I previously wrote on two characteristics of discipleship in Revelation 14:1–5 (here and here). Today we’ll conclude by addressing verses 4–5 and flesh out the final five characteristics of discipleship from this passage.
Third, Jesus’ disciples are those whose lives are characterized by faithfulness. In 14:4 we find disciples described as those “who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins.” This phrase has been understood both literally and figuratively. If the imagery is intended to be understood figuratively (which I think it is), then it describes the church as depicted as a faithful virgin prepared to marry her betrothed. In Revelation, as elsewhere in Scripture, those who are faithful to God are described as a woman awaiting her wedding night, with God taking on the role of the husband. This imagery is often found in the NT to describe the relationship between Christ (the betrothed) and the church (the bride). Rather than defile itself with Babylon, which is described as a prostitute in Revelation, Jesus’ disciples remain faithful to him by separating themselves from all manner of evil and corruption, and by fully submitting themselves to his rule.[i]
Fourth, Jesus’ disciples are those who follow him. Revelation 14:4 also includes the description of disciples “follow[ing] the Lamb wherever he goes” (14:4). This is the most overt discipleship language in the entire book. “Following the Lamb” indicates discipleship just as it does in the Gospels (cf. Matt 8:19). Being Jesus’ disciple includes following his way of life and teaching, as well as promoting his mission. The present tense of the participle “they follow” likely indicates continuous action on the part of the disciple. Following Jesus as his disciples is not something one casually does. It is not something reserved for Sunday, but requires total and absolute commitment to him. This is absolutely necessary when one considers the consequences for following Christ may very well include one’s own death (cf. 2:13; 11:7).
Fifth, Jesus’ disciples are set apart to God. In 14:4 we encounter a third description of Jesus’ disciples, “They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.” The imagery here is sacrificial and invokes images of the old covenant temple with its sacrifices. The terminology “firstfruits” was commonly used in the LXX[ii] to refer to those who are “offered to God as a one-time contribution,”[iii] and thus, someone offered to God “in the sense of being separated to him and sanctified (wholly consecrated).”[iv] Jesus’ disciples recognize that their lives are not their own, they have been bought at a great price, that being Christ’s own blood. As such, humble service is to mark the Christian.
Sixth, Jesus’ disciples proclaim the truths of God’s Word. In Rev 14:5 those who were purchased from among mankind are described as having “no lie … found in their mouths.” The phrase “no lie” is more than simply telling the truth, but includes “faithful proclamation of God’s truths as well as refusal to surrender to Satan’s deceits,” which includes worship of the beast in Revelation.[v] Faithful proclamation of the faith once for all entrusted to the saints is the responsibility of all Christians, not just those engaged in vocational preaching and teaching ministries (i.e., pastors, professors, etc.).
Seventh, Jesus’ disciples are blameless. Revelation 14:5 concludes by noting that disciples are “blameless.” The term “blameless” can refer to “being unblemished in a physical sense, and blameless in a moral sense.”[vi] Of particular interests to us here is the second sense, the moral sense. This does not mean that Christians are perfect people, that they always do what is in keeping with Scripture, or that they never sin. They are “blameless” in that they speak the truth regarding God’s Word and that they live their lives in accordance with the principles found in Scripture. They may also be blameless with respect to unjust accusations against them from those who seek to destroy them and all who identify with Jesus. This aspect of the imagery is particularly relevant for those who suffer persecution because of their faith in Christ. In this way Jesus’ disciples also follow in his footsteps, since he too “had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa 53:9; cf. Zeph 3:13) and yet, he was sentenced to die as a violent criminal.[vii] Even as his resurrection vindicated his life and teaching, similarly, Christ’s disciples will one day be raised to everlasting life, and thus vindicate for suffering unjustly for Christ’s sake.
[i] In Revelation “Babylon” often represents those powers throughout the church age aligned against God and his people.
[ii] LXX stands for the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint.
[iii] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995), 198.
[iv] Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 13, Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 722.
[v] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 531.
[vi] Craig Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible, Vol. 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 611.
[vii] Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 746–747.