Only the Lamb and His 144,000 (vv. 1-3)
The Lamb Stands on the Rock; the Beast on Sand
How can the little church of Christ possibly overcome the satanic beast of the Roman Empire? The contest is like David against 10,000 Goliaths. Nevertheless, the Lamb and his church will overcome, for the Lord Jesus fights for his bride! We remain in the extended interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The blowing of the seventh trumpet will signal the end of the old Jewish church and temple. How will the Lord protect his church during these seismic shifts? Not only did the Jewish leaders in Palestine and throughout the Roman Empire persecute the Lamb’s followers, but John has also seen the church’s second enemy, pictured as a beast rising out of the sea of sin’s chaos. The Roman Empire, inspired by the dragon, Satan, was a monster beyond human reckoning – but, nevertheless, standing on the sand (12:18-13:1). Not as strong as we would think, if we would fear God more and man less. What have we to hear from worms when the living God dwells with us and fights for us!
John sees something else – a Lamb on Mount Zion, and with him his 144,000. These are the same 144,000 as in chapter 7 – the faithful Jewish church in the first century that embraced Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. They were in imminent peril. Satan sought to destroy the infant church, but he cannot. The Lamb stands symbolically on Mount Zion, the temple mount. He has gathered from the unbelieving, harlot city his faithful remnant, and he stands with them against the apostate majority. The first century Jewish believers will overcome the beast because the Lord Jesus stands with them. Those who rejected their Lord have his blood upon their heads, and they will answer for it when the Lamb removes himself and his church from the condemned city, hiding them in the wilderness until those troubles are past (12:14).
The imagery is vivid and encouraging. The beast is ferocious, and he is given authority to make war against the saints for a time. Humanly speaking, there is no way the church can survive – except for one detail that Satan in his pride overlooks and despises. The church is in a living union with her Lord Jesus Christ. He stands on the immovable rock of his victory over sin and death, crowned now with glory and honor. His young church stood with him on the rock. Satan and his beast stand on sinking sand, but the Lamb stands on the rock of God’s word and covenant, his presence and power.
His People Have God’s Name on Their Foreheads
How can the Spirit speak so confidently of the 144,000? They have no protection – except for one thing – “God’s name is written upon their foreheads.” The beast and his followers have blasphemy written upon their foreheads (13:1). They hate God’s word and name. They love this life and its fleeting pleasures. They will fall, for there is no future in blasphemy. But the Lamb’s followers – they have God’s name. They have a new heart that loves God’s word and thoughts that are being “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Rom. 13:2). They know and do God’s will (Matt. 12:50). They may suffer for a while (1 Pet. 5:10), but they are reconciled to God himself, the Father’s children, the blood-bought of the Lamb, the sealed of the Spirit. They cannot be overcome. They will overcome the beast.
To overcome is not to build earthly kingdoms in the sand, for even the best kingdoms of men must eventually fall into decay and ruin. To overcome includes the next life also, and it is the main life. This life is heaven’s entrance exams – who will believe in Jesus Christ and be marked by God’s word? They will endure forever. Who will give the Lord Jesus half a heart, or no heart at all, or try to love him and the world? They have no future. If you are unconverted, if you have no living faith in the living Jesus Christ, no love for God’s word, and no commitment to follow the Lamb, you should be seriously alarmed. You are standing on sand, and the sand will give way. You can build the most beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the ocean, but a little shift will bring the whole careening down to ruin. Much more importantly your life will be utterly lost and forever ruined if you have your name on your forehead, the name of the world’s loves. Consider seriously the title of your life, the name you love. Is it God’s word or man’s? Self or the Savior? For whom or what do you live? This is the name on your forehead, whatever your creed may say or your tongue confess.
Heaven Rejoices! The Church Sings!
The Lamb and his faithful remnant are on Mount Zion, standing in the fire of the dragon’s wrath, but John is given the heavenly perspective – singing! Rejoicing! A voice like many waters and great thunder – majestic and powerful – our Lord’s victory voice, the trumpet blowing on the battlefield, summoning all his people (1:10,15). Heaven responds to his voice with “harpers harping” and a new song of praise and victory. The angels and the church victorious rejoice over the church militant, calling her to look up and see her salvation, her Savior. None but the redeemed can learn this new sung of salvation accomplished and applied, of Christ Jesus with us, of the joy of being counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. Who can sing the songs of Zion unless they are citizens of Zion? Can we sing in the midst of pain and suffering? Do we by faith hear the voice of the Lamb speaking in his word and the triumphant singing of the heavenly multitudes, cheering us on by their praises? To fight faithfully on earth, to calm our hearts and our nerves, and to persevere through our pain and afflictions, we must sing the new song of the Lamb. “Rejoice evermore” (1 Thess. 5:16)!
The Lamb’s Holy, Overcoming Army (vv. 4-5)
Undefiled: Christ’s Chaste Virgins (v. 4)
In the kingdom of God and the powerful reign of his Christ, character is king. Who will overcome the beast? The godly. Men scoff at holiness. It is really Satan scoffing uneasily – if only he can convince men that holiness is not that important, that they can have Christ and keep their sins, all will be well. Perhaps they will never read Hebrews 12:14: “Without holiness, no man will see the Lord.” Or, if they read it, they will dismiss it as opposing free grace instead of understanding it as marking out true grace (Tit. 2:11-12). What is emphasized about these 144,000 is that they are pure and married to Jesus Christ alone. “Undefiled with women” is a symbolic way of saying that they are “Christ pure virgins” (2 Cor. 11:2). The Bible does not uphold lifelong celibacy as a superior way of life. “Forbidding to marry” is a doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). The language “undefiled with women” reflects the marriage covenant. The Lamb’s followers are married to him. They do not fornicate with the beast. They do not fornicate in life, for whatever their fallen hearts may whisper, they have a ring upon their finger – the Lord Jesus Christ and his Spirit of holiness. They are engaged to be his alone. To live impurely in life, to listen to the beast encourage transvestism, lesbianism, and sodomy, is to commit adultery against Jesus Christ. We have become careless about sex and about our bodies because we are careless in our marriage to Jesus Christ. Do not think you can be married comfortably to him and give your love to all comers. He will have you for himself alone – body and soul – to be his pure and holy bride.
Consecrated: Follow the Lamb (v. 4)
We cannot love the world and follow Jesus Christ. As a further description of these 144,000, they took seriously his call to “come after me” (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:27). To follow the Lamb is to receive and submit to him as our Lord. To follow the Lamb is to seek to please him and to live in his fellowship. To follow the Lamb is to trust him so that we can obey him. “Wherever he goes” reminds us that he may lead into the dragon’s den, into the hottest fires of earthly affliction and persecution. But we have his promise that “when he leads his own sheep out, he goes before them” (John 10:4) and, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). It is remarkable that we often miss something so obvious and fundamental when it comes to being a Christian or wondering how we should live in the world, who our friends should be, how we should spend our time. Each of these comes down to this: are we following the Lamb? We should not call ourselves his friends or disciples unless we are following him – out of the broad path of sin, into the narrow way of consecrated, joyful obedience. When we fall upon that path and scrape ourselves up on account of sin, let us crawl back to him. Even a touch from the hem of his garment will heal us, a drop of his precious blood applied to us by the Spirit will cleanse us from every sin, and one smile from him will renew and restore our souls.
Firstfruits: Of a Full Harvest Coming (v. 4)
“Firstfruits” is one of the reasons that this scene cannot be “end times,” as the futurists interpret it. The Jewish church in the first century, its perseverance through the dragon’s fires and the beast’s persecutions, is a firstfruits of the Lamb’s mighty church, Jew and Gentile, preserved through all the trials of faith. In the church of the first century, besieged and hounded by Satan, yet preserved and protected by the Lamb, the Father revealed what he will do and be toward his people in every age. It was also a pledge to do everywhere what he did there, among his original people. “The Gentiles will trust in his name” (Matt. 12:21). Thus, even as we are warned by the struggles of the first century church, we are also assured by their victory and the Lord’s preserving work. His church will never fail. The Lord Jesus is building his church, and the gates of hell will not be able to withstand its forward progress, growth, and godliness in this world – if she continues to stand with the Lamb and look to him, exalted at the Father’s right hand. The firstfruits guarantee a full harvest – the nations brought to Christ!
Truth: No Deceit, No Fault in God’s Eyes (v. 5)
Our Lord said, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). Our words reveal our heart (12:34). Followers of the Lamb speak truth – not self-deception, for they speak the truth in their heart. They live before the throne of God without guile or guilt – washed, reconciled, justified, and holy. In union with him, Christ’s bride does not lie to save her skin, for she “loves not her life unto death” (Rev. 12:11). She loves far better her life in Christ and everlasting life with Christ. Nothing temporary here is worth gaining at the risk of losing everything eternal there. It is not worldly wisdom, with its excuses and compromises that overcomes the beast, but to-the-death holiness in union with the Lamb. Satan cannot overturn the godly heart, the heart consecrated to Jesus Christ. It stands with the Lamb on Zion.
The Certainty of Our Victory in Jesus Christ
He stands immovable and exalted at God’s right hand.
We know few of the names of the glorious 144,000 soldiers of the cross. What is important about them is that they stood with Jesus Christ. The crisis they endured in the first century was the earthly fallout of Satan’s defeat in heaven and bitter descent to earth to make war against the Lamb’s Bride. They needed to understand that they would win. Circumstances did not suggest victory, however, but defeat. The Lord did not show them a blueprint of his secret counsels, but he showed them that his Son stood with them. He placed them in union with him, so that in his strength, they would overcome Satan’s dreadful beast of statism. And they did. They passed down the faith to us. The Lord’s message is the same to us. You stand with me, and you are standing on an immovable rock. My word cannot fail. It may look like it is failing, but this is only to test your faith. It may look like the kingdoms of the world will finally rise high enough to eclipse the kingdom and word of Jesus Christ, but this is only because we are living by sight, rather than by faith. There is nothing higher than Jesus Christ, for he reigns at God’s right hand. There is no kingdom, word, or weapon that can prevail against him, for he stands upon the impregnable rock of his Father’s covenant of grace. The highest tidal wave Satan can send smashing down upon it must crash and be dispersed – because the Lord Jesus Christ stands with us.
Man’s kingdoms set on sifting, sinking sand.
By faith, we understand why our nation is suffering death convulsions. We have abandoned the faith in Christ we once professed. We are suffering for the dishonor we are doing to him. Our nation will stand or fall based upon whether or not we embrace Jesus Christ as Lord. The more furiously men try to prop up their man-centered kingdom, the more it collapses. The bleaker the situation becomes. Thus, our nation is no longer robust by any standard because it has embraced Satan’s lies in every place. We are sick with a national cancer of unbelief and rebellion against Jesus Christ. He has already told us what happens when men build their lives upon man’s sandy word – their houses collapse. They cannot survive God’s storms of judgment. Men trust their lies to save them because they will not get on their faces in the sand and beg the God of mercy to save them. He would, but since they will not bow the knee to Christ, they will suffer ruin. Our Lord has said it, and his word must come to pass. The only survivors are those who build upon Christ the rock and his word (Matt. 7:27).
Holiness overcomes the beast of statism.
The most surprising truth of these verses is that holiness always overcomes the beast – not always guns, but always holiness; not always counter political institutions, but also holiness. Satan is not trying to build world empire as an end in itself. He hates God. He hates God’s Word. He hates God’s people. He hates Job’s piety. He mocks it. He cannot imagine that anyone would serve God just for the love of God, for nothing, self-disinterestedly, when their lives are collapsing on their heads. He would not do so. He did not. He hates any glory or position less than being God himself. And thus, all the battles today are not primarily about conservatism and progressivism, or republicanism and socialism. The conflict is the same as from Genesis 3:15: God lovers versus God haters. Christ submitters versus Christ rebellers. Holiness versus sin. Light versus darkness. Christ versus Satan. Light, truth, holiness, and faith seek one kind of eternal kingdom and earthly existence; darkness, lies, sin, and unbelief seek a very different kingdom and existence. This is one reason that conservatism has so easily deceived the church. It is really in the fold of Satan, for it will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ. It wants less evil and slower evil, but it will not confess that its supposed better values find their source in God and his Christ. It still worships man and the beast of statism.
And in this life, personal holiness for the believer and corporate holiness for the church are the most important issues of life. “Without holiness, no man will see the Lord.” “Be you therefore holy, as your Father in heaven is holy.” Holiness means, to use the specifics of our text, that we must not dance for the devil by immorality, lustful and immodest postings on social media, and being Satan’s little harlots – men or women. We are Christ’s pure virgins, and our marriage with him must define everything for us. Does this dress honor my husband – Jesus Christ? Does this picture I take of myself? This relationship I am considering? Is this spiritual adultery against the Lord Jesus or is it keeping my wedding vow to him? Impurity invades the church when the love of Christ grows cold – when we no longer think in terms of being his pure virgins. Satan is looking to violate you, child of God, with his pleasant offerings of secret impurity and private gratifications, but remember that your husband, Jesus Christ, knows and sees all. He desires your beauty for himself alone. Some of you will not give yourself to Christ because at some deep level you know this. You are unwilling to accept his wedding invitation to be his wife, for you will not repent of your sins and believe. You will not surrender to his love and his claims upon your affections. I urge you to come to him. He may not renew his offer after today.
Marriages suffer because spouses forget to live together as heirs of the grace of life, or their hearts grow cold toward one another. The same is true in our marriage with Jesus Christ. We must keep following him. The Christian’s life is a daily pursuit of the Lord Jesus – to be like him, to enjoy his fellowship, to do his will, to please him, to seek his strength, to honor and confess him. Jesus Christ is the colossus in the Christian’s life. He is our supreme love and Lord. Should he whisper in our ear that he is about to bring us home to heaven, we would willingly leave the most important task, the most absorbing pursuit, and the most cherished relations instantly. To the Christian man and woman, nothing is better than to depart and be with Christ. And therefore, whether we linger here or are removed to heaven today, we desire to be acceptable to him (2 Cor. 5:9).
Statism is the claim of human busy-bodies masquerading as legitimate government to control everyone’s life and to remake the world in the image of man. Its power lies in threats, lethal force, and legal penalties. Who is able to overcome these threats, look the beast in the eye without blinking and continue to worship the Lord when the beast demands allegiance to itself? Satan can howl, but he can do nothing against consecration to Jesus Christ. He cannot make us disobey God or dishonor Christ. The most dangerous people in the world to him are the Lamb’s followers. We have fallen upon the gospel sword and see our true state before God without Christ. We must hold fast to Christ. We are weak and must keep ourselves in the love of God and be strong in him. We stand only in him. In ourselves, we have no strength and will only fall. In union with Jesus Christ, we cannot be overcome.