************ Sermon on Revelation 14:1-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 15, 2009
"The Lamb and the 144,000"
Revelation 12 looks to the past – the woman giving birth to the Christ-child and Satan being cast out of heaven. Revelation 13 looks to the present – Satan's formation of a godless trinity to attack the woman and her seed, the church, through a beast of persecution and a beast of deception. Revelation 14 looks to the future – John tells us what happens to the woman and her offspring and the dragon and his offspring.
Revelation 14 actually contains two visions of the future. The first is a vision of salvation. The second is a vision of judgment.
John has a reason for this design. He wants you to look at yourself and ask, "Which vision includes me?" If the first vision includes you, then you will want to remain faithful to Christ. And, if the second vision includes you then you should want to change your ways.
This evening I want to look with you at the first vision: the vision of salvation. I want to ask and answer four questions: who, where, what, and why.
A First, who is John talking about? Listen to what he says in verse 1:
(Rev 14:1) Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.Who? First of all the Lamb. John is not introducing anyone new to us. The Lamb we have already seen. In Revelation 5, John hears someone talking about the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David; then John sees the Lamb Who was slain. John hears, John sees, but they are one and the same: the Lion has become a Lamb. He is the only One Who is worthy to take the scroll of destiny, to open its seals, and to put God's plan into motion.
B Who do we see? Second, we see the "144,000 who had his name and his father's name written on their foreheads" (Rev 14:1). The 144,000 are not new to us either. We have already seen them as well: in Revelation 7, the 144,000 are the ones marked with God's seal on their foreheads.
John now reveals to us that the actual seal is the name of the Lamb and His Father (Rev 14:1). The seal is a sign that they belong to God and are protected by Him from the wrath to come.
John wants us to contrast this with what happened to the deluded followers of the dragon and the beasts. They, too, receive a mark. This mark, we learned in Revelation 13:17, is the name of the beast or the number of his name – notice the imitation of God's seal which is the name of God and of the Lamb. Just as the mark of God is a sign that you belong to God, so the mark of the beast is a sign that you belong to the beast. However, there is a big difference between the two marks. Those who are marked with the name of God are provided security and protection from God's coming wrath. On the other hand, those who are marked with the name of the beast, receive no security and no protection from the wrath to come. Thus, in back to back visions, John sees all humanity divided into two camps, bearing two different brands. Either people bear the name of the Lamb and His Father, finding safety in ownership; or, people are claimed by the dragon and the beast, a system that is destined to be shattered like pottery (Ps 2:9) and that offers no protection and no security whatsoever.
Now, who are the 144,000? Do you remember that in Revelation 7, John again hears something and sees something? John hears and John sees, but they are one and the same. John hears someone numbering off 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then John sees a crowd beyond number from every tribe and language and people and nation. But what John hears and what John sees are the same thing. Meaning what? Meaning that the 144,000 are all the people of God, of all times and all places, a crowd beyond number that has been saved by the blood of the Lamb.
C I want you to notice that the Lamb is "standing." Compare Him to the godless trinity of the dragon, the beast out of the sea, and the beast out of the earth: the dragon has been hurled out of heaven, the first beast was rising out of the sea, the second beast was coming out of the earth, but the Lamb is standing. Don't forget, the Lamb has been slain; but now He is standing. Remember, too, that the dragon tried everything in his power to stop the birth of Christ; and, once Christ was born, the dragon tried everything in his power to destroy Christ; but Christ is standing.
A careful reading of the text indicates that Christ does not stand alone. Standing with Him are the 144,000. Don't forget, the dragon turned his rage on the church through the two beasts. The dragon tried to turn the church away from the worship of Christ through persecution and deception. But they are also standing. In other words, Satan did not succeed.
Do you hear what I am saying? I am saying that the Lamb and the 144,000 are victorious. Satan tried to make them go down in defeat but they are standing.
The first question: who? The victorious Lamb and the 144,000. The second question: where? We are told the Lamb was standing on "Mount Zion" (Rev 14:1). Is this to be taken literally? Is John telling us that Jesus and the 144,000 are standing on the physical location of the earthly Jerusalem?
John uses geographical places in much the same way as he uses numbers – both point to spiritual realities. For instance, in Revelation 11 we are told that the bodies of the two witnesses lie in the streets of the great city, which is further identified as Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem (Rev 11:8). We learned that they represent the kingdoms of this world in their hostility to God and the Gospel.
So what is Zion? Like Sodom, Egypt, Jerusalem, and Babylon, it represents a spiritual reality. But what spiritual reality? Take note of what John tells us. John mentions the throne, the four living creatures, the elders (Rev 14:3). In Revelation 15, John mentions a sea of glass (Rev 15:2). Do you see what John means by Mount Zion? John wants us to think of the heavenly throne room of Revelation 4 with God on His throne at the center of everything.
Don't forget, it is the victorious Lamb and the victorious 144,000 standing on Mount Zion. The battle has been won, the war is over, the end has come. Therefore, Mount Zion can only be the New Jerusalem.
A The first question: who? The victorious Lamb and the 144,000. The second question: where? The New Jerusalem. The third question: what? What are they doing? They are singing.
(Rev 14:2-3) And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. (3) And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.However, as we will find out in the coming weeks, this is not the only thing they are doing.
What we hear is a victory celebration. Of course there is a victory celebration! The dragon and the beasts have tried their best. They have tried to stop and destroy the Lamb. They have tried to destroy the church. But they have utterly and totally failed. They have gone down in defeat. The defeat of the enemy results in songs of celebration.
Don't we hear the same thing at the Red Sea? The godless Egyptians threatened the very existence of God's people. But God did an amazing thing – He parted the waters and led Israel to the safety of the other side. When the Egyptians also tried to cross, the waters came crashing down and the carcasses of their soldiers and horses were floating like so many dead fish. After this, Moses and Miriam led Israel in a song of victory (Exodus 15).
We hear the same thing happening with David. The Lord delivered David from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. How did David respond? With a song of victory (2 Sam 22; Ps 18).
B John hears the 144,000 singing a "new song." A new song. This phrase comes directly from the Old Testament (Ps 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Is 42:10). Why a new song? How come the old songs won't do? Among God's people, a new song is sung each time God acts in history to save His people. So, then, new victories, new triumphs, and new conquests all mean new songs. This is a new song because the Lamb has triumphed in a new way over a very old enemy.
John then tells us something strange about the new song: "No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth" (Rev 14:3). Why can only the redeemed learn the lyrics to this song? Is the song a secret? Is God's glory and praise to be kept hidden? Of course not! John wants to symbolize a self-evident truth – only the redeemed can praise God for new acts of salvation. Or to put it another way, those who have not experienced salvation cannot sing of salvation. Unbelievers, followers of the beast, cannot and will not praise God for new acts of salvation. Even the purest and highest of angels cannot praise God for new acts of salvation. Remember what Peter says when he talks about the Gospel? "Even angels long to look into these things" (1 Pet 1:12).
John uses three comparisons to describe the new song. First, it is "like the roar of rushing waters" (Rev 14:2). Remember, John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos when he wrote these words. What waters did he constantly hear? Wasn't it the roar of the sea hitting the shore? A constant noise. A powerful noise. A noise that was always there. Second, it is "like a loud peal of thunder" (Rev 14:2). Loud. Great volume. Frightening. Third, it is "like that of harpists playing their harps" (Rev 14:2). When we think harp, we think quiet, contemplative, romantic music. That is not what the Bible has in mind. Forget the image of the large modern harp; the instrument in mind here is more like a guitar than a harp. In Bible times it was the primary instrument used in singing psalms. It is associated with joy, gladness, and celebration.
What does this all tell us? The singing in heaven is powerful, loud, and joyful. Why? First, because of the numbers involved – the 144,000 meaning all of God's people of all times and all places. Anytime a big choir is singing, the result can only be powerful, loud, and joyful. Second, because it is a victory celebration. Do you think Pittsburgh Steeler fans were quiet when their team won the Super Bowl? Of course not! It didn't happen this year, but usually overenthusiastic fans start a riot when their team wins. Well, Jesus has won. And His fans – the 144,000 – want to celebrate.
As an aside, I want you to notice that John again follows the pattern of hearing something and seeing something. John hears a victory song. John sees the Lamb and the 144,000 standing. They both point to the same thing – victory, triumph, conquest.
A The first question: who? The victorious Lamb and the 144,000. The second question: where? The New Jerusalem. The third question: what? They are singing. The fourth question: why? Of all the people on earth, why are they the ones who celebrate the victory of the Lamb?
Let me start off by reintroducing a word that John used repeatedly in the seven letters to the seven churches (Rev 2 & 3). Do you remember how each letter concludes with the word "overcome"? Jesus makes promise after promise to those who "overcome."
Back to our question. Why? Why do the 144,000 – meaning all Christians of all times and all places – celebrate the victory of the Lamb? Because they are overcomers. What is an overcomer? John uses a series of images in verses 4 & 5 to answer this question:
(Rev 14:4-5) These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. (5) No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.
B First, an overcomer is part of God's army. "I'm in the Lord's army." "Onward Christian Soldiers." Unless you know the Old Testament, you will not see this in what John has written. John writes that they "did not defile themselves with women." Do you know who was required to refrain from sexual relations? The soldiers of Israel on the eve of battle against pagan enemies (Deut 23:9-11; cf 1 Sam 21:5). Overcomers, then, are men, women, children, singles, and marrieds who, under Jesus, fight against the devil, the world, and the evil desires of their own flesh.
C Second, an overcomer is the virgin bride of Christ. John writes, "they kept themselves pure." Do you know that the "virgin daughter" is one of the images used for the people of God in the Old Testament (2 Ki 19:21; Is 37:22; Jer 14:17; Lam 1:15; 2:13)? And, when Israel chased after idols, she is said to be a prostitute (Hosea, Jer 2:20; Jer 3:1-3). The New Testament uses the same language:
(2Cor 11:2) I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.The consummation of this image is seen in Revelation 21 – the church is presented "as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Rev 21:2). An overcomer, then, is one who remains pure and true in her devotion to Christ – in spite of the attacks by the dragon through the persecution and deception of the first and second beasts.
D Third, an overcomer is a disciple. "They follow the Lamb wherever he goes." The idea of following Christ is at the heart of discipleship; we see that image seventy times in the Gospels alone. Christ repeatedly calls men to follow Him. An overcomer doesn't merely follow Christ. He takes up his cross and follows Him (Mk 8:34) – in other words, he or she follows Christ even to the point of death.
E Fourth, an overcomer is a slave or servant of Christ. "They were purchased from among men." Purchased. Bought. Paid for. That happened to slaves throughout the Roman Empire. That happened to Jesus when He was sold/betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. "Purchased" means a price has been paid. That price is the blood of the Lamb (Rev 5:9). An overcomer is a slave of Christ, devoted to doing the desires of the Master.
F Fifth, an overcomer is a firstfruits – "offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb." In the Old Testament, the firstfruits were the first and best parts of the harvest offered to God to signify that the crop was His and that the farmer was grateful for God's gift of the crop. Paul called Epaenetus the firstfruits of his work in Asia (Rom 16:5) and the household of Stephanus the firstfruits of his work in Achaia (1 Cor 16:15. James called his readers "the firstfruits of all [God] created" (1:18), meaning the beginning of a new creation in Christ. And, the conversion of the Gentiles is seen as the firstfruits of a great harvest (Rom 11:16). In being raised from the dead, Jesus Himself is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20,23). And, in Christ, Christians receive the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:23). Overcomers are firstfruits – the first and best part of the harvest in which all of Creation acknowledges the rule of King Jesus.
G Sixth, an overcomer confesses Christ before men. John says, "No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless." This requires some explanation. John is not saying they never lie, that they always tell the truth, that they perfectly keep the ninth commandment; none of us can do that in this life. We need to see this in the context of Revelation. Remember who we meet in Revelation 13: the first beast who speaks blasphemous lies and claims to be God; the second beast, known as the false prophet, who deceives and lies. Remember who we meet in Revelation 12: the red dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan; Jesus calls Him the father of lies (Jn 8:44). The issue with the dragon and his two beasts is not lying in general but the promotion of one lie in particular. Their lie, their biggest lie, their reoccurring lie, is to deny that Jesus is the Christ. Let me remind you of what John writes in his first letter:
(1Jn 2:22) Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son.In contrast to these three liars – the godless trinity of dragon, beast, and beast – is the overcomer: "no lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless." Meaning what? Meaning they confess Christ before men – without fear, without shame, without compromise.
John gives us a glimpse into the victory celebration of the Lamb. The first question: who? The victorious Lamb and the 144,000. The second question: where? The New Jerusalem. The third question: what? They are singing. The fourth question: why? Because they are overcomers.
My brothers and sisters, do you see the destiny to which you are headed? Do you see yourself in this scene? Are you part of the church triumphant?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page