26 December 2019

Revelation 14

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.

The three angels

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’

A second angel followed and said, ‘“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,” which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’ 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’

‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’

Harvesting the earth and trampling the winepress

14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 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.

Perhaps you have heard it said that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love? This view becomes impossible to sustain once you read a book like Revelation. Many Christian readers neglect this book of the Bible because of the difficulty of understanding its symbolism and imagery. To be sure, there are difficulties and disagreements, but the same can be said for other books of the Bible as well, books that we happily read. In any event, the reader should take note of the fact that the book is intended to bring blessing to those who hear its teaching and take its message to heart (cf. Revelation 1:3).

The book is written to 7 churches in first-century Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) facing problems of persecution, compromise and complacency (cf. Revelation 2-3). The visions that follow – the 7 seals (Revelation 6), trumpets (Revelation 8-9) and bowls or plagues (Revelation 15-16) – are designed to grab the attention of these churches to encourage them to persevere and overcome their circumstances. While there is debate about how best to characterise and sequence these visions on a time-line, there is broad agreement that they generally portray a series of judgments from the hand of God (cf. Revelation 4-5).

Revelation 14, our text, is part of a so-called ‘interlude’ that focuses, amongst other things, on the recurring theme of judgment in the book. Let me briefly identify some of the features of divine judgment described in this chapter:

  1. All unbelievers will one day experience God’s judgment: ‘(T)hey…will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath’ (Revelation 14:10a). Whereas Jesus drained the cup of God’s wrath on behalf of God’s people (cf. Mark 14:36), and declared on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ (cf. John 19:30), all unbelievers will experience the ‘full strength’ of God’s wrath on Judgement Day!
  2. This will be a ‘forever’ judgment: ‘And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever….’ (Revelation 14:11). There will be no second-chances, no reversals and no negotiations!
  3. God has appointed the hour of this judgment. No one knows the day or hour. But it is inescapable, therefore, we are to be ready for this day. It will bring blessing to God’s people and grief to those who have rejected Him in this life. The language and imagery of judgment in this vision indicates that it is something to be avoided at all costs (Revelation 14:14-20).

The good news of the Gospel, described here as ‘the eternal Gospel’ (cf. Revelation 14:6), is that we are living in that period of redemptive history between Jesus’ first and second coming, a time during which salvation from God’s wrath is promised to all who sincerely repent (ie. turn from their sin), and put their trust in Jesus’ sacrificial death for sinners. The truth of the matter is that while the God of the Bible is indeed a God of wrath, He is also a merciful God who warns us to flee from the wrath to come by depicting its horrors for all to see in passages like Revelation 14. May we all heed this warning!

Prayer: Dear Lord; we confess that there is much in this book of the Bible that is difficult to grasp at first glance. However, we do thank You that the book is intended to be a blessing to Your people. As we reflect on the imagery and teaching of this chapter, we are struck not only by the terrifying portrayal of judgment, but also by Your great mercy that warns the unbeliever to flee from the wrath to come!

We are so grateful to You, Lord, that because of Your saving mercy towards us in Christ Jesus, our heavenly destiny is now secure; we have been totally spared from Your great wrath on Judgment Day.

Thank You for the reminder in this chapter that, as believers, we all belong to you: Your Name is written on our foreheads; You have purchased us from sin and death. Please help us to remain faithful to You in thought, word and deed, and to exercise patient endurance in the midst of the struggles and challenges of this earthly life.

And, Lord, please help us to warn unbelievers to flee from the wrath to come.

I pray all these things in the Name of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.