All perspectives recognize the unique position of Chapter 14 acting as a bridge between what has so far transpired and what is about to come. John described the Lamb of God standing upon Mount Zion, surrounded by a mighty company.
These redeemed of the Lord are depicted as a band of 144,000 faithful who have been kept spiritually pure, having been sealed by the Spirit.
After John enjoined believers of the endurance and faith of the holy ones, this imagery of Jesus having returned, strong and sure, with those steadfast all around Him, was welcome encouragement.
Heavenly or Earthly?
Rather than be literally Mount Zion, some scholars read this as heaven or as a symbol of the Church. The writer of Hebrews used the same depiction to show the difference between the old, now obsolete covenant and the new, better covenant.
The old covenant was established at physical Mount Sinai:
You have not come to something that can be touched, the Hebrews author wrote, but instead, something far more real.
“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”Hebrews 12:22-24 (NRSV, emphases mine)
John also heard harps, or lyres, playing, just as John had witnessed when he first saw God’s throne room.
“Then [the Lamb] came and has taken it out of the right hand of the One sitting upon the throne.
“And when He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell prostrate before the Lamb, each having a harp and broad shallow golden bowls being full of incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones―
And they sing a new song of praise”Revelation 5:7-9
This time, it seems, the 144,000 are about to learn a new song.
Or, possibly, John heard the heavenly anthem while gazing upon an earthly company.
It is not that they were celibate, but rather they had remained faithful in their marriages, for the marital bed is blessed. The example of Peter is raised, who was married, and would surely have also been included in such a gathering.
John had already witnessed “myriads upon myriads” of the redeemed singing praises to God. So, the 144,000 cannot be the whole Church, but rather represent the Church.
Trinity For Trinity
One commentator counterbalances the visions of the dragon cast down to the earth and the two creatures which rise up out of the sea and the land, as an unholy worldly trinity pitted against the holy heavenly trinity of Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit. In a scene similar to that of Elisha’s servant, John first saw the array of evil presented by Satan, then the mighty victory of God the Son.
When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, “Alas, master! What shall we do?”
He replied, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.”
Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.2 Kings 6:15-17 (NRSV, emphases mine)
Prophetic Triumph of Psalm 2
Like the kings in this Psalm, the dragon and its dangerous animal vainly war against God, Who
will speak to them in his wrathPsalm 2:6 (NRSV, emphases mine)
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
Symbol of Victory
The 144,000 seem to signal the Lord’s overarching sovereign success over evil. Just as their appearance had before, so now they stand sealed in enduring faith, singing the song of salvation. The seeming reality of earth is a wispy dark shadow compared to the solid reality of heaven.
John’s heavily oppressed and suffering audience draws strength and encouragement from these scenes of glorious celebration.
Whether this half of the Apocalypse is addressing the destruction of Jerusalem or God’s judgment on the Roman Empire, the message is the same: God will certainly provide for and sustain God’s people through it all.
The Unknown Song
The matters of redemption are, in the words of Peter, “things into which angels long to look!” God’s heavenly messengers do not know this song, but they admire it and wonder about it.
Perhaps the writer of Hebrews was influenced by Revelation in alluding to this very scene, saying
- “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” images Jesus standing on Mount Zion.
- “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” corresponds to the “first fruits” as those who first came to faith during Jesus’s ministry.
These first century Jewish converts (John’s audience), the first fruits, had remained pure by disassociating from Jerusalem and Rome, having transferred their loyalty to Christ alone.
The Great Tribulation is now coming to a close, and Christ’s earthly kingdom will soon be established. A vision of six or seven parts begins with Jesus returning to stand in power upon God’s holy mountain and gives the highlights of events that will culminate in judgment. Jesus will establish His physical, one-thousand-year reign on earth, Jerusalem as His capital, and the company surrounding Him His officers.
A few interpret this number to represent all those who will be saved out of the tribe of Judah (though without being able to provide a biblical citation).
However, most commentators see the throng standing with Jesus as those sealed in the Spirit from Chapter 7, in addition to those of Jewish faith and heritage who have recognized Jesus as Messiah—the remnant of those who survived horrific persecution in the final years of the Great Tribulation. The number is symbolic of Paul’s prophecy, “all Israel will saved.”
Jewish believers are the “son” of the star-crowned woman during the Great Tribulation, forcibly taken from the dragon’s reach.
- Unlike those who received the mark of the beast, these “hav[e] His Name and the Name of the Father having been written upon their foreheads.”
- Unlike those who corrupted themselves by groveling before the beast, these have stood strong, keeping their worship of Jesus pure.
Just as a harvest is augured by the first fruit, so now these indicate a larger harvest to come. Soon “all Israel” will come to the Lord and put their faith in Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah and Zechariah. “They are without blemish, blame, or fault” Because they have confessed all their sins and been cleansed by God.
Whether John’s vision is happening in heaven or on earth, the specific number of those with Jesus indicate all who receive God’s seal will be saved. No matter what happens, not one of God’s redeemed will be lost.
The new song is compared to Miriam and Moses’s song of redemption at the Red Sea. Only those who are saved can learn and sing this song.
Their purity is a testament to having remained faithful and true to the Lord, not bending their knee to the creature. They are like those God preserved in the days of Elijah.
“Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”God to Elijah, 1 Kings 19:18 (NRSV)
As first fruits they represent the Church, set apart and presented to God, before the final harvest of God’s judgement. In seeing the Church surrounding Jesus in His day of victory, John’s audience caught a glimpse of their own future. This story will end well, John told them. We are in the middle, right now. But, you have been sealed with the name and Spirit of Almighty God, and you will prevail.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg