The church has heard some rather ominous words in the past two chapters (12 & 13). A powerful dragon is making war against God’s saints. The dragon has empowered two monsters—one from the sea and the other from the earth—to exercise the dragon’s authority upon the earth. They are given the power to conquer or overcome the saints, that is, to kill them. While the dragon cannot dethrone God’s Messiah or destroy the church as a whole, the saints are vulnerable. The church is suffering and will continue to suffer from the dragon’s war.
As previously in chapter seven, Revelation 14 answers the question that must have dominated the minds of these persecuted saints. Where is the victory in this suffering? It appears that the unholy trinity of dragon and two beasts has the upper hand. They are conquering (overcoming) the people of God. But that is a limited perspective. It is blinded to the reality of the throne room of God. And John now sees that reality…he looked, and “behold”…he sees an amazing scene.
On Mount Zion, the heavenly throne room, John sees the Lamb standing with the 144,000 who had been previously sealed in Revelation 7 with the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads. These are those who refused the mark of the beast and welcomed the mark of the Lamb and his Father. Their refusal to receive the mark of the beast entailed suffering, including economic and social marginalization as well as martyrdom.
The 144,000 are no longer on the earth as they were in Revelation 7. They are now “before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.” They have been ransomed or redeemed “from the earth” and “from humanity” as “firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” These are those who, having emerged from their earthly trials through suffering and martyrdom, are now present in the heavenly throne room praising God. They have joined the great multitude. They have been redeemed through suffering rather than from suffering. Redeemed from the earth, they now inhabit the God’s dwelling in heaven and John hears their singing.
Their praise thunders across heaven. It is loud and chilling. The sounds were like rushing waters and cracking thunder. The sound is musical–the song is accompanied by harps. The sounds of harps and voices reverberate throughout the heavenly throne room. It is sung by redeemed humanity. Their singing is harmonious, like a single voice (sound) even though sung by 144,000. The number is, of course, symbolic, but they sing a new song as if they were one voice (not voices). They sing about their redemption. Though martyred, they have overcome, just like the Lamb who was also slain by the dragon.
John’s description highlights their faithfulness. Like a mighty army raised to defend the kingdom of God, the redeemed are “virgins” and truthful. The reference to virginity probably alludes to the practice of readied armies avoiding sexual liaisons as they prepare for battle. The parallelism in the text indicates that the point is faithfulness.
Those redeemed from the earth were virgins who did not defile themselves.
These are those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
Those redeemed from humanity are those who were blameless because they did not lie.
“Redeemed” from the earth or humanity parallel each other just as “blameless” and “virgins” parallel each other. So also, “did not defile themselves” parallels the fact that they did not lie. The central point is that they follow the Lamb. They are the Lamb’s army that follows the Lamb into battle, and they do battle through suffering. The defeat the dragon and his beasts through martyrdom. They overcome the enemy when the beasts overcome them. They win the battle, and consequently sing a victory song on heavenly shores, because they follow the Lamb to death. They suffer just as the Lamb suffered. They are faithful witnesses like the Lamb.
The martyrs, and other suffering saints, are the firstfruit of a harvest dedicated to God and the Lamb. The firstfruit is the first of the harvest. The harvest is the full number of the saints whom God will receive into the heavenly throne room, and they are a number that cannot be counted (cf. Revelation 7:9-17). As history proceeds, more will join their number. The 144,000–the suffering saints of the seven churches of Asia or the church in the Roman empire–is the firstfruit of a larger harvest to come.
As a harvest, they are offered to God and the Lamb. They are, in effect, a sacrificial offering. They sacrifice their lives for the sake of the kingdom of God, and now they sing their victory song standing by the slain Lamb in the throne room of God.
Despite appearances, then, the beasts do not win. They may overcome and kill saints as the dragon wages war through them, but the martyrs find themselves in the throne room of God singing redemption songs. They inhabit Mt. Zion. They sing before the throne. They stand with the Lamb that was slain. They wear the victory wreaths, not the beasts.
Martyrs continue as even now Iranian Christians are persecuted by the powers. Martyrs abound in Pakistan where assemblies of believers are violently assaulted. The harvest is not yet complete. The conflict between the dragon and the people of God continues. May God have mercy.
Don’t miss the first two parts of this series
Part 1 – Where are the Dead? Before the Throne!
Part 2 – Where are the Dead? The Church Bears Witness Before the Empire