Fantastic, Not Fanciful
“And I looked, and behold,– the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion,– and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand,
having His name– and the name of His Father– written on their foreheads.
And I heard a voice from heaven,–like the sound of many waters– and like the sound of loud thunder,
and the voice which I heard– was like the sound of harpists– playing on their harps.
And they sang a new song– before the throne and before–the four living creatures and the elders;
and no one could learn the song– except the one hundred and forty-four thousand– who had been purchased from the earth.
These are the ones– who have not been defiled with women,– for they have kept themselves chaste.
These are the ones–who follow the Lamb– wherever He goes.
These have been purchased from among men– as first fruits to God– and to the Lamb.
And no lie– was found in their mouth;–they are blameless.
“And I saw another angel flying in midheaven,–having an eternal gospel to preach– to those who live on the earth…”
I have adopted another approach to the way in which we waltz. I am truly trying to the present the text tantamount to the way in which it was written…and I wonder; how would a child react to this?
There are several passages in the Bible that are so powerful, so beautiful, so horrifying, as Revelation 14, that one struggles with the thought that he could be considered worthy to even write about them–this is one of those passages. It will take me three missives to get through it, minimum. And even still, I will barely scratch the surface of the imagery and Old Testament foreshadowing and New Testament reality. This is possibly one of the most misconstrued passages. Many well-meaning modern men have misunderstood– some have even distorted the text, in my humble opinion (after all, they have lots of letters after their names). It is full and ripe with meaning (that will make more metaphorical meaning as we progress). It is a very difficult text to “rightly divide,” but the imagery is crystal clear.
Nevertheless, there exists a vast and various difference of opinion concerning not only the symbolism, but also the timing. With my limited abilities and wisdom, and with my wholly unworthiness, we will waltz with the words of a literary masterpiece.
We will be using the CAGED method, remembering a few other facts:
- Context is king. We must remember what we have read previously, the themes, the symbolism, and most importantly we must constantly keep in mind; The Bible Does not Contradict Itself! Another item to take into consideration is the timing. We will see the immediate context and jump to conclusions. We must be careful to consider the Biblical context as well in order to establish any sense of timing.
- Author’s aspirations to his audience. Why did he write, what is the message he intended to convey to them? Who was he? Who were they? What was he trying to accomplish? We have to keep contained our culture and attempt, the best we can, to understand their culture.
- Genre. What type of literature is the text? Is it historical, poetry, an epistle? In this case it’s an epistle written in apocalyptic language. Therefore, we must pay even more attention to metaphor, simile and all types of analogies while continuously considering the culture of the time. Again, with regard to time, apocalyptic genre can, and will, jump from scene to scene, double back, and skip scenes; we must keep that in mind.
- Expository exegesis of examples: The Bible is a whole, made up of 66 different and distinct books, but ultimately one author. Psalms does not read like Romans, yet Romans consistently quotes Psalms. We should study the way in which New Testament writers use the Old Testament, particularly in Revelation. A proper exegesis also enable us to understand the text internally. It can expose the genre and reminds us we need the context.
- Divide rightly the word of truth. Simply stated, put it all together. Do the pieces fit or have we distorted meanings in our minds? Today’s text is the absolute apex of this principle.
I am quite nervous…And I too, am learning as we go. I hope you love this as much as I do:
“And I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion,”
Literally, The Apostle John writes, and I looked, and look! The Lamb was standing on Mount Zion. The Greek word for look is used in both cases. Different parsing, but same word. Like the multiple other uses of this phrase in Revelation, John is indicating a special sight. In this scene, it is the Lamb. We certainly don’t want to get bogged down in the first verse with grammar and vocabulary. However we must see the importance of the symbolism of the Lamb. John is emphatically emphasizing the Lamb. We must impress the Lamb on our minds. Of course it is Jesus, but he is purposefully presented as the Lamb; it goes to the context and imagery. John did not use any of the other names or descriptions given to Jesus. We are to see the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. Mount Zion’s symbolism is not as simple to decipher. We have a very distorted, or no view of Zion. What is Zion? Well, it’s at least 3 different physical places in the Old Testament. To say nothing of the Spiritual symbols in the New. However, Hebrews has harkened a new Hallelujah!” The Author announces to his audience: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant;” in Hebrews 12.
Continuing; the context will continue to clarify:
“and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.”
In my missive, Heard, However, Saw, we examined closely the one hundred and forty-four thousand. We noticed how the 12x12x1,000, or 12,000 from every tribe, including Levi but excluding Dan, were listed out-of-order, in size and inheritance. We also notice that John heard their number but then saw a similar situation and description of the great multitude. Here, John sees the one hundred and forty-four thousand–and something is missing in his description–they are not referred to as 12,000 from every tribe. However, they do have the mark of the Lamb and of His father. Is this different imagery than that of Revelation 7? My humble opinion is no. I believe it to be the same imagery; that of the great multitude from all the nations.
My own advice is rarely reckoned or received; sometimes it is beneficial to notice what is not there. For instance, we see the Lamb, not the King of kings and Lord of lords. Nor do we see the Great Elder, the Ancient of Days or the Great I AM– we behold the standing Lamb. John did not see the representation of Jesus who said to Joshua, “I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” He saw the Lamb. This is very important to consider as we waltz.
I count things, I am terrible at it, but I do it. One could ask my son, or any of his friends from the youth group of a few years ago. I always counted them and usually miscounted. I also count people in church. The latest church of which we attend, can seat over three hundred people. I can tell you, it’s easier to count empty seats than it is to count 190-230 people. John didn’t hear the number, he saw the number. Which leads me to ask; how did he count that many people, when I can’t count 200? Or am I being ostensibly obtuse? Perhaps John understood instinctively who these people represent? Yes; represent. Just as the vision of the Lamb represents Christ, would we not assume that the 144,000 represent the great multitude as demonstrated in chapter seven? Considering that we see the Lamb and 144,000 marked by the Lamb, I believe the symbolism is clear. But we have much more context to consider.
“And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder,”
We should remember this: Revelation 1:15 “His voice was like the sound of many waters.” We also consult our Old Testament tutor; “When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, And brings out the wind from His storehouses.” -Jeremiah 10:13. “The LORD also thundered in the heavens, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire.” -Psalm 18:13. Thunder almost always represents God’s presence in the Old Testament. More often than not, it also symbolizes his judgement. We’re in the powerful presence of God! We are going to read this passage again and properly place it in its context. Listen to the words carefully; read, don’t waltz.
“And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders…”
Waltzing; this passage pleases the ear, reading; it doesn’t make sense. We read about the voice, singular; presumably God. Then we read that the voice sounds like many waters, thunder and sounds like harps. After this, we read, they sang a new song? Who are they? Clearly John’s intention was for his audience to infer that the source of the first sound of the voice was the source of the second and third. Yet when one juxtaposes, the former sounds of the voice, in verse two, to the latter, like a loud gong to a soft song, the tones are distinct. Thunder is to a harp, as an apple is to cabbage. The reader sees the similes, yet the voice descriptions seem to contradict.
Most of us probably have a fair, yet slightly skewed, Sunday-School standpoint of the symbolism of the harp. Perhaps picturing an angel, clothed in cotton-white clouds, halo hovering above his head, softly strumming and pleasantly plucking supple strings slowly. This image, while wrong on many levels, would certainly suffice. The harp is indeed symbolic of a heavenly sound. However the deeper meaning would elude us if we settled for that symbolism. The context confirms our curiosity, in that the harp is heavenly. Yet the fullness should be seen to better understand this vision. For the astute Sunday School student, another vision of the harp materializes in the mind. That of David masterfully mellowing the mood of the certifiable king Saul. This manifestation of mind also misses the mark, yet isn’t entirely off base. The harp does symbolize happiness in the psalms. Psalm 33:2 “Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.” And in Psalm 57; “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.” Harps harken to happy, but praise and worship are the image’s intentions. 1 Corinthians 14 reads; “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?” Though the harp is mentioned, it is the context I would like to briefly explore–that is, the distinction of tones. Paul was writing to the Corinthians concerning Spiritual gifts in chapter 14, primarily, speaking in tongues. Essentially he was condemning their disorderly demeanor, but that’s for a different discussion. I want to focus on his metaphor. “For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” Paul produces a perfect point. Can we not assume that the sounds described by John are intended to produce a picture in our minds? God’s presence and power–the jubilant and joyful, praising and peaceful playing of the harps. We hear a voice, singular, from heaven that makes three distinct sounds–thunder, many waters, and harps. 3 distinct sounds of 1 voice. Again, 3 sounds, 1 voice. 3 in 1. Thunder, many waters, harpists, playing harps. God is one, he is powerful, he is like living waters and we worship him in Spirit and truth. That’s right, the New Covenant! “Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”
“And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders;”
“They” are not the harpist. The harpists are symbolic of God and God’s voice. More distinctly, it appears to be symbolism for the voice of the Spirit. Therefore, “they” can only be one people, the 144,000. I believe they are a representation of the great multitude. They sang a new song, not an old song–a new song. They sang it before the elders and 4 living creatures. Elders represent old, new song represents new.
“and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.”
Who could learn the new song? The 144,000, yes. But how are they described? This is of extreme importance–“who had been purchased from the Earth.” 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you have been bought with a price.” Some specific synonyms of bought: purchased (of course), obtained, paid for and procured. The 144,000 were bought with a price. This will prove incredibly important now.
“These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.”
Old Covenant or New? Law or Liberty? Letter or Spirit? Are these blameless ones self-righteous or has Jesus imputed his righteousness upon them? Are they truly a tribulation task-force, made up of elite Jewish virgins? What does the imagery in the context suggest? A rather rapid review: the sacrificial Lamb, standing on symbolic Zion, the presence of the Trinity, the mark of the Lamb, the new song, they are purchased. My brethren, we can clearly see that the imagery indicates otherwise. These are clearly christians, made up of every nation, Israel included, but certainly not limited to Israel nor the exact number of one hundred and forty-four thousand. They follow the lamb, not the law! They are in the Spirit, not the letter. They are not virgins by their own doing, they’ve been purchased by the Lamb who was slain! This is particularly why John sees the Lamb, yet heard many waters, thunder and harps. Jesus’s portrait of himself is as the”purchaser.”
“And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.”
Yes, amen, the work we are to do. We will leave it here, with the eternal gospel. Not the temporary until the Great Tribulation Gospel. Let this all ferment in the mind. We’re just getting warmed up.