Rev. 14:4 – These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. 5No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (HCSB)
They have kept their virginity
Now John provides a further description of the 144,000: “These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes … No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless” (vv. 4- 5).
Few commentators insist that John is speaking of celibate men. While some biblical saints are in fact virgins – and Jesus acknowledges that God has called some to remain so (see Matt. 19:11-12) – there is nothing in scripture that equates celibacy with a special degree of spiritual maturity. The “virginity” here clearly is symbolic of spiritual purity on the part of the 144,000.
W.A. Criswell puts John’s words in proper context: “Consider, for example, 2 Corinthians 11:2, where Paul says to the church at Corinth: ‘… for I have espoused you to Christ, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to our Lord.’ Now, does that mean that all those folks in the church at Corinth were unmarried, that all the men were bachelors and all the women were spinsters? … The idea is impossible. But we know what Paul means. He says to the Corinthians that the church is going to be presented to Christ as a chaste virgin. Likewise, when the text describes these men in Revelation as virgins, it refers to the fact that they separated themselves from the pollutions and corruptions of the earth. They were virgins unto God. They had given themselves in pure devotion to the Lord” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 147).
Following the Lamb
This is the reason John describes them as “ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” The scene here is glorious, with the saints standing victoriously on Mount Zion. At the same time, it should be noted that those who stand on the mountain top with the Lamb no doubt have followed Him through many dark valleys. In the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers to take up their crosses – a symbol of shame, banishment, and death – and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). He tells them to subordinate their love of family to their love of the Lord (Matt. 10:37-39); to let the dead bury their own dead (Luke 9:60); to forsake long goodbyes to family (Luke 9:61); to not look back (Luke 9:62); even to lose their lives for His sake (Matt. 16:25). He tells the disciples who wish to be seated at His right and left hand that they will drink the same cup of suffering that He is about to drink (Mark 10:38-39). He bids us to come, follow Him – and die.
As the writer of Hebrews points out, the world is not worthy of believers who are tortured, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in two, pierced by swords, forced to wander in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, afflicted and mistreated, compelled to wander in deserts, mountains, or to hide in caves and holes in the ground. In the end, however, they are approved through their faith – a faith that holds up under the most oppressive pressure (Heb. 11:35-40).
Even Christ’s most faithful followers lose their courage in life’s dark valleys. How many times have His would-be disciples boasted, “I will follow you wherever you go,” only to be reminded that “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Luke 9:57-58). And when Peter speaks what the other apostles are thinking, that he would rather die than forsake Jesus, he is told that before the night is through he will deny his Lord three times (Mark 14:29-31). The rich young ruler wishes to follow Jesus and seems a most worthy candidate until Jesus tells him the price: “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor … Then come, follow Me.” The ruler will not do it (Mark 10:17-22).
Nothing to lose
In scripture and throughout history, it seems that those who forsake all for the cause of Christ have nothing to lose and everything to gain, while those who cling to the trappings of this age, like the seed on thorny ground in Jesus’ parable, are choked by their own comforts. There are far more seeds on the earth’s pathways, stony ground and thorny ground than in the good soil, and their would-be fruit is snatched away prematurely by birds, or baked in the sun, or strangled by wild plants.
Still, there are those who march faithfully through the darkest shadows and trust the Lord to repay in eternity what they have forfeited in time. Missionary Jim Elliot is such a saint. At the age of 28, Elliot is killed, along with four other missionaries, evangelizing the Waodani Indians in Ecuador. Several years before his untimely death, he scrawls in his journal these now-famous words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Lastly, of the 144,000 John writes that no lie is found in their mouths; they are blameless. Not sinless, but blameless. That is, they are ordinary men and women – fallen and fallible. Yet they proclaim the good news of the kingdom even though many will stop up their ears to keep from hearing it. When told, “You were also with that Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67), they fearlessly admit it. And when false prophets and false Messiahs all around them boast of “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), they hold steadfastly to the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). They are blameless.
Next: They were redeemed … as the firstfruits – Revelation 14:4