The blackest storms often give place to the loveliest sunsets. The winds and thunders exhaust themselves. The clouds empty and break. And from the calm heavens behind them comes a golden light, girthing the remaining fragments of gloom with chains of brightness, and overarching with the bow of promise the path along which the terrible tempest has just passed. Like this evening glory after the summer’s gust, is the chapter on which we now enter.1John is shown the firstfruits of the redeemed of Israel, an indication of many more Jews yet to come. He is also shown a threefold angelic witness:
David’s City. In the OT Zion refers to Jerusalem, the city that David conquered and made a capital of the united kingdom of Israel (1Chr. 11:5; Ps. 2:6; Isa. 2:3). The Millennial City. In a prophetic sense, Zion has reference to Jerusalem as the future capital city of the nation Israel in the Kingdom age (Isa. 1:27; 2:3; 4:1-6; Joel 3:16; Zec. 1:16-17; 8:3-8; Rom. 11:26). Amillennial theologians spiritualize, rather “mysticalize,” the term to mean the Christian church of this age. The Heavenly City. The NT also refers to Zion as the New Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22-24), the eternal city into which the church will be received (cf. Rev. 21+-22+).3We have seen that Psalm 2 is alluded to many different times in the book of Revelation (e.g., Rev. 2:27+; 11:15+). And so it is here. “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.’ ” (Ps. 2:4-6) The psalmist speaks of the millennial Zion where the King will initially be enthroned (Isa. 9:7; Mat. 25:31; Luke 1:32-33).God chose Zion as his eternal dwelling place (Ps. 132:13), the site of His Temple. See The Temple Mount. God promised, in the strongest terms, that He would never forget the earthly Zion:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.” (Isa. 49:14-16)
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:31-32)Micah describes a coming time of global peace: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Mic. 4:3). He then describes the gathering of the outcasts of Israel and the establishment of His millennial reign in Zion. “So the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion. From now on, even forever” (Mic. 4:8). It is from Zion that the Deliverer will come when He turns ungodliness from Jacob (Rom. 11:25). In many of the redemptive passages concerning Zion, Jerusalem is in view. Jerusalem is referred to as the daughter of Zion (Mat. 21:5; John 12:15).Isaiah also speaks of the millennial Zion:
Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isa. 2:3-4) [emphasis added]We know these passage speak of an earthly scene because they speak of a need for righteous judgment and people being rebuked. Neither of these activities will take place in the eternal state where sin has been vanquished. It need hardly be said that there is no need for deliverance for the heavenly Zion because it has never been forsaken, forgotten, or come under attack like its earthly counterpart. Thus, God’s promises to redeem and protect Zion relate to the earth and not heaven.4 Although the vast majority of passages concern the earthly Zion, there are some notable exceptions. The author of Hebrews mentions a heavenly scene wherein Mount Zion is equated with the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Heb. 12:22-24)This heavenly Mount Zion is probably in view in other passages which refer to a mountain which is in heaven and is associated with the rule of God (Eze. 28:13-15) and the heavenly Jerusalem and the eternal order (Rev. 21:10+).Since there is both an earthly and a heavenly Zion, which is in view here? The answer to this question carries with it considerable significance. If it is the earthly Zion, then the 144,000 have been protected by their seal throughout the horrors of the Tribulation. If it is the heavenly Zion, after having served out their intended ministry, the 144,000 were removed from the earth, probably through martyrdom.5 one hundred and forty-four thousand
1 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 349.
2 “The word ‘Zion’ is first used of the stronghold or fortress of the ancient city Jebus. Though the Jebusites considered their city impregnable, David was able to conquer it. He lived in the fortress and named the city ‘the city of David.’ In time the word ‘Zion’ took on a broader meaning. It came to mean the entire city of Jerusalem, not just the fortress in it. The word was even used at times of a group such as ‘the daughters of Zion’ (Isa. 3:16-17), that is, female inhabitants in the city. Later the word came to mean the entire Jewish nation.”—Mal Couch, “Israelology in the Book of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 180.
3 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), s.v. “Zion.”
4 By the same logic, we know that passages such as Isaiah 62 record promises which will be fulfilled in the earthly Jerusalem rather than the New Jerusalem. For what need has the heavenly city ever had for watchmen on its walls (Isa. 62:6)?
5 Although it is possible they could have been taken up directly to heaven, the text is completely silent as to this possibility.
6 “The two distinct companies—of Israel and the Gentiles—were beheld by the Seer in separate visions (Rev. 7+). The elect company from the twelve tribes (Rev. 7:4-8+), is not only distinct from their Gentile associates (Rev. 7:9-17+), but is equally distinct from the 144,000 from amongst Judah who emerge out of the horrors of the coming hour of trial standing on Mount Zion. There are two Jewish companies of equal number. The hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel) (Rev. 7+) and the hundred and forty-four thousand of Judah (Rev. 14+).”—Walter Scott, Exposition of The Revelation (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), 158.