Discipleship in Revelation?, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the first characteristic of discipleship addressed in Rev 14:1–5, the disciple’s growing understanding of who Jesus is. Today we’ll examine the second characteristic of Jesus’ disciples found in Rev 14:1–5.

The second characteristic of Jesus’ disciples noted in this passage is that his disciples are distinct from the rest of the world. We find throughout Scripture affirmations of the distinctiveness of God’s people from the surrounding culture. In the OT, the Israelites were called to be holy as God is holy. They were to reflect God’s character in a manner that distinguished them from the neighboring people groups. In the NT, the apostle Peter speaks of the way in which members of the new covenant (Christians) are to be separate and different from non-Christians by virtue of their new relationship with God through Christ, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:9–10). Here in Revelation 14 we find something similar mentioned.

The Lamb standing on Mount Zion has certain persons with him, “144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1). Elsewhere in the book, the 144,000 is a symbolic way of speaking of the people of God throughout the ages (cf. 7:4–9). Part of what distinguishes this group from others in the book is the name written on their foreheads. These persons have the name of the Lamb and the name of God the Father. In the book of Revelation, one has either bears the mark of God or the mark of the beast.[1] It is best not to understand the mark as literal, but rather, it points to a spiritual reality; one either serves God and his Son or one serves the devil. The name also functions as a seal to note under whose protection and leadership one is. Those who bear God and the Lamb’s name on their foreheads are protected from the wrath to come (14:8–11), while those who bear the seal of the beast are subject to divine punishment (14:9–11).

For the disciple of Jesus Christ the picture of being sealed with God’s name should offer comfort. Chiefly God’s seal is a sign that the Christians are his own. They have been purchased with Christ’s own blood. They no longer stand condemned and under the wrath to come. It also offers assurance, since the seal of God is not so much protection from suffering brought on by persecution or from the ill effects of living in a fallen world, but it is security of one’s salvation. The Father has marked all genuine disciples as his own on the basis of his only Son bearing the marks of crucifixion.

In addition to bearing the mark of God and the Lamb on their forehead, these disciples are able to understand and sing “a new song” (14:3). The reason for their ability to sing this song has to do with their position, they have “been redeemed from the earth” (14:3). Based on verbal parallels, the “new song” of 14:3 is none other than the “new song” of 5:9–10. Both the song in 5:9–10 and the context of the song in 14:3 record the Lamb’s purchase of people.[2]

Not only is the exclusiveness of the group noted by the song they sing and their ability to understand it, but they are also “redeemed from the earth” (14:3). While it is possible to understand “earth’ in a geographical sense, it is also possible, and perhaps more likely, to take it as a reference to the mass of humanity out of who Jesus’ disciples are taken. Under this understanding, Koester reasons, “to say they are purchased from (apō) the earth and humankind distinguishes those who believe from those who do not (14:3–4; cf. 5:9).”[3]

What are we to conclude through all of this imagery? Are Christians to cloister themselves off from the rest of the world, so that they have little to no interaction with non-Christians? Does this mean Jesus’ disciples are to have a list of rules, such as “don’t smoke and chew and go with girls who do”? I think a quick survey of the NT would lead one to conclude such isolationists mentalities are contrary to the Great Commission, and Jesus’ commands to live as “salt and light” in a tasteless and darkened world, not to mention other texts that address how we are to live in such a manner that people, particularly people cut off from the body of Christ, are to see our good deeds so that they might come to glorify our Father in heaven.

If these images do not give us reason to cut ourselves off from the world, then how are we to be distinct and separate? The remainder of the text (14:4–5) will address this in greater detail, but I believe verses 1–3 give us some clue as to how Christians are to be different from non-Christians. First, we will look like the one who has marked us with his name. If we are Christians, we will look more like Jesus. Now, I admit, such a statement is fairly vague. How is Jesus a model for the disciple to follow? One way in particular that is repeated throughout the book of Revelation refers to the way his people suffer like him. They suffer because they take up and articulate the mission of Jesus. In other words, they declare the gospel knowing full well that it may lead to rejection, persecution, and even death. Second, we find the 144,000 engaged in worship of God and the Lamb. God’s people not only worship him through song and the preached Word as they gather together on Sunday mornings, but they are called to offer their very lives as a fragrant offering to God, to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God, which will include not being conformed to the pattern of this world, but by having their minds renewed to be more like that of Christ (Rom 12:1–2). It means we will seek to live our lives in accordance with God’s Word, his will for us, because all of our being is lived out before him as an act of worship. We are called to be different; we are called to be distinct. We are not called to live in such a way that everyone will like us or think highly of us. If we follow our Savior’s manner of life we can expect more rejection and scorn, than praise and admiration from a watching world.

[1] A name, seal, or mark on one’s body function similarly throughout the book.

[2] For more on the parallels between these two passages see Craig Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible. Vol. 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 609, 618 and Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 357.

[3] Koester, Revelation, 609.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Discipleship in Revelation?, Part 3 | keithmarriner

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