The Lamb and the 144,000 – Revelation 14:1-5

This section is clearly related to the material in chapter 13. There is a contrast between those who have taken the mark of the beast in chapter 13 and the 144,000 witnesses (who were introduced in chapter 7.) Note that these witnesses have the name of God on their foreheads, in contrast to the followers of the beast, who have the name of the beast on their foreheads.

144000The description of the 144,000 is quite impressive. The descriptions of these men indicate that they are purified for God’s service. First, they have not “defiled themselves.” The verb μολύνω in the LXX describes a person who has done something that makes them ritually unclean (touching blood (Lam 14:4), eating impure foods (Isa 65:5), or sexual activity (Zech 14:2). But the word was also used for the defilement of the temple, (1 Macc 1:37; 2 Macc 6:2). “Kept pure” in the NIV is literally “they are virgins” (as in the KJV), and the word is highlighted by the fact that they have not defiled themselves with women. The Greek word for virgin (παρθένος) is normally used for a young woman, not a young man.

It is possible to take this term literally as a reference to men who have chosen to remain celibate because of their service to God. Both the priest and the soldier were exclusively male in the Old Testament. This could be taken as general service, like a priest during his time of service (Lev 15:18). Or, this could be taken as a reference to Holy War. There are several places in the Old Testament were men abstain from sexual activity while engaged in a Holy War (Lev 15:16, Deut. 23:9-10). The reasoning for this is unclear, although have unmarried men as soldiers makes good sense, the less family waiting behind the better, the men will be more apt to sacrifice themselves if there is no wife and kids at home. This makes some sense in our context since the young men are fighting something of a holy war, and any family relationships might hinder their boldness in resisting the power of the beast.

Second, the 144,000 “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” The language of “following” Christ is almost completely limited to the Gospels.  Following in the Gospels does not mean “accepting the teachings of” the one you follow.  (For example, “Pastor Smith followed N. T. Wright in his teaching on sanctification.” The “following” is intellectual.) Following Christ is to become his disciple on a much more intimate level, and to accept a commitment to continue following Christ even to death. There are many passages that talk about the disciple’s willingness to give up earthly pleasure and security in order to follow Christ on the deepest level possible. The other unusual thing about this description is that the Lamb is portrayed as a shepherd (as in 7:17). This is to be expected since the Messiah’s leadership is described as a “shepherd” in Is 40:11 and Ezekiel 34:23.

Third, the 144,000 “were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”The martyrdom motif continues in the next description. “Offered as a firstfruit” is a clear reference to sacrifice. Firstfruit refers to the practice of sacrificing the first portion of a crop to the Lord, or the best of ones flock to the Lord. The Old Testament is very clear that the only acceptable sacrifice is the best sacrifice; therefore the flawless firstborn male lamb is the most pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. Chapter 14 will eventually describe a harvest, perhaps there is an intentional linking of the 144,000 with that harvest. The 144,000 are the firstfruits of men, which might mean that they are the best that men have to offer to God. The problem is that God is not accepting these men as human sacrifices. The meaning might better be that they are the firstfruits of the harvest of the redeemed, the first to be protected in the tribulation period, or perhaps the first set aside to God at the beginning of the period.

Fourth, “no lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” This description concerns moral purity, and continues the theme of describing the 144,000 as spotless sacrifices. The phrase is used in Zeph. 3:13 to describe the remnant of Israel in the last days.

The whole scene in heaven is designed to give comfort to the reader; those that have been set aside to the Lord in the tribulation are being brought through and will stand with the Lamb in Zion, and will apparently rule with him in the Kingdom.  After the description of the protection of the 144,000, John describes three angelic messengers that continue the theme of comfort and hope.

 

10 thoughts on “The Lamb and the 144,000 – Revelation 14:1-5

  1. Thanks, I fixed it. Spell check is not always very helpful! Do you mind if I delete this comment later? I would love your comments (with the link to your website, of course), but this is not really substantive (most people know I cannot spell). Please feel free to interact whenever you like.

  2. When reading this short passage I seem to find myself feeling guilty. The 144,000 with the Lamb are holy and pure. Specifically, they are virgins and that no lie was found in their mouths (14:4-5). When thinking about my past and what I want for my future I do not fall into this blameless category. Your description of something like a preparation for a Holy War is totally understandable but with this imagery, it seems less like war and more like victory. I also know that the 144,000 are most likely Israelites. I do not fall into this camp either. This understanding discourages me less because I know that it was never possible for me to be a part of this in the first place. While I am not able to be a part of this group I understand my place in the Lord’s plan to a better extent. If I can figure out where I am not supposed to be or what I am not supposed to be a part of then I can narrow where I need to be and what I need to be a part of as a Christian.
    The progression of imagery also makes sense due to the chapter before this one. Addressing the mark of the beast in chapter 13 prompts a follow up with a mark or seal of the Lord. Seeing the parallels (because there are a lot of those in Revelation) gives a better understanding of what will happen and the comfort of God’s plan. The fact, also, that these blameless people will be ruling with Christ is also comforting. Being able to know that those who are leading you will be blameless in front of the Lord gives a peace that surpasses understanding.

  3. The idea of the 144,000 being male virgins may not be how the text is to be interpreted in this case. You gave the insight that this idea was to reflect how the soldiers in the Old Testament would prepare for war. If men were going to war, “the men will be more apt to sacrifice themselves if there is no wife and kids at home” (P. Long). That is completely true, and I agreed with what you stated about the end times and how this idea of sacrifice during the war of the end times can be viewed as a great interpretation of the reflection of this idea. I offer a different interpretation. The ESVSB, in the notes of this passage, give the explanation as follows: “the 144,000 signify believers of both sexes who, dying in faith, are gathered as firstfruits for God…They resemble Jesus, the blameless servant of the Lord” (ESVSB 2483). This passage, like many others in Revelation, is an example of a kind of allegorical truth. Specifically, I believe that this passage is talking about the purity and dedication of the 144,000. The idea of sexual purity describes the purity that they are living out in their faith. They have not defiled themselves with sin. They have not dedicated themselves to sinful idols, which leads to the idea of dedication. Dedication to the Lord, and dedication to living a holy life for Him and His glory.
    They are following the Lamb. This goes back to a portion of the last quote: “They resemble Jesus” (2483). This is a great picture of how life should be lived. Living in dedication to following Him, and Him only.
    They live in the reality of sacrificing their very lives to the Lord as a “firstfruits” to Him, leaning into the Biblical model of being a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).
    Yet again, the word blameless comes to our attention: living in the pattern and model of Jesus’ life that He lived here on earth. The followers of the Lamb (who is Jesus) live as people who walk as He walked. This is why they are the 144,000. They are the faithful remnant. As you stated, “The phrase is used in Zeph. 3:13 to describe the remnant of Israel in the last days” (P. Long).

  4. I liked this chapter. I liked how there was a comparison between the mark of the beast on the non-believer’s foreheads and a mark on their foreheads of the “lamb and his Father”(v.1). The Lamb is Jesus, and the Father is Jesus’s, and the Father is God. Think of it as the Trinity.

    I do wonder what verse 4 means by saying, “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”(Revelation 14:4, ESV). I believe what this verse is saying is that these people were not first to be taken to heaven when the tribulation occurs, but simply they are a follower of Christ keeping themselves pure of any sexual sins.

    I believe we are the 144,000.

  5. The 144,000 in revelation 14.
    Revelation 14 is a vision that will need interpretation. But also there might be a pattern that I have picked up on throughout this book.
    While reading this chapter for the reading quizzes and also reading this blog post, I began to be frustrated like usual while reading revelation. There are so many visions and dreams to be interpreted. We don’t know who these 144,00 will be. But then at the end of this blog post, Plong said that this chapter will comfort the readers. Those readers are the seven churches John is writing to. It then was made clear to me that this letter that John is writing comforts these churches. Whoever the 144,00 maybe, they will be safe and taken care of.
    When it comes to who is the 144,000 it makes me think John maybe saw Israel here and the easy thing to do for guessing a group of people is to throw out a big number. In this case, he’s keeping it in order by multiplying the 12 tribes by 12,000. But whoever these people are, they will be in good hands.
    The pattern I have noticed is that John has been using a lot of other scriptures and OT writings as analogies in these visions. I wonder why John does this so much?

  6. The description of the 144,000 being virgins is a confusing one to read when you first come across it. Personally, I was not sure how to interpret the meaning behind the word and wasn’t sure if it would be literal or not. I did understand that it was to help the reader make a clear distinction between those who God has chosen and those who have the mark of the Beast. However, there is a question if these chosen ones are still only Jewish people. Ben C. Blackwell mentions that “there is the possibility that the that the 144,000 are Jewish believers in distinction to the wider multinational church, though many see the 144,000 as pointing to the whole (multiethnic) church” (127). I personally believe that this 144,000 will be the multiethnic church as salvation has been opened up to people of all races and backgrounds and I don’t think that once that gift is given, that God will only pick certain Jewish people to be a part of the 144,000. However, the question still remains as to what it means for them to be virgins. I think this post did a very good job highlighting the different possibilities. The idea that 144,000 are facing a Holy War and thus are kept pure is intriguing. As mentioned, it would make sense that those fighting may not fight with much zeal if they had a family at home, but Matthew 22:30 also says there will be no marriage in heaven, so that doesn’t seem as likely to me. I really liked the third possibility that was given that the 144,000 are the first fruits and the best of the flock. While the passage may not be suggesting that these people were sacrificed as the language used is the same, it could be reflecting the martyrdom that many went through for Christ and those who were killed for his name are the 144,000 as they gave up their lives for following Christ and therefore became the firstfruits.

  7. It is interesting to see the two types of groups: one group has the mark of the beast and only follows the beast, the other group has the mark of God on their foreheads and only follows God. I thought those views on the 144,000 witnesses could make a valid point, but in some sense, these 144,000 have a specific task to fulfill during the last days/tribulation. I just read Isaiah 49, and verse 6 says, “I have a greater task for you, my servant, not only will you restore to greatness the people of Israel who have survived, but I will also make you a light to the nations, so that the world may be saved.” This blog talks about Jesus and the 144,000 witnesses. Blackwell stated that there is a dualistic perspective in Revelation 14, either have a full commitment with Christ or an opposition to his kingdom (126). Another statement he made was this, “this chapter sets up a picture of reverse fortunes for the righteous and unrighteous (126). Dr. Long said the 144,000 are like the first fruits of the harvest, perhaps these witnesses would be the ones displaying the example of what it looks like for those who follow Christ Jesus, righteous, purity, holiness, and faith during these tribulation times. I guess one my wonder, until that day comes for them to rise and fulfill their purpose in God’s divine plan.

  8. I find it interesting that these 144,000 are described as pure in a few different ways, adding more weight to their meaning. If “pure” only meant morally pure, sexually pure, or any one of the traits described, that would already be pretty impressive for us as humans to believe. But the fact that they fulfill many different types of purity and honor raises them to an even higher level of righteousness. Of course, this level of righteousness is something all believers hope to achieve and strive for everyday, but we’re humans and sinners and are constantly making mistakes along the way. These witnesses represent what we try to be. I also think it’s interesting to see some parallels between the 144,000 and a proper Old Testament sacrifice and the concept of “firstfruits”. Christ is also referred to as the firstfruits of men in 1 Corinthians 15 (vs. 20 and 23). I don’t think it’s an accident when this exact term is used for both Christ and the 144,000. It seems like the witnesses are being painted in some ways like Christ, being a pure sacrifice for God.

  9. The 144,000 has had a variety of different views as Professor Long has indicated. Not only do different denominations differ in their view of exactly what the 144,000 is referring to, but even other those outside of Christianity have views they affect their religious and eschatological views affected because of it.
    The best, and most well-known example is that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their view of the 144,000. Interestingly enough, there are two camps that the members of this religion fall into. The first is more conservative focusing on the fact that “they follow the Lamb wherever he goes”. They argue that in this reasoning that only the 144,000 most loyal members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are saved. This reasoning, although with rather abusive use of Hebrews 4 to justify the fact that only 144,000 are saved. The second view centers around the idea that the 144,000 are the most honorable of all the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is rather a simple reasoning due to the qualifications that John lists in verse 4.
    Overall, it is interesting to see that other religions use the 144,000 as a key aspect of their belief system. Remembering that it is not true in any way is important because that belief should not be allowed to skew the beliefs of a true believer. However, it gives insight as to the significance of the passages discussing the 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14. It should encourage us that the Lord has shown this to us as a reminder of the plans he has for the future of believers.

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