And You Shall Rejoice

1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.– Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV

Moses has finished reviewing all the rules and regulations intended to govern and guide the lives of the Israelites. Now, he provides them with instructions regarding the first harvest they will enjoy in the new land. Moses opens this section with the word, “when.” There was no question in his mind as to whether the Israelites would occupy the land. It was God’s will and it was going to happen. One generation had delayed the promise through their disobedience, but what God had ordained was going to happen. And Moses wanted the people to understand that God’s faithfulness was going to require an expression of gratitude on their part.

Once they settled in the land and began to cultivate it, they were to follow Moses’ instructions: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 26:2 ESV). Essentially, this would be the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits was to be a regular occurrence in Israel and was intended to accompany every single harvest. But this command from Moses seems to be a unique offering that was specifically tied to the very first harvest in their new homeland. It was to be a special occasion, marking their official inheritance of the land of promise.

At this point in the their story, not only would the houses and towns be theirs, but they would reap the benefit of the fruit of the land. Back in the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had told the people what God was going to do for them.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

And, because God is a promise-keeping God, the day was going to come when they would feast from the vineyards, orchards, and fields they had inherited as part of that promise. When they did, Moses told them they would need to express their gratefulness to God by offering Him the firstfruits of all they had harvested. This offering would not only be an expression of thanksgiving but a demonstration of their faithfulness. By giving God the first and the best of their harvests, they would be displaying their trust in His ongoing provision of all their future needs.

As part of the process of offering God the firstfruits of their harvest, the people of Israel were to recite the following phrase: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5 ESV). This would be a direct reference to Jacob, who is referred to as an Aramean because he spent much of his early days in the region known as Paddan-aram. It was there that he married his wives and began his family. Eventually, Jacob would end up in Egypt, a guest of his long-lost son, Joseph, who had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land. When Jacob and his extended family arrived in Egypt, they were just over than 70 in number, but by the time they left some 400 years later, they would have numbered in the millions.

A significant part of the firstfruits offering was the importance that they recognize and remember all the suffering that had proceeded God’s deliverance. Their arrival in the land of promise had been prefaced by four-centuries-worth of trials and difficulties. But their ancestors had cried out and God had heard them and sent them a deliverer in the form of Moses. And Moses himself reminds the Israelites of what God did to free them from their bondage in Egypt.

“…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:8-9 ESV

And it was their remembrance of God’s gracious actions in the past that was to drive their display of gratitude in the future.

“‘And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.’” – Deuteronomy 26:10 ESV

Their giving of the firstfruits of their harvest would be a form of worship. It would honor God for all that He had done and prove their commitment to trust Him for all their future needs. He was and is a good God. He had kept His promise and delivered them to the land just as He had said He would. And as long as they continued to rely upon Him and reverently worship Him, He would continue to meet their needs for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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A New Song.

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. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar 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 were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. Revelation 14:1-6 ESV

MtZionAreaELocationJohn is now given a new vision that is meant to stand in stark contrast to all he saw and recorded in the previous chapter. In place of Satan (the dragon) standing on the sand of the sea (Revelation 12:17), John sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. And in place of the unbelievers who have received the mark of the beast on their foreheads, John now sees the 144,000, who have received the seal of God on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). And while everyone on earth worshiped the Antichrist (Revelation 13:8), and blindly followed his leadership, John is shown that not all bowed their knee to the Antichrist or received his mark. The 144,000 worship Jesus Christ and follow Him wherever He goes.

John is being given an assurance that God will still be in the redeeming business during the dark days of the tribulation. Even when Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet will seem to be gaining the upper hand and having their way with the nations of the earth, God will be doing a work among the peoples of the earth. And not only that, God will bring a great victory over Satan and his forces. John is being given a foretaste of what is to come. He sees the Son of God standing on Mount Zion. This is not meant to be the second coming of Christ, but John is being shown what will happen in the future, at the end of the great tribulation. He is being given a preview of coming attractions. The day is coming when Jesus will return to earth and stand on Mount Zion, along with the 144,000 who will be preserved through the trials and tribulations of the second half of the tribulation. The scene John is shown takes place on earth. It reveals the day when Jesus comes back to earth as the conquering king, determined to take His rightful place on the throne of David in Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah wrote about that coming day.

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. – Zechariah 14:4 ESV

Mount Zion is the designation for the entire mountain on which Jerusalem sits, and it includes the Mount of Olives. Jesus Christ will return to the Mount of Olives, the very place where He left the earth when He ascended back into heaven.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11 ESV

The very next verse of Luke’s account tells us that this scene took place on the Mount of Olives. And John’s vision reveals the day when Christ will return to that very same spot in order to begin the final phase of God’s judgments and to accomplish His victory over the forces of evil on the earth.

But John hears a new song, coming out of heaven. The designation, “new song” is important, because in the Old Testament Scriptures it was typically used to celebrate something great that God had done on behalf of His people.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:3 ESV

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day. – Psalm 96:1-2 ESV

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God. – Psalm 98:1-3 ESV

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants. – Isaiah 42:10 ESV

But the new song that John hears has to do with a victory that is yet to come. But it will come, as John’s vision makes clear. And this new song will only be one that the 144,000 can learn. In other words, they alone will be able to appreciate the full meaning behind its words. They will have lived through the great tribulation, and only they will be able to comprehend the incredible nature of God’s deliverance, made possible through His Son’s second coming. Of all people on earth, they alone will be able to rejoice in the victory that is about to take place. For the first time during the bleak days of the tribulation, they will find themselves standing alongside their Savior, ready to mete out justice and enforce righteousness on all those who have persecuted and sought to destroy them.

All the way back in chapter seven, when John was first introduced to the 144,000, he also was given a vision of the myriads of martyred saints standing before the throne of God and singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10 ESV). And he also heard the angels singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12 ESV). We are not told the words of the new song John hears in this vision, but it is doubtless a song of victory and praise for God’s deliverance. It will be something new and unprecedented: The final elimination of all sin and wickedness from the earth and the establishment of justice and righteousness in the form of Christ’s earthly kingdom.

One of the unique aspects of the 144,000 is their corporate virginity. They are all males and not a single one of them will have married or had relations with a woman. They will remain sexually pure and undefiled. This will allow them to dedicate themselves to their primary role as God’s witnesses on earth during the days of the tribulation. With no cares for a wife or family, each of them will be able to concentrate all their time and attention on serving God and spreading the word about Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike. And there will be many who come to faith in Christ as a result of their efforts. The apostle Paul spoke about the preference of singleness over marriage when considering service to the Lord.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ESV

These 144,000 Jewish men are described as having been faithful, truthful and blameless. Even during the darkest days of the tribulation, they will have followed the Lamb, faithfully serving Him and telling the world about Him. And they represent the firstfruits, a special offering to God. And while they are a unique group, they will not be the only ones who God redeems from among the people of Israel. There will be many more believing Jews who enter into the millennial Kingdom alongside the Messiah. But these 144,000 are unique in that they were set apart by God during the days of the tribulation and given the task of witnessing to the truth regarding Jesus Christ. And John is now seeing them at the end of the tribulation, as they stand next to their Savior, ready to assist Him in setting up His earthly Kingdom. And they will have met the requirements the apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Philippian believers:

…blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV

The book of Revelation is full of bleak imagery and foreboding news regarding the last days on earth. But it is a book that is meant to encourage us by reminding us that the outcome has already been determined. The victory is assured. While the enemy may appear to have the upper hand and evil may seem to be increasing in strength, the ending to the story is not up in the air. The battle between God and the forces of Satan is not really a battle at all. It is a last-gasp effort on behalf of an already defeated enemy to try and prolong his power and influence over the earth. But he will fail, because Christ will return. And nothing and no one will be able to stand against Him. All will kneel before Him.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

That day is coming. A new song will be sung. A new work of God will be done on the earth that will bring an end to all sin and the rebellion of mankind – once and for all.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson