.
Who, then, are the levites? The whole Israel was the chosen nation and so in the antitype the elect are the ones who submit to the circumcission of the heart in repentance and thus receive the spirit of God's love agape - the love for the truth by which they are begotten of the spirit to be the new creation. Among the tribes the levites were nonetheless special - they were taken in exchange for the firstborn who were judged in Egypt with the life/ death sentence. In the antitype the levites represent those new creatures who submit themselves to the operation of the spirit of the truth and develop its understanding to the degree sufficient to undergo the life/ death judgement in the present Gospel Age (Heb. 6:4-6, 10:26; 1 Pet. 4:17). They are also antitypical firstborn because due to the development of the understanding and application of the truth they experience birth of the spirit (i.e. before broad mankind which will be granted it durign Christ's millenial reign). Typically the levites were subjected in their work to the priests and so in the antitype they do not study the Scripture directly (i.e. do not engage in the activities reserved for the priests to be done in the antitypical Holy) but depend in its understanding on the antitypical priests (teachers, prophets) who present Biblical doctrines to the Church (Num. 3:6-9; Eph. 4:11-13).
In times there was no stationary temple in Jerusalem, the levites' special task was transportation of the Tabernacle and its equipment (Num. 1:50). Before transportation, all elements were to be covered by the priests which additionally points to the fact that the levites do not experience directly the doctrines they teach as teachers and evangelists (Num. 4:4-15). When the stationary temple was erected, the scope of the levites' tasks changed, of which 1 Chr. 23:25-32 informs. They were divided into 4 units depending on the task they were supossed to do: 1) assisstant of the priests (cleaning and help with preparing of the sacrifices), 2) clerks and judges, 3) guards and 4) musicians and singers (1 Chr. 23:3-6). According to 2 Chr. 23:6, "let no one come into the house of the Lord except the priests and those of the Levites who serve. They may go in, for they are holy" (NKJV). This information is also reflected in the antitype because members of the great multitude as antitypical levites "are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple" (Rev. 7:15 NKJV).
According to Rev. 11:19 and 15:5 the temple is located in heaven, which suggests that the great multitude will receive spiritual nature. The antitypical priests - 144000 elect - who will be resurrected to the Divine nature, certainly will not serve in the earthly temple, even if some Bible students will prove correct in their hopes that the third temple described by the prophet Ezekiel will be erected in Jerusalem. If the elect of the Gospel Age are to receive positions of kings and priests with Jesus Christ, it seems reasonable that the antitypical levites will serve in the same spiritual temple (1 Pet. 1:3,4). Psalm 45:10-16 presents a scene in which bride is led to king's palace with her companions. If the king's palace is the antitypical temple, then the bride clad in gold (the symbol of the Divine nature) represents the winners of the Gospel calling shown in 24 eleders (kings) and 144000 (priests). The bride's companions that serve her are antitypical levites - the great multitude.
The great multitude come out of the great tribulation
A very important, if not definitional, characteristic of the great multitude is the fact that "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14 NKJV). From among three classes of God's people comprising the antitypical temple, the class of kings was completed in the year 1977 (see commentary on Mt. 25:1-13 and the lecture Abraham's parallels). The 144000 will be completed before the great tribulation starts (Rev. 7:1-3; see commentary on Rev. 14:1-5). The sealing of the elect will nonetheless go on and terminate a year before the end of this system of things. During the six-year period between the onset of the tribulation to the end of the sealing of the elect the only class belonging to the antitypical temple that will be sealed, will be the antitypical levites - the great multitude. Surely, during the 2000 years of the Gospel Age a lot of the elect developed a spiritual level proper for the levitical class. Nevertheless, during the tribulation it will be the only position in the heavenly temple for which the unsealed elect will be able to apply.
In his prophecy the prophet Malachi foresaw that the levites would be purified with the fire of the Day of the Lord (Mal. 3:2-4). Purified not because they had too little time to take up their consecration - from the calling/ begettal of the spirit of the last member of the antitypical Israel to the completion of the antitypical priesthood 14 years will elapse (2015-2029), which certainly means a lot of opportunities for spiritual development. However, this time will be wasted by the great multitude. Its members have become lukewarm in their consecration and will 'wake up' only when the approaching end becomes obvious. Experiences of the great tribulation will spur faithful levites to purify themselves and put on white robes of justice (Rev. 7:14). Malachi does suggest, however, that levites will be purified not only by the Day of the Lord (parousia), but also by its crowning experience - the apocalypse. This thought is additionally supported by the apostle Paul saying that the believers who will be in the body are to be changed to spiritual nature at the sound of the last trumpet - the one heralding the beginning of Christ's Kingdom, i.e. after the tribulation (1 Cor. 15:51,52; Rev. 11:15).
Antitypical levites are, then, to be tested by the fire of the tribulation. Therefore, Rev. 7:14 states that the robes of the great multitude are to be cleansed/ whitened in the Lamb's blood. In the Bible blood stands for life. Blood sacrifice is life sacrifice. This kind of sacrifice was made by our Lord in order to maintain obedience to God. This kind of sacrifice will also have to be made by the levites. The tribulation and the following distruction will be a time when people will pass out because of fear and look for shelter (Lk. 17:28-37). For believers it will be a time of severe testing, for our Lord forecasts: "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Lk. 17:33 NKJV). At this time the antitypical levites will need to preserve full confidence in the Lord, including the life sacrifice, in order to preserve their position in the antitypical temple and be changed at the end of the tribulation to the spiritual nature. However, if they try to save their present lives with human means, they may lose their heavenly reward.
The robes of the levites will be cleansed in the blood of the Lamb by the trust they will show at the end of the present world. About Abraham it was said that "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for [towards] righteousness" (Rom. 4:3 NKJV). The trust of the great multitude will be for their justification. That is why Rev. 7:17 says that the Lamb will "lead them to living fountains of waters" (NKJV). Water stands for the truth in the Bible. The levites coming out of the great tribulation will have characters profoundly tested on the point of trust to God, but not strengthened with deeper knowledge of the truth. Therefore, to finish off the development process it will be necessary for them to visit the fountain of the Scripture. Only combining trust with the depth of understanding will lead to the final glorious effect. God promises to such that "They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat ... And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:16,17 NKJV). Taking into account the dire experiences of the great tribulation, this Divine promise will be a source of strength and hope for the faithful levites.