No one else in this world can sing what we sing because no one else in this world has what we have. We are the Church, and, we need to sing what only the Church can sing.
The eclipse this past week was fascinating. For several minutes there was a darkness and then the light of the sun began to shine so brightly again. Our text is like that: chapter 12 and 13 were very dark. Three evil characters cast an evil shadow over the world: the dragon (Satan), the first beast (Antichrist) and the second beast (False Prophet). But chapter 14 is like the brightness of the sun shining again. Here we revisit the 144,000 Jews from chapter 7 in a glorious scene of triumphant worship. These victorious Israelites are pictured in the presence of the Lamb.
1: They’re Specific (Jews, see 7:3-8)
The first thing I want us to see is this group is specific. They are the 144,000 Jews from chapter 7. Read 7:3-8.
This is not symbolically talking about the Church. This is not symbolically talking about the masses of Gentiles saved from around the world. They are not the limited Jehovah’s Witnesses saved and occupying heaven. These are 144,000 ethnic Jews: 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. In chapter 7 they are contrasted with the redeemed masses of Gentiles and the 144,000 Jews in chapter 14 are contrasted with the redeemed masses of Gentiles in chapter 15.
The trajectory of history is leading to a redeemed national Israel, the covenant people of Jehovah, and they will turn to Messiah at the end of the Tribulation. From then on they will be the leading nation out of all nations during Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. All men who are saved are saved based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. However, all those who are redeemed throughout the ages are not simply one general mass of the saved. There are distinct groups throughout the ages: the OT saints, Church-Age believers (called Christians), Tribulation saints, and even Millennial saints.
Application: Honor the Jews. God is going to. He’s going to save them.
2: Their Setting (1a, 4b)
Secondly we see their Setting, verse 1a, “….” Then notice verse 4b, “…”
They are in two places here. The first is on Mount Zion. Question: which Mount Zion? There are two – one on earth and one in heaven. On earthly Mount Zion refers to Jerusalem. But there is a corresponding Mount Zion in heaven. Hebrews 12:22 refers to it: “But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands and thousands of angels in joyful assembly.”
So are these 144,000 Jews assembled before Jesus on earth or in heaven? Going against 99% of the commentators I read this week I believe they are in heaven. For two reasons. First, because verse 3 says they are singing their song in heaven “before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.” That audience is in heaven, not on earth. Every other occurrence of the phrase “before the throne” is understood to be in heaven and so this instance should be as well (1:4; 4:2, 5, 6, 10; 7:9, 11, 15; 8:3; etc.)
Secondly, I believe they are in heaven because I don’t believe the Bible teaches they will be protected from death simply because they are sealed by God. Most commentators say because the 144,000 are sealed by God (7:3-8; 14:1) they will survive the Tribulation untouched. Such a view is nowhere backed up in Scripture. In Scripture, to be sealed means one of two things: either sealed shut as in closed and inaccessible (Revelation 20:1-3) or sealed as in someone marking something off as their property.
These 144,000 are marked by God as belonging to Him, just like Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit. But we’re not spared martyrdom. As a matter of fact, martyrdom is a privilege (Php. 1:29-31; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 6:9-11). These commentators are brilliant, but, I think they are committed to the view that these 144,000 will survive the Tribulation unharmed because of the sealing they receive from God. Therefore, they can’t conclude this is a heavenly scene, otherwise it would mean the 144,000 were martyred. At the end of the day, because of my next point it doesn’t matter whether this scene is in heaven or on earth.
Notice they are not only on Mount Zion, but, secondly they are with Jesus. Now, they may or may not be on the heavenly Mount Zion. They may be with Jesus on the earthly Mount Zion. They may have survived the Tribulation to meet Him there. They may have been killed, went to heaven, and come down with Him to be on the earthly Mount Zion. It’s good to spar in love over whose right. But one thing we all need to take home is this: they are with Jesus.
Application: Jesus is going to have those who belong to Him be with Him. Yes He is Church. Yes He is. “Father I want those you have given me to be with me where I am to see me in my glory, the glory you gave me before the creation of the world.” (John 17:24) Do you long to be with Jesus where He is like He longs for you to be with Him? “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8). “To live is Christ, to die is gain…I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far.” (Php. 1:21,23).
3: Their Seal (1b)
Next notice their seal in verse 1b, “…”
We first learned they would be sealed on their foreheads in chapter 7:3-4, “…”
We find a connection between this passage and Ezekiel 9:1-7. Turn there with me and lets read.
The previous chapter informed us that the rest of mankind will be getting the mark of the Antichrist on their hands and their foreheads. But these 144,000 will refuse his mark and instead be marked by God with a seal. That seal, we learn, is the name of the Lamb and the name of the Father. They belong to Jesus Christ, not Antichrist. They serve the Lamb, not the Liar.
Application: Are you sealed by God? History has only two kinds of people: those who belong to God and those who don’t. Those who belong to God are “sealed” by Him.
How are we sealed today as Christians? Do we have to ask God for it? No. Do we have to rev ourselves up and have some sensational experience to get it? No. Listen to God on this, Ephesians 1:13, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” You see that? No sooner (or later) than when you put your faith in Jesus for your salvation did God seal you with His Spirit – He marked you off as His possession, belonging to Him. You belong. To the Father. To Jesus. To the Body of Jesus. It also means that you no longer belong to former things you used to belong to: Satan, the world, the things of this world, the spirit of this world. You are sealed by God and for God.
4: Their Song (2-3)
Fourthly notice their song in verses 2-3, “….” Three quick points:
First, their song is unique. They have a song only they can sing. No one else can learn the lyrics – not the Church, not the Gentiles, not OT saints. It is entirely their own to know and to sing. We need to sing like that. We need to sing like our songs are unique because they are. No one else in this world can sing what we sing because no one else in this world has what we have. We are the Church, and, we need to sing what only the Church can sing.
Second, their song is loud! That’s how singing should be. Believers ought to sing loud! If the mice in the attic above us aren’t able to hear our voices how is heaven supposed to hear us? We should fill heaven with our voices like the sunlight fills the sky.
Third, they sing facing God. They sing before the Lord in heaven. They face God. That’s how we sing: always as if we are standing before God. Sometimes we sing songs to each other, like in “When We All Get to Heaven”:
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
when we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.
Sometimes we sing songs that are directed to God, as in our other song today, “Knowing You”:
Knowing You, Jesus, There is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best,
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord
But always we sing as if we are standing in heaven before God Himself.
Application: Sing to God! We have a song to sing! Singing is such an integral part of worshipping God. Do not be hasty to get to the sermon. Do not just mouth the words during songs. Put your heart and your voice into it! Sing this unique soundtrack only the Church has. Sing it loud. And sing it knowing you sing before God above!
5: Their Selection (3b, 4b)
Fifth we see their selection, notice the last part of verse 4, “They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.” The idea of firstfruits goes back to the OT. Israel was supposed to give the firstfruits of their crops to God. This honored God. And it showedThe 144,000 Jews sealed by God are a firstfruits of all those saved in the Tribulation. They are firstfruits of the rest of the Jews who will be saved, the OT Jews who will be raised up at the end of the Tribulation, and of the all the Gentiles saved in the Tribulation.
6: Their Sanctification (4a, 5)
Lastly we see their Sanctification, verses 4a and 5, “….”
These men were sanctified specifically in two areas: they did not engage in sexual immorality and they did not engage in telling lies.