The Marks of the 144,000

Revelation 14:1-5

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2012

We have been studying the future Tribulation Period in The Book of Revelation.  Revelation 13 described three characters – the dragon, the Antichrist and the False Prophet.  The last two chapters have been a little depressing.  Satan was kicked out of heaven but that only made him made and he waged war on God’s people.

They also describe a time in the future in which the whole world will worship the beast.  He will receive universal worship from every race, every culture and every nation.  If you don’t worship the Beast, you are either killed or go hungry, because you cannot buy or sell.  It looks like evil is triumphing.

That is where Revelation 14 comes in.  Revelation 14 describes a big contrast.  There is a contrast between the victory of believers  and the terrible judgment  that will take place on unbelievers.  In the middle of the chapter is a message that is given by three angels.  This chapter describes the blessedness of the redeemed and the doom of the wicked.

This chapter tells what will happen to all who refuse to take the mark of the beast.  They may have suffered economically and many died but now they stand vindicated in the presence of the Lamb.  The chapter also says what will happen to all who take the mark of the beast and worship the beast.  They are tormented in hell for all eternity.

Today, we will be looking at the blessing of the redeemed.  How does the chapter begin?  John looks and sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000.  Jesus is not standing with the 144,000.  The 144,000 will be standing with Jesus.  Here you have 144,000 sheep are standing with the Lamb and they will be standing on Mount Zion.

There is something very interesting here that no one should miss.  This vision is retrospective.  The Tribulation is over.  The Lamb is on Mount Zion (which is in the corner of Jerusalem where the Temple was located) and he is standing with the sealed 144,000.  This same group and number was sealed early in the Tribulation Period (7:3).

Now, Jesus stands with the same number that he had earlier sealed.  The Good Shepherd did not lose a single sheep.  He started out with 144,000 and, when it is all over, he ends up with 144,000 in glory, not 90,000 or 110,000.  It is a picture of security (cf. John 6:37-40).  Jesus is able to keep is from falling.  We are “kept by the power of God” (I Peter 1:5).

This section describes the mark of the 144,000, the music of the 144,000 and the morality of the 144,000, as someone outlined it[1].   In Revelation 7, we talked about who the 144,000 are.  Today, we will be talking about what they will be like.  What kind of person will they be?  What character qualities will they have?  Does this describe you?

Characteristics of the 144,000

Salvation

They are saved.  How do we know this group is saved?  How do we know these are Christians?  One, they have faith in Jesus (14:12).  Two, they are redeemed (14:3-4).  It means that they are saved but it pictures salvation as a commercial transaction.  Jesus bought us.  He purchased us with his own blood (I Peter 1:18-19).

Notice how this is worded.  It does not say that everyone (all mankind) was purchased.  It says that they were purchased from among mankind.  The Bible teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the world but in some sense this group was purchased from among mankind.

The third way we know they are saved is from this mysterious song.  They sing a special song and this song that they sing is proof of salvation.  It is a new song (14:3).  Only the redeemed can sing this song.  It is the song of redemption.  It is the song of salvation.  They learn this song from heaven.

The 144,000 are on earth but they hear someone in heaven singing this song.  They get a little choir lesson.  It is an audition for a heavenly choir.  The 144,000 learn this song from heaven.  Are you saved?  Are you redeemed?

Protection

They are not only saved, they are sealed.  They have a seal in their forehead and the seal consists not just of one name but of two (the name of the Father and of the Lamb).  We saw the purpose of the seal earlier in the book. The purpose is to protect them from the Tribulation plagues (7:1-3; 9:4).

Will this be a visible seal?  Will they have a tattoo on their forehead?  Probably not.  This is an apocalyptic book.  It is a picture of ownership.  They will have their names on their forehead because they belong to God.

You either have the name of Christ or the name of the beast on your forehead.  The followers of the beast will have their seal on their foreheads and the followers of the Lamb will have their seal.  You either have one mark or the other mark.  There is no neutrality.  Everyone will have some mark.

Which mark will you have, if you are alive during the Tribulation Period?  The followers of the Lamb will not be ashamed of their faith.  They will be open and visible believers.  Followers of the beast will also be open about their faith.  It will be clear to everyone.

Are you sealed?  Do you have a seal on you.  The Bible teaches that every believer in Christ is sealed.  We have a seal on us.  We may not be able to see it but it is real.  Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

It is a different kind of seal.  It does not protect us from any kind of plague.  It is the guarantee that we will be saved.  It is the down payment of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Obedience

They are followers of the Lamb.  We know that the 144,000 are Christians because they are said to be followers of the Lamb.  Here you have sheep following a lamb but the lamb also happens to be their Shepherd (7:17).  They follow Christ.  They are committed and devoted followers of Christ.

While everyone else if following the beast, this group will be following the Lamb.  They go where he goes and they do what he tells them to do.  They follow his teaching.  They keep his commandments.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27)  That is the definition of a Christian, a follower of Christ.  It is one of the signs that you are really saved.  Real sheep follow Jesus.

People who are not his sheep do not follow him (cf. I John 2:3-6). They “follow the Lamb WHEREVER HE GOES” (14:4). They were described in 7:3 as “the servants of God”.  Servants do what their master wants them to do.

If he leads you to go to North Carolina, you move to North Carolina.  If he leads you to go to Africa and be a missionary, you go to Africa and be a missionary.  If he calls you to be a missionary and give up your life as a martyr, you give up your life.  If he leads you to stay single all of your life, you stay single.  If he leads you to get married, you get married.

This group follows Jesus wherever he goes.  When the world goes in one direction and Jesus goes in the opposite direction, they follow Christ.  When their friends go in one direction and Jesus goes in another direction, they follow Jesus and not their friends.  The 144,000 do not do what everyone else is doing.  They do not follow the crowd.  They follow Christ.

Honesty

This group will also be known for their honesty and integrity.  The text says, “No lie will be found in their mouth” (14:5).  Some believe this is a specific reference to the lie that the Antichrist is God.  That lie will never be found on the mouth of the 144,000.  Do those who know you best describe you are brutally honest?  How important is honesty?

We live in a day in which lying has become socially acceptable.  People do it all the time.  Politicians are known for it.  Some of them even lie under oath (Clinton).  Apparently honest is far more important to God than it is to us.

The Bible says that lying is something that God HATES (Proverbs 12:22; 6:17).  People who end up in Hell are not described as honest (21:27; 22:15).  One of the type of people excluded from heaven are those who love and practice falsehood.

Great Reputation

This group is also said to have a good reputation.  They are said to be “blameless” (14:5).  They are not sinless but they are blameless.  They lived above reproach.  Noah was blameless before the Flood (Genesis 6:9). Job was said to be blameless (Job 1:1).  When Daniel’s enemies tried to find something to accuse him of, they couldn’t find anything (Daniel 6:3-4).

He was blameless.  The 144,000 were not like some politicians that are full of scandals.  To put it in other words, they had a clear conscience before God and man (Acts 24:16).  Paul said that he always strove to do that and we should as well.  How good is our reputation?  Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold”.

Self-Control

The final characteristic of the 144,000 is moral purity.  They will have some self control in the area of their passions.  This group will be sexually pure.  It says that “they have not defiled themselves with women” (14:4).  That is one of the areas that people struggle today is in the area of purity.  We live in a day I which sexual immorality is common and it will be common in the Tribulation Period as well (9:20-21).

How important is purity to God?  The Bible says that the immoral will end up in the Lake of Fire (21:8, 27; 22:15).  That is counter-cultural because it is a practice that is socially acceptable.   The demand for purity or even self-control is not a big deal in our culture.

How much self-control do we have?  It is one on the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.  There are nine visible attributes of the Holy Spirit which should be manifested in the life of every Christian.    It is something that every Christian should have.

Is Revelation 14:4 an Insult to Woman?

The text says literally that “they have not defiled themselves with women for they are virgins”.  That is a very strange verse.   It does not say, “They have not defiled themselves with adultery”.  It does not say, “They have not defiled themselves with fornication”.  It does not say, “They have not defiled themselves with homosexuality”.  It says, “They have not defiled themselves with WOMEN”.

Is this an insult to women?  Does this demean marriage?  Some have used it to teach that sex itself is defiling and that is why the 144,000 did not have any sex.  Some of the church fathers taught that.

The fourth century church father Jerome said that “The truth is that, in view of the purity of the body of Christ, all sexual intercourse is unclean”[2].  He taught that “corruption attaches to all intercourse”[3] (even in marriage).

Some believe that if you are single and are a monk or a nun you are holier than if you are married.  They believe that singleness is a higher calling.  You are more spiritual if you are single.  That is why Roman Catholic priests are not allowed to get married.

John Chrysostom, another fourth century church father, wrote a treatise on virginity.  He said that virginity “virginity is superior to marriage as heaven is to earth or as angels are to men”.

1. There is no evidence elsewhere in the book that John hates women.

John is not misogynist.  Revelation does condemn a woman by the name of Jezebel but she was not condemned because she was a woman.  She was condemned because she was a false prophet.  There are actually four women mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Two are portrayed as wicked (Jezebel and the Whore Babylon).  Two are portrayed as righteous (The Bride of Christ in Revelation 19 and the woman pregnant with the Messiah in Revelation 12).    Is there any evidence in the book that marriage is wrong?  No.  The church is described as the bride of Christ.

2. There is no evidence elsewhere in the Bible that marital relations are defiling.

In fact, it teaches the opposite.  It teaches that God was the one who created sex.  He was the one who made the sex organs and He was the one who told Adam and Eve to reproduce after their kind.  It was a command.  Hebrews 13:4 says, Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled.”  It is not dirty or sinful[4].

One of the rules of biblical interpretation or hermeneutics is that you never use one difficult passage to contradict three hundred plain ones.  It is called “the Harmony of Scripture Principle”.  It is a very common error of the cults.  One of the clearest doctrines of the Bible is that doctrine of salvation by grace apart from works.

It is taught in passage after passage after passage and yet many read James 2 and try to refute that doctrine.  The Bible teaches that sex inside of marriage is not defiling but sex outside of marriage does defile people (Romans 1:24; Jude 8).  Paul calls it a “sin against the body” (I Corinthians 6:18).

Two Main Interpretations

What does Revelation 14:4 mean (“they have not defiled themselves with women for they are virgins”)?  There are two main interpretations of Revelation 14:4.

The Literal Interpretation

Some take these words literally.  Since Paul said that in times of great distress, it is better to be single than to be married (I Corinthians 7:26).  The Tribulation will be the greatest period of distress the world has ever known.  Jesus said this in Matthew 24:21 and so some believe that in the Tribulation Period there will be 144,000 single Jewish believers.

There are several problems with that picture.  The Jews emphasized marriage, not celibacy.  Monasticism is more of a Catholic doctrine than a Jewish doctrine.  The picture of 144,000 celibate Jews is laughable.  It is an oxymoron.  Paul was single and advocated it but most Jews in his day did not.

Furthermore, that argument, if it proves anything, proves too much.  If the 144,000 Jewish males should not marry because of the great distress of the Tribulation Period, then no believers should marry during that time.  What is true of the 144,000 should be true of all tribulation saints.

There is another big problem if you take this completely literal.  If you take this literal, then you are a Jehovah’s Witness.  They believe that there will be only 144,000 saved.  If you take this literally, it is what the text seems to say.  The 144,000 are the only ones who can sing the song because they are the only ones who are saved.

They are the only ones who are redeemed from the earth.  We know that is not true.  There will be other people who will be saved (7:9-14) and there will be other people on earth who will be saved.  Why would they not be allowed to sing the song, since they were redeemed from the earth as well?

The Symbolic Interpretation

The other view is that this is completely symbolic.  These are not literal virgins, any more than Jesus is a literal lamb or there will be a literal tattoo on their forehead with the name of the Father and the Son and there will not just be 144,000 of them.  The symbolic interpretation would say that this has nothing to do with sex or marriage at all.

It is a metaphorical way of saying that the 144,000 will not commit idolatry.  In the OT, the nation of Israel was described as a virgin daughter of Zion (II Kings 19:21).  When she commits idolatry, she plays the harlot.  The OT frequently used sexual immorality as a figure for idolatry (Deuteronomy 31:16; Hosea 9:1).

They will not worship the Beast.  They will be spiritually pure.  They will be sexually pure as well.  The one implies the other but they may not be literal virgins.  Virgins are a picture of purity.


[2] Jerome, Against Jovinian I. 20.  http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/30091.htm

[3] Ibid. I, 37

[4] Sex did make one unclean in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 15:18) but that is talking about ritual or ceremonial uncleanness, not moral uncleanness.  According to the Law, pregnancy also made one unclean (12:1-5) and that is completely normal, as did a woman’s menstrual cycle (15:19-23).

One Response to The Marks of the 144,000

  1. Dexter says:

    I think the 144 000 is not symbolim but literal. In the statement that ”they haven’t defiled themselves with women” makes only two logical explanations possible. 1. They could be married, but they haven’t had any moment of sexual intimacy (which would be odd but possible) – Hebrews 13:4 states: ”Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” 2. They are single and have never fornicated. On the matter of purity and defilement, Jesus taught that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he already has committed adultery in his heart. So with all this in mind I’m inclined to think that they are most likely single, not because sex or a woman is filthy, but because in my mind, it would be easier or more logical. But then again, Jesus also said in Luke 14:26: ”If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” So they could be married and leave their family to physically be with Jesus and to follow Him wherever He goes. But still, I’m more inclined on them being single and keeping themselves pure from fornication.

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