The 144,000 – [A]nd 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. (Revelation 14:1b -4, NIV 1984)
Their Identity – Given no information to the contrary, it seems reasonable to conclude that
this is the same group mentioned in Revelation 7:4–8, except that here they are in a later period of the Tribulation. Chronologically this vision anticipates the ultimate triumph of the 144,000 when Christ returns from heaven to earth. These 144,000 apparently live through the entire period (because they were sealed). Apart from the 144,000, many (“great multitude”) Jews and gentiles will turn to Christ in the end time and be martyred. But some will live to witness and welcome Christ at His return.(1) As noted previously, some believe that the 144,000 is not to be taken literally, but rather represents the full number of the people of God (Jews and gentiles) that survive the Great Tribulation.(2)
Names on Foreheads – The 144,000 have the name of the Lamb and God upon their foreheads as in Revelation 3:12 and 22:4, which provides protection for them (Revelation 9:4).(3) This special group of Jews was sealed by God before the seventh seal was opened, and now they are seen on Mount Zion with the Lord Jesus Christ. This contrasts with Revelation 13:16, where the followers of the anti-Christ receive his mark on their foreheads. A key point here is that God always has His faithful remnant (“who have not bowed down”), no matter how wicked and depraved the world may become.(4) At the time of the flood, there was Noah and his family. At Sodom and Gomorrah, there was Lot and his family. In the days of Elijah, the were the 7,000. When Cyrus was King of Persia, there was the remnant that returned from exile to rebuild the temple. Finally, in 1948, after nearly 2,000 years, Israel experienced its second Exodus and became a nation once more, possibly setting the stage for Christ’s return and the end of the age.
Sound (Voices) From Heaven – The Greek word for sound can also mean voice. The main point here appears to be the heavenly origin of the voices. Commentators suggest that these may be in part the voices of the redeemed saints from all nations now in Heaven (“the roar of rushing waters”), and in part be the voices of the Prophets of old (“like a loud peal of thunder”). Both groups join in Holy unison (“like that of harpists playing their harps”). Ezekiel also records hearing the sound of many waters in heaven (Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2).(5) Elsewhere, thunder was heard at Sinai (Exodus 19:16) by Moses and the Israelites. Ancient meteorology, as reflected in the apocryphal book of 1st Enoch, placed waters (for rain) and thunders in the heavens. Harps had been used by priests and Levites in the worship in the earthly temple. Thus, it is natural to expect them in heaven’s temple.(6)
A New Song – Only the redeemed (in Heaven) and the 144,000 (on Mount Zion) could sing the new song. It could be a song praising God and the Lamb for their redemption,(7) or a song of victory after the conflict with the dragon, beast, and false prophet. It had never been sung before because the Kingdom of Christ on earth had been usurped, and the conflict to win it back had not yet been fought. Now it is sung in anticipation of His blood-bought Kingdom for His saints. Not even the angels can learn the song, for they have not experienced salvation or what it is to have “come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).(8)
Up Next – Description of the 144,000.
- Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 963–964). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 676). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 14:1). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 607). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 284). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 14:2). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 14:3). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 585). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.