The thirteenth chapter showed us the persecutions, by war and economic pressure, inflicted upon the earlyChristian church by the dragon, the beast, and the lambKke beast; which were symbols of the Devil, the Roman Empire, and the Pagan religion.
Any church history will tell of the dreadful persecutions inflicted on the church during the first three centuries or until the church had won the empire to Christianity.
The thirteenth chapter gave us a glimpse of the persecution. Now the fourteenth chapter opens with a different scene.
Vs1-5. Here is seen the Lamb of God standing on Mt. Zion with144,000 redeemed souls. There was a great anthem in heaven that rose in mighty crescendo like the roar of the sea and the roll of mighty thunder. There were voices of harpers harping with their harps, and singing a new song which none could learn except those redeemed ones around the throne. Then follows the traits of their character. They were "virgins," unpolluted by idolatry. "They follow the Lamb." They were "redeemed from among men," "the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb, etc."
That no one could learn their song was doubtless because it was the song of redemption; the angels might look with admiration and wonder on the work of redemption, but they have no experience of it. They can never sing: "for he hath redeemed us by his blood." The redeemed can sing a song that the angels cannot sing.
But why do we have this scene here at the beginning of the fourteenth chapter? We were in the midst of persecutions on earth and suddenly we are transported to heaven to hear the songs of the redeemed around God"s throne. Why this break in the continuity of the story? Now it will be recalled that the same thing appears in the previous section of the book. While the seals were being opened that foretokened the judgments upon Jerusalem, there was a pause made between the sixth and seventh seals, and the curtains of heaven were drawn back and we were permitted to see, in the seventh chapter, the144,000 redeemed and a great multitude that no man could number with white robes, and palms in their hands, singing their song of redemption, and ascribing salvation unto God which sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb. It is plain that here in the fourteenth chapter we have a duplicate of the scene in the seventh chapter; and evidently for the same reason. This is for the encouragement of the persecuted church on earth.
John was writing to Christians who were having their daily trials and temptations. The allurements of heathen immorality were before their eyes every day; the threat of bodily harm, and the pressure of economic privation were goading them to give up their virtue and their faith.
These scenes of heaven and the happiness of the redeemed were to show that God had better things to bestow than the world could afford. These scenes are for the moral effect, and the spiritual incentive to the tempted, persecuted, struggling church.
And this should have the same moral effect upon our hearts today, girding us to meet our temptations, and bear our trials, and to be faithful unto death, enduring as seeing him who is invisible.
If we have been disposed to think that there is nothing practical in Revelation, we have not penetrated its surface. What is the whole book about, but the trials of the Christian on earth, the doom of the wicked, and the glorious reward of those who are faithful unto death? Go and meet your fiery trials as did the faithful in John"s day, and you will wear the crown, and wave the palm, and sing a song that the angels cannot sing.
Vs6-11. This passage gives us the messages of three angels. The first angel was seen flying and having (the) everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth. Is this the gospel of salvation to the world?, what we usually mean by the term "everlasting gospel?" It might seem so because of the very terms used, "everlasting gospel." Or is his gospel the announcement of the doom and judgment on the persecutor? This view is favored by the words which he actually speaks for he says: "The hour of his (God"s) judgment is come," that is on the persecutor. That question perhaps we need not decide too stringently, for maybe one view really involves the other. At any rate, his message was: "Fear God and worship him that made all things, for he is the judge and the hour of his judgment is come." And the following angels will have something more to say about it. Then the second angel followed saying: "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." The last word is a Bible synonym for idolatry, perhaps including also all its vices.
Here we first meet the name Babylon. What was this Babylon, declared to be fallen? Now there is no doubt in my mind that this Babylon was Rome. For in the seventeenth chapter we are shown a woman gaudily dressed, called a harlot, with the name Babylon on her forehead, and the last verse of the chapter says: "And the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth." This is absolutely conclusive that Babylon is the name given to Rome in the Apocalypse and that here we are dealing with the times of Pagan Rome, and not with a future period denominated, "The Tribulation." Rome was called Babylon because sort of a duplicate of old Babylon, in that she was a persecutor of God"s people, she was intensely idolatrous, and she was doomed to overthrow for her sins.
The third angel follows the other two declaring the wrath of God upon the worshipers of the beast. They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever.
Just as John showed in the beginning of the chapter the blessedness of those who worshiped the Lamb, so now he shows, with terrible imagery, the punishment of those that worship the beast. For the one eternal blessedness in heaven, for the other, eternal torment in hell.
V:12. Observe the climax and the moral purpose of this verse, the best rendering of which is: "Here is the patience of the saints who keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus."
This is the personal appeal or exhortation. It virtually says: Be patient in your trials; or, here is a reason why you should be patient; here is reason for heroic endurance even to martyrdom and death. Your sufferings will be short and your glory will be long; but as for the idolators and persecutors, their triumph will be short and their torment will be long. Here is the reason for patience.
V:13. A voice said: "Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth." From henceforth, — yes, though you are thrown to the lions in the amphitheater, though you are daubed with pitch and burned for a torch-light at a garden party, though your head rolls from the block at the stroke of the executioner"s axe, — yes even thus you are blessed a thousand times above your persecutors.
These scenes and these exhortations evidently had special reference to the persecutions then being endured and further impending, but they come with the same force and applicability to every man in any age who lives his Christian life at the mouth of a fiery furnace.
Vs14-20. The last seven verses of this chapter present two scenes.
Scene first: One like the Son of Man sat on a white cloud with a sharp sickle in his hand. And an angel said: Thrust in thy sickle and reap, for the time is come for thee to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle, and the earth was reaped.
Scene second: An angel appears with a sharp sickle, and another angel cries: Thrust in thy sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle, gathered the vine of the earth, cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God, and the wine-press was trodden without the city and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the horse-bridles, by the space of1600 furlongs.
Some slight differences appear as between these two scenes. In one, the reaper was Christ; in the other, an angel. In one, the harvest seems to be of grain; in the other, the harvest of the vineyard. Then follows the pressing of grapes, and200 miles of blood, horse-deep, flows from the wine-press. Is there any other difference? Does the first scene represent the gathering of the righteous and the second represent the gathering of the wicked? Or do both stand for the judgment of the wicked? Since we are dealing with the judgment of an evil power, the latter view may be best. At any rate the second scene is an appalling scene of wrath and judgment on the enemies of God. Two hundred miles of blood up to the bridles of the horses is certainly appalling enough, and perhaps further suggests that the judgment that would fall on this enemy of God and the church, would come in the form of war.
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the Third Week after Epiphany