1And I perceived, and lo! the Lambkin standing on mount Zion, and with It a hundred forty-four thousand, having Its name and Its Father's name written on their foreheads. 2And I hear a sound out of heaven as the sound of many waters and as the sound of loud thunder, and the sound which I hear is as lyre singers playing on their lyres. 3And they are singing a new song before the throne and before the four animals and before the elders. And no one was able to learn the song except the hundred forty-four thousand, who have been bought from the earth. 4These are they who were not polluted with women, for they are celibates. These are those who are following the Lambkin wherever It should be going. These are bought from mankind, a firstfruit to God and the Lambkin. 5And in their mouth falsehood was not found, for they are flawless.
THE ONE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR
THOUSAND AS WORSHIPPERS
THE Melchisedec priesthood of Christ is the key to the Millennial kingdom. He will be a Priest on His throne. The same is true of all the officers in His kingdom. Their powers will be twofold. They will not only rule over the nations but will also preside over their worship. And the nations will not only be subjects of the civil administration, but will be required to take part in the worship at the holy oblation at Jerusalem. It will be a sacerdotal despotism.
Penalties will be imposed on religious laxity. Zechariah tells us that "everyone left of all the nations coming against Jerusalem, shall also go up, a quote, year by year, to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to celebrate the celebration of booths. And it comes, whoever will not go up from the families of the earth, to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, then the downpour shall not come on them. And if a family of Egypt shall not go up, and shall not come, then it is not on them [i.e., as Egypt has no rain it would not affect them]; to it shall come the stroke with which Yahweh will strike all the nations, which will not go up to celebrate the celebration of booths. This shall be the sin of Egypt, and the sin of all the nations, which will not go up to celebrate the celebration of booths." (Zech.14:16-20).
The hundred forty four thousand have come before us in the political section of the Unveiling (7:2-8). There they are seen as the slaves of God who are preserved unscathed through the impending judgments because they have the seal of God on their foreheads (7:3). If, as we have surmised, they are the special agents of the Messiah in the government of the nations, as the twelve apostles are of Israel, it is to be expected that they will reappear in this section of the Unveiling. Fitness for such a high position demands that they not only be sheltered from the political powers, but also escape, in a marked manner, the worship of the wild beast.
Hence the hundred forty four thousand reappear in the religious section, immediately after the description of the worship of the wild beast and its image. There is, undoubtedly, an intended contrast between the purity of their worship and the prevailing idolatry.
Under the historical interpretation, of this book which spreads the judgment period over thousands of years, it would, of course, be necessary that this company should be distinct from the previous group of the same number. And this is true of many other items as well. If even one group of saints of exactly this number could be found in the annals of Christendom, the interpretation might challenge investigation. But even then there is the difficulty of assembling them on Mount Zion, which, I believe, no expositor attempts to do, for the Lambkin is with them there.
Few points in the exposition of the Apocalypse have been left so indefinite as the exact location and nature of the place here known as Mount Zion. Indeed, it is highly probable that this passage is the source of the prevailing notion that it is only a figurative name for heaven. Perhaps the passage " . . . mount Zion, and the city of the living God, the celestial Jerusalem" (Heb.12: 22) may have confirmed this idea. One of the very best and most independent expositions of this book makes this a "vision in heaven," though the learned author would, undoubtedly, resent the inference that he was transferring the location of a part of Jerusalem to the celestial regions. Another writer of more than usual ability tries to insist that, even if it is in heaven, it must be connected with the throne of David and the Jewish kings.
There is a real difficulty here which can only be solved by facing it rather than by forgetting its existence. The Lambkin and the hundred forty four thousand are standing on mount Zion. But the sound of their singing is heard in heaven. They sing before the throne and before the four animals and before the elders. At first the conclusion seems inevitable that mount Zion must be in heaven. But further reflection tends to weaken and then reverse this deduction.
We must note that nothing is said to the effect that Zion and heaven are identical. It arises from a species of "reasoning," if we may dignify it with this name, which is all too prevalent in dealing with God's Word. Real reasoning demands two definite premises, but the saints are usually satisfied with one, and often prefer a prejudice in place of the major premise. If we had statements to this effect: (1) The hundred forty four thousand stand on mount Zion. (2) At the same time they are singing in heaven. Then mount Zion must be in the celestial realms. But we are not assured that they are singing in heaven. There is a striking avoidance of any such statement. The sound of their singing is heard there, but that does not preclude their personal presence on earth.
In the language of these visions heaven hovers near the earth. When the door was opened in heaven John had no difficulty in hearing a trumpet calling him hither (4:1). There is no reason why the celestial choir should not furnish the accompaniment for the hundred forty four thousand, even though their song should not be heard on earth. If there is rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner, surely this great company will rouse them to paeans of highest praise.
The object of the vision is to strike the opening chords of that great chorus of rejoicing which will accompany the inauguration of the kingdom. Some of the songs are given us in this book. We have already listened to the new song of the animals and the elders (5:9), and will yet hear the song of Moses, and the song of the Lambkin (15:3,4). At creation all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7). At the incarnation a multitude of the heavenly host herald the birth of Christ (Luke 2:13,14). So the regeneration will be celebrated with singing.
This vision of the hundred forty-four thousand is a striking and studied antithesis to the previous description of the worship of the wild beast. Always, even in the most flagrant of apostasies, God has had a remnant in reserve for Himself. So now He brings before us a company that worship Him when all the world seems to be worshiping the wild beast. The contrast seems as great as can be. In every particular the votaries of the antichrist are the opposites of devoted followers of Christ.
Instead of a monster more ferocious than the worst wild beast, our eyes rest on a Lambkin. Not merely a Lamb, though that is one of the most gentle and harmless of animals, but a little Lamb, weak and defenseless. It stands on mount Zion, the south-western spur of the hill on which Jerusalem is built. This is all the territory assigned to it, while the wild beast boasts of authority over every tribe and people and language and nation (13: 7). The whole earth is subject to its decrees, and must bow before its manifesto. How small is the area of true worship!
Who will be able to count the myriads upon myriads of those who receive the emblem or the name or the number of the wild beast? No religion has yet been known upon the earth with so many adherents, and won in so short a time. There will be thousands for every one who belongs to the Lambkin. A hundred forty four thousand may seem quite a few when compared with some ecclesiastical bodies, but it will sink into insignificance in contrast to the world-wide religious combination of the end time.
The previous mention of this company was almost solely occupied with their sealing in order to shelter them from God's impending judgment. The seal was placed on their foreheads (7:3), but no hint was given as to its character. Now we find that it was not an emblem, or a number, but two names. The name of the Lambkin and the name of Its Father are found on the foreheads of the hundred forty four thousand. They are sheltered by the blood of the Lambkin. Their safety lies in the great Sacrifice. And their worship is in the name of the Father.
How marked is the contrast with those who follow the wild beast! The emblem, the name, and the number all glorify humanity and the great superman at its head, and, through him, honor the dragon, and the vast confederacy of evil arrayed against God and His Christ. They are a badge of rebellion, a sign of the very highest summit of apostasy of which mankind is capable, the ultimate of human departure from God. They mark the recipients as special objects of the divine fury (14:10), the furthest of all His creatures from His favor.
Those having the name of the Lambkin and Its Father's name on their foreheads certify to man's sinfulness and need of a Sacrifice, and confirm their allegiance to the Father, and this at a time when such a stand has cost many their very lives, and everything they hold dear on earth. Faithfulness to God at such a crisis demands that they receive a special reward in the kingdom. While their enemies will feel the effects of God's fury, they will enjoy the special marks of His favor. No company in the kingdom will have such a high place in the government of the nations as the one hundred forty four thousand. In Israel the apostles will rule. They are twelve. But among the nations this company of twelve thousand times twelve will administer the government of the great King.
Morally, also, there is a vast contrast. Idolatry has always been associated with ethical declension. Immorality, condemned in the true worship of God, is often condoned in the false ritual of idols. Indeed, the grossest of sins have often been the most attractive features of the false worship at their shrines. The statement that the hundred forty-four thousand were not polluted with women throws a lurid light on the character of worship accorded the wild beast and its image. There can be little doubt that it will be accompanied with the utmost sensuality and most flagrant immorality. Set opposite to this are these celibates, whose moral purity will appear as a chaste snowflake upon the black shroud of iniquity.
Many will question the possibility of the world sinking to such moral degradation. But it is in obedience to a law which cannot work otherwise. The farthest limit of apostasy from God must be followed by the greatest degradation of humanity. After the apostle describes the general defection of mankind (Rom.1:8-23), he forth-with adds, "Wherefore God gives them up . . . to the uncleanness of dishonoring their bodies among themselves, who alter the truth of God into the lie . . . and offer divine service to the creature . . . " At the time when "the lie" has its fullest development then also will mankind be given up to such sensual excesses as could not be countenanced on any other occasion.
We need not point to such examples as the French revolution to prove that righteousness retires with reverence. It is all too obvious in our own day. How few are restrained by a wholesome fear of God! Morality is openly derided as merely a matter of expedience. Conscientious scruples are deemed Puritanical and old-fashioned. And this looseness is constantly increasing. Instead of a reaction, there is a continual advance in the direction indicated in this portion of the Apocalypse. All that is needed is to sanctify sensuality with religion. Even this has had a beginning in the appeals to sight and sound and even to the stomach, which characterizes modern Christianity.
The saddest of all the consequences of receiving the emblem or name or number of the wild beast is the fact that all such are involved in the judgment which overtakes the beasts themselves. Instead of being saved from harm by the tokens on their foreheads or hands, these mark them for the direst doom of any of mankind except their two leaders. How different is the fate of the faithful! They follow the Lambkin (14:4). When threatened with persecution and death they stand true. And their reward is to accompany Christ, as the Lambkin, in spreading the blessing brought through His sacrifice. The dupes of the wild beast seek to save their souls and lose them: these lose them for Christ's sake and so save them for eonian life.
There may be a special antithesis in the use of the word "buy." Twice we are informed that they are bought (14:3,4), from the earth (or the land), and from mankind. This suggests the secret of their superior station. Their place in the hundred forty-four thousand is not paid for by their efforts. Rather they themselves are purchased by the precious blood of Christ. The wild beast may prohibit buying to all without his hallmark, but God laughs at his laws and comes down to earth and concludes one of the greatest commercial transactions ever consummated, in defiance of his threats.
Even the word "firstfruit" is full of suggestion. They are the first to actually enter into the sphere of God's kingdom on earth. With them as a beginning, it starts its triumphant career. The devotees of the wild beast are the converse of this, for they are the last fruits of man's misrule. With them closes the harvest of humanity's endeavors to rule the world in alienation from God.
A most sweeping reflection upon the character of the worshipers of the wild beast is implied in the statement concerning the hundred forty four thousand, that "in their mouths falsehood was not found." This is the time of "the lie." The appearance of everything will be misleading. God Himself will send an operation of deception (2 Thess.2:11) that they should believe the falsehood. Satan's emissaries will be clothed with divine credentials. There will be no truth. All will be false. But the hundred forty-four thousand are not deceived. They alone are flawless.
"In their mouths falsehood was not found." The world has already advanced to a point in the apostasy where these words condemn almost every phase of its activities. Its business, its social, even its religious life, is a web of pretense and hypocrisy and deception. Truth is offensive and forbidden. And all this is but in preparation for the great lie, when the wild beast will usurp the place of God and receive the honors which belong alone to Christ.
The most notable difference between the two classes we are considering, however, is suggested by the new song which ascends to the throne of God from the hearts of His hallowed worshipers. Rather would we expect the wild beast to be celebrated by a thousand songs, if he is indeed the God he claims to be. Should not all of earth's music be tuned to hymn the newly risen deity? Why are we not given some great poem composed in his honor and sung to strains of celestial music?
No other influence in all the world has overflowed in song like the joyous faith of Christ. It has inspired the most glorious melodies and the sweetest and most enduring songs. Its hymns transcend all others. Even in this wicked eon the praise of God or the blessing of His saints finds more expression in exultant song than all the other emotions of mankind. None of the religions of the world have a sacred repertoire to compare with ours, either in number, variety or elevation of thought. Our joy must overflow. Our praise must find utterance.
The religion of the wild beast is joyless. It has no song. But the hundred forty-four thousand are the first fruit of that new era which shall be filled with melody and overflow with music. In that millennial kingdom most of the psalms will find their fulfillment and fullest use. It will be a day of exultant joy. How fitting that this company, in inaugurating that blessed time, should do so in musical measures whose vibrations swell until they reach the very court of heaven!
The song begins in heaven. It is sung before the throne and before the animals and before the elders to the accompaniment of harps or lyres. Unlike all the other songs in the Unveiling we are not given the words. But from these songs, and from the fact that this is a new song, learned only by this special company, we surmise that it celebrates their blessings and honors in the kingdom, giving the praise for their deliverance and dignities to the Lambkin.