This chapter forms the last section of the third interlude of the Book. Again we should note that this material is not chronological in that it does not take up the next events of the Tribulation. Rather it gives us a preview of some of the key events that lie ahead in that period of unprecedented trial. In fact, John now answers two vital questions: What will become of those who refuse to receive the mark of the beast and are killed (vss. 1-5)? And what will happen to the beast and his servants (vss. 6-20)? So chapter 14 prepares the way for the climatic events which will follow from chapter 15 on. This chapter gives us both a backward glance to the beginning of the Tribulation and a forward glance to its end and the glorious reign of the Lord Jesus Christ with His saints.
Revelation 13 revealed the darkest and most grotesque hours of human history with Satan’s conspiracy in seeming control of all humanity. But it closed with the declaration of man’s number, number 666; a number that falls short of God’s perfection. This was both a promise and a declaration that man would fail and God would prevail and so would also God’s people. In the two previous chapters we see clearly that God’s people will be severely persecuted and sacrificed like sheep. But here we see their ultimate triumph via the triumph of the Lamb of God. For instance, in chapter 7 the 144,000 who were sealed and thus promised deliverance are here seen as delivered.
“And I looked, and behold” is a phrase found seven times (4:1; 6:2, 5; 7:9; 14:1, 14) and each time it turns our attention to another important element in the vision given to John. Here it is the vision of the Lamb standing on Mount Zion accompanied by the 144,000. As previously, the word “behold” is designed to arrest our attention to the remarkable things in this scene.
“The Lamb was standing on Mount Zion” is the first important fact that catches John’s eye. That the Lamb is standing on Mount Zion is in contrast to the dragon standing on the shifting sands of the seashore. Here is a contrast between stability and rest, and instability and unrest. The contrast is between the Lamb who wins by the sacrifice of Himself versus the dragon who attempts to gain control by his selfish and bloody outrage against humanity. Note that it is the Lamb portrayed here, not the Lion (5:5) because it is through His sacrifice that Christ becomes the Victor.
Students are faced with the need to answer a question about the meaning of Mount Zion. Does it refer to the heavenly city, Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22-23) or to the earthly city of Jerusalem? In Hebrews the reference to Mount Zion is connected with the church and there it symbolizes the strength and security of God’s people gathered together with God. But here, John is dealing with the nation Israel and looking forward to the Millennial reign of Christ on earth. Prophetically in Scripture, Zion came to symbolize the place where Messiah would come as the deliverer of Israel and where He would gather together His people (Psalm 48:1f; Isa. 24:23; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 14:10; Rom. 11:26).
In the seven NT references to Zion, five occur in OT quotations. The other two (here and Heb 12:22-23) imply a connection between Mount Zion and the church. Some, by connecting the reference in Hebrews to the one here, have argued for the heavenly location of the 144,000. Others view Mount Zion as the earthly seat of the messianic or millennial kingdom. Whether this Mount Zion has any connection (as to locality) with ancient and historical Zion, John does not say. At any rate, that the 144,000 are singing “before the throne” (v. 3) is not an objection to seeing them as the earthly Zion; it is not the redeemed who are singing but the angelic harpists.176
Further, the group of 144,000 is the same as that of chapter 7 where they are to be sealed and kept safe through the Tribulation, protected from death to go into the millennial reign of Messiah without going into heaven. This is the implication of chapter 7. Thus, this is prophetic of Christ’s reign in Zion, earthly Jerusalem following the Tribulation. Note in this regard that the word “stood” is in the perfect tense which emphasizes completed action with abiding results. He has taken his stand and reigns.
“And with Him 144,000, …” These are mentioned because they stand in such beautiful contrast with the worshippers of the beast who have his mark and who have sold themselves out to the idolatrous and cultic system of the beast. In chapter 7 we are told the 144,000 are: (a) sealed in their forehead (7:3), (b) that they are bondservants (7:3), and (c) that they are Jews from the twelve tribes of Israel, 12,000 from each tribe. Now additional information is given regarding these bondservants which heightens the contrast between these and the worshippers of the beast.
These are the same 144,000 Jews of chapter 7. The number is the same, they are sealed in their foreheads as in chapter 7, and there is nothing to indicate they are a different group.
“Having His name (the Lamb’s) and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.” This is God’s seal and shows (a) they belong to God and not to the beast, (b) that they have had the guarantee of God’s protection and security through the Tribulation, and (c) they are His servants. As chapter 7 by its context would indicate, they are the great evangelists of the Tribulation who proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then note that in 14:4 we are told that these follow the Lamb. Perhaps there is an intended connection with those evangelized by the 144,000 in 7:9ff for in 7:17 we read “for the Lamb … shall be their Shepherd and shall guide them …” Chapter 14 completes the drama started in chapter 7. In chapter 7 this whole company of God’s people are sealed (7:1-8), readied for the satanic onslaught, and then a company of those they undoubtedly led to Christ are seen as martyred saints in heaven serving before the throne of God (7:9ff). But here in chapter 14, the whole body of the 144,000 are with the Lamb as victors in the earthly eschatologica1 kingdom. The main emphasis is that here we see these still intact after the days of horrible Tribulation; they are preserved and standing triumphantly with the Lord on Mount Zion in the Millennium.
As in chapter 5 the voice heard is described in majestic terms to portray heaven’s response to what John sees here. The three-fold description of the voice stresses the awesome majesty of what John hears as heaven responds in anticipation of the reign of God on earth accomplished by the Lamb. How then should we not also enthusiastically and joyously enter into singing and making melody in our hearts in majestic praise of God.
However, it is important to note that the singers are not necessarily the 144,000, but angelic hosts and perhaps Tribulation martyrs in heaven. The voice is from heaven, from around the heavenly throne (vss. 2-3). The 144,000 are on earth. It is the harpists of heaven who sing the song. Here we are only told the 144,000 can learn the song, while in chapter 15:2-3 they sing the Song of Moses with the company of the redeemed.
But we are not told just exactly what this new song is. It should, however, be related to chapter 5:9 and the new song that was sung by the heavenly choir. Thus it is a song of redemption and vindication. What was seen in chapter 5 as secured for the redeemed by Christ’s death (i.e., that they will reign on the earth [5:10]) has now been realized on Mount Zion (cf. also one further reference to a new song in 15:3).
The word “new” is the Greek kainos which refers to that which is fresh and new in quality, unused, unworn. It can mean new in time, but more than anything, it means new in quality, fresh and vital.
In what sense is this a new song? In the Old Testament there are a number of references to a “new song” (cf. Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 144:9; 149:1 and Isa. 42:10). But what is such a new song? A new song is a consequence of a deeper or clearer grasp of the person and works of God so that it results in a fresh and meaningful impulse of gratitude and joy in the soul as it is expressed in songs of praise and adoration. A new song is not necessarily a song new in time, but one fresh with a new response and understanding so that it is sung as though it were new. This new song is somehow related to the new song of 5:4 and to that in 15:3.
What about the clause “And no one could learn the song except the 144,000 …”? The verb “learn” is the Greek manqanw which may have several connotations regarding the learning process. One of these is “to learn, appropriate to oneself … through experience or practice.”177 Only the 144,000 because of what they will have experienced throughout the Tribulation from beginning to end (having experienced God’s mighty deliverances and victory over the beast) can truly experience the reality and depth of the meaning of the song. Manqanw can have the idea of “to hear deeply.”178 John in particular seems to use manqanw in the sense of “a deep listening to divine revelation that results in learning”179 (cf. John 6:45).
Next we read that the 144,000 “had been purchased from the earth.” This does not mean “removed” from the earth, but “redeemed,” saved from among the people of the earth and thus sealed accordingly (cf. 5:9 and 7:3). “Purchased” is the Greek agorazw which means “to buy, purchase.” It was used of purchasing slaves in the agora or market place. Believers are those who have been purchased from the slave market of sin by the death of Christ. Note these four things regarding our redemption in Christ:
(1) The Agent of redemption is the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Rom. 3:24).
(2) The purchase price is the death of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
(3) The object of redemption is man’s sin (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).
(4) The result of redemption is forgiveness and freedom but also bond service to Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 3:13).
Regarding the 144,000 this verse is perhaps the most difficult because of the reference to defilement with women and the word “chaste” or “virgins.” Does this mean they are men who have never been married, celibates for the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:1-7)? Or does this refer to spiritual faithfulness as opposed to apostasy or cultic prostitution (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-3; Rev. 2:14, 20-22 with 3:4). There are a number of good arguments for both views, so just how are we to take the verse?
One might assume these are all men because “they were not defiled with women.” On the other hand, one might assume they are all women because they are literally called “virgins,” the Greek parqenoi. Neither assumption, however, is necessarily correct. John is probably using these terms in a spiritual sense to declare their spiritual chastity and devotion to Christ.
Such is not an uncommon occurrence in Scripture. In the Old Testament the people of Israel were viewed as the wife of Yahweh and unfaithfulness to Him was spoken of as spiritual prostitution and spiritual adultery (cf. Isa. 1:21; Jer. 2:20; 3:20; Hosea 9:1; Exodus 34:15; Deut. 31:16). Similarly in the New Testament the church is viewed as the bride of Christ, as an espoused virgin, and unfaithfulness is viewed as spiritual adultery (cf. Eph. 5:22-32; 2 Cor. 11:2; James 4:4; Rev. 2:20-23).
So the word “virgin” in Scripture does not always have to refer to a woman. Further, the word “defiled” is used by John in the Book of Revelation of moral or spiritual defilement or spiritual or cultic prostitution (cf. 3:4 where John also used “defiled” or the Greek word molunw, with 2:14, 20, 22 for a setting of spiritual prostitution).
During the Tribulation there will exist a great apostate church, or religious Babylon, the mother of all harlotries and the great harlot of the Tribulation. This will be followed by the apostate and idolatrous worship of the beast (cf. Rev. 17-18:24; 13:1ff). But these 144,000 escape all spiritual defilement with these religious systems of the Tribulation. They remain pure, i.e., spiritual virgins. One might compare also a similar use of virgins in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. In both passages we have references to men and women. The emphasis is not on sex but on spiritual purity. It is for this reason the NASV translates the word parqenos as “chaste.”
This view fits with the following words, “these are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” The whole group has remained devoted and faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ; they follow and serve Him as obedient servants in contrast to a world that as a whole goes whoring after the beast.
Then we read “these have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” This further explains the above and portrays their spiritual chastity and obedient discipleship as effect and cause. First we had the effect, now we see the cause, the redeeming grace of God.
“Purchased” is the verb agorazw as in verse 3. It refers to their redemption by the person of Jesus Christ. The tense is aorist and in the context of the New Testament it looks at an accomplished fact. “From” is the Greek preposition apo and represents in this context not extraction or removal physically, but spiritual separation both positionally and experientially.
“As first fruits” further defines their redemption. There are two concepts in the first fruits metaphor: (a) It first refers to the initial harvest taken in by the farmer with more to come. It indicates more is to come and is a pledge, a down payment that that is so. The 144,000 are the first converts of the Tribulation who will go into the kingdom, but others, as we saw in Revelation 7:9f, will follow. (b) However, the first fruits was that which was offered to God as an expression of being totally separated and set apart to Him as an offering and a sacrifice to God. This is the real emphasis and primary thought here in this context and by the words “to God and to the Lamb”; they were a holy and pure sacrifice.
This does not mean they will be sinless. Jesus Christ is the only human personality that is without sin. But this does emphasize their lives and testimonies will be above reproach. The Tribulation will be a time characterized by deceit, by lies and everything false. But these will be truthful; they will speak and live the truth with veracity so that their lives will be without blame before the unbelieving world. Men will not be able to look at their lives and point a finger at Jesus Christ or at the Christianity they will proclaim.
How important this is for us to recognize today. Too often the testimony of the church is negatively affected by the testimony of believers whose lives are blameable. Compare the following exhortations to the church today (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11-12; Tit. 2:11-14; Col. 1:22; Eph. 1:4; 5:27).
Matthew 24:14 says: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (cf. Mark 13:10 also). While this gospel in Revelation 14 is not called the “gospel of the kingdom” nor “the gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24) nor the “gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12, 18; Gal. 1:7) some believe it must include these concepts for this message to be called a gospel (“good news”) and it must also help to fulfill Matthew 24:14 along with the preaching ministry of the 144,000. However, Walvoord has a different understanding of this passage. He writes:
The expression “the everlasting gospel,” actually without the article (“everlasting gospel”) is an arresting phrase. It is everlasting in the sense that it is ageless, not for any specific period. Ordinarily, one would expect this to refer to the gospel of salvation. In verse 7, however, the content of the message is quite otherwise, for it is an announcement of the hour of judgment of God and the command to worship Him.
Some expositors use the term “gospel” to include all the revelation God has given in Christ and hence conclude that there is only one gospel with various phases of truth belonging to this gospel. There are others who prefer to distinguish various messages in the Bible as gospel or “good news” even though they contain only one aspect of divine revelation, hence, the expression “gospel of grace,” referring to the goodness of grace, or to the gospel of the kingdom, dealing with the good news of the kingdom of God. The everlasting gospel seems to be neither the gospel of grace nor the gospel of the kingdom, but rather the good news that God at last is about to deal with the world in righteousness and establish His sovereignty over the world. This is an ageless gospel in the sense that God’s righteousness is ageless. Throughout eternity God will continue to manifest Himself in grace toward the saints and in punishment toward the wicked. To refer to the gospel of grace as an everlasting gospel is to ignore the context and usage of the term.180
Concerning Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10, remember that this prophecy is not a prophecy of what will be accomplished by the church with the end then coming. The church is commanded to go to the uttermost part of the earth, to all nations, into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature within those nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15), but the actual accomplishment of the proclamation of the good news to every tongue (language and dialect) tribe and nation with the end following (i.e., the visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ) is better seen as accomplished by the 144,000, their converts, and the two witnesses. The angel with the eternal gospel, which includes the announcement of judgment, will be a strong motive for the world to respond to the gospel of grace.
This is another angelic being but not one of the seven angels of the seven trumpets. Here we have an angelic being probably in some recognizable form preaching the gospel from the heavens. This should not surprise us. Reasons:
(1) Angelos is the Greek word for angel and means “messenger.” Angels are messengers and servants of God. Their very name signifies communication.
(2) Throughout the history of redemption God has used various methods to communicate His revelation and the gospel to man (cf. Heb. 1:1-3; 2:1-4).
(3) In the Old Testament angels were often used by God to communicate doctrine and warn men of doom. In Genesis 19:1-15 they warned Lot and rescued him. In Daniel 10:10f an angel revealed the meaning of the vision to Daniel, and the Law on Mount Sinai was ministered by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2).
(4) During this age God has not used angels to preach the gospel, though in the first century he did use angels to reveal certain things as with Peter in Acts 10. In the Tribulation, however, God will use angelic beings, perhaps because of the wickedness and deceit of these days. In our passage there is an angelic being flying in the midst of heaven and speaking with a loud voice. Believers who know God and believe the Scriptures have no trouble believing such statements of Scripture. But in our day, this doesn’t seem so unbelievable to unbelievers because of what is going on in the realm of the occult. Satan’s angels speak in demonic apparitions and in demon possession. Such things are documented fact.
“Flying in the midst of heaven.” “Flying” is in the present tense and stresses this angel will be constantly on the move. Remember that according to Scripture, there are three heavens: (a) our atmosphere out to about 100 miles, (b) the starry heavens, and (c) the third heaven, the abode of God (2 Cor. 12:2; Deut. 10:14). The heaven referred to here is probably the first atmospheric heaven, but it is possible that it could be the second heaven, the heaven of the stars from whence this angelic messenger will be constantly orbiting the earth as a kind of satellite sending down his message to earth. The earth will probably at first claim he is an “E.T.” but not after his message is heard around the earth.
“Having an eternal gospel to preach …”
(1) It is a gospel message. It contains good news because of what it announces. This is not exactly the gospel of the New Testament, and though this could be included, it is not mentioned here.
(2) It is an eternal message. The Greek word eternal is aiwnios meaning “age long or ageless.” The point is the message is ageless and pertinent from age to age. It is a message which has been proclaimed since the beginning of creation and will continue on through history because it centers in the call of men to worship the sovereign Creator of the universe. It is a message which creation itself proclaims (Psalm 19; Romans 1:18f; 2 Pet. 3:3-7).
(3) It is universal in scope. It is to every nation, tribe, tongue and people. Though it contains the warning of God’s judgment, it is God’s last call of grace to all the world.
(4) Its content. The gospel as we normally think of it is not stated here though it may be a part of his message. In Scripture, as mentioned previously, we have: (a) the gospel of Christ, i.e., the good news of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ from sin’s penalty, power and presence, (b) the gospel of grace which emphasizes salvation is on the basis of grace, and (c) the gospel of the kingdom, the good news God will establish His kingdom on earth through the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the good news this angel proclaims has four key elements, three commands and two causes or reasons:
Command #1 — “Fear God” refers to a holy reverence that recognizes the sovereign authority and power of God to deal with man in His holy wrath. It is to recognize the true God who can destroy the soul rather than just the body as with the beast.
Command #2 — “Give Him glory” refers to the praise and honor that should accrue to God from man due to man’s knowledge and high estimation of God as the sovereign Creator of the universe.
Command #3 — “And worship Him who made …” The word “worship” means to show reverence or respect. This word emphasizes the external display as seen in obedience, prayer, singing, and formal worship, while the word “fear” emphasizes the mental attitude behind the worship. In the Tribulation men will be forced to fear and formally acknowledge the beast and his image. In this message the angel is demanding that men reject the beast and formally turn to God to worship Him (cf. Rev. 14:11).
Reason #1 — “The hour of his judgment has come” is a reference to the final judgments of the Tribulation, the bowl judgments which are about to occur. These will conclude with the return of Christ Himself (Rev. 19) and lead to the removal of all unbelievers. The emphasis then is to not delay because the time is short.
Reason #2 — This is seen in the reference to God as the Creator in verse 7b. This calls attention to the ageless and universal message of the creation itself. Age after age creation has called man to recognize God’s existence and to seek after Him (cf. Acts 17:26-27 with Psalm 19:1-6). This means men are without excuse and that the hour of the Creator’s judgment is about to fall (Rom. 1:18f). Though this is the essential and primary element of the angel’s everlasting gospel, perhaps he will say more than this for from age to age a person’s capacity to reverence, glorify and worship God has come only through believing and knowing Christ (cf. John 14:6 with Acts 4:12; John 4:23-24).
This verse introduces us to another future event and one that will become a further means of endurance for Tribulation believers (vs. 12) and a comfort to believers even today as we observe the growth of religious and commercial Babylonianism in our time (Rev. 17 and 18). Revelation 14:8 also forms another striking antithesis to the apparent prosperity of the beast and the false prophet and their system as seen in chapter 13.
Today we are seeing the rise and formation of international and multinational commerce, not merely commerce between nations but international commercial ties which control the governments and political powers within those nations. This involves a mystery of lawlessness, a spiritual adultery that has existed among the nations since the times of Nimrod to some extent, but which will reach its zenith in the Tribulation. More details will be covered on this subject religiously and politically in chapters 17 and 18 where the fall of Babylonianism will be described in more detail by John.
Now we are introduced to another angelic being. This is a second announcing angel, one that is different from the angel of verse 6 or from the seven trumpet angels. Literally the Greek has “another angel, a second one.”
“Followed” is the Greek akolouqew which means “to follow in the path of or behind another.” Evidently this angel will likewise fly about the earth as a kind of satellite proclaiming the doom of Babylon.
“Saying” is a present tense form (an iterative present) which suggests the repetition of his message all over the earth as a warning to men. Here is the grace of God warning men and comforting believers. It is a warning to unbelievers not to trust in the Babylonian system, religiously, politically, or commercially because it is a doomed system. Can you imagine the comfort and encouragement this will bring to believers who will be living under the persecution of the beast?
“Fallen, fallen (is) Babylon the Great.” “Fallen” is the Greek piptw meaning “to fall, come to ruin.” This fall is highlighted and emphasized strongly in the following ways. (a) The verb is an aorist indicative and it may be what we call the prophetic or dramatic aorist. It dramatically points to a future event with the certainty of an event which has already been fulfilled. The aorist indicative generally is used of a completed historic event. Here it is used prophetically of what is certain in the sovereign plan of God. (b) Then, the word “fallen” is repeated for emphasis. It is first in the sentence, and there is no finite verb. “Is” is in italics. Literally the text reads “Fallen, fallen, Babylon the Great.”
All of this is designed to highlight the certainty and fact of the fall of the religious, political, and commercial systems of the world portrayed in the word “Babylon.” As I will suggest later, during the Tribulation this system will be centered in a rebuilt city of Babylon, the new center and symbol of Babylonianism. So as is stressed above, it becomes a warning against putting one’s trust in this system as it exists in the world of today or of tomorrow. It is under the judgment of God and is surely doomed along with this world that is passing away.
Finally, in addition to being a means of emphasis, note that the repetition of the word “fallen” may refer to the fall of Babylon in its twofold existence—its fall religiously (Rev. 17) and its fall politically and commercially (Rev. 18).
“Babylon” is from a Greek word derived from the Hebrew Bab el, the Hebrew form of the Assyrian word Bab-ili, the gate of God. This is a name given to the ancient city of Babylon started by Nimrod of Genesis 10 and 11 (cf. Gen. 10:8-10; 11:1-9). The original name given in Scripture was Babel. In Hebrew it means confusion and declares God’s judgment on this first international tyrant and his religious and political system. More on this in chapter 17.
The fact it is called “the Great” identifies Babylon as that city and political and religious system so well known throughout history, i.e., the system originating in the ancient city of Babylon.
“She who” is a relative pronoun agreeing in the Greek with Babylon the Great. This gives further identification as well as the reason for the fall of Babylon. Literally, “who from (out of) the wine of the passion (anger, wrath) of her fornication (immorality) has given all the nations to drink.”
The verb for drink is potizw, a causative verb that means, “to give to drink.” Verbs ending in zw are somewhat causative, but it doesn’t mean “to force to drink.” The nations of their own accord followed her and took from the cup she offered.
There are three key nouns here: “wine,” “passion,” and “fornication” or “immorality.” Wine is described by the nouns passion and fornication. So the wine consists of two things: passion and fornication.
“Wine” refers to that which intoxicates and disorients. Here that which intoxicates is the secret mysteries and false and idolatrous doctrines that Satan has used to turn nations further away from God. It includes, as we shall see later, international or multinational commercialism. This is a wine that intoxicates a world seeking its security and happiness in riches and pleasure rather than in God (Rev. 18:2, 3, 9-13; 16-19).
William R. Newell gives an interesting quote concerning international commerce in his commentary on Revelation 18 as he deals with the fall of Babylon. The book was copyrighted in 1935 and he actually quoted Seiss from his book on The Apocalypse which was written in 1865, over 130 years ago. Here is what Seiss wrote:
In what, indeed, does the mightiest and farthest reaching power on earth now already center? A power which looms up in all lands, far above all individual or combined powers of church, or state, or caste, or creed? What is it that today monopolizes nearly all legislation, dictates international treaties, governs the conferences of kings for the regulation of the balance of power, builds railways, cuts ship canals, sends forth steamer lines to the ends of the earth, unwinds electric wires across continents, under the seas, and around the world, employs thousands of engineers, subsidizes the press, tells the state of the markets of the world yesterday that everyone may know how to move today, and has her living organizations in every land and city, interlinked with each other, and coming daily into closer and closer combination, so that no great government under the sun can any longer move or act against her will, or without her concurrence and consent?
Think for a moment, for there is such a power; a power that is everywhere clamoring for a common code, a common currency, common weights and measures; and which is not likely to be silenced or to stop till it has secured a common center on its own independent basis, whence to dictate to all countries and to exercise its own peculiar rule on all the kings and nations of the earth. That power is COMMERCE; the power of the ephah and the talent — the power borne by the winged women of Zechariah 5; the one with her hand on the sea and the other with her hand on the land — the power which even in its present dismemberment is mightier than any pope, any throne, any government, or any other one human power on the face of the globe.
Let it go on as it has been going, and will go, in spite of everything that earth can interpose to hinder, dissolving every tie of nationality, every bond of family or kindred, every principle or right and religion which it cannot bend and render subservient to its own ends and interests; and the time must come when it will settle itself down somewhere on its own independent base, and where Judaism and heathenism, Romanism and Protestantism, Mohammedanism and Buddhism, and every distinction of nationality — English, German, French, Italian, Greek, Turk, Hindu, Arab, Chinese, Japanese, or what not — shall be sunk in one great universal fellowship and kingdom of commerce!181
If this was true and obvious in Newell’s day and even before, how much more can we not see the intoxicating powers of commerce and materialism in our world today with our satellites and the internet.
The word, “passion” is qumos, “passion, anger, wrath.” Passion here and in 18:3 is a possible meaning, but in all the other passages in Revelation where John uses qumos, the meaning is clearly “wrath” or “anger” (cf. Rev. 12:12; 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15). In 14:10 and 19 it is used of the wine of the wrath of God. This may suggest that the meaning here is not “passion,” but “anger” or “wrath” also. If so, what does this mean?
(1) It may refer to “wrath” in the sense of Romans 1:18f and God’s judgment that occurs when men love the creature more than the Creator and turn away from the knowledge of God. God gives them over to their own vain imaginations and satanic delusions as in idolatry or Babylonianism or humanism. Remember there is an emphasis in Revelation on the worship of God as the Creator (cf. Rev. 14:7). Note in this regard two Old Testament passages, Jeremiah 5:7-10 and 50:38. The madness or spiritual insanity of which Jeremiah speaks (50:38) is the Babylonian idolatry of which all nations drink and which God uses as an instrument of wrath, “a golden cup” full of wine in the hand of God intoxicating the nations of the world because they have turned away from God.
(2) It also refers to the ultimate destruction of Babylonianism and all nations who have drunk of the wine of the spiritual fornication of this harlot system. This wine then is a judgment from God and leads to the judgment of the Tribulation (Rev. 14:10; Jer. 25:12-29). So the next judgments of the Tribulation are the bowl judgments poured out in quick succession with the seventh bowl leading to the fall of Babylon (Rev. 16:17-19).
“Of her immorality” (the Greek porneia, “any kind of illicit sexual activity”) is used figuratively of spiritual prostitution and apostasy from God. It particularly refers to the various idolatries and human ideologies of man as found in the religious and politico-commercial system of the beast.
The name Babylon is designed to take us back to the original city of Nimrod and Babel because this became the seat of Satan’s ancient counterfeit strategy to destroy and corrupt the knowledge of God as well as God’s plan of salvation as anticipated in Genesis 3:15. This was accomplished by Nimrod’s political, commercial, and international system as demonstrated in the tower of Babel and by the mother-child cult instituted by Nimrod’s wife, Semiramis. History shows us this system has never ceased to exist in one form or another and will exist in a revived form in the Tribulation as never before (Rev. 17 and 18).182 The two Babylons refer to ancient Babylon of the Old Testament and the Babylon of the future spoken of in the New Testament.
God consciousness, the fact that man can know that God is there, is a message that has been proclaimed by nature since the creation of the world and all nations at one time have believed in the fact of a supreme being, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. In fact, there is historical evidence the ancient nations believed in the doctrine of the trinity, though in a distorted form.183 For illustrations of this, see figures I and II in the material below. These concepts of the knowledge of God became totally and completely perverted and idolatrous and lost due to man’s love for the creature more than the Creator, but the vestiges of this truth were still present. Due to God’s wrath which turns man over to his own vain imaginations, man became a sitting duck for the wine of Babylon and her deceiving mysteries (Rev. 17:2, 4-5).
One of the distinguishing features of the ancient system of the Chaldean “mysteries” and that which was a part of their initiation rites into the system was the drinking of what was called a mysterious drink. The drink was made of wine, honey, water, and flowers which were all symbolical of the doctrines of the cult. The drink made the participant intoxicated, mentally dimmed, excited, and duly prepared for what they would see and hear in the licentious Babylonian rites. For an illustration see figure III.184
Obviously, through these mystery rites and symbols, the real concepts and truths of God were perverted and forgotten. The primary one worshipped was the woman and her child and the first person of the triad was ignored or forgotten.
According to the sacred books of India, the Brahm or the Brahma is the first person of the Hindu triad. The religion of the Hindustan is even called by this name, yet he is rarely worshipped, and there is scarcely a single temple in all India now in existence of those that were formerly erected in his honor.185 So also with papal Rome today and in ancient Babylon, we find that the grand objects of worship are the goddess mother and her son who are represented world-wide in pictures and images as an infant or child in his mother’s arms. It is significant that some of these pictures date back to long before the birth of Jesus Christ. See figures IV and V.
The system of Babylon, as Revelation 14:8 indicates with the words “all nations,” is world wide. This is easily demonstrated historically. From ancient Babylon and the kingdom of Nimrod, this cult spread all over the world. In Egypt its worship centered in the names of Isis and Osiris; in India in the names Isi and Iswara; in Asia in the names Cybele and Deoios; as Diana in Ephesus, and as Fortuna and Jupiter in Pagan Rome. In Greece it appeared under the names of Ceres, the Great Mother with the babe at her breast, or as Irene, the Goddess of Peace, with the boy Plutus in her arms. Even in Tibet, China, and Japan Jesuit missionaries have reported finding the signs of ancient mystery Babylon, the counterpart of the Madonna and her child as devoutly worshipped as in Papal Rome itself. She was called Shing Moo, an idol portraying a woman with a child in her arms and a glory (halo) around her head as in Rome today.186 Further, there is strong evidence this did not come to the orient from Rome or the Roman Catholic Church, but some of it was there long before, from very ancient times.
The names have changed, but certain elements are always there as the mother with the child in her arms, or the lady in heaven. Thus, Babylon has become the biblical name and symbol for this world-wide religious system which has touched all the nations of the world to some degree or another. She is indeed the “Mother of Harlots” (Rev. 17:5).
Figure I is an Assyrian figure. The center head of the old man represents the concept of the Father. The zero or circle signified “the seed” and referred to the son, the promise of a Savior. The wings and tail of the bird signified the person of the Holy Spirit.
Figure II is from a Siberian coin which portrays a three-headed god representing the concept of a triad, though in perverted form.
Figure III is a figure of a woman with the cup from Babylon offering the cup of fornication to the participants. It was from Babylon and exhibited in Greece. But it is interesting that Rome adopted this symbol on one of their medals in 1825. Pope Leo XII was on one side and the church of Rome, symbolized as “the woman with the cup” was put on the opposite side. Around the edge of the medal was the legend “the whole world is her seat.” A truly international idea.
Note figures IV and V for similar figures taken from ancient Babylon and India respectively.
This passage is a very sobering one; one which many would like to denounce or reason away. The judgments described here are terrible and awesome and often repugnant to human sensitivity, but these judgments are described elsewhere in Scripture and were specifically taught by Jesus Christ Himself. Whether man (the creature) is repelled by the judgments described here is really not the issue. The issue is that the eternal God and Creator has revealed them to be fact. The problem with man and the reason these judgments seem repugnant or wholly distasteful is man’s inability to comprehend the awesome holiness of God’s character (Isa. 6:1-7).
The specific reference in this announcement to the judgment of the beast worshippers ties this section to chapter 13 and the apparent success of the beast. The beast’s system, Babylonianism (vs. 8), is doomed and so are his worshippers (vs. 9-11).
These verses also bring out some striking comparisons and contrasts with the preceding and following verses.
(1) As the beast worshippers drink of the wine of the wrath of Babylon’s immorality, so they will drink of the wine of the wrath of God.
(2) The beast worshippers will be unable to rest day or night from their eternal doom and judgment, but the saints of God will rest from their labors forever.
(3) While the beast worshippers have rest from the tortures of the beast and the saints are tormented on earth, there is a reversal of roles after death or the Tribulation.
(4) Then there is a contrast of loyalties which form the basis for the temporary rest on earth versus the eternal rest in heaven (cf. vs. 9b with vs. 12).
As one studies and contemplates this passage of Scripture he should also keep in mind Jude 21-23 which says:
Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
“Another angel, a third one.” Following the pronouncement of the fall of Babylon by the second angel, John next sees a third angel flying in heaven pronouncing judgment on the followers of the beast.
“With a loud voice.” As with the everlasting gospel, this message is likewise proclaimed with a loud voice to arrest the attention of the world. With the gospel we have the good news, but here we have the bad news, and with both we have the words, “with a loud voice.” This is designed to emphasize that all will hear these announcements. There will be no excuse. Here is another manifestation of God’s grace seeking to get men to respond to the good news by confronting them with the bad news while there is still time. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (1 Tim. 2:4 and 2 Pet. 3:9b).
“If anyone worships.” The “if” is a first class condition and sets forth a reality, a fact taking place, or which will take place. Both the words “worship” and “receive” are in the present tense. They look at action or events (to us yet future) which will be occurring in present time, i.e., going on in the Tribulation. Here is a warning as well as a pronouncement of doom on all who will be falling in line with and accepting the beast and his system. It looks at men in the process of joining up with the beast. God in His grace will be warning them; do not do it, it means your doom! For those who will have already done so it becomes descriptive of the results of their choice and actions.
“Anyone” is the Greek tis, an indefinite pronoun that refers to male or female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile, religious or immoral, rich or poor, young or old. No one is excluded. As anyone who believes in and receives the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior may be saved (John 1:12, 3:16), so anyone who rejects Christ and receives the beast, the false messiah, will be lost (an evidence of unbelief and rejection of Jesus Christ) and shall suffer eternal doom.
“He also shall drink.” Literally the Greek text is somewhat emphatic. It reads, “and he himself shall drink.” The Greek text adds the intensive pronoun autos, “he” or “himself.” It is added to stress the point that you cannot worship the beast and drink the cup of the wine of Babylonianism without also drinking of the cup of the wine of God’s wrath. For certain, the beast worshippers (the Christ rejecters) will drink of the judgment of God in the future at the great white throne judgment according to the context as the reference to being “tormented with fire and brimstone” suggests. Man today scoffs at the coming of the Lord and acts as though there is no coming judgment. Just get all the gusto you can for you only go around once and that’s it. This verse stresses eternal judgment is coming (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3f).
“Of the wine.” This is in contrast to the wine of fornication (vs. 8).
“Of the wrath.” “Wrath” is qumos and refers to a more volatile anger, one which bursts out from God’s inexorable holiness. When used of God it refers to the expression of God’s divine justice in white hot anger. By contrast the Greek orgh, a synonym, refers to the settled attitude of anger or the wrath of God.
The rest of the verse reveals several things about God’s wrath:
(1) Its Degree is seen in the words, “mixed in full strength.”
“Mixed” is the Greek word kerannumi which was used of the preparation of wine by the addition of special spices or water. In ancient times wine was mixed with water, diluted to reduce its effect, or mixed with other ingredients to heighten its effect as in the Babylonian mystery religions. So kerannumi came to mean “properly prepared.”187 The verb is in the perfect tense which, in this context, refers to the results, the portion prepared to accomplish God’s purposes of judgment. This wrath has been prepared and stands ready (Matt. 25:41).
“In full strength” is the Greek akratos which means “unmixed, undiluted.” The emphasis of this whole clause is that God’s wrath at this point in time will in no way be diluted with His grace and mercy. At this point all of God’s mercy and grace will be withdrawn. Now the longsuffering of God in His mercy and grace holds back the divine justice and holiness of God, but a time is coming when the man who is without Jesus Christ as his Savior will face the unalterable and absolute wrath of God’s holiness.
(2) The Agent or Means of judgment is seen in the words, “And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone …” (vs. 10b)
“Fire and brimstone” refer to the ingredients or content of the lake of fire already prepared for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25.41). These are one and the same. The lake is the place and the fire and brimstone the ingredients (Rev. 20:10; Matt. 25:41,45; Rom. 2:3-9; 2 Thess. 1:6-9).
The modern view of man is that the whole idea of hell or the lake of fire is not only distasteful, but sub-Christian and contrary to the nature of a God of love. It is further argued that Christ only referred to such an idea as an accommodation to the beliefs of the day, but that He really did not believe in them. Such views are totally inconsistent with the whole tenor of Scripture. The authors of Scripture believed in eternal judgment and one which included the eternal fires of hell.
The accommodation idea is totally inconsistent also with the whole ministry and preaching of Christ. He never hesitated to correct erroneous theology or practice in other issues, but taught the Scripture and reinterpreted the Law in opposition to the religious leaders. Why then should he not do so here? The truth is He clearly believed in and taught the fact of an eternal judgment of fire (Matt. 25:41,46).
(3) The Nature or Character of this judgment is “torment.”
“And he will be tormented …” “He will be” is a first person singular verb. This individualizes the doom and emphasizes the individual and personal experience every unbeliever must face. No one can face hell for the unbeliever since he has rejected Christ. “Tormented” is the Greek basanizw and meant “to examine by torture as with a torture rack.” Then it came to refer to any kind of extreme torture or torment whether physical, mental, or emotional. Due to the fact there will be a second resurrection (a bodily resurrection) of the unjust this torment will be all three—physical, mental, and emotional. Remember, the resurrection of the unjust refers to unbelievers who are unjustified and without the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
(4) The Witnesses, the Judge, and the Executors of this judgment are described in the words, “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (vs. 10c).
The word “presence” used in the phrase, “in the presence of,” is the Greek enwpion which may have two meanings both of which are applicable here. First, it may mean “in the sight of” in the sense of a witness or as a judge (Rom. 14:23; 1 Cor. 1:24; 1 Tim. 2:3). The angels will personally witness the judgment of the unbelievers at the great white throne judgment. Second, it may mean “perform by the authority of” (Rev. 13:12, 14; 19:20). It appears the angels will be agents God uses to boot the Christ-rejecting world into the lake of fire. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Judge and the angels the executors of His judgment.
The concept is this: (a) The beast worshippers and all unbelievers will be resurrected and brought before the great white throne on which the Lamb sits. They are before Him as Judge (Rev. 20:11-l5). (b) The good angels will also be gathered as witnesses of this judgment which will demonstrate the holiness and love of God since God has provided a solution to man’s sin even though these have rejected it (1 Pet. 1:12). Angels are intimately interested in our salvation because it demonstrates God’s perfect character and love and His just decision in sending Satan to the lake of fire.
The basis of the judgment and thus the basis of the sentence to the torture of fire and brimstone is reception of Christ or rejection of Christ. That which shows rejection of Jesus Christ is the worship of the beast. This shows rejection (ultimate and final) so that person’s name is blotted out of the Lamb’s book of life even before death (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:11-15). When one worships the beast by receiving his mark, it indicates that he has reached a place which precludes repentance. The execution of this sentence to be tormented by the fire and brimstone of the lake of fire may very well be carried out by the angels. They will cast the unbelievers into the lake of fire (20:15). “Was cast” is an aorist passive of ballw.
(5) The Duration of the Torment (vs. 11a) is forever, unceasing, and without rest.
“The smoke” evidently stands for their cries and pain which consume their purpose and meaning for existence. “Goes up” is a progressive present and means the smoke “keeps on ascending.” The torment never lets up. “For ever and ever” is literally “unto ages of ages.” This is without the article and stresses the qualitative idea of infinite duration. This is the strongest Greek expression for eternity. The word order is literally “unto ages of ages ascends up.” This passage shows the error of the view or belief that God will annihilate the unsaved.
“And they have no rest day or night.” “No rest” is anapausis which signifies rest that comes from a temporary cessation from something. They won’t know even a moment’s rest from this torment. Remember it is “undiluted.” “Day or night” further emphasizes the concept of no rest.
Verse 11b again identifies the people involved, those who have received the mark of the beast and worship him (i.e., the Christ rejecters).
This may sound to some like an old-time message of hell, fire and brimstone which may surprise some who think that modern man has been able to escape these old fashioned ideas. But modern man has only escaped these ideas by the blindness of his own mind and ignorance of the truth of God. This is what the Bible emphatically teaches and the Bible has the seal and approval of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom God raised from the dead as proof not only of the truth of Scripture, but of the fact that every unbeliever must face Jesus Christ at the great white throne judgment (Acts 17:30-31).
In contrast to the preceding judgment, and the following judgment of the harvest of the earth, here is word of comfort to Tribulation saints.
“Here is the perseverance of the saints.” “Here” is the Greek word %ode, an adverb that means, “in this circumstance” or “in this event.” The awesome warnings of doom in the preceding two announcements (verses 8-10) was by contrast to be a means of encouragement and hope to the saints of the Tribulation who would be undergoing persecution by the beast.
“Perseverance” is the Greek %upomonh which refers to the capacity to endure regardless of the intensity or the duration. Literally it means “to remain under.” The ability to remain under the horrible conditions of persecution will be aided by the knowledge of the doom of the beast as reemphasized and promised by the announcing angels.
By way of application it reminds us that being consistent in personal Bible study and gathering with others where one can hear the Word proclaimed and taught is a strong aid to personal endurance and stability in the trials of life.
“Saints who keep the commandments of God, and their faith in Jesus.”
First, they are described as “saints.” This is the Greek word %agios and literally means, “set apart ones.” This is a term for believers of either the Old or New Testament. Here it is used of Tribulation believers. Saints are those who, as believers in the Lord, are set apart for God’s blessing and care. They should also be those who are set apart to Him for Christ-like living in the power of the Spirit. It does not in itself mean they are saintly or refer to some special holy person. All believers are saints, as were the Corinthian believers who were anything but saintly. Paul called them carnal (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:1-5).
Second, they are described as those “who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Keeping the commandments or obedience to the Word is the result of faith in Jesus Christ, but in this context it is the product of the encouragement taken from the truth of the preceding announcements. Perhaps the particular obedience in mind is refusal to worship the beast, receive his mark, or become a part of the idolatry of the beast.
Because of the clause, “the perseverance of the saints,” some take this passage as teaching the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Some confuse the Reformed doctrine called the perseverance of the saints with the doctrine of eternal security, but they are not exactly the same. Eternal security says that once a person is saved he cannot lose his salvation because he is kept by the power of God through the finished and sufficient work of the Savior. The Reformed doctrine of perseverance says much more than this. It says that all who are truly saved will persevere in a life of godliness and holiness; that there may be temporary times of sin and carnality, but no true believer will persist in such a state for very long and will eventually come back to the Lord.
Wilkin has an excellent discussion on this issue as it relates to this passage:
We might paraphrase v 12 in this way: This [knowing the fate of those who take the mark] is a motivation for believers to endure the persecutions and to persist in obeying God’s commands and in keeping the faith.
Nowhere does v 12 say that all Tribulation saints will persevere in obeying God’s commands and in keeping the faith. Rather, it says that one of the reasons those who persevere will do so is because they know that the unsaved have a devastating destiny.
It goes without saying that as Tribulation saints reflect on the fearful future of the lost, they will be moved to contemplate their own futures as well. They will be reminded that if they endure they will reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26; 3:21) and will have other eternal rewards as well (Matt 5:11-12; 6:19-21; Rev 22:12).
E. D. Hirsch, an expert on biblical interpretation, reminds us that a given set of words can have several different meanings depending on what he calls the illocutionary force of the statement in context (Aims in Interpretation, pp. 26, 52-53, 67). The illocutionary force of Rev 14:9-12 is clearly hortatory. Of the approximately thirty commentaries I consulted on this passage, nearly all attest that the aim of these verses is to motivate Tribulation believers to persevere. The view which suggests instead that these verses are promising that all believers will persevere wholly misses the point.
Matt 24:12 confirms the fact that some, actually many, Tribulation saints will fail to endure. The love of many believers will grow cold during that terrible time.
Third, one is left with only one viable alternative. Implicit in these verses is a guarantee that God will not allow any Tribulation saint to take the mark. As He does now, so then He will give special grace in times of testing. He will not allow any believer to be tempted beyond his ability to withstand the test (1 Cor 10:13).
Of course, it is indeed conceivable that a believer might fail to utilize the special grace which God will give him. In such cases we can be sure that God will remove him from the tempting situation—quite possibly by taking him home.
I believe that the rapture will precede the Tribulation, and so I don’t expect any of us to be around facing the trials spoken of. Even so, Rev 14:9-12 challenges us to persevere in the faith (there are still plenty of trials and difficulties for us in this age) that we might realize the fantastic future of the overcomer.188
A fourth voice now comes from heaven (either Christ’s or an angel’s) pronouncing a beatitude and evoking a response from the Spirit of God. Another possibility here is that the voice is that of the Spirit Himself. The last half of the verse would then identify who speaks from heaven. (For the four previous records of a voice from heaven compare 10:4, 8; 11:12 and 14:2).
The principle is that here is a direct communication from God from heaven rather than through angelic messengers. Why? Because of the importance of the message, but more so because God is interested in personally bringing comfort to His own.
This shows God’s personal care and interest in His own. By way of application it shows how God is personally interested in revealing Himself and speaking to our hearts according to our need (exhortation, rebuke, comfort, instruction, etc.). The issue is do we have ears to hear. If only we would diligently seek Him and His counsel in His Word by which He speaks to us today, as a voice from heaven (Jer. 29:13; Psalm 119:2, 10-18, 49-50; James 1:19-21).
What John is told to write is a beatitude, a pronouncement of blessing or divine happiness upon those individuals who comply with certain truths or principles of Scripture, but always on the basis of grace. In Scripture a beatitude is always seen as a reversal of man’s viewpoint by setting forth God’s viewpoint, values, priorities and ideas. To the earthling, obeying the beast and worshipping him is more blessed than death; even slavery is better than death. To many unbelievers death is feared, viewed as an unknown, or the end. But to believers, God’s viewpoint and the promises of His Word teach the direct opposite. To accept the beast is to forfeit trusting in Jesus Christ and so to forfeit eternal life. But death is never the end, it is only the beginning. This life is a place of preparation because our choices and works follow us into eternity.
The phrase “the dead who die in the Lord” refers to martyred believers (those who put their trust in Christ and share in His eternal life), those martyred for their stand in Christ. But they are blessed. The beast can kill their physical bodies, but their souls and spirits go immediately to be with the Lord. They will be given resurrected, immortal bodies, and will live in the eternal kingdom of God (Luke 12:4-5).
The words “from now on” are interpreted variously: (a) from the time of John’s writing onward, and so it would be a reference to all saints who die; (b) from the time of this period of intensified persecution by the beast to the end of the Tribulation. The context fits the latter view. This is spoken for the comfort and encouragement of those who will be facing martyrdom in the Tribulation. However, while it is written to them by interpretation, it is nevertheless true for all believers from the time of Christ. Many were martyred in the days of the early church for their faith in Jesus Christ. It even applies to Old Testament saints.
The key point is simply that it is better to be dead at the hands of the beast than to follow him and reject Christ. Why? Because of what awaits the believer in heaven and the eternal future.
The reasons are now given by a direct statement from the Spirit of God. Here and in Revelation 22:17 are the only places where the Spirit of God speaks directly Himself (cf. Acts 13:2; 16:7; Heb. 3:7; 10:15; Rom. 8:16; 1 John 2:27; 1 Tim. 4:1).
The words the Spirit speaks:
“Yes” is a particle of verification or affirmation. Here it affirms the assertion regarding the blessedness of martyrdom. This is followed by some specific reasons.
The clause, “that they may rest from their labors” points us to God’s purpose in death, i.e., the cessation of the saint’s labor, toil, and weariness, but also the blessed experience and rest of God’s presence and the paradise of heaven. But that is not all; God promises to reward believers for their labors. Their works will not be forgotten (1 Cor. 15:58).
“They may rest” is the Greek anapauw. It means to “have relief, cease from labor.” But in the original text the verb is in the middle voice which may stress the subject as somehow participating in the results of the action. It thus means “to enjoy rest” or “really experience the blessings of the rest.”
By way of application, how many times do people cease from labor but are unable to actually rest, enjoy it and relax? In God’s presence and out of this old world, rest will truly be rest. Part of the reason for this is in what follows in the final clause.
“Labors” is the Greek kopos. It refers to hard work, toil producing a weariness which exhausts. Here it particularly refers to labors endured in persecution from the beast (cf. James 1:12 where God offers a special crown or reward for enduring trials).
“For their deeds follow them.” This is both an explanation and a promise. It is an explanation in that it points out one of the reasons these martyrs will be able to truly enjoy their rest. Their labors will not be in vain. Rewards will follow which will more than compensate for their losses on earth. Heaven’s joys and those of the eternal state will blot out the memory of earth’s painful labors and trials (Rev. 21:4; Isa. 65:17-18).
“Deeds” is the plural of the Greek ergon, “work, deed, action,” or “employment, task.” The plural points to all the specific service or works of the believer that are done as unto the Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit. These the Lord will reward. God will remember and reward them all.
The verb “follow them” is a present tense of continuous action and means “to accompany.” The emphasis is that the works of the believer, if accomplished through the filling of the Holy Spirit, will accompany the believer into heaven and into the eternal state. They will bring special joy because of the glory they bring to God, and the privileges they bring to the believer such as service, and responsibility (Matt. 25:19-23).
After the brief pause to comfort the saints, John returns to the subject of God’s divine wrath poured out upon the earth. This is done by way of the picture of a harvest by which God reaps the earth (14:14-20) and by way of the seven last plagues, the seven bowl judgments which are poured out on the earth (chapters 15 and 16). The vision of chapter 14 symbolically portrays the final acts of God’s judgments in the last days of the Tribulation consisting of the seven last plagues which conclude with the final phase of Armageddon when all the nations are gathered together in the Valley of Megiddo (cf. Joel 13:9-17; Rev. 16:12-16; 19:17-21).
In these verses we have the final declaration of the defeat of the beast and his system which had appeared to be so successful in chapter 13. Such was not really the case. God was only allowing the iniquity of man to ripen to its zenith to show the full extent of where man’s humanism and religionism will go without God and His salvation for man in Jesus Christ. These verses will emphasize this truth.
One may note four key elements in these verses: (a) The Reapers—The Son of Man (the Lord Jesus Christ) with His holy angels (vss. 14-15, 17-19). This stresses the source. It is an act of God carried out by His angelic agents. (b) The Reaping or harvesting of the earth in two figures—a harvesting of the earth as dry grain, and a harvesting of earth as clusters of the vine (vss. 15-16, 18-20). (c) The Reason for the Reaping—because the earth is ripe, withered, or dry (vs. 15) and because her grapes are ripe, full, bursting with juice (vs. 18). And (d) The Results of the Reaping, a world-wide harvest on earth with a bloody carnage occurring particularly in Palestine where the armies of the nations are gathered together to do battle with Christ (cf. vss. 19-20 with Rev. 16:12-16, 19:17-21; Isa. 63:1-4).
“And I looked and behold, a white cloud.” The first thing called to our attention is the white cloud. “White” is a symbol of righteousness or holiness and the “cloud” symbolizes the presence, majesty and glory of God.
“And One sitting on the cloud was one like the Son of Man.” The sitter sits on the cloud like a throne, and he appears as a Son of Man. This is clearly a title of the Lord Jesus Christ and emphasizes the humanity of Christ as the One who came to die for man, but who, as the God-Man and King would one day come to judge men as Man. The issue is when men reject Christ and His Word, they will face Him as Judge. Compare the words of Christ in John 5:22, 27 with 12:46-48 and Acts 17:31. The harvest of the earth proceeds from the holiness of God who in His perfect righteousness must judge a Christ rejecting world. The world will be reaped according to its own sowing.
“Having a golden crown on His head.” The word “having” is the present tense of a continuous condition and emphasizes the permanence of the crown because of that which Christ accomplished by His first advent. “Gold” in Scripture is a symbol of deity, of value, of what is imperishable, and of righteousness. “Crown” is the Greek stefanos which refers to the victor’s crown rather than diadem, the crown of royalty. Christ is coming to conquer, having the right and power to do so as the victorious Savior.
“And a sharp sickle in His hand.” The word “having” also goes with these words. It emphasizes that no one can stop this judgment until the work is done. That the sickle is sharp teaches us this harvesting will be complete, thorough, and effective. Newell has some interesting comments here. He says:
Not the glory of His person, or the process of His coming, but the fact that He is ready with a reaping instrument, is here emphasized. Rights over the harvest, (whatever the harvest is to be) are manifest. “Thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbor’s standing grain,” said the law. Therefore, He is to reap a field over which He has authority. Now, it is striking to discover that the “sickle” is mentioned just twelve times in the Bible, and seven of these are in our verses here! Also that the Greek word translated “sharp” (oxus) occurs seven times in The Revelation: four times describing the sickle here, and three times, that two-edged sword which proceeds from the Lord’s mouth for searching judgment.189
This does not suggest that the person of verse 15 is an angel. “Another” simply relates this agent to the other angels mentioned earlier in the chapter. Angels are messengers whom God uses to carry out His purposes, even with the Son of Man.
“Came out of the temple” calls our attention to the fact this angel comes from the heavenly temple, from the very presence of the Father (cf. vs. 17).
“Crying out with a loud voice …” Here an angelic being gives orders to the Son of Man, but Christ Himself said that the Father had set within His own limits “the times and epochs” (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7). This is therefore, the Father giving directions to the Son of Man to execute the final judgments through this angelic messenger. Please note the words, “because the hour to reap has come” (cf. Heb. 10:12-13; Psalm 2:7-9).
Reaping is symbolic of death and destruction which will be wrought upon the earth. Does this reaping include both saints and sinners? From the parable of Matthew 13 we learn that “the harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are the angels” and that “the Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness and will cast them into the furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:39-41a). But in the parable as Christ told it before giving the meaning, he said of the tares (the enemy or unbelievers) and of the wheat (the people of God, believers), “allow both to grow together until the harvest; and I will say to the reapers, ‘first gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up, but gather the wheat into My barns’” (13:30).
Note that while the angels gather the tares for judgment, the righteous are left on earth where the kingdom will be established. It seems evident from this and the context of Revelation 14 that the sickle of Revelation 14 is for the judgment of unbelievers only. Believers are not here in view.
“Because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” The phrase “is ripe” is the Greek verb xhrainw which means “to dry” or “be dry, be parched, withered” (cf. Mark 11:20 where this verb is used, also James 1:11). It refers to a dry or withered harvest. Ryrie says, “The inhabitants of the earth are withered, lifeless and fully ready for judgment.”190 Mankind was to be a productive vine for God’s glory but the nations turned from God. Then God chose and called out the nation Israel who was to be a choice vine, but she too turned away (Isa. 5). So God brought forth the True Vine, the Lord Jesus Christ who alone brings fruit and glory to God and only those who believe in Him and abide in Him can be productive. Everyone else must wither and be gathered for judgment (cf. John 15).
The final judgments of the Tribulation which culminate in Christ’s return are referred to in one quick and sweeping statement. Here we have the ultimate source of reaping, the Lord, the act, and the result. The verb “was reaped” is a culminative aorist looking at the final victory of Jesus Christ. This promises and states the fact of victory before the details are given later in Revelation. The details will come in the following chapters.
In the pictures portrayed in these verses we have an anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ at the final battle of Armageddon in the Valley of Megiddo. The metaphor changes slightly from the harvest of the dried grain or tares to that of the gathering of grapes and the winepress of God’s anger.
The church of Jesus Christ is gone. Christ (the true Vine) has been rejected by the nations and Israel. With the exception of the remnant of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation, all the earth has given themselves over to Satan and the kingdom of the beast. Thus, the earth has become like a great vine full of clusters of grapes ripe for harvest and the winepress or judgment. Perhaps Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 32:32-35 will help us see the picture of how God views the nations.
For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters, bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras. Is it not laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.
In the scene of 14:17-18 we have two angels. The first (vs. 17) comes from the heavenly temple, from the presence of God to execute the harvest. He too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel comes on the scene. This angel is first described as “the one who had power (or authority) over fire.” Fire is the element which consumes and may stand for (a) God’s presence (Ex. 3:2); (b) God’s glory (Ex. 24:17); and (c) God’s judgment (Gen. 19:24; Rev. 20:15). This angel proceeds from God’s presence and acts on behalf of God’s glory to authorize judgment on earth. The connection with fire may also have something to do with the altar. This altar is the altar of incense full of coals from the burnt offering of sacrifice. As we saw earlier in Revelation 6:9-11 and 8:3-6 this represented the prayers of the saints asking God to act, to judge the enemies of God in righteousness. Here God is acting to vindicate His saints persecuted and martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.
This angel thus speaks to the angel with the sharp sickle (literally for emphasis “the sickle, the sharp one”), and commands him to put in his sickle and to harvest the ripe grape clusters from the poisonous vine of the earth. The words “are ripe” represent the Greek akmazw which means “to be in its prime, be at its peak of ripeness.” Then to add to this, the word “grapes” here in the last part of the verse is the Greek stafulh which refers to a “a bunch of grapes, a ripe grape cluster,” one ready for picking. Concerning this picture Ryrie says, “The picture here is that all the false religion of man is fully ripe and ready for harvest. Thus the harvest is ready because man in his own efforts apart from the life of God has fully developed an apostate religious system.”191 The iniquity of man has become full or reached its zenith. Can the world be far from that now?
Verses 19 and 20 take us to the result of this condition, the winepress of God. The grapes harvested are to be thrown into the winepress to be trampled.
The winepress trodden outside the city with the blood coming out from the press refers to the gathering of the armies of the nations to Megiddo in the north of Jerusalem for the great battle with the Lord Jesus Christ as described in Revelation 19:17-19 and Joel 3. This will result in the bloodiest battle and carnage of human flesh the world has ever known. From this battle blood will flow, like grape juice from a winepress, from the north of Palestine at Megiddo some 175 miles south down the Jordan Valley through the whole land of Palestine. Blood up to the horse’s bridle is a hyperbole for the enormous carnage that will occur (cf. Isa. 63:3-6).
A similar apocalyptic image for the final judgment on idolaters occurs in the pre-Christian book of Enoch, where the righteous will slay the wicked. Here in Revelation the judgment is not the task of human vengeance but belongs exclusively to the Son of Man and his angelic reapers (cf. Rom. 12:19-21)192
Please note this blood bath will be executed by the Lord Jesus Himself. In His first advent He came as the meek Jesus, giving His life for the ransom of men, like a Lamb silent before His shearers. But here He comes as the mighty conqueror in the full wrath of the Holy God of the universe.
182 The history and spread of this system is described and documented in The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship Proved to Be The Worship of Nimrod and His Wife, Alexander Hislop, Loizeaux Brothers, Second American Edition, 1959.