They Follow the Lamb Wherever He Goes
September 4, 2022 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Revelation 14:1–5
Prior to sophisticated military technology, soldiers knew the advantages of possessing higher ground. On higher ground, you can see broader and further. You tire less easily versus those fighting uphill. The enemy’s weapons have shorter range and become less of a threat. It’s no surprise, then, to find examples where having the high ground is important—from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to that famous line of Obi-Wan Kenobi: “It’s over Anakin! I have the high ground!”
Okay, I could’ve done better than the Star Wars prequels. But the point stands—securing the high ground was important in range warfare. It also became a source of encouragement to your troops fighting below. When they saw their captain standing tall on high ground, it strengthened their hearts to endure the battle.
Chapters 12 and 13 have portrayed our present struggle as a great war. A Dragon makes war against God’s people on earth. He works through a Beast from the sea. He works through a False Prophet from the earth. He works in politics and religion and the economy to gather an army opposed to Jesus’ followers. But in Revelation 14, God gives a vision of the Lamb and his army possessing the high ground. That’s what today’s passage is about—to encourage you with a vision of Jesus reigning with his blood-bought people on high ground. Let’s read it together starting in verse 1…
1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
The Church Reigning with the Lamb
Our passage breaks down in three parts: the church reigning with the Lamb, the church worshiping the Lamb, and the church following the Lamb. Look first at the church reigning with the Lamb. In verse 1, John sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. Now, this isn’t the counterfeit lamb of 13:11. This is the true Lamb of 5:6. This is Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain to ransom people for God. He stands on Zion.
Historically, Mount Zion included Jerusalem. Zion also hosted the temple mount, where God revealed his presence. God’s anointed king also ruled from Zion. So, Mount Zion became known as God’s mountain. The place where God dwelled and ruled his people in holiness. Zion was supposed to portray God’s reign on earth. Psalm 50:2 calls it the “perfection of beauty,” where God shines forth. Psalm 48:2 says that it’s “beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth;” with God as its fortress.
But the earthly Zion never lived up to those ideals. Israel rebelled. The curses of the Law required God to judge and tear down Zion. Sin made it impossible to rebuild the earthly Zion. If the true Zion was going to come, God himself would do it by grace. Turns out, even that former Zion pointed beyond itself to a heavenly one. One day, God would enthrone a Son on Zion’s hill, Psalm 2 says. From there his rule would bring heaven down to earth. God’s King on Zion would possess the nations.
It’s no accident that John identifies Jesus as that King from Psalm 2. Remember 12:5 in Revelation? He is the long-awaited child, the one who is to rule the earth with a rod of iron—that’s from Psalm 2. The Dragon tried to devour him, but he was caught up to God and to his throne. Here we see him reigning from that throne, from the true Mount Zion. In other words, Jesus already stands with all authority on God’s heavenly mountain. He’s the King bringing heaven down to earth. By his cross and resurrection, he already conquered. He already secured the high ground.
But notice, he doesn’t stand alone. With him stand 144,000. We’ve seen this group before. In 7:3, they are God’s servants.[i] In verse 3 here, they are people “who had been purchased from the earth.” The same language appears in 5:9 to say that Christ “purchased people…from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Also, given Revelation’s symbolic use of numbers, 144,000 is the product of 12 times 12 times 1000. The same numbers appear again in 21:12-14 to depict the fullness of God’s people. So, I take the 144,000 to symbolize the whole of God’s redeemed.
But also recall how the Lord counts them off tribe by tribe. In 7:4, 12,000 from Judah, 12,000 from Reuben, 12,000 from Gad, and so on. It sounds much like the lists in Numbers 1-2. God takes a census of Israel’s warriors. God numbers the men from every tribe who can go to war as the people pass through the wilderness. Each company is numbered and complete. God’s redeemed are a mighty army reigning with the Lamb—that’s the picture. They stand victorious because their Captain has conquered.
At the same time, notice how they bear his name on their foreheads. They have the Lamb’s name “and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” That reaches back to the priest’s turban in Exodus. The priests had the words, “Holy to the Lord” written across the forehead. That’s how John sees the church reigning in heaven. Not only are they God’s royal army; they are also God’s holy priesthood. Throughout Revelation, this is what John calls the church—a kingdom of priests. 5:10, the Lamb purchased them and “made them a kingdom and priests to his God.” Here they are, reigning with the Lamb as mighty warriors, and worshiping the Lamb as holy priests.
Now, the last time we heard about a mark on the forehead was 13:16. The followers of the Beast have the Beast’s mark on their foreheads; and those who didn’t have the Beast’s mark couldn’t buy or sell. Again, this isn’t first a physical mark. It’s a spiritual mark evidenced by who we serve and worship. For those who serve and worship the Beast, they get all the benefits of his power and wealth. But for those who serve and worship the Lamb, you don’t get that power and wealth. The world hates Jesus. In many cases, you’re oppressed, overlooked, ostracized. The Beast sets the world against you.
I don’t know about you, but living any length of time under that sort of oppression would cause you to ask some questions, wouldn’t it? “Are we truly victorious in Christ? When it comes to choosing Jesus over power and wealth in this world, is belonging to Jesus better when my family suffers unjust treatment, when it’s this uncomfortable, when the narrow gate* is this hard? Is suffering for Jesus’ name the right path to victory? Is following in Jesus’ footsteps of suffering really how we conquer?” Or maybe it’s just, “I’m so tired of fighting—is this battle ever going to end?”
The Lord Jesus knows that you face a great battle on earth. He knows that ruthless enemies like the Dragon and the Beast seek to destroy your faith—they want you out of the fight. But look at Jesus’ gift to us here in the word of God to give us courage in the battle. Jesus opens heaven to show you ultimate reality—the Lamb already has the high ground, and he’s got you with him, beloved. That’s the picture here. Don’t grow weary in doing good. Fight the good fight of faith. Your Lord reigns. You have the advantage. He’s bringing heaven on earth, and you will reign with him.
The Church Worshiping the Lamb
Second, John sees the church worshiping the Lamb. In verses 2-3, John hears a song from heaven. But he uses a mixture of metaphors to describe the experience. It’s like the “roar of many waters.” Ezekiel describes the Lord’s voice this way.[ii] At other times, it describes a great multitude of people.[iii] If you’ve ever stood at the base of a waterfall, the sound is all around you. There was a downpour on Thursday, and I opened the door to the courtyard and the roar of water was everywhere. The same with “loud thunder,” only thunder inspires a sense of awe. Both metaphors will appear again in 19:6 to describe the sound of a great multitude rejoicing in God’s reign.
Next, he says the sound was like the sound of “harpists playing on their harps.” Don’t think of the larger pedal harps that you need a truck to haul around. Think of the smaller lyre harp—more comparable to our guitar. It’s an instrument of joy. The Psalms often include the harp when celebrating the Lord’s worth or his saving work.[iv] John overlays these metaphors to help us sense the wonder of their worship. It’s all-consuming and yet beautiful; it’s awe-inspiring and yet filled with joy.
That’s why he also calls it a “new song.” In the Psalms, a new song meant that you were so freshly stirred by God’s saving work that you sung of his saving work.[v] That seems to be the subject of their song here. God’s saving work has compelled them into a roar of celebration. At the end of verse 3, he says that “No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed [God’s saving work] from the earth.”
That word “redeemed” gets thrown around a lot—redeeming music, redeeming media, redeeming culture. But when the Bible uses “redemption,” it has a people in view, not things; and it has a very specific idea in view built around themes from the Exodus. Redemption has to do with payment being made to loose people from captivity.[vi] Think Exodus with me. The people were in slavery. No ability to liberate themselves. Someone greater than the people, someone greater than Egypt—God had to liberate them. But he did it at the cost of the firstborn. Except, he didn’t take Israel’s firstborn. In their place God provided the blood of a lamb. Their freedom came at the cost of a lamb.
Fast forward to Jesus. Far more serious, we are slaves to sin. We lack the ability to liberate ourselves. Someone greater than us, someone greater than sin—God has to liberate us. But he did it at the cost of his Son. Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Our freedom came at the cost of Jesus’ life. Redemption—that’s why the 144,000 sing. Followers of the Beast don’t understand this song—they can’t sing it, because they’re still in their sins. Angels don’t understand this song. Only the redeemed can sing it, because they know what it means to be lost and then found, to be enslaved and then freed and forgiven. They can’t help but let it come out in praise. Redemption—isn’t that why you sing?! Isn’t that why we gather to lift our voices? You are an outcropping of a vast heavenly choir that will flood the earth with praise.
The Church Following the Lamb
Third, John sees the church following the Lamb. He captures this with several images. Starting in verse 4 he says, “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.” Now, some will take this to mean the 144,000 are males who’ve chosen celibacy for the kingdom. But that’s hard to uphold if—as I’ve tried to show—the 144,000 represent all of God’s redeemed. Also, we shouldn’t read this as disparaging sexual relations since elsewhere Scripture celebrates sexual relations within marriage.[vii] It’s also not a knock against women, as if something in their nature was unclean—John even uses a woman in chapter 12 to represent God’s people.
What, then, is he saying? Well, return with me for a moment to the picture John painted in verse 1. The 144,000 depict the church as a royal army. Again, chapter 7 numbers them off much like the male warriors were numbered in the wilderness. They represent the whole, but only the males went off to war. Something else that develops in the Old Testament is that anytime the men went off to war, the law required that they keep themselves from women for ceremonial cleanness.[viii] The men set themselves apart to serve the Lord in a special way with single-minded devotion.
Now, take that image and bring it into a book where God also pictures the rebellious world as a great prostitute. We’ll get to her in chapter 17. But for now, just know that she’s in cahoots with the Beast in warring against the church. She’s adorned with purple and scarlet and gold. She rides the Beast; and the Beast uses her to lure people into all kinds of unfaithfulness. The kings of the earth become intoxicated with her seductive abominations and sexual immorality.
Not the 144,000, though. Not the redeemed. Not this army. They are like soldiers wholly true to their Captain’s orders. The world tries to seduce them, but they show an undivided devotion to the Lamb. They are like those Christians in 3:4 who have not soiled/defiled their garments by making moral compromises with the world. They set themselves apart to serve Jesus exclusively. That seems to be his reasoning with the phrase “for they are virgins.” Instead of sleeping around with the world’s false gods, they have reserved themselves wholly for Christ.[ix]
It’s no surprise that John then adds, “these follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” They hear their Captain’s orders, and they follow him. In the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. In John 12:26 Jesus said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me…” and in that context following means losing your life to save others—be a seed that lies in the earth and dies to bear much fruit.
Revelation presents Jesus in the same light. To follow the Lamb wherever he goes looks like faithful witness to God’s word in the face of opposition, even if that costs your life. That’s why Revelation holds up faithful saints like Antipas in 2:13, or the martyrs under the alter in 6:9—they exemplify following the Lamb wherever he goes.
Then finally verse 4 says, “These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.” In the Old Testament, firstfruits were that initial part of the harvest dedicated to the Lord. You brought them to the priests, and once you presented them at the temple, they were used solely for God’s purpose. They were set apart for the Lord.
The same idea is present here. Redemption isn’t just about escaping slavery. You’re freed to serve as an offering in God’s presence. In this context, that looks like staying faithful to the Lamb in word and in deed. Notice, “in their mouth no lie was found.” They are the opposite of the Beast and his people. The Beast and his False Prophet spread the Dragon’s lies (Rev 13:14). They have followers that do the same. In chapter 2 it was teachers like Balaam and Jezebel deceiving the church into idolatry (Rev 2:14, 20). 22:15 describes the Beast’s people as “those who love falsehood.”
But these followers of the Lamb speak the truth. They speak God’s truth. They do not suppress the truth about God; they bear witness to the truth about God and his redeeming work in the Lamb. By doing this, they image the Lamb. Did you know Isaiah 53 describes Jesus this way? “They made his grave with the wicked…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” When you belong to the Lamb and serve him, you speak like the Lamb.
They also stay faithful to the Lamb in deed. Their dedication shows itself in blamelessness. You can tell them apart from the world because they choose the path that’s morally upright.[x] Instead of moral compromises with the world, they follow the Lamb in righteousness. They are—as Paul puts it elsewhere—children of God without blemish, shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Phil 2:15).
Follow the Lamb Wherever He Goes
That’s the vision—the church reigning with the Lamb; the church worshiping the Lamb; the church following the Lamb. What are some ways this vision should impact you and me? One, make sure you stand with the Lamb. The contrast is so stark when you read this next to chapter 13. Either you belong to the Lamb on high ground, or you belong to the Beast’s followers who, according to this picture, have already lost—and who, according to the rest of chapter 14, will suffer God’s punishment. Which people do you belong to? It all comes down to whether you’re redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Do you know the forgiveness of your sins? Are you trusting the Lamb’s blood to free you from slavery to sin? Don’t perish with the world. The Beast’s kingdom is collapsing in the wake of Jesus’ reign. Take Jesus at his word. Trust in his saving work, identify with him in baptism, and you will find yourself standing and singing with the redeemed.
Two, if you’re standing with the Lamb, don’t give up the fight of faith. I mean this in a couple of ways. Some of the first Christians hearing this were flirting with the Beast’s kingdom. Christians in Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis—they started making moral compromises with the world. They started tolerating teaching that made room for idolatry and sexual immorality. Others in Laodicea were just happy to be rich and comfy in Rome while forgetting their need for Jesus. The same temptations persist today.
But a vision like this says, “Don’t give in to the Beast. His ways may look attractive, rich, and powerful, but it’s all going down. He doesn’t have the high ground—Jesus does. Victory lies with the Lamb and never with the Beast. So, stay faithful to Jesus and you will reign with him.” That’s one way it encourages us to stay in the fight.
At the same time, there were other Christians who weren’t flirting with the world. They were faithful to Jesus in witness and in suffering—Christians like those in Smyrna and Philadelphia. Their struggle would look more like those who grow weary under suffering for righteousness’ sake. Their struggle would look more like those fighting evil through a long, dark battle at Helms Deep, wondering if their efforts will make any difference. Some of you feel like that. Some of you are asking the questions I posed earlier. “Is suffering for Jesus’ name the path to victory?” Or, “I’m just so tired of fighting—is this battle ever going to end? Are we really going to win?”
This vision says, “Yes! Don’t give up the fight. Look, your Captain has the high ground already. Look, he’s got you with him. He has secured victory for all the redeemed. The world will seek to tear you down and destroy you, but Jesus reigns and you will reign with him forever. Take heart!” That’s how the vision works.
You see, Revelation has this consistent pattern: back and forth, it moves from tribulation on earth to the Lamb reigning in heaven. In 1:9, John endures tribulation, but God gives him a vision of the glorified Jesus. In chapters 2-3, the church endures tribulation, but then we see the Lamb enthroned in chapters 4-5. Same here: chapters 12-13 portray the church in tribulation, but here we see the Lamb reigning in heaven.
Why? Because seeing the exalted Jesus is crucial to your perseverance. When you see the exalted Jesus, his lordship gives you courage and assurance and hope. So, meditate on the reign of Jesus. Think about his glory often. Read Revelation and memorize these visions. Find music that helps you sing of his glory or write some of your own. Remind each other what he’s truly like. By meditating on the exalted Jesus, you will find endurance both to resist temptation and to fight the good fight of faith.
Which leads to another point: follow the Lamb wherever he goes. It could be argued—and some do—that this vision foreshadows a future earthly Zion. But there are other places in Scripture that suggest it’s more than a future assurance. It’s also a present reality. Hebrews 12:22 says that we’ve already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” That present heavenly reality will one day materialize on earth, when Jesus returns, but it’s just as true right now.
In other words, it’s not just about who you will be; this vision reveals who you are right now. You are a kingdom of warriors devoted to one Captain, Jesus Christ. You are a holy priesthood set apart for God’s purpose. You are redeemed from the world’s ways. Your identity is bound up with the Lamb—his name is on your forehead. He has set you apart as truth-bearers in a culture teeming with lies. You are a blameless offering.
If you belong to the Lamb, this is who you are. So, bring your life into further alignment with who you are. Serve Jesus with single-minded devotion. Follow him by taking up your cross daily and seeking to love your neighbors. Spread his truth to others, and bear witness to his name. Follow the Lamb in laying down your life. Yes, we’re a mighty army. But don’t start thinking that your warfare is in politics and military power. We follow our Captain in the way he conquered—by faithful witness to God’s word in the face of opposition, even if that costs your life. Also, guard yourself from making moral compromises with the world and walk blameless. This is how we conquer.
Lastly, keep Jesus central in everything. Did you notice how the whole passage centers around the Lamb? The Lamb is at the center of our reign—he leads the kingdom of priests; we follow. The Lamb is at the center of our redemption—it’s through his cross and resurrection that we’ve been seated with him in the heavenly places. The Lamb is at the center of our worship—his saving initiative compels us to sing and worship him. The Lamb is at the center of our identity—his name is written on our foreheads. The Lamb is even the center of our morality. It’s not just about doing the right thing but how those right things exhibit Jesus’ worth and Jesus’ authority and Jesus’ character. Everything in the kingdom revolves around Jesus.
That’s what our lives should look like—everything revolving around Jesus. Our unity, our relationships, our goals, our prayers, our songs, our generosity, our evangelism, our service, our vocations, our times of rest, our thanksgiving, our parenting, our hospitality, our efforts in missions—all of it should have Jesus at the center. He is the center of God’s revelation to us in Scripture. He will be the center of everyone’s praise in the new heaven and the new earth. Until then, we come together at the Lord’s Supper and remember that everything we’re about as a church centers on Jesus.
[i] Elsewhere in Revelation, “servants” of God can refer to all saints in general (Rev 1:1; 2:20; 10:7; 11:18; 19:2; 22:3, 6).
[ii] Ezek 1:24; Rev 1:15.
[iii] E.g., Isa 17:13; Rev 19:6.
[iv] Pss 33:2; 43:4; 71:22; 81:2; 92:3; 98:5; 108:2; 147:7; 150:3. Cf. Rev 5:8; 15:2.
[v] Pss 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; cf. Isa 42:10.
[vi] See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 11-64.
[vii] E.g., Song 1-8; 1 Cor 7:1-5; Heb 13:4.
[viii] Deut 23:10; 1 Sam 21:5; 2 Sam 11:11; cf. Exod 19:15; Lev 15:18.
[ix] If I could paraphrase the first part of verse 4, it might go something like this: “These have not defiled themselves in adulterous affairs with idols, for they have reserved themselves wholly for the Lamb.”
[x] Cf. Ps 18:23; 119:80; Prov 11:20.
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