Notes (NET Translation)
1 Then I looked, and here was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were one hundred and forty-four thousand, who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
This vision may blend aspects of the past, present, and future.
The vision of the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion, following as it does the distressing visions of the two Satanic beasts, brings a surge of spirited expectation. As difficult as the future may be, there remains the joyful prospect of soon standing beyond this sphere of suffering on the mountain of the Lord and singing with the innumerable multitude of the redeemed the new song of salvation. Visions of what will be strengthen the believer to endure the reality of what for the present must be. (Mounce loc. 5025-5028)
The Lamb stands on Mount Zion whereas Satan stood on the seashore (12:17-18). As Jerusalem was the capital of Israel so Mount Zion is the capital of the kingdom of God.
But John is not concerned with physical geography: where the Lamb is standing is not the Temple Mount or even the heavenly Mount Zion (cf. Heb. 12:22), but that spiritual Zion which is nowhere and everywhere. It describes that state of openness to God and protection by him which has been referred to elsewhere as the measured sanctuary (11:1) or the ‘holy city’ (11:2). It is that place of true spiritual worship which takes place neither on Mount Gerizim nor in Jerusalem (John 4:21–24). Understood in this way, the question as to whether this scene is located on earth or in heaven is superfluous (although the voice ‘from heaven’ in verse 2 seems to count against the latter). (Boxall 200)
Recall from 7:1-8 that the 144,000 symbolize all the redeemed. The followers of both the Lamb and the beast (13:16-17) are marked by the one they are identified with. The name on the foreheads of the saints indicates that they are owned and protected by God.
2 I also heard a sound coming out of heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. Now the sound I heard was like that made by harpists playing their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one was able to learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth.
The three similes of v. 2 all stress the loudness of the sound coming out of heaven. The “new song” of v. 3 may be the same as the “new song” in 5:9 (“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation”).
Throughout the Psalms, the “new song” (33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1) is a hymn of praise for the fact that the God of creation has delivered his people as well as a call to the saints to put their trust completely in him. There is also a question as to whether the hymn is sung by an angelic choir (as in 5:9) or by the redeemed themselves (the resurrected martyrs, as in 15:2–4, the other passage with harps and singing). On the whole, those who take an earthly view of 14:1 favor this being the heavenly host, and those who take the heavenly view favor this being the redeemed. That the redeemed must “learn” the hymn makes it more likely that it is the heavenly host singing and that the saints on earth learn it. Beale (1999: 735) points out that in Jewish tradition, praising God with harps and a “new song” was especially linked to the “world to come” (Exod. Rab. 23.11; Num. Rab. 15.11; b. ˓Arak. 13b). (Osborne 527)
Only those who have been described elsewhere as dwelling in heaven rather than earth (e.g. 12:12) could learn this song. This does not imply divine predetermination, an exclusion of a section of humanity from the heavenly chorus. Rather, the emphasis of the could is upon human response. It is not insignificant that a derivative of the verb learn (μανθάνω) is used by the New Testament to describe disciples of Jesus (μαθητής). To learn this song demands a particular disposition of discipleship, a sympathy for its sentiments. One who is enslaved to the monster, whose priorities are elsewhere, cannot begin to understand it, let alone learn its words. It is as impossible as saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ without the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). (Boxall 201–202)
4 These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb, 5 and no lie was found on their lips; they are blameless.
Taking v. 4a literally would require that John found even sex within marriage to be defiling, a position counter to other NT statements about marriage (e.g., Matt. 19:4-6, 12; 1 Cor. 7:1, 32). Recall from 2:14, 20-22 that sexual immorality can refer to idolatry. Hence v. 4a is asserting the religious purity of the saints, first negatively (they have not defiled themselves with women) and then positively (they are virgins). The church is like a virgin bride to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9). To “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” refers to discipleship. Discipleship involves adhering to Christ’s instructions and promoting his cause. The first-fruits were the first and best parts of a harvest. The rest of the harvest was considered common or profane. Thus, the redeemed are called the first-fruits because they are separated from the unredeemed just as the first-fruits are separated from the rest of the harvest. Because the saints follow the Lamb they take on the Lamb’s attribute of being blameless.
What is in mind here is not merely general truthfulness, but the saints’ integrity in witnessing to Jesus when they are under pressure from the beast and the “false prophet” to compromise their faith and go along with the idolatrous lie (so 13:10, 18; 14:9–12). If Christians do not give some expression of idolatrous allegiance to the beast, they will suffer. In a similar vein 1 John 2:22 says that “the liar … denies that Jesus is the Christ.… This is the Antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” In Jer. 13:25 and 23:14, 32 ψεῦδος is used of false prophets, who deceive through idolatry, or the word refers to idolatry itself (so also Isa. 44:20; Jer. 3:23; cf. Isa. 57:4–5). In the Apocalypse, the one who goes along with the “false prophet” (ψευδοπροφήτης, 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) is called a “liar” and is said to be facing punishment (so ψεῦδος in 21:8, 27; 22:15).
The reference here to the saints’ integrity is an allusion to the character of the messianic Servant prophesied in Isa. 53:9: “nor was there any deceit in his mouth.” This is striking because it comes immediately after mention of the Servant as “a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). The saints reflect both of these messianic traits. Isa. 53:9 is alluded to in the same way in 1 Pet. 2:22, which confirms our interpretation of its use here. There the allusion is part of an exhortation to Christians not to be intimidated by pagan “kings” and “masters,” but to persevere in their profession of faith (1 Pet. 2:13, 18), and to follow in his path, even though it brings suffering: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:19–23; 3:14–17).
Just as the Lamb was blameless with respect to the accusations against him, so are the saints who follow his path. 1 Pet. 1:16, 18–19 lends its support by reflecting a similar complex of thought as Rev. 14:4–5: “you shall be holy, for I am holy … you were not ransomed with perishable things … but with precious blood, as of a spotless (ἄμωμος) lamb” (cf. Jesus as a sacrifice “without blemish” [ἄμωμος] in Heb. 9:14). Consequently, Revelation is referring here not to absolute moral perfection but to innocence with regard to the world’s verdict of guilt rendered against the saints, which is the main point of Isa. 53:7–9 (cf. Isa. 53:8–9: “by oppression and judgment he was taken away … although he had done no violence”). (Beale 746-747)
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.
Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.