What does it mean to be ‘saved’? What makes one a true follower of Jesus Christ? For many Evangelical Christians, being a Christian means believing the right things. First, you have to believe you are a sinner. Next, you have to believe that Jesus died for your sins. Finally, you have to pray a prayer asking Jesus into your life and to forgive your sins. If you do this, your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. Not much else is expected. In some cases, the additional advice is given to tithe, read the bible, pray, try to be good, and… bring a friend to church. While these things are not in and of themselves bad, I think there is much more to being saved and Christian redemption than these suggest.
Our passage today provides a profound description of true followers of Jesus Christ in an interesting interlude from the suffering and martyrdom of the Church. The purpose of this interlude is to reassure the Church amidst all the trails and persecutions. It is a revelation of all those who remain faithful to God and the lamb. They are depicted as worshiping victors before the throne of the lamb. A description of them is given: “These are the ones who have never polluted themselves with women; they are celibate. They follow the lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from the human race as first fruits for God and the lamb, and no lie has been found in their mouths. They are without blemish” (vs. 4-5).
As NT Wright notes, the reference to celibacy is a symbol. It could be a symbol referring back to Israel’s military regulations, where the men were expected to refrain from sexual relations before battle, or it could refer to those who didn’t engage in pagan emperor worship, which would be considered spiritual fornication. In any case it is a symbol of faithfulness and purity. The 144,000 represent the faithful Church in true worship. From is passage, we can summarize the characteristics of the true followers of Jesus as: faithful, obedient, truthful, and holy. These are the marks of those who are ‘saved.’ This is a bigger redemption. What are the implications?
Being ‘saved’ is more than believing the right things. Being a Christian is more than praying the right prayer or reading the bible. Redemption is more than going to heaven when you die. You see, sin has infected and permeated every dimension of creation, every aspect of the human person, and all social relationships. The Fall was extensive and cosmic in dimension. Redemption is also extensive and cosmic in scope. In Christian redemption, the whole person is restored to his or her original glory. A Christian is one who learns to love God, self, neighbor, and nature wholeheartedly. Revelation 14 describes those redeemed as faithful, obedient, truthful, and holy. Holiness is another word for wholeness. Being ‘saved’ is the human self fully healed and integrated as God intended. Salvation is holistic and cosmic in scope. As we shall see from the Book of Revelation, redemption involves the following dimensions:
Furthermore, we do not have to wait until we die to being to experience holistic redemption. We can enjoy intimacy with God now. Our inner lives can become balanced and harmonious. We can experience bodily healing to some extent. Our relationships can be wholesome and peaceful. Nations can begin to get along. The environment can be treated responsibly with care. The devil and his minions may be cast out and driven away. Why settle for anything less than a big redemption?