The Lamb On Mount Zion - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
1 And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
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:
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.
4 These axe 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.
5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
The Book of Revelation is full of happy and striking contrasts which cannot but keep alive one's interest even from a natural point of view. This phenomenon is but natural and can easily be explained from the subject matter itself. Revelation deals with the mightiest contrast that ever existed, the contrast between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, principally between God and the devil; and it shows the opposition and enmity of the devil against God, and the power and authority of the Almighty maintaining itself over against this enmity of the dragon in actual conflict. It is the prophetic record of the great battle of the ages on the part of the devil against the Almighty for the possession of the kingdoms of the world. And for that reason it is but natural that time and again we meet with tremendous contrasts in this book. We meet with the contrast between the dragon and the woman, between the dragon and the Lamb, between the Lamb and the beast, between the Christ and the Antichrist, between the church and the world.
For the same reason we have also found repeatedly that a dark and frightfully horrible picture was immediately followed by one of light and joy and glory. Thus we found it, for instance, in Chapter 7. In Chapter 6 we studied the picture of the time immediately before the last judgment at the opening of the sixth seal. Dark and terrible that picture was indeed. Heaven and earth were shaken, and the foundations of all existence seemed to be removed. Earthquakes and thunders and darkness were the signs that accompanied this terrible incident. And the great and small of the world hid themselves and cried to the rocks and mountains to cover them. And the question was asked, in near despair: "Who shall stand?" But that dark picture was followed immediately by the joyous one in Chapter 7, where we read of the one hundred fortyfour thousand who were sealed and secure in the midst of tribulation, and of the innumerable multitude before the throne in glory. The same contrast exists between Chapters 9 and 10. In the ninth chapter we studied the fifth and sixth trumpets, the first and second woes. There we read of the terrible locusts out of the abyss and how they tortured men, and of the awful horsemen sent by the angels who were let loose at the Euphrates, who killed one-third of men. And also that horrible picture is followed by a hopeful and joyous one in Chapter 10, where we read of the mighty angel standing with his feet on the earth and the sea and swearing by Him that liveth forever and ever that there should be no more delay.
The same phenomenon is met with once more in our chapter. In Chapter 13 we found the picture of the world-power, of Antichrist, of the Man of Sin in the full development of his power and authority. We found that it was a universal kingdom, having sway over all nations and over all things in the universe. We found that all the people followed this beast, were delighted over him, worshipped him because of the instigation of the power of false prophecy as pictured in the second beast. We found that an image was erected for the beast, so that by means of this image it might become plain who would worship the beast and who would not. We found, further, that to all who worshipped the beast a sign was given, and that only those who received this sign and could show this sign are participants of the blessings of this kingdom, all the rest being excluded, so that the people of God could neither buy nor sell, could not procure wherewith to clothe or feed themselves. In short, it was a horrible picture of hell and Satan and Antichrist in all their power, a picture of affliction and tribulation for the people of God. And now in the chapter before us we have once more a picture of the opposite side, a picture of the power that opposes this world-kingdom and its king, and therefore at the same time a picture of joy and salvation and glory for God's people. That is characteristic of the entire chapter, and that is also the purpose of the picture we are now studying in the present passage.
The Purpose Of The Vision
Let us once more take note of the very evident fact that in this portion we have a continuation of the symbolism begun in Chapter 13. The fact that this has been overlooked has led to the gravest errors in the interpretation of this chapter and especially of the portion we are now discussing. It has led many interpreters to read this portion, wholly or in part, as if we merely had a historical record of the future in this chapter. They read then as if John said: "Then, at that time, shall Jesus appear on Mt. Sion, and He shall gather all His people in glory round about Him, in order to save them to the full and wreak vengeance upon the enemy." And naturally in that case the mistake is also made to take Mt. Sion in the literal sense of the word and to maintain that in the days of Antichrist Jesus shall appear on Mt. Sion as the defender of His people and the opponent of the beast. And thus we come into conflict with the general revelation of Scripture, which assures us time and again that the Lord shall come on the clouds of heaven in the day of judgment. In that case also the angels in heaven are taken in the most literal sense of the word; and it is maintained that in the day of Antichrist angels shall send a warning, a last warning, to the people on earth, in order to bring them to the fear of Jehovah's name and to proclaim to them the impending judgment. And again, by doing so we come into conflict with the entire trend of Scripture, which teaches us that Moses and the prophets are sufficient, and that if people refuse to believe them, even the dead rising from the grave would have no effect whatever upon them. From the literal point of view we can never understand this passage, nor from the point of view that confuses the literal and symbolical interpretations.
It must be clear to us, therefore, that John does not write history, that he does not even directly prophesy in the sense of foretelling future events, but that he speaks in highly symbolic language. After the dark vision of the beast and his kingdom he now receives a bright vision of the Lamb and His people. And all is symbolism. That this is true is plain from the context. In the preceding chapter we had symbolism pure and simple.
No one mistook the beast for a real beast, the horns for real horns, the heads for real heads. No one misunderstood the picture there. And this is also true of the picture in the present passage. What right have we to change the method of interpretation all of a sudden, without any indication in the text. On the contrary, also the text brings us to the same conclusion. In the first place, John does not begin to say, "Then shall Christ appear on Mt. Sion." But he merely states that he saw the Lamb on Mt. Sion with His people. The two visions, of Chapter 13 and the present chapter, belong together. John by no means conveys the idea that the Lamb was not on Mt. Sion when the beast established his kingdom, but far rather that He was there all the time. In all the confusion of the nations during this entire period when Antichrist seemingly reigns supreme, the Lamb is on Mt. Sion, calm and majestic, surrounded by His people, the one hundred forty-four thousand. John sees another vision, but a vision that belongs to the one of Chapter 13 and that is its counter-part. This is plain also from the very language employed. Christ is denoted as the Lamb, which, however familiar, is nevertheless symbolic language. His people are described as the one hundred forty-four thousand, as those who are not defiled with women; for they are virgins. And a wonderful song is heard from heaven, which they alone can learn. In short, the entire passage gives us immediately the impression that here we have once more symbolism in the highest sense of the word, and that as such it must be interpreted.
It may be well, before we explain this beautiful picture in detail, to ascertain the purpose of the whole. Why is this picture here inserted?
In the first place, let us remark that it cannot escape our attention what a tremendous contrast this portion forms with the preceding vision of the beast. The reference to that chapter by way of contrast is very evident. There we have the picture of the beast lording it supremely over all; here we have the vision of the Lamb on Mt. Sion, standing majestic and in authority as the King and protector of His people. There we have the vision especially of the thousands and millions who worship the beast and his image; here we have the picture of the one hundred forty-four thousand who belong to the Lamb. There we found that the followers of the beast and his worshippers receive his sign on their right hand or on their foreheads; here we find that also the people of the Lamb have a sign, the name of the Lamb and of the Father. There we learned how only the followers of the beast were supreme and blest and happy, controlling the entire world; here we learn that only the one hundred fortyfour thousand can learn the song of glory and of joy which is heard from heaven. There we found that the followers of the Lamb were threatened with destruction and woe, so that they could not buy or sell; the present picture is full of woe and destruction to the followers of the beast and Babylon. In a word, the same condition of things, the same state of affairs is described. In both visions we read of the beast and the Lamb. In both visions we read of the worshipping of both. But the difference is that in Chapter 13 we find the cause of the Lamb and His people apparently lost, while in this chapter we find Him as the victor. In Chapter 13 we found the people of God in distress; here we find them in security and in all glory. In a word, in Chapter 13 the kingdom of Antichrist is described from its own point of view, and therefore as victorious; in this chapter the entire state of things is viewed in the light of heaven and of God's decree, and the Lamb therefore is victorious after all.
The contrast reminds us of Elisha and his servant at Dothan. The Syrians were provoked by the work of the prophet, and therefore were seeking his soul. And in the morning, as the servant of Elisha woke up in Dothan, he found that the city was surrounded by foes on all sides, and that escape was impossible. The servant of the prophet, looking at this whole affair from the natural point of view, is perplexed, is in distress. He despairs and looks upon his master as a lost man. But the prophet prays that the eyes of his servant may be opened, so that he may be able to see the entire situation in its full reality. And now the servant beholds that on their side is a mightier host than on the side of the enemy. The whole mountain is filled with chariots and horses of fire round about them. So is the relation here. Antichrist is supreme. He lords it over all the world and over all things. It seems as if nothing can check his power and authority. The devil has finally gained the victory. The people of God are in distress. From the natural point of view, from the point of view of visible things, it would seem as if the cause of the Lamb and His people were a lost cause. But there is another side, a spiritual side, to this entire economy of things. And when the light of heaven falls on the scene, and the eyes of the people of God through faith are opened, they see that the Lamb is standing on Mt. Sion in calm majesty, and that His people are safe in His protection. The kingdom of Antichrist, - so the vision tells us, - apparently so safe and secure, is doomed to destruction. For the Lamb stands on Mt. Sion ready to consume His enemies. The people of God, - so the vision tells us, - apparently in distress and defeat, shall have the victory. For they are with the victorious Lamb, and follow Him whithersoever He goeth. Chapter 14 sheds the light of heaven upon the kingdom of Antichrist.
A Symbol Of Power And Authority
If this is clear, it will not be difficult to understand the meaning of this entire picture in detail.
With the Lamb we are already acquainted, and we need not determine His identity at all. He is the Christ, and especially from the point of view of having accomplished the will of the Father to inherit the kingdom. Christ is the Anointed of God. And it is the will of the Father to give Him the kingdom of the whole world. But in order to receive the kingdom He had to redeem it by His blood and fulfill the will of the Triune God. In that capacity He stands here, as the Lamb, and, as we know from other passages, as the Lamb that was slain. There is no controversy about the identity of the Lamb.
But different it is with regard to Mt. Sion. Interpreters differ widely when they come to explain this figure. As we have already mentioned, there are some who take it in the literal sense of the word, not as a symbol but as the literal Mt. Sion in Jerusalem, and then explain that Christ during the days of Antichrist shall stand on that mount. But the symbolic nature of the entire passage, as we have already observed, is against this interpretation. It will not do to separate one element from all the rest and to explain it in the literal sense of the word. There are others who maintain that Sion is heavenly Jerusalem. But this is impossible because of the context. We read that as the Lamb stands with His people on Mt. Sion, a voice is heard from heaven, clearly indicating that Mt. Sion is on earth. Still others claim that Mt. Sion is the symbol of the church invisible on earth. And this is perfectly allowable as such, for Mt. Sion appears in Scripture as the church of Christ. Only the contents of this passage are all against this interpretation. If Mt. Sion is the church, what then must we make of the one hundred forty-four thousand? They are evidently the church of the living God in Christ Jesus our Lord. But if they are, then Mt. Sion cannot mean the same thing. And therefore, we feel compelled to discard all these interpretations and to look for something else.
Mt. Sion in the literal sense was originally the hill in the city of Jerusalem on which was built the stronghold, the citadel, of the city. It was this citadel that was captured from the Jebusites by David and that became the stronghold of David. Later that same name was often applied to the temple-hill, on which Jehovah dwelt among His people. And again, it is not infrequently referred to as including the entire city of Jerusalem, the city of God. And therefore, in the symbolical sense of the word we may say that Sion implies two things. In the first place, it is the center of God's power, the stronghold from which Jehovah rules over and defends His people. And, in the second place, it is also the hill of His presence, on which He dwells among His people.
Yet we will never be able to explain this symbolism if we take the Lamb and Mt. Sion separately and explain them individually first, in order then to bring them together. On the contrary, the Lamb standing on Mt. Sion constitutes one symbol; and they must be taken together, as belonging together from the very outset. And then it is our conviction that the expression must be explained in the light of Psalm 2:1-9, a psalm which is so often referred to in the Book of Revelation, but never more plainly than in Chapters 13 and 14. If we turn to this psalm, we will find that verses 1-3 give us the exact picture, in a few brief expressions, of Revelation 13. We read: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Could you find a more exact picture of what is told us in Revelation 13? There we found that all the kingdoms of the earth had combined and conspired together, and that with the definite purpose of rebellion against God and against His Christ. The nations we found raging with madness to establish their kingdom, in which the devil is worshipped and Jehovah is thrust from His throne. And those same facts are described in Psalm 2. But let us continue. Verse 4 reveals to us the attitude of God Almighty over against these raging nations and peoples. What does Jehovah think about this condition? Is He frightened? Does He now admit His defeat and acknowledge that He must surrender His kingdom? Not at all. We read: "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision." When Antichrist shall rage and establish his kingdom and apparently will have the victory and realize his kingdom, God Almighty shall laugh. The whole thing appears so utterly foolish to Him that He laughs about it. That man could conceive of the possibility of establishing a kingdom in which the devil should be supreme is such a piece of folly to God in heaven that He derides them from heaven and mocks at the whole deviltry of the dragon. It is a vain thing which they imagine. The whole plan of the raging nations shall collapse and prove to be without reality. And why? Simply because of His own eternal plan and counsel. The Lord God Almighty made His counsel. And that eternal counsel of the Almighty does not call for the permanent existence of such a kingdom of Satan, but for its destruction. And for that reason the psalm continues to reveal that plan of God Almighty. In verses 5 to 9 we read: "Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Because God had anointed Christ, and not the devil, over His holy hill, the stronghold of the kingdom, the latter shall never succeed; but his kingdom shall fall. And therefore, it is from that psalm that we learn the meaning of the expression "the Lamb on mount Zion." It implies that God's decree shall stand and that no raging nations shall ever frustrate His plan. It implies that God's decree calls for a kingdom under Christ, the Lamb, the Anointed of God, and that this Lamb actually stands in authority over the nations at all times. It implies that the entire deviltry of Antichrist shall be destroyed and that the Holy One of Zion'shall break them in pieces.
If this is clear, the whole vision of John and its purpose are also clear. The question might arise, as we look at that mighty kingdom of Antichrist: is not this after all the kingdom which shall abide forever, this mighty kingdom, beautiful and strong, lording it over all the world and finding its highest purpose in the worship of the beast and the devil? If that is so, is not then the cause of Christ a lost cause, and have not the people of God then hoped in Him in vain? These questions are answered in our vision of the Lamb on Mount Zion. No, that entire kingdom of the world is bound to fall and to be destroyed. Why? Because the Lamb still stands on Mount Zion. To the natural eye He is not visible; the spiritual eye of faith sees Him plainly. The Lamb, not the devil, is the King of this world. The Lamb, not the beast, shall have the victory. The devil, not the Lamb, shall be defeated and destroyed. Because the Lamb is the Anointed One and therefore has the certain decree of God back of Him, He shall surely have the victory. And therefore the people of God, when all things seem against them and when Antichrist rages in all his fury, need never despair. Lift up your eyes to heaven, and behold the Lamb on Mount Zion. His is the victory!
A Picture Of Glory And Victory
If this picture of the power of the Lamb over against the Antichrist is clear, we will also understand that the rest of our text shows us the effect of this power of our mighty King upon His own people.
The Lamb is not alone. He has His people with Him, the one hundred forty-four thousand. We have met with this number before, in Chapter 7; and we do not, therefore, have to explain the meaning of it again. At that time we called your attention to the fact that they were not Israelites in the literal sense of the word. The present passage corroborates this. There can be no question that in both cases the number has the same meaning. If in the former case they were Jews, they must also be Jews here. But then you obtain the strange explanation, which some actually hold, that the saints who will be on earth at the time of Antichrist will all be from the seed of Abraham in the literal sense of the word. And that is, evidently, not the case. We maintain, therefore, that the one hundred forty-four thousand represent the number of the elect who are on the earth at any moment of the world's history. There are always one hundred forty-four thousand people of God on earth: the number of God's elect. In the present passage they denote the people of God on earth at the time of the antichristian power. What, then, is the meaning of this number in this connection? Why are they mentioned here? Simply to show that not one of the elect is missing. They are all with the Lamb on Mount Zion. They have all remained faithful. They have all followed the Lamb whithersoever He leadeth them even in the time of tribulation. It might perhaps be expected that some of God's people would be missing, that some would have abandoned the attempt to follow the Lamb. The times were hard; the suffering for Christ's sake was very severe. They could not buy or sell. They had no place left on the earth. They were hated of all nations. Perhaps some of them yielded to the demand of Antichrist, forsook the Lamb,' and bowed before the beast. But no: all the one hundred forty-four thousand are still with the Lamb. Not one is lacking. All God's people are saved through the power of the Lamb in spite of the raging fury of Antichrist.
In what respect have they remained untouched? Have they been protected by the power of the Lamb in the physical sense of the word?
Have they not been in prison? Have they not been in suffering and death? We know better. They have suffered hunger and nakedness because of their faithful refusal to worship the beast. They were killed all the day long. But this does not hurt them. They have a spiritual existence and life. The question is not whether they were hurt physically, but whether they had any spiritual want. The great question for the people of God in the world is not whether or not they must suffer the suffering for Christ's sake because of their faithfulness, but whether they shall remain faithful in the midst of tribulation. And, behold, that is the case with these one hundred fortyfour thousand! All have remained with the Lamb. All have chosen His side. All have faithfully followed Him even in tribulation and distress.
Still more: they remained pure. The text says: "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins." You understand, of course, that these words must not be taken in the literal sense any more than the rest of the text, as if celibacy were advocated here and as if the unmarried state were given preference above the married. This certainly is not the case. But we must remember that fornication in Scripture is the symbol of spiritual fornication. In that sense Esau was a fornicator because he despised God's covenant. In that sense Israel of the old dispensation is very often pictured in the Old Testament as an adulterous woman, whoring after other gods and departing from the service of Jehovah their covenant God. Being defiled in the physical sense of the word, therefore, is symbolic of violation of the covenant of Jehovah. In this sense, then, these one hundred forty-four thousand have not becomed defiled. All the world was committing fornication in the spiritual sense. All went awhoring after the beast. And all the evil world demanded of these one hundred forty-four thousand to commit fornication as they did. They had threatened them with expulsion from the world if they would not worship the beast. But these had not heeded this call and had ignored the threat of the beast. They had remained faithful to their covenant God. The same is expressed in the words, "they are without blemish." They have not been stained by the defilement of the world. Yea, still more clearly: in their mouth was found no lie. All the kingdom of Antichrist was filled with, was based upon, the lie that the beast must be worshipped and that the dragon was king. But they had adhered to the truth and had maintained boldly and without fear: Christ is King, and the Almighty God is sovereign of heaven and earth. Thus they had remained faithful all through the reign of Antichrist. The people of God need not fear. For when that terrible time shall come, they shall remain with the powerful Lamb on Mount Zion and follow Him whithersoever He goeth.
But why do the people of God remain faithful even in the midst of most terrible suffering and persecution for Christ's sake? Is it in their own strength? Is it because of their own natural faithful character perhaps?
By no means! In the first place, let me call your attention to the sign they bear on their forehead. Even as the wicked have the sign of the beast, so these have the name of the Lamb and of the Father. What does that mean? It simply implies in this connection that the Father and the Lamb have marked them as their own. And therefore, by this name of the Iamb and of the Father we are reminded of God's eternal counsel. From all eternity God Almighty has chosen them and graven them in the palms of His hands. And in all eternity the Father has given His people to His Son, that He might redeem them to the full. No one, therefore, is able to pluck them out of the Lamb's and out of the Father's hand. The Lamb had purchased them with His own blood from the world and from among men; and they belong to Him with body and soul, for time and eternity. Shall Antichrist then prevail against them? Shall he persuade them to worship the beast? No, never! The counsel of Almighty God must first be broken, and it must first be evident that the precious blood of the Lamb was shed in vain, before this can ever happen. And that, of course, is absolutely impossible. Standing therefore in the power of the Almighty, conscious of this power by faith, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, they cannot perish; and Antichrist has nothing in them. Firstfruits they must be unto God and the Lamb. And no more than God will give His glory to another, no more could these one hundred forty-four thousand of the Lamb be lost, whom the Almighty has formed for Himself that they should show forth His praise.
Finally, let us also notice that this power of God and of the Lamb enabled them to sing even in the midst of the battle, and sing of joy and victory. From heaven swells a song, strong as the voice of many waters, rolling through the air and through heaven like the voice of mighty thunder, yet carried along on the breeze in the sweet melody of harpers harping on their harps.
What is this song? It is the song of the church triumphant in heaven, the song of the saints who have been in tribulation who have been redeemed, - the song of Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Elijah and all the prophets and witnesses of the old dispensation. It is the song of the apostles and the martyrs, of the cloud of witnesses. This song swells the breeze till it reaches the ears of these suffering one hundred forty-four thousand who are still in the heat of their spiritual battle. It is the song of the innumerable multitude that has gone in before them, that already are apparelled in their white robes and wear the palm branches. They hunger no more, neither do they thirst any more, neither doth the sun strike upon them, nor any heat. The Lamb is their shepherd, and God is their guide and wipes away all tears from their eyes. And this glorified throng, this church triumphant, sings in forceful melody: "Salvation belongeth unto our God, and unto the Lamb." It is the song of joy and victory. Behold, it reaches the ears of these one hundred forty-four thousand who are still in tribulation but with the Lamb on Mount Zion.
And what happens? Does it fill their hearts with sorrow because they are still in trouble and distress? Does it cause them to despair of their own glory? Does it sound like sarcasm in their ears perhaps? Ah, no: they understand it. They can realize already that this song is theirs. They can apply it to themselves. Surely, they are still in trouble and tribulation, and their suffering is severe. They still hunger and thirst, and the heat of the sun strikes them day by day. But conscious of the fact that they stand on the side of the powerful Lamb, conscious of the fact that they bear the name of the Father and of the Lamb on their foreheads, conscious of the fact that they have been purchased to be first fruits unto the Father and unto the Lamb, they are sure of victory. Antichrist may rage and make life extremely hard for them. His time is but short. Christ shall have the victory. And they know it. And in that consciousness they can learn this song of victory. In the midst of tribulation they too can sing it. And in joy of heart and to the amazement of the world, which cannot understand this song and which can never learn it, they chime in with the song of the glorified saints in heaven: "Salvation belongeth unto our God and to the Lamb forever."
Such is the truth of the passage we just discussed. Shall the saints endure tribulation? They surely shall. Shall they not worship the beast and fall for the power of Antichrist? They surely shall not. On the contrary, they shall glorify God and His power, so that the world shall stand amazed. And in the midst of apparent defeat they-shall sing the song of victory. How glorious to be of God's party in the world! But, on the other hand, how terrible to stand on the side of the beast! For his kingdom is doomed to destruction. May God ever give us abundant grace to stand on the side of the Lamb on Mount Zion. For there, and there alone, is victory and life.