Friday, 2 April 2021
These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. Revelation 14:4
John continues with his description of the one hundred and forty-four thousand that were “redeemed from the earth,” saying, “These are the ones who were not defiled with women.” The words here, and in the next clause, have given rise to all kinds of unusual – and even strange – doctrines. This is speaking of a particular group of end-times Jews. It also prescribes nothing.
The words cannot be used to justify the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning chastity of their priests, alluding to the notion that being with a wife somehow defiles a man. Marriage is, elsewhere, said to exclude that –
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Hebrews 13:4
It is sex outside of the bonds of marriage that defiles. This includes homosexual sex, which is practiced by a gigantic part of the RCC’s priesthood, as evidenced in countless lawsuits and media exposés over the past many years. However, a perverse mindset could use this verse to supposedly “justify” such behavior, saying, “it is only sex with a woman that defiles.”
The point here is that these men being referred to have remained free from intimacy with women outside of the bonds of marriage. However, the words have been spiritualized to indicate that this is referring to idolatry and superstition rather than actual sexual intercourse. That could be argued from other verses in Scripture. But John next restates the words, using parallelism, to show what the most likely meaning of the first clause is, saying, “for they are virgins.”
The word translated as “virgins” is generally considered to signify a person who has not had sex. It can simply mean “pure,” as in 2 Corinthians 11:2, where Paul equates those of the church as being a chaste virgin –
“For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Despite this, John’s restating of the thought in two different ways shows us that he is most likely referring to actual virgins. These are men who have not had sex outside of marriage, and also who were not yet married. Instead, they were sealed and have been set aside to God. And there is a reason for this that will be mentioned towards the end of this verse’s analysis. In this state, John next says, “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”
The meaning of this is, “As believers, they live for Christ at all times and in all ways, even to death.” As a lamb will follow a shepherd, these men have a calling that is above all else. The fact that Christ is again referred to here as “the Lamb” signifies the sacrificial act of His ministry. He is the One who took away the sin of the world through His death. To follow the Lamb, then, means that these men will be willing to also die. The nature of the Leader of the flock is seen in those who follow Him. It is reflective of the words of Paul in the book of Acts –
“Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Acts 21:12, 13
Like Paul, regardless of what this physical life holds, these men will stay focused on the goal, and will not be swayed from the path of righteousness in Christ. The same type of calling was laid upon Simon Peter in John 21. The Lord set him as an example to the sheep and told him that he was to follow his Lord, even to his death. This will be the calling of the one hundred and forty-four thousand because, as John next says, “These were redeemed from among men.”
It is the same word just used in the previous verse. It signifies to purchase. Christ’s blood is what purchases those who come to Him in faith. The world is sold out to sin, and only what Christ has done can make the necessary purchase from that state. Saying they were redeemed from among men shows us this.
Man without Christ does not belong to God, but to the devil. Christ came to restore man to God. His life is the price of that redemption. These men have believed, and He has redeemed them through that act. Of them, John finishes with the thought that they are “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”
Because of the wording here, it is assumed that these one hundred and forty-four thousand are a special portion among whom special favor is given. The cult known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claims that only one hundred and forty-four thousand of their members will go to heaven, and all the rest will live on earth for all eternity – thus setting up two classes of believers.
The amount of theological error in this is immense, but it is similar in thought to the doctrine of countless others. The first point to be remembered is that these are Jews (their tribal connections were explicitly stated in Revelation 7). The second thing to remember is that “firstfruits” are a separate category in time, not in being.
In other words, the idea of the firstfruits that is derived from the Old Testament, is that of being the first as a representative of a greater whole. This even carries through in the New Testament –
“Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:23
“For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.” Romans 11:16
“Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” Romans 16:5
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” 1 Corinthians 15:20-23
“I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 16:15
“Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” James 1:18
These (along with Revelation 14:4) are all of the references to “firstfruits” in the New Testament. Each of them clearly indicates the first of others to come, all having the same characteristics. These one hundred and forty-four thousand, then, are different only in time, not in being. They are the firstfruits of a great harvest, a harvest of tribulation saints, to come. Their state of physical purity is selected for a reason. It is to demonstrate that all of those who come to Christ will be like them – not meaning virgins, but pure.
In other words, the purification of Christ upon the tribulation saints will be complete. Those who are redeemed by the Lamb will be as undefiled as these who were set apart as the firstfruits. They will be washed, purified, and sanctified as holy. This is the marvel of the cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb.
Life application: As just noted, the one hundred and forty-four thousand being redeemed from Israel as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb means they are symbolic of the rest of a harvest. They are redeemed in anticipation of the redemption of many others. The harvest, which is God’s crop of souls cleansed and purified by the work of Jesus, is coming. But it will be during a time of great trial and woe. People will have to follow the Lamb wherever He goes, meaning even to death.
For those who do, great things lie ahead for them. But now, before that time, we have been given a wonderful and blessed hope of being saved out of that time of tribulation. All God asks us to do is to believe the gospel message. In this, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and will be taken to glory before the tribulation begins. This is the hope of the rapture of the saints. It is a hope that has its solid foundation in the Lamb, our Lord JESUS.
It is by the precious blood of Jesus Christ that defiled man is cleansed and purified. Thank You, Lord, for Your work done on our behalf! On our own, we are impure in thought, word, and deed, but by the beauty of Your cross, we are cleansed from all impurity. Thank You, Lord Jesus! Thank You. Amen.