(1) 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.
This chapter begins with a direct response towhat John saw at the close of chapter thirteen. John saw those who worship thebeast having the name (or number) of the beast written on their foreheads. Now,immediately following, John sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion and standingwith him are the 144,000 who we became acquainted with in chapter seven. Likethe worshipers of the beast, the 144,000 also have a name written on theirforeheads, but in contrast, they wear the name of the Lamb and the name of theFather.
This is also an important time text; for since the beginning of chapter twelve, we have witnessed the backstory of the various conflicts that the first century church faced. We saw who was behind these troubles (the defeated devil), and why he was acting in that capacity (in anger over his defeat and knowing that he had only a short time). We saw him raise the Jews against the church, which soon became too little of an effort. Then we saw him raise the empire against them. But the discussion of the 144,000 in this chapter tells us that we are done with the backstory, and we’ve been prepped for the “things that must soon take place.” We are now back to the task at hand. The 144,000 were sealed in between the opening of the sixth and seventh seal. The first six seals revealed Judgment already beginning for the house of Israel. In the parallel account of Matthew 24:31, we also see the same picture (See comments on 7:1-8). Both Matthew, Luke and Revelation show the Judgment having begun (6:12-17) and Rome already surrounding Jerusalem (Matthew 24:16; Luke 21:20-21) before the sealing of the saints. So, the reappearance of the 144,000 in the vision is a telling sign that we are nearing the very end of the matter.
“On Mount Zion stood the Lamb.” This is not physical Zion (Jerusalem), but the heavenly, because these 144,000 are standing with the Lamb and they are about to sing; and their voice will come “from heaven.” Mount Zion is spoken of as a heavenly place in Hebrews 12:22, when the writer said to the brethren, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”
(2) 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,
We will find out in the following verse that this voice from heaven is the voice of the 144,00. They are many voices, yet one voice. There is power in this picture of unity! Just imagine what John is seeing; a sight to behold. Mount Zion in heaven, The Lamb standing in victory on top of the mount, the faithful with him, marked with the name of God. Together, they open their mouths, and as if they were one voice, they sing mightily. O what a vision!
“Like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder.” Both descriptions resonate the idea of judgment and power and might. The voice of Jesus was described as the “roar of many waters” in 1:15, and the voice of the great multitude in 19:6 will also carry both of these descriptions. It was with the roar of many waters and a thunderous storm that God judged and destroyed the world of Noah’s day. As we hear such similar sounds in this text, we will soon see judgment and destruction.
“Like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.” He adds another description to the same voice that he heard; the sound of harpists. This is quite a different sound than that of loud thunder and roaring water; but these all fit together when it is recognized that the description if all symbolic, representing certain truths. We saw the picture of the harps earlier (see full comments on 5:8), and I see no reason why the meaning of the harps should change in this verse. As in 5:8 and 15:2, the singers are about to prophecy through praise and song; for harps are a figure of prophecy (again, see comments on 5:8).
Putting all three vocal descriptions together, we can conclude that the prophecy that they bring in the form of song will be one of desolation for the wicked, judgment and justice from a holy God, and redemption for the faithful.
(3) 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.
Singing a “new song” is the same pattern we saw the last time that the “harps for prophecy” were picked up (see comments on 5:8 and 5:9). New songs are a biblical figure of a new day filled with praise to God for a fresh experience of deliverance (Psalm 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1, and Isaiah 42:10). The enemy is falling; redemption is near.
“No one could learn that song except the 144,000.” These 144,000 wear a name that no one else can wear, and they sing a song that no one else can sing. Recall that these 144,000 are a figure of the faithful firstfruits of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These were still living on the earth (most of them were anyway) at the sight of this vision. Although seen (as every true Christian should see themselves) in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), they still live on earth. And the earth, in those days, was a hard place to live between the hatred of the Jews and the persecution from the Romans. But what “must soon to take place” (1:1), is a new song; a fresh look at redemption. “No one could learn that song” except those brethren. True, because no one else went through what they went through! See for yourself what Jesus said about those days in Matthew 24:9-10, 21-22. Who else could learn this song? This song could only be learned through the experiences of its singers.
(4) 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, (5) and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
Described here as the virgins of Zion, these are perfectly pure from all wrong. And before this, when their sins were piled high above them, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And they followed. They responded to the invitation of the Lord to “Come to me.” This vision now describes them as those “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” This is the appropriate description of a genuine Christian; and you know they are genuine, for you don’t go through the fires that they went through without being a sincere follower of Jesus.
“As firstfruits for God.” The 144,000 have often been counted as the Jewish who first came to Christ. The reason for this is because they are called the “firstfruits” in this verse, and that they are broken down into the twelve tribes of Israel back in chapter seven. However, I think there is more to it than that. While the 144,000 are certainly inclusive of the Jews who submitted to Christ, the gentiles are also called the “firstfruits to be saved” (ESV, 2 Thessalonians 2:13). The figure of the 144,000 as 12,000 from the twelve tribes is not meant to give us a literal idea that these are Jews, but that they symbolize the faithful people of God. The gentiles have a right to be included too, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28; see also Colossians 3:11).