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The 144,000

May 25th, 2015

Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads … These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.

Revelation 14:1-5

We have come to a beautiful promise and some sticky interpretations when we arrive in chapter 14. First, we should emphasize the spiritual benefit to our souls of this passage. As in many places in Revelation, the victory of Christ and the protection of His people are assured. The visions of the beasts rising from the sea and the earth, and the way in which they persecute the believing community, can be discouraging. But their end is near and their judgment is sure. In the worst of times God protects His people. When He does not deliver them from death, He swiftly takes them to Him in heaven and promises ultimate victory.

“I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps” (14:2). The voice is described in similar words to the voice of the resurrected Christ – authoritative, powerful, impressive, yet also soothing – like the breaking waves on a seashore or the roar of a waterfall (Ezekiel 43:2). This is one of the few references to music in heaven and of playing of harps (Rev. 15:2). Harps were chosen because they were the most beautiful and serene instruments of music in John’s day.

“They sang as it were a new song before the throne … no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (Rev. 14:3). The “father’s name written on their forehead” (14:1) describes their ownership by God. We who have trusted in Christ belong to God, and He claims His ownership and will not relinquish it. As some might know, I take the interpretation of Ephesians 1:11 as a true passive voice and not a middle voice, and it reads therefore, “In Him also we are [His} inheritance,” and then the giving of the Spirit as a deposit for our redemption is not done to assure us, but to mark us as God’s possession. He makes the down payment to claim that which is His – namely those who have trusted in Christ.

The song that only the 144,000 knew indicates the unique work of the Spirit, as we read in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given us by God.” Their song was a combination of joy and praise and insight and thanksgiving all rolled into one. Only the redeemed of the Lord know what their redemption truly means. Someone may study theology and even master all of the different interpretations, but still not believe Himself. He would know much book knowledge but would not know the personal knowledge of the relationship with Christ.

“These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (14:4). Sexual purity and responsibility is commanded of all believers in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13; Gal 5:19; Col. 5:3). The Gentile world of John was a world filled with temple prostitution and public brothels. Sexual promiscuity was not taken seriously at all, but the Christian faith demanded otherwise, and still this is the requirement of God. The word in Greek translated “virgin” was the masculine form, parthenos, and does not require that these had never had sexual relations, for remember that Peter was married, but that they abstained from temple prostitution and moral pollution. We grace being always the means of our salvation, we need not presume that they had never had sexual relations, even in an unholy manner, but that that part of their life was in their past, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Pure in all their ways as they worshiped and followed Christ. “They are without fault brfore the throne of God” (14:5) and this can only be achieved by the grace of God, not by human attainment or devotion.

“These were redeemed among men being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (14:4b). These are not angels, but redeemed humanity, and they are called the “firstfruits.” 1 Corinthians 15:23 called Christ “the firstfruits,” but both uses refer to an Old Testament command to offer to God the first part of a harvest (Lev. 2:14-16, Num. 18:12 and Deut 18:4). It was an act of faith and worship on the part of the worshiper, that the Lord would bring more. In Deuteronomy 26:1-11 the “firstfruits” were brought in a basket to the sanctuary for presentation to the Lord testifying to the deliverance and redemption of God from Egyptian slavery.

Throughout the scripture this image of “firstfruits” was used in different ways to implant hope and instill the vision of God for redemption. Israel was called God’s “firstfruits” (Jer. 2:3), and the Holy Spirit is said to be a “firstfruits” of our redemption (Rom. 8:23), and early believers are also described as “a kind of firstfruits” (James 1:18), indicating the future coming to Christ of many, many more (see also Rom. 16:5 and 1 Cor. 16:15). Whatever the 144,000 here symbolize, it is about more just them only. The word “firstfruits” means that more redemption is coming and implants hope in our hearts.

Who are the 144,000 here in Revelation 14?

The 144,000 are interpreted two main ways by Bible interpreters – one sees the number as symbolic and therefore indicating completeness and the other interpretation sees the number as specific and indicating exactly 144,000 believers. The debate is also fueled by the absence of the word “the” in Greek before mentioning 144,000. Is this the same group as mentioned in Chapter 7? By not saying “the 144,000” many have concluded that this is a separate group from the first, which certainly is a valid interpretation.

An important key to understand who these 144,000 are is that the Lamb is here described as “standing on Mount Zion” (Rev. 14:1). Zechariah 14:1-9 describes on the day of the LORD, a great battle taking place against Jerusalem with the nations gathered against it. “Then the LORD will go forth and first against those nations … And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east.” Mount Zion is not the same place as the Mount of Olives, and was generally used in scripture to describe the Temple Mount or the seat of Israelite government in the main walled city of Jerusalem. But the two are located on different sides of the Kidron Valley, and it is not too much to make a connection between the two.

In Revelation 16:17-21 and 18:2 the destruction of Babylon is foretold, and numerous other scriptures point to a climax of battle in Jerusalem. I see these 144,000 as being the same as in chapter 7, and it is a precursor to the ultimate coming of Christ. These martyred souls are not with Him and they are the firstfruits of all believers who will come with Him in His return, the word “firstfruits” being important. Salvation is “for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Chapters 14-19 describe the end of the world’s rebellion and come in quick succession. So the most reasonable interpretation to me is to see these as the Jewish believing remnant that was martyred during the Tribulation and who are now poised to return with Christ. They represent the first mustering of the redeemed, and as firstfruits remind us that all believers will come with Him, as the scripture plainly teaches, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

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