More numbers: there are four angels at the four "corners" of the earth holding back four winds. And there are 12,000 each who are "sealed" from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, for a total of 144,000. But that's just Israel. Again there is this diverse multitude that no one could count, from every tribe, language, people and nation. And again this multi-ethnic choir is singing.
The image that captures my imagination, however, is the Lamb at the center who is also the Shepherd. Just ponder for a moment how bizarre and wonderful that metaphor is. Shepherds take care of the sheep. The sheep are cared for by the Shepherd. But this Shepherd is a Lamb. This Lamb is the Shepherd. Both are Biblical metaphors that are revealed as one in this apocalypse.
Revelation 7:9-17 is an option offered in The Book of Common Prayer for "The Burial Office", i.e. for funerals. I have sometimes thought of this reading as a bit like reading I Corinthians 13, often read at weddings. The words are beautiful, and they work. But when Paul spoke of love to the early followers of Jesus in Corinth, he wasn't addressing a couple on their wedding day, but a congregation in the midst of conflict.
Similarly, while these words no doubt bring some comfort to those who mourn the loss of a family member or friend when read at a funeral, the larger context of eyes being wiped of tears is a global phenomenon. It's more like swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. These words have deep personal and intimate connotations to be sure for anyone who is grieving. But it also means that when a bomb is dropped in Syria or Afghanistan, the God who is being described here (and worshiped here) by people from every tribe, language, people and nation is not a God who cries more tears for American Christian deaths than for Middle Eastern Muslim deaths. The God being described here loves all the little children of the world, and all means all. The God being described here is clearly a God more interested in blessing the whole world, not just the United States. The God being described here will wipe away all tears.
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza puts it this way, in her commentary The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgement:
Only when Satan and the concrete representation of demonic power, the Roman Empire, no longer rule on earth is final salvation accomplished. Then a new, more humanized world shall be created by God where there shall no longer be weeping and mourning, hunger and thirst, pain and death.As long as the water in Flint, Michigan and other places is not potable there are tears to be shed and there is work to be done. Until we move closer to "heaven on earth" by making sure that the water that comes out of our neighbor's tap will actually quench their thirst, and not make them sick, we have not grasped this vision. But when the hungry are fed, and the thirsty have clean water, and there is justice and peace among all the nations, wiping away the tears may be easier by comparison.