Harps on the Willows
Revelation 14:2, 3
14:2, note c
The willow-tree time

   In verses 1 and 2 we saw the 144,000 with the Lamb on Mount Zion. The 144,000 were playing their harps. We saw this as a special time of victory and celebration for having arrived on Mount Zion were the temple was. Then we connected this experience with the story of the expatriate Jews in Babylon who refused to play their harps. Playing them and singing the songs of Zion would have meant pretending the victory had already come, thus turning their backs on the true Jerusalem. Let's look at the story again and ask about this willow-tree time. Image from Corel.

   "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. . . ." (Ps. 137:1-6)

Why should the harps stay on the willow trees?
   Why should the captives weep in remembering Zion? Of course they were homesick, but there's another symbolic reason. The Bible describes a time of soul searching before the second coming of Christ just before the final victory. This is the time of the preadvent judgment. We have discussed it elsewhere, so let's take another approach to see the same event.
   Because of sin, we are separated from God (Isa. 59:1, 2). The sanctuary services describe the remedy the long process of bringing us back. He expressed the purpose for the wilderness tabernacle when He told Moses, ". . . let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle. . . . [in heaven]" (Ex. 25:8, 9; see Heb. 8:1-5). The tabernacle in the wilderness was established so that God could dwell with the people. This means reconciliation or atonement and will ultimately be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem when the universe will finally be at peace (Rev. 21:3, 22).

   "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:2-4).

   The whole process of atonement is described in the events of the sanctuary calendar which called for special worship times known as "feasts." (Lev. 23). The series of events was initiated by the Passover, remembering the lamb slain the day before the children of Israel left Egypt. On that occasion, believers placed their confidence in the Messiah which would be the Lamb of Calvary. They put the lamb's blood on their door posts and the destroying angel passed over, sparing their first born. Other events on the way toward dwelling in Canaan were models for more feasts.
   The final feast of the yearly cycle was the Feast of Tabernacles which represents the time of final victory over God's enemies in Canaan. This, in turn, symbolizes the time when the New Jerusalem comes down to earth. Then, as we read, the tabernacle of God will be with men, at last fulfilling God's objective pictured in the wilderness sanctuary to dwell among us. Then "the former things" will have passed away!
   In the symbols of Revelation 14, this is when the 144,000 will stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion (verse 1). In 21:22, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are seen as the temple of the New Jerusalem. Thus the 144,000 who surround the Lamb on Mount Zion are Christ's people, like the ancient city of Jerusalem on top of the mountain surrounding the temple. The verse says that both the Father and the Lamb are the temple. Indeed, the 144,000 have the Father's name in their foreheads. It's the same picture of triumph! (and is seen again in Isaiah 62).

God with us in final victory parallels
Lamb temple tabernacle  the Almighty and the Lamb
144,000 city of 
tents of children of Israel New Jerusalem
Zion Zion Wilderness / Mt. Sinai new earth

  The sanctuary calendar begins with the fall feasts: Passover, feast of unleavened bread, first fruits, and Pentecost. These were fulfilled in the events of the death and resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit. After the long winter with no celebrations, come the three spring feasts (for a total of seven). These represent the final events before Jesus returns (Rev. 1:7) and the ultimate celebration in the New Jerusalem (after the city comes down from heaven and the wicked are destroyed; chapters 20, 21).
   With this background we are ready to consider the harps on the willow trees. The feast just before the feast of tabernacles is the day of atonement. It represents the time period before the close of human probation and the coming of Christ. On that day, the sanctuary was cleansed (Lev. 16:16) and the people who cooperated were cleansed.
   ". . . in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all. . . . For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD." (Lev. 16:29, 30).

   The people who worked on that day would show their attitude of being able to handle things by themselves righteousness by works. They would, in effect, be singing the song of Zion, when their harps should have been on the willows.
   Before the day of atonement, in the sanctuary system, the righteous ones had been forgiven (Lev. 4), but only on this special day would God, through the priest's ministry, cleanse them. We need both (1 John 1:9). The cleansing depended also on their acceptance by soul searching. The day of atonement was a time of judgment because the attitude of the individual Israelites while the high priest ministered in the most holy place determined their destiny.
   "For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people." (Lev. 23:29, 30)

   When the high priest came out of the most holy place on the day of atonement the people were either cleansed or cut off. The ministry in the sanctuary represents Christ's ministry for us in heaven (Heb. 8). When He comes out of the most holy place, the decisions will have been made and Jesus will come with the reward based on them.
   "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." (Rev. 22:11)

   The high priest, as well as the people were judged on the day of atonement. We saw how their destiny was determined then. If not pure when standing in the divine presence before the ark in the most holy place, he would die. (Lev. 16:6, 13). So both Christ and His people are exonerated at the end of the preadvent judgment. Both are investigated before the universe. Does our Lord have the right to pull us from the fire (Zech. 3:2)? Turning back to the picture of the 144,000 around the Lamb. Both are standing on Mount Zion. It is victory for both! Christ is seen qualified to redeem us as the sanctuary, is cleansed (Dan. 8:14). His sacrifice on Calvary is seen by the unfallen universe to have been full and effective (Rev. 5:11, 12). The forgiveness He has granted over the centuries is justified (Lev. 4:27-31; 16:16). And in the process, those of contrite heart are cleansed (Ps. 51:10, 17) not cut off from His people (Lev. 23:29, 30). Their names are not removed from the Lamb's book of life (Rev. 3:5).
   The Passover and Pentecost were early steps in the reconciliation process. They represented the death of Christ and His sending the Holy Spirit. In a similar way, the day of atonement is a time just before Jesus comes with His reward. It is a time of heart searching (Jer. 30:4-8), preparing for the seal of God (Rev. 7:1-4). The alternative is to accept the mark of the beast in the massive end-time movement of false Christianity (Rev. 13:11-17).
   "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. . . . How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?" (Psalm 137:1, 2, 4; see 2 Chron. 29:27).
   I believe we are living just before the final climax of earth's history. Now, as the wicked world ripens for destruction (Matt. 13:24-30; Rev. 14:18-20), is our willow-tree time. It is a time to weep, seeking the Lord in humility (Isa. 55:6-12), praying for clean hands and pure hearts (Ps. 24:3, 4). One day we can pick up our harps and give the shout of victory. It will be the feast of tabernacles, when God will pitch his tent among ours! (Rev. 21:1, 2)
Measuring the 2300 days
   The cleansing (or restoration) of the sanctuary of Dan. 8:14, is an explanation of the day of atonement ministry. That ministry just before the end of the sanctuary year represented the work of heaven near the end of time. It was to happen after a period of 2300 symbolic days. Those days began during the reign of the Medes and Persians (Dan. 8:13, 2). The days must represent years (Num. 14:34) because 2300 literal days are less than 7 years not enough time for all remaining kingdoms pictured in Daniel 8 to rise and fall. 2300 years after the 5th century B.C. brings us to our day. More precisely, we see, from the connections between Dan. 8 and 9, that the 70 weeks were determined (literally "cut off") as the first part of the 2300 days (Dan. 8:26, 27; 9:22). They were a special time of probation for the Jews as a nation (Dan. 9:24) as the first part of the probation of the whole world, to be resolved after 2300 days. The beginning date is 457 B.C. To see this from the Scripture and history takes a bit of study. I just wanted to give you a quick peek at the alternative evidence that we are living in this time of judgment. 

Some saints can't learn the song

     "And they sung [actually "sing"] as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth." (Rev. 14:3)

   Two questions immediately beg for answers. What made the song new? and why could only the 144,000 learn it? The two answers will clarify the same set of circumstances.
   A new song is one that has never before been sung rather obvious. Remember we are talking in symbols here. The song may be real music, but we are interested in what it means to sing it. It is sung before the throne, the living ones, and the elders so we may assume it to be a song of praise, but praise for what? Our first thought is, praise for salvation.
   Now we remember that the song is also unique that only they can sing it. So who then cannot sing it? In studying chapter 7 we found two distinct groups: the 144,000 (first 8 verses) and the "great multitude" (rest of chapter). Are only the 144,000 saved? No, both groups are. The multitude hold palm branches of victory (7:9) and exclaim that salvation belongs to the God and to the Lamb (7:10) They will have washed their robes in the Lamb's blood. (7:14). So the song is for something different than salvation. In chapter 15 we again find singers. Notice how they are described and what their song says.
   "And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest." (Rev. 15:2-4)

Who is singing?
   Those victorious over beast, image, and mark. This victory in chapter 15 is over the final trial from Satan which God has allowed. The trial comes only once because we see it as part of the final struggle of the saints. It is described at the end of chapter 13. At the beginning of chapter 14, where we are in our present study, the 144,000 are seen victorious, standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion. They exonerate the one on the throne and the Lamb. (compare 6:16-18). In the passage just quoted from chapter 15, victory is over the same assault of evil. The judgments of the Lamb are "made manifest." (revealed). Realizing that breaking the seals describes this work of judgment, we may conclude that their breaking was successful. His ways especially His work and decisions during the preadvent judgment are found just and true, and the 144,000 proclaim Him as King of saints!
   In chapter 7 we saw that the 144,000 had been sealed for their protection during the blowing of the four winds (7:1-4) 0702a. Incidentally, they were sealed with the "seal of God," not one of the seals broken by the Lamb. We are searching to discover why only the 144,000 on Mount Zion could sing the song. If it involves their sealing, we have another question. Are not all the righteous sealed? Paul said, "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." (Eph. 4:30). The day of redemption would be the time of being redeemed. The last part of our verse says that the 144,000 "were redeemed from the earth." So Paul was talking about preparation for that future "day of redemption." In 1 Thess. 4:16 we learned that the living righteous are not taken up from the earth until the righteous dead are resurrected to join them. It is the day of redemption for both.
   All the righteous need sealing, but the 144,000 need a special type of sealing. They face the blowing of the winds at the end of the time of the sixth broken seal. This is the final wrath of the Lamb for which they are prepared to stand (6:16, 17). The protection is both physical (Ps. 91) and spiritual. ". . . God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13)
   In a sense we are already redeemed because the precious blood of our Lord has purchased us (1 Cor. 6:20). But the term here is used differently. Not until "the day of redemption" when the 144,000 are "redeemed from the earth" (14:3) will Jesus take the purchased ones home to be with Him. Since this idea is often misunderstood, let's digress a minute to carefully and prayerfully read the simple words of promise.
   Jesus explained, ". . . if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:39). His coming back is as certain as His going. We will be taken when He comes to get us. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the dead will go to heaven as conscious beings separate from the body.
   Soon after this promise, Jesus did ascend to heaven, and two heavenly messengers explained how his coming again would be a visible event like His going away. ". . . while they [the disciples] beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9-11)
   They saw Him go up in a cloud. We will see Him return in the same way (Rev. 1:7). He will then receive us unto Himself. So shall we ever be with the Lord (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17) redeemed.
   The 144,000 on Mount Zion will play and sing their special song because they were protected (sealed) during the time of the blowing of the winds. This time is also described by the prophet Daniel.

Michael and the time of trouble
   "And at that time [of the final arrogance of the wicked king] shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life. . . ." (Dan. 12:1, 2)
   Christ, here under the name Michael (below), stands up after being seated on the throne of judgment where He had opened the seals and read the book. Those "found written in the book" are saved out of the time of trouble sealed to pass through the time the four winds of strife blow.
   As we have read, this time just before the resurrection, will be like none in the history of the world. The righteous remnant living then the 144,000 "shall be delivered out of it." They will dwell in the "secret place of the most high" hiding "under the shadow of the almighty" (Ps. 91:1). The power of Christ to save will have met its ultimate test. They will have learned the song through the experience only they have passed through. It will be a new song because the test has never been as severe never "since there was a nation." By the grace of Christ, and only by that grace, we can be part of that group. As I see it, we won't have long to wait.

Questions Answered
The time of trouble. Does the sealing really apply to it?
   Were John (Rev. 13:16 - 14:5) and Daniel (11:40 - 12:3) really writing about the same events? The picture in both passages begins with the time of final trial and leads to salvation from it and the home of glory. That happens only once. 
Are the 144,000 not the Jews?
   See our discussion for Rev. 7:4b. People often forget that Revelation is a book of symbols. The four winds from which the 144,000 are protected are symbolic. So are the tribes and the counted people. Today spiritual Israel (the seed of Abraham) is all who accept Christ. Spiritually, people are no longer divided between Jew and Gentile (Gal. 3:28, 29). Neither ancient nor modern Israel is sole heir to the promises (Matt. 21:43; Rom. 9:6-8; 10:12, 13). 
Who is Michael?
   Many people believe that Michael here is not Christ. Following is a summary of my explanation when we discussed Rev. 12:7: The argument against Michael being Christ is that, in Jude 9, Michael is called the archangel which means "chief angel" and Christ is not an angel. In one sense it is true that Christ is not an angel. He is certainly not a created angel. We worship Christ but not angels (Rev. 19:10; Heb. 1:4-14). But can the term, angel, have a broader meaning? 
    In 1 Thess. 4:16 The dead are called to life with the voice of the archangel. That voice is identified in John 5:25 as the voice of the Son of God. The words "angel" and "messenger" are translated from the same word in Hebrew and the same word in Greek. Christ is the messenger or angel of the covenant who comes to His temple in Mal. 3:1. The term "angel" is used to describe Christ in Rev. 10:1; and elsewhere. Also archangel can mean "chief of the angels" as well as "chief angel." Indeed it is reasonable for Christ to be called an angel. He is one among us in having taken humanity (Heb. 2:11, 14). So He was the leader of the angels (Rev. 12:7) identifying with them, too. To suppose that Michael the Archangel is not Christ, both the passage in Daniel and the one in First Thessalonians must be severely strained. (Also explained at 12:7)
Why doesn't the multitude need the seal?
   Where will the multitude be during the time the 144,000 are protected from the winds? Seeing that the multitude represent the "dead in Christ" at His coming (1 Thess. 4:16), they are "sleeping" in their graves, where Lazarus and David are (John 11; Acts 2:29-35; Isa. 38:18, 19). 
   The fact that only the 144,000 will have learned the song confirms that the multitude will not face the end-time test (see Rev. 3:10).
Absent from the body
   Doesn't Paul say in 2 Cor. 5:8 that the dead are absent from the body and present with the Lord? No, although using the phrase by itself might give that impression. Death is alluded to in earlier verses but verse 8 is about how to live. You can understand from the whole context (including verse 15) 2co0508. Please see the careful analysis of the text at 2co05. Also read Paul's clearer explanation in Rom. 8:4-9. I'll let you prayerfully study both.
   Paul's discussions of body and spirit find their source in Jesus' talk with Nicodemus (John 3).
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