THE ENEMIES OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH – [3] Revelation 14: The Resolution

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

We now come to the end of this fourth parallel section, where we are taken once again to ‘the end of the world’. In the previous three sections we have seen this ‘end of the world’ largely in relation to the redeemed

In Chapters 2 and 3 the blessedness of the redeemed was defined in terms of various promises made to those who ‘overcome’.

In Chapter 7, after a brief description of the final out-pouring of wrath [6:12-17], we were given quite a long description of the redeemed in the final state [7:9-17].

In Chapter 11 the eternal reign of Christ, inclusive but not descriptive of the judgment, is affirmed, along with the ‘rewarding’ of the saints.

Now in Revelation 14 we have an entire chapter focused on ‘the end of the world’, with more focus on the judgment that falls on those who are not redeemed.


A. THE REDEEMED – 14:1-5

The first vision John reports is of the redeemed. About them he says:

A.1 They are standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion
Writing to Christians involved in a similar intense persecution to that experienced by John’s readers, the writer to the Hebrews wrote:

‘… 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, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ [Hebrews 12:22-24].

Those who believe in Jesus Christ already belong to Zion, they are already part of the ‘Holy City, Jerusalem’, the ‘bride’ of the Lamb [Revelation 21:9,10]. Here in Revelation 14:1-5 John is given a vision of this reality, which is both present and future.

Note that they are with the Lamb. That same Lamb whom we have seen in previous chapters:

… with the marks of slaughter upon him – 5:6
… who alone is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals – 5:5,6
… the focus of the worship and praise of heaven and earth – 5:8-14
… praised by those cleansed by his blood – 7:10,14
… empowering and preserving those who believe in him – 12:11; 13:8

They are secure against the judgment about to be described – they are standing with the Lamb.

A.2 They are the 144,000
We read of this 144,000 in 7:1-8. [See the notes on these verses.] This number is a symbol for the complete number of the redeemed. It is not about a spiritual elite. It is not about the redeemed from physical Israel. As 7:9 indicates, it refers to the countless multitudes redeemed from every nation and tribe and people and language. The symbolic number gives great assurance: the complete number will be there. Not one will be missing. Here in 14:1 they are all there standing with the Lamb. Not one is missing in this vision of the end.

A.3 They have the name of the Lamb and of the Father written on their foreheads
In 7:1-4 we read that they were sealed. The purpose of this sealing was to secure them against the judgment of God that was about to fall. [See the notes on these verses.] Here in 14 all who were so sealed, all whom God marked out as his own, all who have the Lamb’s name and his Father’s name, are standing with the Lamb. By this name their King is identified, their allegiance is identified, their protector and advocate is identified and their eternal security is assured.

A.4 They are singing a new song
In 5:8-9 we read of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders singing ‘a new song’ in praise of the Lamb. Here we read of the 144,000 singing ‘a new song’ that only they can sing. They sang it ‘before the four living creatures and the elders’. Verse 2 indicates how powerful and beautiful their song is.

A.5 They are those who have ‘been redeemed from the earth’
This description of the 144,000 as those ‘who had been redeemed from the earth’ affirms the symbolic nature of the number. All believers have been ‘redeemed from the earth’. The ‘earth’ is under the power and deception of the evil one. The ‘earth’ is under the judgment and the wrath of God. The ‘inhabitants of the earth’ are ranged in opposition to God. But these standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion have been rescued, set free, liberated, from ‘the earth’ – from its opposition to God, from the enemy that deceives the whole earth, from the wrath of God and from the judgment that must fall. [See Revelation 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8-14.]

It is only the ‘redeemed’ who are able to learn the new song. Only the redeemed have any understanding of the grace that saved them or of the bondage from which they were saved. Only the redeemed can know the joy of sins forgiven and the peace of freedom from guilt bestowed on them through the blood of the Lamb. Only the redeemed can express this praise.

A.6 They kept themselves pure
In verses 4 and 5 we are told a number of things about these ‘redeemed’ who are seen standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion and singing a song that only they can sing. Each of these facts about the redeemed relate to the activities of the two beasts, which we have just seen and the great harlot, which we have yet to encounter, but who works in conjunction with the beasts.

While ‘the earth’ from which they have been redeemed followed the beasts and the harlot the redeemed did not. Rather:

They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Although this meant persecution and exclusion, misunderstanding and misrepresentation, they follow the Lamb. They cannot identify with the world’s hatred of the Lamb, they cannot identify with the world’s substitutes for the Lamb, they cannot embrace values contrary to the Lamb: they follow the Lamb. This following the Lamb means that:

They did not defile themselves with women – they kept themselves pure.No lie was found in their mouths. Remember, we are in an apocalyptic vision. This is not about a group of Christians who practised celibacy, or a group of believers who never in their lifetime ever told a lie, rather it is about all the redeemed: those who embraced the true Gospel and were not deceived into spiritual adultery. They did not believe the lies of the evil one. They did not worship the beast. They did not proclaim false Christs. They followed the Lamb – they were committed to him, they acknowledged him as their Leader, their Captain, their King.  

A.7 They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb
This parallels the concept of being ‘redeemed from the earth’, and is actually the same word in the Greek text. Redemption is freedom obtained by the payment of a price. We have encountered this concept previously:

Revelation 1:5: ‘To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood’
Revelation 5:9: ‘… and with your blood you purchased men for God ..’

The redeemed standing with the Lamb have, out of all the inhabitants of the earth, been purchased for God and for the Lamb by the blood of the Lamb. They are his. This is the significance of the reference to ‘firstfruits’ – that the ‘firstfruits’ always belonged to the Lord. Out of every harvest the firstfruits were devoted to God, set apart for God. With this in mind James wrote: ‘He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created’ [James 1:18].

This dual truth of being purchased by the blood of the Lamb and being offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb speaks of the extreme preciousness of the redeemed. They belong to God and to the Lamb. We cannot begin to comprehend how precious the redeemed are, nor how protective God and the Lamb are of the redeemed.

A.8 … they are blameless
Is this teaching perfectionism or eradicationism? Are there such people who are personally blameless? The Scripture will not permit us to interpret this phrase this way. We have only to look at 1John 1:8-10 to recognize that believers are still sinners who sin. So, what are we to make of this ‘blameless’?

There are two biblically valid ways to understand ‘blameless’:

[1] that the redeemed are ‘blameless’ in that they have not followed the beasts but remained faithful to Christ; and

[2] that they are ‘blameless’ in Christ. All that we could be ‘blamed’ for was taken by Christ and he bore the blame. No more blame accrues to those whom God has hidden in him.

Suggested readings:
Romans 8:1
2Corinthians 5:21
Colossians 1:22
Hebrews 10:10,14

In these first five verses of Revelation 14, before we are told of the judgment, we are shown the redeemed in their secure position. Here they stand with the Lamb, singing the song of the redeemed. Rescued by the Lamb. Belonging to God and to the Lamb. Without blame. Beyond the judgment. Untouchable. Unassailable.

 

B. WARNINGS OF THE JUDGMENT – 14:6-13

In his vision John now sees three angels, separately and together warning of immanent and terrible judgment. We are not meant to understand that three real angels will actually come and address the world in this manner. This vision, like all the visions, is given to John to communicate important truth to the suffering saints so that they will be encouraged in their stand against the evil one.

B.1 The first angel – verse 6,7
The first angel’s message focuses on the reality of the sovereignty of God. The ‘eternal gospel’ is what the New Testament summarizes by the title ‘the good news of the kingdom’. This is what John the Baptist taught. This is what Jesus taught. This is what the apostles taught. God is King. This was demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which together constitute ‘the gospel’.

Because God is the King, all people everywhere are commanded to ‘fear God and give him glory’. This is not advice about something that is optional; it is the only valid advice about the only viable option. There is only one God. Therefore there is only one who should be worshipped. He made everything that exists – heavens, earth, sky, springs of water. Everything.

The alternative to acknowledging him is judgment, and the hour of that judgment has come.

This is indeed the message of the Gospel: redemption from the judgment for those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord; judgment for those who refuse to do so. The same gospel that saves the redeemed condemns the unrepentant.

In a way, this ‘angel’ has been proclaiming his message throughout the interim age between the first and second comings of Christ. This was, in fact, the message proclaimed by Christ himself. The urgent need to repent and believe before the judgment comes sounds out right up to the ‘hour’ when the judgment comes.

B.2 The second angel – verse 8
The message of the second angel similarly, but more subtly, warns of the impending doom and the utter stupidity of continuing in rebellion. This angel speaks of the fall of ‘Babylon’.

As we will see when we come to Revelation 17 there is a collusion of evil – the dragon, the two beasts he inspires, and the harlot – ‘Babylon’. Together they symbolize the activity of the evil one. Here in 14:8 the second angel tells us that ‘Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries’ has fallen. And her fall means that Satan, who deceived and corrupted the whole world, is also fallen. This becomes clear in Revelation 20.

And here we must look at that statement made by Jesus Christ about what would happen when the Holy Spirit came to live within those who believed in him. In John 16:8-11 Jesus said that the Holy Spirit, having come to the Church, would:

‘… convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness because I go to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned’.

Through the witness of the Church about Jesus the Holy Spirit convicts the world. In particular, in reference to Revelation 14:8, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to judgment because the prince of the world [here represented by the symbol of Babylon] has been condemned. He stands condemned by the life of Jesus Christ, by which the true God was revealed, and by which Satan is exposed as an impostor and usurper. He stands condemned by the death of Jesus, by which Jesus has acquitted those who believe in him, nailing their sins to his cross and redeeming them from all accusations that Satan might attempt to hurl against them. And he stands condemned by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which both Jesus’ claims to deity and his sin-bearing death are proved valid.  

Satan, referenced here by the ‘Babylon’ he has produced, stands condemned by Jesus Christ, stands condemned by the Gospel, and stands condemned by the witness of the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The nations have drunk his maddening wine – his claims to supremacy, his religious lies, his corrupting influence.- ‘wine’ that has made them angry towards God. But they are all deceptions, and Jesus Christ in his incarnation, life, death and resurrection has exposed them all, and has defeated this would be ‘prince’ of this world.

To continue allegiance to him is to follow him to destruction.

B.3 The third angel – verse 9-11
The third angel warns specifically about the judgment, identifying who will be subject to the judgment, the source of the judgment and the nature of the judgment.

Who will incur the judgment? ‘Anyone who worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or the hand’ [verse 9,11]. That is, all those who are not the redeemed. We learned in 13:8 that only those written in the Lamb’s book of life did not submit to the beast’s authority. We read in 13:12 that he was worshipped by ‘the earth and its inhabitants’ – a reference to unbelievers. In 13:14 we are told that ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ [unbelievers] were deceived, with the result that they were all forced to have his mark. [See the study on Revelation 13].

In straight forward, non-symbolic language: only those who have been saved by Jesus Christ, and have by that salvation been rescued from Satan’s authority and rule, escape the judgment. Those who, despite the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel, and despite the defeat of Satan by Christ on the cross, continue in their alignment with Satan and his deceptions – it is upon these the judgment falls.

The source of the judgment. Verse 10 refers to the judgment as ‘the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath’.

The judgment, symbolised as something that has to be drunk, is termed ‘wine’ and ‘the cup’. This wine and this cup are God’s ‘fury’ and God’s ‘wrath’. Two different words are used here. The first is thumos which indicates a rather fierce and passionate explosion of anger. The second is orge which we have seen previously, and indicates a sustained, just hatred and antagonism. Both are here involved in this vision of the final judgment.

The phrase ‘at full strength’ continues the metaphor of a cup of wine. The word means ‘unmixed’. This wine of God’s fury and wrath has nothing added to modify either the strength or the taste. Unlike all preliminary judgments it is undiluted. There is no mercy here. The age of mercy, the age of grace, the age of the Gospel, while the ‘two witnesses’ still witnessed, while ‘the woman’ still sojourned in the desert – that time when judgments and grace existed together, has ended. Now there is only judgment. Now there is only the wrath of God.

The nature of the judgment.
[1] It is symbolised as being ‘tormented’ by ‘burning sulphur’ – KJV has ‘fire and brimstone’. This is another of those symbols of judgment encountered right through the Scripture.

Suggested reading:
Genesis 19:24 [this is probably the real physical origin of ‘brimstone’ to symbolize judgment.
Deuteronomy 29:22-28
Psalm 11:6
Isaiah 30:27-33
Isaiah 34:8-10
Ezekiel 38:22,23

We have seen ‘burning sulphur’ in a preliminary judgment [9:17,18] and we will see a ‘lake of burning sulphur’ as the place of judgment of the two beasts [19:20] and Satan [20:10]. The symbolic medium of the judgment is the same for all.

We need, again, to be reminded that John is writing in symbols. A look into the uses and reactions of physical sulphur is instructive, though to what extent we should apply this in terms of the judgment is not so clear.

Sulphur burns slowly.
Dropped on the skin it causes serious injury.
It turns all animal and vegetable matter to carbon.
It purges stains.
It destroys parasites.

There are at least two truths about the judgment that can be elicited from these facts about sulphur: (1) the judgment is, as this vision indicates, tormenting, that is unbearably painful and inescapable, to those who are subjected to it. It is something to be avoided; and (2) by this judgment God purges the earth of all that has stained and corrupted it. This parallels Revelation 11:18, where the last sentence speaks of the judgment ‘destroying those who destroy the earth’.

[2] The judgment occurs ‘in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb’. The Lamb is visible to those suffering the judgment.  Now, too late, they see who he really is: the Lamb on the throne, surrounded by the worshipping hosts of heaven.

Not the blasphemer they thought he was.
Not at all a person to be ignored as they had ignored him.
Not a being to be mocked, derided, caricatured.
Not at all a person whose name you can take in vain.
Not one among many religious leaders, whom you can swap for another, as so many of them had.

Now they see who it was they had rejected. Too late they regret.

Suggested readings:
Zechariah 12:10ff
Matthew 24:30
Revelation 1:7

[3] The judgment is unrelenting. We read that ‘the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever’ and that ‘there is no rest day and night’. It is statements like these that have led many denominations and individual churches to include the concept of ‘eternal punishment’ in their belief statements. The doctrine of ‘annihilation’ is attractive to our human hearts, and far less offensive to our human minds, but there is no simple way around this ‘for ever and ever’ that occurs so frequently in biblical references to the judgment. We need to remember that we are not omniscient, and that there were those ‘seven thunders’ whose messages John was forbidden to write. We also need to remember that our corrupt and deceived hearts still retain elements of that corruption and that deception. And even the truth that we know ‘we know in part’, and ‘see but a poor reflection as in a mirror’ [1Corinthians 13:9,12]. On the knowledge that we have, we cannot discard this ‘for ever’ aspect of the judgment.

B.4 A word to the redeemed – verse 12,13
Just as the messages about the two beasts were followed by a solemn word, so here this message about the judgment of those who follow the beasts is followed by a word to the saints.

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints’.  Literally the Greek reads ‘Here is the patience of the saints’. The certainty of the coming judgment, together with the certainty that they are safe with the Lamb on ‘Mount Zion’, is what enables and motivates the saints to endure the season of witness and suffering.

The ‘saints’ are further defined as those ‘who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus’. As the Scriptures teach elsewhere, any who fall away, any whose lives do not reflect the repentance and faith they confess, do not and never did, have true faith. They never were ‘the saints’.

Suggested reading:
Matthew 7:21-23
Matthew 13:18-23
John 2:23-25
1John 2:18-19

A further word is added in relation to the saints: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ This is not to say that those who died previously to John’s writing are not blessed. All who die in the Lord are blessed. But, in this time when persecution was escalating, and in any time when persecution rages – in whatever form it takes [physical persecution, religious deception, pressure to relax moral standards] – those who ‘die in the Lord’ in some ways have the better path.

Paul pointed this out in Philippians 1:19-26, see especially verse 23.
Isaiah mentioned this in Chapter 57:1-2.

And the Spirit agrees with a very definite ‘Yes … they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them’ [14:13]. This is the same Spirit whom Paul teaches ‘intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express’ [Romans 8:26]. He, this compassionate, sympathetic Spirit, knows our human agony so well. Is he not the Spirit of Jesus? Has he not also suffered these same pressures?

Suggested reading:
Romans 8:17-27
Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-9

 

C.  THE HARVEST OF THE EARTH – 14:14 - 20

In 14:14-20 two harvests are mentioned. Some understand the first [verses 14-16] to refer to the harvest of the saints [the rapture], and the second [verses 17-20] to refer to the gathering of the unrepentant for judgment. Others understand both harvests to be about the harvest of the lost for the judgment. In the final analysis not much is impacted regardless of which view we take. The truths relating to both the rapture and the judgment are repeated so frequently in Revelation that misreading one of these passages is not going to detract from our overall understanding.

C.1 The first harvest – verses 14-16
John sees, in a vision, a being ‘like a son of man’ with a gold crown of victory is sitting on a white cloud. He looks very much like Jesus [see 1:7,13; 6:2; Matthew 24:30]. He has a sharp sickle in his hand. He is told by an angel coming out of the ‘sanctuary’ [symbolising God’s presence] that the time has come because ‘the harvest of the earth is ripe’ [see Joel 3:4].  Some scholars object to understanding this figure as Jesus because he is given orders by an angel, but that argument is not decisive. Angels are involved in a wide range of important actions in these symbolic visions in Revelation. We know from other scriptures that it is Jesus who comes to judge the earth, and that it is Jesus who comes back for his own.

Suggested reading:
John 5:22,27,30
John 14:1-4
Acts 10:42
Acts 17:31
Romans 2:16
2Tmothy 4:1
1Peter 4:5

We must also note that this particular being is not referred to in this passage as an ‘angel’, although there are three other beings called angels. This being is always referred to as the one who was seated on the cloud. This would seem to indicate that it is Jesus.

[On the other hand, Jesus taught that he would send his angels out to harvest the earth [Matthew 13:41; 24:31].]

About the first harvest:
If this first harvest refers to the rapture of the saints, taken out of the world prior to the final judgment, then ‘the harvest of the earth is ripe’ means that the full number of the redeemed have been saved and are now removed by this ‘harvest’; now the end can come.

If it refers to the unredeemed, then it means that the sin and the suffering have reached the limit where God has determined that ‘enough is enough’, the time for grace is ended, and the time for judgment has come.

But whichever way we interpret these two harvests, the two above facts are true: the judgment will not come before the full number of the redeemed have been saved and raptured. When the redeemed are taken up out of the earth, then the end will come.

Note that other biblical references to ‘harvests’ do not help us much here. In some instances the ‘harvest’ is the process of proclaiming the gospel and bringing people to salvation [Matthew 9:37,38; Mark 4:29; John 4:35]; in one the lost are harvested before the saved [Matthew 13:39]. All this talk of ‘harvest’ is in the form of metaphor or parable, so does not give any clearer definition to the Revelation reference.

Note the extreme power of ‘he who was seated on the cloud’: we are not told that he moved from the cloud: simply that he was seated there and ‘swung his sickle over he earth, and the earth was harvested’ – as simply as that.  The verbs translated ‘swung’ and ‘were harvested’ are in the Aorist Tense – indicating decisive, one-off actions. [Let us keep in mind that these are symbols. The real Jesus does not have a real sickle in his hand.]

C.2 The second harvest
We are here introduced to two more beings, both referred to as ‘angels’. The first, coming out from the temple in heaven [from God’s presence], has, like the being seated on the cloud, a sharp sickle. The other angel comes out from the altar. We have seen someone like this angel before: in 8:3-5 an angel who had offered to God a golden censer filled with incense and the prayers of the saints, had then come out with fire from the altar and hurled the fire of God’s judgment down to the earth. [In Chapter 16 we will see several angels pouring out the bowls of God’s wrath in judgment upon those who have shed the blood of the saints.] It is this angel coming out from the altar who commands the angel with the sharp sickle to ‘go and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ This puts yet another connection between the prayers of the saints and God’s judgment on their persecutors.

And here we are given a graphic picture of the wrath of God against those who cause his children to suffer. The imagery of grapes and wine is carried to its fullest: those subject to this ‘harvest’, this ‘gathering’ are thrown ‘into the great winepress of God’s wrath’, ‘they were trampled in the winepress outside the city’ and their ‘blood flowed out of the press…’

This is a totally different symbol of the final judgment from the one we have just read in verses 10 and 11. But it is equally devastating.

That this is the final and complete judgment of the whole world is indicated in the symbolic number of 1600 – ten times ten signifying completion, and four times four signifying the whole earth, the ‘four corners of the earth. God’s full wrath has been poured out. There will be no more.

*

Again here in Revelation 12 to 14 we have been taken from the birth of Christ [indeed before the birth of Christ] to his second coming. This time we have been shown from God’s perspective where the suffering of the Church fits into the whole scheme of things – from the first promise of Christ’s first coming to his second coming in powerful and final judgment.