The 144,000, when they are said to be virgins, are contrasted with the type of people who thronged pagan temples. To us who have never seen such behaviour the contrast might seem unusual. But it would be an obvious one at that time. Pagan temples were well-known for their immoral practices. Obviously, such behaviour was offensive to God. Several times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s professing people were rebuked for getting involved in such rituals. It was a temptation to them in the first century because so much of everyday life was connected to what went on in those temples and Jesus had rebuked two of the seven churches – Pergamum and Thyatira – for tolerating wrong practices. The obvious factor in such behaviour was that it involved compromise with the world.
In contrast, the proper response is wholehearted commitment. From one of point of view, the life of heaven is a continuation of what believers do on earth, which is to follow the Lamb. This will be the future experience of the 144,000 throughout eternity. But it was also their determination when they were on earth because that is what a true disciple does.
John has already said that the redeemed will follow the Lamb wherever he goes. In Revelation 7, in the passage following the description of the 144,000, the large crowd of the redeemed is led by the heavenly Shepherd to the fountains of the waters of life. He knows the best places to take them to.
They are further described as ‘firstfruits for God and the Lamb’. Firstfruits was a sample of the harvest that was offered to God. It was a pledge that more was to come. If that is what is meant here, then John could be indicating that believers are the guarantee that the rest of creation will be restored by God, which is how James uses the idea in James 1:18: ‘Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.’
Alternatively, the idea of firstfruits could mean that they are consecrated to God, which is what a worshipper did when he offered his sample of the harvest to God. The idea of consecration would be strengthened by the statement that their speech and character is now faultless. Heaven is a place of wonders and two of them will be the pure speech and faultless characters of those who once were sinners.
We should thank God for giving to us this interlude during which we can look ahead into the eternal world and see some of its glories. It is an encouragement for us to do so when life gets tough. And it is an encouragement also to realise that we are a lot closer to it than were the believers who first received this vision of heaven.