“The Lamb Standing on Mount Zion”
The overall effect of Revelation 12–13 is overpowering. The great fiery red dragon, that serpent of old, called the devil and Satan, together with his henchmen, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth, have taken their stand against us. The intent of this unholy trinity is clear: they seek to devour us—whether by overt power or subtle deception, it matters not—they have their sights set on you and on me. Such is the nature of our opposition; such is the hatred and fury of the great enemy of our souls. We are no match for Satan and his minions; they never stop attacking us, and we are too weak to hold our own, even for a moment.
Indeed, the overall effect of Revelation 12–13 is overpowering. It is with great joy, then, that we come to chapter 14, and its glorious opening scene, verses 1–5. John writes, “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name on their foreheads.” When we consider what John has seen in the past chapters, that great fiery red dragon, that hideous beast from the sea, and that deceptive beast from the earth, this vision stands out as glorious indeed!
Notice first of all whom John sees. He sees a Lamb! This is no counterfeit lamb, like the beast from the earth that appears like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. No, this is the Lamb of God, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is Jesus Christ Himself! Oh, what a sight it must have been for John, having seen the horrors of the dragon, having seen the hideousness of the beast from the sea, having seen the deceptive beast from the land, what a sight it must have been for him, here in this vision, to finally behold the Lamb, his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!
But how can we be sure this is no counterfeit Lamb? How can we be sure this Lamb is what He appears to be? How can we be sure this is not another manifestation of the beast from the earth, that beast that appears like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon? We can be sure that this Lamb is the Lord Jesus Christ because He is accompanied by the 144,000.
But who are the 144,000? We have met them once before in the book of Revelation, chapter 7:4–8, where twelve thousand were sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel. There we learned that the 144,000 was symbol of the entire number of the elect, the entire number of the true Israel of God. Here they are once more; and, once more, the number represents the entire number of the elect.
And so we see a great contrast between those who belong to this Lamb, and those who belong to the counterfeit lamb, the beast from the earth, described in Revelation 13:11–18. Those who belong to the counterfeit lamb, the beast from the earth, are enslaved by him. Those who belong to the true Lamb, Jesus Christ, are redeemed by Him. Those who belong to the counterfeit lamb, the beast from the earth, are marked by the beast with his own number, that number being 666. Those who belong to the true Lamb, Jesus Christ, bear the name of the Lamb, and of His Father, upon their foreheads. Indeed, as another translation puts it: they have “His name and the name of His Father, written on their foreheads.”
Make sure you understand the thrust of this contrast. Those who belong to the counterfeit lamb, the beast from the earth, bear the mark of his name, and of his number, that number being 666, the number of man. Six is the number of man. How do we know that? We know it because man was created on the sixth day. What is the significance of that? The significance is this: man, in and of himself, always falls short of the seventh day, that final day, that glorious day, that day without evening or morning, that eternal day, even the Sabbath rest of God. Those who belong to the counterfeit lamb, the beast from the earth, bear his mark and the number of his name. In other words, they never reach the Sabbath rest of God! But what about those who belong to the true Lamb, even Jesus Christ? The number 666 is not stamped upon them because in Christ Jesus they have attained that final day, that glorious day, that day without evening or morning, that eternal day, even the Sabbath rest of God!
No counterfeit Lamb is this! This is the true Lamb, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world! This is Jesus Christ! This is our Savior! And He stands on Mount Zion with His redeemed. This is no earthly mountain. This is not one of the many peaks surrounding the earthly Jerusalem. This is a heavenly mountain. In fact, this is heaven itself. John sees the Lamb, Jesus Christ, together with the 144,000, the elect of God, on Mount Zion. John sees them in heaven. Heaven is the dwelling place of Jesus Christ and His redeemed. He stands with them in heaven.
We need to emphasize that as well: the Lamb is seen standing. Now what do we do with that? Don’t we confess that Jesus Christ “sits at the right hand of God”? Don’t we make much of the fact that His sitting down on the throne is evidence of the fact that He has finished the work of our redemption? Yet here the Lamb stands! Here Jesus Christ stands! What are we to do with that?
Acts 7 is most helpful in understanding the posture of the Lamb. There we find the same thing going on at the stoning of Stephen. The world had rendered its judgment on Stephen; they considered him worthy of death, and they stoned him to death. But as he was being stoned, remember what he saw: he saw heaven opened, and the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God! What is going on here is this: Jesus Christ is standing before the throne, taking the posture of an advocate, taking the posture of one who defends His people! Jesus Christ is our Advocate in heaven! He is our Defender in heaven! He is our Surety before the throne of God! The Lamb was slain for us!
In those times when men would slander your name, in those times when men would speak all kinds of evil against you falsely, in those times when your name and reputation is dragged through the mud, in those times when the world would judge you falsely, your confidence and your comfort is this: you have an Advocate in heaven, you have a Defender in heaven, your Surety stands before the throne of God on your behalf!
In those times when Satan buffets, when his minions work so very hard to rob you of your joy in Christ, to rob you of the joys of salvation, to rob you of blessings of the assurance of salvation, in those times when the great enemy of your soul attacks you so furiously, reminding you of your sins, reminding you of your sinful nature, calling into question whether you are really saved, in those times when you feel like you are going down to defeat in this spiritual battle, your confidence and your comfort is this: you have an Advocate in heaven; you have a Defender in heaven: His name is Jesus Christ, and He stands there in heaven as a Lamb, the Lamb that was slain for you, the Lamb that took away your sin! He stands here because He is the only ground of our salvation! What a beautiful vision! In those times of trial and difficulty, in those times when the world judges you falsely, in those times when Satan buffets, look to the Lamb and see Him standing before the throne of God as your Advocate, as your Defender, and as your Surety. Keep this vision always before you!
This is what John has seen, but now listen to what he hears, verses 2–3: “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.”
What are we to make of these verses? Consider first the voice from heaven; it is described as sounding like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. To whom does this voice belong? It is the voice of the living God Himself. The voice is like the voice of many waters. You may recall the vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel chapter 1. There we read of the living creatures who attend the presence of the living God: “And under the firmament their wings spread out straight, one toward another. Each one had two which covered one side, and each one had two which covered the other side of the body. When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army; and when they stood still, they let down their wings” (1:23–24). We are dealing here with the presence of the living God.
We are told furthermore that His voice was like the voice of loud thunder. You may remember the scene at Mount Sinai, in Exodus 19, where God was present on Mount Sinai, and where there was the sound of loud thunder; so terrifying was that scene that the people recoiled, pleading with Moses for him to speak with God, lest they would die. We are dealing here with the presence of the living God.
But now notice what the 144,000, the elect of God, are doing in the presence of God. Are they recoiling in terror? Are they crying out to be spared from death? Is there any terror or fear here? Not at all! Instead, John hears the sound of harpists playing their harps, and he hears a new song!
Remember, the 144,000 are those who have been redeemed by the Lamb! The Lamb has hushed the law’s loud thunder; He has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame! And now the redeemed of the Lord sing a new song—a song so great and wonderful, it drowns out everything else!
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing, of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity!
Notice once more that the redeemed of the Lord sing “a new song.” While we love the psalms, they are not the only songs we should be singing in church. Here is the reason why: we don’t live in the Old Testament. We don’t live in the times of types and shadows. Jesus has come. He has accomplished and secured our redemption. So great is that event, the accomplishment of our salvation in Jesus Christ, that the church of Jesus Christ is constrained to sing a new song! We should not be content to sing about the promises of His coming and the promises of salvation when we live in the reality and the fulfillment of those promises. Jesus has come; He has earned our salvation. Let’s sing about that! And as we sing about it, let us sing about it with depth and substance. Our new song should never be reduced to a man-centered, feel-good ditty, sung over and over again. Our new song must be a song of substance, a song that is thoroughly Christ-centered, a song that is thoroughly God-glorifying. The pattern for the church’s song is right here in the book of Revelation. Here is the new song for the church of Jesus Christ. Let’s sing about our Savior, and let’s sing about Him with joy, with fervency, with vibrancy! He is our Savior, after all!
After focusing our attention on the Lamb, and His praise, John finally describes for us the 144,000 in verses 4–5: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
A couple of points need to be emphasized. The language here is clearly symbolic. We read here that the 144,000 are those who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. Clearly, John is not intending for us to take this literally, as though only men are saved, and even more specifically that only those men who are celibate are saved; in fact even more specifically still, only those men who are virgins are saved. That’s not John’s point at all. What, then, is his point? He seems to be drawing here from the Old Testament law that required the male soldiers of Israel to be celibate in the days leading up to and including war. The wars of Israel were holy wars, and the men who fought in those wars were to be set apart unto the Lord; they were holy. This is the imagery set before us here: we are involved in a spiritual war; our entire sojourn here in this world can be seen in terms of a spiritual war; that’s the point of Revelation 12–13. But in this war, we are considered pure before the throne of God, pure because of the Lamb (remember verse 1). This is our standing before the throne of God in Jesus Christ: as pure as the Lamb Himself is pure.
We read here furthermore that the 144,000 are the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. Here again we need to be careful in our interpretation. John is not saying that the 144,000 are set apart from the rest of the redeemed, as though there are still more to be saved. No, the 144,000 is the complete number of the elect; in fact that’s the intent of the number. Why then are they called the firstfruits? They are called the firstfruits in distinction from the rest of the harvest, that harvest that is described for us at the end of the chapters, where all of those who are not included in the 144,000 are consigned to eternal damnation. The firstfruits belong to God; they are the elect of God, and they cannot be damned because they belong to the Lamb. In Him the elect are without fault, verse 5.
Revelation 14:1–5 constrains you to see yourself in heaven as God Himself sees you: pure, undefiled, without fault, as blameless as Christ Himself is blameless, as faultless as Christ Himself is faultless, as sinless and righteous as Christ Himself is sinless and righteous. You stand in heaven with the Lamb.
And so, while the overall effect of Revelation 12–13 is overpowering, the few words of Revelation 14:1–5 are more than enough to comfort us and bring us confidence, as our faith looks up to the Lamb.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan