THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 26
VIEWING THE OVERCOMERS
"Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount
Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written
on their foreheads. 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. 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." (Revelation 14:1-5, NKJV)
The deep love of Jesus for His church is confirmed in this remarkable book. You will recall it is written, "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" (Eph 5:25). Again, we read, "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor" (Eph 5:2).
His great love, however, did not end when He gave Himself for the church, submitting to the curse of God, the ravages of the devil, and the rejection of men. That love continues in His care and feeding of the church. He "nourishes" as well as "cherishes" the body of the redeemed (Eph 5:29). With a consistency faith can grasp, the Lord is ensuring the faithful are both nourished and stabilized. Their only hope of survival is found in spiritual "health and healing" (Jer 33:6).
Never is Christ's loving care of the church more evident than when he teaches them, unveiling things pertaining to life and godliness. Our Lord desires for His people to be close enough to Him to hear His words of guidance. Even His stern admonitions, as with the flawed churches (2:5,16,22; 3:3,16), were a Divine effort to bring the wayward back to the place where He could speak comfortably to them. God's people are not to be as the "horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, Else they will not come near you" (Psa 32:9).
The Lord will, and prefers to, guide His people with His eye (Psa 32:8). He is bringing them to glory (Heb 2:10), but requires their attention to do so.
The book of Revelation is best understood from this perspective. With tender care, He is bringing the sons to glory. The process involves informing them of their adversary and his cunning attempt to lure them from the place of nourishment. If they are not knowledgeable of Satan's devices, they will surely be snared by them.
Jesus has opened to us the devil's attempt to seduce the saints by a powerless form of religion. With great solemnity, He has shown us that power is granted to the devil to do this because of the failure of the professed church to take hold on the truth. "Strong delusion" (that is, delusion that overcomes all but those who are dominated by faith) is inevitable where the heart is lulled to sleep. It is remarkable how very few professing Christians are persuaded of this. They appear to approach, what is nominally called the Christian life, as though commitment and consistency were not even required. Such people neglect their souls, refusing to eat the bread of life and drink the water of life. They are, however, deluded in this matter. The present ministry of Jesus is absolutely essential to the salvation of His elect. If those who purport to be His disciples do not hear Him now, they will not dwell with Him then.THE CENTRALITY OF THE LAMB
"Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion . . . " Throughout this book, "the Lamb" is central. We must not allow our vision to be distracted from "the Lamb" to lesser considerations. While some have chosen to focus their attention on the tribulation, or the mark of the beast, or some other aspect of the good fight of faith, heaven has focused upon the Lamb. He, and He alone, is the object of their attention. We do well to make Him the center of our concentration as well.
Speaking to the Churches
The first three chapters of this book were devoted to an assessment of the churches. It was no novel or casual appraisal, but one which summoned believers into fellowship with the Lamb. Dwelling at a distance from Him, there is no hope of surviving the onslaught of the wicked one.
Thus Jesus works in power to convince those who are distant from Him of the unacceptableness of their condition. He warns them to repent or suffer the consequences of exclusion from the book of life. He will not overlook piety without love, or the godless toleration of false doctrine that pulls men into the flesh. Nor, indeed, will He allow for a lukewarm condition where those professing His name are neither hot nor cold. Such conditions are completely at variance with salvation, and must be abandoned forthrightly and quickly.
On the other hand, those who are fighting a good fight, yet whose strength is dissipated, are encouraged to hold on. They are promised strength, and an open door. With passion, the Savior informs such that He is with them, knows them, and will provide for them. He holds out to them promises that are a challenge to the most disciplined spiritual thinker. Hear Him speak of a reign, of being given power, made a pillar in God's temple, and going no more out. What marvelous incentives the Lamb holds out to his people.
But if you take away the matter of salvation, these words have little or no weight. They are nothing more than law which brings an even greater burden to the saints. Those who take this book and spend their time telling us of a ruthless political ruler, times of economic scarcity, and the oppression of those excluded from the mythical rapture, have betrayed their stunted view of salvation. They have allowed the flood of Satan to wash away a clear view of "the Lamb." Remember, "the Lamb" has to do exclusively with redemption-its initiation and conclusion.
The Lamb and Redemption
The "four living creatures" and the "twenty four elders" fall down and worship the Lamb (Rev 5:8)-but it is the church that He loves and nourishes! "The Lamb" has no immediate relevancy for angelic hosts. That is a reference to his capacity as the Savior of mankind. He was not sacrificed for angels-even arch angels, or cherubim or seraphim. He was "slain" for men, and has received "power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" for them (5;12). "The wrath of the Lamb" is particularly directed toward those who have rejected His great salvation (6:16; 14:10). The blood that saves is the "blood of the Lamb" (7:14). The book in which the names of the saved are written is "the book of life of the Lamb" (13:8). The most significant marriage is "the marriage of the Lamb" (19:7). The most extensive banquet is the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9).
All of this is to affirm that "the Lamb" is a consideration of the Son in His redemptive capacity. Until the heavens and earth pass away, heaven is preoccupied with getting the sons of God to glory. All of the resources of heaven have been marshaled for this work. They do not work for the political stabilization of a favored nation. Nor, indeed, are they devoted to the development of domestic and economic excellence. Whatever value may be attached to these things, it is but a weightless mote on the balances of eternity.
Salvation is not Secondary
A nation is not the heart of Revelation, but the Lamb. A blessed condition for the saints in this world is certainly not the emphasis, but the Lamb. That means salvation-which is the sole reason for the existence of the Lamb-is everything. It is no more secondary than the Lamb, but lies at the very heart of all Divine involvements with humanity.
Salvation refers to the whole work initiated, and to be completed, by "the Lamb." Experientially, it begins with remission. However, it consummates in glory. The whole of that process is called "salvation," and it is "ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet 1:5). Salvation is not completed until those who are "justified" are "glorified" (Rom 8:29). The sons-all of them-are being brought "to glory" by the Lamb (Heb 2:10). Until that mission is accomplished, no mortal can assume safety, or conclude they are out of danger. Such notions are imaginations, and foolish ones at that.
Jesus Has Revealed the Warfare
Jesus has shown John the intensity with which Satan seeks to thwart the salvation of the church. He cares nothing for the blind and misguided of the world, who are already within his grasp. He works in them at will (2 Tim 2:26), so has no special initiative to delude them. But the saints are another matter. They have been given wings to escape his ferocity, and wing their way to a place of nourishment. With an aggression that dwarfs any effort of humanity, he seeks to lure them from their place of feeding. His attacks are not only ruthless, but shrewd and cunning.
THE STANDING LAMB
John looks, peering, as it were, into the ages to come. He sees the Lamb "standing on Mount Zion." Normally, we think of Jesus as sitting. He has, after all, been made to "sit" on the right hand of God (Heb 1:3,13; 10:12). The seated position denotes one of rule and reign-i.e., seated upon the throne (5:7).
Lest we be tempted to think inactivity is associated with His redemptive reign, the Lamb is seen standing. Our briefing on the present reign of Jesus was introduced in the fifth chapter. "In the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth" (5.6). Our Savior is presiding over the Kingdom, reigning until his enemies are "made His footstool" (Heb 10:13).
Mind you, John has just beheld two beasts. Both of them were animated by Satan himself, and attacked the saints relentlessly. But John does not allow his vision to remain upon the beasts. He looks toward Mount Zion-the redemptive mountain. How will the battle conclude? What will be the outcome of the initiative of these beasts against the saints? Remember, no matter what the circumstance, or how grievous the plight, LOOK TO JESUS! That is the secret to overcoming. As it is written, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb 12:1-2).
John is not disappointed when he looks. "And lo, a Lamb stood on Mount Zion." Satan's initiative had not changed anything in the heavenly places! The only realm in which he can bring results is "the earth." The NIV reads, "there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion." This was more Jesus showing Himself to John than John's vision penetrating the heavenly realms. The Lord Jesus is confirming to John that all is well, and will end well, for those who "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus."
In Scripture, beholding Jesus is equated with saving faith. It describes the experience of being dominated by the insightful consideration of the Son of God. Looking to Jesus does not speak of a casual glance, or an afterthought. Rather, it speaks of focus and profound contemplation. After all, the knowledge or comprehension of the glory of God is seen "in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Too, it is in that vision that we are transformed into Christ's likeness, from one stage of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18).
What is the significance of "Mount Zion?" First, this is where we have been brought in Christ Jesus. As it is written, "you have come to Mount Zion" (Heb 12:22). This is the place where God dwells (Psa 9:11; 76:2; Joel 3:21). It is the hub of heavenly enterprise-a term that describes Divine activity in the behalf of the saved.
Here, in Mount Zion, is where the "Corner Stone" has been placed. As it is written, "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isa 28:16; 1 Pet 2:6). This is another way of saying "heavenly places," where Jesus has been raised, and where believers have been made to sit (Eph 1:20; 2:6).
The resurrection and enthronement of Jesus was prophesied by David in these words, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psa 2:6). This is the realm of triumph and victory-being where the Lamb is. If people will, by faith, dwell with Christ, they will surely overcome the devil and all of his machinations. If they persistently remain "with Christ," where they were raised in regeneration (Rom 6:8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:20; 3:1,3), the victory will be their's! There is no way Satan can prevail over those abiding in Christ (John 15:4,7; 1 John 2:27-28).
The point here is that Jesus remains in the heavenly places-Mount Zion. Our identity with Him involves remaining there ourselves, having our affection set on things above (Col 3:1-3). When we seek the things that are "above" we are coming to Jesus.
Just as Jerusalem of old was called "Zion" (1 Kgs 8:1), so the Jerusalem with which we are associated is now Zion, and is the "mother of us all" (Gal 4:26). We began our new life by being placed there. It is out business to stay there. All of the grace required to do this is supplied in Him.THE 144,000
" . . . and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads." We have already been introduced to this multitude. Before destroying forces were loosed upon the earth, a word went out from the throne. "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed" (Rev 7:3-4). Now we will see the outcome of that sealing.
This is the redeemed of the Lord who have come from among the ancient people. When we were introduced to them in chapter seven, a time of severe trial was at hand. Now we see them in a gloriously triumphant stance. Theirposition is a tribute to the faithfulness of God.
Nowhere is the Gentile church referred to under the heading "all the tribes of the children of Israel." Nowhere is it called "the twelve tribes of the children of Israel" (Rev 21:12). Those who insist this section of Revelation, as well as the seventh chapter, are referring to the redeemed of all ages, without reference to the Jews, are in great error. Imagining they have been summarily cut off, and excluded from the promises, such sophists insist on spiritualizing this text (although they are surely unspiritual in doing so). The notion that God has finished with the Jews betrays a condition of spiritual blindness that is inexcusable.
The Lord has gone out of His way, so to speak, to identify the 144,000. With remarkable clarity, He identifies them with the twelve tribes of Israel: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (Rev 7:5-9). Where is such a reference made to the non-Jewish church, or the body of Christ in general?
The Whole House of Israel
This is nothing less than the "whole house of Israel" (Ezek 37:11; 39:25). This expression is not a way of saying every single person. Rather, it is a Divine way of saying the majority at a given point in time. Thus God spoke to Ezekiel in this manner. "all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted" (Ezek 3:7). He did not mean every single person was this way. Ezekiel himself was not. Later, God would require the sealing of a number of people that also were not this way (Ezek 9:4-6).
Remember, Israel remains a covenanted people-many theologians notwithstanding. The Spirit affirms their present stubbornness as a people (2 Cor 3:14-16). Such recognition would not be possible if they were not still viewed in the aggregate by God.
Partially Blind-For a Time
Too, Paul reasoned concerning their present blindness, affirming it to be temporary. "For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11:25). There is a time coming when "the full number of the Gentiles" will be reached. That occasion is a line of demarcation, at which the partial blindness of Israel will cease.
All Israel Will Be Saved
"And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom 11:26). While the term "all Israel" includes all saints, when viewed as those possessing faith (Rom 9:6), the focus of this text is the Jewish portion of that body. We know this is the case, for Jesus ("the Deliverer") will ultimately "turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (a term never applied to the church in general). We are seeing the result of that work in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation.
A Divine Commitment
"For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins" (Rom 11:27). God Himself testifies in this matter. He will not allow us to denigrate His purpose, His Son, and His people by imagining He is finished with them. He never made a covenant with the Gentiles to take away their sins! The new covenant is clearly said to be "a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jer 31:31). The Spirit affirms in Hebrews 8:8-13) that this is the very covenant currently being administered by the exalted Christ.
God's covenant has not yet been fulfilled toward them-but it shall be! Isaiah is the prophet Paul quotes in the eleventh chapter of Romans. The Spirit spoke resolutely through him. "The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, Says the LORD. As for Me, says the LORD, this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants' descendants, says the LORD, from this time and forevermore" (Isa 59:20-21, NKJV).
Taking up this prophecy, and speaking through the Spirit, Paul; affirms the Redeemer will not only "come to Zion," but will "banish ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom 11:26, RSV), and "remove ungodliness from Jacob" (NASB. This is a Divine covenant with Israel. Who is the person who will dare to affirm it is no longer applicable!
"Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" (Rom 11:28). The Spirit takes this matter even further. It is as though the Lord will not allow us to imagine untruth on this subject. It is true that, at this time, they are "enemies." But that is only so the Gospel can be brought to the us Gentiles. However, when it comes to the matter of "election"-Divine choice-they remain "beloved" because of the fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). God is still known as "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Matt 22:32; Lk 13:28; Acts 3:13; 7:32).
The Divine Nature
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). The Spirit clinches the matter by affirming the irreversibility of God's benefactions and summons. Admittedly, He is speaking on a high plain. We do well, however, to learn to navigate in these realms, leaving the lower climes of human reasoning. The Lord will give us "hinds feet" to negotiate these towering peaks of Divine affirmation (2 Sam 22:34; Psa 18:33; Hab 3:19).
WHY THE 144,000?
Knowing that this message is to the churches, why is reference made to the 144,000? Why is a connection made with "the tribes of the children of Israel" within the context of God's great salvation? There is a reason.
Every book of Scripture has been written with the entirety of Divine purpose in mind. This is involved in "all Scripture" being given by the "inspiration of God" (2 Tim 3:16-17). Not only is the message itself of Divine origin, but the backdrop against which the message is to be seen is also inspired.
Salvation Is of the Jews
When it comes to salvation, Jesus spoke clearly: "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Jesus Himself came from this chosen people (Gen 49:10; Rom 9:5; Heb 7:14). The Jews themselves were the custodians of all of the preparations for salvation (Rom 9:4-5). From them salvation would be brought to the entire world-and that by Divine design. The promises were made to the Jews. The Savior made His entrance into the world from them. The Gospel was preached for the first time to both Jew and Gentile by them. Truly, "Salvation is of the Jews."
The Jews Bear Us
Gentiles believers are wild olive branches, grafted into, and supported by, the Jewish tree. The Holy Spirit would have us learn this lesson well. "And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you" (Rom 11:17-18).
The glorious benefits we receive in Christ Jesus belong to Israel by promise. The "root and fatness" of their tree still remains, nourishing those who are in Jesus. There persists a richness in that ancient "root" that is not to be contradicted.
Let it be clear that "God is able to graft them in again" (Rom 11:23). Of course, that would be an absurd statement to make, had all hope for them been removed. What we are seeing in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation is their engrafting into their own blessed olive tree.
The Covenant Made with Them
The New Covenant was promised to, and has been made
with, the house of Israel. That is the express statement of Scripture. First, it is
affirmed that the "covenants" pertained, or applied, to them (Rom 9:4).
Second, looking forward to the New Covenant, the Lord promised, "a new covenant
with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah" (Jer 31:31; Heb 8:8).
Notice, the promised covenant was to both Israel and Judah-all the posterity of Abraham.
Their kingdom was divided at the time of Rehoboam, successor to Solomon, and third king of
Israel. Yet, part of the benefit of the New Covenant would be realized in making the
people one again.
Although the Jews rejected Christ, the promises still remained in tact. They are, to be sure, only realized in Christ Jesus.
Salvation for the world inducted and expanded by them
With arresting language, the Holy Spirit opens to our understanding the role of Israel in the salvation of the world. The Gospel was first preached by the Jews, and the last great ingathering will be accomplished through them. "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles" (Rom 11:11).
A vivid description of the offering of salvation to the Gentiles, and the effect of that offer, is provided in the thirteenth chapter of Acts. "But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.' Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:45-48).
There the principle declared in Romans 11:11 is lived out. The Gentiles were provoked to jealousy by the glorious good news declared to the Jews. When the Jews rejected the message, it was declared to the Gentiles, much to their joy.
Their Fall brought Riches-Their fullness will bring much more
Hear the Spirit as He takes this matter further. "Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!" (Rom 11:12). Remember, this is the Divine manner of both purpose and thought. If, when the Jews "fell," stumbling over the Stone, what will happen when they rise again? If their "failure" brought riches, what will their reinstatement bring?
When Scripture speaks of Israel's "fulness" it means their "full inclusion" (RSV) or "fulfillment" (NASB). If the impact of salvation was great among the Gentiles when Israel rejected it, it will be "much more" when they embrace it.
When They Were Cast Away, the World Was Reconciled-When They Are Accepted, There Will be Life From the Dead
"For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom 11:15). Remember, the entire nation of Israel was not "cast away." Rather, it was "some of the branches" (Verse 17). Yet, even in the casting away of "some of the branches," the reconciliation of the world was accomplished. Who but God can do such wondrous things?
Greater Results to Come
Now, the Spirit reasons their "acceptance" will produce even greater results. When He says "life from the dead," the Spirit refers to a spiritual awakening-a resurrection to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). It is a vibrant identity with Christ Jesus in the heavenly places-and it will come through the acceptance of the Jews-the re-grafting of them into their own olive tree.
If their "acceptance" were an impossibility-or even if it were a mere possibility-such lofty reasoning would be out of order. These words are an appeal to our faith, and are rooted in the very nature of God. They reflect His eternal purpose.
The Gentiles Obtained Mercy When Disobedient-So Will the Jews
"For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all" (Rom 11:30-32). We are trafficking in lofty realms! The very mind of the Lord is being articulated, and we do well to receive it by faith. We Gentiles obtained mercy "through" the "disobedience" of the Jews. What appeared to be an overthrow of Divine objective occasioned the opening of salvation to the world! Here is another sense in which "Salvation is of the Jews!"
A Marvelous Consideration
Now the Spirit elevates our thinking to rarified climes. The Jews who "have now been disobedient" will obtain mercy "through the mercy" that has been shown to the Gentiles. In other words, they will be provoked to jealousy, as it is written (Deut 32:21; Rom 10:19; 11:11).
The Divine intent is then proclaimed, and it is marvelous in our eyes. "For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all." Rather than speculate about this extraordinary expression, we must join with Paul in exclaiming the profoundness of the Lord's wisdom, knowledge, judgment, and ways (Rom 11:33).
All have fallen into sin. All have become disobedient. Salvation is only by the mercy of God. Woe to the individual who adopts a theology that excludes the Jews from that mercy-particularly since the Spirit has gone to great lengths to trace our salvation back to them.
BUT WHAT HAS THIS TO DO WITH THE 144,000?
The text before us is one of triumph, where the redeemed are seen in clear affiliation with the Lamb. Why are the people specified as the 144,000, who have already been identified as individuals "from all the tribes of Israel?" Surely, the following blessings are not for the Jews alone! (1) Standing with the Lamb, (2) having the Father's name written on the forehead, (3) singing a new song, (4) being undefiled, (5) following the Lamb, (6) being redeemed, (7) being firstfruits to God and the Lamb, (8) having no guile, and (9) standing faultless before the throne.
It is true, these are experienced by all that are born again. There is, however a specific message that is being conveyed by this text. It can be seen from two different perspectives.
The Olive Tree
First, the 144,000 are mentioned because they represent the olive tree into which we Gentiles have been grafted. It is their root that carries us, and not ours that carries them. As it is written, "remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you" (Rom 11:18). Thus we see the ancient people, with whom the New Covenant was made, together with all that have come into that covenant through Jesus. In this case, the part (Jews) stand for the whole (all of the redeemed).
A Precursor to Revival
Our introduction to the conversion of Israel was in the seventh chapter. Following their sealing, a great multitude which no man could number was seen. They were from "all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues" (7:9), and stood before the Lamb. The turning of Israel, therefore, is seen as inducting a great harvest of souls. This coincides with the Spirit's depiction of global awakening at the turning of ungodliness away from Jacob (Rom 11:12,15).
In a most glorious depiction of this, Isaiah wrote of a time when God's light would rise upon Israel. The result is declared, and is glorious. "But the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you" (Isa 60:2-6).
I am careful to say those in Christ Jesus have already tasted of this benefit. But it shall yet occur on a larger scale than men have dared to imagine. Because I have dealt with this subject extensively in previous lessons, I will not go further with it. A few cursory remarks will suffice.
That this is, in fact, what is being shown in this chapter is confirmed by verses 6-20. There is a rapid spread of the "everlasting Gospel," a collapse of the religious imposter, Babylon the great, followed by the harvesting of the earth.
The knowledge of the Lord will, indeed, cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14). That effective Gospel initiative will, as I understand it, follow the turning of ungodliness from Jacob.
Having His Father's Name Written in Their Foreheads
This is where the Jewish remnant had been "sealed" (7:3). When the "bottomless pit" was opened, only those with "the seal of God in their foreheads" were spared (9:4). The language is a symbolic way of saying "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). It is another way of saying, "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,' and "all shall know me, from the least to the greatest" (Heb 8:10-11).
The Father's name written in the forehead also symbolizes the blessing of the New Covenant, as described in the following words, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Heb 8:10). This is a condition where the individual possesses "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16), and is transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2). Although the reality of this experience is debated among Bible students, those who dwell "in the secret place of the Most High" (Psa 91:1), know it to be a reality.
Like all that come into Christ, these do not merely have the mark of Satan removed. They also have the mark of the Father inscribed. They not only cease to be like the devil and do his will, they begin to be like God and do His will. This is transformation or regeneration, and it is the unique thing about the New Covenant.
When we see a body of people "with the Lamb" on "Mount Zion," with the name of Christ's Father written in their "forehead," we are witnessing the effects of "receiving the atonement," or reconciliation (Rom 5:11). This is regeneration, and there is no salvation without it! It is what is glaringly absent in the nominal church, thereby betraying its dead condition. It is not possible to be saved without being with the Lamb, in Mount Zion, with His Father's name written upon our foreheads. Our text confirms Israel will also be brought into that blessed state. We should not think this too difficult for God to accomplish. After all, He did make us, who were not a people, the people of God, and the sheep of His pasture.
A Brief Summary
Amidst the resurrection of Satan's power in religious apostasy-when two malicious beasts are assaulting the people of God under the empowerment of the devil-Israel is turned to the Lord! Hallelujah for such a marvelous work! My heart fairly shouts, "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest Thou?" (Dan 4:35).
The faith of the saints is anchored in their God. They must hear of the triumph of His purpose, even under seemingly impossible circumstances. God, Who made a commitment to Israel, will not fail to fulfill it. Neither, indeed, will He fail in His promise to all who have "received" His Son (John 1:12). You have good reason to put your trust in the Lord!
Millenniums may come and go, and centuries waft along until men forget what God has promised. But the Word of God will not fail! If God did not let any of Samuel's words "fall to the ground" (1 Sam 3:19), what of His own words-His own precious promises? When the Lord of hosts "purposes," no one can "annul" it. When His hand stretches out to do a thing, no one can "turn it back" (Isa 14:27). It is ever true, "The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations" (Psa 33:11).
This truth is confirmed in John's vision of the 144,000 standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion. It depicts the fulfillment of God's covenant with them. He promised to take away their sin, and He will do it (Rom 11:27). Now, a suffering saint can trust in a God like that, and hold on his way.
"And I heard a voice from heaven . . . " Once again, our attention is drawn away from the spectacle upon the earth to the heavens which "do rule" (Dan 4:26). It is not as important to know what is happening, or will happen, upon the earth as it is to know the effect of those things in heavenly realms. Throughout this book, the Lord develops our consciousness of heaven. We are made aware of heavenly personalities, both from angelic orders and the redeemed from the earth. Our hearts are sensitized to God, and to the Lamb of God. Everything is considered from this perspective.
We are never asked to view things as men, or to consider them from an earthly point of view. If we see Jesus, it is from a heavenly perspective-we see the glorified Christ. If we see the martyrs, it is from heaven's view-under the altar. When we are given to see our opponents, they are seen through heaven's eyes-a dragon, a beast from the earth, and a beast from the sea. God's people must master this way of seeing things.
Thank God for the "voice from heaven." It means heaven is opened, and are not "shut" as they have been during lengthy periods of human history (1 Sam 3:1; 2 Chron 15:3; Psa 74:9; Amos 8:11-12). The triumph of the Lamb has opened the heavens to humanity!
Like the Voice of Many Waters
" . . . like the voice of many waters . . . " In the first chapter, we were introduced to the glorified Christ, whose voice is described "as the sound of many waters" (Rev 1:15). The thrust of the passage before us indicates the voice of the glorified Christ alone is not the point. Remember, we have seen the Lamb on Mount Zion together WITH a vast number having His Father's name upon their foreheads. I gather this "voice" comes from the redeemed multitude.
A Spiritual Picture
There is a spiritual picture painted here that is worthy of mention. In the sense of this text, I believe, "waters" speaks of "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," as in Revelation 17:5). It is the same kind of "voice" described in Revelation 19:6: "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." This is the voice of the saved, speaking in concert with the Lamb Who delivered them, turning away ungodliness from them.
A picture is seen, then, of a multitude delivered from a multitude; of a remnant saved from a mass. It is like Jesus coming out of Nazareth, and Daniel surfacing in Babylon. It reminds us of Peter, James, and John coming out of Galilee, and Lot coming out of Sodom. It stirs recollections of Saul coming from Tarsus, and the eunuch being delivered from Ethiopia.
A voice is heard from a vast throng that has come from the very realm dominated by Satan-where false religion and spiritual tyranny reigns seemingly uncontested. God, through His great power, and in strict accord with His eternal purpose, brought about a great spiritual resurrection. It was an awakening of unparalleled proportion, among a people who appeared to be hopeless.
Like the Voice of Loud Thunder
" . . . and like the voice of loud thunder . . . " Again, in this book, we have heard of a voice like thunder before (4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 19:6). Always, it has been in response to the corruptions of the earth, and in direct relation to redemption. The Divne agenda is seen throughout this book.
In this text, we are hearing a heavenly response to the ruthless reign of the beasts. It is the voice of brands that have been plucked out of the fire (Zech 3:2), and a multitude that have had ungodliness turned from them.
The strongest protest against corruption is regeneration-standing with the Lamb of God on Mount Zion. No stronger statement can be made against religious debauchery than to "come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Cor 6:17). Such separation is like a thunderous voice from heaven, uttered in harmony with the delivering Lamb, Who is enthroned in heaven. Sin and delusion are never more thoroughly exposed than when a person is saved "by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." Great glory is brought to God by those who "gladly receive the Word," abandoning the ways of the world, and fleeing for refuge to Jesus. Like Noah, in obedience, they condemn the world.HARPING HARPISTS
" And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps." The group before us has already been identified as "the whole house of Israel" (7:4-8). According to the Divine promise, the Deliver has come out of Zion, turning away ungodliness from them (Rom 11:25-26). Now they are with Him, rather then rejecting Him and being aligned against Him.
A Marvelous Work
We are beholding a marvelous work, indeed! It seems to me that one of the great deficiencies of contemporary religion is its lack of heavenly greatness. Among those with whom I have walked, the work of regeneration is not at all evident. In fact, great segments of that brotherhood deny the reality of the new birth, affirming it to be a metaphor. It is no wonder that in such an environment little, if any, Divine working is evident.
But this is not the circumstance with which we are now being confronted. Those formerly rejecting the Lamb-who did not receive Him (John 1:11)-are now with Him. The very people who "killed the Lord Jesus" (1 Thess 2:15), are now found alive in Him. What a wonder it this!
This multitude is willingly with the Lamb. Their minds have been renewed and transformed, as indicated by the name of the Lamb's Father being upon their foreheads. Their deliverance was not like that of Israel from Egypt, when they remained unchanged in their character, murmuring against their Deliverer.
Every instance of regeneration is a wonderful Divine work. However, when a nation is "brought forth all at once," it is particularly marvelous (Isa 66:8, NASB). Just as the deliverance of Israel from Egypt transcended the deliverance of Lot from Sodom, so the conversion of Israel shines brighter on the horizon of Divine purpose than the conversion of a single person. We do not demean the work of God in saying this, or minimize the conversion of any individual. Remember, the reception of Israel is equated, to an extraordinary degree, with "life from the dead," the "riches of the Gentiles," and "the fulness of the Gentiles" (Rom 11;12,15).
The Voice of Harpists
Some poor souls could never express the joy of converted beings in such language. The notion of "harpists" being with the Lamb jars the soul of many a legalist. This is, however, the language employed by the Spirit of God, and we do well to take it into our thinking. It is by no means a Divine trait to take unlawful things and use them as containers depicting heavenly joy and adoration.
Since the Babylonian captivity, the Jews have not been a singing people. The shroud of spiritual melancholy and gloom hangs over their hearts to this day. There is a most poignant portrayal of this condition in the 137th Psalm. There, the ancient people are characterized as sitting by the rivers of Babylon and weeping when they "remembered Zion" (Verse 1). With great sorrow, they confess, "We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it" (Verse 2). Known as a singing people, those who had carried them away captive asked for a happy song from them, saying, " Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" (Verse 3). Alas, it was too difficult for them to do it. Pining away they said, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?"(Verse 4). Their recollections of former blessing only wrenched their hearts and cause rivers to flow from their eyes.
Oh, in past times, in the time of David, when they had reached their apex as a nation, it was different. Then, "David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals" (2 Sam 6:5). But that time was brought to a grinding halt. Their singing subsided, as a whole, until this very day.
Something New and Fresh
But our text declares something new and fresh has happened. The harps of Israel are no longer hanging upon the trees of a captivating nation. Nor, indeed, are their enemies chiding them by requesting mirth from them in a time of unparalleled sorrow. No! John hears "the sound of harpists playing on their harps"-and it is no sad sound that he hears. Here the 108th Psalm is brought to fulfillment. "Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O LORD, among the people: and I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great above the heavens: and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds" (Verses 2-4).
Notice how the harpers and their harps are blended into one: "the voice of harpists playing on their harps." The phrase indicates a dexterity proceeding from regeneration. It is the sort of thing David spoke of when he wrote, "I will open my dark saying upon the harp" (Psa 49:4). Their whole person, and all they possess, have been blended together for the glory of God.
What a marvelous portrayal of regeneration. It is another way of saying, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor 5:17). In our text, this is on a national scale, which is even more wonderful. It is something for which we pray.
An Expression of Victory
In the book of Revelation, gaining the victory over Satan's devices is related to harps. The language is very precise, and is worthy of our attention. "And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God" (Rev 15:2). David declared he would express the joy of being delivered by the Lord upon the harp (Psa 43:1-4).
"The voice of harpists playing their harps," therefore, is nothing less than the offering of praise to God for having been delivered. Just as Israel "sang" on the banks of the Red Sea (Ex 15:1), so will Israel sing joyfully upon their deliverance from spiritual blindness and alienation.
Here, also, Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled. "So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa 51:11).
May the Lord hasten the day when the Deliverer comes out of Zion and turns away ungodliness from Jacob! It will be a glad day, indeed, and the occasion of most unusual praise, when the redeemed of Israel stand with the Lamb in the heavenly places! What praise will be heard at that time. Lord, tune our hearts to so sing now! By Your infinite grace bring honor to Your name through us.
Is it not refreshing to consider the powerful effects of the Gospel upon those who gladly receive it? How great is this salvation!
A NEW SONG
"They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders . . . " Redemption is something that takes place "before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders." Whether on an individual or collective basis, it is a reality beheld by heavenly personalities, and is primarily appreciated by them. In salvation, an acute awareness of heavenly realms grips the heart. They do not sing before men, but before the throne!
All of the expressions that flow from salvation are also uttered before heaven's august assembly. Frequently, this Kingdom demeanor is expressed by holy men. "I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels" (1 Tim 5:21). And again, "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Tim 4:1). The degree to which one has participated in the Divine nature is, among other things, gauged by such a frame of spirit. James says one of the marks of "pure religion" is that it is "before God" (James 1:27). Without lingering on this point, the fact that this is so uncommon in our time is evidence of a massive departure from the Lord.
A New Song
It is no average song that this multitude sings before the throne! It is not a new kind of singing, a new rhythm, or a new style. It is a "new SONG!" Not only are its contents new, the perception of the singers is new. If fact, the newness of the people is what makes the song new. It is an illuminated song, sung by enlightened singers.
Have you not enjoyed singing such a song-when you saw things in the words you never saw before? Many an old song has been made new by an illuminated heart. Such songs are sung with greater fervency. More of the singer, in such a case, is in the song.
How often we read of such a song in Scripture. The admonition is sounded, "Sing unto him a new song" (Psa 33:1). And again, "O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth" (Psa 96:1). Such a song comes from the perception of the working of the Lord. As it is written, "O sing unto the LORD a new song; for He hath done marvelous things: His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory" (Psa 98:1).
Such songs are placed in the mouth by the Lord Himself: "And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God" (Psa 40:3). This is the result of giving the people a new heart, and writing His Law therein. Those enjoying this benefit affirm, "I will sing a new song unto thee, O God" (Psa 144:9).
A Different Kind of Song
A "new song" is a different kind of song. It is of another order. It is not a soulish song, but a spiritual one. It does not come from the flesh, but from the Spirit. The heart is tuned by grace, the mind renewed by insight, and the lips sanctified by the Spirit. Never does a soul sing more beautifully than when it comprehends the song it sings, and is caught up in the spirit of it.
One of the invariable marks of the redeemed is their praise to God. They sing a new song, and they sing it "before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders."
Freshness in the Song
But here we see the 144,000 singing this new song. It is new to them, and, in a sense, new to the rest of the world. There is a freshness in this song that has not been seen in the world for a long time-if, indeed, it has ever been seen. It peals like thunder through the heavenly realms, and roars like a thousand cataracts of cascading waterfalls.
It is not the song of a solitary shepherd on the hillside that we hear, but one of a great multitude. With one heart and one spirit, they sing in harmony only heaven itself can give.
No One Can Learn the Song
Herein is a marvelous thing. "No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth." Only those extricated from the condemned world-delivered from this present evil world-can learn this song. It is not for those who live on the surface of life, with their roots never settling into the richness of God's grace. Neither godly life nor spiritual expression can be emulated. The ungodly cannot participate in either. They cannot "learn that song."
When it comes to a body of people, no one has ever, or will ever, sing it like Israel, when the veil is lifted from their eyes (2 Cor 3:15-16). The prophets spoke of this time. "And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa 35:10; 51:11). They spoke of a time when the lower parts of the earth would break forth into singing because "the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel" (Isa 44:23). That is the very thing we are witnessing in our text.
Still, some doubt that this is a proper representation of the case. Allow me to call Jeremiah to the witness stand. He will speak for God on the matter. "For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD" (Jer 31:11-14).
When reading this marvelous text, I am impressed how it will not fit into stilted theology. If men imagine that God has once and for all rejected Israel, and there is no more hope for them as a nation, then this promise has fallen to the ground unfulfilled. It has returned void to the Lord, and not accomplished that whereunto He sent it (Isa 55:11). If all of this has reference to the church, as ordinarily conceived, then we have God comforting His ancient people by speaking of something they will never attain. Both views are foolish, and unworthy of further consideration.
Some will counter that this is the very thing we Gentiles have experienced-and that is true. We who are in Christ Jesus have, indeed, joined in the singing of the song of redemption. But we have done so ONLY because we have been grafted into their olive tree. We are partakers of the root and fatness of their tree, and have become the children of their progenitor, Abraham.
However, we should not suppose that we have learned to sing it to the same degree Israel will learn it when the veil is lifted from their eyes. The fervor that will grip their hearts when they become associated with the Lamb will dwarf what has occurred in the Gentile church. It will spark a revival in the world that will cause the last harvest to be the greatest one. The song will affect them more than it has the Gentile church. That is why "the times of the Gentiles" will be brought to an end (Lk 21:24; Rom 11:25).
We know this is the case because of the wording of this text. The song is not said to be learned simply by those "redeemed from the earth." Rather, the song is said to have been learned ONLY by "the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth." Once again, that number has been defined as a vast number "of all the tribes of the children of Israel" (Rev 7:4).
The meaning of the text, then, is that the reborn and united children of Israel will have more of the spirit of the New Covenant than the combined Gentile church. If one views the history of the times during which "the fulness of the Gentiles" is being gathered, it will become apparent they have not learned the song. There is a level of division and disharmony in the Gentile church that boggles the mind. Scarcely a place can be found on the globe where believers are harmonious. There is a level of corruption within the church that has brought unspeakable sorrow and discouragement to myriads of souls.
This does not mean an individual cannot sing the song of redemption with the spirit and with the understanding. It will, however, be an exception to the professed Christian norm, as any insightful soul will confess. Notwithstanding, we thank God for all who have learned the song. We intend as well to become expert in singing it ourselves.UNDEFILED
"These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins." This phrase denotes spiritual purity, where the soul has not played the harlot with other gods. "Women," in this case, indicates competing influences, whether idols, the world itself, or self interests. "Virgins" describes the purity resulting from the refusal to become involved in such things. "Defiled" depicts a spiritual condition that makes a person or nation unacceptable to God.
In Prior Times
In prior times, this could not be said of Israel. It was noted for its harlotry-for prostituting her affection for the Living God. How frequently God would cry out to them, "thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD" (Jer 3:1). The Lord said to Josiah, "Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot" (Jer 3;6). Through Ezekiel, the Lord said, "Thou hast played the whore also with the Assyrians, because thou wast unsatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet couldest not be satisfied" (Ezek 16:28). Even though God has solemnly commanded them, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3), the history of Israel is spotted with repeated reversions to idolatry Judges 2:12; 1 Sam 8:8; 1 Kgs 14:9; Jer 1;16).
With the conversion of Israel, however, idolatry is put far from them. In fact, after the Babylonian captivity, their propensity to idolatry began to wane.
The Requisite for Purity
One of the marks of regeneration is the absence of defilement. Moral and spiritual purity is an absolute requisite to walking with Jesus! The objective of redemption is to enable the saved to stand before the Lord "faultless" (Jude 24), "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph 5:27). Salvation extricates from sin, cleanses from its defilement, and brings one into harmony with the Holy God. The notion of the Lord countenancing defilement is absurd. Only the "pure in heart" are promised they will "see God" (Matt 5:8). The "end," or aim, of the commandment is "love out of a pure heart" (1 Tim 1:5). The "mystery of the faith," or the understanding of what faith grasps, can only be held in a "pure conscience" (1 Tim 3:9). It is no marvel the exhortation is given, "keep thyself pure!" (1 Tim 5:22).
The Prelude of Purity
We are witnessing the conversion of Israel and a consequent world-wide awakening. Purity is a necessary prelude to that awakening. "These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste" (NASB).
When Israel turns to the Lord, and the veil is removed from their hearts (2 Cor 3:15-16), they will not bring the defilements of the world with them. At that time, the promise will be fulfilled to them, "And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail" (Deut 28:13). Their purity will yield the harvest of headship and prominence in the earth being "filled with the knowledge of the Lord" (Hab 2:14).
As a matter of principle, no one will be used mightily by God who is defiled. God is not served by routine and contaminated affections. These are blotches upon the contemporary church that are reprehensible. No amount of institutional organization, evangelistic programs, or missionary initiatives will compensate for the presence of defilement. In my judgment, because the Gentile church has refused to address the matter of defilement, its time is rapidly coming to a close.
Purge Out the Old Leaven
Moral and spiritual adulteration are common within the nominal church. Indeed, major so-called ministries have been created to deal with this growing blight. The early church was told to "purge out the old leaven," not try and recover it (1 Cor 5:7-8). Peter did not appoint a group to recover Ananias and Sapphira. Paul did not institute a recovery program for Demas, Alexander, Hymenaeus, Philetus, Phygellus, or Hermogenes (2 Tim 2:17; 1;15; 4:10,14).
This is not to be construed as an expression of opposition to recovering those caught in the snare of the devil. There is certainly a place for this (Gal 6:1-2; 2 Tim 2:24-26). The existence of defilement in the church, however, is to be taken with the utmost seriousness. Only the spiritual are to engage in recovery efforts (Gal 6:1). Furthermore, they are to "consider" themselves in the activity lest they "also be tempted." Too, those who engage in an effort to recover the fallen are to remember that God must "give repentance" to such individuals (2 Tim 2 Tim 2:25).
All of this accentuates the seriousness of defilement, and the blessedness of its absence. The greatest spiritual awakenings are spearheaded by pure and undefiled people. Those aligned with the world, bring contamination upon themselves. They exclude themselves from Divine employment. Whether it is defilement in thought, deed, attire, or other expressions. God will NOT use the impure. Those with a penchant for customs, fads, and the likes, do well to ponder these things. The commonality of such preferences is most serious.
Because joining in affinity with the ungodly defiles, such alliances are shunned by the pure. This will be a mark of the ancient people when the Deliverer turns ungodliness away from them. It is a blessed thing to consider these realities. There are certain advantages to purity! They are not to be gainsayed, but appropriated.FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS
"These are the ones who follow the Lamb WHEREVER He goes." There is such a thing as desiring the Lord to follow men in THEIR pursuits. This is not, however, the manner of the Kingdom. The redeemed multitude we are witnessing are so resolute in their commitment to the Lamb, they follow Him "WHEREVER HE GOES!"
It is not that this is an unusual thing in life with the Son. This is actually the ONLY way to be identified with the Lamb. Through the years, however, this condition has become very rare. Even in the first century, when some suppose pristine purity existed, Paul wrote, "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil 2:21). To Timothy Paul wrote, "that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Tim 1:15). This parallels the expression of Isaiah concerning his time. "Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter" (Isa 56:11). Such a condition is tragic beyond words.
Remember, because of the departure of men from the faith, and their failure to receive the love of the truth, Satan was allowed to spread "strong delusion" in the world. Under his auspices, Christianity was institutionalized. It adopted a "form of godliness" that "denied (or refused) the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). Affiliation with the institution was now sufficient, with no vital connection with the Lord required. The "mind of Christ" was no longer the standard, and men took to themselves the authority belonging to the Lamb alone. This religious corruption became dominate, causing judgment to come from heaven.
Now, in the very midst of this spiritual defilement, the Deliverer turns ungodliness from Jacob, fulfilling God's covenant to them. This redeemed multitude will not subscribe to the corruptions of men. Instead, they "follow the Lamb wherever He goes." They are Christ-centered, not church-centered. They do not follow the Lamb in a discriminating way, selecting only the favorable and more convenient places. They "follow the Lamb wherever He goes." They adopt His agenda, and embrace His determinations. His very character is reflected in them: "not My will, but Yours, be done" (Lk 22:42).
This is the Standard
Although the consistency of the 144,000 is unusual in the earth, it is standard in the heavenlies. In fact, no other frame of spirit is acceptable. Those who cease following the Lord are no longer blessed by Him. Those who will be saved MUST have an appetite and preference for Him; i.e., His word, guidance, counsel, and comfort. If anyone can do without Jesus, they will not taste of His salvation, or be mightily used in His Kingdom! But those following the Lamb realize Divine employment, and are effective in their work.
Jesus spoke in a straightforward manner about the necessity of following Him. He made absolutely no provision for those who refused to do this. We do well to hear His words. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt 16:24). This was not a periodic requirement, but a daily one. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Lk 9:23).
Do you want to serve Christ? Is it your desire to be employed by Him, and utilized in the execution of His will? Hear His words. "If any man serve me, let him follow me." He does not, however, allow a sporadic following. Coming after Christ involves being where He is! " . . . and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor" (John 12:26).
In a vivid description of His people, the Lord Jesus described their nature to follow, or pursue, Him. "the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. " . . . the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers . . . I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own . . . And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:3-27).
These are the characteristics of Christ's people-of those who are saved. (1) They follow Him. (2) They know Him. (3) They will not follow an imposter. (4) They do now recognize the voice of charlatans. (5) They hear His voice. Let it be clear, in salvation there is no provision made for any other frame of spirit!
Our text, then, portrays a multitude "from all the tribes of Israel" as genuinely regenerated. They have not merely adopted some Gentile manner, or embraced a hollow form of the truth. Their hearts have been circumcised (Rom 2:29; Col 2:12), the law has put into their mind and written upon their hearts (Heb 10:16), and they have been "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17). Their's is not a profession of allegiance to the Lamb, but a very real and perceptible one. Their commitment is obvious.
I want to make clear these are not super-saints. The description given is that of every person Christ receives to the glory of God (Rom 15:7). It does, however, represent a large-scale work of God, for which He has often been known. His great salvation is sometimes evidenced in the turning of great multitudes from sin to Christ. Such turnings, however, never reflect a comprise of Christ's established requirements.
The world will be covered with the knowledge of the Lord-but not through defiled and uncommitted people! Lifeless religion cannot produce spiritual life. Those who do not follow the Lamb wherever He goes cannot "turn many to righteousness," or "shine as the brightness of the firmament" (Dan 12:3). Spiritual awakenings, whether on a small or large scale, do not come through those who are not found following the Lamb wherever He goes, preferring Him above all else.
Here, then, the whole house of Israel is seen embracing the Messiah they once rejected. Blessed day, when such a mighty resurrection occurs!
REDEEMED TO GOD AND THE LAMB
"These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb." The conversion of the Jews will take place through the ordained means-the Gospel of Christ. They will embrace the Savior through faith, just as everyone else found in Him. Their turning is special, but the means through which it is accomplished are ordinary. The Gospel of Christ "is THE power of God unto salvation, TO THE JEW FIRST" (Rom 1:16). Our text confirms that "power."
They Were Redeemed
By saying they were "redeemed," the accent is placed on Divine activity rather than human decision. They were repossessed, or reclaimed-and that at great cost. Justification by grace is ever "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24). Sin thrust men from God, redemption brings them back to Him! It reclaims the soul that was "sold under sin" (Rom 7:21), like Joseph was sold into Egypt.
Redemption involves paying a price-an awesome price. In this case, it is "redemption through His blood" (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14). The price was paid BY Christ TO God. Redemption was made effective when Jesus entered "heaven itself" with His own blood (Heb 9:14-17,24). Thus men are redeemed "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet 1:18).
For the 144,000, like all other who experience it, redemption is realized by acceptance. God is satisfied with Christ's sacrifice (Isa 53:11). It is only realized, however, when men are also satisfied with that blessed offering. This is what Scripture calls, "receiving the atonement," or reconciliation (Rom 5:11).
What we have before us is an immense throng "from all the tribes of Israel" renouncing their former ways in favor of the Lord's Christ. The very day that occurs, their spiritual blindness and hard heartedness will come to a grinding halt. Jesus pointed to this time when He cried, "For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'" (Matt 23:39).
The word "until" is an expression of expectation and limitation. It is used 129 times in the New Testament writings, and is always a line of demarcation between two appointed events. Jesus used the word 66 times in this manner (examples: Matt 10:23; 11:12; 22:44; Mark 14:25; Lk 21:24; John 13:39). Apostolic writings use the word in the same way (examples: Gal 3:19; Phil 1:10; 1 Thess 4:15; Heb 9:10; 2 Pet 1:19). To my knowledge, the word "until" is never used of something uncertain or impossible.
From all iniquity
Redemption is not only "unto God," it is "from all iniquity" (Tit 2:14). The redeemed are no longer enslaved to sin, and thus do not continue in it. They are made pure by cleansing, and maintain that purity by preference and with resolution. Jesus "gave Himself" to "purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." Purifying and removing them from all sin is requisite for being His "special people." Thus, again, Israel is seen partaking of the very salvation that has been accomplished for "all men."
From Among Men
Salvation, whether on an individual basis, or that of an entire nation, always involves redemption from the masses-i.e., "from among men." A separation from the populace occurs with identity with "the Lamb." While, in a sense, the saved are "in the world" (Phil 2:15; 1 Pet 5:9), they are not "of the world." Jesus told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). That expression reflects the same condition as "redeemed from among men."
Those used effectively by God will be separated from the world. They will not think like the world, or be characterized by its "fashion" (1 Cor 7:31). A worldly church-if there be such a thing-will not be used by Jesus, for it does not follow Him.
Here the word "firstfruits" indicates a coming harvest of souls. The term "firstfruits" is always used as a pledge of a future abundant harvest. It was used in that way under the first covenant, in reference to the harvest of crops (Ex 23:16; 34:22; Lev 23;10). It is used of the experience of salvation itself, which is a pledge of the fulness to come (Rom 8:23). The Lord Jesus Himself is the "Firstfruits of them that slept"-His resurrection being the pledge of the universal resurrection in the last day (1 Cor 15:20,23).
Note the largeness of the "firstfruits" -144,000. That betokens the enormity of the harvest that will follow! Remember, God has affirmed the earth will be "filled with the knowledge of the Lord" (Hab 2:14). This is no isolated declaration. David prophesied, "All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's, And He rules over the nations" (Psa 22:27, NKJV). Again, the Psalmist wrote, "All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And shall glorify Your name" (Psa 86:9, NKJV). Isaiah avowed "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9).
Salvation is an exceeding large enterprise! The Father promised the Son, "Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Psa 2:6). Do not doubt the possibility of such a thing! During times of oppression, God's people may imagine that such greatness will never happen-that it is only a vain wish. However, our text affirms this is not the case. Believe what God says!
There will yet be a Divine initiative that will bring great glory to the Lord. It will be preceded by the turning of Israel, who will be the "firstfruits from among men ." They will set the tone for discipleship and identity with the Lamb. Jesus will yet be honored by a multitude of followers that willingly abandon all competing interests.
Even in the book of Revelation, care is taken to maintain Divine priorities. The Lord will not allow the introduction of mere intellectual novelties! The perceived multitude are redeemed from among men "to God." They are brought back to Him, and will be used in His purpose. After all, Jesus did reconcile us "unto God" (Rom 5:10). Those in Him are made "free from sin" and become "servants unto God" (Rom 6:22). There is no such thing as a person in Christ who is not God-conscience, or is not employed by God. Spiritual Babylon has introduced this kind of concept, but it is not honored in heaven.
And to the Lamb
The multitude has also been redeemed to the Lamb. They are in His care and employ; protected by Him and used by Him. God has no work that is not accomplished through the Son. There is no Kingdom endeavor that is discharged independently of the Son. Those who are redeemed to God are also redeemed to the Lamb. The Father gives them into the hand of the Son. Not only will the Lamb bring them to glory (Heb 2:10) and to God (1 Pet 3:18), He will accomplish His reign through them!
On one occasion Jesus said, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10;16). He was speaking of the Gentiles, or nations. And how will Jesus bring these multitudes to Himself? How will the "one fold" under "one Shepherd" be realized?
It will be through those who have been redeemed from the earth, and have chosen to follow Him wherever He goes. Those in such a condition confess, "for me to live is Christ" (Phil 1:21). He is everything to them, and they refuse to follow another. This, of course, is the manner of the Kingdom. Christ has no people who do not maintain this attitude.THE IMPACT OF REDEMPTION
"And in their mouth was found no deceit . . . " The Lord continues to describe this great multitude that will be instrumental in His work. Redemption has an impact upon those who experience it. It is not a mere formality that leaves people fundamentally the same as they were before. Much of Christendom acknowledges there is no basic difference between it and the world. Trite little sayings have been created to make sinners comfortable in Zion. "After all, we are all sinners, "Christians are the sinners that get up after they fall," etc. However, this is not heaven's perspective at all.
A very real transformation takes place in the new birth. The redeemed partake of Christ and the Divine nature (Heb 3;14; 2 Pet 1:4). Old things do pass away, and all things become new (2 Co r 5:17).
The 144,000 possess the very trait of Jesus: no guile or deceit is found in their mouth! It is said of Jess, "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (1 Pet 2:22). He never misrepresented Himself, His God, or the Word. He never made men feel comfortable in sin, or the contrite feel uncomfortable. Only truth came from His lips.
"Guile," or "deceit" is a devilish trait. It speaks of subtlety and craftiness. It brings people to an undesirable state by deception and trickery. Satan used this tactic in deceiving Eve (2 Cor 11:3). His ministers use this approach to beguile unstable souls, bringing them down to destruction (2 Pet 2:14; Eph 4:14). Such tactics were never employed by our blessed Lord.
Nominal Christianity is, unfortunately, noted for its craftiness. Legion is the name of teachers and leaders who snare people with the words of their mouth. They offer more than they can deliver. What contrite soul is there who has not experienced the impact of such delusion-who has not tasted of a religion without power. Satan's messengers, camouflaged as "ministers of righteousness" (2 Cor 11:15), speak with guile. In so doing, they have separated themselves from Christ, Who will have nothing to do with misrepresentation, exaggeration, or sinful embellishment.
See, the 144,000 have the mouth of the Lamb as well as the mind of Christ! Redemption has affected their speech. Once the "poison of asps" was under their lips, and their throat was like an "open sepulcher" (Rom 3;13). But now they have "the lip of truth" (Prov 12:19). They represent the Lord truthfully, and their words are accurate and reliable. They will not misrepresent themselves, the truth, God, or Christ. This is another way of saying they "speak the truth in love."
The Ingathering of Souls
An ingathering of souls will never be accomplished by human strategy or shrewd plans. The truth, spoken by lovers of truth, is the appointed means of awakening slumbering souls. As I understand it, Israel will be used mightily in this way. When their eyes are opened, they will proclaim the truth in a guileless manner. In them will be fulfilled this word: "Surely they are my people, children that will not lie" (Isa 63:8).
You can see this is the manner of the Kingdom. There really is no other acceptable posture for the people of God. Under the Gentiles, however, the church has degenerated into a state of unacceptability. Lukewarmness, inattentiveness, and at-homeness in this world have become common among those professing the name of Christ. For this reason, "the times of the Gentiles" will come to an end.
The last great harvest will not be accomplished under the leading of the Gentiles. Rather, it will occur under the influence of a large number of redeemed "from the tribes of Israel." Their tree will flourish once again. They will yet be found on Mount Zion, in company with the Lamb.
The Means Are Not New
Once again, we are witnessing the nature of salvation itself. No new Gospel is affirmed. A new spiritual condition is not created. The redeemed of the Lord do not acquire different traits than have always been experienced in salvation. What we are seeing is a restoration of spiritual life in a large body of people. They are taken from among "the tribes of Israel," but represent the norm of the Kingdom. Their description and demeanor is that of every person in Christ Jesus.
In our time, the church must be encouraged to use Divine means to accomplish Divine results. There has been far too many human resources gathered into the church. Their presence has made it impotent. It will not again be powerful until it is purged of these defiling influences. If this appears to be too strong, it is really not strong enough.
BEFORE THE THRONE AT LAST
" . . . for they are without fault before the throne of God." Here again the very nature of salvation in Christ Jesus is described. Redemption brings people before the very throne of God, and does so effectively. Although the number we are seeing were once noted for crucifying the "Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8), and not receiving the Lord Who came to them (John 1:11), they are now "without fault before the throne of God." Once their house was "left desolate" (Lk 13:35), but now they flourish again. We are seeing "life from the dead."
They have been "justified from all things," from which they could "not be justified by the Law of Moses" (Acts 13:39). The "first covenant" was NOT "faultless" (Heb 8:7), but now they are! In fulfillment of God's own promise, the Deliver has come out of Zion and "turned away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom 11:26).
The Ultimate Test
The ultimate test comes "before the throne of God." It is how God sees men that is the real issue, not how they see themselves, or how their peers see them.
What will be true of the entire body of the redeemed is here declared of a throng "from all the tribes of Israel" - "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:27). As Peter would say, they are "found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless" (2 Pet 3:14). In keeping with Divine aptitude, the Lord has presented them "faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).
This is real faultlessness! Redemption has removed the stain of sin so thoroughly the eye of Omnipotence perceives the redeemed as "without fault." It is not an imagination, nor is it an overstatement or exaggeration. The unspeakable sin of Israel-a sin which brought a curse upon them-has been purged. Whether on an individual level, a national, or a global level, when the salvation of God is received, a condition of irreproachable purity ensues.
Only justified people, cleansed from sin in both character and conscience, will be used mightily by God. Defilement always excludes one from Divine service. Oh, that men were more aware of this. Unfortunately, it may be said of many in the church, just as it was of those in Israel of old, "They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation" (Isa 32:5). Such people are not "vessels for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tim 2:21). It appears from the present condition of things that this is not generally acknowledged.
The covering of the earth with the knowledge of the Lord will be facilitated through a holy people. In fact, a walk with Christ is predicated upon purity. Where a lack of purity exists in professed believers, the work of the Lord will not be evident.
The Eventual State
Ultimately, this will be the state of all of the redeemed-"without fault before the throne of God." Everything pertaining to life and godliness is supplied in Christ to see to it this happens. Provision is made for continual cleansing (1 John 1:9). There is uninterrupted intercession by the Lord Jesus Himself (Heb 7:25; Rom 8:34). The Holy Spirit has been given to us to assist us in appropriating the blessing and being spiritually productive. Even the innumerable angels have been marshaled to minister to us. Our prayers are heard by an attentive Father, and the power of the foe has been neutralized.
All of this is provided by a God who is "able to keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24). Hallelujah to the Lamb for such a marvelous and effectual salvation!
What we have witnessed in the opening of the fourteenth chapter is worthy of your extended consideration. In spite of Satan's aggressive and effective attack of the people of God, the Deliverer turns away ungodliness from Jacob. The ancient people are restored to God through Christ. Under their leadership, the promises of global affectation by the knowledge of God will be realized in an unprecedented way. How blessed to ponder these things.
Although this work is supernatural, it employs the means of salvation with which we are familiar. There is no new Gospel. The Lord Jesus draws through His vicarious death. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment, as He is appointed (John 16:7-11). The veil is lifted from their eyes in the reading of Scripture. The Law is written upon their hearts and placed into their minds just as the New Covenant declares. They know the Lord, as promised, and their sins and iniquities are remembered no more. They are with Christ in heavenly places, and follow Him wherever He goes.
This is salvation as it is consistently represented in the Word of God. New hearts, new spirits, a new song, purity of speech, faultlessness before God-these are always resident in the salvation that is in Christ Jesus!
These traits, however, are NOT common within the professed church. In fact, they are exceedingly rare. This accounts for the impotence of the nominal church. A falling away has occurred in which the love of the truth has been rejected, and a preference for this world fostered. This has all occurred as men have succumbed to the delusions of the devil.
But let it be clear in your mind. The Gospel has not lost its power! The Holy Spirit has not become impotent! The intercession of Christ is still effective! The holy angels are still devoted to ministering to those who are the heirs of salvation. The ear of the Father is still open to the prayers of the righteous, and His eyes are ever upon them.
Nothing has changed in the heavenly realms! Men may still enter the holiest place with boldness. They can still obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need. Everything still belongs to those in the Son. The whole armor of God can be put on, the devil effectively resisted, and the eyes of the understanding opened.
These things are lost when men's hearts grow cold toward the Lord. When the affection is removed from things above, they no longer become accessible. But wherever there is a sensitive soul, who will look to Jesus and seek the things that are above, all of the things said of the 144,000 will be experienced. Such individuals will be with the Lamb on Mount Zion. They will be undefiled, and no guile will be found in their mouths. They will be without fault before the throne of God, and will be employed by Him! This is the heritage of the saints, and all of them can possess it!