RPM, Volume 18, Number 24, June 5 to June 11, 2016

To the Ends of the Earth

Lamb, Gospel, Angels & Harvest
Revelation 14

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Following the pattern outlines in our study of chapter 12, chapter 14 (and the first four verses of chapter 15) marks the end of another cycle of sevens. The pattern, as we have noted is as follows:

(1) the conflict of the serpent with the woman and her seed (ch. 12)

(2) persecution by the beast from the sea (13:1-10)

(3) persecution by the beast from the land (13:11-18)

(4) the Lamb and the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion (14:1-5)

(5) the proclamation of the gospel and of judgment by three angels (14:6-13)

(6) the Son of Man's harvest of the earth (14:14-20)

(7) the saints victory over the sea beast and their victory song (15:2-4)

Four sub-sections, then, form the basic structure of 14:1—15:4 which take us to the Judgment Day once again.

The Lamb and the 144,000

Chapter 14 begins with a section in which the Lamb is seen standing on Mount Zion in the presence of 144,000 (14:1-5). It is, of course, in direct contrast to the mocking parody presented in 13:11 of the beast of the earth (the false prophet) who had lamb-like features.

A quick glance at 21:2-3 will indicate to us that Mount Zion is to descend to the new earth out of heaven in the pictorial language of the book of Revelation. That means that any identification of Mount Zion as synonymous with the earthly city of Jerusalem (during the millennial age understood as still future, for example) is a failure to appreciate the flow of thought in this book. It is the ideal city to which saints aspire during their time here on earth and in it is precisely in this way that it is depicted by Paul and the author of Hebrews: "Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: 'Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband'" (Gal. 4:25-27). "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect…" (Heb. 12:22-23).

What is in view here, then, is a truth that is valid now as much as it will be during the closing days of this world's existence. In direct contrast to the name of the beast (666) that is placed on the foreheads (or right hand) of the followers of the antichrist (13:17), the followers of the Lamb have inscribed upon their foreheads the name of the Father and of the Son. As in 7:4-9, the 144,000 denotes, not ethnic Jews saved during the millennium, nor even a figurative representation of the martyrs [important as these are in Revelation], but is representative of the completeness of the number of the elect. 144,000 is 12 x 12 x 1000, or 10 x 10 x 12 x 12 x 10 [i.e. 102 x 122 x 10] thus heightening the idea of completeness. The 122 is more than likely the number of the tribes multiplied by the number of the apostles, thereby representing the completion in terms of Old and New covenant saints. In "marks of indelible grace" the security of each true believer is sealed (7:4). As labels on garments identify origin and manufacturer, so the name of God on the foreheads of every believer signify identity and safekeeping.

The 144,000 praise God by "playing harps" and singing a new song (c.f. 5:8-9; 15:2-3). In all three instances, the praise is a response to the victory of God, and the "new songs" of the Old Testament are always in response to victories (Pss. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa. 42:10). In this case over the beast and the false prophet of the previous chapter (though news of this must wait until 15:1-3). That the 144,000 represent the entire redeemed community of all ages accounts for the fact that their praise is so loud that it resembled "the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder" (14:3).

But who are the redeemed? A threefold description is given in verse 4:

i) they are those "not polluted by women, for they are virgins."

ii) they are those "who follow the Lamb wherever he goes"

iii) They were "purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb"

Together, these allusions point to consecration and loyalty to Jesus Christ. Virginity may be that of Israelite soldiers who soldiers who were expected to maintain their ceremonial purity before battle (Deut. 23:9-10; 1 Sam. 21:5; 2 Sam. 11:8-11). Christians are engaged in a holy war where consecration to the bridegroom and the expectation of a wedding is part of a New Testament theme. Christians are to keep themselves pure for Christ and consummation that awaits in heaven. A failure to do this in Old Testament language would be deemed harlotry (Ezek. 23; Jer. 3:10). Paul could say to the Corinthians: "I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" (2 Cor. 11:2-4). Instead of identifying with the world, Christians identify themselves with Christ. They "follow the Lamb wherever he goes." The saints are "firstfruits" in the biblical sense of being the first with the expectation of more to follow (as with the resurrection of Christ, expecting the resurrection of all that his to follow, 1 Cor. 15:20).

But who are the ones to follow if the 144,000 is representative of the whole of the redeemed? The answer to this would seem to be the rest of humanity who are to follow, not in redemption but in judgment.

Followers of the Lamb become like the Lamb. They take on the very attributes of the One they follow. Christians exhibit sanctification by becoming Christ-like. In contrast to the beast and false prophet, who are liars, Christians are truthful and blameless. "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth'" (1 Pet. 2:21-22; c.f. Isa. 53:7).

The proclamation of the gospel and of judgment by three angels (14:6-13)

Having told us of the beast and the false prophet, and having given a word of encouragement to the saints, we are now led into a section of warning to the unbelieving world. This fifth section is concerned with those who are not redeemed. An angel appears proclaiming "an eternal gospel." This is not a word of good news as such, but of judgment. But, it is vital to apprehend the idea that the downfall of all that is contrary to the purposes of God is, in the last analysis, good news for the believer, however painful that thought might be. The gospel always contains a dire warning of the consequences of rejecting the offer of grace in Jesus Christ. It is the twin role of the covenant that it contains curses as well as blessings. What follows is similar in nature to that recorded earlier in 8:13. Here, as there, the angel flies in mid-heaven and cries with a loud voice, and address those dwelling on earth. The unregenerate multitudes are in view, from "every nation, tribe, tongue, and people." The extent of God's sovereign rule over evil is total.

It is possible that verse 7 is to be viewed as an evangelistic appeal to those who worship the beast to worship God instead. That would make the book of Revelation a gospel tract. It would be in keeping with such passages as 2 Peter 3:9-11: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives."

But more than likely, the appeal of verse 7 to "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come," is meant to be further assertive of the Lord's absolute sovereignty. It would then be of the same order of thought as the closing of the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2 whenever it says that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11).

Another angel appears declaring that Babylon (Rome and all earthly systems raised in opposition to God) is fallen (14:8; c.f. Isa. 21:9). A third angel appears also announcing judgment. This time the emphasis falls upon the eternal nature of the punishment that falls upon those who worship the beast and his image. "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name" (14:9-11).

The words remind us of some words of Jesus about the fire which is not quenched and the wrath which abides (Mark 9:44-45). Though we must not think of this imagery as literal, it is pointless if its intent isn't meant to convey the idea of punishment that will never end. The expression "for ever and ever" (lit. to ages and ages), is the same expression as that used of Jesus in Revelation 4:9 where He is described as the one "who lives for ever and ever." In 2 Timothy 2:10, the words "for ever" (one word in Greek, aionios), is used for the eternal nature of the glory that awaits believers. If the word aionios means without end when applied to the future blessedness of believers, it must follow, unless clear evidence is given to the contrary, that this word also means without end when used to describe the future punishment of the lost. Similarly, the word "torment is nowhere used of annihilation, but of conscious suffering (9:5; 11:10; 12:2; 18:7, 10, 15; 20:10).

Two verses of conclusion follow to bring this section to a close exhorting the faithful to patient endurance (as in 13:10 and 13:18). Warnings are always instruments for the godly to persevere (14:12-13). Once again, the faithful are described as those "who keep the commandments of God" and have "the testimony of Jesus" (c.f. 12:17). As before, the hope held out for believers is not a rapture from the trouble that lies ahead, but a deliverance through it to the hope that is beyond it in the new heavens and new earth of the existence to come.

Thus, the angel is heard to say, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them" (14:13). "What comfort do you derive from the article of the life everlasting?" asks question 58 of the Heidelberg Catechism, to which the answer is: "That, since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this I shall possess perfect bliss, such as eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man¾ therein to praise God forever."

Another truth emerges here with respect to the works that believers do in this life. Though do not contribute towards their justification, they are taken into account in the life to come. Paul teaches us that a person may build on the foundation of faith in Christ with lasting materials like gold, silver, or precious stones, so that in the consummation his or her work may survive and he may receive a reward (1 Cor. 3:10-15). There is a sense in which this life has eternal consequences in the life to come.

All of this would prove encouraging to the beleaguered Christians to whom John first wrote, but it is also a powerful incentive for us to persevere with absolute commitment in the midst of our troubles.

The Son of Man's harvest of the earth (14:14-20)

The sixth section, which began in 12:1, describes the judgment at the end of history in much the same way as the sixth seal and sixth bowl have done previously. What had been but a warning in verses 6-13 is now described as a present reality.

The vision introduces us to "one 'like a son of man' with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand" (14:14). He is seated on a cloud and is a clear allusion to Daniel 7:13. Jesus had spoken to similar effect in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:30. His identity, Jesus Christ, has been revealed to us already in the opening chapter (1:7, 13-20). He comes as King (hence the crown) and in judgment (hence the sharp sickle).

Another angel issues a command from God to the Son of Man figure to take his sickle and reap, for the time has come. Similarly, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Jesus' return is accompanied by "the voice of an archangel." Even in His ascended state, Jesus is subject to the Father as the Servant of the Lord and will do nothing on His own initiative (c.f. John 5:27).

The judgment is described using the metaphor of a harvest. The harvest of the earth "has become ripe" (14:15). The image is repeated and expanded in the verses that follow. The fact that these sections, 14-16 and 17-20 have small differences, some have advocated two distinct harvests. In the first section there is the presence of the Son of man and in the second there is image of trampling the grapes. This may refer to the gathering of believers and the consequent judgment of unbelievers that follow. But it is equally likely that the same act of judgment is being described here by way of a parallel description of the act of judgment.

Behind the imagery lies Joel 3:13, "Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow¾ so great is their wickedness!"

The statement in verse 20 that "they were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses' bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia" needs some comment.

The spreading of blood for 1,600 stadia (42 x 10 2 approximately 184 miles or 300 kilometers) from the city is an approximate measurement of the Palestine from the borders of Tyre to the borders of Egypt and could signal a comprehensive judgment of Palestine, but more likely, since both four and ten are numbers representing completeness, it is a way of describing world-wide judgment.

The imagery is that of unbelievers being judged outside of the true city of God. It is, once again, a compilation of two Old Testament passages: The Joel passage already cited together with Isaiah 63:2-3, "Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress? 'I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing.'" The imagery will return again in chapter 19.

However gory this imagery may be, it is meant to convey the seriousness and judicial nature of the punishment that awaits unbelief. The battle/war imagery is depicted as symbolic of the enmity that will exist between the seed of the serpent and that of the woman until the end of time. But the victory is in no doubt. It will be that of the Lamb's.

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