Sickle

Chapter 13 revealed Satan raising two beasts to make war with the Christians. The first beast is the beast of the greatest concern. The first beast, as identified from Daniel 7, is the Roman Empire which ruled from approximately 27 BC to 476 AD. The emperors of the Roman Empire blasphemed the name of God, calling themselves divine, and demanding worship from the inhabitants of the empire. The second beast describes the local and provincial enforcement of the emperor worship and the ensuring persecution for those who did not participate in emperor worship. Those worshiped the first beast were marked so that they can buy and sell. Those who did not participate in emperor worship were unable to buy and sell in the marketplaces.

The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5)

The contrast is set in chapter 14. John looks and sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion and the 144,000 are with him. Remember that the 144,000 represents the servants of God who were killed for the name of Christ. We know that they are physically dead because they were pictured in heaven. Revelation 6 told us that the servants of God would be killed. Chapter 7 called them the 144,000 signifying that the complete number of God’s people are sealed and spiritually secure though they are persecuted and killed. The inhabitants of the earth are worshiping the beast. They have the mark of the beast which means they have sided with the Roman Empire and its emperors. These people belong to the beast. However, we see the 144,000. They do not have the mark of the beast. Rather than having the name of the beast or the number of his name on their foreheads  or hand (13:16-17), the 144,000 have the name of the Lamb and the name of God on their foreheads. This shows their loyalty to the Lamb and pictures them as the Lamb’s possession.

The loyalty and faithfulness of the 144,000 is further pictured in these verses. These pictures cannot be literal. In Revelation 7 we were the told that the 144,000 came from the twelve tribes of Israel. Now we are given more details about the 144,000. They “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins” (14:4). They are also blameless (14:5). Now there are religious groups that want to take the 144,000 as a literal number of those who are in heaven. The problem with this interpretation is that the only ones is heaven are going to be perfect Jewish virgins who are men. Instead, we need to see this imagery as picturing the spiritual condition of the 144,000. As we noted in Revelation 7, 144,000 number symbolizes the complete group of God’s people (please see the notes from the Revelation 7 study).

God often speaks of the purity of his people in terms of sexual immorality. The apostle Paul used such language about the people of God in 2 Corinthians.

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2 ESV)

Similarly, the book of Revelation will culminate with the image of the marriage of the people of God to the Lamb.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:7–8 ESV)

The 144,000 are those who have not been compromised by the world but remain loyal as a virgin bride to the future groom. They are not defiled by the world but remain pure toward Christ. To put this image another way, these are the holy people of God. As Revelation 14:3 and 14:4 declares, the 144,000 are the redeemed. The 144,000 is all the redeemed of the earth. These are all of God’s people who have withstood the attack of Satan and the persecution of the Roman Empire. The people of God are pictured on Mount Zion, the place of Christ’s enthronement and rule. Mount Zion is the place of God’s dwelling and the people are God are protected spiritually as they abide with him.

They are pictured singing a new song (14:3). We noticed the new song in Revelation 5:9. This is a song praising God for his victory over the enemy and thanksgiving for God’s work. The 144,000 are victorious and they are singing a song of victory.

The Three Angels (14:6-13)

We are presented with three angels who have three announcements to make. They are carrying three important declarations from God.

The First Angel

The first angel is proclaiming the eternal gospel to the whole earth. Everyone has been given the opportunity to hear the gospel and to respond to its message. In the proclamation of the gospel the angel says with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.” The gospel is good news to those who receive it and obey it. However, the gospel is bad news to those who reject it. Fear God because God is ready to judge. Worship God, not the beast.

The Second Angel

The second angel proclaims, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.” As we noted in our study of Revelation 13, Babylon is the first of four great beasts depicted in Daniel 7. Babylon was the world power in the days of the prophet Daniel. The name Babylon came to represent the wicked world power of the day. Peter used the name Babylon this way as he closed his first letter.

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. (1 Peter 5:13 ESV)

Peter is giving his greetings from Rome since there was not a literal Babylon for Christians to be living in. Rome was the new Babylon because it was the world power of the day. This fits the context of Revelation. Chapter 13 has been all about this terrifying beast that is persecuting God’s people. This predicted the Roman Empire’s persecution of the Christians. Chapter 14 is not describing the fall of some other nation. It would not fit the context. Babylon is Rome and the Roman Empire is declared to be fallen. However, when the angel makes this proclamation and when the book of Revelation is written, the Roman Empire had not yet fallen. So what is happening in this proclamation?

This is something that is called “prophetic certainty.” An event is prophesied as having already occurred, not because it had happened yet, but because God had decreed it. Therefore the event must happen. Isaiah did the same things in his prophecy.

And behold, here come riders, horsemen in pairs!” And he answered, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.” (Isaiah 21:9 ESV)

When Isaiah said these words Babylon had not fallen yet. God had decreed that the world power would fall and so Isaiah could confidently describe its end, even though its fall was still in the future. The second angel is doing the same thing. The fall of the Roman Empire is pictured as a certainty even though it had not occurred yet.

The Third Angel

The third angel makes his proclamation. Anyway who worships the beast will drink the wine of God’s wrath. This is a vivid picture that God used at many times through his prophets (Psa 60:3; 75:8; Isa 51:17; 63:6; Jer 25:15-16; 51:7). As many know, the people typically drank their wine mixed with water. Drinking water was a problem then because the water was not clean and would cause illnesses. So the people would drink wine and the wine would be diluted with water, typically two or three parts water to one part wine. Notice that this angel says that they are going to drink the wine “full strength.” The wine is pictured as the wrath of God. They will drink of God’s wrath undiluted. God’s judgment is not going to be watered down. They will receive the full brunt of God’s anger for their sins.

The judgment will be so grave that it is paralleled to the judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. They are tormented with fire and sulfur, the same tools God used to wipe out the wicked cities of the plains for their sins. However, the picture is not a picture of a physical destruction. Notice that the angel pictures eternal punishment for those who worship the beast. Those who are giving their allegiance to the emperors and worshiping them as divine will be tormented forever and ever and have no rest day or night. This is the same kind of language that Jesus used to describe the eternal punishment on those who reject him.

Therefore, another call for endurance is made. Keep the commandments of God and keep your faith in Jesus. They worshipers of the emperors will be judgment. They condemnation is already set. Do not give in to the temptation to worship. Remain faithful to Jesus. Remain faithful even to death. Notice verse 13 reminds the readers again that they are going to die for this strong faith in Jesus. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. They are blessed for their faithfulness while the beast makes war on the people of God.

The Sickles (14:14-20)

In verse 14 we see one like the son of man seated on a white cloud with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. There is no doubt that this is picturing Christ. Christ was called “one like the son of man coming in the clouds” in Revelation 1:7,13 and in Daniel 7:13 and Matthew 24:30. Christ is coming to harvest the earth, reaping what had been sown. He swings his sickle across the earth and the earth was reaped. I believe this is picturing the righteous people of God being reaped to the Lord. The parallel would be the parable of the tares where we read about the wheat and the tares growing together. Then the wheat are reaped and taken into the barn while the tares are gathered for the fire.

Once the elect are reaped, then another angel comes with a sharp sickle. He is to gather the grapes and throw them into the winepress of God’s wrath. This is a picture of devastating judgment. This imagery comes from Isaiah 63:1-6 where Isaiah used the same language.

Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2 Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress? 3 “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. 4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. 5 I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me. 6 I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” (Isaiah 63:1–6 ESV)

The enemies are trampled and their blood is poured out for their rebellion. Notice that this is the imagery of Revelation 14:20. The wicked are put into the winepress of God’s wrath and the blood flowed as high as a horse’s bridle for 1600 stadia. The distance is approximately 184 miles and a horse’s bridle is a few feet high. Can you imagine how much blood would have to be shed and how many people would have to die to create a flow of blood that would pour out for 184 miles a few feet high? This is a graphic symbol to the world. Stop worshiping the beast. Those who worship the beast are going to suffer the wrath of God in eternal punishment. The emperors and the empire that you are worshiping as divine is going to fall and its fall will be so great that the blood will flow for miles. Once again this is not a literal image that blood would really flow that high and that far. Rather, the imagery makes the powerful point that its doom is coming and it is not going to be pretty. The prophecy has been made. The dye is cast and the stage is set. The people of God will be gathered and those that worship the beast will be slain. Repent before it is too late because this doom will come. Chapters 15-19 will reveal the fulfillment of these prophetic declarations of the angels.

Life Lessons

  1. Be the 144,000. Be the true people of God by remaining spiritually pure. Follow the Lamb wherever he goes and do not give in to the defilements of the world. Be holy for God so that you can be joined to him.
  2. False worship leads to eternal punishment. Do not let the things of this world be what you worship. The smoke of their torment of those who do not worship God goes up forever and ever. There is no rest for them day or night. What imagery describing the horror and suffering of worshiping anything or anyone other than God.
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