By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
There are seven distinct sections in Revelation 14:
To outline the chapter in brief:
The Vision of the One Hundred and Forty-four Thousand
This is one of the most remarkable scenes, in every way, of The Revelation thus far.
The “servants of our God” whom the angel sealed on their foreheads in chapter 7:2-8, before any “hurt” should come, are here seen with the Lamb, having, like those three in the fiery furnace, passed through the fearful divine judgments unharmed (see 9:4), and then through the horrors of the forty-two months of Antichrist (chapter 13). They are seen on Mount Zion, the selected seat of the glorious earthly reign of one thousand years, of Christ and His saints.
The 144,000 Of Chapter Fourteen— Who Are They?
I. Are they the sealed company of Israelites of chapter 7?
(1) The number 144,000 agrees. (2) They and these in chapter 14 are sealed on their foreheads. (3) They stand on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. (4) They pass through the time of trouble, are victorious, etc.
II. Are they specially devoted saints from all the ages?
(1) The repetition of the number 144,000, one of governmental completeness and fulness, is not necessarily conclusive proof that the two companies are one and the same. (2) Those in chapter 14 are indeed sealed on their foreheads, but the form of the seal is the Lamb’s name and the name of His Father; whereas those of chapter 7 were sealed as “the bondservants of our God.” (3) Those in chapter 14 were “purchased out of the earth”: they are not said to be of Israel’s tribes. (4) They are all men (14:4): note the double statement “not defiled with women,” and “virgins.” (5) They are therefore Nazarites unto God, having forsworn even lawful things for a separate walk. (6) They “were purchased from among men, the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb” (14:4). (7) They were absolutely truthful: consequently, “without blemish.” (8) They “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”
We will give certain further comments concerning this company, not seeking dogmatically to assert, however, that they are the Israelites of chapter 7, though they seem to be these.
For, although we have thus spoken of them, we cannot but leave the question open for further light. Because, in all other Scripture we can recall, Israel’s victors are always named as belonging to that elect nation, and the favor of God is seen as arising from that national election. Whereas, these of Revelation 14 do not have that mark, but rather seem to be from a larger circle than Israel—even “from among men”; and their peculiar distinction appears to be a reward for their utter self-abnegation. As Dean Alford says, “We are perhaps more like that which the Lord intended us to be; but they are more like the Lord Himself.” Only let it be remembered, a “greater” place is given, in sovereign grace, to the Body of Christ: as our Lord spoke regarding John, in Matthew 11:11.
They are the “firstfruits” of the millennial reign. They connect the dispensations—somewhat as Noah did, who passed through the judgment of the flood into a new order of things. Therefore, the Lamb is seen standing on Mount Zion (before He actually conies there, as in Revelation 19 and Psalm 2), that with Him may be seen this overcoming host, who will very shortly share His actual reign there.90
Seven things are told us of this amazing company.
1. They had written on their foreheads the Name of the Lamb, and the Name of His Father! In marvelous manner they were thus blessedly blazoned out, that all might see! It proclaimed their ownership—they were the
Now, no one who thoughtfully reads chapters 13 and 14, together, can avoid the profound conviction that these, with the Lamb’s and His Father’s Name in their foreheads, are set before us in direct contrast with those who took in their foreheads the name or number of Satan’s awful Christ.91
This earth will at last learn what the words mean, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve!” Of course the Church is not in this scene—cannot be. But how instructive all is for us in a day when darkness is put for light, and light for darkness! And how it thrills our hearts to know that God can triumph as easily in such days as Revelation 14 portrays, as in our own days. Grace enabled Enoch to walk with God while the earth was ripening for judgment; and grace enabled Noah to pass safely through the judgment!
2. This 144,000 (and no others) could learn and sing the “new song” that burst forth “as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: … of harpers harping with their harps.”
A “new song” was begun in Revelation 5:9, 10, upon the Lamb’s taking the seven-sealed book of judgment, and in celebration of His worthiness to do so, and in view of the earthly “kingdom of priests” He thus made possible. The angels, and then all creation, celebrated thus Him that sat upon the throne and the Lamb.
Here in Revelation 14, we are not told the words of the “new song.” But we know it was of rapturous, thunderous exultation. All heaven has been looking forward eagerly to it. It is connected directly with the setting up of the glorious reign on earth: for the prophetic appearance of the Lamb on Mount Zion with the 144,000 is the signal for it. Only one other event outdoes it in the rapture it gives to heaven, and that is the marriage of the Lamb, in chapter 19. Therefore we ought to wait here; to let our hearts be filled full, as it were, with the spirit of this song and its occasion. If we are in tune with heaven, what gives heaven such ecstasy, must move us deeply!
To those who have followed, in the prophets, the story of “the remnant,” noting all God’s love, His earthly purposes of blessing, His sympathy through their sorrows, in their sorrows (for, “in all their affliction he was afflicted”), His promises to them for the hideous days of the end—to such, the scene that opens Revelation 14, is a delight indescribable!
Into the heavenly song that now breaks, and swells on with its many “harpers harping with their harps” no one of earth could enter in spirit. Why? These 144,000 souls have passed through fire, have dwelt among lions—to be faithful! So, in their measure, have all those saints who have “suffered with Christ.” After the troubles are over, and the Lord is come, and the kingdom set up in glory and majesty and power, on Mount Zion, and the Lord is “King over all the earth,” and the thousand years of peace are come, it will no longer be possible to learn the song that these will learn—the song of absolute fellowship with the Lamb in suffering.
Ah, how much we miss! “All that would (will) live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). There is a will here. Do we choose to suffer with Christ, that we may also reign with Him?
The Millennium, the peaceful days—how lovely they seem to us! But ah, how much more will this 144,000 know (though they are earthly saints) than others whether of Israel, or of the Gentile nations! Christ Himself, “though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered.” God is infinite; and there are things of God, and in God, that only suffering gives the capacity to know! And the days are coming, when suffering for and with Christ will be forever over. Oh, let us listen when God tells us that this suffering remnant, while remaining earthly saints (and not having died, though being at the gates of death constantly, under Antichrist) learn that new song that will be sung “before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders.” No one else on earth will know it, or can know it!92
3. “They had been purchased out of the earth.” That is, though being men on earth, they are not, properly, in the earth. Neither do they belong to heaven—though they learn, and can sing, the song that is being sung there. They have been “purchased.” They belong only to the Lamb and to His Father. They will be connected with the Lamb’s earthly rule and reign. They will therefore have their sphere on earth; but it will be manifest publicly that they have been purchased out of the earth. This, in reality, is true of Christians, now! Yet we are to remain among men, for Christ, as witnesses, and are bound up in many proper earthly relationships and responsibilities. But not these 144,000! They will have manifestly been bought away from earth entirely. We look for a body like to Christ’s heavenly body—a higher state than these. But these will be men in human flesh with the open seal of the Lamb and of His Father upon their foreheads! Their history looks three ways:
Most wonderful counsels are those of God! And what a day it will be, when the Lamb of God returns to reign gloriously! What a day—with the Church in the heaven-lies (instead of the angels—Hebrews 2:5-8), with the twelve apostles (Matthias in Judas’ place) on thrones judging (as those with heavenly wisdom) the twelve tribes of Israel; with the Lord, the Lamb, as their returned Messiah, delighted in as the King in His beauty, the King of Israel; with the mountain of the Lord’s House (Zion) raised above all hills of earth, the wondrous temple of Ezekiel 40-48 upon it, and all the nations coming up to worship the King, Jehovah of Hosts! And Christ, the Bridegroom saying to us, “Behold, thou art all fair My love, there is no spot in thee!” And all about us, at that time, these personal attendants of the Lamb, who follow Him “whithersoever He goeth”!
4. The fourth particular revealed regarding this company of 144,000 is, “These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.”
Now there is one way only to take these words, and that is, in their literal sense. To do this aright, we must compare Scripture with Scripture: for the opinions or prejudices of men must not be allowed here.
And first, let us remember again, that we are not dealing with Church things or with Church days. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled,” we read in Hebrews 13:4. And again, Paul directs Timothy, “I desire therefore (in view of the tendencies described in 1 Timothy 5:14) that the younger (women) marry, bear children, rule the household, give no occasion to the adversary for reviling.” And concerning himself (1 Corinthians 9:5), “Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” And even in 1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 8 where Paul declares, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. … I would that all men were even as I myself. … It is good for them if they abide even as I,” he proceeds with the plainest directions for life in the marriage relation; which, even for those saints who are so desirous of prayer as to separate themselves “by consent for a season,” is yet the normal and safe relation in which to continue.
Yet we must, as the days grow darker, weigh well the apostle’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:25-31. These days are evil. “Distress” is upon us. The apostle uses the fact here to counsel the saints to ponder well the steps they take. “The time is shortened, that henceforth both those that have wives be as though they had none; and those that weep (especially in bereavement, evidently), as though they wept not; and those that rejoice (especially in domestic bliss), as though they rejoiced not; and those that buy, as though they possessed not; and those that use the world, as not using it to the full: for the stage scenery of this world is passing away!”
It is not to be with us (since our Lord and Head and Bridegroom is absent, rejected) as it was with Israel when they were told by Jehovah to enter Canaan and sit peacefully under their vines and fig trees. This world hates us as it hated Christ. Nor is it with us as it will be when our Lord returns, and the meek shall at last inherit the earth. All is really present distress! Christ is off His throne. The Church is away from her Bridegroom. Israel is out of her land. The servants have not yet their rewards. Satan is yet in the heavenlies. Creation yet groans. Christ has not yet seen of the travail of His soul, and been satisfied.
But if “distress” is upon us, so that we are to use earth-things “as though we used them not,” what will be the condition of those shortly to pass into The Great Tribu- lation—the elect remnant of Israel, the 144,000? If, even now, the apostle can say, “Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife” (1 Corinthians 7:27), what would he say to those of the days of which the Lord said: “Woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! … For then shall be great tribulation such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:19, 21).
But not merely in the wisdom of avoiding the complexities of days of distress, do these 144,000 appear. They are complete Nazarites unto God, as touching their relation to women. They are as was their Lord. The explanation given us is explicit: “They are virgins.” Because of the awful doctrine of Rome (really of demons, 1 Timothy 4:2, 3), which forbids to marry, earnest students of Scripture have feared, or at least failed, to let the plain words of the Lord and His apostles have their simplest meaning—that it may be “given” of God to some men to abstain from the marriage relation, not from tradition or bondage, but to be the more peculiarly separated, in some service, unto Him. Only those thus divinely led and gifted, our Lord plainly says, in Matthew 19:11, 12, can “receive this saying.” Also, the connection with the kingdom is quite striking here in Matthew, though Paul speaks of the same “gift” in 1 Corinthians 7:7, 17.
But in the fearful days of abandonment “as in the days of Noah”—when lust and violence will again fill the whole earth (as we see beginning now!) how wonderful to behold this company of 144,000 who have chosen to be entirely separated unto the Lamb and unto His Father, and who are thus, despite the days!
5. “These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” Let us again remember that they are not the Church, which, as the wife of the Lamb, has a wholly different and closer relationship than any others can have. But these are the personal attendants—the bodyguard, so to speak, of the Lamb. Their movements with Him “whithersoever he goeth” remind us of that absolute one- ness of mind and movement of the cherubim (with Jehovah enthroned) of Ezekiel 1. Remember also the devotedness of David’s mighty men, who may well typify these: for both are connected with the throne of David—on Mount Zion.
6. The next word about this 144,000 is that they were “purchased from among men, the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb.”
Now James tells us that the Church saints now are “a kind of firstfruits” of God’s “creatures.” Paul definitely says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (or creation); and this is the great fact to be held by us in our walk, by the rule of a new creation (Galatians 6:15, 16 R. V.).
We must discriminate here in Revelation 14:4. “First-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb” are kingdom words; and not mere salvation words. The “Church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12) has already gone up on high; the millennial things are not yet come, the kingdom is not yet set up. But this 144,000 belong to that kingdom (as is seen at once by their being with the Lamb on Mount Zion). Marvelous wonder of God’s grace and keeping power: they come alive through the fire of Antichrist’s days, to walk as “firstfruits” into the 1000 years—an earnest-purchase from among men for the reign of heaven on earth! And “firstfruits” mean that harvest is on! The sight of this 144,000 should remind us that “life from the dead” for the world is made doubly sure by this preserved remnant, just as its promise is connected with the national receiving of Israel. Read Romans 11:15.
7. And finally we read: “In their mouth was found no lie: they are without blemish.”
The days of Antichrist were days of falsehood. His miracles are called in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, “signs and lying wonders” (Greek, pseudos). And it is there said that because they received not the love of the truth God sent them “a working of error that they should believe the lie” (Greek, to pseudei). “The Lie” is that Satan is God, and that the Beast is his Christ and to be wor- shipped. The gulfs of deceit of damnation are opened wide! All is pseudos, pseudos, on every side.
But in the mouth of this 144,000, we read, was found “no lie.” And the Greek word is, no pseudos!
Now when we turn to Zephaniah 3:13, and read the description of the remnant of Israel after the Millennium has begun, we find: “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid”—we are at once reminded of those great passages in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, which describe in detail the manner of God’s salvation which He will visit upon the saved of Israel in millennial times. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it” (Jeremiah). “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Now all this must be literally fulfilled for Israel. This is no description of our salvation—which is that ye are in Christ; Christ is in you; and the indwelling Spirit would “form Christ” within you. But this prophetic utterance describes the fulfilment by restored Israel of “every jot and tittle of the law” before the “heaven and earth pass away”—as they must do at the close of the 1000 years (Revelation 20).
These firstfruits, therefore, of Israel, this 144,000, are “without blemish” (Revelation 14:5). They are a public example and pledge of what the “all-righteous” nation of Israel will be in the Millennium! What will happen to Israel has already happened to them! “Without blemish” —men on earth in the flesh!
Brethren, we have no excuses to make for dwelling thus upon this 144,000. To understand prophecy is to become absorbed (amidst other wonders) with what God has said He will do to, and through, the remnant of Israel!
And we would the more magnify Jehovah’s promises concerning Israel and the coming thousand years’ reign of Christ “before his ancients gloriously” (A. V.), because some who claim loudly to be “fundamentalists” either deny Israel’s future glory wholly or resort to some poor word like “a-millennialism,”—that is, no Millennium.
In the rest of Revelation 14, God witnesses publicly by six angels against the awful state of things brought about by Antichrist in chapter 13, and prophetically pictures the fast coming judgment in the two sickles.
90 That the number 144,000 is literal you cannot doubt, without sitting down beside some Sadducee. It is well, when people claim that the Scripture does not mean what it says, to ask, “Who, then, shall say what it means?”
91 Indeed, it has occurred to us that the presence of the heavenly seal in the foreheads of the remnant from chapter 7 on, is so evident to men that Satan is forced to undertake to break its influence by demanding the opposite seal in the foreheads of his devotees. And especially may this be true, when we reflect that God preserves (as in 9:4) those who have His seal, from woes to which others are subject.
92 We should constantly remember that the Church, the Body of Christ, as ministered by Paul, as indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has a calling immeasurably above and beyond this 144,000; or, for that matter, far beyond anything yet revealed in the book of Revelation! Even in Hebrews, Christ and His own are seen as “all of one,” and they, His “brethren.” Where, so far, in Revelation, is such a relation set forth? Even in the seven churches of chapters 2 and 3, Christ is (and must be) Judge. The glorious, overwhelming truth of oneness with Christ, His “fulness,” members of Him, is not set forth. Oh, alas, we do not see it; or we forget it; or we neglect it; or we grieve the indwelling Comforter. And then, we are blind. We can no longer interpret Scripture. We part company with Paul’s epistles, and we desire Moses and Elijah along with Jesus—Moses to give a “rule of life,” and Elijah to call down fire if we fail to beep the “rule.”