Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 1, 1979
Sometimes when I study the book of Revelation, I wish the Spirit of God had given the Apostle John a complete summary of prophetic events in their proper chronological sequence. But He chose rather to reveal to him a skeletal chronological framework in the form of three series of judgments, seals, trumpets and bowls. The He inserts into this framework numerous scenes and visions that are not necessarily in chronological order. Some of these visions look backward, some look forward, and some seem to characterize the entire period we know as the Great Tribulation.
We are studying one of those parenthetical insertions--the one between the seventh trumpet and the first bowl. When we reach Revelation 14, we are particularly impressed with the miscellaneous and disconnected nature of these visions that John is revealing to us. This is not to imply that they are unimportant nor incomprehensible. Many of these same events are amplified in other parts of the book of Revelation, where their chronological sequence and exact meaning are made more clear.
Why then are they here? Simply because it is God's desire for us to see His light even in darkness. There are some dark pictures in the book of Revelation. In fact, the three and a half years of the Great Tribulation are little else but darkness. So God gives us occasional glimpses of the triumphant end to encourage us as we study the darkness. Periodically He opens the doors of heaven so we can see the glories there in spite of the darkness. And every so often He reminds us in one way or another that He has His people on earth, holding forth His light and accomplishing His purposes right in the darkness.
Let us look then at this series of visions which we shall gather into three groups: the divine praise, the divine proclamations, and the divine punishment.
1. The Divine Praise
a. The Sealed Servants
"Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads" (Revelation 14:1).
The vision before us pictures the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, with the 144,000 sealed servants out of Israel whom we met in Revelation 7:3-8 and 9:4. Chapter 7 merely told us that they were sealed in their foreheads. Now we learn, according to the preferred manuscripts, that their seal is "His name and the name of His Father." These Israelites belong to both the Father and the Son, and in all probability they will be sealed by the Spirit, just as we are (Ephesians 4:30).
But I want you to look at their location. They are on Mt. Zion. Now I don't think this is a heavenly scene, though there are some Bible teachers who think so. They say that Mt. Zion refers to the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of in Hebrews 12:22. But this hardly seems likely, since John seems to contrast Mt. Zion with heaven when he begins verse 2. John says, "I heard a voice from heaven." Heaven and Mt. Zion do not seem to be the same place. Anticipating the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ, the Psalmist said, "Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2:6), referring to the capital city of Jerusalem. When Christ returns to earth, "His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem or Mt. Zion on the east" (Zechariah 14:40).
The presence of the Lamb on Mt. Zion is an indication that this scene transpires at the return of Christ at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation and the commencement of His kingdom on earth. In other words, this is a Millennial scene. The joyous truth here is that these 144,000 servants of God out of the nation Israel who were sealed in chapter 7, and preserved and protected through the persecutions of the Tribulation (as revealed in chapter 9), have now triumphantly endured to the end, and stand victoriously with Jesus Christ as He establishes His kingdom on earth. The wrath of the beast could not touch them; the murderous intentions of the false prophet could not harm them. They faithfully witnessed for Christ through Satan's greatest hour, and emerged unscathed. That's something to sing praises about. And so we hear a song from heaven.
b. A Song from Heaven
Suddenly a thunderous voice breaks forth in heaven to the accompaniment of a great orchestra of harps. It is a song that seems to be especially in honor of these 144,000 witnesses.
"And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth" (Revelation 14:2-3).
It is called a new song, and no human but the 144,000 sealed servants could learn it. It is a song of their redemption, their deliverance from the unparalleled persecutions of earth by the unparalleled power of God.
Harps and singing are symbols of joy. People who have been redeemed in any age by God should be full of joy, and so they sing. If their song ceases, then we suspect that the Spirit of God is not free to produce His fruit of joy in them. The discouraged, downtrodden Israelites had lost their joy after their deportation into Babylon, and so they hung their harps on the willows and refused to sing (Psalm 137:1-4). Sometimes we get in a spiritual Babylon, feeling sorry for ourselves, doubting the wisdom of God's dealings with us, and we find that our song is gone. Turn to Him in utter abandonment and absolute trust, and let Him set your heart to singing. "I will sing of my Redeemer, and His wondrous love to me; On the cruel cross He suffered, from the curse to set me free." That's something to sing about.
There's a song that begins in heaven, and the 144,000 take up the refrain as they stand on Mt. Zion.
c. Their Suitability for Service
Judging from the multitudes who come to know Christ during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:9), we conclude that these servants of the Lord will be unusually effective. Why? The obvious reason is that they were empowered by God. But the next two verses make it clear that the power of God was effective in their lives because they permitted God to use them; they were usable. They were prepared to be used.
"These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault [before the throne of God]" (Revelation 14:4-5).
"Before the throne of God" is not found in the best manuscripts. It does not appear in the NIV and NASB translations. That phrase is used by those who say it is a heavenly scene rather than an earthly scene, but it's not found in the best manuscripts. Consequently, I'm going to stand by what I said and state that this is an earthly scene.
Now notice that they were prepared to serve the Lord. They had not defiled themselves with women. They obviously had not engaged in illicit sexual relations. Some feel that this refers to their abstinence from marriage due to the critical nature of their task. But many Bible expositors understand this in a figurative sense, that this is speaking of a spiritual fornication. James likens worldliness to spiritual adultery (James 4:4). Idolatry is often likened to spiritual adultery in the Scripture (Judges 2:17), and will be one of the most common sins during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 9:20). So this may mean merely that while the rest of the world is bowing to the image of the beast, these keep themselves pure of such spiritual defilement. The remainder of what is said in these two verses bear that interpretation out.
Note that they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They are totally submissive to the will of Jesus Christ. They do what the Lord Jesus wants them to do. They are called the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb, the choice ones from the nation Israel--the guarantee that others from the nation Israel as well will enter the Millennium as believers in Jesus Christ.
In their mouth was found no guile or deceit (verse 5), the word that means literally "lie" or "falsehood." While the whole world is wrapped up in lies and falsehood, deceived by the mammoth lie of Satan, these people are characterized by truth. And furthermore, they are blameless, unblemished. That doesn't mean that they were sinlessly perfect, but that they lived with such dependence upon the Spirit of God that the world could find no fault.
They are quite an example for us, aren't they? How does your life measure up to what these sealed servants of the Lord in the Great Tribulation will be?
2. The Divine Proclamations
The next four visions are each divine proclamations. Three of them are made by angels.
a. The Dissemination of the Gospel
"Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth--to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people--saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.'"
God doesn't disseminate the gospel by means of angels today. He uses men. I wonder whether sometimes angels look at the job we're doing and wish they could do it instead. But that's not how God chooses to do it in this day. But it looks like in the Great Tribulation they're going to have their chance to do it. It may be that this angel is delivering the message to the 144,000 witnesses, and will spread it to the ends of the earth through them. But however it is done, this gospel will reach every nation, kindred, tongue and people.
You know, there are some people who say that Jesus can't come back until the Gospel is preached to every tribe. I don't think the Scripture teaches that. That doctrine is usually taught either from Revelation 14 or from Matthew 24:14.
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
But if you study the context in Matthew 24, you're going to find that the context of that passage is the Great Tribulation. And it seems quite clear, likewise, that the context in Revelation 14 is the Great Tribulation. We need to be speeding the Gospel on the way; we need to be endeavoring to take it to every tribe and translating the Scriptures into every tongue that has yet to hear the Word of God in its language. But Jesus Christ could come at any time. Friend, don't wait for Wycliffe Bible Translators to translate the Bible for all the tribes of the world before you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior. You could be left behind. We're not waiting for anything; Jesus could come tonight. There is nothing that must be fulfilled before the coming of Jesus Christ for His church. He may not come today; but He could. The question is, will we be ready?
The angel will preach the everlasting Gospel. And even though Satan has more control over the earth than at any time in history, he will not be able to stop the spread of God's good news.
Notice the content of this everlasting gospel. It is, verse 7, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water." This everlasting good news seems to be essentially that the eternal God of righteousness is about to destroy sin, and establish His sovereign rule over the earth. While the love of God and the grace of God and the death of Christ are not specifically mentioned, they most certainly will be proclaimed as the only hope for escaping God's righteous judgment. And it will be man's last opportunity to accept Christ. To reject Him here is to seal their everlasting condemnation. If they reject him here, they will spend an eternity of torment in hell, as we'll see later in this chapter.
You know, today could be your last opportunity to hear the Gospel and accept Christ as your Savior. I'm not trying to scare you into the kingdom of God, but there are people who are losing their lives every day. Some from our own church died suddenly this week. It could happen to any one of us. It could happen to you. Will you take advantage of this opportunity today, if you don't yet know Jesus Christ as your Savior, and put your trust in Him? It could be your last opportunity.
b. The Downfall of Babylon
"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."
Here is a preview of an event which shall occupy chapters 17 and 18 of this book, the fall of Babylon. "Babylon" is sometimes used to refer to a literal city on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. Sometimes it's used of a religious system, and sometimes it's used of a political system. These find their roots in the wicked character of historic Babylon (see Walvoord p. 218). Whether this refers to the fall of the godless religious system or the godless political system of the last days, I cannot be sure. The mention of the wine of the wrath of her fornication would seem to refer to the religious system--referring again to spiritual adultery (which is idolatry) and so make this the collapse of the false religious system that captivates the hearts and minds of the masses of humanity in the last days, but denies the truth of God's Word. The ecumenism of our day could be the forerunner of this great religious system, but its doom is assured according to this verse.
c. The Doom of the Beast Worshippers
The third angel follows with his announcement that all those who have submitted to the authority of the Antichrist shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.
"Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name'" (Revelation 14:9-11).
Now it's quite obvious that when people are forced to bear the mark of the beast, it will not only be an economic measure, but will also be a spiritual act of worship and adoration of the Antichrist. There is no question in my mind that that will be clear in that day. Taking a Social Security number or some other number in our day to buy food in our day is one thing. But when it becomes clear that to do that is to pledge allegiance to a false christ, then true believers will stand up and be counted, and even if they are to be killed for their stand they will refuse to submit to the Antichrist. All those who do submit will be admitting that they do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior, and the result is wrath from God.
God's wine of wrath is unmixed with mercy (verse 10). Those who drank the wine of spiritual adultery are going to drink the unmitigated wine of God's wrath against sin. Notice the emphasis on eternal torment and fire in this passage. This is certainly out of style in our sophisticated society, but it is still the changeless Word of God. Jesus talked about hell more than He did about heaven. Hell is a real place. God does not take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked (see Ezekiel 18:23, 32), but His grace cannot be extended toward those who have rejected His Son.
His righteousness and justice are as infinitely demanding as His love is infinitely gracious. Those who reject Christ will be punished, tormented with fire and brimstone so that the smoke of their torment ascends up forever, and they have no rest day nor night. It isn't a pretty picture, but it is the inescapable lot of every person who has not trusted Christ for eternal salvation. Don't do that! Don't put off the decision to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior. God didn't make hell for you; He made it for Satan. You'll only experience its torments if you reject Jesus Christ.
d. The Dead in the Lord
There follows a word of consolation for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.
"Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12).
It is encouraging for those who are suffering to know that those who are causing their suffering will be punished. And even if they die for their faith, they are far better off.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them'" (Revelation 14:13).
There is no rest for the wicked, but according to verse 13, there is rest for believers. This relates to Tribulation martyrs in its context, but it's true of all believers. We feel so sorry when we lose a loved one. We can feel sorry for ourselves but we can rejoice for them. They have rested from their labors and the works that they've done by the power of the Spirit for the glory of the Lord. Those works follow them and become the basis for their eternal reward. Paul said it was far better to depart and be with the Lord. In Psalm 116:15 God says the death of his saints is precious. What a precious day it will be when you and I as believers are ushered into the presence of our Lord.
3. The Divine Punishment
Let's now look at a series of visions.
a. The Savior with a Sickle
The first thing we see is the Savior with a sickle. John sees a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat, like the Son of Man.
"Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle" (Revelation 14:14).
The scene before is none other than the return of Jesus Christ to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation. Jesus Himself taught the disciples that He would come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
The golden crown is another indication of His kingly glory. As Julia Ward Howe expressed it, "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
The sharp sickle in his hand is an indication that He is returning in judgment. The Father has committed to the Son the authority to execute judgment (John 5:22, 27). In Revelation 14:15 an angel comes out of the temple of God issuing instructions to the Son of man: "Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe."
It seems strange that an angel should give instructions to the Lord Jesus, but his coming from the temple indicates that this is the will of the Father, whose righteous judgment through the Son is about to be meted out. This is a harvest of judgment.
Some writers contend that this first harvest is a harvest of believers, the ingathering of the saints. There is such a thing as a good harvest (John 4:35; Luke 3:17), but we can hardly agree that this is it. The whole context is one of judgment. This is the harvest of iniquity spoken of by the Lord Jesus in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:37-42. Read that entire passage and learn of the gathering together and removal of all wickedness at the end of the age. The word John uses here for "ripe" in verse 15 means literally "overripe, dried, withered." It could hardly be a reference to believers. It is a picture of the rottenness and corruption of a Satan-directed earth.
"So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped" (Revelation 14:16).
b. The Angel with a Sickle
The last vision is not a different occasion at all, but rather an amplification of the previous one, reaffirming what the Lord Jesus Himself taught in the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the judgment on sinners at the second coming would be accomplished through the agency of angels.
And so John saw another angel come out of the temple in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. Another angel still, who had power over fire, which is another instrument of judgment, gives the angel with the sickle instructions: "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe" (Revelation 14:18). That's a different word for ripe, as in the prime of ripeness, bulging with juice.
Again, this is the same judgment, accomplished through angels. The Apostle Paul said the very same thing in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God." Jesus is purging the earth through the agency of angels.
The iniquity of the earth is full, the time is perfectly ripe, and so the judgment against sin which God's people have longed to see is about to be poured out.
"So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs" (Revelation 14:19-20).
The amount of bloodshed extending for 200 miles from Jerusalem is almost unbelievable, spattering up to the bridles of the horses. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on."
This is the culmination of the campaign of Armageddon which we shall see in greater detail as this book progresses. This is God's great victory over sin and Satan--a preparation for the establishment of His kingdom of earth, described also in Revelation 19:15.
A Word to Christians
We look for another day as believers. We look for the day that Jesus Christ comes to catch us off this earth to be with Himself prior to the Great Tribulation. We're going to meet Him in the air, according to 1 Thessalonians 4. He's going to take us to His Father's house, according to John 14. And then we're going to return with Him to the earth to enjoy the blessings of this kingdom on earth.
But while we wait, there is another harvest. Jesus said to His disciples in John 4, "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already unto harvest." And God wants us to be putting in a different sickle, and reaping another harvest: a harvest of precious souls--taking advantage of the opportunities that are ours to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ before our Lord returns.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you've never trusted Him as your personal Savior, we're grateful to you for coming today. It's the prayer of our hearts that you will avail yourselves of His grace and put your trust in Jesus as your Savior from sin, lest this awful time called the Great Tribulation begins on earth. You can be spared the agony of those days if you will put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin. Let's pray.
Father, we do pray that if there are some here today who have never experienced the gift of eternal salvation by faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, this may be the time when they open their hearts' door to Him. And God, we pray that we who know what is to transpire on this earth may accept it as a challenge, not to strike fear in the hearts of everybody we see or be prophets of doom, but to spread the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ and the salvation He provided on Calvary's cross. God, make us faithful. This very week, help us to be alert to every opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us. We pray that this very week we may enjoy a harvest of precious souls. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-11A: Pour Out the Bowls!