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V THE DISCLOSURES OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS (Chapter 14)
The fact necessary to remember and observe in perusing the book of Revelation is that the entire Revelation was a visional pageantry of the oppressions of the church by imperial heathen persecuting powers during the time of the then existing powers and the life of the then existing churches. The verbs employed in its terminology are such as was and saw, but that is characteristic of both visional and prophetic expression. An exact example is found in Isa_9:2 : “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light hath shined.” This prophetic passage is quoted by the Lord in Mat_4:16 , as being fulfilled by his coming into the world, yet it was spoken seven hundred years before his earthly advent. This is so throughout the book of Revelation; it was composed a decade or more prior to the destruction of Jerusalem; before several other epistles of the New Testament were written; and was a description of the events of the ten emperor period from Nero to Diocletian, yet its language was largely in past and present tenses, as though the events were current.
The fourteenth chapter appears to be an intentional prolepsis--the dating of events out of chronological order --in that the scenes of judgment indicated the end of conflict and tribulation, whereas the following chapter reverted to the war against the church in accentuated fury. Thus the entire fourteenth chapter was of a proleptic character. The development in order of the progressive descriptions of successive events was abandoned for the in-between scenes of the outcome in the victory of the saints and of judgment on the persecuting powers. The chapter’s imagery is that of the defeat of the three great foes of the church --the dragon, the sea-beast and the land-beast; followed by scenes of victory for the woman (the church), and of judgment on her foes.
(1) The hundred forty-four thousand--14:1-5.
1. And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him a hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads- -14:1.
The Lamb standing on mount Zion was Christ: and mount Zion was the symbol of the new Jerusalem, where the new covenant was inaugurated, and where the church was established; and which Paul declared, in Gal_4:26 , to be the mother of us all. This heavenly Jerusalem was held in contrast with the old outward and earthly Jerusalem which here was representative of Judaism with all of its apostasies.
This new mount Zion was the seat of the new spiritual temple, as the dwelling of the New Testament church, described in chapter 11:19 as “measured off for them that worship there”--the firstfruits, further mentioned by Paul as the firstborn, in Hebrews 12;22-23 : “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
The hundred forty-four thousand was the numerical symbol for that great number of saints which were redeemed from the earth. These were the martyred number of the woman’s seed, designated in chapter twelve as the man child which was caught up unto God in contrast with the remnant or rest of the woman’s seed which remained on the earth to suffer tribulation, but not martyrdom. It is stated that this grand group of the hundred forty-four were redeemed from the earth- -they represented the select company of martyrs, purchased by the blood of martyrdom, and having been redeemed from the earth they therefore belonged to heaven where they had been caught up unto God. These redeemed thousands with the Lamb had his Father’s name written in their foreheads in contrast with not having the mark of the beast in their hands and on their foreheads. It was their badge of identification and mark of distinction.
The number hundred forty-four thousand was based on the mathematical calculation of twelve times twelve, as a symbolic reference to the twelve patriarchs of the old dispensation and the twelve apostles of the new covenant, and the number signified the full number of martyred saints. Here again the proleptic character of this chapter was applied, in that the full number of martyrs were visualized in the midst of rather than at the end of the scenes of death by martyrdom, which followed in the succeeding chapters. This chapter therefore abandoned the orderly succession of the events for the between scenes view of the final victory of the saints and judgment of the beasts.
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--
14:2-3. The voice from heaven was in unison, and symbolized the same triumphant chorus of victory over the forces of the dragon, as in chapters eleven and twelve. The voice which John heard was as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, and as the voice of harpers with their harps.
It has been asserted that the reference to harps and harpers here justifies the employment of mechanical musical instrumentation in the worship of the church. But a symbol never symbolizes itself, and a type cannot typify itself. Moreover, the scene is that of the spirits of the redeemed from the earth--and heaven is the home of the soul. What use could a redeemed spirit make of a material instrument? It is worse than folly--it is crass stupidity--to make a such literal application of figurative language.
The description is a comparison, indicated by the conjunctive adverb as. The voice of unison in the vision was heard singing this new song of triumph before the throne of the Lamb. In the perfection of rhythm it was us the flowing of many waters; in the mighty volume it was as the peal of great thunders; in the sweetness of melody, it was as if it were attuned to the strings of an hundred and forty-four thousand harps. The Greek text has the same adverb as with the harpers as with the waters and thunders -- as harpers harping with their harps. It was the song of the myriad thousand, which no man could learn- -which only the redeemed chorus could sing; it was not a song of worship on earth, but a refrain of triumph known only to the select company of martyrs and which belonged only to the throng before the throne. It was beyond all human imagination or contemplation.
3. These are they which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins . . . which follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth, these were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God . . . in their mouth no guile . . . without fault before the throne of God--14:4-5.
These verses were a further description of this group of redeemed martyrs, of their spiritual purity while they dwelt among men, before they were caught up unto God. Their virtues were extolled for the impression on the members of the churches in midst of pagan influences and surroundings. Though these martyred saints were in the visional sphere of glory in the triumph of the persecuted cause-- their character on the earth before they ascended unto God was an exemplification of the spiritual purity which should be maintained by all who remained under the evil influences of pagan surroundings in the world. There is no distinction in character between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth.
(2) The three angels of judgment--14:6-12.
1. 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- -14:6.
This angel of proclamation symbolized the evangelism of the world with the gospel, and was paralleled with the angels of Mat_24:31 , who were to be sent “to gather his elect from the four winds of the earth,” after the destruction of Jerusalem. The message of the everlasting gospel of this Revelation angel was the same gospel of the kingdom of Mat_24:14 ; Mat_24:31 -which was preached by the angels who gathered the elect from one end of heaven to the other, after the destruction of Jerusalem.
These angels of Revelation, as of Matthew twenty-four, symbolized gospel emissaries, and both passages ( Mat_24:31 and Rev_14:6 ) referred to the universal expansion of Christianity which followed the downfall of Judaism. The end mentioned in Mat_24:14 --"and then shall the end come”--undoubtedly had reference to the end of the Jewish state and the termination of the period of the persecution by the rulers of Rome and Judea.
The visions of Revelation are again seen to be an extension of the Lord’s abbreviated account of the same events in Matthew the twenty-fourth chapter, both of which were the delineations of the war against the Jews, the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and of the terrible tribulation which the churches sustained and survived.
The evangelistic angel of verse 6 had the everlasting gospel to preach . . . to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, while the angels of Mat_24:31 were sent to gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The events were the same, the angels were the same, their evangelistic mission and gospel message were the same, the symbolism was the same and the period the visions covered was the same--the time of trial and tribulation of the churches during the war against Jerusalem, with all of the events connected with its downfall and the subsequent persecution of the church.
The apocalyptist here envisions the immediate postpersecution unrestrained proclamation of the gospel. The angelic evangel was seen flying “in the midst of heaven” --that is, in the domain of the civil governments and political authorities that had waged the persecution against the church. But the persecutors were seen as having been defeated and the period of persecution as having ended, and the angel emissary was seen heralding the everlasting gospel to the people of the whole Roman world. It was the gospel which imperial power could not destroy, which had survived bloodshed and martyrdom--the everlasting and universal gospel then to be preached “unto them that dwell on the earth” (Judea and Palestine), where the saints had been killed, and “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (the whole region of the persecuting powers). It iss the same universal, indestructible, everlasting gospel today.
2. Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come -- 14:7.
The loud proclamation of this angel was a strong expression of the truth that the gospel has a message of fear and condemnation as well as of joy and salvation.
The message of the evangelistic angel is concluded with the exhortation to worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. These words declare that God is over every realm of the activities of the two beasts--the emperor and his satellite rulers--and that all should acknowledge and worship him.
3. 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-- 14:8.
The second angel of this vision was the angel of doom-signifying the message of doom on Babylon-which here referred to apostate Jerusalem--and the eminent fall of the once holy city.
In chapter 11:8 apostate Jerusalem was designated spiritually as Egypt and Sodom to symbolize her state of apostasy. The reference to Jerusalem was made indisputable by the identifying phrase “where also our Lord was crucified.” The prophet Isaiah referred to apostate Jerusalem as “the faithful city become an harlot ! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” ( Isa_1:21 ) The Lord’s lament over the spiritual desolation of Jerusalem is recorded in Mat_23:34-37 , climaxed with the impassioned appeal: “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.”
The name Babylon had come to symbolize the ultimate in corruption, and the fallen Babylon of verse 8 is figurative of the spiritual degradation of Jerusalem--“the faithful city turned harlot,” and “which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Rome was never a faithful city” to “turn harlot,” but these phrases are a fitting description of Jerusalem before and during the time of Christ.
The fornication of verse 8 compares with the use of the same term in reference to Israel’s unfaithfulness to God in their Old Testament history. The wine of the wrath of her fornication denoted the drunkenness of spiritual idolatry resulting from the wine of wrath, the evil deeds of which called down the condemnation of God which brought the end in the destruction of the city and its temple.
4. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his Mark--14:9 .
The third angel of this apocalypse was the angel of judgment -- the symbol of solemn warning against the worship of the beast, and receiving his mark.
As has been previously shown the beast of the land (in Palestine) obeyed the beast of the sea (the Roman emperor) and caused all the people to worship the Roman emperor whose image was the object of idolatry. This image worship was the mark of the beast. Having this mark inscribed in the forehead or in the hand was symbolic of its binding power, as an inviolable oath of allegiance. This particular announcement of the angel is not a pronouncement of judgment on the beasts, but rather a warning against the beastworship and the condemnation that would come to all men everywhere who thereby received his mark.
5. 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 -- 14:10.
The strong fermentation of wine used for liquors was often made more savory and agreeable to the taste by additives of certain spices or ingredients. But the wine of the wrath of God upon the idolaters of the imperial image worship would be poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation-- the wrath of God unmingled with clemency and without mitigation would be their condemnation. The worshipers of the imperial beast would share the same judgment pronounced upon him.
The elements of the torment meted out to the idolatrous worshipers of the beast was figuratively described as fire and brimstone. The inflammable mineral known in that day as brimstone was sulphuric in content, and when burning emitted a suffocating smell. It was used to describe the torment of the wicked--symbolic of the ultimate degree of remorse and anguish. It was no less fearful when put in the words of Paul in Rom_2:8-9 : “Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” It means that the punishment of the wicked will consist of vexation of spirit, distress of mind, remorse of conscience, and anguish of soul.
6. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever 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-- 14:11.
The duration of the condemnation on the idolatrous worship of the Roman beast was expressed in these terms of equal fear in the fateful words of this text.
The phrase forever and ever always meant endless. The single term forever may refer to a period of time--and though it must include all of the period to which it refers, it is limited to the duration of that period. On the other side of time, in eternity, there will be no time limitations; therefore, the words forever and everlasting and eternal (all from the same Greek term aionious) when used in reference to reward or punishment beyond this life must denote that which is without end. But when ever and ever are joined together in forever and ever, there is never a modification --it always means endless. So doctrinally, respecting the duration of the future punishment of the wicked, these verses carry no intimation of any limitation. Not only so-- there is no cessation: and they have no rest day nor night --that is, no recess from torment, no release from punishment. The torment of the beast was to be interminable and without intermission.
(3) The beatitudes of the martyrs--14:12-13.
1. Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus-- 14:12.
The apocalyptist deviates here from warnings and judgements to speak words of encouragement to the beleaguered saints in need of heartening encouragement. The statement here is the patience of the saints means that the existing conditions presented the opportunity to exhibit patience even unto death. In contrast with the mark of the beast received by the disloyal, they would have the distinguished mark of the saints in sustained and persistent faithfulness during the continuing persecution. The refusal to worship the beast (the emperor), or his image (wheresoever it appeared or on whatsoever it should be inscribed) exemplified the faithfulness couched in the words they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
2. 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 -- 14:13.
This passage has been truly named the beatitude of Revelation. It appears to have an identification with chapter 20:6: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.” Both passages referred to the martyrs--and here again the proleptic element of chapter fourteen is seen in verse thirteen, as the scene depicted was ahead of the orderly developments of the apocalypse; in that this benediction on the death of the martyrs chronologically belonged at the end; and was therefore a prolepsis with the other events of chapter fourteen.
There is a remarkable variation in the form of address in verse thirteen. Instead of the usual form of seeing the vision of events, John was represented in this verse as hearing a command. The commanding voice said, Write. It was a special voice giving an order, not by vision, but by direct command to write it down.
As stated, this verse along with Rev_20:6 was a martyr scene: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth”--meaning from then on in martyrdom. They belonged to the martyred group--the aggregation of the man child “caught up unto God”; the hundred fortyfour thousand “redeemed from the earth.” They were the dead who had died in the Lord --in the cause for which they were martyrs.
The beatitude of the Spirit was: That they may rest from their labors --that is, from the travail of persecution --and their works do follow them. There was a descriptive distinction here in their labors and their works. The labors referred to the parturition of birth--the travail, the pain, of bringing forth the man child; hence, labors had reference to the rigors of the persecution unto death, or martyrdom. The works referred to their righteous acts in the midst of the period of torture and trial. These works, saith the Spirit " . . . do follow them.” Their deeds of faith and fidelity in the unfaltering performance of their prime duty followed on after their martyrdom to abide with, comfort and encourage the rest of the seed--the remnant that remained on the earth--as though the martyrs by these righteous acts were yet among them. In that way one’s righteous lives and deeds yet follow on among men after they are transported from this earth on which we dwell.
These blessed dead had been swept from the earth in martyrdom, dying in the cause of the Lord, and though they had been “caught up unto God” and “lived and reigned with Christ” in a state of victory, they nevertheless remained in the spirit of their works with those who were left on the earth to face the next stages of the violent drama of persecution.
Since the subjects of the Spirit’s beatitude were represented as having died in the Lord, manifestly the object of the beatitude was to strengthen, encourage and uphold the living in their darkest hour. In that way it may be appropriately applied to the church today. Loyalty to Christ in any generation requires the full measure of the martyr spirit of courage and endurance, and martyrdom in its worst does not always result in immediate death. We may all possess the soul of a martyr, and in that spirit we live in the Lord, as the blessed dead had died in Him.
(4) The harvest of grain and vintage--14:14-20.
From the beatitude of the blessed dead in verse 13, the apocalypse turns to symbols of reward and retribution respectively for the living in the earth. As before repeated, the earth in Revelation imagery referred to the land of which Jerusalem was the center--Judea and all of Palestine, the scene of these visions of the persecuted church. The harvest of the grain symbolized the rich reward for the faithful still living in the church; the vintage of grapes signified retribution of the wrath of God for the enemies of the church.
Indulging here in repetition, it is necessary to keep in perspective the fact that this fourteenth chapter is a prolepsis --an interposition between the parts of the apocalypse, relating events out of sequence, on the order of reading the last chapter of a novel first to see how the story ends. So this latter part of chapter fourteen envisioned scenes at the end of the apocalypse of the compensations of reward for the faithfulness of the saints in symbols of reaping the harvest of grain; then the retribution of wrath for the oppressors of the church represented by casting the vintage of grapes into the winepress. With these essential considerations in mind, the latter part of this chapter may be epitomized as follows:
1. The Son of man on the white cloud was Jesus Christ. He alone is called by that title in Revelation--and in one other place only, in the vision of the golden candlesticks of chapter 1:13. The white cloud of this chapter was the same symbol as was mentioned by the Lord himself in Mat_24:30 : “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” It identifies the Revelation symbol with the Lord’s description of the destruction of Jerusalem. The passage in Mat_24:1-51 states that “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn,” which is parallel with Rev_1:7 :: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him: and all the tribes of the earth shall wail (mourn) because of him.” As mentioned in the comments on this verse in chapter 1, the passages had reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the mourning of all Jewish tribes and families all over the world, because of that calamity which had befallen their city and their state in the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem.
There is a further parallel between the vision of chapters 6:2 and 14: 14. Christ was the Rider of the white horse vision of chapter 6, and He was the Reaper of the white cloud vision of chapter 14--both visions being the scenes of triumphant procedure, picturing the conquering of the imperial persecutor and his minions.
The Son of man had in his hand a golden crown --the symbol of the highest royalty, identifying him as the King of heaven, above all potentates of the earth, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He had in his hand a sharp sickle --the symbol of reaping. The sickle was a harvesting implement comparable to the scythe of our time, which was unknown in scripture language. They are both instruments swung by hand in the mowing of ripened grain. The one sitting on the white cloud had come to reap the harvest of the earth --meaning Jerusalem and Judea.
2. The Son of man employs the ministry of angels to execute his will. One angel came out of the temple and signaled to the One on the cloud to thrust in thy sickle and reap. This was not an order from a superior voice, but the signal for the reaping to begin. It was significant that this angel came out of the temple --symbolizing the sanctuary that had been the object of destruction and desecration in the war against the Jews, which resulted in the fall of Jerusalem.
The voice of the angel proclaimed: the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. (Verse 15) This angelic pronouncement signified that the events had approached the end--not the end of time but the end of Jerusalem, of the Jewish state, and of Judaism--and this doom was signified in the declaration: And the earth was reaped-- 14:16.
Another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sickle in his hand-- 14:17. There was a distinction between the two angels and the two temples; the first angel came out of the temple which symbolized the sanctuary of the Jews, and was a proclaimer, having no sickle in his hand; the second angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, the abode of God, with a sickle in his hand, symbolizing a minister with power to execute judgment.
A third angel came out from the altar saying to the angel that had the sickle: Thrust in thy sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe-- 14:18. This angel from the altar undoubtedly signified the answer to the cry of the martyrs under the altar of Chapter 6:9-10: “How long, 0 Lord, how long, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The Lord replied that “they should rest (wait) yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” Now, the vision of these angels in chapter 14, sees the role of the martyrs in the visions completed and finished. The angel from the altar was seen answering the souls under the altar (chapter 6:9-10), and he made an announcement to the angel with the sickle that time had come to avenge the martyrs. With these signals the Son of man reaped the earth of its harvest of grain, and his ministering angel gathered the vintage of grapes. Here was a double vision: the harvesting of grain and the gathering of vintage. With the double vision there was the double instrument of reaping and pruning. It signified reward and retribution. The harvest of grain represented the gathering of the faithful saints, and the vintage of grapes the crushing of their wicked oppressors. The symbols are comparable to the Lord’s illustration of the wheat and the chaff, to the extent of the imagery of reward and retribution.
3. The angel of judgment gathered the clusters of the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God--14:19. This was the vision of the terrible wrath of God that would be administered to the persecutors of His people.
The winepress of ancient time was an excavation in rock, formed in the ground, and lined with masonry, in which to crush the grapes. Another cavity was made in the proper place and shape to receive the juice. Such excavations are even yet to be found in Palestine and Syria. The treading of the winepress was performed with the feet, the red juice of the grapes flowing like blood. The reference to it was the symbolic description of the war against Jerusalem:
And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came from the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six furlongs-- 14:20.
This was a description of the Roman armies gathered outside the city as God’s agents of retribution against Judah and Jerusalem for their apostasies. The context presents a dual vision. First, the two beasts of the sea and of the land were symbolic of the combined effort of Roman and minion persecutors to destroy the church. These two persecutors were the objects of divine indignation in this vision of the great winepress of the wrath of God. Second, the fallen Babylon of verse 8 was Jerusalem- -the faithful city turned harlot.
The symbolic description of these scenes envisioned the terrible war against Jerusalem, when the Roman armies gathered outside the city to tread Jerusalem as the winepress. The blood that came out of the winepress even unto the horse bridles signified the horrible slaughter, as though the battle horses waded in blood to their bridles. This was the vivid apocalyptic hyperbole of wrath so great and terrible that was administered to Judah and Jerusalem by the Romans in the Jewish war.
4. In the closing scene of this chapter the great winepress of the wrath of God would envelop the entire land of the Jews--the whole of Palestine. The last phrase of 14:20 declares that the winepress was trodden without the city . . . by the space of a thousand and six furlongs. Mathematically computed that distance was the approximate length of the land of Palestine, and it was symbolic of the deluge of blood over the whole land during the siege of Jerusalem, and the war against the Jews, which ended with destruction of the city, the demolition of the temple, the downfall of Judaism and the final end of the Jewish state. It was the fearful vision of the inevitable and inexorable judgment of God against an incorrigible nation.
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Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 14". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20