It has been my custom in this sermon series to, when we come to a new section in the book of Revelation, consider that section broadly before considering its individual parts. This I did, for example, with the letters to the seven churches. We first considered the entire section, and then we returned to consider each of the letters one at a time. The same can be said for the seal cycle, and also the trumpet cycle. And that is what I would like to do this morning. I will read Revelation chapters 14-15, for that all goes together. This section does bridge the gap between what we have just learned concerning the activity of the dragon and the two beasts of Revelation 12 and 13, and the pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath, which is a description of the final judgment, which will encounter in chapter 16. After reading chapters 14-15, and after a few remarks are made about that section in general, we will return to verses 1-5 of chapter 14 to give special attention to them. The New Testament reading is Revelation 14 and 15. The sermon text is Revelation 14:1-5.
Hear now the reading of God’s inspired, inerrant, clear and authoritative word.
New Testament Reading: Revelation 14-15
“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. 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, 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. 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, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.’ And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.’ Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’ Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.’ So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, ‘Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’ So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’ After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” (Revelation 14–15, ESV)
Notice a few things about chapters 14 and 15 in general.
One, notice that it does eventually take us to the time of the end when the wrath of God will be poured out upon the wicked. We certainly have a description of that in 14:17-19. Chapter 15 does also set the stage for the outpouring of the seven bowls of God’s wrath. These are the called “seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. (Revelation 15:1, ESV)”.
Two, notice that we are taken to the end, not abruptly, but progressively. By that I mean that in chapter 14 we have a description of some historical progress. Three angels appear and fly overhead. The first preaches the gospel to those dwelling on earth. Also he says, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:7, ESV). The second angel announces the fall of Babylon. The third angel warns of the doom that will come upon all who worship “the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand” (Revelation 14:9, ESV). Indeed, the end will come suddenly from mans perspective, but this passage does make clear that even in the time of the end the gospel will be preached and warnings will be given to the ungodly. From the heavenly perspective there will be a process.
Three (and here is the most important observation for our text this morning), recognize that these two chapters are again set in heaven.
I say “again” because in chapters 12 and 13 the setting was earthly. It is true that we were, at the beginning of chapter 12, given a glimpse of the heavenly and spiritual battle that was won by Christ upon his resurrection and ascension. But Satan was quickly cast to the earth where he pursued the woman and her offspring to devour them. We then encountered a beast that rose from the sea and a beast that came up from the earth. These beasts, we discovered, work for the dragon. They do battle against the people of God. The scene, for some time now, has been earthly. The focus has been upon that which threatens the church as she sojourns upon the earth.
But in chapters 14 and 15 the scene is heavenly. The Lamb is seen standing on the heavenly Mount Zion. The 144,000 are there with him singing a new song to God as he is seated upon his heavenly throne. Angels fly overhead with heavenly messages to proclaim. In verse 13 a voice is heard from heaven, saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13, ESV). Verse 14: “Then… behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand” (Revelation 14:14, ESV). Verse 17: “Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle” (Revelation 14:17, ESV). 15:1: “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1, ESV). 15:5: “After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests” (Revelation 15:5–6, ESV).
The setting has obviously shifted from earth to heaven as we have moved from chapters 12 and 13 to chapters 14 and 15. And here inlays the central purpose of the book of Revelation, to provide the Christ follower with God’s eternal, unlimited, and perfectly true perspective on how things have been, are, and will be in heaven and on earth so that the child of God might live according to truth.
You and I can see with our natural eyes how things are on earth. We have the ability to observe the natural world. We can know something of history, and of the state of affairs in the world today. But we should remember that things are not always as they might appear to us. There are two reasons for this that come to mind. One, we are very limited in our ability to rightly perceive. You and I do see the world but from a very limited vantage point. Our experience is really very small. You are but one individual looking at the world from one vantage point. You have lived on this planet for such a short time, this being true, not only of the young amongst us, but also the old. Our time on this earth is really very short, and our knowledge of the world is really very small. This we might call the problem of finitude. We are limited creatures, and not the Creator. And we have been created as finite beings. We are confined to live in one place at one time, our knowledge of the world being very limited indeed. And when we add to the problem of our creaturely limitations the problem of sin we do begin to understand just how needful we are of God’s revelation, even as it pertains to the right understanding of this world in which we live. We are very limited when it comes to knowledge and experience, but we should not forget that the world is also deceptive, and so too are our hearts. We are prone to misinterpret even those things that we do perceive with our natural senses. We are limited and sinful creatures living in a deceptive world.
If you are beginning to feel a sense of hopeless in regard to your ability to know what is true, then I have accomplished my objective. Indeed man, in his natural and sinful state, is very limited in regard to his ability to interpret the world aright. And this is why we so need God’s revelation. I am here speaking, not only of the book of Revelation, but of all of God’s special revelation, of which the book of Revelation is a part. We, given our creatureliness and given our sinfulness, do need God to reveal truth to us. This is so, not only as it pertains to the knowledge of God, and not only as it pertains to the future, but even as it pertains to a right understanding of the world in which we live now.
And if it is true that we need God’s revelation to rightly interpret the world in which we live – the world that we can experience with our natural senses – how much more do we need God’s revelation to understand the world that lies beyond our sense perception. The heavenly realm is truly veiled to us. We could know nothing of it unless the God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth determined to reveal it to us.
Do you see, brothers and sisters, that God has provided both for us here in the book of Revelation? The book does constantly shift between heaven and earth. It is as if God is saying, “children, here is how you are to understand all that you experience in the world.” And then, “children, here is the reality of how things are in heaven.” And why has he revealed these things? It is so that we might order our lives according to how things really are in heaven and upon the earth. He has revealed it so that we might “know the truth, and the truth will set [us] free” (John 8:32, ESV).
Let us turn our attention now to verses 1-5 of Revelation 14, and as we give attention to this text three things will become clear. One, we must see know that the Lamb of God does stand upon the heavenly Mount Zion. Two, with him stand the 144,000 who have been sealed by God. And three, these do give glory to God who is seated upon his throne.
The Lamb of God Does Stand Upon The Heavenly Mount Zion
First of all, let us consider the Lamb whom John saw in verse 1 standing upon the heavenly Mount Zion.
There is no need for me to explain to you who this Lamb represents, for you know him well. Here we have a representation of Jesus the Christ, the one who, after being introduced as, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, [who] has conquered…” in Revelation 5:5, was then see by John as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6, ESV). Here John again sees the Lamb, and he is standing upon Mount Zion in victory.
This is significant especially when we consider what has dominated the visions shown to John as of late. In chapter 12 John saw “a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” (Revelation 12:3, ESV). This dragon was cast to the earth where he is said to pursue God’s people with “great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12, ESV).” After that John “saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” (Revelation 13:1, ESV), and then he “saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11, ESV). These also war against the people of God, acting on behalf of the dragon. The visions have been earthly and have emphasized the church under attack.
I do grow concerned for the church when we linger in those sections of the book of Revelation that look at things from the earthly perspective, emphasizing all that threatens us in this world. How important it is that we hear these truths! How important it is for us to know our adversary so that we might be walk in a soberly and with vigilance in this world, being wise to the schemes of the evil one. But if we linger in these sections for too long we run the risk of loosing sight of the message of the book, which is that, though our adversary be great, our Lord is greater still. He has conquered, and he does stand in victory now! He will indeed bring his people safely home. This book, when rightly understood, should not lead the people of God to despair, but to confidence ad courage in Christ. How refreshing it is to turn from chapter 13 to chapter 14, and from a focus upon our detestable enemies to gaze upon our victorious Savior standing upon Mount Zion. Indeed, at just the right time the book of Revelation does direct our eyes heavenward, lest we be overrun with despair.
It is possible that this is a reference to the earthly Mount Zion, for that is the name of a mountain within the boarders of the city of Jerusalem. It is a very significant place, being mentioned often in the pages of Holy Scripture. Many important things did happen on that mountain. And indeed, there will come a day when the Lord will stand upon that earthy mountain with his redeemed in the new heavens and the new earth. The question is, does this passage describe that day?
In fact, everything in this passage does suggest that this is a reference to the heavenly Mount Zion. The entire scene is heavenly, as we will soon see. Indeed, this interpretation is perfectly in step with the rest of the book of Revelation where we have been shown visions of God’s throne in heaven, the heavenly temple, the heavenly alter, and those who worship there. The book does constantly shift from earth to heaven and then back again showing that heaven and earth do correspond to another.
This would also be in keeping with the rest of scripture which does make a distinction between the earthy Mount Zion and the heavenly one. Do you remember what the writer to the Hebrews said when he was developing the argument that the New Covenant and its forms of worship are better than the Old? He said to the New Covenant Christian,
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22–24, ESV).
The writer to the Hebrews is insistent that the New Covenant people of God have been brought, not to the earthly mount, nor to the earthly city, but to the heavenly one through the blood of Christ. We are seated there with him in the heavenly places where he has ascended.
Earthly Mount Zion does in the scriptures signify God’s presence with his people and the place from which deliverance comes and protection is given. It is the place where the remnant of Israel is preserved by God.
Now think of this imagery in light of all we have been considering in the book of Revelation as of late. We have observed the dragon and the two beasts as they war and rage against the people of God. The first beast, for example,
“…was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:5–10, ESV).
But then we are comforted at the sight of the Lamb standing upon the heavenly Mount Zion, the place from which our salvation does come, the place where we are kept by God, being preserved by him until we arrive safely home.
Psalm 121 does come to mind:
“A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)
Our Lord, the Lamb of God, does stand upon the heavenly mount Zion.
With Him Stand The 144,000 Sealed By God
Secondly, notice that with him stand the 144,000 sealed by God.
This is the second time in the book of Revelation that the 144,000 have been mentioned. We heard of them for the first time in Revelation chapter 7 in the interlude between the breaking of the sixth and seventh seals. John “heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Revelation 7:4, ESV). After this John heard the numbering and the listing of each of the tribes, “12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad” (Revelation 7:5, ESV), and so on. The list made it clear that this is not a reference to ethnic and Old Covenant Israel, but to the multi-ethnic New Covenant Israel with Christ at the head.
In that text the 144,000 represent the totality of God’s people on earth who live in the midst of tribulation. They are numbered by God, signifying that he knows them personally. More than that they are sealed by him, signifying that they belong to him and that he will keep them. These are God’s people numbered for war, for that is what they will experience in this world, a holy war fought, not with sword and shield, but with the weapons of faith.
How wonderful it is to see the 144,000 again, but this time from the heavenly perspective. Notice a few things about them.
One, they are seen here standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion.
Again, there is some debate as to what this scene signifies. Do we have here a picture of all of God’s people standing with him after the consummation in the new heavens and new earth? I do not think so, for the scene is a heavenly one, and not earthly. Or is this a reference to those who have died in Christ, their souls being present with the Lord. In this case the vision would be similar to the one in 6:9-10, where, when the fifth seal was opened John “saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne “(Revelation 6:9–10, ESV). The difference here would be that the slain are portrayed as victorious in Christ, standing with him on Zion, and not as sacrificial victims under an alter. This is a possible interpretation – the 144,000 symbolize those who have died in Christ having gone to glory.
But it seems to me that the best interpretation is to see the 144,000 here in 14:1 as referring to the same group of people as in chapter 7, but from the heavenly perspective instead of the earthly one. The 144,000 represent all of God’s people living upon the earth. They are numbered for war and sealed by him so that they might be kept in the midst of tribulation. But the truth that must not be overlooked is that these, though they be engaged in holy war upon the earth, are truly present with Christ in the heavenly places.
Listen to what Paul said to the Christians living in Ephesus in Ephesians 2:4-7:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4–7, ESV).
These Christians, indeed all who have faith in Christ, are made alive in Christ, are raised with him, and are seated with him in the heavenly places. I do believe that this is the thing symbolized here in Revelation 14:1-5. Though we do live upon the earth, and though we do experience many difficulties in this place, being assaulted continuously by the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, our Savior does stand on Mount Zion, and do stand with him even now.
Two, notice that these are sealed having the Christ’s “name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1, ESV). In chapter 7 we were simply told that the 144,000 were sealed. Here it is revealed to us that they are sealed with the name of God and the name of Christ. These belong to God and Christ and they serve him day and night.
Clearly this is meant to stand in contrast with what we have just heard about the beast and his followers. All who belong to him are “marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelation 13:16–18, ESV).
Here we are shown that all of humanity is divided into two camps. There are those who belong to the beast, and there are those who belong to God and his Christ. There is no third camp, but only theses two. Those who belong to the beast are marked on the forehead (their minds and souls do belong to him) or right hand (they use their strength to serve him). But those who belong to God and Christ have the name of God and Christ written upon them – they are God’s possession, and God will preserve and protect those who are his. Notice where those who have the mark of the beast dwell. They are earth dwellers. But where do those who have taken the name of God and of Christ dwell? Though they live upon the earth, they are standing with Christ on heavenly Mount Zion.
Three, notice how the 144,000 are described. In verse 4 we read, “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, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless” (Revelation 14:4–5, ESV).
If taken literally then the 144,000 refer only to Christian men who have lived a celibate life, who have never lied, and are blameless in every way. But it is better to see verses 4 through 5 as a symbolic description of all who are faithful to Christ, who have not defiled themselves with the world by bowing to idols, but have remained true to their profession, Jesus is Lord!
One should remember that frequently in the Old Testament Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness is called adultery, the people being accused of whoredom. Later in the book of Revelation we will be introduced to another enemy of God’s people, the harlot. She will be seen riding upon the first beast to tempt the saints to abandon the faith through immorality, which is unfaithfulness to God. And remember that in Revelation 19:7 and 21:2 the church us described the bride of Christ, faithful and true. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready…” (Revelation 19:7, ESV). “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2, ESV).
The 144,000 are described in this way, not to indicate that they are celibate males only, to symbolize the churches unwavering devotion to Christ the Lord. The phrase, “it is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins”, indicates their spiritual faithfulness. These are the ones who, “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” “These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” And “in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.” These are the ones who have been true to their profession of faith. They are ceremonially pure, having been made pure by the blood of the Lamb.
The message is clear. It far better to stand with Christ and to take his mark than to go the way of the world, taking the mark of the beast.
These Give Glory To God Who Is Seated Upon The Throne
Lastly, recognize that these give glory to God who is seated upon the throne.
In verse 2 John,
“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, 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).
You should notice that worship is a central theme of the book of Revelation. God alone is to be worship. The angels worship him day and night. And the redeemed are to worship him.
Notice that the redeemed are here found singing a new song. This should remind us of Psalm 144:9-10 which says, “I will sing a new song to you, O God; upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you, who gives victory to kings, who rescues David his servant from the cruel sword” (Psalm 144:9–10, ESV).
And it is a song that only the 144,000 can sing. Not even the angels can sing it. Why would this be? Well, remember, the angels are not redeemed creatures. Some rebelled and were then eternally condemned. Others remained upright and were then confirmed in their righteousness. There is no redemption needed for the elect angels, never fell, there is none offered to the fallen ones. There is no angelic savior. But we humans have a redeemer, who is Christ the Lord. And so we may sing to him like no other in God’s creation. The angels might give glory to God concerning the salvation that he has provided, but we give him praise for having saved us, for having covered all of our sins, and for having clothed us with Christ’s righteousness.
Truly, all things are to the glory of God. We have been redeemed so that we might worship and serve our blessed Savior and the Father who, having loved us, did send him to accomplish our redemption.
Brothers and sisters, though I do pray that our study of Revelation chapters 12 and 13 did help to make you sober concerning our advisory the devil and the powers that he uses to war against us, I do also pray that the opening scene of Revelation 14 brings comfort to you as you fix your eyes upon our risen Lord. He stands upon the heavenly Mount Zion, and we stand with him, sealed with his name and his Fathers name written upon our foreheads, to follow him wherever he does lead.