Before we relent on our investigative probe into the realms of love, child of God, I would like for us to dig just a little bit deeper and explore a few Biblical models showing what authentic love actually looks like in the lives of some of God’s people. We’ve taken a brief glimpse at those rebellious angels and seen from their examples what love is not. Now, let’s look at some people at the other end of the spectrum whose lives stand in stark contrast to those fallen angels; and whose examples may help us to appreciate more fully what love really is.
There is a particular passage of scripture that has always intrigued me. It is a picture of the future. The Apostle John, in writing prophetically about the end of times and the coming judgment of all humanity, shared this vision:
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. 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. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.
(Revelation 14:1-5, NASB)
Just exactly who these 144,000 are has been a topic of much conversation. Some conservative scholars say that they are the same as the 144,000 mentioned earlier in the book—Chapter 7—representing those of Jewish heritage; the faithful and redeemed children of God who lived under the old covenant Law of Moses. Other scholars say that this is a different vision and a different 144,000 who represent, if you will, “the select among the elect.” Notice that they do not represent all the saved children of God, but rather, only “the first fruits to God.” They are chosen for this honor because of the love and commitment to God that they demonstrated throughout the course of their lives on earth.
But notice, if you will, one particular identifier that is mentioned with regard to their sanctification: “These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste” (Revelation 14:4, NASB). The original Greek word that is translated as “chaste” in this passage, is the word, “parthenoi,” the masculine form of the common feminine word, “parthenos,” meaning: “a maiden, virgin; extended to men who have not known women” (Parthenos, 2014). Because of this, some Bible scholars believe that all these people are men who have deliberately chosen to remain single and celibate throughout their lives so that they can give themselves completely and unreservedly to service in the kingdom of God.
However, I disagree with that assessment because of the way the verse uses the word, “defiled.” It appears that it is not simply a matter of sexual abstinence that is in view here, but sexual purity. Remember, the Hebrew writer tells us: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4, NASB). There is nothing defiling about engaging in a sexual relationship within the holy bonds of matrimony; in fact, marriage is to be “held in honor among all.” So, in my view, these 144,000 men—and, apparently, they are all men—are people who, in reverence for God, have managed to hold on to their virginity until marriage and then keep their marriage beds undefiled by not engaging in promiscuous sexual activity; and God highly honors them for it. But regardless of how you choose to interpret the passage, we see again from this verse that boundaries are extremely important to God!
One reason that the 144,000 in this vision are all men may be due to God’s heavenly order of jurisdiction. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:3, NASB); and that, “…it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Timothy 2:13-14, NASB).
But, as specifically stated in the text, another reason that these “first fruits to God” are all men has do with their personal commitment to chastity. In fact, this is the specific qualifier that sets them apart from all other men. Maintaining one’s commitment to chastity can be quite a challenge for a man. While sexual immorality can be a temptation for anybody, one has to admit that, for most men, it is a particularly virulent temptation. While both men and women must deal with the physical, emotional, and even social needs inherent in an intimate relationship, men, in particular, must also deal with a virtual flood of male hormones, as well. And therefore, while it certainly “takes two to tango,” generally speaking, men are far more prone to finding themselves tumbling over the edge and headlong into a sexually immoral situation than are women. To not allow oneself to go that direction, despite the physical pressure, emotional needs, and society’s almost constant encouragement to do so requires a deep commitment to righteousness and an abiding love for God.
I can’t help but think, here, of an outstanding Biblical example—Joseph—remember him? Despite having lived through some tumultuous times in his life, enduring rejection by his own brothers, being sold into slavery, and finding himself alone and in a foreign land, still, he eventually finds himself in charge of all his master’s estate and riches. And it is then that he comes face-to-face with that age-old perpetual temptation. As the story goes:
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.
(Genesis 39:6-12, NASB)
Wow, talk about endurance, integrity, and respecting the boundaries—that’s loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength! When was the last time you saw anything like that celebrated on prime time television? I’m pretty sure that Joseph could have come up with plenty of excuses for caving in to this temptation: his family had abandoned him, he was alone in a strange land, he had endured many hardships, yet worked hard to rise to the pinnacle of success; didn’t he, of all people, deserve a little fleshly indulgence as a reward? What could it hurt anyway? After all, wouldn’t he just be doing what virtually any other man in his position would do? But he didn’t allow himself to think that way; and I doubt very seriously that the reason he didn’t allow himself to go there, and even fled from that woman, was because she was just so downright ugly. Everything about the story leads me to believe that here was a very attractive woman who was used to being adored and having her way with men.
Of course, those of us who’ve read the rest of the story know how much it cost Joseph to stick to his values. Potiphar’s wife didn’t take rejection lightly. Instead, she screamed “rape” and, of course, everyone believed her. So Joseph went to prison. He chose righteousness; and it cost him everything he had worked so hard to attain. I don’t know whether or not Joseph will be standing among those 144,000 on Mt. Zion as one of those first-fruits unto God, but it wouldn’t surprise me!
I find an amazing correlation and contrast here between rebellious angels who “did not keep their own domain,” but “abandoned their proper abode” and, “just as Sodom and Gomorrah,” “went after strange flesh” (Jude 1:6-7, NASB) and these 144,000 whose love, commitment, and submission to God enabled them to “have kept themselves chaste” (Revelation 14:4, NASB) throughout their lives. More than that, as I share John’s vision and, through the eyes of faith, gaze out on Mount Zion to view these 144,000 who are “the first fruits to God,” I find a tremendous encouragement to sanctification in my own life, don’t you? Satan and his minions surely tempted them as all are tempted with “the lust of the flesh, the lust if the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (I John 2:16, NASB), saying things like, “Come on, be like us!” “Boundaries are bendable!” “It’s en vogue, fashionable, all the rage, and you’ll be cool!” These men, however, will have stood firm against Satan’s onslaught.
For now, it’s our turn to take our stand and “fight the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12) here on battlefield Earth, a world subject to the destructive influences of satanic forces. We must never forget that our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NASB). He and his minions are continually flooding our society with the same age-old temptation to blur the lines, disregard God’s established boundaries, and allow ourselves to sin in precisely the ways in which the rebellious angels sinned.
In fact, every kind of sexual sin imaginable—fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, etc.—is constantly paraded before us and made to appear socially acceptable and even expected. Public media—music, movies, television, social media, etc.—not to mention the personal influence of people in our lives, some of whom have already sold out to evil, constantly herald the same old themes; inviting us to participate in and celebrate the same deadly rebellion of the fallen angels.
All of this is just as he who the Bible calls, “the prince of the power of the air,” “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2, NASB) would have it. Demonic entities make continued, desperate attempts to somehow justify their own rebellion by facilitating the ruination of humanity with a similar rebellion. But standing in stark contrast to all of this are a few lovers of God who say “No!” to Satan, for they “are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11, NASB). The beautiful children of God defy rebellious influences by choosing and pursuing lives of holiness and sanctification.
You and I may or may not be qualified to stand among those 144,000 who are the “first fruits to God.” We may just humbly take our place among all the rest of God’s redeemed people—the “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” (Revelation 7:9, NASB). But whether or not we ever get to stand among those who are the “first fruits to God,” are we not impressed by them, inspired by them, and desirous to emulate them—rather than those creepy, rebellious, fallen angels? Perhaps this is the gist of that Bible verse that tells us: “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (I Corinthians 6:3, NASB).
The vision of the 144,000 standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion is but a tiny glimpse of all that God has in store for His covenant children. In the meantime, because we love Him, we have “as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him,” for “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:9 & 14, NASB) and “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NASB). Ultimately, our love for God is the only motivation strong enough to carry us through all the trials, tribulations, and temptations of this present world. “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13, NASB).
We have seen from scripture that love is inextricably bound to righteousness, to truth, and to respecting the boundaries that God has established for our lives. While love certainly involves our emotions and how we feel toward God and others, regardless of our feelings, we cannot claim to love God if we are not willing to render obedience to Him; for Jesus said:
If you love Me, you will keep my commandments,” and “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.”
(John 14:15 & 24, NASB)
Likewise, we cannot claim to love God if we bear ill will in our heart toward someone else:
…for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
(I John 4:20-21, NASB)
I think it is of dire importance, child of God, that you and I never cease to point out to one another, and to remind ourselves, that the love that God’s new covenant children have for Him must surpass every other love in our lives. Yes, beyond all the emotions—which, by the way, ebb and flow like the tides of the sea—at the very heart of its essence, love remains a choice. It is a commitment that we make to God, to others, to ourselves. And Jesus has made it very clear that He must be our first choice, our first love. In fact, He said:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
(Matthew 10:37, NASB)
On another occasion, Jesus said:
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
(Luke 14:26, NASB)
Of course, Jesus is not telling us to literally hate people. But He is using the word “hate” to show the intensity of the contrast that must exist between our love for others and our love for Him. He is saying that our hearts must be so completely sold out to God that our commitments to others, regardless of how deeply we may love them, appear as hatred in comparison.
It appears that, over time, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ who lived in the 1st century forgot that important concept. Jesus, speaking through the Apostle John had to tell the ekklesia living at Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first…” (Revelation 2:4-5, NASB).
The Apostle John certainly casts love as a choice that we make when he admonishes us to be very careful with the desires of our heart and where our allegiance lies, saying, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15-17, NASB). For every person who will chose to make God the love of his or her life and find true identity not in this world, or the things of this world, but in Him and His will for our lives, the rewards are unimaginably splendid. While this carnal world and everything in it will pass away, we get to live forever with God in the “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB).
While the kind of love to which God calls His children may seem difficult to aspire to at times, remember that we have “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32, NASB) and that we are “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” so that we can “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:16 & 19, NASB). Our love driven mission, as new covenant children of God, is that of “furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (I Timothy 1:4) by loving, serving, reaching, teaching, and modeling the “good news” of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You and I could probably spend a lifetime together studying, exploring, and probing the depths of genuine love as God defines it; and I hope we will never cease this beautiful investigation. But for now, as we continue our quest for authentic Christianity, and turn our attention to other important matters that are pertinent to our walk with God, I want to leave you with this beautiful message of hope and love from the Apostle Paul, who said:
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written:
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.
(I Corinthians 2:6-9, NASB)
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