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The Lamb & the 144,000


Aug 6, 2023

by: Jack Lash Series: Revelation | Category: Trusting God | Scripture: Revelation 14:1–5

I. Introduction
A. What a sweet privilege we have before us this morning!
B. The fourth of seven visions, each of which begin with “Then I looked.” or “And behold.”
C. Review first three visions
1. The great red dragon who viciously pursued the Christ child and then the church. (Rev.12)
2. The hideous first beast who was given Satan’s power over every tribe, people, language, & nation and uttered haughty & blasphemous words, who was allowed to take God’s people captive and even slay them with the sword. (Rev.13:1-10)
3. And then there was the second beast who was enabled to deceive many through miracles and false prophecies and made the inhabitants of the earth worship the first beast, killing any who refused (Rev.13:11-18).
4. These three form a trinity of evil. The most excellent thing which ever existed is the holy Trinity. Satan can’t outdo that. All he can do is to counterfeit it.
5. It’s very fitting that these three visions of wicked monsters are followed by the vision of Rev.14:1-5. After facing the realities of the beasts and the dragon, this comes to give us hope.
a. If you were disturbed by Rev.12-13 – and you should have been – then you’re ready for Rev.14, you’re set up for Rev.14. In fact, one of the purposes of the first three visions in Rev.12-13 is to prepare us for this fourth vision in Rev.14!
D. Revelation 14:1-5 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 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 harps, 3 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. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
E. Rev.12-13 talks about the persecution of believers and the deception and manipulation done by the forces of unbelief – led by Satan and his two beastly cohorts. Now ch.14 shows the reward of those who remain faithful even through these satanic attacks. And they are glorifying God because He has defeated the evil one and has enabled the saints to overcome.
II. (Explanation) Let’s walk through these verses.
A. 1 “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” There are three things to say here about the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion.
1. First, we’ve just been exposed to these three grotesque beasts & now in contrast we see the Lamb.
a. We have already seen this Lamb several times in Revelation. It is the Lord Jesus, and He’s depicted as a lamb because He gave Himself as a sacrifice on the cross. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
b. We’ve also seen that this Lamb is also a lion who is way more powerful than all the beasts.
2. Second, we’ve also seen the 144,000 – in Rev.7:4-8. They are the people of God. In Rev.7 they are sealed, just as here they have the name of God written on their foreheads (see Eph.1:13).
a. The number 144,000 is not literal but figurative, just like most of the rest of the numbers in the book of Revelation. The 144,000 represents the complete number of God’s people.
b. Twelve is the number of completeness when it comes to God’s people: based on the 12 tribes of Israel. Probably the 144 here is the number of the twelve tribes multiplied by the twelve apostles, times a thousand to imply a massive number.
c. In John’s vision of “the new Jerusalem,” the heavenly city, in Rev.21:9-22:5, which represents the whole people of God, the city has 12 gates, on which are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. It also has a great wall – 144 cubits in height – with 12 foundation stones on which are written the names of the 12 apostles.
3. Thirdly, the Lamb and the 144,000 are on Mount Zion. Ps.2:6 "I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain."
a. Mount Zion is the place where the messiah reigns over the world in the presence of His people. So, that’s what’s depicted here. And we are part of this assembly.
b. As it says in Hebrews 12:22-24, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 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, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
4. So, that’s the setting for this vision. It goes on in v.2-3 to tell us what was happening there...
B. 2-3 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 harps, 3 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.
1. This is so beautiful. The sound of one harp is enough to melt your soul. And here there are many.
2. It’s the song of the redeemed, like we sing about. It’s the voice of the saints singing to the Lamb. It is strong and awesome, lovely and majestic.
3. We’re not told the theme of the song, but, based on the previous songs sung by the saints before the throne, and based on the fact that v.4 describes the singers as those who “have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb,” we can assume that this is a song of praise and worship to God and to the Lamb.
4. No non-believer can learn this song, only those whose eyes and hearts have been opened by the power of the Spirit to see the reality of Christ and His wonderful grace.
5. Have you heard the story of the Christian man whose brother was in prison? When he would visit him, he’d sometimes get to tell other inmates about Christ. And one day, his brother was with him and kept trying to help win the argument by injecting comments. But the Christian brother pulled him aside and said, “Look, please stop inserting yourself. You know the words, but you don’t know the song.” I think he must have been reading Rev.14:3.
6. And then the vision ends by telling us three things about these redeemed saints...
C. 4-5 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
1. The three things it tells us about these singers:
a. They have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.
b. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
c. In their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
2. It seems that, in the midst of this glorious vision, the Holy Spirit snuck in a few subtle challenges to his readers about the way God’s people are supposed to live.
3. These people aren’t merely different from the world in the song they sing. They’re not only different in that they are redeemed by God as firstfruits for God and the Lamb. But they’re also different in the blameless way they live their lives. They have a different guiding principle than the world. They handle their sexuality differently than non-believers. And they handle the truth differently than others.
4. Sexuality
a. Some think that v.4a isn’t talking about sexuality, but refers to spiritual virginity, being faithful and single-mindedly devoted to Christ. They take this interpretation because of passages like 2Corinthians 11:2, where Paul says to the Corinthians, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”
b. And I think it probably does have a spiritual aspect to it, but I think it also includes the issue of sexuality. There are two reasons for thinking this:
(1) Unlike 2Cor.11:2, which is based on the image of the church as the pure bride of Christ being faithful to Christ the bridegroom, this passage refers to the purity not of the woman but of the man: “they have not defiled themselves with women.”
(2) Also, the book of Revelation clearly has a concern about actual sexual purity.
(a) We saw this in Jesus’ letter to Thyatira in Rev.2:20 “I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess & is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”
(b) And we see it again near the very end of Revelation 22:14-15, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
(3) The fact is that there is a close relationship between sexual purity and spiritual purity.
(a) If you’re spiritually pure you’re also going to be sexually pure.
(b) And if you’re sexually impure, you’re also inevitably going to be spiritually impure.
(c) Of course, there certainly are true believers who slip into sexual sin. King David is an obvious example. He committed adultery and repented and was forgiven by God.
(4) Now on the surface, the language here sounds like it’s talking about ALL sexuality, even in marriage. But if that’s what it actually means to say, it would be the only passage in all of Scripture which would suggest that God’s holy people are called to be single and not sexual.
(5) Rather, this seems to be talking about a man not defiling himself with any women outside of his wife, nor a woman with any man but her husband. I.e. to be a virgin outside the context of marriage.
c. Why is sexual immorality treated as so bad in the Bible? There are three passages which even tell us that the those who live lives of sexual immorality will not inherit the kingdom of God – 1Cor.6:9-10, Gal.5:19-21 and Eph. 5:5. So why is sexual sin so consistently and vehemently condemned in the Bible?
(1) Well, it’s not because God is a prude. He’s the One who created sex after all.
(2) And for such an exalted purpose: to bring new life into the world, to cement and sweeten the bond of marriage, and to reflect the relationship of Christ with His church (Eph.5:29-32).
(3) No, it is not because God is against sex, but because sexual sin is so dangerous – just because it’s so beautiful and so compelling.
(4) And sexual sin is so addictive. It is so distracting of one’s attention. It is so draining of spiritual strength. It is so damaging to the soul.
5. Following the Lamb
a. This is part of the second characteristic of the saints here, namely that they follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
(1) The fact is, following Christ isn’t easy. Sometimes He leads us to places we don’t like to go, or leads us to relate to folks we may not want to relate to. Or He asks us to do things which are uncomfortable. Or He asks us not to do some things we really want to do.
(2) But believers in Christ don’t just do what they want to do or what they feel like doing, they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. And one of the things He leads us to is sexual purity. It’s part of following Him wherever He goes.
b. Another way Christians must follow the Lamb wherever He goes is by following Him into the darkness in order to shine His light.
(1) Jesus left the comfort and security of His heavenly home and came down in love into this place of darkness and messiness. And now He asks us to follow Him into places which don’t seem to us safe. And He asks us to love people even when it doesn’t seem safe.
(2) Today many make their safety an idol and justify it to themselves as wisdom.
(3) This is what some folks in our own congregation expressed when Michelle’s plans to go to west Africa were first announced, though I don’t think any of those folks are still with us.
(4) Do you know that people can usually tell whether you’re coming to them in love or in fear?
(5) And if they can see that we’re afraid, it damages our witness, because they see our human fear instead of the love of Christ.
(6) In my opinion, this is one of the hardest idols for people like us to shake.
(7) Let’s pray the Lamb would deliver us from this idol so we can follow Him wherever He goes.
6. Truthfulness – The third thing said of believers here, after mentioning their sexual purity and their willingness to follow Christ wherever He goes, is that “in their mouth no lie was found.”
a. Ultimately, human beings lie. They lie to each other and they lie to themselves. They claim they’re happy when they’re not. They claim they have what they need when they don’t. They claim that sin is safe when it’s clearly not. They claim they don’t need God when they desperately do. They use justifications for their behavior which they would never accept from someone else.
b. But in a world of deception & corruption, believers in Christ are people of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness – because they don’t need to impress other people. They live to honor God.
c. Those who are of the Lord and not of the devil follow their master in not lying.
d. They know they’re unworthy sinners saved by the grace of Christ. So, they don’t need to pretend; they don’t need to lie. They can be honest about their sin, because they know that there’s forgiveness. They can be honest about their need and their failures and their struggles.
e. Of course, they are imperfect in this. They’re subject to temptations just like other men, and sometimes they do feel the need to impress others, and sometimes they do lie. And when they do, they repent and are forgiven.
f. But lying it is inconsistent with following Christ and having His mark upon you.
III. Conclusion
A. In this vision we get a glimpse of God’s purpose in history: to redeem a people for Himself – simple, humble people, called out from among the broken and the desperate and the poor and helpless of the world – people who aren’t self-sufficient, self-assured, or self-satisfied, people who know they’re sick and need the great Physician, people claimed from every people group on earth.
1. It’s not literally 144,000 people, but it is a specific number, though only God knows what it is.
2. These are God’s treasures. They’re the ones for whom Christ died. They’re the ones predestined in love before the foundation of the world that they would be His holy and blameless adopted children for all eternity (Eph.1:4-5). They are His beloved, who are now being prepared to be presented before Him as His spotless bride on the last day.
3. The calling of these people to Himself is what history’s all about.
4. And there is no more beautiful people on earth than those who reflect the glory of Christ, whose eyes sparkle with His love. Surely the world is not worthy of them. In them, however imperfectly, you can see Christ.
5. I’ve had the privilege of knowing many of them in my life, and I count it as a privilege surpassed only by the blessing of knowing Christ Himself.
B. Maybe an even better way to understand history is that it’s about singing a song.
1. Some of us here are in Gainesville Community Choir. Right now, we’re getting people signed up to join us in singing Handel’s Messiah – some of the best music ever written – in December.
2. This bears similarity to what history is all about. Christ is gathering singers and then teaching them the most wonderful song ever sung. And that’s our highest role in life.
3. Oh, it’s good for Christ’s people to serve their neighbors in trying to make the world a better place, but, ultimately, we’re here to sing a song, and to gather more singers.
4. There are monsters wreaking havoc in our lives. But the monsters aren’t the only characters in our story! There is also the Lamb, and that changes everything!
a. It means that we can spend our lives not fretting, not gasping, not panicking, but we can spend our lives singing – even as we’re being attacked!
5. But if you don’t have Christ’s song in your heart, how can you ever face the world’s monsters?
6. I love the word juxtaposition. It refers to two things which are put side by side for the purpose of contrast. And that’s what we see here in Rev.12-14 with these contrasting visions.
7. These realities coexist: We are under attack. We have serious enemies. But the Lamb is here too.
8. The visions of the great red dragon and then the two beasts followed by the vision of God’s people singing a beautiful song to the Lamb reminds me of the story of Paul and Barnabas sitting there in prison – singing praise to God! (Acts 16:25-26)
9. Or the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into the fiery furnace, but there was a fourth person with them in the fire, one like a Son of God. (Daniel 3)
10. Or the story of Stephen, being stoned by a mob, but seeing Jesus standing in heaven. (Acts 7)
11. This is us! We’re surrounded by those who hate us, but our precious Lord prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies! (Psalm 23:5) And so we sing!
12. And this is not only the point here. It’s one of the main points of the whole book of Revelation.