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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Revelation 14

 

 

Verse 1
REV:14

There is relatively very little difficulty in the interpretation of this chapter. First (Revelation 14:1-5), there is a consolatory vision of the redeemed rejoicing in heaven (anticipatory, of course), followed by a solemn angelic announcement of the final judgment (Revelation 14:6,7), "The hour of his judgment is come!" However, even preceding that announcement (Revelation 14:7), there was foretold the fulfillment of that great event which must come before the final judgment; namely, the preaching of the truth to all nations, as Jesus prophesied, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14). The announcement of the angel in Revelation 14:7 that the hour is come very logically follows the revelation of Revelation 14:6 that preaching of the "eternal good tidings" had been effectively concluded. The rest of this chapter (Revelation 14:8-20) contains a more detailed and graphic vision of the judgment. This follows a pattern John frequently used. "As often, with this author, we have first a general fact, or statement, then a detail or part."[1]

By way of recalling what was revealed in the preceding chapter, two great enemies of God's people were presented: (1) the sea-beast and (2) the land-beast. The first of these we identified as the satanically perverted state, Satan's perennial device as seen in the great historical empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, the latter being the specific manifestation of it when John wrote. The second was understood as the false church which made an image of the beast (in the sense of becoming that image), the degenerate religion, being particularly manifested when John wrote as the pagan priesthood, but developing later into the full apostasy of the Middle Ages, and becoming an image of the first beast, itself the second, but particularly a religious beast originating in Christianity and developing out of it.

Such revelations must have been shocking indeed to the first readers of this prophecy; and their most natural reaction would have been the question, "Is evil then destined to triumph?" This great judgment scene in Revelation 14 is squarely addressed to that question. Wickedness shall not prevail; evil cannot win. The first beast shall fall (Babylon, Revelation 14:8), her doom being pronounced in the prophetic past tense as something already accomplished, and as certain as if it had already occurred. The second beast, those worshipping the first beast and his image (Revelation 14:9), shall be tormented with fire and brimstone (Revelation 14:10), forever and ever (Revelation 14:11). Thus, the great purpose of the final judgment, as stated in this chapter, is the overthrow and destruction of these two great enemies of God and his people.

In connection with that great final judgment, three angelic announcements signal the onset and execution of it (Revelation 14:6-12). Revelation 14:13, coming at the end of that triple preliminary, is, in a sense, the summary of all three, and one of the noblest passages in the whole Bible.

The actual execution of the final judgment is presented in Revelation 14:14-20, which might be entitled "The Sickle of God," for these are not two visions, but one. Some commentators get mixed up here by paying too much attention to the various angels, who with regard to the judgment (all of them) are but the instruments of Christ (Matthew 13:41,49) and are merely part of the scenery of the vision. As Lenski noted, "Those who count the angels and think that each appears in a separate vision have seen visions![2] However many angels are seen in these verses, there is only one sickle, only one judgment. An outline of this chapter is:

<LINES><MONO>

I. A consolatory vision of the whole church in heaven (Revelation 14:1-5).

II. The announcement of the final judgment and the Second Coming of Christ, "the day of the Lord" (Revelation 14:6,7).

A. The gospel is preached to all nations, as Jesus said, that the end might come (Revelation 14:6).

B. The judgment is announced (Revelation 14:7).

C. The first beast is destroyed (Revelation 14:8).

D. The second beast is destroyed (Revelation 14:9-12).

E. Another word of great consolation is given (Revelation 14:13).

III. The execution of the judgment itself (Revelation 14:14-20).

A. The "wheat" is gathered into the garner (Revelation 14:14-16).

B. The wicked earth (its inhabitants) perishes (Revelation 14:17-20).SIZE>MONO>LINES>

[1] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 663.

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 418.

And I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on the mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)

The 144,000 ... These are without doubt the same as those of Revelation 7:4,9; namely, the entire register of the redeemed of earth without the loss of one. See further comment on this interpretation under those verses, above. Some are able to find only "the martyrs" here, "but it is unlikely to stand for a spiritual elite of any sort, such as the martyrs."[3] "The whole church is in view."[4] They are not the martyrs, nor the celibates, nor any special kind of Christians whatever. "'These words demand no such interpretation."[5]

Standing on the mount of Zion ... Of course, Zion is the poetic name for the old Jerusalem, but no literal city of any kind could be meant here.

This is that Zion which cannot be moved but abides for ever (Psalms 125:1); it is heaven (Hebrews 12:22). Hence, we read, "And I heard a voice from heaven" (Revelation 14:2,13).[6]

Having his name written on their foreheads ... Since this is not literally true of Christians, it must be understood as a mark of their identification with Christ and with God. It is a spiritual likeness, which also corroborates the interpretation given above regarding the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-18). Having the names of God and Christ written upon the forehead symbolizes thoughts and dispositions conformable to the will of God. Barclay believed that "'it might indicate ownership, loyalty, security, dependence and safety of the Christian."[7] Moffatt understood this whole vision as being "introduced as a foil of what preceded,"[8] and as anticipatory of heaven. Any notion that it is "a preview of the near future"[9] is erroneous. All such interpretations suppose that John (mistakenly, of course) believed that Christ would return very shortly to gather a literal army (the 144,000) on the hills of the literal Jerusalem.

[3] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 175.

[4] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 223.

[5] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 190.

[6] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 183.

[7] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 102.

[8] James Moffatt, The Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 435.

[9] Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 467.

Verse 2
And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps.

And I heard a voice from heaven ... Although the person or persons speaking in this great voice is not indicated, the fact of its being "from heaven" proclaims the true power and authority of it. God either spoke the message or authorized it.

As the voice of many waters ... It was not the noise of many waters which John heard, but something so powerful as to suggest that.

As the voice of harpers harping with their harps ... Just as in the case of the waters, John did not hear "waters"; he did not hear, in this case, either the harps or the voice of the harpers, but something suggesting that. What John heard was not singers singing and playing harps, but a sound as precious and sweet as that, meaning that, "It was articulate and sweet."[10] Morris described the voice as loud and melodious, supposing that, "It was the voice of the 144,000."[11]

As might have been expected, not all scholars could resist the temptation to fabricate an argument from this to favor worshipping God with mechanical instruments of music. "We see that there are zithers of God ... The zithers accompany the singing!"[12] But, of course, there are no literal harps in heaven; nor is it stated in the text that John heard any harps. As Hinds said, "The passage gives no support for the use of mechanical instruments in worship.[13] Furthermore, there is the valid principle that the appearance of anything whatever in these visions could not possibly provide any authority for the incorporation of such things into the worship of God through Christ on earth. This verse was falsely rendered by the New English Bible (1961) thus, "It was the sound of harpers playing on their harps." As Plummer pointed out, "The ASV rendition as in this text is supported by all the leading uncials, the Sinaiticus, the Alexandrinus, the Vatican and the Codex Ephraemi."[14] Therefore, the New English Bible (1961), like so many of the so-called "modern" translations, is, in certain texts, not a translation at all, but a perversion of the word of God.

[10] W. H. Simcox, The Revelation, Revised, Cambridge Greek New Testament (Cambridge: University Press, 1893), p. 139.

[11] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 176.

[12] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 421.

[13] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 208.

[14] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 347.

Verse 3
and they sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders: and no man could learn the song save the hundred and forty and four thousand, even they that had been purchased out of the earth.

A new song ... The universal rejoicing of the saints in heaven is meant by this, indicating their joy unspeakable and their bliss eternal.

No man could learn ... save the 144,000 ... Could this possibly mean that some special group in heaven alone could learn this song? No indeed. All the redeemed are meant. The meaning is simply that, "none except the redeemed could join in the singing."[15]

Even they that had been purchased out of the earth ... This explains exactly the identity of the 144,000; it is the whole church of Christ that has been purchased with his own precious blood (Acts 20:38ff).

ENDNOTE:

[15] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 222.

Verse 4
These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, to be the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb. And in their mouth there was found no lie: they are without blemish.

These are they that were not defiled with women ... More nonsense has been written about this than about anything else in Revelation, with the possible exception of Revelation 22:2! We shall start with Barclay: "If we are to treat it honestly, we cannot avoid the conclusion that it praises celibacy and virginity and belittles marriage."[16] We should have expected this from a scholar who thought that when Jesus said, "The maiden is not dead, but sleepeth," he thought they were about to bury the daughter of Jairus alive. For all his "honesty" in taking this place literally he spiritualized virgins to include celibacy! How so? If the passage is taken literally, it is impossible to explain it, for virgins is not literally those who "have not defiled themselves with women," unless it is construed as meaning virgins who are not Lesbians! Are we then to conclude that no one will be in heaven except non-Lesbian females? Literalism here could hardly mean anything else: therefore, the true spiritual meaning of the passage must be sought. For a discussion of "Fundamentalism among Modernists," see my Commentary on James, 1,2 Peter 1,2, and 3John, and Jude, pp. 289,290.

Before observing what other learned men have written about this, let it be observed that John here categorically stated exactly who the "virgins" of this passage are:

They are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, to be the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb.

It would be impossible for the Scriptures to declare any more plainly than in these words that the "virgins" are the redeemed of earth, the true Christians who at last shall enter heaven. How strange it is that people should seek any other definition than that which is so clearly stated here by the inspired apostle himself.

The 144,000 virgins are undefiled in the sense that they have refused to defile themselves by participating in the fornication of worshipping the beast.[17]

That the word "virgins" is used in a spiritual sense in the New Testament is proved by the letter Ignatius wrote to the Smyrneans, "To the brethren, their wives and children, and the virgins that are called widows."[18] In such usage, "virgins" has no reference whatever to sexual experience. "Being a chaste virgin" means being a faithful Christian; and all of the ancient Christians understood this perfectly. Scholars overwhelmingly accept this:

This means that the Christians have resisted the seductions of the great harlot Rome with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication (Revelation 17:2)[19] These anticipatory passages al ways relate to the people of God as a whole.[20] The whole church is in view. Therefore the passage must be interpreted symbolically.[21] A literal interpretation would contradict the gospel.[22] These were virgin souls who had not bowed to the beast or his image. They were not guilty of spiritual fornication."[23] Virgins was a natural symbol for moral purity from the seductions of the great whore of Babylon and from that fornication which is idolatry.[24] It is not possible that these words should be understood literally.[25]

Firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb ... This expression is made to mean that the salvation of the church is only "first" chronologically in God's purpose of saving the entire human race, good and bad alike, as for example:

The church's experience is also the sign of what the experience of mankind is to be. Put these words into the collection of John's universalistic references."[26]

Such views are due to a misunderstanding of the true meaning of "firstfruits" as used here.

"Firstfruits" can be used of a total group regarding their total consecration to God. All Christians are "firstfruits" (James 1:18). Jeremiah also referred to all of Israel as "the firstfruits of his harvest" (Jeremiah 2:3).[27]

There is absolutely nothing here that indicates the salvation of any who are not "in Christ." "The view that makes the 144,000 the firstfruits of all believers instead of all men is unacceptable."[28] The contrast is not between the 144,000 and others yet to be saved, but between them and the rest who are lost. Chronology is not in this. "Firstfruits is a description of the perfect character of the 144,000."[29]

And in their mouth there was found no lie ... Beyond the truth and integrity of speech which are the dominant qualities of every Christian life, "the lie" probably in the back of John's mind here is the lie that "Caesar is god," that man is his own Saviour, that people may forgive each other's sins, or that God's religion may be tailored by people to suit their own purposes. "Not the least lie of this kind was found in the 144,000."[30]

[16] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 107.

[17] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 191.

[18] Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 92.

[19] Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 270.

[20] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 650.

[21] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 203.

[22] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 136.

[23] Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 90.

[24] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 179.

[25] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 106.

[26] Vernard Eller, op. cit., p. 136.

[27] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 192.

[28] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 425.

[29] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 653.

[30] Ibid.

Verse 6
And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven having eternal good tidings to proclaim unto them that dwell on the earth, and unto every nation and tribe and tongue and people;

I saw another angel flying in mid heaven ... It is of passing interest that some try to bolster a late first century date of Revelation through the notion that, "Angels begin to fly in the Jewish heaven about the beginning of the first century."[31] A parallel between Revelation 14:13 and Clement of Rome (xlvii) is also cited for the same purpose;[32] but it never seems to occur to such scholars that the Jews probably got their ideas from Revelation; and, as for Clement, the best of modern scholarship now accepts the premise that he finished his work before 70 A.D.[33]

The eternal good tidings to proclaim ... Another good translation of this renders it "the everlasting gospel" instead of "eternal good tidings," that is, the one and only "gospel" this world ever had. This angel is about to announce the eternal judgment of the last day; and it was most appropriate, therefore, that he should have spoken of the prior condition of that event having been fulfilled, as Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:14).

Some try to distinguish three different gospels in the New Testament: (1) the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14); (2) the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1); and (3) the everlasting gospel to be preached at the end of the age. This is a false trichotomy. There is only one gospel, the good news of Salvation through Jesus Christ.[34]

Mounce, and some others, do not believe that this is the Christian gospel here, because of the emphasis on judgment;[35] but, as Hendriksen observed, "For God's people, the announcement of the approaching judgment is eternal good tidings, for it means their deliverance."[36] "The announcement of the end is itself a piece of good news."[37]

Caird speaks of some "who assure us that the gospel mentioned cannot be the gospel, because there is no gospel (good news) in the grim sequel."[38] But aside from the fact of the end itself being "good news" for persecuted saints who have waited and prayed for it, there is also the overriding fact that John did not here give a summary of the blessed gospel. What is mentioned is the judgment, an essential and eternal part of that gospel, standing here as a synecdoche for all of it. John certainly did not need to explain what he meant by the gospel. His own gospel of John was already known all over the world of that period. What seems to plague some of the commentators is that they do not seem to believe that there is going to be any such thing as a final judgment.

This angel's proclamation does not mean that only at that time would the everlasting gospel begin to be preached. "The gospel of Christ began to be preached on Pentecost ... and is to be preached until the end of the world."[39] The very next verse will indicate that this mission now, in the point of time in the vision, has been accomplished.

Others insist on finding here some great historical preacher such as Martin Luther, John Knox, Alexander Campbell, or others who in some special sense aroused the attention of mankind to the truth of the gospel. However,

If we ask when this great gospel angel appeared, our answer must be that the whole cycle of the gospel preaching is included in the vision; although, doubtless there have been ages when the light of the good tidings of God has gone forth with revived luster.[40]

We agree with Lenski that the vision beginning with Revelation 14:6 extends to Revelation 14:14; "All that the three angels proclaim belongs together."[41] See outline of the chapter, above.

[31] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 437.

[32] Ibid.

[33] John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 352.

[34] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 380.

[35] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 273.

[36] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 186.

[37] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 193.

[38] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 182.

[39] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 211.

[40] Boyd W. Carpenter, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 602.

[41] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 426.

Verse 7
and he saith with a great voice, Fear God, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made the heavens and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.

And the hour of his judgment is come ... This is the one and only judgment day of the New Testament. "Again, we have the fourfold nation, tribe, tongue and people, indicating universality"[42] of this judgment.

ENDNOTE:

[42] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 348.

Verse 8
And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great ... The prophetic tense speaks not of what has already taken place, but of what is certain to occur in connection with the final judgment. As Roberts said, "This anticipates the fuller description"[43] later in the prophecy. Babylon the great is primarily the pagan city of Rome, the proud sea-beast, in the manifestation of its sixth head, the Roman empire, that was doomed by this heavenly pronouncement.

Remember that this was written in the first century, and possibly as early as 69 A.D., at a time when the pagan empire was supreme on the earth and would continue to be supreme for at least four centuries afterwards. It seems nearly incredible that so few writers dwell upon the dramatic fulfillment of this prophecy in 476 A.D. Rome did fall, as here prophesied; and in this clearly fulfilled prophecy, there is seen the absolute necessity of beholding, in at least some of its declarations, a definite revelation of historical events lying centuries in the future when Revelation was written.

That Babylon here is a reference to the pagan empire, especially the city of Rome, hardly needs to be argued. See the discussion of this in the Introduction to 1Peter, in my Commentary to 1Peter, pp. 157,158. The ancient Babylon on the Euphrates had not existed for centuries, and there were many current references to Rome as "Babylon" in the secular literature of New Testament times. As a great enemy of the Old Testament Israel, which had taken God's people captive and mercilessly exploited them, Babylon was the idea1 type of oppressive, pagan, anti-Christian government.

The generation of John's day would not live to see Babylon fall, but this assurance to them from an apostle of Christ was comforting. They knew that, "The wrath of God was falling upon the pagan city and that her judgment was determined."[44]

That hath made all nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication ...

This combines two ideas: the wine used to intoxicate and to seduce to fornication, and the wine of God's wrath. Babylon had deceived and seduced all nations by the enticement of her wealth and luxuries; but this cup will turn out to be the cup of God's wrath.[45]

Only this cryptic mention of Babylon's fall is here, the first mention of her in Revelation; but John will return to this.

The announcement of the doom of great pagan Rome, mentioned here in close connection with the final judgment, must also be understood as a prophecy of the fall of all great wicked cities, or at least a very significant portion of them before the final judgment day itself. The "Babylon" in view here is not merely the one on the Tiber. We observed in connection with Revelation 11:13 that the collapse of urban civilization as opposed to God, will occur before the end; so "Babylon" here is understood as a type. "She has also reared palaces on the Seine, the Thames, and the Bosphorus."[46] And we might add, the Hudson, the Mississippi, the Rhine, and the Bayou that is called Buffalo. Wherever there is entrenched greed, indifference to God, hatred of Christ, and the worship of man, there also is Babylon the great.

[43] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 120.

[44] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 274.

[45] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 194.

[46] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 602.

Verse 9
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, If any man worshippeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand,

The previous verse had the announcement of the fall of the first beast, pagan Rome; this series of verses (Revelation 14:9-12), records the prophetic doom of the second beast, the land-beast, apostate religion in league with the false state. See the chapter outline.

If any man worshippeth the beast and his image ... It is the mention of the "image" here that identifies this as the second beast, but it is by no means exclusive. All over the world till the end of time, wherever a secular state is bolstered and supported by an apostate, or totally false, religion, there will be found people worshipping the beast and his image. Bruce entitled this little section, "The Doom of Apostates."[47] This verse says, "You cannot sin and get away with it."[48]

And receiveth a mark upon his forehead or upon his hand ... Again, the nature of this mark is that of a "spiritual likeness" of the beast. If one receives intellectually the claims of the beast, or in hand does the will of the beast, he is marked. Paramount in this is individual responsibility.

The man, individual man, is responsible. There is no need for his receiving the mark, the hallmark of cowardly connivance at wrong-doing, or for setting his judgments by the fashion of the world.[49]

[47] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 654.

[48] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 186.

[49] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 602.

Verse 10
he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:

This verse is a counter-proclamation to that of the beast in Revelation 13, to the effect that those who would not worship the beast should be killed (Revelation 13:15), and that they would not be permitted to "buy or sell" (Revelation 13:17). Here an angel of God proclaims that those who do worship the beast, etc., "They are to drink of the wrath of God and endure eternal torment in fire and brimstone."[50]

In the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb ... Bruce thought that this element of their punishment being in the presence of angels, etc., could be a mitigation "from the more severe punishment without the heavenly presence,"[51] a mitigation due to their having been Christians before their apostasy; but this would appear to be incorrect. What seems to be indicated is the divine approval and concurrence in their doom. It is not theologically possible to envision the Lamb, in any sense, perpetually beholding the torment of the wicked.

This is a doctrine vigorously hated by many; they refuse to accept it, will not believe it, and belittle those who receive it; but, despite this, it is clear enough that, "In the largest sense of God's redemptive purpose for men, his wrath is a necessary correlative of his love and mercy."[52] There is no way to purge evil out of the world, except through the destruction of the men who have set themselves in irreversible hostility against God. Once the primary principles of the freedom of the human will and the total hatred, on God's part, of evil - once these are accepted, all of the New Testament teaching regarding judgment and eternal punishment appear not unreasonable at all, but absolutely necessary. A just universe cannot be postulated without such conceptions.

Fire and brimstone ... There is no more need here, than in other passages of the prophecy, to understand these symbols literally; however, that does not mitigate the awful reality symbolized.

The modern vogue of dispensing with hell has no counterpart in Revelation. John is quite sure that the consequences of sin follow sinners into the life to come. Here they may rejoice over their misdeeds, but there they will suffer for them.[53]

[50] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 274.

[51] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 654.

[52] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 195.

[53] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 181.

Verse 11
and the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image, and whoso receiveth the mark of his name.

The doctrine of the New Testament is so strong and emphatic with regard to the eternal punishment of the wicked, that we are simply not allowed to set it aside as, "sub-Christian, or to interpret it in such a way as to remove the abrasive truth of eternal punishment."[54] Jesus spoke of this at greater length than did any of his apostles. After we have made every allowance for the figurative nature of the apocalyptic language, there still remains, "the terrifying reality of divine wrath,"[55] to be poured out upon those who persist in following the devil. It is no light matter to abandon the holy teachings of the sacred New Testament, and to substitute the easy rules of man-made, man-controlled, and man-centered religion.

[54] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 277.

[55] Ibid.

Verse 12
Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

Here is the patience of the saints ... Charles failed to see the point of this verse, but Beasley-Murray wrote, "It is thoroughly in place here. It is the punch line for Revelation 14:9-11. If such be the fate of the followers of the beast, Christ's people must, at all costs, continue to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."[56]

Keep the commandments of God ... The current fantasy that "believers" are in some way saved without obedience should be reviewed in light of many such passages as this. Any "system" of salvation that promises people eternal life upon any other premise than that of fidelity to God's commandments is false and should be identified with the second beast. Yes indeed; they must believe in Christ with all their hearts, but that is not all that is required. They must also:

Keep ... the faith of Jesus ... As Ladd said, "This faith is objective?[57] It means keep the religion of Christ; accept and obey the tenets of true Christianity.

[56] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 226.

[57] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 197.

Verse 13
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them.

This is one of the great doctrinal pronouncements of the whole New Testament. It declares "blessed are those who meet death in spiritual union with Jesus Christ."[58] "Manifestly, all this applies to all who die in the Lord."[59] There is not another verse in the whole New Testament that any more concisely concentrates into so brief a statement the entire theology of redemption than is effected here.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord ... The key words here are "in the Lord," a little phrase which, with its equivalents "in him," "in whom," etc., occurs no less than 169 times in Paul's writings alone,[60] besides dozens of other references. This truth alone emphatically stresses the overriding importance of it. To be "in Christ," of course, is to be in spiritual union with Christ; but the word of the New Testament repeatedly states unequivocally that this union is effected, completed, accomplished, and achieved through the believer's being "baptized into Christ" (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26,27), there being not the slightest hint in the whole New Testament of anyone's ever having been "in Christ" who was not baptized "into him."

People are not actually "in Christ" in any other sense than that of being "in" his spiritual body which is the church; and the same manner of being "in the body" is likewise that of being "in Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:13). See fuller discussion of this in my Commentary on Romans, pp. 123-127. Thus the same obedience of faith which unites one with Christ in baptism also unites him with the true spiritual body of Christ.

Who die in the Lord ... None ever died "in the Lord" who was not "in him" before he died; so what is indicated here is fidelity until death, or even fidelity when physical death is a consequence of it. The crown is never won for Christians until their probation is ended; as Paul expressed it, until they are "found in him" (Philippians 3:9).

The consequences of the Christian's being "in Christ" are almost unbelievably profound. The one "in Christ" is eternally saved and justified, not for anything that he either believed or did, but through being a partaker of the perfect faith and perfect obedience of Christ himself, which in the state of his being in union with Christ are actually his. This is the way one is "perfect in Christ" (Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:28,29). This is the way one "in Christ" is dead to sin, etc. See in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, pp. 130-133. The development of this great theological principle has been stressed extensively in this set of commentaries.

From henceforth ... Beckwith and others unnecessarily see a time-factor in this,[61] as if those dying "in the Lord" after John wrote were particularly the recipients of this beatitude; but, despite this, Beckwith admitted that "this cannot obscure the universal truth of the passage.[62] Beasley-Murray would appear to have the better understanding of what is here meant by "henceforth."

It is likely that the word translated henceforth should so be punctuated as to produce, the word assuredly, as in the New English Bible (1961) margin.[63]

The oldest manuscripts were not divided into words. If this is two words, it means henceforth, but if one, it means assuredly. The original Greek may be read either way with equal authority. If any time-factor is meant, it would have to refer to the entire Christian dispensation as contrasted with what went previously. We simply cannot believe that the "henceforth" in this passage limits the meaning in any manner to "the martyrs alone."

That they may rest from their labors ... When Christians die, they "rest" from the trials, sorrows, temptations, and tribulations of life. Little beyond this is revealed concerning the state of the righteous dead. It would appear to be quite a different case with the wicked, as may be deduced from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). It will be recalled that Lazarus entered not into any conversation and that he appeared totally inactive throughout the narrative. The wicked man, however, was tormented.

For their works follow with them ... This stresses the importance of good works in the scheme of redemption, a truth downgraded and resented by this generation, but nevertheless true. No! Works do not alone justify; but then, neither does faith alone justify. Rist complained of the plain teaching here:

The doctrine of works is also given a very prominent place. This is a basic inconsistency which does not seem to have disturbed John, if he was aware of it at all.[64]

The reason John was not disturbed is that "works" are in no manner inconsistent with what John and all the apostles taught; but it is not only inconsistent with the "faith only" theory of salvation but absolutely contradictory of it. Such a comment seems to indicate a lack of faith in the holy apostle's inspiration, as well as lack of information about what is, or is not, consistent with the teaching of the whole New Testament. Barclay said, "Works here mean character!"[65] That, of course, is a marvelous way to get rid of a troublesome word. Declare that it means something else.

[58] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 277.

[59] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 227.

[60] John Mackay, God's Order (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1953), p. 59.

[61] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 659.

[62] Ibid.

[63] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 227.

[64] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 474.

[65] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 114.

Verse 14
And I saw, and behold, a white cloud; and on the cloud I saw one sitting like unto a son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.

This through Revelation 14:20 is a vision of the eternal judgment already announced in Revelation 14:7. See the chapter outline, above.

White cloud ... one like to a son of man ... Despite the opinion of respected scholars such as Morris, who thought this being on the white cloud was an angel,[66] we do not hesitate to understand it as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He has the "sickle" (a symbol of judgment) in his hand; and it was to Jesus that the Father gave the prerogative of judgment (John 5:27), the reason there assigned for God's so doing being "because he is the son of man." The mention of the same words here would appear to make it certain that Jesus is the one meant. "The crown sets him forth as King and Messiah, but the sharp sickle indicates his coming for judgment."[67] Besides that, "Son of man in the New Testament is never applied to angels; we must conclude that this is a vision of the returning Christ."[68] "Son of man is applied to Jesus some eighty-one times in the Gospels, and it seems justifiable to assume that he is the one meant here."[69]

Strauss pointed out that, "Jehovah's Witnesses completely distort this phrase (Son of man) into the claim that Jesus is nothing but an angel, a claim repudiated by the entire scope of the Biblical doctrine of Christ."[70]

This great vision of the final judgment first shows the ingathering of the righteous (Revelation 14:14,15), and following that, the destruction of the wicked (Revelation 14:17-20), following exactly the pattern laid down by Jesus himself in Matthew 25:31-40. Caird interpreted both sections of this as the gathering of the righteous, with the result that he had to interpret the great blood river of Revelation 14:20, as "the great martyrdom."[71] This is clearly wrong. Kiddle tried to make both sections apply to the judgment of the wicked; but Caird flatly declared that, "Kiddle's theory that both represent the judgment of God on the heathen has been shown to be inadequate."[72] Ladd's, and many similar views, must be right:

The first (section) pictures the eschatological judgment of God with reference to the gathering of the righteous into salvation. The second pictures the judgment of the wicked into condemnation.[73]

"The judgment of the righteous is in Revelation 14:14,15; and the judgment of the wicked is in Revelation 14:17-20."[74]

[66] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 184.

[67] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 229.

[68] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 199.

[69] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 583.

[70] James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 189.

[71] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 192,195.

[72] Ibid., p. 191.

[73] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 198.

[74] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 188.

Verse 15
And another angel came out from the temple, crying with a great voice to him that sat on the cloud, Send forth thy sickle, and reap: for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.

Send forth thy sickle and reap ... The astonishing thing about this is that the command to reap appears to come from an angel of far lesser rank than the Christ on the white cloud. Rist, however, gave a very excellent explanation of this:

It seems strange that the angel would give orders to the heavenly Christ to begin his work ... of harvest, until we realize that he (the angel) is merely a messenger bringing the command from God himself who is in his temple. This is quite in harmony with Matthew 24:36, that no one, not even the angels, nor the Son, knows the day or the hour of the end, save the Father himself.[75]

Send forth thy sickle and reap ... This sickle is Christ's. The judgment is in his hands. The figure of the harvest for the end of the world is a frequent New Testament metaphor, as in Matthew 13:30. The fact of the harvest here being particularly of the redeemed is in harmony with the imagery of Matthew 13:11,12. Yes, the wicked are mentioned there also, but not under the figure of "the wheat." The wicked are "the chaff," or "the tares."

ENDNOTE:

[75] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 475.

Verse 16
And he that sat upon the cloud cast his sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped.

Cast his sickle ... the earth was reaped ... There was no laborious effort on the part of Christ; he merely threw the whole judgment into gear, and it was executed. The widespread association of the angels with Christ in the final judgment (Matthew 13:41,49; 2 Thessalonians 1:7, etc.) naturally suggests that innumerable angels will be operative under Christ's authority in the execution of the final judgment. The presence of a number of angels in the judgment scene here is in full harmony with this. They gather the golden grain of the harvest into the garner of eternal security. "All the faithful, without the loss of even one, shall be saved."[76]

The harvest of the earth is ripe ... "Contrary to human appearances, history is moving under the sovereignty of God."[77] If it is God's purpose to redeem "a certain number" from the earth, which many have supposed, the "ripeness" here could refer to the full achievement of God's purpose.

[76] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 92.

[77] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 200.

Verse 17
And another angel came out from the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, he that hath power over fire; and he called with a great voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Send forth thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.

Here begins the second view of the one judgment presented in this vision, this one having to do with the destruction of the wicked. Some have taken the view that because angels are featured in both sections that this section too refers to the gathering of the righteous; but, as we have already noted, the pattern of this is exactly that of Matthew 25, the righteous first being mentioned, then the wicked. Caird was impressed that both sections "are inaugurated with the same angelic command";[78] but there is a most important difference. The angel from the sanctuary is now aided by one from the altar, the same altar "in connection with which the prayers of the saints ascend to the throne; and the judgment of God is God's final answer of those prayers.[79] See comment under Revelation 8:3-5.

Gather the clusters of the vine of the earth ... The imagery of the description of this phase of the judgment is that of the winepress, probably because of the bloodiness of it. "The ministry of mercy is the Lord's chosen office; the ministry of wrath his stern necessity."[80] so Ladd and others have commented upon the repeated appearance in the Old Testament of the grape harvest meaning judgment, as in Isaiah 63:2,3 and Joel 3:13.[81]

[78] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 191.

[79] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 188.

[80] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 92.

[81] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 201.

Verse 19
And the angel cast his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vintage of the earth, and cast it into the winepress, the great winepress, of the wrath of God.

And the angel cast his sickle ... It is still Christ's sickle, but as an agent and helper of the Lord the angel appears here.

The harvest of the earth is ripe ... See comment on this above, under Revelation 14:15. Wickedness will at last attain its ultimate goal of becoming absolutely intolerable to Almighty God. The heavenly Father has a score to settle with evil; and one day it will be settled, as depicted here. The roaring tornado of sin and wickedness visible everywhere upon earth today is rushing to the judgment. Even many of the theologians have decided that God will never punish anyone. "We are now witnessing a resurgence of universalism in the so-called Christian world";[82] but Scriptures like these, and many others in the New Testament, should more than suffice to repudiate such error.

ENDNOTE:

[82] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 190.

Verse 20
And the winepress was trodden without the city, and there came out blood from the winepress, even unto the bridles of the horses, as far as a thousand six hundred furlongs.

"That the symbolism of Revelation 14:17-20 describes the final judgment at the last day we consider beyond successful denial."[83]

Without the city ... We must not think of this as any earthly place such as Jerusalem, Rome, or Babylon. "It is the heavenly city of Hebrews 11:10; 12:2; Revelation 21:10, etc."[84] Plummet also agreed that this means "without the Church of God."[85] The wicked will be punished far from the presence of the saints, and no unclean thing may enter into the place where the saints are.

Blood ... unto the bridles of the horses ... a thousand and six hundred furlongs ... What does this mean? "This stands for the complete judgment of the whole earth and the destruction of all the wicked."[86] "The thought is clear. It is a radical judgment that crushes every vestige of evil and hostility to the reign of God."[87] Evaluations such as these appear to be correct.

Roberson commented that, "This constitutes the most terrible picture of the fate of the ungodly to be found in Scripture."[88]

Regarding the dimensions of this pool (or river) of blood, just which is uncertain, the 1,600 furlongs equals 200 miles!

We are not told whether the said distance is the circumference, the diameter or the radius of the bloody sea; and the reason for this is that it makes not a particle of difference.[89]

The imagery here is not to be taken literally at all. We are merely expected to recoil in horror at the very thought of such a thing. It would be interesting if some of the fundamentalist modernists would step forward and give us an "honest" explanation of this like they did in the case of the "virgins" earlier in the chapter!

The number 1,600 is of interest, despite the opinions of some that, "There is no obvious prototype of this in the Old Testament."[90] Beasley-Murray seems to have come up with a plausible reason for the use of this number:

The figure is the square of forty, the traditional number of punishment. Israel was punished by forty years of wanderings in the wilderness (Numbers 24:23); and certain offenders were given forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3)[91]

Thus this chapter, along with Revelation 12 and Revelation 13, has now completed another comprehensive view of the entire history of God's redemptive program, from the first to the final judgment at the Second Advent of Christ.

All of the blood in these last verses must be understood in connection with that angel who came out from the altar, having power over fire. One may say, How strange! No fire appears here; but the fire is here under another figure, that of blood. The great outpouring of blood is another symbol used to describe the final overthrow of the wicked. Of course, the fire and brimstone are also figures; and one may only wonder how terrible must be that reality which requires such symbolism to represent it.

[83] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 452.

[84] Ibid.

[85] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 351.

[86] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 186.

[87] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 202.

[88] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 108.

[89] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 240.

[90] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 195.

[91] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 230.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 14:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=re&chapter=14". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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