by John Lowe
2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
The apostle begins with a wonderful description of the voice of God.
• First of all, John tells us that the voice came from heaven. It was unexpected, so it probably startled him. The voices he had heard previously had been from Christ (1:10-15; 4:1; 10:7-8; 11:12), the living creatures (6:1-7), an angel (5:2; 7:2), many angels, (5:11-12), all of creation (5:13).
• It was like the sound of many waters. Here we are reminded of the power of the voice of God, for there is no power like the crash of the mountainous waves upon the beaches and the cliffs.
• It was like the voice of great thunder. Here we are reminded of the unmistakableness of the voice of God. No one can fail to hear the thunder-clap.
• It was like the sound of many harpers playing on their harps. Here we are reminded of the melody of the voice of God. There is in that voice the gentle graciousness of sweet music to calm the troubled heart. The Lamb’s company was singing a song which only they could learn. Here there is a truth which runs through all life. To learn certain things a man must be a certain kind of person. The Lamb’s company was able to learn the new song because they had passed through certain experiences.
The presence of harps in heaven points to some exciting possibilities for us: (1) God may well include countless new learning opportunities in heaven; (2) Our understanding of God will be so heightened that any opportunity to increase our praise will simply expand our own joy; and perhaps (3) some of us will finally learn to play a musical instrument.
John tells us what this exalted company is doing in heaven. “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” The book of Revelation, so full of sorrow, strife and tears, is also a book filled with song! Bring the Lamb into the picture, and immediately there is a song!
This is not a heavenly choir, but an earthly choir of Jews redeemed from the earth—purchased by the blood of the Lamb (see also 7:14; 12:11; 19:13). The angels, creatures, and the elders could not sing it, for they had not experienced redemption from sin, so they could not learn the song. The redeemed sang a glorious song of praise to the Lamb, who was standing with them, and the hosts of heaven were the audience. Only because of His sacrifice will they be able to be in heaven. We are not told the words of this song. Regardless of the dispensation in which a man has lived, if he has been redeemed by God, he has something worthwhile to sing about.
Dear reader, we need to know Jesus in a meaningful way. We need to draw closer to Him. By the way, when was the last time that you told Him that you loved Him? He has said that He loves you, and you ought to tell Him that in return.
3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
“And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders.” The Lord has an amazing ability to make His people happy. One of the wonders of the God of the Bible is that He is a happy God! The gods of the pagans are fierce, wicked, and cruel, delighting in the tears and trembling of men and feasting on human fear. But our God is a happy God. He picks us up from the horrible pit, plants our feet upon the rock, and puts a new song into our mouth. One of the greatest lessons we can learn in life is simply that there can be no real happiness apart from true holiness. God is altogether holy; therefore He is altogether happy. When we are filled with the Spirit we sing! (Psalms 40:2-3; Ephesians 5:18-19). This exalted company of God’s people is also a joyful company. They fill the courts of heaven with their song until the very hills thundered back the sound. They sing this song in the presence of the living ones (creatures) and the elders who are wearing golden crowns and the Bride (those of us who are believers and make up the Church). The Word of God does not say that these 144,000 have crowns. They sing before the throne but are not said to be connected with the throne.
The song is powerful and beautiful, it is sung before the throne of God, and the only people able to sing it are the 144,000 whom God purchased from the earth (7:4-8). It is the song of redemption, being sung by all the redeemed saints in one gigantic choir. They are rejoicing over the accomplishment of God’s entire redemptive work before Christ returns (Psalm 33:1-3; 40:3; 96:1).
There are two notable things in this passage. The first is that this psalm is exclusive to this particular group of people. The second is that these people have been purchased “from the earth”—God has redeemed them.
Note: Many believe the 144,000 represent a remnant of Jews brought to faith to stand for the restoration of Israel. Others see this number as a symbol of completion. They see the 144,000 as a representation of all the redeemed who are now the spiritual children of Abraham—in other words, the Church.
There are not many like them, even in heaven. John says, “And no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.” Their experiences are almost unique. Not many, even of God’s choicest saints, have walked through the flood and the flame as God’s untouchables. There has been a Meshach, a Shadrach, and an Abednego, and a Daniel in the lions’ den, saints “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:33-34). There have been some, but their ranks are thin. But no other age has produced a company like this, a veritable army of militant believers marching unscathed through every form of danger.
The devil knows about this coming band of conquerors and writhes already in an agony of anticipation. He is preparing for them by building a cult to give a false impression of these witnesses. These saints are not sealed and set apart by God in their present age of grace, but they will appear on earth after the church has gone. They will triumph gloriously while on earth, and then they will celebrate that triumph in a new song before the throne. The words of that song will be theirs alone to sing, no one else will be able to learn its words, never having had their unique experiences.
4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
“These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” This is not easy to interpret, but it is of the utmost importance to get its meaning clear. It describes the unsullied purity of those who are in the company of the Lamb, but in what does that purity consist? Are we to assume that these are all men because they “were not defiled with women”? Or are we to assume that they are all women because they “are virgins”? Frankly, I do not believe that either assumption would be absolutely correct. But what does it truly mean? It can have a literal or spiritual meaning, and I think it includes both. The Great Tribulation is a period of unparalleled suffering. The 144,000 have been through that period. The abnormal times demanded an abnormal state. That was the reason they were unmarried.
When Paul says, “These are they which were not defiled with women,” he is providing an illustration of God’s ability to keep believers remarkably pure in the midst of great difficulty. This phrase indicates that the 144,000 Jewish evangelists will have not only resisted the perverse system of Antichrist, but they will have also resisted all temptations to elicit sex: “I am jealous for you, just as God is; you are like a pure virgin whom I have promised in marriage to one man only, Christ himself” (2 Corinthians 11:2). During the Great Tribulation, there will be an exaggerated emphasis upon sex, and obviously, immorality will prevail. The 144,000 will have kept themselves aloof from the sins of the Great Tribulation.
Now, considering adultery in the spiritual sense, in the Old Testament idolatry was classified as spiritual fornication. The classical example is in Ezekiel 16 where we find God’s severe indictment against Israel for fornication and adultery—which was idolatry. The 144,000 will also have kept themselves from the worship of the beast and his image during the Great Tribulation. Therefore, the comment, “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins,” is probably referring to chastity in both the literal sense and the spiritual sense. And this makes good sense, by the way.
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