Bible Study with Jairus: Revelation 14 (Part 3)

Why Did the 144,000 Offer Heartfelt Praise?

 

Revelation 14 opens with these words:

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.

 

Why are these heavenly visions placed at the beginning of the chapter? These heavenly visions are not only meant to encourage people in heaven, but also to encourage people who are still suffering on earth. As we saw in the last chapter, many people were facing severe persecution for not worshiping the beast. They were risking their lives to bear witness to the testimony of Jesus. According to Revelation 19:10, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Because of their suffering, God gave John a vision of this heavenly scene and the great reward awaiting those who suffer. This message was intended to comfort those undergoing trials. This perspective helps us understand why God gave John this vision. Heavenly visions can be a great source of strength for those who are suffering.

 

Let’s learn a bit more about the 144,000 and their song of praise to God.

 

Who Are the 144,000?

This group likely contains people who were martyred for refusing to worship the beast, as mentioned in Revelation 13. There may have been others in the group as well, and not all who refused to worship the beast were martyred immediately. However, there were likely some martyrs in the group. In addition, the passage specifically states that the 144,000 have not been defiled with women. What does this statement mean? Should we take it literally? Does this group include only men who have never been close to women, excluding men who were married (like Peter), as well as single women? In this case, perhaps Paul would be included in this group.

 

If we interpret this statement spiritually instead of literally, we can imagine that it refers to people who are spiritually pure. This interpretation may be more appealing to those who are married. However, the passage may have been intended to be taken literally. It is possible that the 144,000 were literally men who had never been close to women.

 

Some people believe the 144,000 are the members of the twelve tribes of Israel who were sealed by the angel in Revelation 7:4. But this does not account for the fact that these 144,000 have not been defiled by women.

 

So who are they? We don’t know for sure. But it seems clear that at least some of them are martyrs. These devoted believers would rather be killed than worship the beast, and they have made great sacrifices for the testimony of Jesus. The rewards and glory they receive in heaven should greatly encourage those currently suffering.

 

The New Song Sung by the 144,000

Why do these 144,000 people sing a new song? Because each person’s salvation story is an individual masterpiece of God. God is the same, but each person’s experience of God’s salvation is unique. When we overcome the trials in our individual lives, we each compose a new song of praise to God. Only after trials and hardships can we exude such sincere praise. Though we may not see God’s grand plan right now while we are on earth, once we reach heaven we won’t be able to hold back our praise. Once we see how God worked everything together for good, we will offer a unique song of heartfelt praise for God’s salvation.

 

Everyone’s suffering is unique. As a result, their experience of salvation is unique, and the praise they offer is also unique. For example, a drug addict who has experienced the pain of drug addiction and the power of Jesus’ redemption will have a unique song of praise that non-drug-users cannot share. Similarly, someone who has been sexually assaulted experiences Jesus’ salvation and comfort in a unique way. As a result, this person’s new song will be different from the song of someone who has not had the same experience. Each person has a unique way of experiencing God’s salvation, so each person will have a unique psalm of praise for God’s goodness.

 

I shared this concept with some Christians who are involved in a political movement to eliminate the Chinese Communist Party. I explained, “Because we have responded to God’s call to participate in the cause of eradicating the Communist Party, we experience suffering and persecution that are incomprehensible to both American and Chinese Christians who do not participate in this movement. However, in the future, when we welcome a new democratic and free China, the praise we offer to God will be something others cannot comprehend.” We will sing a new song of praise to God that is unique to us.

 

In the same way, the experience of American Christians is something that Chinese believers cannot fully participate in. Even though the United States is a Christian country, religious freedom has been under attack in recent years. There is a danger of losing the country’s values, which are based on Christianity. Many American Christians have prayed for America and tried to revive its Christian values, and this experience is something Chinese Christians cannot fully understand. Meanwhile, Chinese Christians who are still on the mainland are holding onto their faith despite years of persecution. As a Chinese Christian living overseas, I cannot fully relate to their experience. Each believer will sing a new song of praise to God that will not fully resonate with people who have had different experiences.

 

In the same way, these 144,000 individuals had a unique song of praise to God. By giving up relations with women, they made sacrifices that married people with wives and children cannot fully comprehend. I heard the testimony of a modern-day Christian brother who dedicates himself to God and lives in celibacy. He said that he did not care about sexual relationships between men and women but longed very much to have children. When he sees others with children, he feels very lonely. He had made a very great sacrifice with his decision to live in celibacy.

 

When these 144,000 childless individuals see that God has not forgotten them and has richly rewarded them, they will sing a song of praise that is unique to their experience. The Bible specifically promises that celibate people who keep God’s law will receive more beautiful blessings than those who have children (Isaiah 56:5). Those without children will receive special blessings from God.

 

God does not forget any small sacrifice we make for Him. He will reward us beyond our imagination. Jesus promises that if we forsake our biological family connections to follow Him, we will not only receive a hundredfold in this world but also eternal life in the world to come (Matthew 19:29).

 

The vision in Revelation 14 is just a glimpse into the ways God works. It shows that God does not ignore the sacrifices we make for him. He even remembers the small sacrifices we make. Jesus says that anyone who gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is His disciple will not lose their reward (Matthew 10:42). God will remember our service and dedication, and he will greatly reward us. This vision is just a small example of the rewards God will bestow, but the principle it reveals will encourage countless people who are bearing witness to God amidst suffering.

 

Seamless Transition between Heavenly Perspective and Earthly Perspective

An expert videographer smoothly transitions between close-up shots and distant perspectives. Sometimes, the lens focuses on the foreground, making the background blurry. Other times, the focus shifts to the background, and the foreground becomes blurred. However, a good camera lens can transition seamlessly, and a skilled director will use this transition to express the intended meaning.

 

The Holy Spirit often employs the same technique when inspiring the writing of the Bible. For example, David often begins his psalms by focusing on the details of his life in the foreground. He complains and pours out his distress about his enemies and their persecution. As the psalm progresses, he shifts his focus to a bigger perspective. He focuses on the greatness of God in creating the heavens and the earth, caring for humanity, and appointing them to manage the universe (Psalm 8).

 

The same transition happens between Revelation 13 and 14. Revelation 13 shows people on earth being persecuted for refusing to worship the beast, while Revelation 14 shows people in heaven receiving great rewards from God. The passage smoothly transitions from talking about earthly matters to talking about heavenly matters, and from material concerns to spiritual concerns. The Holy Spirit transitions smoothly and naturally between foreground and background and between earth and heaven.

 

We need to do the same in our spiritual lives. If we only focus on earthly matters and ignore what is happening in the spiritual realm, we may feel discouraged by the difficulties in our everyday lives. When we think about heavenly visions, we will be encouraged. At the same time, since we are living on Earth, we must also pay attention to what is happening on Earth so we can be prepared for hardships and have the right mindset to face challenging circumstances.

 

We must smoothly transition between seeing things from a spiritual perspective and seeing things from a practical perspective. We are still living in the world, and we still face difficulties. We need to focus on heavenly visions and earthly realities so we can be prepared to handle all the challenges we will face.

 

Martin Luther: The Suffering of Life is Like the Reversed Lead Type in Printing

It is said that Martin Luther, a pioneer of the Reformation, once said that suffering is like the movable type in the old printing presses. When a printer looked at the movable type, it was difficult to read because the letters were reversed and did not form sentences. However, when the newspaper was printed, these isolated and reversed letters suddenly became a beautiful piece of writing.[1]

 

In the same way, when we look at our suffering with our limited earthly perspectives, we cannot see God’s good intentions. But when we reach heaven and receive His rewards, we will see that all our present sufferings were permitted by God to fulfill His good will in us. At that time, when we see God’s good intentions, we won’t be able to hold back our heartfelt praise. I believe that the 144,000 have gone through many hardships on earth. While on earth, they likely did not understand the meaning of these hardships, but when they stand before God’s throne singing a new song, they finally understand God’s good intentions. Therefore, they offer a new song that only they can sing. Every person who suffers for the sake of God’s will will one day sing a new song to God.

 

A Warning Before the Great Harvest

At the end of the chapter, an angel warns that those who worship the beast will suffer in sulfur and fire forever (Revelation 14:9-11). The vision at the beginning of this chapter and the warning at the end of the chapter relate to the warnings and calls of the two angels that follow. God always gives warnings in advance. The Old Testament prophet Amos says, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Throughout the Bible, God always reveals His character and principles through His prophets and apostles. He warns people about the consequences of their behavior. He tells them what he is about to do so that people can choose to either follow or ignore Him. God gives people free will, so the ultimate result depends on people’s free will. He allows them to make a choice, even about significant matters such as salvation, eternal life, and eternal death.

 

A Call to the Saints

Revelation 14:12 says, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” During trials, God gives us visions to strengthen our faith so that we can be gathered like grain into his barn. Revelation 13:10 also says, “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.” The passage addresses the appearance of the beast and how it will overcome the saints. Everyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life will worship the beast (Revelation 13:7-8). God wants to encourage those who are going through trials and tribulations, once again proving that the theme of Revelation is the testimony of Jesus. When we suffer for the testimony of Jesus, God not only encourages us through His prophetic words but also promises us great rewards in the future. This is the principle taught in the story of the 144,000 standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion, and it is something that every person experiencing persecution and difficult circumstances needs to understand.

 

As I have mentioned many times, suffering by itself is not enough to bring maturity. Suffering is an external circumstance, and it can’t bring maturity on its own. Only when we see God’s will in suffering can we be preserved through suffering. As we live in the will of God, experience the visions he gives, and dedicate ourselves to prayer, we will see for ourselves that God works all things together for good.

 

 

[1] I read this quote in Chinese but could not find it in English. I apologize for not having a source.