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Of the Church of the Reformation and the Fall of Spiritual Babylon.
The Lamb and His followers:
v. 1. And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having His Father's name written in their foreheads.
v. 2. And I heard a voice from heaven as the voice of many waters and as the voice of a great thunder; and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps;
v. 3. and they sung as it were a new song before the throne and before the four beasts and the elders; and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
v. 4. They are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb.
v. 5. And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.
After the picture of abomination in the preceding chapter we have here visions full of comfort and strength and consolation for all believers. The Lamb now again becomes the center of interest: And I saw, and, behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred forty-four thousand having His name, the name of the Father, written upon their foreheads. In the midst of the last great woe the Lord has ways and means of keeping and saving His Church. Mount Zion is often used figuratively for the Church of Christ and for the place where it is established. The Lamb is our Savior Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. The number given here, one hundred and forty-four thousand, is the symbolical figure representing the total number of the elect. See chap. 7:4-8. These elect of God did not bear the mark of the beast upon their forehead, but the name of their Savior, Jesus Christ, and of the Father in heaven, by whose power and through whose will salvation was given them.
John now tells what he heard in that vision: And I heard a voice out of heaven as the voice of many waters and as the rumbling of great thunder; and the voice which I heard resembled that of harpists playing on their harps; and they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living beings and the elders; and no one can learn the song except the hundred and forty-four thousand that have been redeemed from the earth. See chap. 5:8. It was a wonderfully strange and beautiful music which John heard, now as the rushing of mighty waters, then again as the rumbling of loud thunder, then resembling the delicate playing of many harpists attuned in perfect harmony. The glory and power and beauty of the Lord were praised in this incomparable hymn, in this hymn which is sung only in the heavenly presence, before the throne of God, before the four cherubim, before the elders that represent the Church of God on earth; Only those that are among the elect of God are able to learn this wonderful hymn; for hypocrites and Christians in name only it is too difficult It is like the confession of Peter; flesh and blood cannot comprehend it, but only they to whom the Spirit of God has revealed it.
The faithful believers, the elect of God, are now described more fully: These are they that have not been defiled with women, for virgins they are; these have been redeemed from men as the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, and in their mouth there is found no lie; for they are blameless. That is a characteristic of the elect of God in the midst of the abominations of this last period of the world: they take no part in the idolatry of the Pope wherewith so many people are now defiling themselves; they are pure in this respect. They have been redeemed from among men by the blood of Christ, which was indeed shed for them all, but which the great majority reject and therefore do not become partakers of its wonderful benefits. They are therefore the first-fruits of the spiritual harvest of the world, offered to God as a living sacrifice on the great Passover festival of heaven. They now belong to God, their heavenly Father, and to the Lamb, their Savior, whose cross they cheerfully bear after Him. They do not join in the hypocrisy which sings the praises of the Lamb and does the works of the dragon, but they are free from the lying and the falsehood of Anti-Christ. Altogether, they are pure, blameless, without stain, not on their own account, hut by virtue of the blood of Christ, which cleanses them from all sins.
The angel in mid-heaven:
v. 6. And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation and kindred and tongue and people,
v. 7. saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him; for the hour of His Judgment is come; and worship Him that made heaven and earth and the sea and the fountains of waters.
Here is a scene full of majesty and power: And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those that live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying with a powerful voice, Fear God and give Him glory; for the hour of His Judgment has come; and worship Him that made the heaven and the earth and the sea and the springs of water. This passage has been understood by Lutheran commentators, and undoubtedly correctly, to apply to Doctor Martin Luther and the Reformation. For he, as the angel of the Lord, different from the other angels spoken of in the previous chapters, brought back and preached the eternal Gospel of the justification of a poor sinner through the merits of Jesus Christ alone, by faith. In the very midst of the kingdom of Anti-Christ he preached this Gospel, and with such divine zeal and power that many thousands of captives were filled with joy over the deliverance here proclaimed. To fear God alone, that was the message which Luther brought back once more, and not to quail before the power of him that usurped the throne of God; to give honor to the Lord only, and not to him that has taken His place with idolatrous ambition. To worship God in Christ alone, that was the content of the proclamation of Luther, to address Him in spirit and in truth, through the merits of Jesus Christ. For, truly, the time was come when the Lord's hour of Judgment upon the world had appeared, when He wanted to make a selection and distinction between those that belonged to Anti-Christ and those whom He wanted for Himself. And therefore the true believers should adore, give divine honor, only to the almighty Creator of the world and of all it contains. The very words of the seer contain one of the mottoes of the Reformation: To God alone all glory! Thus Luther, called by God through His Word in a most singular manner, preached publicly, cheerfully, and loudly, in the midst of the dark kingdom of Anti-Christ, the pure, unadulterated Gospel of the Lord. With great power he testified that the faith of the Christians could and should rest, not on the word of the Pope or of any man, not on the resolutions of church assemblies and councils, but solely and alone on the Word of Christ as it is written in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. With great power he testified that a man is justified and saved in no way and in no part by his own work and merit, but wholly and only through the work of Christ, which is imputed to the believer by faith. And with great power he testified that the works of the Christians that please the Lord are not such as they choose for themselves, but such as are performed by justified children of God, by faith, through the Holy Ghost, for love of God and their neighbor, and to the honor of the Lord. This Gospel, as preached by Luther, was propagated as though the angels themselves were carrying it forth from the little town of Wittenberg to all tongues and peoples; and the Church of the Reformation is still continuing its victorious course through the countries.
Of this effect and result of the Reformation and of the fall of spiritual Babylon the next angels made announcement:
v. 8. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
v. 9. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand,
v. 10. the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb;
v. 11. and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
v. 12. Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
The voice of the second angel is like a resonance or echo of that of the first: And a second angel followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is great Babylon, who of the wine of the wrath of her fornication made all nations drink. That was the effect of the Reformation: it brought about the exposure and the fall of spiritual Babylon, of Rome, the seat of Anti-Christ. And this judgment came upon the Roman Church because she had introduced such abominations of idolatry into the temple of God, the Pope cult and the saint cult and the cult of good works and other methods by which God's honor was taken from Him. Wherever the missionaries of the Roman Church had come, they had spread this adulterous idolatry, by which men left the love of Jesus Christ as the only Savior and trusted in the intercession of various saints. In many cases the very idols of the heathen nations were Christianized by giving them the names of saints, while the old idolatry proceeded as before.
The third angel pronounced the sentence of God upon the kingdom of Anti-Christ: And the third angel followed them, saying with a powerful voice, If any one worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, he shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out unmixed into the cup of His anger, and he shall be tortured with fire and brimstone before the holy angels and before the Lamb. This is the curse and the punishment of God upon those that deliberately, willfully, maliciously, worship Anti-Christ and his hierarchical system, and willingly yield to having his impress or sign fastened upon them. He is not speaking of those that have been deluded by the outward pomp of the Roman Church and are members there, although in their hearts they cling to Jesus, their Savior. He is speaking of the willing servants of Anti-Christ. These shall feel the full wrath of God at the idolatry with which they have identified themselves; they shall be made to drink the cup of God's anger, like strong, unmixed wine. And their end will be the torments of hell, to be tortured with fire and brimstone in the very presence of the holy angels and of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. That fact will increase their torture a thousand fold, that they will be able to see the bliss of heaven, but will not be able to share it, Luke 16:23.
The torture of hell will be an eternal torment: And the smoke of their torment will arise forever and ever, and they will not have relief day and night that have worshiped the beast and his image, and if anyone has received the mark of his name. This simple statement overthrows all the false dreams of sectarians that are trying to lull men to sleep by preaching a final dissolution. The torment of hell will be a physical torment; but, the bodies of the damned having been rendered immortal, their torture will never have an end; the horrible pain will never cease, the fire will burn forever, and yet will never consume. Such is the fate of those that have sold themselves to Anti-Christ as his servants and thus have become partakers of his sin and of his damnation. All the more impressive, then, is the word which is added: Here is the patience of the saints, that keep the precepts of God and the faith of Jesus. In this way the patient steadfastness of the saints is manifested, namely, that they, in spite of all the blandishments of Anti-Christ, adhere simply to the will of God, whose highest commandment is this, that we believe in His Son Jesus Christ and have salvation in Him.
The bliss of the saints and the reaping of the earth:
v. 13. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write: Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.
v. 14. And I looked, and, behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud One sat like unto the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown and in His hand a sharp sickle.
v. 15. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in Thy sickle and reap; for the time is come for Thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
v. 16. And He that sat on the cloud thrust His sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
The fate of Anti-Christ's servants, of all those that reject the salvation of Christ, has just been pictured. The prospect of the loyal Christians is all the more glorious by contrast: And I heard a voice out of heaven saying, Write: Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth; yes, says the Spirit, that they rest from their labors; for their works follow after them. Here the curtain of heaven and of eternity is lifted for a moment to show the faithful believers, all who die in the faith, what a wonderful reward of mercy awaits them above. Those that die in the Lord are those that remain steadfast in His Word and faith unto the end, whether this end be that of a quiet death or that of martyrdom. With their death they enter immediately into the bliss which is prepared for them; there is no purgatory, no soul-sleep, in the sense of the term as used by modern false teachers: the soul is in the happiness of heaven, and the body will there be reunited with it on the last day. And so great is the Lord's mercy that He calls this rest in heaven a reward of labor, making the good works of the believers the proof of their faith and graciously calling eternity's unspeakable joy a recompense, although it is a matter of grace alone. This verse is like a peaceful interlude in the rushing of a mighty storm.
The next picture brings out the other side of the Judgment again: And I saw, and, behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud One sitting like a Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown and in His hand a sharp sickle; and another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Send forth Thy sickle and reap, because there has come the hour to reap; for the harvest of the earth has matured. And He that sat upon the cloud threw His sickle on the earth, and the earth was harvested. The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, will return from heaven on the last day, riding on the clouds of heaven, with great power and glory. The white cloud is like a garment of light, and He bears on His head the crown of glory. He is the Lord of the harvest, and at His command the souls of all men are harvested. The fields are white for harvest, the total number of elect has been reached. There must be no delay, the sheaves must be garnered in.
The wine-press of God's wrath:
v. 17. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
v. 18. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
v. 19. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God.
v. 20. And the wine-press was trodden with out the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the horse-bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
See Isaiah 63:4-6. This picture carries the same idea as the previous one, but instead of the harvest of grain we have here the harvest of grapes: And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle; and still another angel came out of the altar, having power over the fire, and he shouted with a loud voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Send forth thy sharp sickle and cull the grape-clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes have matured. Here the fire of God's wrath, of God's Judgment, is in evidence. The final Judgment will not be a partial judgment, but will strike fruit, branches, stem, and roots. Not only the grapes are gathered, but all the shoots and branches are cut off. The fruit of sin and unbelief has reached its full maturity, the patience of the Lord is exhausted.
The result is pictured in a scene which is almost ghastly in its vividness: And the angel cast his sickle on the earth and harvested the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God; and the winepress was trodden outside of the city, and there came out blood from the wine-press up to the bridles of the horses. a space of a thousand six hundred stadia. This is the second death. Outside of the city of God, the Church of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem, is the place of wrath. There the grapes that have grown in the soil of the spiritual Sodom and Gomorrah are pressed out. The battle is won. The blood of the enemies flows forth in a stream like an immense flood, measuring, since a stadium is between 600 and 625 feet, almost two hundred miles in width, with a depth of about five feet. The victory of the Lord is complete, His righteous wrath is punishing the unbelievers and scoffers with an eternal punishment.
In a series of pictures the seer shows the bliss of the perfected saints, the work of the Reformation, and the final harvest of the wrath of God upon the unbelievers.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Revelation 14". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27