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THE THREE ENEMIES OF GOD’S KINGDOM (CH. 12-14)
The Revelation of St John gives no regularly progressive disclosure of the future, advancing in unbroken series from beginning to end; but it falls into a number of groups, which indeed supplement each other, every successive vision giving some other aspect of the future, but which are still formally complete in themselves, each proceeding from a beginning to an end.
There can be no doubt that at ch. 12 we have the commencement of a new group, and the remark of Bengel, “Those are in a great prophetical error who break off here, and if nowhere else, yet here at least make an entirely new beginning,” is quite wrong, and ought to be precisely reversed. For at the close of ch. 11 we are manifestly brought to the last end; so that the Seer, if he will not altogether conclude his book, must commence anew. For what could it be but a description of the last end, which has for its object the development of the kingdom of God, when it is said, in ch. Revelation 11:15, in anticipation of what was immediately to follow, “The kingdom of the world has become (the kingdom) of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever?” When the four and twenty elders, the ideal representatives of the church in heaven, say in prospect of what is presently to be done, “We give thee thanks, O Lord God the Almighty, who art and wast, that thou hast taken thy great power and reignest?” When the “and art to come,” which before the last end has so deep a meaning, and was spoken with so strong an emphasis, appears now as antiquated, and there is only a past and present in the kingdom of God? When the elders say further, in Revelation 11:18, “Thy wrath is come, and the time to judge the dead, and to reward thy servants, the prophets and the saints, and those that fear thy name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth?” Such, surely, have the time of the last judgment, and the consummation of grace immediately in prospect. What we now, according to ch. Revelation 11:15-18, expect—the appearance of the Lord, the final victory of God’s kingdom, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, the glorification of the church—all this is represented in Revelation 11:19 as having entered, but only by way of gentle indication, which few have understood. For, the Seer would reserve the more particular delineation of these last things for a later part of his book, and precisely by the enigmatical brevity with which he here treats them, would set expectation on the stretch regarding that more particular delineation in reserve. “And the temple of God (it is said) was opened in heaven, and the ark of his Testament was seen in his temple; and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and a great hail.” The temple in heaven is a symbol of the church, the ark of the covenant a symbol of the gracious relationship in which the Lord stands to his church; that it has become visible, imports that this relation is now in a glorious manner maintained, and becomes manifest to view. All that the Lord does toward the realization of this, and in suspending judgment over the church’s enemies, is here concealed under the lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and earthquake, and great hail—exactly as in ch. Revelation 8:1 by the silence, where the closing scene appears under the same kind of veil. So the end of the vision reverts to the beginning, as a certain proof that we have here a termination before us. What is said in ch. Revelation 8:5, “And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from off the altar, and threw it upon the earth; and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake,” is a prophecy, which we here see brought to fulfilment.
[By the view now given, the foundation is withdrawn from the hypothesis of Bleek (in the Berlin Theol. Zeitsch. Th. II. p. 281), according to which the book originally consisted of Revelation 1 and Revelation 4-11, and between Revelation 11, 12 something must have been taken away which originally formed the conclusion of the whole book, the representation of the Lord’s second coming, and the setting up of his kingdom. It rests primarily on the groundless supposition, that the book in its original form must necessarily have contained a continuous, regularly progressive representation, whereas here we are met with a quite new beginning. “The artificial plan, by which the future gradually advanced and rose into view, is made to vanish at ch. Revelation 8:2, where we have also a new beginning, not less than at ch. Revelation 12:1. Bleek, indeed, labours there to discover a connection. He says, “We have to consider the matter so, that what comes forth in the particular trumpet-voices, taken together, makes up the whole still remaining part of the contents of the book, inclosed in the seventh seal; so that we are here still in very close connection with the preceding context.” But if we must be still within the compass of the seventh seal at the end of ch. 11, it is very strange that no reference whatever is made to what goes before ch. Revelation 8:1; the seven trumpets have entirely the appearance of an independent position, and never make any allusion to the seals. The silence in ch. Revelation 8:1 is alone to be regarded as belonging to the seventh seal; and the idea, that the seven” trumpets are to be drawn into the circle of the seven seals, was long ago very satisfactorily refuted by Vitringa. Among other things against it is the brevity of the description belonging to the other seals in proportion to this, which would then embrace the contents of four entire chapters; while, “the events of most of the other seals are declared in the short and simple delineation of a single figure or two.” Farther, if the trumpets were subordinated to the seals, and contained the issues of the seventh seal, there would have been no need for a new preface or an introductory vision, by which John sought to prepare the way for the seven trumpets. For, the vision of the sacrificing angel, ch. Revelation 8:3-6, is a sort of prelude, heralding the new scenes, that were soon to present themselves to John. If we have a quite new beginning even at ch. Revelation 8:2, the view must be abandoned, which regards the Revelation as a regularly progressive and continuous whole, a view that has been most pernicious to the right exposition of the book; and it must not be regarded as at all strange, that at chap. 12 we are entirely cut off from the earlier series of representations, so that we should go about to construct groundless hypotheses, with Bleek, or with Bengel and Lücke, try to build a bridge out of our own materials. The attempt of the latter to bring the whole of what follows even to the end of the book within the compass of the last trumpet and of the last woe, is proved to be unavailing by the fact, that never after ch. 11 is a word said about a trumpet or a woe; secondly, by the first six trumpets and the two first woes having so limited a range; and lastly, by the circumstance that the immediately following portion, Revelation 12-14, has not at all the character of a trumpet and a woe. Bleek urges further: “It has already been remarked, how the threefold repetition of the woe, ch. Revelation 8:13, is intentional, since to each of the three still remaining last trumpet voices there belongs a woe; this is expressly noticed in connection with the fifth and sixth. But now in this third and last woe, for which preparation had been so carefully made in the preceding part, that we might certainly expect the same to be at least as solemnly and expressly uttered in regard to it, as in regard to the two first, it is not at all mentioned either here or anywhere in what follows.” In the proclamation, however, at ch. Revelation 11:14, “The second woe is past, behold the third woe comes quickly,” the third woe is expressly announced, and is realized in Revelation 11:19 where the great hail especially appears as the divine instrument of punishment and the symbol of the divine judgment—comp. Revelation 16:21. Any more explicit mention was unnecessary; because the boundary-line in respect to the second was so plainly drawn at Revelation 11:14, and there was to be no fourth. It would even have been confusing; for there was not to be expected here any formal conclusion, but rather something to indicate the supplement still to be expected, the unfinished character of the issue. What Bleek still further urges in proof of the fragmentary character of ch. 11 in its present form—that we should have expected the personal appearance of the Lord at Revelation 11:19, and the judgment therewith connected—has been already met by the remarks made in the text. It would only be of force, if Revelation 11:19 formed the close of the whole book, and not merely of a single group. In the latter case, it is quite enough, exactly as at ch. Revelation 8:1, simply to mark the place, which is to belong to what is to be unfolded afterwards more at length, and this here is sufficiently done, especially if we take into account, not merely Rev 8:19, but also what in Rev 8:15-18, is said in announcing what was immediately at hand. We shall then have no doubt remaining as to what really belongs to the seventh trumpet, and it will be clear, that we have here before us in the plan, what is brought out in detail in the last groups.
Besides, Ewald has already remarked with justice, that the mere hypothesis of Bleek, countenanced only by some appearances, is effectually disproved by ch. Revelation 11:7 alone, according to which the beast, which rises out of the abyss, is to wage war on the two witnesses, and overcome and kill them. By that we are pointed forwards to ch. 13. Only an author could have written thus, who meant to give afterwards a more extended description of the beast, as, indeed, without the future explanation we should not know what to make of such a statement. (This passage also is decisive against the hypothesis of a regularly progressive representation in one and the same line; it implies, that the book consists of groups, which run parallel with each other. How, otherwise, could the beast, which is here spoken of as already being on the field, be represented in ch. 13 as then only making its appearance?) It is not worthwhile to advance more arguments against the hypothesis in question—as that the seven seals and the seven trumpets, which keep very much to generals, and have the character of a prelude, cannot possibly make up one whole, etc.]
As certainly as at the end of ch. 11 we stand at the final close of things, so certainly do we find ourselves at the beginning of ch. 12 thrown back to the commencement of the New Testament economy; so that it is vain to speak of a continuous representation. The sufferings of the Lord’s people first pass before the soul of the prophet, which were endured before the birth of Messiah; then follows the birth itself, then the ascension, and the description, how through the accomplished atonement of Christ the power of Satan has been broken. And though we should consider all this as an introduction, which is its real character, as shall presently be made to appear, yet it does not conduct us over the very first beginnings of the Christian church. The starting-point in that case is the present of the Seer, the time of the Roman persecution, and the tendency of the section appears to be, to direct those, who had to suffer under the persecution, to the grace of God, which was to preserve the church through all the coming troubles, Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14, and at last bring the persecution to an end by the overthrow of the persecuting power.
Having thus determined the relation of this section to the preceding context, we shall farther endeavour to fix its relation to what follows. A new scene opens to us with the beginning of ch. 15. The section of Revelation 12-14, or the fourth group, is occupied by the three enemies of God’s kingdom; the capital enemy Satan, who, as such, to indicate his great power, appears in heaven, ch. Revelation 12:1-17,—the beast, who arises out of the sea, the symbol of multitudes of people, the ungodly world-power, ch. Revelation 13:1-18,—and the second beast out of the earth, the earthly, sensual, demoniacal wisdom, ch. Revelation 13:11-18. The fourteenth chapter consoles the faithful, who are to be tried and oppressed by these enemies, by pointing to the blessedness in heaven, which awaits them, Revelation 13:1-5, and to the judgment, which is to be executed on the enemies at the close of all. But the representation given of this judgment is of a very general kind; the detailed account of the divine judgment on the three enemies is reserved for a separate group, the sixth, Revelation 17-20, which in a reverse order ascends from the beasts to Satan, and for which the fifth group, the vision of the vials in Revelation 15, 16, forms a sort of prelude.
According to the historical starting-point of the Revelation, as it is unfolded in ch. Revelation 1:9, which declares the book to have been written by John during the Roman persecution; and according to its design as announced in Revelation 1:1, to shew to the servants of Christ, what must shortly come to pass; farther, according to Revelation 1:19, “Write what thou hast seen, and what is, and what shall be done hereafter,” and according to ch. Revelation 4:1, “Come up here, I will shew thee, what shall be done after these things,” which shew that the past as such cannot be the proper object of the things here unfolded, we must regard what is said in ch. Revelation 12:1-5; Revelation 12:7-12, only as introductory. What Christ has accomplished in the past comes here into consideration only in so far as it formed the basis of confidence and blessing to his oppressed people in their present troubles—comp. Revelation 1:11, where this aim comes plainly out; where it is announced that the glorious victory of Christ, described in the preceding context, is only to be taken into account so far as it is the foundation of victory to Christ’s people in the hard conflict which they have to maintain with the dragon. Revelation 1:6 and Revelation 1:13-15 have respect to the present and the immediate future; Revelation 1:16-17, to the more remote future.
It is justly remarked by Hartwig in his Apologie der Apoc., II. p. 288, “that in this whole representation there are such unmistakeable allusions to the true history of the child Jesus and his mother, and the tyranny of Herod, as related in the second chapter of Matthew, that this chapter receives from it a new confirmation.”
Revelation 14:1. And I saw, and behold the Lamb stood upon the mount Zion, and with an hundred forty and four thousand, who had his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. The words, “and I saw and behold,” indicate, the unexpected nature of the lovely and consoling spectacle. Instead of the Lamb, Luther has incorrectly a Lamb. The preponderance of authorities is decidedly in favour of the article. It has respect to what had been said in the earlier part of the book as characteristic of the Lamb. In this passage, viewed by itself, it does not sufficiently appear why Christ should appear here in the form of a Lamb. The Lamb here is not the chief figure; the wonderful object is the circle that surrounds him, while, according to the calculations of human reason, he should have appeared there alone.
The tender Lamb forms a contrast to the savage beast. Though apparently so weak, he still knows how to endow his elect with invincible strength against the beast, together with a subservient and adhering world, so that these are unable to shake their fidelity. That this power is rooted in the blood of the Lamb is evident from ch. Revelation 7:14, where the blessed, who stand in white robes before the throne of God, are represented as having washed their robes “in the blood of the Lamb;” and also from ch. Revelation 12:11, where it is said, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;” ch. Revelation 5:9, Revelation 13:8. We are to regard the Lamb here also appearing as having been slain, as in ch. 5.
The mount Zion, where the Lamb stands, is mentioned only here in the Revelation. But here, as in Hebrews 12:22, it means the heavenly Zion (see Hebrews 12:18 in that ch. of Heb., where this spiritual mountain is contrasted with that outward and earthly one, which formed the seat of the old covenant). The heavenly Zion appears here as the local position of the heavenly temple, which stands related to the Ancient tabernacle, “the tent of meeting,” as the substance to the shadow; it is the place “where God and angels meet with men, and the righteous are eternally blessed.” Since Christ, the brightness of the Father’s glory, has his people assembled with him there, the word, “I dwell among them,” receives its complete realization. Some would understand merely the mountain known on earth by the name of Zion. A rare contrast truly, this glorious scene and the poor earthly Zion! This had long ago lost its significance to the Seer of the Revelation; it had become in his view but a common profane place, a mount like other mounts (see vol. i, p. 415). Besides, it is the usual manner of the author to employ Jewish things merely as the symbol of Christian (see vol. i, p. 424). Jerusalem, in particular, never designates in the Apocalypse the city vulgarly known by that name. Further, as certainly as the voice from heaven in Revelation 14:2 is the voice of the 144,000, so certainly must the mount Zion, where the Lamb stands with them, be the heavenly one. According to Revelation 14:3 the throne of God is on mount Zion. But this does not belong to the earthly Zion, it belongs to the heavenly (comp. ch. Revelation 4:2). Finally, the comparison of ch. Revelation 7:9-17, Revelation 15:2-5, leaves no room to doubt that the 144,000 are presented to us in their state of heavenly bliss. But in such a state they have nothing to do with the earthly Zion. Ch. Revelation 7:15 especially is to be compared, “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.” The temple there is the heavenly one. So also here mount Zion can only be brought into notice as the site of the heavenly temple. Some older expositors suppose that substantially it is the true church on earth which is here represented to our view, although they appear assembled in the heavenly sanctuary, of which even on earth they were members ( Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 13:6); and that the subject of this section is the wonderful preservation of the church on earth (Vitringa: Res erat admiratione digna, dari ecclesiam verara in ecclesia falsa). But the comparison of the parallel sections already referred to is against this view; and so also here are Revelation 14:2-3, which admit of our thinking, not of a militant, but only of a triumphant church. The “new song” is sung by a chorus of conquerors.
The 144,000 are identical with those in ch. Revelation 7:4; for this is undoubtedly the number which embraces all the true members of the Christian church. There they are placed before us in their earthly preservation; here, as in ch. Revelation 7:9, ss., where also the 144,000 are the subject of discourse—for the multitude no one could number, as was shown there, is not different from them—in their heavenly bliss and glory. It might also have stood: the hundred and forty and four thousand. Yet this was not necessary, as it is more customary for the groups formally to preserve their independence, than that they should definitely refer back to the earlier portions. Comp. ch. Revelation 17:3, where a beast is the subject, although the fame beast is meant which was already spoken of in ch. 13.
Instead of “his name and the name of his Father,” Luther has merely, “the name of his Father,” in opposition to all the best copies, the nature of the thing, and the expression in Revelation 14:4, “first-fruits to God and the Lamb.” The omission can only have arisen from the negligence of some copyists.
If at ch. Revelation 13:16-17, in regard to the mark, the name of the beast on the forehead as being the symbol of confession, it was rightly remarked, “he who bears on his forehead the mark of the beast, thereby declares himself before all the world to be a servant of the beast; the forehead is the most appropriate place for a confession:”—then, that the persons here spoken of should have the names of Christ and of his Father on their forehead, in a place where they were no longer exposed to temptation, can only indicate, that they had remained steadfast in their confession, even to the end. The design must simply be, to meet anxious doubts in regard to the possibility of maintaining a steadfast confession, which could not fail to arise in the bosom of believers, after having heard of the amazing power that was to be exercised by the beast over men’s minds; to meet the despair which, next to levity, is the most dangerous enemy to steadfastness in confession, but which was very natural in respect to an adversary who was to compel all, small and great, rich and poor, bond and free, to receive a mark on their right hand and on their foreheads. The name, therefore, is not written on their foreheads as a reward, but it glitters there as the sacred insignia which they had triumphantly maintained amid all the assaults of the world, that plied every effort to rob them of it. They did not first receive this glorious name in heaven, but they have maintained it on earth in sweat and blood, and therefore have gone with it to heaven, where He, whom they had faithfully confessed on earth, now confesses himself to them. Happy he who shall there be found in the number of those who have the name of the Lamb and of his Father written on their foreheads! and written in clear, broad, manifest, not faint, half-effaced characters! No one shall attain to this blessedness by his own power (ch. Revelation 19:8). Looking merely to this we must, with the disciples, be appalled, and exclaim, “Who then can be saved?” But here also the word of Jesus holds, “And Jesus looked on them and said to them, With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
THE SECTION (CH. Revelation 14:1-5 )
Prophecy everywhere notices distresses, dangers, temptations, for the purpose merely of fortifying the heart in respect to them, and imparting under them counsel and consolation, “that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope,” ( Romans 15:4). The character of the whole of this chapter is that of the administration of comfort, and, indeed, more immediately of an anticipatory administration of comfort, in prospect of the great tribulations and dangers delineated in ch. 12, 13, that were to proceed from Satan, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth. Here first is an answer given to the most anxious of all questions, which must have been awakened by the preceding description—the question: Who, then, can be saved? In the prospect of such trials the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” almost died upon the lips. To help believers to utter it again with a vigorous manly voice—to place in a flood of light the parenthesis in our Lord’s word—“that ( if it were possible) they would deceive the very elect,”—which a weak faith is so apt to glide rapidly over; this was the first object, which John, or rather the Holy Spirit, who in this book acts peculiarly in that office of Paraclete, so prominently unfolded in the Gospel of John, had to accomplish. And he does accomplish it, by suddenly transporting us out of the tribulations of time with its conflicts and trials, and placing us on the heavenly Zion, where we find the company of saints gathered around their Saviour, after the warfare is finished, steadfast and unmoved in their confession, rejoicing in their victory, pure and holy, in spite of all the temptations which the earth had presented to them. The consolation also carries in its bosom an exhortation. Is fidelity possible— who would not aspire after it? Are the 144,000 gathered there around the Lamb, with his name and that of the Father on their foreheads—who would not strive unto blood to be of their number, and courageously resist everything that might try to blot out the sacred names from his forehead? In the two last verses especially does the admonitory import come distinctly out.
This section, while it has a near relation to ch. Revelation 7:9-17, is yet essentially different. There the heavenly glory is exhibited for the consolation of those who should have to suffer with the world under the mighty hand of God, when visiting the world on account of sin; here, on the other hand, the guarantee afforded is, that fidelity to the Lord is no mere fancy—that it can triumphantly overcome all the assaults which it has to endure from the world. In the two sections, therefore, an essentially different assault is met, though they are both such as strongly beset believers. The proper import of the section before us is misapprehended by those who would find in it a representation of the future glory of believers, or of their recompense, which are only indirectly contained in it. But it is much more grievously misapprehended by those who would drag down to the earth what belongs to heaven, and conceive that the truth here represented is the preservation of the true church upon earth. Indirectly, no doubt, this is certified here; but when the heavenly band appears shining before the throne of God in the glory of their steadfast profession, it is done only on the ground of that steadfastness which they have manifested during the tribulations of time.
Revelation 14:2. And I heard a voice from heaven, as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard was as of harp-singers playing upon their harps. Revelation 14:3. And they sing a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts and the elders; and no one could learn the song, except the hundred forty and four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. The question that naturally arises first is, to whom does the voice belong? The answer is, beyond doubt, to the 144,000. For, any other can only be guessed at. The comparison of ch. Revelation 15:2-4 leads to the elect in their heavenly perfection. The harps, according to ch. Revelation 5:8, belong to the church (see the remarks there). The “new song” is in Scripture always represented as being sung by those to whom it relates (see on ch. Revelation 4:9). The expression “before the elders” is no objection to this view. For, why might not the multitude of believers be distinguished from their representatives? The elders belong to the necessary attendance around the throne.
The voice of those who have been redeemed from the earth ( Revelation 14:3), and have now happily reached the place of their destination, sounds from heaven. That the voice is heard from heaven does not prevent, that he who heard it might be in heaven; although it may be right, that the real stand-point on the earth should here in some measure shine through the ideal one in heaven.
Several expositors would here divide between the voice like many waters and great thunder, and the voice of harpers. Such a division, indeed, has at first sight much in its favour. The first voice would then be the voice of God, frightening the enemies as with a mighty call: Thus far, but no farther; touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm; and giving to his people the promise of victory. The first voice, in that case, would only serve to give a present existence to what, at the time of this scene, was already past. It would place before our eyes God’s powerful help, which he pledges to his people during the time of this hot conflict, that they may not be tempted above what they are able. The second voice would then be the product of the first. And it can be alleged in support of this view, that the voice “as the sound of great waters,” in ch. Revelation 1:15, is the voice of Christ, with which he chides his enemies, and that also in the passages quoted there from the Old Testament the voice of the Lord is compared to that of many waters; that thunder in the Revelation usually has a polemical character, bearing respect to the dreadful judgments of God, threatened or accomplished; and that the same voice could scarcely be compared with thunder and with the soft notes of a harp. But this is all put to flight by the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 19:6, “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia.” From this it can no longer be doubted that here too the voice of the elect is compared with the voice of many waters and with the voice of thunder. The adjunct mighty or strong there, to which the great here corresponds, shews, that in the thunder the sound alone is taken into account, not, as commonly elsewhere, the threatening element belonging to it. This proceeds, according to the parallel passage, in which “as a voice from a great multitude” goes immediately before, from the vast assemblage of persons speaking, singing, playing. The comparison of the voice with many waters occurs in the Old Testament, not merely of the voice of the Lord, but also of the wings of the Cherubim, the representatives of what is living on the earth ( Ezekiel 1:24), whose noise is there also compared to the voice of the Almighty, to thunder, and the noise of a host. The correct reading also, “And the voice which I heard was” (ἡ? φωνὴ? ἣ?ν ἤ?κουσα ὡ?ς ), is against the division. It plainly indicates that the same voice is here described only under another aspect, and is meant to divert the mind from thinking of any second voice being intended here. If one will hold to a difference in the voices, then the preference must be arbitrarily given to the ill-supported reading: And I heard a voice (φωνὴ? ἤ?κουσα ).
That we are not to distinguish between the voice of many waters and the voice of great thunder—as, for example, referring the first to the multitude, the second to the frightfulness it possessed for the worshippers of the beast, or the first to the song, the second to the instrumental accompaniment,—is also quite evident from the parallel passages referred to, ch. Revelation 19:6 and Ezekiel 1:24. The louder the voice sounds, the more comforting is it; it addresses a more powerful call to remain steadfast in the midst of temptations. For so much the greater is the number of conquerors. Who should despair of reaching the glorious end which so many have actually reached! The strong voice is, at the same time, lovely; it is that of praise and thanksgiving, to which always in the Revelation the harps are appropriated, according to what is written in Psalms 43:4, “To thee, O God, will I give thanks on the harp, my God.” They are called, not harp-players, but harp-singers, those who sing to the harp; hence, after “they play upon their harps,” we should not make a point, but should connect thus: The harp-singers, who play upon their harps, and sing a new song. [Note: If this connection is recognized, it becomes more clear that the ὡ?ς , which several even important critical helps have shoved in before the ᾠ?δὴ?ν (Luther: and sang as a new song) is unsuitable, and must have been derived from the preceding context. Ch. 15:3 and 5:9 are also against it. With the voice, too, of the harp-singers the ὡ?ς would not have been found but from respect to the preceding ὡ?ς .]
The subject of the new song must not be made a matter of conjecture; it is plainly to be understood from what precedes. The subject of it is not the work of redemption itself, but that the harpers have still the name of Christ and the name of his Father upon their foreheads, and that they stand with the Lamb upon Mount Zion, which they often despaired of attaining in seasons of darkness and trouble upon earth. Such a theme of praise, doubtless, has its root in the work of redemption; for it is owing simply to the blood of Christ that, notwithstanding all the rocks and tempests of life, they have reached in safety their heavenly home.
They sing the new song before the throne and before the four beasts and before the elders. The four beasts, as representing the earth or whatever lives on it (see on ch. Revelation 6:1), could not fail to form part of the accompaniments of the throne, when the bloom of all earth’s living creatures, out of whom the redeemed have come, celebrate their triumph. The elders always appear where a session is held in matters relating to the church.
The learning is from Deuteronomy 31:19, where it is said of the song of Moses, “teach it to the children of Israel;” comp. Deuteronomy 31:22, “and Moses taught it to the children of Israel.” The song, which no one can learn except the 144,000, corresponds to the new name, which no one knows, saving he who receives it, in ch. Revelation 2:17. In the promises to the churches in the seven epistles, the call, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches,” always indicates, that to understand them is a privilege belonging to the living members of the church. Even now on earth no one but the true believer can learn the songs of the church. For all others they are too high. What God has prepared for those who love him even here, and still more in heaven, is such that no eye has seen it, no ear has heard it, nor has it entered into the heart of man, ( 1 Corinthians 2:9). How glorious must that be, which entirely transcends all ordinary powers of comprehension. How exuberant the joy of those, who are made blessed there with the name of Christ. The 144,000 are described as those who have been redeemed from the earth. The costly price is the blood of Christ (ch. Revelation 5:9), by virtue of which they have pressed through every thing that would have arrested their progress toward heaven. The expression, “from the earth,” is explained by the “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” in ch. 5, and here in Revelation 14:4 by the “from among men.”
Revelation 14:4. These are they who have not been defiled with women, for they are virgins; these are they who follow the Lamb, whithersoever he goes; these have been redeemed from among men, first fruits to God and to the Lamb. Revelation 14:5. And in their mouth is found no lie, for they are without blame. Along with the name of God and Christ, or faithfulness in confessing him, their whole walk of purity in him has been set free from the temptations of this world. Those, who shine forth in the splendour of an unwavering profession, shine also in the splendour of a holy and virtuous life. A mighty call is this, to strive after such a life on earth with unwearied diligence, as it shows, that the labour is not in vain in the Lord! An urgent admonition to shun every, even the smallest stain of sin! And a solemn warning not to imagine that we can separate what is essentially united, that we can keep the name of Christ on our forehead, while in our walk we deny the power of his truth! The way and manner in which faith and works are here interwoven together, is peculiarly that of John. Faith in Jesus always has the keeping of the commandments of Jesus as its inseparable attendant.
The conquerors are first described as those, who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. Sin does not confine itself in its consequences to the sphere of the Spirit. It presses deeply also into the bodily sphere. Its consequence is first death, then the whole host of sicknesses, of untoward and disagreeable circumstances, which are to be met with in the world. It even extends its sway to the irrational creation, where much exists now, that could not have originally belonged to it; much that plainly reflects the image of sin, much that is disagreeable, hateful, nauseous, impure. These fruits of sin in the visible creation are intended to make us sensible of sin itself. We should not shut our eye on them; we should lay to heart their complaining and accusing voice. Not to do this is the mark of a coarse, irreligious spirit; for example, to stand unmoved at the sight of a corpse, instead of beating on one’s breast and exclaiming, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Now, the Mosaic law always aimed at bringing sin to remembrance; it gave utterance to these natural feelings, sought to awaken them in those, who still had no experience of them, and, at the same time, led such as had come to a deep sense of sin, to acquire also a sense of forgiveness through the appointed purifications and atonements, which, along with the conviction of sin, and on the ground of that conviction, is the privilege of the people of God. Of these legal arrangements, as to their substance, not one iota or title can fail—as sure as they have proceeded from God. What is past in them refers merely to the form. The peculiarity as to form consisted only in this, that, agreeably to the symbolical spirit of antiquity, the feeling embodied itself in outward circumstances and acts, which had, however, their signification in their fitness to awaken or express the spiritual feeling. Thus, he, who touched a dead body, was thereby rendered impure, and must undergo a rite of purification; and no one was allowed to eat of a beast, which bore on it the image of sin. But the Mosaic law did not draw every thing of a corporeal nature, which has any relation to sin, into the circle of this representative system. Otherwise, it must, for example, have incorporated into it the wide range of diseases. It confined itself to the more salient points. The several classes of the legally impure are the following.
1. Impurity arising from death. Death is the wages of sin ( Romans 6:23); the corporeally dead are the sad image of those who are dead in trespasses and sins ( Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). The rankest impurity is that of the human corpse. For, there death is directly the wages of sin, while, in other parts of the animal creation, it prevails only in consequence of man’s sin. That outward defilement was taken into account only for its spiritual meaning; that it was not itself sinful, but only the image of sin, and should have called forth the sense of sin, was very clearly shown by the order appointed respecting defilements from the dead. It was a matter of duty to defile one’s self for the dead; any one, that for the sake of avoiding the defilement, failed to do what was proper to his dead relatives, incurred a heavy guilt.
2. The impurity of the leprosy. This disease renders a man, even while living in the body, a foul and disgusting object. That such a condition should befal a man, plainly indicated how it had stood with him. Hence, the leprosy, which is to be regarded as at the head of all diseases, was specially set apart in the law as the symbol of sin. Any one smitten by the leprosy, must be removed from all intercourse with the pure, and in tattered clothes, with bare head, with a covered chin, was to go about as a personified Sin, and walking Repentance, crying-aloud, Unclean, Unclean! See Leviticus 13:45-46, on which it is to be remarked, that such a mournful lot befel not a pure and holy person, but only a sinner, and that the person suffering it represented not another’s but primarily his own sin.
3. The impurity of corporeal issues—as, for example, gonorrhea, bloody issues, etc. That the point of view in circumstances of this kind—which still ought to produce a feeling of humiliation in those, who either experience them, or are brought into contact with them—is entirely that of the impure and unclean, on account of which they were employed as an image of sin, as they are themselves the consequence of sin, is evident from the passages Ezekiel 36:17; Isaiah 64:5; Lamentations 1:17, where sin is represented under the image of these impurities. Indeed the flowing out from the flesh itself, the impure flowing, is always represented as the occasion of impurity; see, for example, Leviticus 15:30.
4. The impurity of beasts. The following passages refer to impurity of this kind, Proverbs 11:22; Matthew 7:6, “Cast not your pearls before swine,” 2 Peter 2:22, “The dog has returned to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” Every human evil has its image in the animal creation, and when beholding that, man should turn his eye back upon himself.
Now, to the third of the above classes of legal impurities belongs also sexual intercourse, both in the married and the unmarried, which, in the respect here contemplated, are not distinguished from each other. The legal view of the matter is made quite plain in Leviticus 15:18. “Come not at your wives,” said Moses, in Exodus 19:15, when he called upon the people to prepare for the manifestation of the Lord. The high priest said to David, on his asking for bread, “There is no common bread under my hand, but there is hallowed bread, if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.”( 1 Samuel 21:4). The appointment in Leviticus 24:9, that the hallowed bread should be eaten only by the servants of the sanctuary, he feels at liberty to set aside, on the ground that necessity admitted of exceptions to the rule, but he considered the existence of legal purity as an indispensable condition. Of Bathsheba also it is said in 2 Samuel 11:4, after her adultery with David, “and she sanctified herself from her impurity.” Now, this legal impurity appears here, by an interpretation of the ancient symbolism, as a figurative description of sinful defilement. There might also have been chosen others of the same class. Sexual intercourse was peculiarly fitted for the end in view only in so far as the relation of the man to the woman presents an image of man’s relation to sin. Even in the Old Testament sin is sometimes represented by the woman. Comp. Genesis 4:7, “And if thou art not good, sin lies before the door, and its desire is toward thee, and thou shalt rule over it,” with Genesis 3:16, “And thy desire is toward thy husband, and he shall rule over thee:” as much as, thou must in respect to sin be the man, and it the woman. The woman, who sits in the middle of the Ephah, in Zechariah 5:7, is wickedness, as explained in Zechariah 5:8, Job’s wife is a symbolical figure: she represents weak flesh in contrast to the willing spirit. In this book itself, by the wife of the angel is denoted, in ch. Revelation 2:20, that portion of the governing body which had been carried away by the false teaching. The starting-point for the representation given here of the relation of man to sin under the image of man’s relation to woman, is first, that sin came through the female sex. Another point of comparison is indicated in Genesis 4:7, namely, that man should rule over sin, as the man over the woman. Then, it is also to be taken into account, that by means of the primeval history this figurative representation was quite natural; comp. 1 Timothy 2:14, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and brought in transgression;” Sir_25:24 , “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die;” and 1 Peter 3:7, which states what is connected with this, that the woman is the weaker vessel. From what has been said, it is evident that the passage before us substantially agrees with 2 Corinthians 8:1, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” The 144,000 are those, who have responded to this exhortation of the apostle. We may also compare 2 Corinthians 11:2, where, as here, the virgin- state is represented as consisting in freedom from sin.
Other expositions betray their untenableness at the very first look. We are not to think of “freedom from incontinence and fornication, which in the Apostle’s view stands connected with the service of idolatry.” The expression, “They are virgins,” decides against this; and it also excludes the intercourse of married life. [Note: Jerome even in his day took the right view: Ne puitaremus illud: non inquinati sunt mulieribus, de iia dici, qui scorta non norunt, statim intulit, virgines enim sunt; per non inquinatos igitur intelligit non uxoratos, per virgines caelibrs innuptas.] Nothing but helpless embarrassment could dispose people to fall on such an entirely groundless explanation, and to revive it after its untenableness has long ago been demonstrated. If one will not decide for the figurative interpretation, there remains only the alternative, that sexual intercourse generally, even that of married life, is here unconditionally condemned. For even the refuge is cut off, of supposing that the state of virginity is contemplated as being the highest stage of human perfection: the discourse here is not of some more select persons, but all the 144,000 are such as have not defiled themselves with women, the whole Christian church consists only of virgins. The rejection of marriage, however, is so decidedly against the spirit and letter of holy scripture (see 1 Timothy 4:1, ss., where those who prohibit marriage, are represented as apostates from the faith, and teachers of the doctrines of devils; 1 Corinthians 7; Hebrews 13:4), and against the example of the apostles themselves, that no person of sound understanding can imagine such a thing to be taught here. Could John possibly have wished to exclude Peter from the heavenly kingdom? Even the Catholic expositors, with all their disposition to obtain recommendations of celibacy, find themselves obliged to resort here to the figurative meaning, though they have not understood properly how to handle and establish it. Bossuet, for example, remarks, “These are pure and courageous persons, who have not shared in the common weaknesses of men.” He would also find, in addition, a secret allusion to the privileges of celibates, but only because he had not made, or did not wish to make clear the obviously enough existing alternative— either, or. If the literal interpretation is adopted, celibacy must be taken as the mark of all true Christians; if the figurative is preferred, then nothing whatever is said of celibacy in the ordinary sense.
The 144,000 are further described as those, who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This is a second mark of a state of grace. According to the concurring reports of all the Evangelists, Christ often spake during his sojourn on earth of his followers, and usually, indeed, with a respect to the sufferings therewith connected. See, for example, Matthew 10:38, “And whosoever does not take up his cross and follow me, he is not worthy of me;” Mark 8:34.
Special reference, it would seem, is made here to Luke 9:57, “And it came to pass, that as he went in the way, a certain man said to him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” That the going there was of a difficult nature, is evident from the reply our Lord gave to him. The whole section of Luke 9:57-62 serves as a commentary, since it shows, what the following of Christ draws along with it, what earnestness is required for it, how many say in a light spirit, “I will follow thee,” how one must renounce everything in order to follow him in truth. Vitringa, therefore, remarks with perfect propriety, “If the Lamb goes to mount Calvary bearing his cross, we must also go with him bearing his cross, Hebrews 13:13.” Those, who understand the following of the Lamb here in the sense of reward (Züllig: “They must follow the Lamb, and shall consequently be guided and protected by him, as a flock by their shepherd”), have, besides the fundamental passages in the Gospels, the connection here also against them. It is the following of the Lamb as a matter of duty that alone is meant here—although this, certainly, has following him as a reward for its corresponding recompense. Such as have followed the Lamb here, wherever he goes, are those whom the Lamb shall there feed, and lead to living fountains of waters, ch. Revelation 7:17.—“These, these, these are they, occurs thrice in the one verse. Such are the characters of those who belong to the true church, and are members of Christ” (Berleb. Bible).
The third mark is, that they have been redeemed from among men to be first-fruits to God and to the Lamb. That the first-fruits were considered by themselves, and apart from their consecration as the best, as Bähr supposes, (Symbolik vol. ii., p. 47), is destitute of all solid proof. Numbers 18:12 refers only to a part of the first fruits, such as were taken from an entire mass, and where one was obliged to take the best. The first-fruits of a tree, for example, are not the best, Leviticus 19:23-24. Neither is the first sheaf, Leviticus 23:10. Here, at least, what is taken into account is simply and exclusively the consecration, the holiness, by means of which the first- fruits were separated from the whole mass of the increase. The holy, as contrasted with the common, to which the rest of mankind corresponds,—this is the point of comparison between the first-fruits and Christians—the reason why Christians are here described as spiritual first-fruits. Respect is had, as appears from the connection, to the preservation of this holiness through the whole walk; so that we may regard as exactly parallel in meaning the words in Titus 2:14, “Who has given himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” The first-fruits are mentioned precisely as here in James 1:18, “Of his own will begat he us, through the word of truth, that we might be first-fruits of his creatures,” where the central thought is, that those who have been begotten again in the kingdom of God are to be viewed as standing at the head of humanity. The “first-fruits” are parallel to the “perfect and entire” in James 1:4, In James also the spiritual characteristics are especially taken into account, through which their pre-eminent place is maintained. Such expositions as that of Grotius, “They are called first-fruits with respect to those who shall come after them,” and of Züllig, “To other pious persons still dwelling on the earth the prospect is unfolded in this word that they, too, can enter, along with these first-fruits, into this state of blessedness,” are sufficiently disposed of by the single remark, that the 144,000 represent the whole church; so that no followers of these first-fruits can be contemplated.
It also serves for a refutation of this wrong way of presenting the point of comparison, that in the parallel passage in James the subject of discourse is first-fruits, not of Christians or of men generally, but of creatures; so that there, too, no respect can be had to a following.
In Revelation 14:5 it is given as a characteristic trait of believers, as a part of the glorious inheritance which they have happily carried along with them into heaven, that in their mouth is found no lie. [Note: Luther has: and in their mouth is found nothing false. He follows the ill-supported reading: δό?λος , which has come from a comparison of 1 Peter 2:22.] As John in particular makes frequent mention of the truth (see on ch. Revelation 3:7), he declares himself also most frequently in the strongest terms against lying (Bengel: “The word ψεῦ?δος , with its derivatives and compounds, occurs very frequently in the writings of John.) Comp. ch. Revelation 21:8; Revelation 21:27, Revelation 22:15. Freedom from lying appears not rarely as the mark of the elect in the writings of the Old Testament: “The remnant of Israel shall do no iniquity, nor speak lies, and in their month shall be found no deceitful tongue.” But there is a peculiar depth in John’s idea of the truth, and so its sweep is with him very wide, and to be destitute of it is something very great. A liar, in his account, according to 1 John 2:4, is one who does not confess Christ, nor exhibits his faith in his works. He notes it as the crowning point of lying, in 1 John 2:22, to deny Christ, with which idolatry and the deification of men, described as a work of lies in Romans 1:25, goes hand in hand. What is here ascribed to the honour of Christians, they owe, according to 1 John 2:27, to the anointing, to the Holy Spirit; it is a privilege of the Christian, of the anointed, as generally not to sin ( 1 John 3:9), so in particular not to lie. All men are by nature liars, and freedom from lying, especially from that worst form of it, which withholds divine honour from him to whom alone it is due, and ascribes it to one to whom it does not belong, can be derived only from above; the rather so, as man’s natural inclination to lying has so powerful a coadjutor in Satan, the father of lies ( John 8:44). Allusion is made to 1 Peter 2:22, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” (Berleb. Bible, “After the example of their master, of whom the same words are used in 1 Peter 2:22.”) The allusion is especially seen in the expression “was found,” which does not occur in the original passage, Isaiah 53:9, and leaves little room to doubt, that John had the passage of Peter in his eye. The other expression also, “for they are without blame,” has its exemplar in what is written of Christ in 1 Peter 1:19.
The words, “before the throne of God,” which Luther retained, are too slenderly supported to find a sufficient justification in the appeal to Jude, Jude 1:24, They have probably been introduced into the text by combining together that passage in Jude and Revelation 14:3 here.
Revelation 14:6. And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, who had an everlasting gospel, to proclaim a joyful message to those who sit on the earth, and over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people. Revelation 14:7. And said with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come; and worship him, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. John sees another angel. As no angel had been mentioned in the verses immediately preceding, in respect to whom a distinction might be drawn, as in ch. Revelation 7:2, Revelation 8:3, and also in ch. Revelation 10:1, where it is pretty natural to think of the angels with the seven trumpets, within whose circuit that angelic appearance might still be regarded as coming; so here we are either to think of those earlier appearances of angels generally—another angel, one that had not yet been mentioned (ch. Revelation 15:1)—or the angel is named another to distinguish this from the angel, who stood constantly beside John, while he was in the spirit (see on ch. Revelation 1:1); or both are to be combined. The angel, who stood beside John, renders the thought of a comparison with all the other angels that had hitherto appeared, in itself otherwise somewhat remote, not out of the way. The omission of the other (retaining an), which is found also in Luther, has manifestly arisen from the difficulty of explaining it. Another, besides, denotes not so properly a diversity of person, as of mission; as indeed the name itself of angels does not express their nature, but refers to their mission. It was customary among the older Protestant expositors to make the three angels point to human personages. The reference of this first angel, in particular, with the everlasting gospel to Luther, well-nigh became the church exposition. “Michael Stifel gave utterance to it so early as the year 1522, then Bugenhagen in 1546, beside Luther’s corpse, and since then many others have made the application to Luther.” The mere name of angel certainly is not enough to set aside the reference to an important character in the church. For, the name of the heavenly servants of God is in other places transferred to those on earth (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:20). But the “flying in the midst of heaven” is quite decisive—comp. on ch. Revelation 8:13. This suits only a real angel. And that such an one might be employed here only as a form for representing some human personage, we shall be the less inclined to admit, if we take a survey of the whole angelic appearances mentioned in this book, in which, notwithstanding the great space that is occupied by the angels, there is nothing elsewhere that would justify us in putting the sense contended for on what is said here. Bengel himself is forced to remark, “In all other parts of the Revelation the word angel is used in its proper meaning; in regard to the angels of the churches the case is quite different.” At least, this interpretation must be regarded as of like origin with modern ones of the wonderful kind, so long as no urgent necessity can be shewn to exist for it; so long as it cannot be proved, that angelic appearances are here spoken of in the proper sense. This has, certainly, been attempted. Vitringa, for example, says, “This angel not merely shews the gospel to the nations of the world, but he also teaches it to them; the church, however, has not angels but men for the proclamation of the gospel.” But in this it is forgotten, that we are here on the territory of vision, which cannot be measured by the rule of existing realities. The simple idea is the nearness of the judgment on those from whom the church had to suffer. This idea assumes, as it were, flesh and blood in the appearance of the angel with the everlasting gospel, that the conflict with visible evils might be taken up in a more vigorous and effective manner.
The angel has an everlasting gospel. What the subject was of the everlasting gospel, we learn from Revelation 14:7, where it is communicated. Accordingly, we cannot, with many of the older expositors, think of what is commonly known by the name of the gospel—“the doctrine of the true ground of righteousness for sinful men before God,”—which is also opposed by the consideration that it is not the, but a gospel, that is spoken of, a joyful message, but a message only in respect to the judgments that were approaching. This message is a joyful one, first of all, for the believers, whom it immediately concerns. “When a king,” says Bengel, “draws near with a warlike host, it is a source of terror to rebels and enemies, but of joy for loyal subjects.” By means of the judgment the true servants of Christ are delivered, and by it also the cause is made to shine forth in the clearest light, to which they have devoted their lives; the confident expectation of the judgment is the shield, which they present against all doubts and anxieties. But for the world also, the message, in a certain respect, carries the character of joyful tidings. Time is still given it to repent, and to that it is now expressly called. A salutary message it always is, which warns us of our heavy guilt and punishment. The word, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” is always a gospel which can only be changed through men’s own gnilt into a message of terror.
The gospel is described as an everlasting one. Here alone is the epithet everlasting applied to the gospel. We have a commentary in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”All men’s words are breathed forth and expire in time. Often something intervenes, they fall to the ground and decay. But God’s word, his threatenings and his promises, are eternal and unchangeable, even as he himself is eternal and unchangeable, and because he is so. At the very time when they appear to have become impotent, they pass into the most glorious, the most terrible fulfilment. “When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh on them, as travail upon a woman with child.” Woe to him who has a word of God against him! That the word will take effect against him in its time, is as certain as if it had already done so. Berleb. Bible: “This word has His eternal impress, and hence is named eternal; it must live throughout.”
We still need to determine more exactly in what respect the angel has the everlasting gospel; as some may possibly conceive, with several of the older expositors, that he had it in the form of a book in his hand (comp. ch. Revelation 10:2). But if this had been the case, to say nothing of what follows, it would have been more plainly indicated; and the gospel being described as everlasting, is also against it, as such an epithet does not properly suit a book. The proper determination of the matter may be gathered from the words: to proclaim the joyful message, etc. Hence he had the gospel as an evangelist, as a preacher of the joyful message. [Note: A comma is indeed to be placed after ἔ?χοντα , but, for the reason stated in the text, the εὐ αγγελίσαι stands in a close relation to it. We might even immediately connect together εὐ αγγέλιον εὐ αγγελίσαι , comp. Galatians 1:11, 1 Corinthians 15:2. But we should in that case have a long trailing sentence.]
As those to whom the joyful message was to be proclaimed are first named, “those who sit upon the earth”(Luther falsely: those who sit and dwell on the earth), comp. at ch. Revelation 13:7; Luke 25:35. Then it is to be proclaimed over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people. [Note: The original text is, εὐ αγγελίσαι τοὺ?ς καθημένους ἐ?πὶ? τῆ?ς γῆ?ς καὶ? ἐ?πὶ? . Copyists did not understand the double construction, as De Wette still, in justification of the text adopted by him, ἐ?πὶ? τοὺ?ς καθημένους , remarks, “as is required to make it uniform with the following part of the text.” Several shove in an ἐ?πὶ? also before καθημένους , and others delete it before πᾶ?ν ἔ?θνος (so Luther). The ἐ?πὶ? , which cannot signify on, and which, from the parallel passage alone, ch. 13:7, must be taken in the sense of over, is explained by the position of the angel in the highest heaven. So also, in regard to nu announcement coming down from above, הגיד is first used with the accusative, and then with על in Job 36:33: He gives (through the storm) report of himself to his friend (man), to the cattle also, and over plants.] The angel’s proclamation over every nation, etc., forms the counterpoise to the power of the beast over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation in ch. Revelation 13:7. Perhaps there is a design in beginning here with the same word, with which there the enumeration is closed, as also in ch. Revelation 5:13 the same word intentionally stands at the beginning of the whole enumeration, which in Revelation 14:12 was placed at the end. The over is not to be taken altogether locally; but it denotes at the same time the authority. The local relation of the angel to those whom the message respects, images at the same time the real relation. The reference to ch. Revelation 13:7 was perceived even by the older expositors. Bengel: “The power of the beast stretches over all tribes, and people, and tongues, and nations, ch. Revelation 13:7, and where the beast extends, there also does the angel.” In like manner as in ch. Revelation 13:7, under the nations, etc., here also Christians are comprehended, for whom the message more especially, though from what has been remarked, not exclusively, bears a joyful character.
The message of the angel begins with the words, “Fear God, and give glory to him.” The fear of God forms the contrast to the fear of the beast and his idols. When the hour of judgment comes, evil will alight on those “who have worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.” The words, “give glory to him,” are taken from Psalms 96:7, where the call is addressed, as here, to the tribes of the heathen world. The call is followed by the reason, “for the time of his judgment is come”—the time, when he will surely visit all who do not fear and honour him; when all must be restored that they have unrighteously taken away; when the great truth shall be verified, that God glorifies himself on all who would not voluntarily glorify him. Who, then, would fall away to those against whom God’s avenging sword is already prepared? Who would be afraid of those who have themselves to be most horribly afraid? Who ought to be imposed upon by the stately pomp of a tree which has the axe already laid at its root?
The expression, “it is come,” is used by way of anticipation, see on ch. Revelation 11:18. The exhortation to repent implies, that there was still to be a time, that the judgment had not yet actually entered; although the absolute certainty of its coming rendered it as good as present. The judgment here is the collected force of all the judicial actions, by which onwards to the end of time God is to break in pieces the ungodly world. Babylon, or heathen Rome, is only in the first instance the object of the judgment; much as in ch. 13 the beast is substantially to revive again in Gog and Magog. This word: The hour of his judgment is come, flames up anew, as often as the godless apostacy renews itself. It therefore concerns us also, and we ought to hear a solemn admonition in the call to fear God and give him the glory. For the last time the declaration, “the hour of his judgment is come,” shall pass into fulfilment, when the hour for the dead to be judged is come—see ch. Revelation 11:18. But what is written in Revelation 14:8, decides against our referring it to the last judgment alone. The call to worship him, who made heaven, &c., presents us with the characteristic mark of those on whom the judgment is to fall. It is to operate beyond the sphere of the apostles’ creed. “Through the great work of creation,” says Bengel, “the true living God is distinguished from false gods. Hence Jeremiah, before the Israelites had gone to Babylon and learned to think as the Chaldeans, puts into their mouth this testimony to the truth, Jeremiah 10:11, where also, in Jeremiah 10:2-7, strong declarations are found respecting the fear that should be cherished, not toward idols, but toward God.” The contrast in Jeremiah is formed by “the gods, who have not made the heaven and the earth.” We may also compare Acts 14:15, “We preach unto you, that ye should turn from these vanities to the living God, who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.” Along with the positive call here to the world-deifying heathenism, which is springing into new life in the present day, and which, with the first article, must deny the two others also, there goes also the negative: “Repent of the works of your hands, that ye may not worship the gods of gold and silver, and stone,” &c. (ch. Revelation 9:20), and, above all, not men, of whom all other idols are but the reflection and transparent veil. Those, who understand by the beast the Papacy, are thrown into great perplexity by these words. The confession respecting God as the maker of heaven and earth, has never been abandoned in the Papacy; for it has always held by the apostles’ creed. The description of the objects of God’s creative energy completes itself in the number four, as the common signature of the world. The same number is found in the passage referred to in the Acts. The mention of the fountains of water appears strange at first sight. The great importance of natural well-springs (see Psalms 104:10-17) scarcely suffices for an explanation of this. In ch. Revelation 8:10, springs of water denote the wells of salvation, and they likewise occur figuratively in ch. Revelation 16:4. There is a respect also here to this figurative signification, as also under the sea we are to couple with what is literally indicated by that name, the sea of the nations—comp. ch. Revelation 8:8-9. The call to worship God as the maker of heaven and earth, &c., contains also a fearful threatening. He, who made the heaven, can, and also will extinguish its lights for those who are faithless and unthankful, ch. Revelation 8:12; He, who made the earth, can and must and will also by fire and hail desolate and consume it, ch. Revelation 8:7; He, who made the sea, will change the sea into blood, ch. Revelation 8:8-9; He, who made the fountains of water, will turn them into wormwood, ch. Revelation 8:10-11, comp. Revelation 16:1-9. The Creator of heaven and of earth is the great and terrible God, who can arm every thing against his despisers, and also must do it; as it is contrary to his nature to give his glory to another, and to be satisfied with anything that men are pleased to present to him.
THE SECTION (CH. Revelation 14:6-13 )
In Revelation 14:1-5, believers are invigorated by having their eye directed to the noble company of those who have carried their confession with them, pure and undefined, to that place where they are no longer exposed to any trial and temptation. Here the sting is taken out of the temptations by pointing to the judgment, which threatens the world that plies the temptations, which in particular will bring to desolation the seemingly omnipotent Babylon; by pointing to the frightful temporal, but more especially the eternal punishments, which await the worshippers of the beast, who, for the sake of the world’s favour, would deny him who will soon come to execute judgment on the world! Who would allow himself to be deceived by the mere appearance of power, that he may soon, when the real Omnipotence comes forth from its concealment, be involved with it in the punishment which is suspended over the apostate! Who, in order to escape the tribulation which is light and temporal, would have his portion appointed in the eternal lake of fire! These truths are announced by a threefold angelic message, Revelation 14:6-11. In Revelation 14:12, the admonition is raised from it to continue steadfast in the faith; and Revelation 14:13 sets over against the doleful fate of the worshippers of the beast, the glorious destiny of those who have maintained to the end their fidelity to the Lamb.
Revelation 14:8. And there followed another angel, a second, who said, She is fallen, she is fallen, Babylon the great, which made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. In the preceding verse the judgment generally was announced, upon all the beastʼ?s forms of manifestation, from those that existed in the prophetʼ?s time, till the resuscitation of the beast in Gog and Magog; here, on the other hand, what is specially set forth is the judgment on that particular phase of the power of the beast, by which the members of the church were then harassed and tempted to apostacy. If we were to understand here by Babylon the ungodly power of the world in general, the messages of the two angels would not be properly distinct from each other. But as Babylon here is brought into view only as an individual phase of the anti-christian power, what is said more immediately of it, undoubtedly holds good in substance of the other phases that are to follow. The second (δεύ?τερος ) was left out by several critical helps, which Luther follows, merely because it was regarded as superfluous after another. This, however, is by no means the case; it indicates, as does also the following (not coming), that the angels, although different, still were connected together, and that their messages bore respect to each other. “With a loud voice, it is said in regard to the first and third angel, but not in regard to the second.” That the expression should be wanting here is certainly not accidental. As the announcement in this case stands related to the preceding one, only as the particular to the general, the loud voice here was not necessary; the message of the first angel was still, in a manner, sounding in the ear. In the message of the third angel, when a rise is made from the particular back to the general, it appears again. That Rome is to be understood by Babylon, is almost universally agreed, and admits, indeed, of no doubt. But that we are to think only of heathen Rome, and not, with the older Protestant expositors, of Christian Rome, is abundantly plain from ch. Revelation 18:20, alone, where we are told, that God avenges on Babylon his apostles and prophets. It was heathen Rome alone that had to do with the apostles, who were, at the same time, prophets (see vol. i. p. 41.) It slew Peter and Paul, and sent John into banishment. The same thing is clear also by comparing the fundamental passage, 1 Peter 5:13. The connection, too, leads in this direction. That the heathen worldly power is the object of the judgment announced by the first angel we have already seen. But the message of the second angel stands related to that of the first, as the particular to the general. Then, Babylon is only a particular aspect, under which the beast manifests itself, and the beast cannot possibly be the Papacy. Finally, the addition, “which made all nations drunk with the wine of the wrath of her fornication,” does not snit papal Rome; and those, who have adopted this interpretation, have found themselves driven to a forced explanation of these words. It is the case, not rarely, in the Old Testament, that the worldly powers of the present and the future are described under the names of those of the past. Zechariah, for example, after the return from the Babylonish exile, designates the place destined for the reception of the Jews, when the measure of their sins should have again become full, and they should once more be expelled from their land, by the name of the land of their former exile; in Zechariah 10:11, he speaks of their future oppressors under the name of Assyria and Egypt (see the Christology there, where other examples are produced). This transference of names carries with it a strong emphasis. It makes the whole of God’s earlier procedure start forth to life again. The word of God, which has once already passed into fulfilment, cannot now be treated as a vain imagination. In the New Testament the name of Babylon was first applied to heathen Rome in 1 Peter 5:13, “the co-elect in Babylon greets you, and Marcus my son.” It is inexplicable, that persons should still always insist upon Babylon being taken here in the literal sense. What difficulties they thus involve themselves in need not be stated at length. The only reason which has been urged for it of any weight, is disposed of by the remark, that the epistles of the New Testament are not entirely written in common prose, and that the poetical character of a large portion of the sacred books, necessarily exercised an influence on the rest. The co-elect is the associated church, according to 1 Peter 1:1, 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 5:13;—the co-elect in Babylon can only be such an one as had there a settled abode—not a person who happened to be there by accident. Marcus is the spiritual son of Peter; how, in such a connection, could Babylon be the literal Babylon? The contents of the epistle, also, are in perfect accordance with this view. It was written when Rome had just begun to tread in the footsteps of Babylon. The designation of Rome as Babylon corresponds to the passage, Be vigilant, and sober, for your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” Comp. Jeremiah 51:38. Here we have the first rise of the designation. The word, written in the true prophetical spirit, gave much cause for reflection. As the Nicolaitans in John point to the second epistle of Peter ( 2 Peter 2:15), so does Babylon to the first; nor are there wanting in the Apocalypse other references to the same epistle (see vol. i., p. 78). Among the Jews also Rome went by the name of Babylon. [Note: Buxtorf Lex. P. 2230, Schöttgen Horae, vol. i, p. 1125.] Whether this was done before the time of Peter and John, we can allow to remain undecided. The probability certainly is, that it was. But for Christians, at any rate, Rome first became Babylon, when it entered on the persecution of the true people of God. Not what it inflicted on the mere fleshly Israel; but only what it inflicted on the true, could have justified its being called by that name. In this first did the spirit fully display itself, which had impelled it during its earlier career. If, in the case of the beast, the blasphemy against the name of God and his tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven, is essentially the war against the saints (ch. Revelation 13:6-7), the same also must hold in respect to Babylon. In ch. Revelation 18:20, it is represented as the chief feature in Babylon’s guilt, what she had done against the apostles and prophets. The other only became manifest in this. Also, in the Old Testament, whatever the great monarchies of the world might do in regard to merely worldly kingdoms, it was only when the same came to be practised against the Lord’s people, that it appeared as the occasion of divine judgment; see, for example, Habakkuk 2.—“As often as a delineation is given of Babylon in this book, it has the epithet of the great city, or simply the great, which still conveys an idea of magnificence.” (Here it is called merely the great; the “city,” which Luther retains, is wanting in the best manuscripts, and to be deleted). The designation is taken from Daniel 4:27, where Nebuchadnezzar speaks of Babylon the great. But the permanence of the designation, as if it formed a component part of the proper name, cannot but appear somewhat strange. It is to be explained from an allusion to the name Rome, strength, which still plainly discovers itself in ch. Revelation 18:2. That it is not called the strong- but the great, was on account of the fundamental passage of Daniel.
Babylon the great, is fallen. Allusion is made to Isaiah 21:9, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon.” Comp. Jeremiah 50:2, Jeremiah 51:8. The fundamental passage shews, that the omission of one of the expressions, “it is fallen,” in some copies, has arisen from negligence. In that passage also, the preterite is a prophetical one, denoting the certainty of the overthrow, which had already as good as taken place. With an intentional repetition it is again said in ch. Revelation 18:2-3, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon— because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The preterite there is an actually historical one: what is predicted here, is represented there as fulfilled, as also in ch. Revelation 16:19, it is the actual overthrow of Babylon that is treated of. In the description of the fulfilment the words of the prophecy are again repeated, only some further enlargement is given to them.
Babylon, the great, has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. [Note: The original reading is: which, ἡ?́? , bus made drunk. The ἡ?́? , on account of the cacophony, an ἡ?́? immediately preceding, and on account of ch. 18:13, was by many copyists changed into ὁ?́?τι . Others have nothing, either to avoid the cacophony, or because on account of the first ἡ?́? they overlooked the second, or, perhaps, because they were perplexed by the vacillating of the MSS. between ἡ?́? and ὁ?́?τι . This is the worst reading. The asyndeton is harsh and without any occasion, and against ch. 18:8. The ὁ?́?τι there jis related to the ἡ?́? here, as πέ?πωκε to πεπό?τικε . Scripture delights in such intentional repetitions to introduce some unimportant alterations.] The wine of the wrath is the wine, which consists of wrath. As wine makes the drinkers helpless, so does her wrath the nations. The making the nations drunk with wine is a very common image in the Old Testament. The point of comparison is always the impotence, the helplessness, misery, degradation, shamefulness of the condition (see my Comm. on Psalms 9:5). In Habakkuk 2:15-16, it is said of the king of Babylon: “Woe to thee, who dost give thy neighbour drink, pouring out thy wrath, and makest him drink that thou mayest see their nakedness. Thou shalt be filled with shame for glory. Drink thou also, and be uncovered, and let shame come upon thy glory.” The sense of Habakkuk 2:15 is: Woe to him, who in his wrath makes his neighbour impotent, in order to take advantage of his humiliation. The wrath is the wine—comp. Jeremiah 25:15. This figure is likewise applied to Babylon in Jeremiah 51:7, “The golden cup of Babylon is in the hand of the Lord (to be now presented to herself, according to Jeremiah 25:26, while hitherto in executing the Lord’s commission she had presented it to others), that makes all the world drunk; the nations have drunk of her wine; therefore have the nations become mad.” Comp. also Nahum 3:11, where it is said of Nineveh, “Thou also shall be drunken, be hid” (the latter expression gives the meaning of the figure; accordingly the drunkenness denotes the impotence, the total degradation, the utter vanishing); and Obad. Obadiah 1:16, And all the heathen drink continually, and they drink and swallow down, and they are as if they were not.”
The wine of the wrath of which Babylon has made the heathen to drink, is more particularly described as that of her fornication. By the image of fornication is denoted in some passages of the Old Testament the selfishness, that under the veil of love disguises itself, and in this form seeks the gratification of its own lust. In Isaiah 23:15, ss. Tyrus is named a whore on account of its commercial alliances, and its commercial gain is represented as the hire of a whore. [Note: The words: She whores with all the kings of the earth, is rendered by the LXX.: καὶ? ἔ?σται ἐ?μπόριον πάσαις ταῖ?ς βασιλείαις τῆ?ς οἰ κουμένης .] The point of comparison is the making one’s self agreeable, feigning love for the sake of gain. In Nahum 3:4, the term fornication is employed to denote the diplomatic arts of the Assyrian power, by which she insinuated herself upon the nations’, in order to ensnare and destroy them under the semblance of love. Among conquering nations there always goes along with their rough power a hypocritical love and friendship, by which they endeavour to wheedle the nations and make them subservient to their purposes. What is described as fornication in Nahum 3:4—“Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts”—is in Nahum 3:1 described as deceit. The point of comparison is quite the same in Nahum as in Isaiah, viz., selfishness concealing itself behind the appearance of love. The difference simply is, that the gain sought for is there represented as gain of merchandise, here of countries. In the same way we are to explain here, “her fornication.” It is added to give additional strength and elevation to the meaning. Without it we might have thought merely of rude force, which here is relatively the least of the bad qualities. It is as much as, “Her wrath has made the nations poor, and that (not merely by means of rude force, but also) under the fair covering of love, inveigling her neighbours to their greater destruction, whom she was bound in truth to protect, by means of an artful and cunning diplomacy.” The terrible character of this fornication of Rome, John had probably learned from his own experience. It shewed itself also in the treatment of Christians. In the history of her persecutions we are not so much shocked at their ferocity as at the cunning, by which under the semblance of love it was tried to seduce Christians into apostacy to the faith.
The common supposition is, that the giving to drink of the wine of her fornication, means seduction to the service of idolatry. So Bengel: “This fornication is also mentioned in ch. Revelation 17:2; Revelation 17:4, Revelation 18:3; Revelation 18:9, Revelation 19:2; and hence Babylon herself is called the whore, the great whore, the mother of harlots, ch. 17. Such fornication is properly the false worship of God, even with a Christian name and appearance; and it is compared to wine, on account of its pleasantness and its power to make drunk.” But this interpretation makes shipwreck on the circumstance, that the subject is the wine of the wrath, or the wrath-wine of her fornication. It is impossible to shew, in regard to fornication of that sort, how it proceeds from the principle of wrath. The different ways, in which commentators have tried to meet this argument, only shew how invincible it is. Several, with Bengel at their head, cut the knot, and declare the expression, “of the wrath,” to be spurious. The omission of it, however, in some manuscripts, which Luther has followed, can lend them no support; it merely shews, that there were already scribes, who did not know what to make of it. Others have tried to help themselves by an explanation. Most have gone in with the assertion, that wrath stands here for glow or for poison; the wrath-wine denotes drink that is heating, burning, that is, filling or poisoning the mind with zeal for idols. But this interpretation is contrary to the ascertained signification of θυμό?ς , wrath, [Note: Bengel already remarked: Supersedemus labore illo, quo nonulli vocabulo θυμό?ς significationem aestus conficere conantur.] and especially against the constant use of it in the Apocalypse; more particularly against Revelation 14:10, where the wrath of God refers back to the wrath of Babylon here. Others, still again, abide by the signification of wrath, but the wrath must not be that of Babylon, it must belong to the drunkards: the wine, which turns into wrath. But the wine must here, as in Revelation 14:10, belong to the party, who gives the wine to be drunk. All these shifts, however, are at once put to shame by Habakkuk 2:15. And even apart from the expression, “of the wrath,” which places an insuperable barrier against the explanation of the clause that would understand it of seduction to idolatry, it is also quite opposed to the common usage of the figure of making drunk with wine in the Old Testament, and to Revelation 14:10, where the figure is likewise employed in the description of the recompense. Further, that the fornication here can only be feigned love for the sake of self-interest, is clear from the undeniable reference of the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 18:3, to Isaiah 23. And in that same passage, since “the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,” is coupled with, “and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies,” it would be impossible to make out any proper connection, if we should understand idolatry by fornication. Finally, in ch. Revelation 19:2 it is said, “He has judged the great whore, who corrupted the earth through her fornication.” From the words that immediately follow, “And has avenged on her the blood of his servants,” and from the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 11:18, it cannot be spiritual corruption that is meant here, but only material, and such judgment as carries along with it complete destruction.
Revelation 14:9. And another, a third angel followed them, and said with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast, and his image, and receive a mark in his forehead or in his hand; Revelation 14:10. The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed unmixed in the cup of his wrath; and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone before the holy angels and before the Lamb. Revelation 14:11. And the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, who worship the beast and his image, and if any one receives the mark of his name.
The two first messages are preliminary stages to the third, as is clear from the circumstance, that this last connects itself immediately with ch. 13. It is here also that the aim of all the three messages first comes clearly out. They were intended to strengthen men’s minds against the temptation which the seeming omnipotence of the beast should present to the followers of the Lamb, and arm them against his seductive arts by the solemn call: worship not the beast, for the hour of judgment has come, Babylon is fallen, etc. How great the temptation is, and how weak the human heart, is evident from the strong colours, which are here thrown into the delineation. Bengel: “This above all measure dreadful threatening is undoubtedly the most severe to be found in scripture.”Fear can only be driven out by a stronger fear. “The ancient Cyprian often strengthened his exhortations to steadfastness under bloody persecutions with this word.” Let us shut it fast up in our hearts! The times are drawing nigh, when we shall again need such heroic means against fear! The threatening is directed against the worshippers generally, not against those, who suffer themselves to be seduced. But the aim, toward which it is spoken, is to guard against seduction. Who, to avoid drinking out of the beast’s cup of wrath, would join himself to the company of those, who must drink out of the cup of God’s wrath, and be tormented with fire and brimstone for ever?
The assigning of a ground for the preceding threatening furnishes, at the same time, the starting-point for the threatening here. This refers to the punishment in general, and in its widest compass; then follows the allusion to the fearful acme of the punishment, the pains of hell. [Note: The καὶ? at the beginning of Revelation 14:10 is the accented and; it points to the inseparable connection between the action described in Revelation 14:9, and the fate here threatened. In a quite similar way the καὶ? is also used in ch. 10:7. We are not to explain: he will also drink, as Babylon; for that Babylon shall drink had not been expressly said in what precedes; nor do Babylon and the worshippers of the beast form any contrast; our message also would then lose its substantiality.]
On the figure of drinking of wine, comp. on Revelation 14:8. It is not infrequently used in the Old Testament with reference to impending judgments. The fundamental passage is Psalms 9:4; on which rest Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22; and again on the latter, Jeremiah 49:12, Jeremiah 25:15, ss., on which Bengel remarks, “Jeremiah must, out of a cup of wine full of wrath from God’s hand, pour out to many nations; by which is meant, the misery that the king of Babylon was to bring on them.” Here the allusion is more especially to Psalms 75:8 of Psalms 75, which treats of the overthrow of the proud enemies and persecutors of the church: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and it foams with wine; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same; and yet its dregs must sip, drink all the wicked of the earth.” By comparing this fundamental passage, we perceive also in what sense it is said here of the wine, that it is mixed (Luther improperly poured out [Note: The usage, as well us the fundamental passage, is against Ibis explanation, which is still defended. The signification, in winch it takes κερά?ννυμι , rests in merely upon certain passages in the classics, which arc analogous to ours—passages, in which at first sight the ascertained meaning seems not to suit—see Stephani, thes. ed. Paris. But if mix might really stand for pour out, the following ἀ?κρά?του would still render it improper here. For the mixed and unmixed evidently form an enigmatical contrast. Finally, in the parallel passage, ch. 18:6, the signification to pour out is unsuitable.] ) in the cup of the wrath of God. According to it we can only think of a mixture with ingredients, which increase its intoxicating power, give to the wine the character of wine of drunkenness ( Psalms 9:4). or wine which produces the effect of drunkenness. The addition of such ingredients [Note: See Gesenius in his thes. under מסךְ? , Wilner in his Real würt. Under wine, Drechsler on Isaiah 5:22.] is supported in the fundamental passage, not merely by the mention of mixture (mixed drink), but also by the fermenting, foaming. The presence of this pernicious mixture carries along with it the absence of all alleviating mixtures: the mixed is unmixed. Among the Greeks it was customary to drink wine mixed with water. This sort of mixture occurs also in the Old Testament, as a weak drink ( Isaiah 1:22). In the wine of God’s wrath, what corresponds to this mixture with water is the element of grace, of compassion. This can have no place here. That God does not mix for the worshippers of the beast, has its foundation, according to ch. Revelation 18:6, in this, that they also had not mixed, that their wrath, before the day of visitation, had been a terrible one, tempered by no exercise of clemency. From the frightful punishment, generally, the threatening ascends to its highest point, the punishment of hell: he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. It was with fire and brimstone that Sodom and Gomorrah were punished; Genesis 19:24; Luke 17:29, “The same day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.” On the ground of this prophetic action temporal judgments on the wicked appear in the Old Testament under the image of fire and brimstone—see Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 34:9-10, where it is said, in the threatening against Edom, the type and representative of the enemies of the church, “The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the laud thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” In the passage before us the peculiarly disagreeable fire of brimstone is used as an image of the torments of hell. For that these are what are meant here, there can be no doubt from the parallel passages, ch. Revelation 19:20, where the beast and the false prophet are cast together into the lake of fire, which burns with brimstone, ch. Revelation 20:10, where Satan himself is cast there, and ch. Revelation 21:8, according to which the lost have their part in the lake, that burns with fire and brimstone. Nor do the fundamental passages in the Gospels leave any room to doubt, such as Matthew 5:22, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 18:8; Luke 16:24, and, in particular, Luke 12:4-5, to which the words before us are very closely related, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yea, I say unto you, fear him.” We have only a variation of this declaration of our Lord, in the passage now under consideration. The practical point of view in both is the same. Both aim at driving out the fear of man by means of the fear of God. The fire of brimstone, besides, as a punishment, is the righteous recompense for the unrighteous brimstone-fire of their passion, their wrath, their hatred; comp. ch. Revelation 9:17-18. The torment of the fire and brimstone seizes them, before the holy angels, and before the Lamb. These stand over against the instruments of the beast, before whom the true confessors of the Lamb were tormented. That they are to be regarded as the executors of the judgment, is clear from the closely related passage 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, where the Lord Jesus appears with the angels of his power, to execute in flaming fire vengeance on those, who know not God and are not obedient to the Gospel. The angels and the Lamb cannot be mentioned as those against whom they have fought, and whom they now see present with shame in their punishment. For, nothing is ever said of a battle against the angels. The angels are designated as holy. [Note: This predicate is wanting in man; MSS. But the omission has been occasioned merely by the invertion in others, and the uncertainty thereby produced. The bare angels would be too bald.] In 2 Thessalonians 1, “the angels of his power” is a corresponding expression. Holy = glorious (comp. ch. Revelation 4:8), is applied as an epithet to the angels, in contrast to the impotent creatures on earth, who can give no resistance to the strokes of these august servants of the divine vengeance. Christ appears here under the name of the Lamb, for the same reason that he did so in ch. Revelation 6:16.
The words, “the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever,” refer to Genesis 19:28, where Abraham is represented as looking down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the whole plain of Jordan, “and lo! the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.” In that great monument of the righteous judgment of God. there was given a matter-of-fact prophecy of the one before us. Hell would be a fable, if it had not such earthly types. What is to be done hereafter, can only be regarded as a reality, when the same law that necessitates it is found to be in operation here. An allusion is made to the same passage in ch. Revelation 19:3, where it is said of Babylon, “and her smoke ascends up for ever and ever.” There, the catastrophe of ancient times is referred to as giving assurance of an earthly judgment. The words, “And they have no rest day and night,” &c., merely resume the preceding clause about the smoke of their torment ascending up for ever, in order to join thereto the emphatically repeated description of those who are appointed to that dreadful fate: the end of the message returns by a sort of refrain to its beginning. From what they have no rest, enjoy no relief, is to be learned from the preceding words; it is from being tormented with fire and brimstone. The meaning is, and they have there no rest. Against the interpretation of Vitringa: but in this life they must carry about with them an evil conscience, which gives them no rest day and night, a decisive objection is furnished by ch. Revelation 20:10, “and they are tormented day and night for ever and ever;” as it shews, that we can only understand what is said here of hell-torments, and as the contrast to the heavenly rest of the saints in Revelation 14:13. The threatening is a frightful one. But it has the security for its truth in the word of the Lord, Matthew 25:41, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” In the presence of such an appalling truth, who would ever think of making concessions to the beast, or of yielding a finger’s breadth to the world? The clause, “they have no rest day and night,” points back to the words in ch. Revelation 4:8, “and have no rest day and night, and say, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.”
This restlessness in intolerable suffering forms the contrast to that other restlessness in the blessed discharge of duty, which needs no relaxation, because activity here is itself refreshing. The choice lies only between these two kinds of restlessness. An intermediate condition, the rest of inactivity, does not exist.
Revelation 14:12. Here is the patience of the saints, those that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Luther improperly omits the article before patience, and after saints repeats here are). The verse contemplates the point of view from which the preceding description is to be considered, the end it is intended to serve. The object was to strengthen believers in patience, in the willing endurance of all that they had to suffer for Christ, while steadfastly adhering to their confession. Is the hour of judgment approaching? Is the Babylon, that now boasts of her victories, destined to destruction? Are there inexpressible torments awaiting the worshippers of the beast? Then, assuredly, the patience of the saints is here in its proper place (comp. on ch. Revelation 13:10), which is not weakened and impaired through suffering. Bengel: “It is patience, when one adapts himself to all that he has to suffer, and will comply with nothing that is forbidden.” The words, “those that keep,”&c., have respect to that, which by means of patience is to be maintained against all assaults; q.d., that they keep. [Note: That the τηρεῖ?ν is used by John, in passages of this sort, in the sense of keeping (see on ch. 1:3, 2:26, 3:8, 12:17), comes out here with peculiar clearness. For this sense alone will suit both the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.] That under the commands of God faith in Jesus, that is, faith toward Jesus, is to be regarded as holding the foremost place, in which the fulfilling of all the rest has its root, is evident from 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Where the faith in Jesus is but maintained, there, as a matter of course, will be found the keeping of all the other commandments of God, which here come more especially into notice; such as, thou shall have no other gods before me, thou shalt love the Lord thy God, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Revelation 14:13. 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 labours, for their works follow with them. In the preceding verse we have the negative reason assigned for patience, in the reference that is had to the heavy judgments of God on the Antichrist, and those who allow themselves to be seduced by him; here is given the positive reason, in the view that is presented of the eternal blessedness of the faithful. Who, that has his eye fixed on it, would not willingly surrender his poor life on earth? Who can hang in doubt, when the alternative is placed before him between having no rest day or night from the torments of hell, and a repose from his toils? The voice from heaven can neither be that of Christ, nor of God, for it speaks of those who die in the Lord. It may well be conceived to be that of one of the just made perfect, testifying, from his own experience, what the true members of the militant church on earth have to expect in heaven, perhaps one of the elders (ch. Revelation 7:13-14). For, the order to write, bespeaks the high importance of the declaration. Berleb. Bible: “This command to write is repeated twelve times in the Revelation, to indicate, that all the things it refers to are matters of importance, which must not be forgotten by the church of Christ. What, then, is it, that John was to write? What is of the greatest moment for us poor, fallen creatures, to know in life and death?
So then may the Spirit of Jesus Christ himself write these words, which are so true and certain, with his finger on all our hearts, and engrave them on our minds, that they may no more be overlooked or forgotten! They shall indeed be of good service to us, if with all seriousness we lay hold of them, and treasure them up in a really good heart.” That the blessedness spoken of does not refer to the great distress of the world, which the persons in question have escaped, as is supposed by some, who, unseasonably, compare Isaiah 57:1-2, but only to the felicity of heaven, appears from what follows, where they are declared to be blessed on account of their resting from their labours. It is the dead that are the subject of the declaration, because the blessedness belongs to the state after death; q.d. Blessed after their death are those, &c. It is not said, they are dead; for it is intended to give courage for death; but it is said: the dead, in order to determine the sphere of blessedness. Some suppose, that the dead are here regarded in the spiritual sense; thus Bengel: “In respect to the heavenly life, we are all dead. Hence our Lord said to a disciple, Let the dead bury their dead. Not only the buried, but also the persons who bury, are alike dead.” But the faithful, who alone are spoken of in the context, are never described in Scripture as dead. In Matthew 8:22, the dead are the unbelieving as opposed to the believing. In Romans 8:10, it is said, “But if Christ is in you, the body is dead, indeed, because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” Comp. on ch. Revelation 3:1.
The Lord is the Lord Jesus; comp. Revelation 22:20, Revelation 11:8, and the fundamental passage, 2 Thess. 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:18, where the discourse is of the dead and such as sleep in Jesus. A commentary on the expression, in the Lord, by faith incorporated with him, is supplied by John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” Those that die in the Lord are not the martyrs alone; but the blessedness of dying in the Lord is celebrated, in order to excite to martyrdom, to inspire the determination to be faithful even unto death, ch. Revelation 2:10. The connection shews, that we are not to think of the martyrs alone as such. For the blessedness mentioned belongs manifestly to the 144,000, the whole Christian host, in contrast with the worshippers of the beast, who have no rest day and night. Then, the expression itself is against the limitation to the martyrs, as is also the comparison of the fundamental passages. (The brief description in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “the dead in Christ,” is here unfolded). We find the right view given by Bengel, “To die in the Lord. means to depart in the faith of Jesus Christ the Son of God, as a Christian, 1 Peter 4:16; it takes place alike on the death-bed, and through the power of the beast; which last, indeed, at such a time was the common mode.”
The dead, who die in the Lord, are blessed from henceforth. This from henceforth does not form a contrast with an earlier time, during which the dead, who die in the Lord, were not blessed. Not that; for the blessedness is quite as old as the dying in the Lord, and this dates from the death of Christ, which brought life to light also for the intermediate state ( 2 Timothy 1:10). But the expression forms a contrast in respect to a distant future, in respect to the completion of the kingdom of God. It means substantially, even now; not merely in the new Jerusalem which is one day to be set up on the renovated earth, but from the very moment of their departure to heaven. It is explained by the conversation between Christ and the penitent thief. This person prayed that the Lord would remember him when he should come in his kingdom, viz. at the setting up of his kingdom of glory on the earth. But the Lord grants him more than he sought:” Verily, I say unto thee , to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise”( Luke 23:43). When the malefactor called Jesus Lord, he showed that he was one who died in the Lord. For it is to die in the Lord, when one in the immediate prospect of death confesses to him with full confidence as the Lord. In this book a distinction is drawn in ch. Revelation 6:11 between a glorious inheritance which is obtained immediately after departure, and another which is to accrue at some period in the remote future; and the former, the heavenly blessedness which begins immediately when life here has ceased, is portrayed at considerable length in ch. Revelation 7:9-17; comp. also ch. Revelation 14:1-5. The word here: Write, blessed from henceforth, has its proper complement in that recorded in ch. Revelation 19:9, Write, blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb; which bears respect to the second stage of blessedness. The first is referred to, besides our verse, in ch. Revelation 20:6, “Blessed is he and holy, who has part in the first resurrection.” This word, from henceforth, is a precious jewel, an antidote against the cheerless doctrine that would make a long night go before the bright day; such, for example, as theirs is, who dream of a sleep of the soul. The real- sting of the comfortless character of this doctrine does not exactly lie in its throwing the full inheritance of salvation so far back. The throwing back is so much at variance with the essential nature of faith, that the matter itself becomes thereby uncertain. If it is true what our Lord says in the gospel of John, John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say to you, whosoever heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and does not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life;”then the soul’s life in Christ can suffer no interruption; and whenever any interruption is believed to exist, eternal life itself is indirectly denied. The from henceforth is a strong shield to the Christian, which may keep him from falling away under all temptations. If in this now he must die for the faith, he attains from henceforth to a life, in comparison of which the life he surrenders may be regarded as a death.—“Yea, saith the Spirit; this”—as Bengel remarks—“is a very agreeable interpellation in which the Spirit catches up the words that were uttered by the voice from heaven.” The Spirit (comp. on ch. Revelation 2:7) is the Spirit by which John was inspired. What is uttered here needs a higher security than can be given to it by “the Christian consciousness.” We are not, with Luther, to render: yea, the Spirit saith; but only, yea, saith the Spirit. Hence, we are to supply from the preceding, “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord;” [Note: In like manner is the main statement to be repeated after the ναὶ? out of the preceding context in Matthew 11:6: ναὶ? ὁ? πατήρ (ἐ?ξομολογου·μαί? σοι ) ὅ?τι οὕ τως ἐ?γένετο εὐ δοκία ἔ?μπροσθέν σου , comp. 15:27.] and the following words, “that they may rest from their labours,” &c., will then denote more precisely wherein the blessedness consists, or wherein this makes itself to be known. [Note: Exactly corresponding is ch. 22:14, Μακάριοι οἱ? πλύνοντες τὰ?ς στολὰ?ς αὐ τῶ?ν , ἵ?να ἔ?σται ἡ? ἐ?ξουσία αὐ τῶ?ν ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? ξύλον τῆ?ς ζωῆ?ς , where also ἵ?να is used to indicate more precisely the manner of the blessedness; see also for another example of a similar use of ἵ?να in ch. 8:12, 9:20.] Along with the resting from labours, goes the not resting from saying, Holy, holy, holy, which it is the highest felicity of the elect to be ever uttering. Berleb. Bible, “Souls, which have become truly soft and weary under the burden of this life and the service of vanity, which have learned to sigh after rest, like a servant and day-labourer, these have much work lying upon their back, and it is a sweet word for them to hear, that they ‘ shall rest.” The labours here referred to are those they have had in the service of the Lord; comp. ch. Revelation 2:2; John 4:38; Thess. Revelation 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 15:58. He that would rest must work—work, not merely for his own interest, but for him who has bought him. We must the rather think here only of labours in the Lord (in particular of such as were undergone in the conflict with the beast), as the following works are manifestly to be regarded as the product of the labours. “Work (remarks Bengel) elsewhere imports reward, but not here. For reward follows no one out of this world into the next, but is met with in that world. However, the following of the works indicates that there is to be reward.” This furnishes a refutation to the remark of De Wette, “By a metonymy deeply seated in the nature of things work is put as identical with the consequence or reward of work, while elsewhere the latter, according to the lower view of barter, is looked upon as different from the former.” This “lower view of barter” has place also here, and wherever the living God is truly recognized. If we identify work and reward, placing the latter only in the satisfaction to one’s natural feelings, which accompanies virtue, [Note: So Grotius; memoria factorum, unde pax et tranquillitas conscientiae.] we should make man his own rewarder.
The for has been changed into a but by those who have changed the resting into a simple repose. A resting is not to be thought of, if their works do not follow them.
When once the idea of resting is rightly conceived, the antithesis introduced by the but, Se, will not appear suitable.
It is said: not, their works follow after, but they follow with them. [Note: The expression ἀ?κολουθεῖ?ν μετά? is found out of the Revelation only in Luke 9:49, where John also speaks in a remarkable manner.] By this the immediate consequence and accompanying is denoted. The expression” with them,” corresponds to the “from henceforth” going before. The works would follow, though they were only rewarded at the last judgment. Bengel: “Whether there may remain a short, and little regard, or even none at all, of their works in the world, this does them no harm, nor do they inquire about it.”
Revelation 14:14. And I saw, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud sat one, who was like a Son of man; he had a golden crown upon his head, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
The cloud brings a judgment in view; (comp. on the clouds, with which, or attended by which the Lord comes, as a shadow of the judgment at ch. Revelation 1:7). That the cloud is white, is because of the glory of him who comes to execute the judgment; (see on white as the colour of bright splendour, the symbolical emblem of glory, and hence the prevailing colour in the manifestation of Christ, at ch. Revelation 4:4); hence the whiteness bespeaks the frightful character of the judgment. In Luke 21:27, and Matthew 24:30, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and 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,” this latter expression, “with power and great glory,” corresponds to the white cloud in the passage before us. A glance at the white cloud is as consolatory to the church, as it is terrible to the world, for which it is the herald of destruction. When the Lord’s people find sorrow and tribulation in the world, when every thing appears to be lost to them, when they are apt to become faint through the temptations of the world, let them but direct their view to the white cloud, and they will be comforted and strengthened.
On the words, “and on the cloud sat one, who was like a Son of man,” comp. ch. Revelation 1:13, “And in the midst of the lamps one, who was like a Son of man.” Here, as there, allusion is made more immediately to Matthew 24:30. But the proper fundamental passage is Daniel 7:13, “Behold upon the clouds of heaven came one, like a Son of man.”
The crown is everywhere in the Revelation the sign of royal dignity, of dominion—comp. on ch. Revelation 9:7, Revelation 6:2. Christ bears it as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to whom, consequently, all judgment is committed, comp. ch. Revelation 19:12.
The sickle, the instrument of reaping the harvest, Christ bears as the Lord of the harvest ( Matthew 9:38, comp. Mark 4:38). “To bear in the hand a sharp sickle, means to be ready and prepared for the execution of a frightful judgment of God against the enemies of the church.” By the image of the harvest in Scripture is denoted primarily the spiritual harvest, or the gathering of souls into the church of Christ ( Matthew 9:38; John 4:35). Then, it signifies “the end of the world,” the final decision on the fates of the righteous and the wicked, when both parties shall be gathered to their proper portion, and housed, as it were, in their own dwelling ( Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:39; Mark 4:29). Finally, it denotes the harvest of wrath, the one-half, in a manner, of that more comprehensive application of the image, “when the sin and wickedness of men shall have grown till it has become ripe for visitation and just punishment.” This last use of the image is the oldest, the one which already occurs in the Old Testament. The proper fundamental passage is Joel 3:12-13, where, in the description given of the judgment on the heathen, in which all judgments on the enemies of the church are combined into one grand image, it is said, “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe; come, get you down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great.” The ripeness of the harvest, the fulness of the vats, indicates the fulness of the guilt. On the expression, “get you down,” comp. Joel 3:11, “Cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord,” the heavenly heroes ( Psalms 103:20), who shall make easy work with the pretended ones on earth. The whole address in Joel 3:13 is directed to the mighty ones, the angels, with the angel of the Lord at their head. In like manner, in Isaiah 27:11, the harvest is the harvest of punishment; it is said there of the world’s strong ones, “when their harvest has become dry they shall be broken off.” And in Jeremiah 51:33, where it is said of Babylon, “Yet a little while, and the time of her harvest comes.” There can be no doubt that here also the figure denotes the harvest of punishment, and that we are to reject the interpretation of Bengel, who remarks, “the vintage is expressive only of wrath and punishment, the harvest is entirely of a gracious character. By the harvest a great multitude of the righteous, by the vintage a great multitude of the wicked are taken from this world.” In a prophetical book like ours, it is from the first probable, that the prophetical use of the figure is the one that would be adopted. The special allusion to Joel is clear from this, that here, precisely as there, the harvest and the vintage are immediately connected with each other. It admits of no doubt that the passage in Joel 3:13 is the text which forms the foundation of this whole section, and that consequently the application of the image there furnishes the key for the one made here. In Revelation 14:15 there is a literal allusion to Isaiah 27:11. The express mention of the sharpness of the sickle shows, that we have to do with a judgment. Bengel himself remarks, “The sharper the sickle is, the more it takes at once, and the more quickly is the cutting accomplished.” The mention of the cloud also points to a work of judgment; wherever Christ appears on a cloud the work immediately in hand is always a judgment. The name, too, of the Son of man points in the same direction, as it is chiefly used, according to the fundamental passage of Daniel, when Christ appears for judgment—comp. John 5:27, and Revelation 1:13. A contrast, such as Bengel supposes between the harvest and the vintage, is not indicated in a single trait. The bringing home of the righteous is never represented in any other part of Scripture by the image of the harvest, and here also it is quite unsuitable to the connection.
Many expositors have supposed that it is not Christ who appears on the cloud, but an ordinary angel. But the marks of Christ are too plain—the form of a Son of man (a word which, from the original passage in Daniel, has been, as it were, set apart for Christ), the sitting on the cloud, the golden crown (the elders might fitly bear a crown, ch. Revelation 4:4, but the angels never appear arrayed in crowns), the sharp sickle as the symbol of his judicial power toward the enemies of his church,—and what has been urged against Christ as the subject cannot stand examination. It has been said, that the person sitting upon the cloud is pretty plainly indicated to be an angel; for in Revelation 14:15 another angel is spoken of. But Christ also appears as an angel in ch. Revelation 7:2, Revelation 10:1, Revelation 18:1, Revelation 20:1. It is urged that Christ cannot receive a command from an angel (more correctly, through an angel). But the same thing occurs in the Apocalypse as in the Gospel of John, where “the activity of the Son always takes its impulse from that of the Father, and treads in its footsteps” (Koestlin, p. 97), where Christ says in John 5:30, “I can do nothing of myself, as I hear, so I judge,” and in John 5:19,” Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise;” and where, in John 5:27, the power of Christ to execute judgment is referred back to the Father. In like manner the Apocalypse expressly teaches, that the Son has nothing which he has not received from the Father—comp. on ch. Revelation 1:1. In the angel who here brings to Christ the commission of the Father, this view of Christ’s dependence on the Father, to whom he is united by identity of nature, and whose will is not alien to him, has assumed, as it were, flesh and blood. By the description of his appearance satisfaction is done to the identity of nature, which is brought out with equal distinctness in the Apocalypse and in the Gospel. It is further urged, that the angels, and not Christ, are represented in Matthew 13:41 as executing the judgment. That passage, however, does not exclude Christ from sitting on the cloud, but rather implies it. For there, too, the Son of man appears as presiding in the judgment, while the angels are only his servants. If it was not Christ who sat upon the cloud, he would be altogether excluded from the judgment— He, to whom, even according to John, the Father has committed all judgment, and whose presence was the more indispensable here, as the judgment to be executed is against the enemies of the Lamb. Finally, it is alleged that the contrast here to the harvest-angel is the angel of the wine-press, and that this cannot possibly be Christ. But the angel of the wine-press is certainly Christ; and because he is so. it must be he also, who appears with the sharp harvest-sickle.
THE SECTION (CH. Revelation 14:14-20 )
In Revelation 14:6-13, the temptation, which the apparent omnipotence of the beast carried along with it, has had its sting taken out by the reference to the judgment, which threatens the world, that plies the temptation. Here, the judgment, as already entered, presents itself to the eye of the Seer, and indeed under a double image—that of the harvest, Revelation 14:14-16, and that of the vintage and the wine-press, Revelation 14:17-20. Both representations possess a comprehensive character. What in history is realized in a whole series of judicial acts, which at last run out into the final judgment, is here brought together in one great harvest, one great vintage and pressing of the grapes. Here, as also in the concluding portion of Joel, which is to be regarded as the fundamental passage, it is quite in vain to attempt to refer to a single phase of the judgment, what by its throughout general keeping is at variance with every more special interpretation. Those who attempted this, were led to do so merely from not perceiving the relation of this fourth group to the sixth, the peculiar characteristic of which consists in the representation of the particular phases of the judgment, the harvest and the vintage. But the real import of this section is also misapprehended by those, who speak of the typical or preliminary character of the two transactions. The sharp sickle, with which the harvest of the whole earth is reaped, and the clusters of the vine of the earth are cropt, has a quite peremptory character. It leaves nothing over for a future judgment; the range of the judgment is an unlimited one; its sphere is the whole earth; and its severity also is such as to admit of no further increase. The expositors in question have falsely substituted the provisional nature of the judgment itself for the general character of the description given of the judgment.
The practical aim is, to give courage before the world. For this nothing can be better adapted, than to “consider its end,” Psalms 73:17. Whoever, looking beyond its seeming almightiness, will fix his eye on the white cloud, and the Son of man on it with his sharp sickle, he can afford to laugh at the threatenings of the world; he knows, that it will soon itself suffer something far worse than it can inflict on him; and that he should inevitably be involved in its punishment, if he were to follow its guidance. Stephen, indeed, found it an easy matter to be steadfast. But the secret of his strength lay in this, that he was full of the Holy Ghost, and in consequence looked up toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. The Spirit would also raise us to like strength, when he speaks through John and sets before us such representations as those under consideration. Any one, that will take these to himself, will find himself cured of that natural cowardice, which still clings to all, even the most courageous, and shall be enabled to ride upon the high places of the earth.
Revelation 14:15. And another angel went out of the temple, and cried with a loud voice to Mm that sat on the cloud, Send thy sickle and reap, for the hour for reaping is come; for the harvest of the earth has become dry.
The heavenly temple (comp. on ch. Revelation 7:15, Revelation 11:19), is the symbol of the church; and the seat of God, not generally, but only in so far as the affairs of the church are concerned. It is simply on this account, that the command to reap goes forth from the temple, the misdeeds to be punished being such as had been committed against the church, and so the judgment had its root in the relation of God to his church on earth.
The call to send the sickle, rests on a personification of the sickle, the instrument is represented as an assistant. [Note: In Mark 4:29, the expression ἀ?ποστέλλει τὸ? δρέπανον occurs exactly as here. The poetical expression points to a poetical ground, the passage in Joel. In other respects also the passage in Mark is the most nearly related to ours of all the Evangelists.]
The expression, the hour is come, occurs in no part of Scripture so often, as in the Gospel of John, comp. John 2:4, John 7:30, John 8:20, John 16:21, John 16:25, John 16:32, John 17:1, etc. There are not properly two reasons assigned for the call, as Bengel supposes, but only one—the hour is come; and this again is based on the consideration, that the harvest of the earth has become dry. The punishment must not be delayed, if the measure of iniquity has become full (see Genesis 15:16; Matthew 23:32), “Where the carcase is, there the eagles shall be gathered together.” If any one, therefore, would know, whether a new phase of the harvest may be drawing nigh, he has only to inquire, whether the fields are becoming “white to the harvest.” That such is the case in the present day, that now the harvest of the earth has become dry, who can doubt? Bengel even in his day complained, “Any one that will carefully investigate the matter will find, that formerly people were wont to dig more deeply, that they possessed a spirit of greater seriousness, that they held more firmly by the word of God, that the obligations of holiness and the experiences of spiritual influence were much more inward, more savoury and tender, and more deeply rooted than they appear to be now. It seems as if much of what had been provided in earlier times, still continued to exist, but with enough ado to save itself from ruin.” And during the century which has passed since he wrote thus, matters have been retrograding more and more.
Revelation 14:16. And he, who sat upon the cloud, thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
The harvest of the earth is ripe, the harvest of the earth is reaped. Whence we plainly perceive the comprehensive character of this judgment. The harvest of Babylon is only a part of this harvest, the beginning of it. The last great harvest day is described in ch. Revelation 20:9. The word in ch. Revelation 14:7, “the hour of his judgment is come,” entirely agrees as to the meaning, only with this difference, that the judgment is there spoken of as at hand, and here of having already entered. He, who may be brought before an earthly judge, should above all have his eye intently fixed on the heavenly judge. “God judges on the earth”—this is the best preservative against the denial of the truth out of fear for human judges, not excepting the court of judgment which is formed by public opinion.
Revelation 14:17. And another angel went out of the temple in heaven, who had also a sharp sickle. Bengel: “If the world will always do what it pleases in its own time, and makes one display after another, God, on the other hand, knows still better, what is to be done, when his long-suffering has reached its end.” The angel is described as another, primarily with reference to Revelation 14:15. For only the angel there mentioned is expressly called by that name. If any one, however, would go back to Revelation 14:14, no doubt can be raised on this ground, from the expression, another angel,” as to Christ being here also meant by it. For the name of angel has respect, not to the person, but to the mission. We can think of none but Christ. For, the two images of the harvest and the vintage are too closely connected with each other, to admit of the latter, along with the treading of the grapes, being given up to another than him to whom the former belonged; the rather as the badge of the sickle is common to both. The work, besides, is too great, to be committed to a single ordinary angel, and the office would tread too closely on the honour of Christ, to whom all judgment has been committed by the Father. The character of the judgment also, as exercised upon the enemies of Christ, would thereby be darkened. Finally, the one who treads the wine-press can, according to Isaiah 63, be no other than Christ, and he also appears as such in the passage, ch. Revelation 19:15, from which the one before us cannot be divorced.
That the angel proceeds out of the temple, shews that Christ appears for the good of his persecuted church, with the sickle.
In regard to the words, “Who had also a sharp sickle,” it is clear, that we must not substitute for the sickle another instrument, one commonly used in the gathering of grapes. The small agricultural interest is overbalanced by the higher design of indicating, through the oneness of the instrument, the internal connection that subsists between the harvest and the vintage.
When fear would drive any one to concessions, let him only glance at this angel with the sharp sickle, that comes out of the heavenly temple, and he will feel as if a sword pierced his heart.
Revelation 14:18. And another angel went forth from the altar, who has power over fire, and cried with a loud cry to him, who had the sharp sickle, and said, Send thy sharp sickle, and cut the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its clusters have become ripe.
Bengel: “In the harvest he, to whom it is cried with a loud voice, is more gloriously described; but in the vintage a peculiar power is ascribed to him, who calls with a loud cry, and demands the gathering of the grapes.” The fact, that here he who has the sharp sickle is less pointedly described, is to be explained from the closely related character of the two images of judgment. The second representation is to be supplemented from the first. The altar, without any additional epithet, is the altar of burnt-offering. That the angel goes forth from it may be explained by a reference to Amos 9:1, “I saw the Lord standing upon the altar; and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake; and cut them on the head all of them; and the remnant of them I will slay with the sword; he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.” Ezekiel 9 is also to be taken into account as a farther enlargement of this declaration, and as the oldest commentary on it. There, at the Lord’s command, who comes to deliver his people, appear the ministers of his righteousness. They step forth (the scene is in the temple) beside the brazen altar. Hence, with Amos this altar is the place of transgression. There lie the unatoned iniquities of the people in one huge mass, the iniquities of both houses of Israel, instead of the rich treasury of love and faith which should have been found there embodied in sacrifice. In that place of transgression the Lord appears for the purpose of glorifying himself in the destruction of those who would not glorify him in their lives. So now, we might suppose here also that the angel comes from the altar on account of the foul gifts which had been presented on it—on account of the brimstone-fire of the hellish wickedness which had been burning there instead of the holy fire of God’s sacrifice. But what decides against this interpretation is the circumstance that the altar belongs only to the church, while the heathen, who are the subjects of the judgment, had nothing to do with it; they had not defiled it with their gifts, and could not call forth the divine vengeance upon the desecration. We must, therefore, seek for an explanation of this passage in ch. Revelation 6:9-10. Under the altar of the heavenly sanctuary lie the souls of those who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they had, in consequence of their being sacrificed on the altar. From thence the slain cry with a loud voice, and say, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thon not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth!” The angel comes forth from the altar to avenge the blood of the saints which had been shed upon the altar. Then, we can also understand why the angel should come out of the altar and not from it, as if ascending from its base, because, according to ch. 6, the souls of the martyred saints lay there. (Ewald’s attempt to substitute from for out is quite unsuccessful.) Ch. Revelation 16:7 also, where the altar is represented as saying, “Yea, Lord, righteous and true are thy judgments,” favours this explanation. The altar is there viewed as the place where the blood of saints and prophets had been shed. Still further, ch. Revelation 9:13 is analogous, where the punishment of the world is sought from the golden altar, as the place of the prayers of God’s people. There, as having respect to the thirst for the execution of God’s judgment on the world, the ardent supplication of the saints; here. their blood.
The angel has power over fire. Fire is commonly used in the Revelation as the symbol of divine wrath and judgment (comp. on ch. Revelation 4:5, Revelation 8:5); and that it is to be taken in this sense here also, is plain from the message that follows, which treats of the execution of judgment without making any mention of fire, which consequently must be fire, not in a literal, but a figurative sense. In Revelation 14:19 the wrath of God corresponds to this fire. That his wrath should appear under the image of fire has its foundation in the reference to the fire of the altar. The fire of God’s wrath utterly consumes those who are accused before God by the fire of the sacrifice of his saints; comp. ch. Revelation 8:5, where, in like manner, the wrath-fire is used in reference to the fire of the altar, only with this difference, that the fire there is the fire of prayer, here the fire of sacrifice. The power is of such a kind as may belong to an angel; he who has power is at the same time under power ( Matthew 8:9). The power is that only of a subaltern. In the full sense God alone has power over fire (comp. Revelation 16:9). A limitation is also supplied by what follows; as from this it appears that the power over fire consists in the circumstance, that he has to carry to him, to whom the Father has committed all judgment, the message that the time for it had now come. On the words, “the clusters of the vine of the earth,” Bengel remarks, “The blood-stream (rather, the sea of blood) thereof is so deep, and runs (extends) so far, that no other field but that of the whole world is great enough to bear such vast clusters.”
Revelation 14:19. And the angel struck with his sickle at the earth, and cut the vine of the earth, and threw (the cut-off clusters) into the great wine-press of the wrath of God. What the wine-press is for common clusters, that is the wrath of God for these.
Revelation 14:20. And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the bridles of the horses, a tract of a thousand six hundred stadia broad. The city, without any accompanying epithet, can only be the city, which was the city by way of eminence in the strictly bible territory, “the holy city” (ch. Revelation 11:1), Jerusalem. But this in the Revelation is always a designation of the church (see vol. i. p. 425.) That the wine-press was trodden out of the city, indicates that the members of the church are not the object of the judicial agency of God, that this has respect to the execution of judgment on the world as opposed to the church. Parallel is ch. Revelation 7:1-8, which represents the preservation of believers amid the judgments that threaten the world. The despised and hated “city” is now the only place of security and deliverance; but its gates are shut against its despisers and enemies. What is said of the triumphant church in ch. Revelation 21:27, “and there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie,” and in ch. Revelation 22:15, holds true also of the church militant. Bengel: “We here learn that the wicked are to be altogether excluded from the city of God as castaways; that they themselves shall be made to feel to their cost how great a salvation they have despised, and that they shall be made to serve as a salutary and refreshing spectacle to the inhabitants of the city of God.” Comp. Isaiah 66:24. According to ch. Revelation 20:9 we have probably to conceive of the “city” as being besieged by those who are here thrown into the wine-press. In the last chapter of Joel, also, the enemies on whom the judgments of God alight are gathered against Jerusalem; by which is expressed in a sensuous form the idea, that hostility to the church is the occasion of the judgment.
Blood comes forth from the wine-press. Wine is called in the Old Testament ( Genesis 49:11; Deuteronomy 32:14) the blood of grapes, not on account of its red colour, but because it is prepared from the juice and strength of grapes; comp. Isaiah 63:3-6. But these grapes yield real blood.
The blood reaches, so deep is the sea of blood which comes from the destruction of all the wicked on the earth, even to the bridles of the horses. “Oh! how vast a supply of fruit must there have been to afford so great a stream of blood!” The mention of the horses’ bridles seems at first sight to shew that in the execution of the judgments, which are here gathered into a great and appalling image, God may serve himself, to some extent at least, of men; comp. ch. Revelation 9:7; Revelation 9:13-21, where the four angels invade the earth with an incredible warlike force. But the warlike forces may also be those of the heavenly hosts (comp. ch. Revelation 19:14-15), by which the treader of the wine-press is accompanied in his vengeful enterprise. And this is the natural supposition, according to the passage just referred to, as there the warlike hosts come forth on white horses in connection with the work of treading the wine-press; and as elsewhere no mention is made of human instruments of judgment, either in the harvest or in the treading of the wine-press. What is written there stands related to the representation here, as a part to the whole. The mention of the horses would be too isolated if they did not belong to the train, by which the angel with the sharp sickle is immediately attended. In the fundamental passage of Joel also, the heroes or mighty ones are those of God, the angels.
Such is the depth of the sea of blood, but its breadth measures 1600 stadia. We are here to take for our starting-post the holy city, before whose gates the sea of blood (a sea, not a river, as also in Ezekiel 32:6 and Isaiah 34:3) begins, and completes a circle of 1600 stadia. [Note: The ἀ?πὸ? of distance from. This peculiar usage is found in the whole of the New Testament only in the Apocalypse and in the Gospel of John, ch 11:18, 21:8.] The number denotes a judgment encircling the whole earth. Four, the signature of the earth (comp. on ch. Revelation 4:6, Revelation 7:1, Revelation 9:14, Revelation 13:7, Revelation 14:6) is first multiplied by itself, and then again by 100. Quite similar is the formation of the 144,000; the fundamental number is twelve, first multiplied by itself, and then by 1000. Similar also is the formation of the number 666. According to several expositors the number here must be the length of Palestine. But this proceeds on the false supposition that it is a stream of blood which is here spoken of, instead of a sea of blood. Besides, the length of Palestine cannot be made properly to square with such a measurement; so that we are thrown on mere conjecture, to which no licence is given in the Apocalypse. Finally, one does not see what Palestine could have to do here, since throughout the Apocalypse it has no signification attached to it.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 14". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13