Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LIV)

June 13, 2010

At long last, I arrive at the discussion of the 144,000 in Revelation from the intriguing passage in 14:1-5.  For years, the placement of this passage puzzled me greatly.  Further reflection has helped, especially recently.  However, I find myself in one of those situations in which I may well be learning quite a bit on this subject even as I am writing this post.  (That certainly was the case with the last post on the 144,000, related to the prevailing echoes from Zech. 1-6.)

As things are clarifying with me in regard to Revelation 14:1-5, I am finding that a more careful awareness of the wider context is particularly helpful in understanding why it is placed as it is.  That primarily means it is necessary to work our way through the “prelude” (chs. 12-15) to the climatic bowls of wrath judgments.

In quick overview, 12:1-6 flashes back all the way to Genesis 3:15, then stops briefly at the birth and ascension of Christ, then brings things back to the mid-point of the seven-year Great Tribulation.  The next section (12:7-17) speaks of warfare in heaven (which I will not detail at this time, instead waiting until I get to that passage a few posts down the line), also bringing things back to events at, and shortly after, the middle of the seven years.

Then, chapter 13 speaks of the reign of the Beast, fulfilling a key prophecy in Daniel 7 and elsewhere.  Anyone who refuses to worship the image of the Beast or to the “mark” of the Beast—which may or may not be the number 666—will be killed (13:15-17).  That “mark” (Gk. charagma, “mark, stamp”) will be placed on each person’s right hand or forehead.  In one very important way, that sets things up for 14:1-5.

That way is the mention of the “mark” of the Beast being placed on the foreheads of some of the “earth-dwellers” (13:14ff.), whom we are told in 13:8 are the non-elect.  Then, immediately, in 14:1, the fact that the Heavenly Father’s name is written on the foreheads of the 144,000 is recalled (see 7:3) and clarified (i.e., in the sense that 7:3 does not state that God’s “seal” was His name).

Thus, the most obvious reason why this passage on the 144,000 in 14:1-5 is so placed in the flow of the Apocalypse is because of the striking contrast between the mark of the Beast and the name of the Father on the 144,000 on the foreheads of their respective “followers.”  That leads naturally into another obvious reason.

What is that?  The Beast’s followers, the non-elect (13:8), worship him and the Lamb’s followers, the 144,000, worship Him.  In addition, though, 14:4 says that the 144,000 “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  The significance of that wording is that it reflects that the 144,000, now arrived in heaven, are “up close and personal” disciples of Christ.  After all, “to follow” (Gk. akoloutheo) is one of the characteristic terms for disciples following Jesus in the Gospels.

One other angle is worth mentioning here in regard to why the follow-up discussion on the 144,000 is placed at this point in the book.  In 14:4, it is said that “They were redeemed from the human race as firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (HCSB).  Though the biblical concept of “firstfruits” does speak of the quality of the sacrifice given, it is virtually impossible in this context that it does not infer the remainder of a harvest to follow shortly.  That is especially true when clear harvest terminology follows this passage so shortly (see 14:14-20).

Now, we arrive the unusual wording “These are the ones not defiled with woman, for they have kept their virginity” (14:4, HCSB).  While this wording could mean a lot of things—and has been taken a lot of ways—it should be understood that it does not have to mean anything more than they are all single men, God meant them to be single according to His plan and none of them individually went against the Lord’s will and either had sexual relations with a woman or got married.

Why should such an understanding seem so strange?  After all, Jesus said that there are several reasons why people would not marry, including a gift of singleness (Matt. 19:11-12).  Relatedly, Paul said, “I wish that all people were just like me (i.e., single).  But each has his own gift from God, one this and another that”—apparently some single, some not (1 Cor. 7:7).

The remaining unusual idea in 14:1-5 is v. 5: “No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless” (HCSB).  At the very least, it must be noted that all liars are excluded from the hew heavens and earth and the new Jerusalem (21:8; 22:15).  But, there may be more to this statement than that.  After all, 14:1-5 comes right after chapter 13, where all the earth-dwellers—the non-elect (13;8) worship the Beast, behind whom is the Devil.  In a very real sense, then, Revelation 13 is the ultimate exposure point of those who are of their father the Devil, who is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44).

As I close this far-ranging post, I would like to briefly bring things back to the question of what it is that the 144,000 do (i.e., what is their role in God’s plan during the seven-year Great Tribulation?).  As I have reflected on this point at some length, it has occurred to me that it really is not necessary for them to have any more extensive “job title” than to be “the servants (Gk. doulous) of our God” (7:3).

Why?  Because Daniel 7:14 says that “those of every people, nation, and language should serve (Gk. douleuo LXX) Him (i.e., the Son of Man—Jesus—who is receiving that authority from the Ancient of Days—God the Father).  Israel, of course, is one of the nations.  The next passage in the Apocalypse (7:9ff.) speaks of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” (v. 9), who are said to “serve” (a different Greek word, latreuo, one that speaks of worshipful service) the Lamb night and day in heaven.

Daniel 7:14 only says that those from every nation will serve the Lord.  It does not say they will all serve in the same place, in the same way.  Does it not make perfectly good sense that Revelation 7 is showing two groups of those serving the son of Man in different ways according to God’s will.

More on the innumerable multitude in 7:9ff., starting in the next post.

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