14.1.2. A Scene Spanning both Heaven and Earth

The scene before us can also be interpreted in a different way which splits the participants between both a heavenly and an earthly location. Such an interpretation understands the 144,000 to be upon the earth having survived the Tribulation due to God’s special protection (Rev. Rev. 7:1-3+). John is given a preview of the Lamb and the 144,000 on the earthly Mount Zion at the introduction of the Millennial Kingdom to come. They are accompanied by thunderous praise from heaven. This interpretation understands the singers to be the harpists in heaven, rather than the 144,000 on the earth. They who sing a new song before the throne, the four living creatures, and the elders (Rev. Rev. 14:3+), refers to the nearest antecedent, the harpists, not the 144,000 who stand with the Lamb. (However, there is a significant textual variation at this verse which see.) “The text does not say that the 144,000 are in the same place as the singers, only that they hear the singers.”1 It is the heavenly chorus playing harps which sing the song in heaven commemorating God’s special preservation of the 144,000 throughout the entire Tribulation and the accomplishment of their unique evangelistic task (see commentary on Revelation 7:3). The heavenly harpists sing the new song and the 144,000 are the only ones who can learn the song from among those on earth.

Some want to identify the singers as the redeemed ones themselves. The reasons for assigning this identity are the inability of anyone else to learn the song (Rev. Rev. 14:3+) (Kiddle) and the analogy of Rev. Rev. 15:2+ where the overcomers have harps (Beasley-Murray). This cannot be, however, because the song is sung in heaven and the 144,000 redeemed ones are on the earthly Mount Zion (Alford, Beckwith). The song is intelligible to the 144,000, but they are not the singers (Moffatt).2

The association of the song with the harpists has the advantage of coupling the pronoun (they) more closely to the antecedent (harpists). It also associates the singing with those who initiate the music and play the harps. It also explains who the 144,000 would learn the song from. “Who then are the harpers? They are the martyred company seen in connection with the fifth seal and they also include now their brethren which were slain during the great tribulation.”3 If John sees a preview of the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion at the end of the Tribulation, then their appearance follows upon the events of the Tribulation. Interestingly, a group of singing harpists in heaven is mentioned in the very next chapter, although they sing a different song (the song of Moses and of the Lamb). They are those who “have victory over the Beast, over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name” (Rev. Rev. 15:2+). The harpists here, although singing a different song, are probably also from among the redeemed.4 The weaknesses of this view include:
  1. The new song originates in the mouths of the harpists, who lack the firsthand experience of the redemption and preservation of the 144,000. In other passages, those who initiate songs are the ones who experienced redemption (Rev. Rev. 5:9-10+; Rev. 15:2+).
  2. The statement mentioning the faultlessness of the 144,000 before the throne of God (Rev. Rev. 14:5+) must be understood to describe their salvific position rather than their physical location in heaven. (However, this phrase does not even appear in the NU or MT texts, but only the TR text. See commentary on Revelation 14:5.)
  3. The need to make a distinction between singing the song and learning the song. If the 144,000 are said to be the only ones who can learn the song, how do we account for the harpists who initially learn in order to sing? A possible solution is that the 144,000 are the only ones from among those on the earth who can learn it because the song, originated by the harpists in heaven, commemorates their personal experience. It is uniquely their special privilege to sing it. See commentary on Revelation 14:3.
  4. The emphasis placed on the uniqueness of the song and its association with redemption (Rev. Rev. 14:3+) argues against its origin with any but the 144,000 themselves.
  5. The majority of manuscripts (NU and MT texts) indicate that the voice or sound was like harpists playing on their harps. If this describes a voice (rather than the sound of a multitude), then they which sing in Rev. Rev. 14:3+ cannot refer to the voice. See commentary on Revelation 14:2.
A variation of this view understands the harpists playing their harps from heaven and the 144,000 singing the new song in response from the earth. This view takes they (singers) of verse 3, these (virgins) of verse 4, and their (faultless ones) of verse 5 as all referring to the 144,000 of verse 1. The main weakness of this view is accounting for how the new song they sing can be said to be “before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders” (Rev. Rev. 14:3+) when the singers are themselves on earth. Mills suggests another variation: that the 144,000 are seen first on earth (Rev. Rev. 14:1+), but then raptured to heaven to sing before the throne thereafter (Rev. Rev. 14:3+).5 While such an event is possible, there is little within the context of the passage itself to support such a notion. The main advantage all of these variations have over a completely heavenly scene is that they interpret God’s seal of the 144,000 to have provided for their full safety for the duration of the Tribulation so that they are not only spiritual firstfruits, but also among the first Jews which enter the Millennial Kingdom to form its initial population. If John is shown a prophetic scene with the 144,000 and the Lamb on the earthly Mount Zion in the Millennial Kingdom and the rest of the scene is the heavenly reaction above, then the sealed of Israel would have avoided death to enter the kingdom and now stand as evidence of God’s promise to protect a faithful remnant:

The first verse presents what appears to be a millennial scene, . . . with the 144,000 Jews standing on Mount Zion with the protective seal on their foreheads prominently displayed. This shows that Satan’s attempt at total Jewish destruction will fail.6

They are the “firstfruits” of the millennial reign. They connect the dispensations—somewhat as Noah did, who passed through the judgment of the flood into a new order of things.7

In chapter fourteen the same group [the 144,000 from Revelation Rev. 7:1+] is pictured at the termination of the tribulation, when the kingdom is established. The returning King is on Mount Zion, as was predicted of Him (Zec. Zec. 14:4. At His return the faithful witnesses gather to Him, having been redeemed (Rev. Rev. 14:4+) and having faithfully witnessed in the midst of apostasy (Rev. Rev. 14:4-5+).8


Notes

1 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 14:1.

2 Ibid., Rev. 14:3.

3 Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1961), 86.

4 “We gather that the harp-singers of chaps. xiv. and xv. are the same company.”—Walter Scott, Exposition of The Revelation (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), Rev. 15:2.

5 “We first find the 144,000 on earth (Mount Zion) and then in Heaven (before the throne). Now, this is remarkable, for it suggests that the Lamb will gather them together in Jerusalem in order to transport them to Heaven. It suggests, too, that these 144,000 will be raptured from Jerusalem, for there is no mention of them dying.”—Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 14:1.

6 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 269.

7 William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter by Chapter (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994,c1935), 210.

8 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 300.