Daily Archives: October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017: Verse of the day

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And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. (14:2–3)

Standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion, the 144,000 will join in the heavenly song of redemption. With all the devastation they have seen, with all the trouble they have faced, with all the rejection, hostility, hatred, and persecution they have endured, one might expect them to be too sorrowful to sing (cf. Ps. 137:1–4). But instead they will joyously praise the Lord for their protection and triumph.

This is not the first time John heard a voice from heaven (cf. 4:1; 10:4, 8; 11:12; 12:10), nor will it be the last (cf. v. 13; 18:4; 19:1). The voice he heard was very loud and continuous, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. Ezekiel 43:2 likens the voice of God to the sound of many waters, while Revelation 1:15 describes the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ in the same way. But since Revelation 19:6 uses both of those phrases to describe the voice of a heavenly multitude, it is best to understand them in that sense here.

The song began in 5:9–10, when the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders “sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’ ” The next to join in were myriads of angels, who began “saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing’ ” (5:12). Finally, “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them [began] saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’ ” (5:13). In 7:9–10, the Tribulation martyrs joined in the escalating chorus of praise: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ ”

The mighty voice was not mere noise; it had a musical quality, like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. The reference to harpists and harps suggests that the voice expressed not thunderous judgment but joy. Harps are frequently associated in the Old Testament with joyous praise (cf. 2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16, 28; 2 Chron. 5:12–13; Neh. 12:27; Pss. 33:2; 71:22; 144:9; 150:3). Heaven will resound with loud praise when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in triumph to establish His earthly kingdom.

The new song sung in heaven before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders is the song of redemption (cf. Pss. 33:1–3; 40:3; 96:1–2; 98:1–2; 144:9–10; 149:1; Isa. 42:10). The angels will join the Old Testament saints, the raptured church, and the redeemed Tribulation martyrs in praising God for salvation. While angels do not experience redemption, they do rejoice because of it (Luke 15:10). All heaven will overflow with praise because God’s redemptive work culminating in the return of Christ is accomplished.

Heaven’s praise overflows to earth, where the new song is taken up. John notes that no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. The unregenerate cannot, of course, sing the song of redemption; it is only for the redeemed, those purchased by Christ’s blood. Why the song is restricted to the one hundred and forty-four thousand is not stated, but Henry Morris has offered a possible explanation:

Although the words of the song of the 144,000 are not recorded, it surely dwells in part at least on the great truth that they had been “redeemed from the earth.” Although in one sense all saved people have been redeemed from the earth, these could know the meaning of such a theme in a more profound way than others. They had been saved after the rapture, at that time in history when man’s greatest persecutions and God’s greatest judgments were on the earth. It was at such a time that they, like Noah (Genesis 6:8), had “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” and had been separated from “all that dwell upon the earth” (Revelation 13:8). Not only had they been redeemed spiritually but, precursively as it were, they had been redeemed from the very curse on the earth (Genesis 3:17), being protected from pain and death by the guarding seal. (The Revelation Record [Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1983], 260)

The 144,000 will join with the heavenly chorus in praising God for His marvelous work of redemption. Some of the lyrics of their song may be found in 15:3–4:

And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and marvelous are Your works,

O Lord God, the Almighty;

Righteous and true are Your ways,

King of the nations!

Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy;

For all the nations will come and worship before You,

For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”

A mark of triumphant Christian living in any era is constant praise to God. The 144,000 no doubt praised God throughout their time of trial and persecution. Because their ordeal is over and they are victorious, they will burst forth in praise to God for their deliverance. Joy is the proper outflow of a heart that trusts in God’s sovereign power (Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16; James 1:2; 1 Pet. 4:13).[1]


2 The “sound” John hears is probably a “voice” (phōnē, GK 5889), as in 1:15. It is important to recognize that this voice is not that of the redeemed; it is a loud angelic chorus (cf. 5:11), sounding like “the roar of rushing waters,” like “a loud peal of thunder,” and like “harpists playing their harps” (1:15; 5:8; 6:1; 19:1, 6; see comments at 5:8; Notes, 5:9–10). Charles indicates that grammatically the sentence is Hebraistic. Again the scene is liturgical, emphasizing the connection between the earthly victory and the heavenly throne.[2]


2. And I heard a sound out of heaven like a sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the sound that I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.

John first saw the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion, and then he heard a sound coming to him out of heaven. His eye is fixed on a representative place on earth, while his ear is attuned to a sound in heaven. He fails to identify the speaker, which is common in the Apocalypse (see v. 13; 10:4, 8; 18:4). He describes the characteristics of the sound by giving comparisons taken from nature. He compares the sound with that of many waters, which is similar to the voice of Jesus addressing John on the island of Patmos: “his voice was like the sound of many waters” (1:15; 19:6; Ezek. 43:2). It is also like the sound of loud thunder, which indicates that the speaker calls everyone to pay attention (see 6:1).

In addition to the thundering loud noises heard in nature, the sound is like soft music coming from celestial harpists playing their harps (5:8; and see 15:2). John hears heavenly music entering his ears, first thunderous then soft and pleasing. It is comparable to an orchestra and choir that increase or decrease their volume at the command of the director. The sound is grand and gentle, lofty and lovely. John is privileged to hear this celestial music while he is on earth.[3]


2a καὶ ἤκουσα φωνὴν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὡς φωνὴν ὑδάτων πολλῶν καὶ ὡς φωνὴν βροντῆς μεγάλης, “I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of the sea and like the sound of loud thunder.” Here the seer hears the tremendously loud sound of heavenly singing but does not see the celestial throne room from which the singing emanates. For the motif of the unidentified voice in Revelation, see Comment on 10:4. The voice is not that of the 144,000 but rather the sound of the heavenly assembly (Swete, 177). The perspective of the seer is on the earth, and the setting of v 1 is, therefore, also on the earth. While the use of thunder as a metaphor for an extremely loud voice occurs elsewhere in Revelation only in 6:1 and 19:6, the phraseology in 14:2 and 19:6a is particularly similar, and in both passages there are three similes introduced with ὡς, “as, like,” which the author uses to characterize the magnificent sound he hears.

Rev 14:2

 

Rev 19:6a

 

καὶ ἤκουσα

Then I heard

 

καὶ ἤκουσα

Then I heard

 

φωνὴν

a sound

 

ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ

from heaven

 

ὡς φωνὴν

like the sound

 

ὄχλου πολλοῦ

of a large multitude

 

ὡς φωνὴν

like the sound

 

καὶ ὡς φωνὴν

and like the sound

 

ὑδάτων πολλῶν

of the roaring sea

 

ὑδάτων πολλῶν

of the roaring sea

 

καὶ ὡς φωνὴν

like the sound

 

καὶ ὡς φωνὴν

and like the sound

 

βροντῆς μεγάλης

of loud thunder

 

βροντῶν ἰσχυρῶν

of loud thunder

 

καὶ ἡ φωνὴ ἣν ἤκουσα

and the sound which I heard

 

ὡς φωνὴν κιθαρῳδῶν

like that of kitharists

 

κιθαριζόντων

playing

 

ἐν ταῖς κιθάραις αὐτῶν

on their kitharas

 

The major difference between these two passages is that the two similes drawn from nature are placed first in 14:2 but last in 19:6. Correspondingly, the similes drawn from human life, a large crowd of people in 19:6 and a group of kithara players in 14:2, are both somewhat awkward since in both instances the groups named are not just similes but the groups who sing. Rev 14:2 is presented as an audition, and it is as if the author only gradually becomes aware of the sound he hears, for he first compares it to loud sounds found in nature, roaring water and loud thunder. In v 2b, on the other hand, his impression of the sound becomes much more specific.

2b καὶ ἡ φωνὴ ἣν ἤκουσα ὡς κιθαρῳδῶν κιθαριζόντων ἐν ταῖς κιθάραις αὐτῶν, “The sound which I heard was like that of kitharists playing their kitharas.” The syntax of this verse is awkward since ἡ φωνή, “the sound,” is a nominative that has no syntactical relationship to the rest of the sentence and must therefore be regarded as a nominative absolute or pendent nominative (the same construction occurs in 10:8; on the pendent nominative in Revelation, see 2:26; 3:12, 21). φωνή here has an anaphoric definite article referring to the previous anarthrous use of φωνή in v 2a, indicating that the metaphor of kitharists playing on their instruments refers to the same sound referred to in v 2a. Kraft, who is virtually alone in preferring the variant reading of the second φωνή as anarthrous (see Note 14:2.e-e.), thinks that two groups are referred to, one in heaven and the 144,000 on the earth, who he thinks should be identified with the kitharists (187–88).

This is the third of three similes that the author uses to describe the sound he hears (see Comment on v 2a), and the repetitive introductory phrase, “the sound which I heard” (v 2a), emphasizes that the author has a clearer impression of the sound he hears and uses a simile drawn from human life, namely, the sound of a group of kithara players, to characterize the sound. The phrase κιθαρῳδῶν κιθαριζόντων ἐν ταῖς κιθάραις αὐτῶν, literally “harpers harping on their harps,” is as redundant and alliterative in Greek as it is in English.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (pp. 74–76). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 720). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 402). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Aune, D. E. (1998). Revelation 6–16 (Vol. 52B, pp. 806–808). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.