You will sing again! (Rev. 14:1-5)
In chapters 12 and 13, the veil has been lifted to uncover the primary forces against the Christian church and its faith. We have seen that they are demonic in their nature and origin. We have seen that Satan wages war with the church through political means (the beast from the sea) and through religious and cultural means (the beast from the earth). And though this will ramp up towards the end, there has never been a time when the church has not had to stand against this devil in this conflict.
As John is seeing all this in these visions, the Lord makes it clear that despite all Satanic opposition, the church will be victorious. Satan is and will be defeated by Christ and by his people. The beasts in chapter 13 are overcome through the perseverance of the saints. However, we are also reminded that often the way the saints conquer the devil is through their death: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11). The life of a Christian in this world is a life of endurance and patience (13:10).
We need to hear this. We need to be reminded that the Christian life is a battle. The reason is that if we aren’t, we can begin to think that God is being unkind or unfair to us when we go through hard times. We can begin to have unrealistic expectations of this life. And that can lead to disillusionment and even deconversion if not dealt with in a Biblical way. We need to remind people to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3).
However, we also don’t want to paint a picture as if warfare and hardness are the only things that characterize the Christian life. The Christian must be determined to stand, but that doesn’t mean that we are to be grim-faced all the time. It doesn’t mean that we can’t have joy and peace this side of heaven. In fact, these are the fruits of the Spirit now. We ought, even in the midst of trials, to be people who are characterized by peace: peace with God leading to inner peace and peace with each other. Thereought to be a contentment that emanates from our faith in Christ. We are commanded to be always thankful.
The question is, with all this emphasis on spiritual warfare and dying to yourself and even martyrdom, how can you have joy and peace in this world? How can you maintain a joyful and thankful and contented heart in the midst of tribulation and difficulty? What if you have lost something or someone so precious that you can’t imagine you will ever smile again?
It is part of the Biblical answer to sadness to say that the sadness will not be forever. For the Christian, this world is the closest to hell they will ever get. Joy comes in the morning, pure, undiluted joy that will never end.
That’s not the only answer. I say that because I don’t want to give the impression that we have to wait for heaven to have joy and peace. The Bible also teaches that our Lord is with his people and for them now, that he will bear them up and give us daily grace and strength. He can give real joy when all our circumstances preach gloom and doom. He can give peace that passes understanding when life continually hands us cares and stresses.
But if we want to be truly Biblical, we must learn to train our hearts to look toward the glory to come. We must live with heaven on the horizon of our perspective. We are on a journey and if you are a follower of Christ, it is a journey into his presence. We need to learn, as the apostle put it to the Romans, to be rejoicing in hope (Rom. 12:12). Not hope in the next job promotion or hope in the next vacation or hope in freedom from the current disappointment but hope in the promise of God that all things are ours in Christ Jesus, that we will inherit the earth, that we will see Jesus and enjoy immediate and eternal fellowship with him. On the other hand, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). It is just not an option for the Christian to have hope in this life apart from hope in the next. Our joy now is supposed to be a foretaste of the joy that is to come.
This is what the opening verses in Revelation 14 tell us. We go from earth and the spiritual struggle here recorded in the previous chapters to heaven and the spiritual celebration we see there. This is not the first time we have been transported to heaven in this vision. In these visions, we are shifting back and forth from earth to heaven, from heaven to earth through this book because we need to be people who have our feet planted on earth and our hearts fixed in heaven. We need the hope of future glory in heaven to fuel our fight with the devil here on earth. So we need to perspective of both heaven and earth, and this is one of the great benefits of reading and studying and meditating on the book of Revelation.
In these five verses, we encounter the 144,000 again. Let’s remember that the 144,000 are a symbolic reference to the people of God. In chapter 7, they are the people of God on earth who are sealed against the wrath of God which is about to be poured out in the seven trumpet-judgments recorded in chapters 8-11. But because they are on earth, they are also in the same place where the beast’s rule holds sway. These are the people against whom the beast will go to war, many of whom he will kill. This is recorded for us in chapters 12-13. So the background to these verses is of the church militant (the church on earth) sealed against God’s judgments and fighting with the beast. But in chapter 14, we hear them singing: “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” (Rev. 14:3). Our life as a Christian will not always be one of struggle. One day it will be characterized, as we see here, by singing. I think that is very significant, and I want to meditate on that reality with you. So as we consider these verses, I want us to consider, where they are singing (1-3a), what they are singing about (3b), and who they are who are singing (4-5).
What scenes like this teach us is that it is God’s intention for his people to happy forever. That of course has implications now; it teaches us that God is not against us, that he is not disinterested in us, but that he delights in those whom he is saving through Jesus Christ. It teaches us that whatever we have experienced and whatever we are going through that brings the spirit down and turns the heart into a minefield of sadness and depression, we will sing again. This is what the psalmist expresses in his lament: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Ps. 42:5). The Christian is a person who can always say, no matter what they are feeling or what they are experiencing: “I shall yet praise God.” There is an eternal yet for the Christian, one that has been purchased and secured for us in Christ Jesus.
Where they are singing (1-3a)
Songs are so powerful. The full range of human emotion in some sense is probably best expressed in song, whether sad songs or happy songs. I don’t have any doubt that this is one reason why singing is a part of the God-ordained worship: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). It is an inevitable and necessary expression of being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
It's also why we should not be surprised to find singing in heaven. C. S. Lewis said that if we find in ourselves desires which no earthly thing can satisfy, then the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. We were made for heaven; we were made for the presence of God. In his presence is fulness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Ps.16:11). An implication of this reality is that we will never be able to sing as we were meant to sing until we are in heaven.
And that’s where this is taking place. Some take the reference to “mount Sion” in verse 1 to be the literal hill on which ancient Jerusalem was built and to argue that the future millennial reign of the Lord will take place in that geographical location. But in the book of Revelation, Jerusalem is the heavenly city (see chapters 21-22). This is consistent with the rest of the NT. Paul writes to the Galatians, “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). In the letter to the Hebrews, we read that as believers in Christ, we “are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22).
We also note that the sound of music which John heard was coming from heaven: “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” (2). The singing of the 144,000 was a “new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders” (3); in other words, in heaven, the very place of God’s throne (see chapters 4-5).
Now this is significant because the first time we come across 144,000 they are on the earth about to confront the fury of the devil and the beast. Many of them will probably have been killed. Here you have a relatively small group of people (144,000) against “all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (13:7). These were people with no power against the power of the beast.
The story of the 144,000 might be a sad one if you ended in chapter 13. But what we see here is this same group of people in heaven. And note this – all of them are there. Not 143,999. In chapter 7 there are 144,000 and now they are all standing in heaven and celebrating and singing. They were called to endurance, and they have endured. And they are in heaven celebrating the victory.
It has been noted by others that there is a difference between the mark of the beast and having God’s name written on your forehead and being sealed by God. The mark of the beast may give you temporary empowerment and prosperity. Being on the side of those who control the halls of political and economic power may serve you well in this life. But it will not protect you from the judgment of God. On the other hand, those who are sealed by God are protected from his wrath. No matter how they are treated in this world, they are saved from the wrath to come and are given an eternal inheritance in the age to come.
The point is this, brother and sister: we need to remember where we are going. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for you or me. I’m kind of glad, to be honest, that I don’t. But I do know this: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12), and therefore I can “hold fast the form of sound words . . . in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (13). We are going to heaven, to paradise, to the presence of God, to be with Christ, to a home eternal in the heavens, to glory, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. And when we get there, we aren’t going to hang up our harps on the willows and weep – we will reach for our harps and sing like we’ve never sung before. That’s not pie-in-the-sky, because God has promised it, purchased it for us in Christ, and because it is received by faith not earned by works.
We need to remember this. We need to remember that this world is not our home. We are strangers and pilgrims here. If you feel out of place, that’s a good thing. You are not home yet. But if you belong to Christ, you will be. You may not feel like singing now. But you will sing again; of that there is no doubt. Why? Because it is God’s intention for all who belong to Christ to be eternally happy.
What they are singing about (3b)
But what are they singing about? What is it that makes them break out in song? Are they singing about their exploits on earth? Are they singing about all the times they overcame sin and temptation and the beast and the devil? Well, let’s let the text tell us what they sing: “They sung as it were a new song” (3). The only other time in the book of Revelation a “new song” is mentioned is back in 5:9, where we read: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” In other words, this is a song about how Jesus redeemed them, saved them, and kept them to the end. They are praising the Lord, not themselves. They are extolling the works of the Lord.
Furthermore, we are told that “and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (3). This also seems to indicate that it was their experience of redemption is what gave them the ability to sing this song. No one else could learn this song, not the angels, not anyone else. Why? Surely not because they couldn’t learn the words or the notes. No one else could learn it and sing it because they hadn’t experienced what the song was about. To be able to sing a song in heaven about being redeemed is only possible when you are yourself redeemed. This is a song about being saved by the Lord Jesus by his death on a cross for our sins and his keeping us in grace to the very end and making us more the conquerors.
What we sing about reveals the priorities of our hearts. Here on earth, we often prioritize the wrong things, and this is reflected in our songs. But in heaven, the saints will only value that which is most valuable and most lovely and most worthy. This then shows us how valuable salvation by Christ really is because this is what they sing about. This is what perfect people sing about. It is what people with minds and hearts and wills without any trace of sin sing about, who see clearly and feel fully for the first time. It is significant that, even when they are in heaven and no longer inhabit a world scarred by sin and grief and illness, they aren’t singing about the perfection and beauty and majesty of heaven but about salvation itself.
Why is this? Because it is in saving us that God reveals his glory and it is by saving us that we get to see that glory. Recall what they are singing in 5:9 – “and hast redeemed us to God.” That is what salvation is ultimately about; it is about redeeming us to God, bringing us to God, experiencing the immediate presence of God in heaven.
It is significant that the greatest displays of God’s glory on the earth are connected with the work of redemption of man.1 When God revealed his glory to Abraham in Genesis 15, it was to make a covenant with him by which God covenanted to bring through Abraham the Messiah into the world. When he came in glory on Mount Sinai he was redeeming Israel from Egypt, a type of the salvation from sin. We are told in 2 Cor. 3 that the glory of the New Covenant exceeds the glory of the first covenant made on Mount Sinai. Or consider the glory of God revealed in the 40th chapter of Isaiah. How does that chapter begin? It begins with the announcement of comfort to the people of God, that pardon had been secured. It goes on to describe the ministry of John the Baptist who will announce the coming of Jesus. It is in that context that we read things like this: “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?” (Isa. 40:12-14). The God who redeems his people is the God who measures the oceans in the hollow of his hands.
Or consider that remarkable display of God’s glory at the birth of Jesus: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8-14).
We could go on to talk about God’s glory revealed at the baptism of Christ, and at the Mount of Transfiguration. The point is this: God has revealed his glory, the public display of his excellence and splendor and attributes, most clearly in the salvation of sinners, in satisfying his justice on their behalf, in granting them free and full pardon for their sins, in accepting them into his family and fellowship. And so it will be that in heaven we will fully see the glory of the God who saves. This is the prayer of our Lord himself: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (Jn. 17:24).
So the saints in heaven will be singing about the Lord Jesus Christ and glory of God in the salvation of men. They have seen glory, tasted glory, and they cannot help but to sing of that glory.
What a contrast to what so many sing about here. In our day we sing songs about victims, and we are usually the victims. It’s the kind of song that gives you a temporary sense of gratification, but it doesn’t last and usually leaves you more empty than ever before. But in heaven they are singing about a victor, not themselves, but Jesus Christ. They are not singing about themselves because they understand they didn’t save themselves; God did. Salvation is by God’s grace and by grace alone. And it is because of that grace that they are enjoying God fully for the first time. They are perfectly happy for the first time because Christ has saved them to himself. And that is why they are singing: because it is God’s intention for his people to be happy forever.
Who is singing (4-5)
The Bible is not a universalist text. What I mean by that is that the Bible does not allow us to say that God will save all humanity from final and eternal judgment (see verses 9-11!). Who then will be saved? How can we distinguish the saved from the unsaved? And can we even do this?
The answer is that we can. The Bible makes this clear in a number of ways. Our Lord himself said that you can tell a tree by its fruit. And what we see here are the fruits of grace in the lives of believers that distinguish them from the lost, from those who have received the mark of the beast. We see this in verses 4-5: “These are 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. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
Now as we read these descriptions of the redeemed, we have to keep in mind that these are symbolic descriptions. So, for instance, we are not to interpret the fact that they are described as virgins who have not been defiled with women as if to say that this is a group of male-only super-saints. Rather, this is a picture of the church at war. In the OT, one of the requirements for the Israelite soldier was to keep ceremonially pure during the times of war (Deut. 23:9-11), and this would have required celibacy (cf. 1 Sam. 21:5; 2 Sam. 11:8-13). Even so, the point here is that the church is viewed at war with Satan, and this celibacy is meant to be a picture of the purity of the church and its devotion to the Lord.
You see devotion to Christ pictured in other ways as well. When they are pictured as “firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb,” this is meant to point us to the holiness of the church. According to the Law of Moses, an Israelite farmer had to give the firstfruits of his harvest to the Lord as an offering; it was only then that he could keep the rest of the harvest for himself (cf. Exod. 23; Deut. 26). In the same way, the fact that this group is called “firstfruits” is not meant to indicate that they are the beginning of a larger harvest, but it is meant to indicate their status as wholly devoted to the Lord.
There are two other ways this is pictured. First, in the sentence: “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” Throughout his ministry our Lord called on people to follow him. For his disciples during his earthly ministry, that literally meant following him around and listening to his teaching. But there is still a sense in which we are all called to follow Jesus. We follow him whenever we obey his word. His word is given to us in the Bible. Do we know what the Bible says? Do we believe it and obey it? Do we follow Jesus wherever he goes? Or do we just pick and choose what we want to obey? The church follows Christ by obeying Christ. The true Christian goes for universal obedience, not just selective obedience. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes, even to the point of death.
Finally, we see it in the words, “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.” In contrast with the dragon and the beasts who are all about deceiving people, God’s people believe the truth, tell the truth, and practice the truth. They believe God’s word which is truth. They reject false idols which are lies. They are therefore “without fault” or “blameless” (ESV), not of course in the sense that they never sinned on the earth, but in the sense that they are true to Christ. They have kept themselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21).
These are the people who are singing. It’s so important for us to hear this because the devil wants you to believe that if you will just “follow your heart” and “be true to yourself” you will be happy. It is a lie! You see this perhaps most clearly today in the transgender chaos which has inundated our country. Its advocates claim that to oppose this is to harm people with gender dysphoria and to make them so unhappy that they will commit suicide. Well, to say that is psychological blackmail, and it is also false. If you won’t believe the Bible on this, at least listen to one of the advocates for transgenderism. He admitted in an op-ed for the New York Times, in talking candidly about a gender reassignment surgery he was about to have: “I still want this, all of it. I want the tears; I want the pain. Transition doesn’t have to make me happy for me to want it. Left to their own devices, people will rarely pursue what makes them feel good in the long term. Desire and happiness are independent agents.”2 He frankly admits that what he wants won’t make him happy and that this is usually the case. Following your heart is not the path to joy; it is universally the path to destruction. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” said the prophet, “and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). To follow your heart is not the path to singing; it is the path to irreversible mourning and weeping.
Yes, to follow Christ wherever he goes always involves bearing your cross. But his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Follow your heart and you will end in despair. Follow Christ and you will have heaven and never-ending and ever-increasing joy. Heaven is a place of singing, because it is God’s intention for his people that they will be eternally happy.
God made us to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. You won’t find true or lasting joy anywhere else. You find it in living to the glory of God. But we cannot; we are sinners. We have fallen short of the glory of God, infinitely short. How then can we glorify him and enjoy him? The Biblical answer is through Christ, who took the sadness and the grief and the pain that we should have endured in eternal judgment and took it upon himself. He suffered in our place so that we can have our sins forgiven and be admitted to the fellowship of God where there is true happiness and peace to be found. And the way we receive this is not through works of any kind, but through faith in Christ, by resting in his finished work of redemption upon the cross.
If you have trusted in Christ, you are to follow him wherever he goes. Christ was baptized; he commands all his followers to be baptized and to publicly identify with him. If you have trusted in Christ and received the forgiveness of sins by grace, I urge you to openly identify with him – put on Christ in baptism, take up your cross, and follow him!
Brothers and sisters, let me leave you with this one last thought. We have seen the saints singing in heaven, and we have seen that this means that it is God’s intention for his people to be happy forever. Here is the truth, no matter where you are at today, no matter how you feel today, no matter how dark tomorrow seems, no matter how hopeless it might all feel: you will sing again. You will yet praise him who is the help of your countenance and your God. Believe that; hold on to that. It is true, not because we are good enough but because God loves us in Christ freely and eternally and unchangeably.
1 I am indebted to a sermon of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Glory of God,” for this insight. You can listen to this sermon here: https://www.mljtrust.org/sermons/book-of-ephesians/
2 Anderson, Ryan T.. When Harry Became Sally . Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.