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The three great enemies of the people of God have been set before us, and we might expect the last struggle to begin. So terrible, however, are the judgments about to fall that we must be specially prepared for them. This preparation is made by the visions of the present chapter.
Revelation 14:1. First the Lamb is seen standing on the mount Sion. It is the same Lamb that we have already met with at chap. Revelation 5:6, the once crucified, but now risen and glorified, Lord. The ‘mount Sion’ is neither the literal Sion at Jerusalem, nor the Christian Church, but simply the most appropriate place for the people of God to occupy, the holy mount, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. The scene of preservation is not heaven but earth.
And with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his name and the name of his Father written on their fore-heads. These are the sealed of chap. 7, not one lost. True, they are not spoken of as the ‘sealed.’ In chap. 7 they were so described, for their preservation was there the prominent thought. Now that they have been preserved and admitted as priests within the veil, our attention may be directed to the contents of the seal. These are in part at least it is not necessary to think wholly the ‘name’ which belongs at once to the Father and to the Lamb, the name Lord. St. John, as his manner is, is loftier than St. Paul, who says, ‘Ye are the Lord’s’ (Romans 14:8).
Revelation 14:2. A voice is heard out of heaven. The description of it shows that it is a voice of mingled terror and sweetness.
Revelation 14:3. The song referred to is not said to be sung by the 144,000, and perhaps we ought to think simply of a great body of praise going up before the throne. And no one could learn the song save the hundred and forty and four thousand, even they that had been purchased out of the earth. They are described as ‘purchased out of the earth,’ a designation which, like that of Revelation 14:4, ‘from among men,’ must be accepted in a general sense, there being nothing to suggest the idea of Judaism alone. The word ‘earth’ rather leads us to the thought of our natural condition as sons of Adam (Genesis 3:19; 1 Corinthians 15:47; 1 Corinthians 15:49).
Revelation 14:4-5. These are they which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. The description is in three clauses each beginning with the word ‘These.’
(1) ‘They are virgins’ not all of them literally so for the 144,000 represent the whole multitude of the redeemed. Nor on the other hand, only in the sense that they had kept themselves pure from idolatry, for the temptation to actual idolatry belongs only to particular ages of the Church. They were ‘virgins’ in the sense in which St. Paul speaks of the whole Church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:2). Even those who had entered into marriage, the closest of earthly ties, had learned to keep it in subordination to the will of Christ; ‘those that had wives were as though they had none’ (1 Corinthians 7:29).
(2) These are they which follow the lamb whithersoever he goeth. As the first clause contained the negative, the second contains the positive, aspect of their life. The word for ‘goeth’ is important. It is not simply ‘whithersoever he moveth about;’ and still less can it be referred to the following of the Lamb to favoured localities in the heavenly mansions. The 144,000 are still on earth. The verb used is that by which Jesus in the Fourth Gospel so often denotes His ‘going’ to the Father, including both His death and His glorification. The 144,000 follow Him to the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (comp. John 21:22). This is their character. The tense of the verb ‘follow’ is not that of present time merely, it is descriptive of a state.
(3) These were purchased from among men, a first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no lie: they are without blemish. The third characteristic of the 144,000 describes the glory of their position. For the force of the words ‘from among men,’ see on Revelation 14:3. The term ‘first-fruits’ may seem to imply that the persons spoken of are a selection from the great body of the redeemed. Were it so, the term would be inappropriately used; for in the view of those who introduce the idea of selection we are dealing with Christians at the end, not at the beginning, of the Church’s history. Besides which, the term seems to correspond with that of ‘the elect’ in Matthew 24:31, where all the elect must be meant. In James 1:18, too, we meet the word in a similar sense. The 144,000 are a ‘first-fruits’ in relation not to the remaining portion of believers but to all the creatures of God. The ‘lie’ spoken of is not simply the opposite of veracity, but of truth of character and life as a whole (comp. Psalms 116:11; Joh 8:44 ; 1 John 2:21; Revelation 21:27). That they are ‘without blemish’ reminds us of Jesus Himself (1 Peter 1:19). They are a faultless and acceptable sacrifice to God, because they are offered up in Him who ‘did no sin,’ and in whom the Father was always ‘well pleased.’
Revelation 14:6. The angel referred to in this verse cannot be reckoned another with reference to any angels previously mentioned, for in Revelation 14:8-9 we read of the ‘second’ and ‘third’ angel by whom he is followed, thus making this the first. He is simply therefore ‘another,’ because he introduces a new series of angels. He flies in mid-heaven (comp. Revelation 8:13), for his voice is to reach over the whole earth. He has an eternal gospel to proclaim, usually understood as the Gospel of glad tidings now to be proclaimed for the last time to a sinful world. If, however, this be the meaning, it seems unaccountable that the article should be omitted. The word ‘Gospel’ must therefore be understood in the same sense as ‘prophesying’ in chap. Revelation 10:11.
Revelation 14:7, which gives the proclamation, confirms this view; the description in Revelation 14:6 of those to whom it is made does so too; and the very preposition following the verb in the original implies something peculiar in the mode in which the tidings are proclaimed. It is not ‘the eternal Gospel’ of Christ, then, that is spoken of, but the condemnation which alone remains for those by whom that Gospel has been despised and rejected (comp. on chap. Revelation 15:6). These persons are described in a twofold manner. First, they sit (not ‘dwell’) on the earth. The word ‘sit’ may appear unsuitable to the idiom of the English language, but it ought to be employed, as alone bringing out the meaning of the original. Not the inhabitants of the earth in general are alluded to, but those only who have made the earth their throne. Secondly, they are gathered together in the four terms which denote universality, every nation and tribe and tongue and people.
The visions contained in these verses are of the same preparatory character as the preceding vision. The structure of the passage is remarkable. It will be observed that it consists of seven parts, each part except the fourth, which in a series of seven is always the central and most important, being introduced by an angel (see Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:8-9; Revelation 14:15; Revelation 14:17-18). In the fourth part, at Revelation 14:14, we have the central figure of the movement, described exactly as in chap. Revelation 1:13, ‘one like unto a Son of man.’
Revelation 14:7. The angel now utters his cry, Fear God, and give glory to him, because the hour of his judgment is come. The ‘fear’ and the ‘giving glory’ spoken of are those of unbelief and hardness of heart (comp. chap. Revelation 11:13). On the word ‘hour’ comp. Daniel 4:33. There is no ‘great era of Christian missions’ here.
And worship him that made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters. For the ‘worshipping’ of God spoken of comp. on chap. Revelation 15:4.
Revelation 14:8. And another, a second, angel followed. He is second to the angel in Revelation 14:1.
Saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, which hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. The proclamation is simply anticipatory of what is to be more fully described hereafter. Till we come, therefore, to that description (chap. 18) it may be well to defer inquiry into the meaning of the word ‘Babylon.’ In her ungodly influence Babylon is spoken of as making ‘all the nations to drink,’ etc. (comp. Jeremiah 51:7). A third angel follows.
Revelation 14:9. And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice. It is curious to meet here again the ‘great voice’ which is met in connection with the first angel, but not with the second. The circumstance is perhaps to be accounted for by the tendency of St. John to return at the close of a series of events to the beginning. In the next series of three, extending from Revelation 14:15 to Revelation 14:20, the same structure is found, a ‘great voice’ being there attributed to the first and third angels, but not to the second.
If any man worshippeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark upon his forehead or on his hand. Such is the cry of the third angel as he proclaims judgment to all the followers of the beast. These we have already met at chap. Revelation 13:16. In the description the order of the two words ‘forehead’ and ‘hand’ is changed, but the construction of cases is the same.
Revelation 14:10. He also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, the poured out unmingled wine in the cup of his anger. The punishment of such is now described in four particulars, the number four being perhaps taken because it is the ungodly world with which we are dealing, and because it is a lex talionis that is illustrated. The first of the four particulars corresponds to Revelation 14:8, and shows that we have before us essentially the same spirit as that there referred to. The wine is said (literally) to be ‘mingled unmingled;’ but there is no play upon the words, for, owing to the practice of the ancients to mingle water with wine, the verb to mingle had come to be used in the simple sense of pouring out. Enough that the wine of the wrath of God is now ‘unmingled;’ the day of grace is past.
And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone before the angels and before the Lamb. The second of the four particulars presents us with the final punishment of hell (comp. chaps. Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:10, Revelation 21:8; Genesis 19:24).
Revelation 14:11. And the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever. The third of the four particulars of their miserable doom, which is unto ages of ages, that is, ‘for ever.’
And they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. This is the fourth and last particular in the delineation of their misery, which is not only everlasting, but uninterrupted while it lasts. Can we fail to mark the contrast to the ‘no rest day nor night’ of the four living creatures in chap. Revelation 4:8? In their ‘receiving’ the mark it is implied that there is voluntary action on the part of the followers of the beast. The first three angels have now fulfilled their message and, before we come to the Judge Himself, there is a pause. Two sayings are introduced.
Revelation 14:12. Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. The first of the two sayings is an encouragement to the faithful afforded by the fact that God will execute His judgments upon the ungodly in the way which has been described (comp. chap. Revelation 13:10). We have in this a further proof that the whole proclamation of the three angels has been one of judgment, not of mercy, or of judgment and mercy combined. The construction of the two clauses is important, as there can be no doubt that the second contains a fuller description of the ‘saints’ mentioned in the first (comp. chap. Revelation 20:4).
Revelation 14:13. And I heard a voice out of heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Those that ‘die in the Lord’ are obviously in contrast with the followers of the beast spoken of in Revelation 14:11, and the verb used in the original, not ‘fall asleep’ but ‘die,’ seems to imply the thought of the troubles and persecutions in the midst of which they died. The verb is several times used of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel; and the words ‘in the Lord’ here added to it may be intended to denote that the death referred to was such a death as His. The expression therefore does not bear that sense of quiet falling asleep in Jesus which we generally assign to it. It rather brings out the fact that in Him His people meet persecution and death; and that, although they are not all actually martyrs, they have the martyr spirit. ‘From henceforth.’ What is the time to which these words point? Is it the moment when the harvest of the earth is to be reaped? In that case we must connect them with ‘Blessed,’ while they are obviously connected with the verb ‘die.’ Yet we cannot speak of dying after the ‘harvest’ It seems better, therefore, to understand the words as referring to the beginning of the Christian age, and onward to the end (comp. Matthew 26:64). During all that time the 144,000 are being gathered in amidst the temptations of Babylon and the opposition of the beast. To the faithful during all that time, therefore, the consolation of these words is given; and their meaning is, that they who ‘die in the Lord’ are ‘blessed,’ not because at death they enter into the immediate possession of the heavenly reward (a point upon which no direct information is afforded), but because they are set free from the difficulties and trials and sorrows which, were they left here to continue the struggle, they would have to meet. Instead of being longer troubled they enter into rest (comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:7). Hence accordingly the following words.
Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, for their works follow with them. Those who thus die are blessed because ‘they rest from their labours;’ they have that rest from toil and suffering which they cannot obtain here below. And how comes it that they thus rest? Because their ‘works (an entirely different word from ‘labours’) follow with them.’ Their Christian character and life, giving them a meetness for the rest, follow with them. They enter into heaven fitted for its joys.
Revelation 14:14. It has been already stated that the chapter now under consideration divides itself into seven parts, the first three introducing to us three angels (Revelation 14:1-13), the last three doing the same (Revelation 14:17-20). Revelation 14:14-16 thus constitute the fourth or leading passage of the seven. It is the centre of the whole chapter, and its very position thus prepares us for the transition that we make in it from angels to the Lord Himself. What is first seen is a white cloud, the cloud upon which Jesus is elsewhere represented as coming in order to wind up the history of the world (Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64). Upon this cloud is seen one sitting like unto a Son of man, a description which can leave no doubt upon the mind that it is the Lord (comp. chap. Revelation 1:13). Nor is it in any way inconsistent with this that He who sits upon the cloud receives a commission from an angel (Revelation 14:14). That angel delivers a message from God (comp. Daniel 7:13-14). The ‘Son of man’ wears a crown of victory. He went out to conquer (chap. Revelation 6:2): He now returns as a conqueror. The sickle is for reaping.
Revelation 14:15-16. The fourth angel of the chapter now appears, and cries with a great voice to him that sat upon the cloud that the hour is come to reap. The message is from God, for the Son knows not the hour Himself (Mark 13:32; comp. Acts 1:7), and no sooner is the message heard than the Divine will is recognised and obeyed: the earth was reaped. The angel it will be observed performs no part of the act of reaping. That act is performed wholly by Him that ‘sat on the cloud.’ At Revelation 14:19 it will be different. The question is interesting and important, Whether we are to understand by this harvest the ingathering of the righteous alone (thus separating it by a broad line of distinction from the vintage which immediately follows) or a general reaping of the wicked as well as of the good. The analogy of Scripture as well as the mode in which the passage before us is conceived point distinctly to the former view. The good are alone the true ‘harvest,’ the wheat gathered into the garner. At John 14:3 Jesus comes for His own, while at Matthew 13:41 the angels gather in the wicked to their fate.
Revelation 14:17. In this verse the second of the second group of three angels appears. He also has a sharp sickle like that of the Person mentioned in Revelation 14:14. But he is not on that account to be identified with Him he only carries out His will. The sickle too is to be used for another purpose, there for reaping, here for gathering the vintage.
Revelation 14:18. The third of the second group of three angels comes not merely from the temple, but out from the altar, the most sacred part of it that altar over which the angel stands who presents the prayers of the saints to God, and who casts its fire upon the earth (chap. Revelation 8:3-5). It is this fire, not fire in general, that is referred to when the angel is described as he that hath power over the fire. The fire is the judgments of God upon the earth.
The angel next cries to him that had the sharp sickle that he should gather the clusters of the vine of the earth. As in Revelation 14:16 we were told only of the harvest of the good, so here we are told only of the vintage of the wicked. The figure is often used in the Old Testament (comp. Isaiah 63:1-4; Joel 3:13).
Revelation 14:19. The vintage is described. Not merely the grapes but the vine of the earth itself is gathered, the vine being wholly rooted out according to the words of the Lord, ‘Every plant which My Heavenly Father planted not shall be rooted up’ (Matthew 15:13). After this the vine is cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
Revelation 14:20. And the winepress was trodden without the city. In the words ‘without the city’ we can hardly fail to see another instance of the lex talionis: our Lord had suffered ‘without the gate.’
And blood came out of the winepress even unto the bridles of the horses, as far as a thousand and six hundred furlongs. The juice of the grape here passes into the reality, blood, which it was intended to represent (comp. Isaiah 63:1-3). It is difficult to say what may be the exact meaning of the first part of the description of the great sea of blood that its depth was ‘to the bridles of the horses.’ There is nothing to suggest the idea that the horses represent the ‘chiefs of the people.’ Commentators generally abandon such an interpretation, but substitute none of their own, occupying themselves rather with the inquiry, whether these horses are those of the angels of chap. Revelation 9:15 or those of the host that come up to the destruction of Jerusalem. May the words of Zechariah 14:20 supply the needed explanation, ‘In that day shall there be upon the bells (bridles) of the horses, HOLINESS unto the Lord’? The thought of the Seer may be that the blood could not be so deep as to touch these holy words. The extent of the sea of blood is less difficult to determine. We may at once dismiss the idea that it is taken from the superficial area of the Holy Land or of the old territories of the Pope, or that the expression denotes simply ‘great extent.’ We must start from the fact that we have to deal with a judgment by which the whole ungodly world is overtaken, and that four is the number of the world. This number is first squared for completeness, and then multiplied by 100, a number, as we have seen, belonging to the wicked, while 1000 belongs rather to the good. Thus we have 4 x 4 x 100, representing the whole surface of the earth, wherever the ungodly are to be found.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 14". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20