The Lamb and the 144,000
Revelation is a book of contrasts. The dark is stark, while the light is bright. And it frequently shifts between the two. This morning we come to another abrupt transition. After visions of a fierce dragon and beasts persecuting the church, we need to remember that victory belongs to the Lamb.
This passage (14:1-5) stands in sharp contrast with the previous one (13:11-18). Last week we saw how the false prophet promotes the counterfeit worship of the beast. He sets up an image of the beast and deceives those who dwell on the earth to worship the image and to identify themselves with the beast.
Counterfeit worship is everywhere today. Everyone is worshiping someone or something at all times. But that has always been the case! We are overwhelmed by the vase number of counterfeit gods that exist inside and outside the church. It can feel like we are fighting a losing battle.
According to Gallup, weekly church attendance in America is down from 30% in 2012 to 22% in 2018, and the number of people who are irreligious has doubled from 10-20% during that same timeframe. People aren’t just leaving the church, they are departing the Christian faith many of them grew up with.
Are we merely attempting to survive the onslaught of evil? Do we cower before the beast that empowers the secular culture? Revelation reminds us that we are not experiencing anything new. In the big scheme of things, the church’s conflict with the beast has remained steady. Our task has not changed. We are still called to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), but we do so with every bit of confidence that Christ has already won the war!
The heavenly reward of the redeemed is their eternal celebration of the victory of the Lamb.
Read Revelation 14:1-5
The Identity of the 144,000 (1)
The last time we saw the Lamb he was standing before the throne in heaven (7:9). Now, the Lamb is standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000. These are the conquerors who have God’s name written on them (3:12). This 144,000 is the same group mentioned in 7:1-8. The next time we see them they are standing beside the sea of glass (15:2) which is before God’s throne (4:6). This is a heavenly scene.
This image of the saints in glory has already been inaugurated. The 144,000 builds as the beast gains disciples of his own. Throughout the present church age saints are justified, sanctified, and glorified as they join the ranks of the conquerors who have the privileged entering into their eternal rest (13).
What is the significance of Mount Zion? It is God’s dwelling place, but it also represents the people of God. Zion is True Israel, the heavenly Jerusalem, the ideal universal Church. It represents the people of God in the presence of God. Mount Zion is no more literal than the Lamb or the 144,000.
The whole scene is symbolic, but that does not mean it has no purpose. Symbolism always drives home a point. The illustration simply makes the point that much more vivid. As we use our imagination to picture the scene, our minds are filled with a sense of the sights and sounds of heaven.
Yes, it is a Lamb who defeats the dragon and his beasts. It is the foolish message of the cross that displays the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-25). God’s strength is clearly seen through weakness. These truths represent the paradox of Christianity. What looks like certain defeat at the hands of the beast is flipped on its head in a moment. What seems impossible for man is possible with God.
God has not only placed his mark of ownership upon us, but he has sealed us for eternity. The seal of God’s people provides a security that could never be offered by the beast to those who receive his mark. We are promised his protection. God has engraved our names in the palms of his hands (Isa. 49:16).
So we set our minds upon things above (Col. 3:2). We recognize that Christ has seated us with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). When the pressures of the world, the flesh, and the devil overwhelm us—we are called to look up and see ourselves standing with Christ on Mount Zion. Revelation comforts us because it reminds us of our identity in Christ.
And because we are standing with the Lamb, we join in celebration singing…
The Song of the 144,000 (2-3)
John hears the thunderous sound of the saints praising God and the Lamb. The voice John heard from heaven is the collective sound of the 144,000 singing in unison. Their song is pleasantly accompanied (15:2) by “Harpers harping on their harps” (AV 1873). The sound is majestic.
They sing a new song reserved exclusively for the church of the redeemed. The Psalms are full of references to the church singing new songs to the Lord, several of which mention the accompaniment of the harp. Notice, the overpowering instrument in this scene is not the harps, but the voice of the Universal Church Choir. They sing to the Lord with passion and power. It wasn’t the performance of a few musicians, but the celebration of every saint.
Let us practice for that day every time that we gather. The worship service is an opportunity to raise our voices to heaven. The guitar, piano, cajon, and tambourine accompany you–rather than drown you out. Singing is about celebrating the victory of the Lamb.
We want the primary instrument of our worship to be the voices of the saints. Sing loudly. Sing confidently. Sing with reverence and joy for your Savior reigns! You might think, “But I don’t have a good voice.” That’s not why you sing. Don’t sing loudly because you have a good voice. Sing loudly because you have a good Savior!
As a child I always thought I wanted to grow up to experience all of the great things that adults get to enjoy. Now that I’m an adult I can’t wait to die. Not in a morbid sort of way. I’m not trying to speed up the process in any way. I just believe that nothing in this life could compare to the joy I will experience in heaven. I want to see my children grow up, get married, and provide plenty of grandchildren. That all sounds exciting, but it doesn’t compare to the life that awaits us in glory!
Maybe you think you would like to experience more from this life before entering into glory. Maybe the thought of singing forever doesn’t quite excite you. On the one hand, being a part of the largest flash mob of all time sounds like a wonderful experience. But, maybe you think the excitement will die down over time. Maybe you think your legs will get tired from standing forever. Or that your throat will become hoarse after a few hours of singing.
Once again, you can’t take everything so literally. The vision of saints singing on Mount Zion does not convey an endless activity. We will do other things in heaven. The point is not what we are doing, but who we are with. We will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb forever.
Cousin The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace: Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand; The Lamb is all the glory, and my eternal stand!1
Christ not only redeems us, but also purifies us.
The Purity of the 144,000 (4-5)
Hal Lindsey assumes that we are to read Revelation “literally where possible”. He confidently asserts that Mount Zion is the literal hill in Jerusalem, the Lamb is Jesus Christ, and the 144,000 are Jewish (Rev. 7:1-8) male virgins who will convert to Christianity. He further suggests that these 144,000 will evangelize the rest of the world during the seven-year tribulation.
This is why reading Revelation according to its genre is so critical to our understanding. Symbolism, not literalism, is the default mode of interpretation. We have seen idolatry compared to harlotry multiple times in Ezekiel (16; 23). Harlotry is an illustration of idolatry which is a theme picked up later on with reference to the symbolic “Babylon” (14:8). “Defilement” has similar connotations.
Believers are the opposite. They are faithful disciples who belong to God. Christ was blameless (Isa. 53:8-9), and he himself presents his bride as a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:26-27). The church will be symbolized as Christ’s virgin bride (19:7-8; 21:2). “Virgin” is figurative just like Mount Zion, the 144,000, and the Lamb. Israel was often referred to in such language portraying her loyalty to Yahweh as opposed to the polytheism of their neighbors (2 Kgs. 19:21; Jer. 18:13; 31:4, 21; etc.).
The reference to “firstfruits” may have to do with harvest language implying the beginning stage of God’s ingathering at the end of the age. But, I think its association with the complete number (144,000) suggests a different use. We are firstfruits in quality not chronology. Jeremiah refers to the whole nation of Israel as the firstfruits of God’s harvest (Jer. 2:3; cf. Jam. 1:18).
This passage combined with 7:4-8, where the church was lined up in battle formation, seems to be an allusion to holy war. This great army follows their captain wherever he leads. As the Church militant these soldiers were faithful to remain pure. Now in heaven, they are counted among the Church triumphant.
In time, all the saints have become holy and blameless. Here, the saints are seen in their glorified state of perfection. They have been washed by the blood of the Lamb. The Church triumphant grows throughout this age. God preserves them and brings them to himself forever.
If we are always worshiping someone or something, then we must be vigilant in mortifying the idols that cause our hearts to be divided.
Cowper The dearest idol I have known, whatever that idol be, help me to tear it from thy throne, and worship only Thee.
Genuine saints worship and follow the Lamb, and therefore, they become like the Lamb.
Watson Justification does not have degrees; a believer cannot be more justified or elected than he is, but he may be more sanctified than he is.
Only in heaven will our sanctification be complete! Only there will be free from the hindrance of sin forever. Only in heaven will we become the pure and spotless bride of Christ. That is the glory that awaits every true believer! But until then…
- We fight the good fight of the faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
- We wrestle…against this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
- We toil, struggling with all Christ’s energy that he powerfully works within us (Col. 1:29).
- We press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).
- We run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… (Heb. 12:1).
- We strive to enter through the narrow door (Lk. 13:24).
- We make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue…knowledge…self-control…steadfastness…godliness…brotherly affection, and…love (2 Pet. 1:5-7).
Horton On the basis of our freedom from the law’s condemnation, we are able for the first time truly to love God and our neighbors. We are not what we will be, but we are not what we once were.
We actively pursue hard after Christ all the while looking forward by faith to the day when we will be standing with our Savior on top of Mount Zion—in perfect glory!
- O Christ, He is the Fountain ↩︎