Text: Rev 14:1-5
OT Text: Romans 11:1-6
Featured Verse: Rev 14:1 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.
Main Idea: We see a counter-point to the dragon and the beasts. There are followers of Jesus who remain faithful even in the face of great opposition. Take heart, you are not alone!
After multiple visions in which we see the dragon and the two beasts waging war on humanity and on the church, this fourth vision switches to a very different scene. Like a scene from a war movie in which the camera pans from one line of battle across to the opposing line of battle*, John now sees the "Army of the Lamb." Granted, the text does not explicitly use the word army, but our prior reference to the 144,000 depicted OT imagery that showed them "mustering" for war. (See the book of Numbers, especially chapter 1) There are other aspects of the passage which seem to continue the picture of an assembled spiritual army.
First, we see their close connection to Jesus. Eventually, Jesus will show up as the "Rider on the White Horse" (Rev 19:11-21) who will defeat the beasts and throw them into the lake of fire. Now, the 144,000 are depicted as those who "follow the Lamb where ever he goes." (14:4). Second, we see that they are directly in contrast with the beast. They do not have the mark of the beast on their heads, instead they have the name of God (14:1.) While the beast is deceiving the nations, the 144,000 have no lie found in their mouths. (14:5.) Finally, the reference to defiling themselves with women has strong connections to OT warfare. When God called the men of Israel to participate in warfare, they were directed to consecrate ("set apart for a purpose") themselves and observe certain regulations while they were participating in war. One of those regulations was that they were directed to abstain from sexuality while they were consecrated for war. (Deut 23:9-10, 1 Sam 21:5, 2 Sam 11:8-11.) This may seem strange to modern people - especially those distanced from the practice of warfare - but there was great practical importance. On one hand, prostitution was a big problem associated with gathered armies in all ages. For instance, during the civil war, so many prostitutes followed the Union Army under General Joseph Hooker, that these women came to be called, "hookers." On the other hand, military victories can cause undisciplined soldiers to unleash their fury and frustration on the enemy civilians. Pillage and rape have often been the tragic corollaries of conquest in many wars. Viewed against this backdrop, the army of the Lamb distinguishes itself from their beastly opponents by their sexual self-control and restraint.**
Conclusion and Application
1.) Because we are involved in a spiritual war, we are called to exercise self-control in regard to our sexuality. Sex, is not bad, but it is something which can cause us to harm our neighbors. Learning to control ourselves is part of our call to follow the Lamb. Inside the bounds of marriage, sex is a blessing from God, but living with respect for that boundary requires divine assistance from the Lord. This is no small thing, but a big part of our participation in the spiritual battle.
2.) The size of this army is also an encouragement. While the dragon rages and the beasts manipulate, there still stands an army of God which does not bow the knee to the enemy. We can take comfort from knowing that God is empowering his followers - who are also broken humans - to live with increased faithfulness. (See Romans 11:1-6 for the Biblical idea of the faithful remnant.)
* I had in mind one of the opening scenes from the Lord of the Rings in which the "Last Alliance of Men and Elves" faced off against Sauron's army.
** The reference to the men in the army of the Lamb as "virgins" has led some in church history to view celibacy as a higher calling than that of marriage. For example, in the Roman Catholic tradition, priests were not allowed to be married and monks and nuns who took a vow of celibacy were often viewed as the ideal. The Bible does not elsewhere elevate celibacy over marriage, so it is unwise to use this visionary picture as the ground for a new doctrine. Rather, it seems that the army of the lamb appears to be something of a "standing army", in that they are perpetually at war while the lamb reigns. In other words, the word "virgin" seems to be part of the symbolism, rather than a prescription for all faithful followers of Christ. On the other hand, the picture of this army can certainly be a source of validation for those Christians whose call to follow Jesus leads them to a life of singleness.