Revelation 13 paints a bleak picture of enemies aligning against God in the final cosmic battle between Satan and God. The great red dragon (Revelation 12:3, 13:1) enlists two beasts in the war against God, one from the sea (Revelation 13:1) the other from the earth (Revelation 13:11). The beast appears to have an advantage as many have taken the notorious mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-18). Then the scene shifts.
To the relief of the reader, Revelation 14 moves from war to peace (Revelation 14:1-5). The Lamb, last seen seven chapters earlier (Revelation 7:17), is reintroduced. Despite his extended absence, no introduction is necessary. The reader knows the Lamb to be Jesus, the lone figure worthy to unloose the seals of the scroll (Revelation 5:11-14) and receive the adulation of the multitude (Revelation 7:10). Amid the apparent chaos, the Lamb stands triumphantly with 144,000 of his followers (Revelation 14:1-5).
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1 NASB)The author emphasizes the striking quality of this visual by adding the phrase “looked and behold” (Revelation 14:1).
The picture of the Lamb atop the mountain stands in sharp contrast to the visuals from the previous chapter. The text transitions from those who have taken the mark of the beast to those who bear the mark of Christ. The names adorning the believers’ foreheads fulfills a previous promise given to the victors (Revelation 3:12). This inscription of God’s name dramatically opposes the mark of the beast, the number of his name. While the beast attempts to elicit worship, the Lamb is the recipient of true worship. The scene portrays the past invading the present while simultaneously foreshadowing the future as it recalls Revelation 7:1-8 and anticipates Revelation 21:1-22:6.
The lamb’s position, atop Mount Zion, is significant. The location is mentioned only here in Revelation. Zion is seldom mentioned in the New Testament and when it is, it is most commonly in Old Testament quotations (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15; Romans 9:33, 11:26; Hebrews 12:22; I Peter 2:6; Revelation 14:1; also Barnabas 6:2). Even so, Zion carries a lot of weight.
Though “Mount Zion” is introduced in the Bible as a fortress on one the southernmost and highest of the hills of the pre-Israelite city of Jerusalem (II Samuel 5:7) it eventually took on a broader reach, sometimes loosely encompassing all of Jerusalem. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary charts the name’s scope:
The designation of Zion underwent a distinct progression in its usage throughout the Bible...The first mention of Zion in the Bible is...the name of the ancient Jebusite fortress situated on the southeastern hill of Jerusalem at the junction of the Kidron Valley and the Tyropoeon Valley [II Samuel 5:7]. The name came to stand not only for the fortress but also for the hill on which the fortress stood...When Solomon built the temple of Mount Moriah (a hill distinct and separate from Mount Zion), and moved the ark of the covenant there, the word “Zion” expanded in meaning to include also the Temple and the Temple area (Psalm 2:6, 48:2, 11-12, 132:13). It was only a short step until Zion was used as a name for the city of Jerusalem, the land of Judah, and the people of Israel as a whole (Isaiah 40:9; Jeremiah 31:12). (Ronald F. Youngblood [b. 1931], Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: Completely Revised and Updated Edition), 1343)
Joseph L. Trafton (b. 1949) adds:
David took Jerusalem from the Jebusites by capturing the “stronghold of Zion,” which he renamed the city of David (II Samuel 5:6-10). Solomon built the Temple on a hill directly north of the City of David (I Kings 8:1-6). Hence, the site of the Temple, along with Jerusalem itself, came to be known as “Mount Zion” (e.g., Psalm 48:2, 74:2, 78:68-69, Isaiah 8:18, 18:7; Lamentations 5:18; cf. Psalm 2:6) or sometimes simply “Zion” (e.g., Psalm 147:12; Isaiah 37:32, 62:1; Joel 3:17; Micah 3:12, 4:2). In the Old Testament the expression “Mount Zion” is identified further as a place that will experience future deliverance (Joel 2:32; Obadiah 1:17, 21) and blessing (Isaiah 4:2-6), to which gifts will be brought by foreigners (Isaiah 18:7), which God will defend (Isaiah 31:4-5), out of which will come a remnant of survivors (Isaiah 37:32), and to which exiles will come to be ruled by the Lord forever (Micah 4:6-7). (Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary And Theological Commentary, 134)At the time of Revelation’s writing, Zion was an emblematic term, long associated with the type of divine deliverance depicted here (Joel 2:32). It had an eternal quality which applied to heavenly temple in present (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 11:19) and pointed to the new Jerusalem of the future (Revelation 21:2). Consequently, there is much debate as to whether the Zion in question is in heaven or on earth.
The text is ambiguous. Those who support a heavenly setting note that the Lamb is last seen in heaven and the narrative makes no comment about his transitioning from heaven to earth (Revelation 7:9). Likewise, the composition’s author, John, is never said to move from his initial position, also in heaven (Revelation 4:1). Another detail favoring a heavenly scene is a singing multitude of 144,000 suggesting the same group that previously appears in heaven (Revelation 7:4).
Those who support an earthly vision argue that the text itself says nothing of heaven. The 144,000 had been sealed and protected previously, which would be presumably unnecessary if they resided in heaven (Revelation 7:3). Some also note that the fact that in the next verse the author hears “a voice from heaven” indicates that he is situated on earth (Revelation 14:2).
Scholars are divided on the issue. Stephen S. Smalley (b. 1931) compares:
The precise location of Mount Zion in Revelation 14:1 is not immediately clear. In the view of some commentators, the setting of this verse is on earth; even if the reality represented is spiritual (William Milligan [1821-1893] 240-41; Henry Barclay Swete [1835-1917] 177; Isbon Thaddeus Beckwith [1843-1936] 647, 651; R.H. Charles [1855-1931] 2, 4-5; Michael Wilcock [b. 1932] 132; Robert W. Wall [b. 1947] 179; David E. Aune [b. 1939] 803). Others regard the vision of the Lamb of Zion, with the 144,000, as taking place in heaven (Martin Kiddle 262-65; William Hendriksen [1900-1982] 151; P.W.L. Walker [b. 1961], Holy City 261; Robert H. Mounce [b. 1921] 264-65); cf. 4 Ezra 2.42-48. A third interpretation equates Zion in this context with the new Jerusalem, which ‘comes down from heaven’ (Revelation 21:2), and becomes part of the new creation after the destruction of the old; so George Eldon Ladd [1911-1982] 189-90...also G.R. Beasley-Murray [1916-2000] 222, who believes there is a contrast here between the earthly Jerusalem, which has become a symbol for the godless world (Revelation 11:8-10) and the Jerusalem from above, where heaven and earth are brought together in a unity (Revelation 21:16). (Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, 354)The inconclusiveness is not surprising as Revelation is typically unconcerned with geography, frequently mixing temporal and spatial images. The book’s subject matter transcends time and space. The setting of Revelation’s Mount Zion could be heaven, earth, both or neither.
Ian Boxall (b. 1964) opts for a more general spiritual interpretation of the salvation community:
John is not concerned with physical geography: where the Lamb is standing is not the Temple Mount or even the heavenly Mount Zion (cf. Hebrews 12:22), but that spiritual Zion which is nowhere and everywhere. It describes that state of openness to God and protection by him which has been referred to elsewhere as the measured sanctuary (Revelation 11:1) or the ‘holy city’ (Revelation 11:2). It is that place of true spiritual worship which takes place neither on Mount Gerizim nor in Jerusalem (John 4:21-24). Understood in this way, the question as to whether this scene is located on earth or in heaven is superfluous. (Boxall, Revelation of Saint John, The (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 200)James L. Resseguie (b. 1945) adds:
The symbolic mountain Zion is a sanctuary for the 144,000 who have the Lamb’s name and the name of the Father written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1). Zion, a place of safety, is similar to the wilderness sanctuary (Revelation 12:6, 14) and the measured temple (Revelation 11:1). In the Old Testament, Zion is a refuge where God reigns along with the Messiah (Psalm 2:6-12; cf. 4 Ezra 13:25-35). The mountain is neither in heaven nor on earth, but is “nowhere and everywhere” at the same time. It is not found on John’s physical map, but on his spiritual map. Zion is God’s mountain, the “site of God’s presence,” and contrasts with Babylon, also located on mountains (Revelation 17:9). This is the first of several contrasts developed in the chapter that express an ideological point of view. Not only does Zion contrast Babylon (Revelation 14:1, 8), but also the names on the foreheads of the 144,000 contrast with the name of the beast on the foreheads or hands of its followers (Revelation 14:1, 9, 11); the grain harvest of the righteous contrasts with a grape harvest of the wicked (Revelation 14:14-16, 17-20); the wrath of God contrasts with the blessing of those who die in the Lord (Revelation 14:10, 13); and celibacy contrasts with fornication (Revelation 14:4, 8). (Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary, 193-194)The reference to Mount Zion conveyed hope of restoration in and of itself to the original audience as the earthly Mount Zion had been pillaged by the Romans when Revelation was written.
Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) reminds:
Perhaps most significant of our observation here is the location of the 144,000. They are with the Lamb on Mount Zion, God’s dwelling in the present (Psalm 74:2, 76:2) and the future (Zechariah 2:10, 8:3), a place of Israel’s hopes for salvation (Psalm 53:6, 69:35, 87:5, 102:13) and triumph (Psalm 110:2; Obadiah 1:21; II Baruch 40:1). Although Jerusalem after 70 AD lay mostly in shambles and the nations were now trampling God’s sanctuary even in a symbolic sense (Revelation 11:2), John’s audience knew that the prophets had promised Zion’s restoration (Isaiah 1:27, 4:5, 46:13, 51:3, 61:11; Micah 4:2, 7). God would dwell in the midst of Zion as the triumphant warrior who delivered them (Zephaniah 3:15-19). He would make war form Mount Zion (Isaiah 31:4; cf. Zechariah 14:4); Jewish apocalyptic tradition added that the Messiah would stand atop Mount Zion when preparing to make war (4 Ezra 13:35). (Keener, Revelation (The NIV Application Commentary), 369)Mount Zion itself becomes symbolic of redemption and victory. In spite of the previous chapter’s gloom and doom, the Lamb still reigns. In fact, some view Revelation 14:1-5 as the Lamb’s coronation as depicted in the second psalm (Psalm 2:6), a passage Revelation has already alluded to twice (Revelation 11:18, 12:5).
G.K. Beale (b. 1949) comments:
In the last days God will “install” his “Messiah” and “King on Zion, my [God’s] holy mountain.” Then the Messiah will judge the ungodly and will be a place of refuge for those who fear him (Psalm 2:6-12). On this Old Testament basis 4 Ezra 13:25-52 (cf. 4 Ezra 13:36) and II Baruch 40 speak of the “Son” and “Messiah” standing on “Mount Zion” at the end time judging the unrighteous and “defending” or “protecting” the remnant (those who “remain” or the “rest”). (Beale, The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 732)The king installed on Zion will not be a lion but a lamb. And in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, evil will be conquered by the Lamb, specifically by his death as opposed to the exercise of divine power (Revelation 13:8).
What is the most pronounced change in setting you have seen from one seen to the next? If you are experiencing difficult days, do you believe that there are better days ahead? What do you want restored? Are you confident in God’s ultimate victory?
In art, this scene is the basis for one of the most common depictions of the Lamb: with a nimbus standing upon a hill from which four streams flow (Revelation 14:1). It is noteworthy that the Lamb has the elevated position of standing on a mountain. In contrast, when last seen the beast stood on the sand of the seashore (Revelation 13:1). Even though the beast seems more imposing, the Lamb holds the high ground. As He has all along.
Where do you stand? Where does Jesus? Do you have confidence that the Lamb will slay the Dragon? Do you feel that Jesus is where He is supposed to be even if it does not feel that way?
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.” - Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)