LINK: Revelation 14
This chapter concludes John's vision of the conflict between the Church and the world - which is really a deeper conflict - between Christ (the seed of the woman) and Satan (the dragon).
John heard of 144,000 in Revelation 7, which we discussed last week. Now, once again, we meet the 144,000 - and see them. I see no reason to think that this is a different group or to think that this is a literal number, when almost everything else in the book is symbolic.
Before John focuses on the group, he hears a voice! "And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harp and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth."(Revelation 14:2,3 ESV) The voice was mighty (like a mighty waterfall or thunder) and also melodic and peaceful, like many harps. Notice the unity - one voice. The redeemed are singing with one voice.
It seems to me that these 144,000 represent all believers from all places and through all time. Look at what characterizes them: they are redeemed (v 3); they have kept themselves pure (v 4). (I believe this means they remained faithful to Christ - spiritually pure. I'm sure there are other thoughts out there, which is fine. But 2 Cor 11: 2 says, "For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ."). They follow the Lamb wherever He goes (v4). They are first fruits from mankind to God. Humanity is headed for the final judgment, which is referred to as a harvest in the gospels (Mt. 9:37; 13:30; Lk. 10:2; Jn. 4:35). Believers are the first fruits, set aside to God, of that harvest of mankind. In contrast to those who are marked with the beast's name on their foreheads or hands (see the end of Rev. 13), these people's foreheads are sealed with the names of the Lamb and the Father. Finally, they resemble that Lamb. They live in truth and are blameless (because of that Lamb!).
Remember, they are singing! We see singing again in the beginning of chapter 15, but between the songs are some angels. As my ESV Study Bible puts it,"Between these anthems John sees three angels who announce impending judgment (14:6–13) and three who order and execute harvests (14:15–20). At the center, between the three announcing angels and the three harvesting angels, John sees a seventh figure, one like a son of man, gathering his grain from the earth (14:14). Despite the beast's cruel persecution (ch. 13), these visions (like those in chs. 7 and 10–11) provide reassurance that God and the Lamb rule..." and that the Church is victorious in the end.
The first of the first three angels proclaims the eternal gospel and the coming judgment while he gives a clear call to all the peoples of the earth to worship God. The second angel announces judgment on Babylon, which represents the seduction of living for pleasure. The third angel announces that those who worship the beast will experience God's wrath and eternal unrest and torment.
There is a parenthesis then, a kind of benediction. "Here is the call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God, and their faith in Jesus... Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." (Revelation 14: 12-13, ESV)
The chapter returns to the narrative, to a scene of a harvest, overseen by "one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand." (Revelation 14: 14, ESV) Two more angels appear to aid in the harvest of the earth. It is finally time for the harvest that had been promised.
One thought that has hit me as I've read this chapter and puzzled over it, is that what God says will happen will happen. All those parables in the gospels about the harvest are echoed here. In the gospels the farmer is told to leave the tares with the wheat until the harvest. Jesus came first as a gospel sower, but now it's clear that He's the one with the sickle.
We are either God's or we're not. There's no in between. We are either sealed with the name of the Father and the Lamb or we're marked by the beast.
God gives warning! Over and over again He makes clear His gospel. He makes clear that we can't live in Babylon (serve our own desires)or live for Satan (the beast) and have no consequences. There will come a judgment.
I will end with a happy thought! Look at the beginning of the chapter again and how the song is described... like mighty water and the sound of harps. The voices sang in unity! No more factions and disagreements. I do look forward to that!
If you are living for yourself and fighting against Christ, please reconsider. Judgment will come. God gives clear warning.
If you are struggling as a believer, take heart! This story has a joyous ending.
Father, this chapter (this book) is hard to understand. Help us to glean from it what you intend. Help us to live for you - to keep on keeping on in faithfulness. We look forward to the day when we will know complete joy and unity in worship of you!