Sunday, December 23, 2012

God's End-Time People

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Sunday, December 23, 2012: Revelation 14:1-20

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.  Revelation 14:1 (ESV)

As we read the Book of Revelation, we continually must make decisions concerning the symbolism.  Is it literal or figurative?  If it is purely symbolic, what does the symbolism mean?  Is it speaking about things that have already happened or things yet to happen?

Such is the case concerning this picture of 144,000 believers standing on Mount Zion.  Diverse groups have speculated as to the meaning.  Entire religious movements have sprung up around supposed "final interpretations."  My personal belief is that the number twelve throughout Scripture seems to represent completeness (12 tribes in Old Testament Israel and 12 apostles in the New Testament).  144,000 is 12 times 12,000.  This in some way represents the fullness of God's people as the end of the age comes upon us. 

This is exciting to me.  Here's the reason why.  I am a pastor.  My entire life is devoted to seeing God's people, the church, grow strong and vibrant.  It is my greatest hope that a powerful church will rise up in our day.  This is a vision.  It is a hope.  It is a desire to see God's people doing God's work in God's way!  They are full of joy.  They are spiritually healthy.  They are walking in one accord.  They are awesome!

Over time, the vision of a victorious church can grow a bit dim.  With all the week-in week-out set-backs, we can stop hoping.  We can settle in to a dull existence of simply surviving. 

God says that at the end of the age, there will be a complete, powerful, joyfilled people!  Richard Foster, in his great book Celebration of Discipline, states it this way: 

In our day heaven and earth are on tiptoe waiting for the emergence of a Spirit-led, Spirit-intoxicated, Spirit-empowered people.  All of creation watches expectantly for the springing up of a disciplined, freely gathered, martyr people who know in this life the life and power of the kingdom of God.  It has happened before.  It can happne again.

He goes on to call this the "breaking forth of the apostolic church of the Spirit."  Wow!  This is no weak, anemic church limping into eternity.  It is a powerful bride that has prepared herself for the Bridegroom.

So let's look further at this 144,000 -- the full expression of Christ's church at the end of the age.  It says that they have the name of Jesus and the name of the Father written on their foreheads.  I have referred to this in an earlier blog (A Flood of Evil), but I will again say that I do not believe this is a literal mark or seal.  It speaks of something else.

A seal or mark in biblical times meant three things:  1. OWNERSHIP, 2. LOYALTY, and 3. SECURITY.
An outward mark could be like the branding of cattle.  It means "this one belongs to the maker of the mark."  It also means that the bearer of the mark has pledged allegiance to someone or something.  It's perhaps like some sports teams or military units who get the same tattoo to indicate unending unity and devotion.  Lastly, the mark is a sign to anyone who would threaten the individual bearing the mark.  It is like a badge that says "I represent someone bigger than me, and he backs me up!"

This end-time people have learned a new song.  They are the only ones who can sing it (vs. 3)!  They have forsaken all that distracts and have decided to follow the Lamb (vs. 4).  They have learned to speak straight and to walk straight (vs. 5).  It is one of the greatest experiences of life to walk with people like that.  Let's do it together!

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