John describes believers as being a specific number who were sealed with a special branding on their foreheads. Back in chapter 7, God had sealed 144,000 before the period of troubles that John described in chapter 6. The period of troubles was that between the two comings of Jesus. In chapter 7, he had also described the outcome of the period of troubles, which would be the salvation of a number that no one can count. I suppose one could ask if all the 144,000 survived to become part of the final number. Here, John is told that each of the 144,000 will be saved, a reminder that Jesus will lose none who trust in him for mercy.
Each of the people of God share the blessing of a joint-relationship with the Saviour and with the heavenly Father. This relationship began on earth, and the idea of sealing reminds us that God’s people are both God’s possession and God’s servants. We can describe this as our exaltation and our responsibility. God delights to have them in his family, but he wants them to serve him wholeheartedly. Sadly, in this life, their enjoyment of their privileges and the commitment to their responsibility is marred by their sins. In this life, they are grateful for God’s restoring grace. And we have a reminder here that in the eternal state God’s people will enjoy fully their privileges and give themselves wholeheartedly to his service.
John then describes what he heard from Mount Zion – he heard a loud song. Its loudness could only be compared to three expressions of striking noise: many waters, thunder and music. The impression that is given is that the song drowned out other noises, even noises that may sometimes be heard on Mount Zion. One commentator describes it as follows: ‘The sound is grand and gentle, lofty and lovely.’
John mentions the audience of this heavenly choir – the elders and the cherubim. These angels have a place of special privilege in heaven. The elders are depicted as sitting on thrones and the cherubim are described as the guardians of the divine throne. They are heavenly authorities and one of their roles would be to ensure that nothing unsuitable would be found in the divine presence. Instead of preventing the saints from drawing near, they are delighted to allow them to stand there.
Then we are told the qualification for participating in this song and that is the experience of redemption. The implication is that the redeemed are about to learn to sing it. As we know, redemption is a prominent theme in the Bible. The basic point of it involves purchase. Sinners were purchased by Jesus when he paid the penalty for their sins. One of the ways in which redemption was used in Israel was through the practice of a kinsman redeemer who would rescue his relations and recover their lost inheritance. Here the redeemed are with their Redeemer and they can see that he is indeed their kinsman because he is also human as well as divine.
The question can be asked, ‘What about their inheritance?’ Two answers can be given, depending on what one has in mind as the inheritance. One answer is that the inheritance is the creation and in that sense the redeemed here are still waiting for it, although it is not far away from the moment when Jesus will make all things new. The other answer is that the inheritance is the presence of God, the presence that Adam lost in the garden of Eden by his fall into sin. Jesus through his death has recovered for his people permanent access to the divine presence.
What else are we told about the redeemed when they learn the song? They will be united as they sing. As we know, unity has been hard to find in Christ’s church on earth. But when the day of glory comes, unity will be expressed fully and gladly. Jesus had prayed for this reality in John 17. Of course, the song they will sing is described as new. The newness could be connected to its difference from the old songs of the angels, although that is unlikely. Perhaps the newness is a reference to the increased depth of understanding that the singers have of the salvation themes mentioned in their new song.
We are also told about them that Jesus will be standing before them as they sing and celebrate. Given that the qualification for participating is redemption, they will sing to Jesus with gratitude for paying the price of their rescue. Or given that they have all been redeemed, perhaps they will be singing with Jesus as he leads the praise of heaven.