Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.
“And there was war at the end of the day between the Road of the Crowned Ones and the People of the Utter East. But when the final day of the Seven Days had come, the victor approaches dancing in a stern manner.”
Did you get it? There was an evening ratings battle between Corrie and Eastenders, but the winner was Saturday’s Strictly.
We understand that sentence because we know what Corrie and Eastenders are, but imagine you are from the year 4021, living on a Mars colony and communicating by thought waves in a language composed of musical notes. What would you know of TV ratings from that Neanderthal age when people looked at little screens and voted by email – how quaint and archaic!
Those Mars colonists could easily read all kinds of things into the TV listings that are not there. Are we supposed to be The Crowned Ones and fight people from the East? What are these mysterious Seven Days – seven literal days or are they seven ages of civilisation?
Just as those folks on the Mars colony would have trouble understanding things that make perfect sense to us, so we can have problems when we read the Bible – prophetic books especially, and Revelation in particular.
So let’s not get hung up on the virginal 144,000, or the names written on foreheads, or the four living creatures. When John wrote this, the early Christians would have understood it, because pretty much the whole of Revelation is referring to their culture and Old Testament imagery. But we, from a distance of 2000 years – different culture, different language, different ways of communicating – often miss the references, read all kinds of weird things into incidental details, and overlook the big picture.
So what is the big picture? Jesus is king. Lots of people love him and worship him. It’s impressive. And it’s good. ‘Nuff said.
Dear Lord, Please help us to see the big picture of the Bible: That you are Lord, you are good, you are just, and you are wonderful, for that is really all we need. Amen.
Fay Rowland, author and graduate researcher at Wesley House, Cambridge, worshipping at Christ the King, Kettering.