These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes…
Firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. From this and the many like expressions which are scattered over the New Testament, we gather that there is a salvation greater and less. For here it is said that these hundred and forty-four thousand are "firstfruits." Therefore we learn -
I. WHAT THESE ARE NOT.
1. They are not all the saved. The very word indicates that there is much more to follow. They are but the beginning. Nor:
2. Are these firstfruits the mass of the saved. True, a large number is named, but what is that compared with the "great multitude that no man can number, out of every," etc.?
II. WHAT THEY ARE. The word "firstfruits" teaches us that these thus named are:
1. The pledge of all the rest. Thus Christ has "become the Firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15:20). He is the pledge and guarantee that in him "all shall be made alive." And so the natural firstfruits of corn guaranteed the rest of the harvest. For the same sun, and all other nurturing forces which had ripened the firstfruits, were there ready to do the same kindly office for all the rest. And so we are told, "The Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies." The same power is present for both the first and after fruits.
2. The pattern and representative of all the rest. Compare the first and after fruits. In the main they were alike; and so in the spiritual world also. But:
3. The firstfruits were pre-eminent over the rest. They were specially presented to God, and held in honour; so was it with the natural grain. But, without question, there is pre-eminence implied in being the firstfruits of the heavenly harvest.
(1) In time. Theirs is "the first resurrection," of which we read in Revelation 20. - that resurrection of the dead which St. Paul calls "the resurrection," and "the mark" towards which he pressed, if by any means he might attain unto it (Philippians 3.). "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years," etc. (cf. Revelation 20.).
(2) In honour. St. Paul called it "the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Now, a prize implies special honour. And our Lord tells us that there is a "first" and "last" in the kingdom of heaven; "a least" and "a greatest." "One star differeth from another star in glory." There is "an entrance administered abundantly," and there is a "being saved so as by fire." As here there is no dead level of reward, so we might believe, and we are taught, that there is none such in heaven. Infinite mischief is done by the belief that all will be equally blessed, equally honoured, equally like God. It is as if we had adopted the creed of Ecclesiastes, where we are told, "One end cometh alike to all," instead of St. Paul's, who tells us, "What a man soweth that" - not something else - "shall he also reap," in quantity and quality too.
(3) In service. That they were pre-eminent here, who that knows their history on earth, or reads even this book, will question?
(4) In character. See how they are described as to their spiritual purity, their unreserved consecration, their separateness from the world, their guilelessness and freedom from all deceit.
(5) In the approval of God. Of them it is written, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection" (Revelation 20.). How could it be otherwise than that such as they should stand highest upon the steps of the everlasting throne, and nearest God and the Lamb?
4. They are the elect of God. In another part of this book they are spoken of as "the called, and chosen, and faithful." They answer to the description of God's chosen, and so we learn that "whilst all the elect are saved, all the saved are not. elect" (Alford). All are not firstfruits, greatest, first, in the kingdom of heaven. The very words imply order, gradation, rank. But it is for us to take heed as to -
III. WHAT WE SHOULD STRIVE TO BE. There are some who say that they will be content if they can only "get just inside the door of heaven " - such is the phrase. This sounds very humble minded, and if it be so, then those who thus speak are just those who would not be content with any such place. For, and to their credit be it said, they are such as desire to be like their Lord - to resemble him, to possess his Spirit, and to please him in all things. But if they desire, or will be content with, the lowest place in heaven, they must get rid of all these beautiful and blessed qualities. But rather than this they would die. Too often, however, the phrase is but a substitute for diligence and faithful following of Christ. They are content to be but little like their Lord; they do not follow after holiness in the fear of God; they are the worldly hearted, those the least worthy of the Christian name. But who would be content to be as these? Who would not be in full sympathy with St. Paul, who said, "I labour... to be accepted of him" (2 Corinthians 5:9)? Ours, then, is to be not contented with any lowest place - if we be, there is grave doubt whether we ever attain to that - but to "press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus." - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
WEB: These are those who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed by Jesus from among men, the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.