The Song of Heaven
This is a new vision which powerfully affected John. The scene has changed from the dreadful oppression by the beast (Revelation 13:1-18) to the glorious company of heaven before the Second Coming of Christ. John saw the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is now standing on Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the place where God lives with His people. With the Lamb are 144,000 people whose foreheads were marked with the names of the Father and Son, divinely sealed and saved (Revelation 7:3) - in contrast to the previous scene on earth where the unsaved were marked by the beast's number (Revelation 13:16). The sound from heaven is the same as the voice of Jesus in Revelation 1:15. The harpists are the four living creatures, the cherubim, and twenty-four elders of Revelation 5:8 representing the leadership of redeemed Israel and the church.
Who are the 144,000? The picture is symbolic. They are not some elite elect as some have falsely suggested. Revelation is a description of how God saves and keeps all His people by grace. In Revelation 7:1-8 the text suggests that this refers to a remnant from the tribes of Israel who believe in Jesus (Romans 11:5). But here they are identified as the redeemed people from the earth who have died before Christ's second coming, offered as firstfruits to God - the 'already in heaven' believers, the legacy of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles - a very large number of believers (1 Corinthians 15:23).
They are described as virgins, without any fault, who follow Jesus without deviation. This is symbolic too. They are the Bride of Christ, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2, "I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him." They are also without blame, as Paul says in Colossians 1:22, "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation". Importantly they are full of praise. Their song is new because they have seen the magnitude of the saving work of Christ: "And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.'" (Revelation 5:9-10).
The purpose of these verses is to encourage the church, realistic about the struggles ahead, to know that some have already finished the race well as Paul said, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-9). They are the crowd of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1-3 which concludes, "… Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Suffering believers keep on following Jesus, because they keep sight of the Lamb of God and many other believers who suffered before them … and are now safely in His presence. In the hard times, the prospect of being with Him in glory will spur you to keep on following Jesus, by His grace.
© Dr Paul Adams