Revelation 14:1-5

In entering on these 'memories' of John's great Words and Visions, we stated that it would be alike unprofitable and uninteresting to attempt investigating many portions of the Apocalypse which have formed the battle-ground of rival interpreters and conflicting interpretations; and that we should confine ourselves to those which are alike more perspicuous in meaning and replete with practical instruction. It was for this reason we passed so cursorily in our last, the details of the first six trumpet-soundings. We simply alluded, indeed, to the first four of these, which had reference to God's judgments on the outer world, on the trees, the sea, the rivers, the lights of heaven. The fifth and sixth trumpets were not even mentioned. They referred to the outpouring of the Divine judgments, not on material nature, but on living men; and consisted of the plague of the locusts and the plague of the horsemen. Without attempting to dwell on circumstantials, but simply to preserve continuity, we may link together in a few sentences the intervening portions, occupying, as they do, four chapters between the sixth trumpet-sounding and the beautiful passage which opens upon us like a welcome gleam of heavenly sunshine in chapter 14.

At the close of the sixth trumpet there is inserted a twofold vision—that of the mighty Angel holding in his hand "the little Book," and of "the two Witnesses" prophesying in sackcloth. Then comes the sounding of the seventh Angel's trumpet, to which we have already particularly alluded. It evoked a song of triumph from the lips of Christ's ingathered Church. Heaven was opened, and a disclosure made of "the Ark of his Testament," the pledge and symbol of the inviolable security of the glorified. The special theme of their song, however—the first outburst of praise on this birthday of the Church-triumphant, being an ascription of thanksgiving for the completion of God's righteous judgments on the world—the symbols of bliss and joy were appropriately accompanied with "lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail."

With this imagery concludes another great act in the apocalyptic drama. Yet, before the curtain falls, and before the terminating scenes, in the outpouring of the seven vials, take place, there is inserted a lengthened interlude—a great prophetic vision, complete in itself—regarding the Church and her three enemies. The Church is represented as a Woman arrayed in dazzling effulgence. The light of the midday sun is her vesture; the moon (probably the crescent moon) is under her feet, forming her sandals; and around her head is a tiara or coronal of twelve stars, recalling the description in the Song of Songs, "Who is she that looks forth as the morning? Fair as the moon, bright as the sun, and terrible as a starry host with banners." She is further depicted as fleeing into the wilderness, pursued and persecuted by a portentous monster—a great red Dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and a cluster of seven crowns on his head. This we are specially told was Satan himself, the Prince of Darkness, the arch-enemy of the Church and of mankind, "That old serpent which deceives the whole world." Evicted by Michael and his angels from the highest heavens, the dragon and his angels are represented as turning their foiled and baffled rage against the Woman, and "making war with the remnant of her seed." But the exiled and persecuted Church is shielded from the rage of the destroyer. Eagle-wings are given her to fly farther still into the recesses of the wilderness, where, like the great Prophet of Cherith, "She is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent."

Again, as the Apostle-spectator stands on the sands of Patmos, the Aegean waves rolling at his feet, he sees emerging from the bosom of the deep, another hideous monster, somewhat akin and yet differing from the former. This new fiendish beast has "seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." These heads and horns are the well-known symbols of world-power; and though evidently referring, in the first instance, to the colossal dominion of the Roman Empire, which, in the time of John, had from its Capitol on the Tiber carried winged thunderbolts wide over the earth; yet they are by no means restricted to this; but may rather be regarded as representative of all the vast earthly empires which are hostile to Christ and His Church. To this sea-monster Satan surrenders his throne and kingdom, making him his substitute and viceroy; and terribly does the delegate fulfill the commission by his blaspheming tongue and his war with the saints.

Once more, John beholds another—a third Beast—rising now, not from the sea, but from the earth—one of hybrid form, half lamb, half dragon; yet an emissary of the abyss and darkness, and confederate with the sea-born Beast—wearing a pretended gentleness and lamblike meekness, combined with the dragon's subtlety, cruelty, and mischief—a giant deceiver, doing great wonders, performing false miracles, and arrogantly exacting homage from "those who dwell on the earth." This has been generally supposed (however interpretations may conflict in details) to represent that gigantic religious machinery, in all its varied phases and protean shapes, first Pagan then Christian, but which has attained its culmination in the persecuting power and tyrannical usurpation of the Church of Rome—that hybrid of simulated meekness and humility, the gentleness of the lamb in combination with haughty pretension and cruel intolerance—the washer of pilgrims' feet, yet the kindler of Inquisition-fires—the disposer of crowns and kingdoms—the arch-ruler of men—the Vicar of God!

While the previous sea-monster was the representative of brute force, secular despotism, the tyranny of sword and conquest, of dungeon, and rack, and faggot—this latter is that of ecclesiastical despotism, going forth among the nations with all deceivableness of unrighteousness—its weapons moral and spiritual—its enthralled and crouching victims—the depraved intellect, the enslaved conscience, the distorted reason, the fettered will. We are reminded of the description which the great Dreamer, in his "Pilgrim's Progress" puts into the lips of Christian when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, "While I was musing, I espied before me a cave, where two giants, Pope and Pagan, dwelt in old times, by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, ashes, and mangled bodies lay there, were cruelly put to death."

But in this mystic Book, vision is interlaced and supplemented with vision. And as we have just described that of the Woman and her three enemies as an appendage to the seven trumpet-soundings preceding the opening of the vials, so the figure which we are now more specially to consider, forms an epilogue or addition to this interjected imagery; while it constitutes also a befitting introduction to the scenes of final triumph and final vengeance which occupy the last chapters of the Apocalypse.

The preceding revelations, so full of woe and sadness, were calculated to depress and overwhelm the spirit of the Apostle. The present is, as if a telescope were put into his hands, enabling him to pierce the environing gloom, and obtain the assurance of ultimate safety; or, to use the simile suggested by the wilderness where the persecuted Church had fled, as if an oasis had suddenly been opened up to him in the midst of the desert, with its wells and palm trees, telling of the welcome refreshment and shade.

Perhaps the darkest part of the whole Apocalypse had now been reached. The very heaven above, which, at the opening of the Book, was radiant with visions of surpassing glory and resonant with song, brings before the mind recent memories of conflict and the clang of battle. "There was war in Heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels." The final expulsion of the Great Enemy from the heavenly world seems to have been, in some mysterious way, connected with the completion of Christ's Redemption-work on earth. "Now," says the true Michael—the 'Man-child' of the prophetic vision, caught up unto God, and to His Throne, "Now," says He, in anticipation of His ascension, "shall the Prince of this world be cast out." "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven." The same event had thus been celebrated in prophetic strains: "You have ascended on high; You have led captivity captive."

And when that war was hushed, and the battle turned from the celestial gates, it was only, as we have noted, for the cast out legions to make earth the scene of their renewed unholy strife. If these judgments on the Church had been the disciplinary chastisements of her Great Head, John would have bowed with unfaltering trust. But it was a fearful brotherhood and confederacy he beheld of the powers of human and satanic evil—a compound of brute force and demon force; man, the tool and instrument of hellish impulses, raging against the Lord and His Anointed. Satan was marshaling the hosts of evil men; and from these duped, malignant human agents the appeal was heard, "Who is like the Beast? who is able to make war with him?" Well might the trembling Apostle exclaim, in words uttered by David in a kindred hour of terror and despondency, "Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hands of man."

It was, then, amid such gloomy picturings that the Patmos-exile turned his eye from sea and earth and wilderness, to the already well-known emblems of the Lamb, the four Living ones, the Elders, the Throne, the Hundred and forty-four thousand. It deserves, moreover, specially to be noted, in connection with the vision, that it is not to be taken as a picture of the Heaven that is hereafter to be—the Heaven of the completed Church-triumphant (that is reserved for future revelations, which we shall come by and bye to consider); it is rather the Heaven of the present—the calm world that now exists, when the earthly battle is still raging, and the lower horizon is still black with tempests.

The first object in this new scene which arrests John's attention is his beloved Savior—the great King and Head of the persecuted Church. "I looked, and lo! the LAMB!" (so it with the definite article)—"I looked, and lo! the Lamb!"—as if that symbol was now to him a well-known and welcome one. He whom he had previously seen, in the opening vision, in the midst of the Throne, adored by the ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, is now beheld "standing on Mount Zion," set as King on His own holy hill. He had with Him, and around Him, an assemblage of an hundred and forty-four thousand; having "His name" as well as "His Father's name written in their foreheads."

It was expressly asserted in the preceding chapter, as one blasphemous usurpation of the third Beast, or monster from the earth, that "he causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their forehead." This was Satan, the great counter-worker, mimicking and counterfeiting the work of God, as described in the previous sealing-vision, thereby deceiving, if it were possible, the very elect.

John had just seen crouching nations stooping to the usurper, and, allowing the degrading mark of vassalage to be put on their foreheads. He looks up to the Church in glory. He sees the redeemed, with the indubitable brand of a diviner vassalage, bearing in their bodies, (on their foreheads,) "the marks of the Lord Jesus."

Then he listens to a strangely-mingled psalmody, whose combined cadences come floating to his ear, as if it had been one voice from Heaven. It was made up of 'many waters,' 'great thunder,' and 'the voice of harpers harping with their harps.' It was the loudness of the thunder-peal and of the ocean-waves, combined with the dulcet tones of the sweetest musical instrument. The song he heard was as it were "a new song." We are not told in what its newness or novelty consisted, nor what formed the theme of its magnificent melodies; probably it would be an ascription of joyful thanksgiving for their safe deliverance, on the part of those who had now exchanged the pilgrim warfare for the pilgrim rest: those who, with eagle-wings, had once taken themselves to the desert shelter, but who had now soared to the heights of Heaven, and made their perch on the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. It may have been a song in which was mingled a celebration of safety and joy, with the rehearsal of former struggles—the trials they had patiently borne, the temptations they had successfully resisted; or it may have been a song of heart-cheer and encouragement directed to the toiling warriors and sufferers below, anticipatory of a like sure triumph if faithful unto death; or it may have been a song only "as it were" new, but which was really the ever old one—the same which Abel sang at the gates of Eden, and which John had either sung that day on the rocks of Patmos, or subsequently in his home at Ephesus, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood!"

All the information he gives us regarding the song is, that no man could learn it but the hundred and forty-four thousand. It could not be understood or sung by the saintliest of human lips, inasmuch as, very possibly, until the spirits of the just are 'made perfect'—until they are ushered into their state of glorification—they cannot fully comprehend the language of Heaven; those "unspeakable words which it is not lawful (or possible) for a man to utter." Even this favored Apostle, in entering the Temple above, would require his lips to be touched with the seraphic live-coal, before they could be attuned to the meaning and melody of its praises.

Such being the scene of worship in Heaven unfolded to the eye of the Apostle, let us proceed to note the delineation here given of its WORSHIPERS.

(1.) They are described as Redeemed (verse 3) "Who were redeemed from the earth." And, again (verse 4), "These were redeemed from among men." Not that modern amplification of Scripture—that travesty of a revealed truth—which would read it, "the redeemed of the earth," as indicating the universal ransom and restoration of the race. But "the redeemed from among the earth"—the ransomed elect—those represented in a former vision as specially sealed, or in the preceding chapter as having overcome the red dragon, (yes, all their foes,) by the blood, or "owing to the blood, of the Lamb." In other words, they are God's own seven thousand (distinguished from the Baal-throng), once hidden in the wilderness-caves of earth, now forever in the clefts of the True Rock of Ages—safe from the windy storm and tempest.

This warrant for the possession and occupancy of their thrones and their crowns, occupies, as well it may, the forefront and vanguard of their characteristics. It is the repetition, in another form, of the words of a recent figure we specially considered, "Who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." As on the earthly mount of Transfiguration, so on this heavenly Zion, the Apostle recognizes the theme of ecstatic conversation to be, "the death accomplished at Jerusalem." Their New song is the song of Redeeming love. Redemption has alone earned them a right to the description with which the vision closes, when they are spoken of as being "without fault before the throne of God."

(2.) The worshipers are represented as being undefiled. Not only in this world were they justified by the blood, but they were regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. Not only had they the righteousness imputed, but the righteousness implanted: and one special element in that subjective righteousness here mentioned, is that of chastity of life—virgin purity. How searchingly does the language of the vision come home to every heart, with its deep corruptions and impurities of thought and deed—making inquisition of those fleshly lusts that war against the soul, which blunt and wound and defile the conscience, and all the sensibilities of our higher natures, setting these on fire of hell—the fierce antagonists to that holiness, without which, it is declared, no one can see, and, doubtless, no one can enjoy, God!

How it brings down the sentence of withering condemnation on those, whose unchaste imaginations and unchaste lives have converted their souls (yes, these souls that were designed to be God's temple) into chambers full of all pollution and sensual imagery—a den of foul beasts, a cage of unclean birds—those whose every look is impurity, and who are as reckless of the virtue and innocence of others as they are of their own! How could any such, wallowing ever deeper in the mire, dream of joining that unspotted band in the Heavenly Zion? How could these polluted lips think of warbling the virgin-song of the undefiled? Those who are thus earthly, selfish, sensual, devilish, would be as incapable of appreciating that bliss, as the uncultured and untutored savage, to whom noise is alone music, and gaudy tinsel is alone beauty, could appreciate the exquisite harmonies of Mozart or Beethoven. Ascend to Heaven? join the faultless choir before the throne? No, they are self-conscious that they carry a chronic hell within them. The words which our own great epic poet puts into the lips of Satan, are indorsed by such, as containing a too truthful description and photograph of their own feelings and history: "Each way I fly is hell—myself an hell!"

"Myself an hell!"—its fires already kindled—the hell of fiendish, lustful, polluted thoughts, with their corresponding hell of remorse and upbraiding—the eagles of vengeance already preying on the carcass—the fabled lash of the Furies already descending—retribution already begun.

On the other hand, blessed truly are "the undefiled, who walk in the law of the Lord"—who have escaped the corruptions that are in the world through lust; in the volume of whose heart the white leaves have their virgin purity unblotted and unstained. You, too, who are mourning the loss of those whose sun has gone down in early morning—who, full of high promise, have perished "at the threshold-march of life"—rejoice in the thought that they have "clean escaped"—that these lambs of the flock have passed into the heavenly fold, with the fleece of early innocence unpolluted. Before impurity stirred the well of pure thought, they have been taken away, it may be, from much evil to come!

More blessed and honored, in one sense, are those—and many such there are—who, by dint of resolute self-discipline and high principle, have bravely fought the long fight, and come out of it unwounded, unscathed; who with unabashed face can make the appeal to the great Heart-Searcher, of a good conscience and a pure life: but safer at least are they, who, away from the sudden gusts and hurricanes of temptation, have soared early upwards, and, with unsoiled plumage—unruffled wings, have sank into the clefts of the Rock forever. If they had been allowed to remain longer on earth, who can tell but some crude storm might have blighted fair promise and belied fond hopes? But before summer's sun could scorch, no, before spring's frost could nip one bud or blast one leaf or blossom, the Great Giver, in mercy, took the flower to His own safer paradise—gave the summons,

"Waft her, angels, to the skies,
Far above yon azure plain;
Glorious there like you to rise,
There like you forever reign."

Oh! what would thousand and thousands give, who are now drifting, as miserable, shattered wrecks on life's sea—health, innocence, purity, gone—what would such give, to be as they are, inheriting in all its grandeur that best beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!"

"She is not dead, the child of our affection,
But gone into that school,
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
Where Christ Himself does rule.

"In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives whom we call dead."

(3.) They are represented as following Christ (verse 4) "They follow" (or literally 'who are following') "the Lamb wherever He goes." They are seen indeed, in common with their great Lord, "standing" on the Mount Zion. But it is standing ready for His service—prepared to embark in ministries of holy love for Him—and, along with "the armies which are in Heaven," spoken of in a subsequent vision, ready to follow Him "upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Is this our conception of a future state of bliss? Not a dreamland of inaction, consisting only of a series of negations, the absence of the sad catalogue of evils which beset us here; but do we realize it as a sphere of holy, spiritual activity, where we shall be enlisted in embassies of love and loyalty to the dear Lord who redeemed us? If so, Heaven—the manhood of our spiritual being—should have, at all events, its childhood on earth—what we are to be, should have its dim and shadowy reflection in what we now are. If we are to follow the Lamb in glory, that path of trustful and loving obedience should have its commencement here on earth.

Is it so? Are we thus following Him—following Him as a flock trustfully follows its shepherd? following Him, not fitfully or capriciously—not at set times and seasons only, when the summer sky is overhead, and the birds are on the boughs, and the valleys of life are shouting for joy—but willing to follow Him when the sky is lowering—when the birds have folded their wings, and these valleys of existence are shrouded in mist and darkness—no patches of verdant grass to be seen, the music of no still waters to be heard, yet ready to say, "Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him?"

Do we follow Him in the sense of seeking to be like Him—to have our wills equivalent with His?—setting His great Life of purity and obedience and self-sacrifice before us, and desiring that ours be a feeble transcript of its spotless excellencies? Do we follow Him, moreover, with the realizing thought before us of a Living Person?—not as the votaries of a creed, linked to some dry and formulated dogmas from which the great living 'life' has departed—but following, as these undefiled and faultless on the Mount Zion are represented as doing—following Himself—the Lamb of God—anticipating the time when "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is," and when we shall be able to say the words of Peter, "We are eyewitnesses of His majesty: we are with him in the Holy Mount!"

(4.) One other characteristic of the hundred and forty-four thousand is here mentioned—they are honest and sincere. (verse 5) "And in their mouth was found no lie." It is the echo in the New, of an Old Testament beatitude, "Blessed is the man. . . .in whose spirit there is no deceit." The great Lord of all could pronounce no higher encomium on an earnest seeker becoming a beloved follower, than this, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit." We need not consider strange the special closing reference which is here made to this attribute of heavenly bliss, when we think how much of the reverse is, alas! manifested on earth—how much duplicity, double-dealing, lack of candor, truthlessness, how much finessing and deceit, counterfeiting the pure and the real with what is base admixture and alloy—pretentious blossom with an utter failure of fruit; a world of appearances, mocking and deceiving; like the apples of Sodom, beautiful to look upon, but perishable caskets enshrining dust and ashes.

They who have grown thus weary with the world's falseness and hollow hypocrisy will cease to wonder how, amid higher elements of bliss, John finishes the record of one of the grandest of his visions with the assertion regarding the redeemed—"And in their mouth was found no lie, for they are without fault before the throne of God."

This entire figure, as we have seen, was primarily intended as a vision of comfort for the Church in her dark days, when the wilderness was her home and the dragon of persecution was tracking her flight. She is encouraged to look forward to that bridal-hour, when, as the affianced Spouse of the Heavenly Bridegroom, she shall come up from the wilderness leaning on the arm of her Beloved, to sing her nuptial song on the Hill of Zion.

But it is a vision of comfort and consolation also, to every individual pilgrim and child of sorrow. It is a glimpse above and beyond the clouds, into that calm world where the voice of wailing is no more heard—"wasting nor destruction within its borders." It tells, that whatever be the needed wilderness-discipline here, the redeemed of the Lord shall at last come to Zion with everlasting songs on their heads. To all of us, it is an answer to the question, 'What are the characteristics, what the qualifications, of that heavenly citizenship?' "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart—who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully." "He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart." "He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."