REVELATION - CHAPTER 14
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
14:1. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.”
In chapter 13 we are presented with Satan’s counterfeits of Christ, two beasts, one coming up out of “the sea” (the nations), the other coming up out of “the earth” (Israel); the one a mighty political leader, the other, a prophet (a false one). These two are made to appear as though they combined the characteristics of Christ Who is presented by the prophets both as the Lamb of God, and as the Lion of Judah. Here in chapter 14 the presentation is for the eye of faith, which discerns in that Lamb standing on Zion, the One Who combines in Himself the attributes of the Lamb and the Lion. That He is seen still as the Lamb is because, though near, His reign has not yet begun. But faith discerns in this Lamb, the Christ of God, the mighty Lion of the tribe of Judah, before Whom every knee shall bow. John in his vision is carried through time to that moment, long prayed for, when the Lamb Who is the Lion, is about to reign.
All doubt as to the identity of this Lamb is removed by the announcement that those standing with Him, have on their foreheads “His Father’s name.”
The few attempts that have been made to make these 144,000 different from those described in chapter 7 are not very convincing. Most scholars take the two companies to be one and the same.
14:2. “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
14:3. “And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”
As noted already, chapter 7:2-3 indicates that this elect multitude would be preserved alive through the Tribulation judgments, so though they will not enter heaven until the end of the Millennium, they are seen here as being endowed with the unique ability to understand the language in which those who are in heaven present their praise.
Their being “redeemed from the earth” is not to be understood as implying removal from earth to heaven, but rather that though still on the earth, they have been redeemed or saved from among those on the earth who are not redeemed.
14:4. “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.”
Having seen no better comment on this verse than that of the late Dr. Tatford, I quote, “... the reference is not to literal celibacy but to a retention of purity in the midst of a corrupt world.... The blandishments of worldly systems of religion (and such false systems are not infrequently depicted in Revelation in the guise of a woman) and a meretricious connection with what was opposed to Christ were abhorred by these faithful ones.... Theirs was a true discipleship based on a full and unqualified allegiance to their Lord.”
In reply to the question as to how they can be “the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb” when believers of this present age are similarly described (James 1:18), the explanation appears to be that we are the firstfruits from among the Gentiles; they, from Israel. We are the firstfruits of the Church age; they, of the Tribulation era.
14:5. “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
The sinless perfection implied here is not what they were in themselves as men still on earth in their natural bodies, but what they were in the sight of God as a result of their having trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. They were viewed as is every believer: that is, as holy and sinless as the Lord Himself, His precious blood blotting out all that would offend the eye of God.
14:6. “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.”
Since the term “everlasting” cannot mean that the Gospel will be preached for ever - there will be no need of a Gospel in the eternal state - it would seem that the reference is rather to the results attending its proclamation. Belief brings eternal blessing; unbelief, eternal punishment. (In the Gospel preached by the Lord during His earthly life, by the believers in the Apostolic age, and yet to be preached during the Tribulation age, there is offered to Israel a Millennium of earthly blessings, to be followed by the same eternal blessings offered believers of this present age, those millennial blessings being but the prelude to those which are eternal).
“... unto them that dwell on the earth, etc.,” reminds us that it is here on earth man must choose his eternal destination, as it reminds us also of the universal need to heed the Gospel’s warning, and accept its gracious invitation to receive God’s gift of eternal life.
We are reminded here also that, unlike this present age, the whole world will hear the Gospel in the Tribulation. It is a mistake to believe that the Church age won’t end until the whole world has heard the Gospel, for 2 Thes 2 makes it very clear that those saved in the Tribulation will be men and women who had never before heard the Gospel. Were everyone to hear the Gospel during this present age, then obviously no one could be saved during the Tribulation era.
14:7. “Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”
An essential part of the Gospel, and one largely omitted today, is that of warning, an omission which, it is to be feared, has produced many spurious professions of conversion. The quest for numbers has largely dictated this unscriptural policy, but here, as throughout Scripture, God would remind us that the Gospel must begin with a warning, which if heeded, evokes the truly repentant cry, “God be merciful to me, a sinner. What must I do to be saved?” Apart from that cry, that fear, it is questionable whether a genuine conversion is possible, and the disobedience of multitudes professing faith in Christ, indicates that they know nothing of that fear of God which should mark the genuine believer.
It is with a loud voice that the angel warns, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.” The terrible Tribulation judgments are but the thunder and lightening preceding the appalling storm of divine wrath that will break on a rebel world on that awful day when Christ will assemble all nations before Him for the fateful judgment that will banish every unbeliever on earth into eternal torment, first in hell, and then in the lake of fire.
An OT preview of that judgment which will see earth’s rebels banished bodily into hell, is given in the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. No spiritual mind will fail to see in those judgments which devastated Egypt prior to that final destruction at the Red Sea following the death of the firstborn, the foreshadowing of the Tribulation judgments which will culminate with Christ’s judgment of the nations, and His banishing every unbeliever into hell just prior to the setting up of His millennial kingdom.
No unbeliever is ever far from dropping into that fearful place of torment. All that stands between him and hell is the breath given by the very God against Whom he rebels, and Whose mercy he rejects. Well might God warn, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co.6:2).
The command to “worship him that made heaven, and earth, etc.,” sounds the warning that the One Whom puny man dares to defy is the Creator of the universe.
14:8. “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
This is the first mention of Babylon in this book, but not by any means the first reference in Scripture, for from 2 Ki 17:24 to Zec. 6:10 the name occurs many times, and invariably in connection with evil treatment of Israel.
False worship and rebellion against God are associated with this infamous city since its founding after the flood, by the great rebel Nimrod (Ge 10:8-10). As early as c. B.C. 300, however, it had become a desolate ruin, and Alexander’s attempt to rebuild it was abandoned after six months of work by thousands of his troops just to clear away the rubble of the once great city. All that remains to mark the site today are heaps of earth-covered ruins.
But the evil system that originated in Babylon has not yet shared the fate of the city which was its cradle, for that same system abandoned the dying city, moving first into the Etruscan plain, and finally into Rome, where it has flourished for twenty centuries, existing for most of those years as the great Roman Catholic church, an evil system as bitterly opposed to genuine believers as was the original system to God’s earthly people Israel.
It is to be noted that in the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah relative to the destruction of Babylon, there is a blending together of what applies to the literal city, and what applies to the evil system that originated there. The name Babylon describes both, but it is the destruction of the Satanic religious system, represented by the great false church, that is alluded to in Re 14:8, for there is nothing to justify the belief that the literal city that has lain so long a ruin, will ever be rebuilt. (The final destruction of the evil religious/political system will occur when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to destroy the beast, and end the Tribulation).
The language of our verse is almost identical with that of Isa 21:9, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen....” and with Jer 51:7-8, “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed....”
Literal fornication is used Scripturally as the figure of spiritual unfaithfulness, and in this connection it is significant that every false religious system can be traced back to ancient Babylon. It is of further significance that the literal city bestriding the Euphrates and rising tier by tier above it, so that the river seemed to flow out of the city, appears to be nothing less than Satan’s attempt to produce on earth a city that would be the replica of the heavenly Jerusalem, for it too, is described as being a tiered city, out of the midst of which flows the river of the water of life (see Re 21:16-22:2). The river that appeared to flow out of Babylon, however, represents, not the water of life, but the river of poisonous doctrine flowing out of the terrible system represented by Babylon, which today is Roman Catholicism.
Whether “the wrath of her fornication” refers to the wrath which she poured out upon those refusing her false teaching, or whether the reference is to the wrath of God soon to be poured out upon her, is inconsequential (though the former is the more likely), for the day to which this verse brings us is one in which her power will be ended and her doom sealed as God pours out His just wrath upon her.
14:9. “And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,”
14:10. “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:”
The transition from the announcement of Babylon’s doom, to that of the beast worshipers, isn’t as abrupt as might at first appear, for not only does Babylon represent all false religious systems, including Roman Catholicism and apostate Protestantism: she represents also the great ecumenical false church which is developing today, and that will be left behind at the Rapture, and which, headed by Roman Catholicism, will rule supreme as the Tribulation begins. Her reign will be short-lived however, for at the end of three and a half years her wealth and power will be seized by the political beast who will assume all power, religious as well as political, demanding that he alone be worshiped (see chapter 13), the complete end of the whole evil religious-political system occurring when the Lord returns to end the Tribulation and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.
Divine justice fits the punishment to the crime. This evil system - headed up today by Roman Catholicism, but which includes apostate Protestantism, and to be headed up in the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, by the great ecumenical incubus which Roman Catholicism will then have become, and in the final three and a half years of that era, by the Roman beast emperor - has found multitudes eager to “drink of the wine of her fornication.” The Tribulation-age devotees of the evil system, however, will find themselves compelled to drink a very different cup - that “of the wine of the wrath of God ... poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation....” And their earthly experience will be but the prelude to one that is eternal, for that terrible cup will never be drained. They and the other unbelievers from all the ages, who drank so eagerly from the cup held out by Babylon, will be compelled to drink for ever of that terrible cup of divine wrath and judgment. To be “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” will be their eternal portion in the lake of fire. Compounding their anguish will be the fact that it will be endured under the eye of the Lamb who died at Calvary to save them from this very fate, but Who will then look with indifference on their torment.
14:11. “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”
The smoke of incense is a figure of worship, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense” (Ps 141:2); see also Re 8:3-4. God will ultimately be glorified, either in the salvation of the saints, or in the condemnation of the unrepentant. In the one, He is glorified as Savior, in the other, as Creator and Judge. There will ascend to Him eternally either the smoke of the incense of the worship of the redeemed, or the smoke of the torment of the damned. “For we are unto God a sweet savior of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savior of death unto death; and to the other the savior of life unto life” (2 Co 2:15-16).
“..and they have no rest day nor night....” This is in complete contrast to the portion of the redeemed who enjoy rest both here on earth, and then for all eternity, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Mt 11:28-29). “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord ... that they may rest from their labors....” (Re 14:13).
14:12. “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
In disclosing the eternal fate of those who save their lives for a little while, but lose their souls eternally by worshiping the beast, God is presenting encouragement to believers. As they face death at the hand of the beast, He would have them view things from the perspective of eternity. The suffering is brief, the blessing eternal. For the beast worshipers it is just the reverse: the blessing is brief, the torment eternal.
This encouragement is no less ours. Whether relative to the loss of life or of goods, God would persuade us to view all things in the light of eternity.
The reference to patience, obedience and faith reminds us that these things are to govern the lives of believers today, no less than in the Tribulation age. The use of His human name Jesus, which means Savior, would direct their attention (and ours) to His perfect patience, obedience and faith, apart from which there would be no salvation.
14:13. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”
All who “die in the Lord” are blessed, but this encouragement will be especially needful for those who will die in the Tribulation, for the expectation of the believers of that era will be for the Lord to return and establish His millennial kingdom, into which they will pass without dying. It is to be remembered, however, that millennial blessings are but the prelude to those which are eternal. The Tribulation-age martyrs will simply enter into that eternal blessing a thousand years ahead of their fellows who will pass from the Tribulation into the Millennium.
The statement “...and their works do follow them,” reminds us that for them, as for us, and for believers of every age, there will be a full recompense of every work done for the Lord’s glory.
14:14. “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.”
There is no question that this is a figure of the Lord Himself preparatory to His return to end the Tribulation, and inaugurate His millennial kingdom. There are frequent references to clouds in connection with Christ, e.g., on the mount of transfiguration, “a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him (Mt 17:5). At His ascension, “He was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Ac 1:9); and in relation to His return in glory to reign, it is written, “and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt 24:30). In the present instance, the white color of the cloud points to the spotless righteousness of Him Who is coming to judge the world.
The crown upon His head declares that He is returning to reign. That His return will be accompanied by judgment is assured by the mention of the sharp sickle in His hand, for the sickle is peculiarly the instrument associated with harvest, the time which is itself symbolic of judgment, see Mt 13:37-43. Joel 3:12-13 furnishes further assurance that this is descriptive of the judgments that will accompany the Lord’s return to end the Tribulation and begin His millennial reign, “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.”
14:15. “And another angel came out of the temple crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
The problem of explaining how an angel could be giving a command to Christ is resolved by recognizing that the cry is a plea rather than a command, similar to the cry of the martyrs in Re 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The time for that vengeance has now come.
The question of whether the earth here is literal, or symbolic of Israel, is of little consequence, for while certainly the Tribulation era will be peculiarly the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7), it is equally clear that it will embrace the whole world: the Gentile nations, as well as Israel, will be judged when the Lord returns to establish His millennial kingdom. Since, however, verses 18 and 19 seem to relate particularly to the judgment of Israel, it may be that this reference is specifically to the Gentile nations.
As to the imminence of that day of judgment, no intelligent person can survey world conditions in the light of Scripture without recognizing that the closing days of the age are upon us.
14:16. “And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.”
As surely as there is a reaping time for every literal harvest, so will there be also a reaping time for the harvest of iniquity produced by rebel humanity over the past six thousand years. And the one into Whose hand that reaping has been committed (Jn 5:22) will complete it with as little effort as it takes to write this line. That mighty work of judgment, and the ease with which it will be accomplished, are described simply, but eloquently, in the words, “He ... thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.” His mighty work of creation is described in equally simple language, “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps 33:9).
14:17. “And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.”
Clearly this second angel with the sharp sickle is also an executor of divine judgment, reminding us that in Mt 24 the angels are presented as having a prominent part in assembling the nations for that final judgment.
14:18. “And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.”
As was noted in our study of Re 6:9, there seems good reason to believe that the only altar in heaven is the golden altar. The fire on the golden altar in the earthly tabernacle, however, came from that which burned on the brazen altar, having been originally kindled there miraculously when the tabernacle was first set up (Le 9:24). That fire which consumed the fat of the sacrifice on the brazen altar, was carried into the golden altar for the burning of the incense, that incense being figurative of the worship which was based on the sacrifice offered on the brazen altar. All of this of course is symbolic of the worship offered to God by the redeemed for the Sacrifice offered at Calvary. But fire is one of the symbols of divine holiness, so the reference to this angel from the golden altar, as having power over fire, may be to remind us that the holiness of God will either produce worship in the hearts of the redeemed, or it will compel Him to pour out judgment upon those who rejected the sacrifice that would have redeemed them had they but believed the Gospel.
The symbol of the vine of the earth is easily translated, for Ps 80:8 (together with other OT references), makes it clear that the vine is Israel, “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou has cast out the heathen, and planted it.”
14:19. “And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.”
Angels may do the gathering, but it is Christ alone Who executes the judgment, “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me” (Isa 63:3). As it was He alone Who suffered the wrath of God at Calvary, when He died to save men from judgment, so will it be He alone Who will pour out judgment upon those who have rejected His salvation. “For I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth” (Isa 63:3-6). (See also Joel chapter 3, and Re 19:15).
If we have been correct in taking this to be the judgment of unbelieving Israel (and there seems little doubt that it is), then it is significant that the Lord’s garments will be stained with the blood of the nation that unwittingly invoked this very judgment when they choose Barabbas instead of Christ, declaring, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt 27:25). What they have chosen will be given on that day - surely not far off - when Christ returns, not as the Lamb to redeem, but as the Lion of Judah to reign.
14:20. “And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.”
If taken literally, this describes a river of blood about four feet deep and two hundred miles long, clearly an impossibility, even taking account of the vast armies that will be gathered there in opposition to Christ and His people Israel. The language is obviously symbolic, and is meant to depict the fearful carnage that will ensue when the beast and the armies of earth dare to pit their puny strength against the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since Palestine is approximately 1,600 furlongs (200 miles) long, the message of this verse seems to be that on that day the whole land will be drenched in the blood of Christ’s enemies. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.... For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:26-31).
That these rebels will be sinning wilfully and in spite of “having received the knowledge of the truth,” is manifest by the fact that in the Tribulation era - unlike this present age - the whole world will hear the Gospel.