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This verse represents to us a fresh vision which St. John had, in which several things are very observable, as,
1. What and whom St. John was, a Lamb, by whom Christ is to be understood.
2. The posture which this Lamb was found in, he stood, showing thereby his readiness to deliver his church, and to do every thing that is needful for her.
3. The place where he stood on, Mount Sion, that is, in the midst of the church. Christ ever has been, is, and will be, present with his church, even to the end, although his presence with her is not always sensibly perceived; his care is mysteriously exercised; he is then taking most care of her when he seems to take least, nay, when the men of the world think he takes none at all.
Observe, 4. His company and attendants, and they are described two ways,
1. By their number, to wit, an hundred forty and four thousand, whereby the collective body of the whole church is to be understood; and intimates to us, that in the worst of times, even when apostasy and persecution do most universally prevail, Christ never wants a church, and is not without a number of true worshippers.
2. They are described by their badge or mark, having their Father's name written in their foreheads; in opposition to the mark of the beast mentioned in the foregoing chapter, and in allusion to a custom amongst men, who put their mark or names upon thier goods, especially upon such as are very precious, as silver or gold vessels, and the like; so that the mark of the Father's name upon the forehead denotes both the precious esteem which God has of his people, and also intimates their open profession and owning of him for their Lord and Master, and their faithful adherence to his worship.
Learn hence, That the sincere worship of God, with the open and avowed profession of his holy and undefiled religion, accompanied with a suitable conversation, is a better mark and note of the true church than multitudes and numbers, which are a note of the antichristian synagogue: the world wonders after the beast, when Mount Sion here affords only an hundred forty-four thousand, which had the Father's name written on their foreheads.
St. John here describes the true worshippers of Christ in the midst of antichristian idolatry; where we have,
1. The acceptable worship they perform, prayer and praise, an heavenly exercise, which, like thunder, and the voice of many waters, sounds loud in the ears of God, and is certainly heard by him, and is melodious like the harp, and therefore as acceptable to him as the sweetest music is to us.
2. The persons described who perform this acceptable worship, such as were redeemed from the earth; where the earth is put for earthly-minded men, the false church; the meaning is, that God has fetched this small number of true worshippers, the hundred forty-four thousand, from among the false worshippers and impure ones, he hath rescued them from the world of idolaters, and from the superstitious multitude.
3. The persons described before whom this worship is performed, Before the throne, and before the four beasts and elders,-- before the throne, to show the reverence and sincerity wherewith they performed the same, as in the sight of the great and glorious God, and before the beasts and elders, that is, the whole congregation of the saints, according to that of the Psalmist, Psalms 89:7 God is greatly to be feared in the assemblies of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about him.
St. John proceeds here in describing the true worshippers of God, which would not comply with antichristian idolatry:
1. He styles them virgins, thereby intimating that they are the chaste spouse of Christ, and the true church, who worship God alone with religious worship; and they have not defiled themselves with women, that is, spiritually committed whoredom, they have not been inveigled with the whore to commit spiritual fornication.
Where note, That idolatry is a filthy sin, it is as odious to God as whoredom and uncleanness, and an idolatrous church is a filthy shore, unworthy to claim the title of a mother, unless it be the mother of fornications.
2. They are said to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes; this is spoken in opposition to those who followed the beast, and denotes their imitation of Christ's example, and their firm adherence to the purity of his doctrine and worship, although it expose them to hazard and danger.
3. They are called the first-fruits unto God, and the Lamb, which denotes their paucity, like a few sheaves in comparison of the whole harvest; their sanctity, the first-fruits were holy to the Lord, and were his peculiar portion; also their safety and security, as the first-fruits were God's portion, so it was both sacrilegious and unsafe to rob God of his portion. By calling them the first-fruits which were holy to the Lord, we see the special interest and propriety that God has in his faithful servants and true worshippers beyond all others; they are his peculiar portion, his inheritance, his treasure, which he will ever take care of, and be concerned for.
Here St. John closes the description of the fore-mentioned followers of the Lamb,
1. With the character of their integrity; like the Lamb, no guile is found in their mouth, as there was none in his, 1 Peter 2:22 they were free from that hypocrisy which was found amongst anti-christ's followers, who profess to worship God, but adore their idols; sincerity and uprightness of heart towards God and man was found with them.
2. They are said to be without fault before God; which may be understood comparatively; they have no such faults as antichrist's followers are guilty of; they worship God aright, and are approved by him: or, if absolutely, we must understand it of their glorification in heaven, where all the saints are without spot, and blameless before the throne of God, perfectly like unto God and the Lamb, as well in purity as in immortality.
Here St. John has another vision of an angel flying in the midst of heaven with great swiftness, which interpreters apprehend to signify the faithful minister's zeal and diligence in preaching the glad tidings of the gospel to a lost world.
Where note, 1. The title given to the gospel of Christ, it is called the everlasting gospel: so it is, partly in regard of its author the everlasting God, partly because it promises and offers everlasting life; but chiefly because it was preached from the beginning of the world, and shall continue to the end of the world, and never be abrogated, as the legal administration was.
Note, 2. The universality of that grace and salvation which in and by the gospel is held forth and tendered even unto all nations, tongues, kindreds, and people; so that none are debarred, but those who by impenitency and unbelief do willfully and finally debar themselves.
Note, 3. That God's sending the everlasting gospel to be preached, is here called the hour of his judgment; the preaching the gospel is the hour of mercy to some, but wrath and judgment ot others, even to all refusers and contemners; and accordingly all are warned to fear God, and give glory to him, and, instead of worshipping idols and images, to worship the true God according to his will revealed in his word.
Here we have the second angel's proclamation, denouncing the fall of Babylon, whose fall is in the prophecy threatened, and in the threatening ingeminated, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; to show the certainty of her downfall.
And it is observable how this comes in immediately after the restoring of the gospel, mentioned in the foregoing verses, I saw an angel fly, having the everlasting gospel to preach, Revelation 14:6 . And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, Revelation 14:8 .
Whence learn, That it is the zealous and faithful preaching of the gospel which is the ruin of antichrist, and the means of his downfall and destruction: this is the breath of the Lord's mouth, by which he is consumed: Babylon is fallen, is fallen.
Quest. What is here meant by Babylon?
Ans. All agree that literal Babylon is not here meant, which was the chief city of Chaldea, but spoken figuratively, and it is generally agreed that by Babylon is Rome here intended: some will have it Rome Pagan, under the heathen emperors, others Rome Papal, under the antichristian tyranny, and that she is paralleled with Babylon for her idolatry and cruelty, yea, far exceeding her in both, for in her is found the blood of the prophets, of the saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth, Revelation 18:24.
Observe next, Her ruin declared in the present tense, is fallen; as if already accompolished; and ingeminated, is fallen, is fallen; which repetition denotes both the certainty of her fall, and the joy which the church should express upon that occasion: though Babylon be never so great, yet she shall fall, she shall assuredly fall; and it is the church's duty to pray, that as it is in the prophecy, so it may be in the history, that Babylon is fallen, and to express the highest joy upon that great occasion.
Observe lastly, the cause of Babylon's ruin is here assigned, she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
Where note, 1. That by fornication her errors, idolatries, and false worship, are understood.
Note, 2. That these are compared to wine upon several accounts. Is wine pleasant to the palate? so is idolatry to corrupt nature, which is hugely pleased with a pompous worship and a sensual religion. is wine inflaming: so is idolatry; inflaming themselves with idols, Isaiah 57:5 Does the wine deceive, and insensibly steal upon the drinker, and intoxicate him ere he is aware of it: so doth error and idolatry grow upon persons by insensible degrees; and accordingly, Revelation 13:14 the beast is said to deceive them that dwell on the earth: in a word, as persons drunk with wine are altogether incapable of counsel and advice from their best friends, in like manner such as are drunk with error and idolatry, with the wine of the whore's fornication, are besotted, benumbed, will not acknowledge their error, nor receive instruction.
Note, 3. That this wine, as sweet as it is, is called the wine of wrath, partly because it inflames them that are drunk therewith with rage and cruel fury against sincere worshippers, and partly because it brings the wrath of God upon them that drink it: little do idolaters think of this, because it is a worship of their own invention, it pleases them because it feasts their outward senses, it is grateful as wine unto them; but they forget that it is wine mixed with wrath, even with the wrath of God, the dregs of which shall be wrung out, and all idolaters shall drink them up.
Observe here, the great and special care which Almighty God takes to warn men and women of those dreadful plagues which should most certainly come upon the heads of idolaters: a third angel followed, crying with a loud voice.
O how good is God in that he does always premonish before he punishes, warns before he strikes, and advises all not to partake with others their sins, lest they be partakers of their plagues!
Observe, 2. A most dreadful denunciation of the wrath of God, against all those who shall worship the beast and his image, that is, submit to the enjoined idolatry, and receive his mark in their foreheads or hands, that is, yield obedience to the beast as a servant, and openly own subjection to him as his slaves.
Lord! what a dreadful guiltiness is it to follow antichrist, and to continue obstinate in idolatry, after God has sent one angel after another, minister after minister, to acquaint them both with their sin and danger?
Observe, 3. The denunciation itself in the several parts of it,
1. They shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that is, for their sin shall partake of severe judgments, the effects of God's wrath.
Mark, Here is wine for wine, for the wine of Babylon's fornication, here is the wine of the wrath of God; the former wine was not so sweet, but the latter shall be as sharp.
2. Here is the quality of this wrath, it is poured out without mixture: its being poured out shows the abundance of it, and without mixture shows that it is without the least drop of mercy to allay the extremity of their torment.
3. It is called a cup of indignation, thereby intimating, that it is not the correction of a father, which is accompanied with lenity and love, but the vengeance of a judge that designs utter destruction.
4. Here is the effect of their drinking of this cup of the Lord's indignation, their being torment with fire and brimstone: which expression denotes these sinners' torments to be most exquisite, both intolerable and interminable, and their punishment both easeless and endless.
5. It is here said, that this their torments to be in the presence of the holy angels, before whom they had sinned, in worshipping the beast; they shall see them, but none shall help them.
6. The eternity as well as the extremity of their torments is here set forth: their smoke ascends for ever and ever; the torments of hell are here set forth as most acute and exquisite, and as endless and easeless, they have no rest day nor night, nor a moment's ease.
It is well observed by Mr. Mede, that there is not a more terrible description of punishment in the whole book of God, than is here denounced against those idolaters which adhere to the beast; the smoke of their torment, that is, the fire and smoke wherewith they were tormented, ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night.
And if the church of Rome, or Papal Babylon, be here intended, and not Pagan, as most Protestents believe and affirm, then this shows that those of her communion, living and dying in a firm adherence to the chief doctrines of Popery, and framing their lives by them, after they have had, or might have had, sufficient means to convince them of their error and idolatry, so expose their salvation to extreme hazard and danger.
Blessed be God for our happy reformation, from the idolatry and superstition, from the tyranny and oppression, and the intolerable yoke, of the church of Rome. God grant we may be reformed in our lives as well as in our religion, otherwise our damnation is as sure as theirs is great, for the holiest doctrine and purest worship will be of no avail to impure worshippers and unholy livers; it matters not what church or what communion a bad man is of, for it is certain he cannot be saved by any.
That is, here at this time will be exercised all the faith and patience of Christ's faithful servants, and this their exercise of these graces will make it appear that they were true, and not counterfeit Christians; it follows, here are they which keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus, that is, who discover themselves sincere in their profession, by obeying the commands of God, and rightly believing on our Lord Jesus Christ.
Where note, What is the characteristical mark of a sincere Christian, namely, faith and obedience united together; faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and obedience to the will of God in all things, are never separated where they are sincere.
These words in their original and primary intention were delivered by the Spirit, and commanded to be written by St. John, for the support and comfort of the church under that severe persecution which should befall it; and to declare the happy condition of martyrs particularly, and such as die for the Lord; but they may be considered in a greater latitude, and be of general use to the church of God in all ages, and under all circumstances, and administer comfort to all believers who die in the Lord, that is, in the faith of the Lord, in the fear of the Lord, and in the favour of the Lord, to all that die sincere Christians, both in faith and practice.
Here note, 1. A solemn declaration of the blessed state of good men after this life; their death is blessed, and a blessing to them.
Note, 2. The time from whence their blessedness commences, from henceforth, that is, from the time of their death, then doth their blessedness begin.
Thence learn, That all good Christians immediately upon their dissolution and departure out of this life are in a blessed and happy condition.
Note, 3. Wherein the blessedness of the righteous after their departure doth consist:
1. In resting from their labours, that is, from all the troubles, sorrows, and sufferings, from all the calamities, infirmities, and miseries of this frail, mortal state; no sin shall affect them, no sorrow afflict them, no danger affright them.
2. In reaping the comfort of all the good works they have done in the world, their works follow them: that is,
1. A delightful remembrance of their good works is found with them, which if it refreshes their souls with transporting pleasure now, how will it swallow them up with the highest transports of complacency and delight then!
2. The blessed fruits and happy effects of their good works, and the special reward belonging to them, shall accompany good men into another world, which will render them completely blessed, by procuring for them, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, an admission into heaven, where they shall drink of those pleasures which are at God's right hand for evermore.
Note lastly, How this truth concerning the future blessedness of the righteous deserves our most serious and attentive regard and meditation, because delivered by an audible voice from heaven, expressly commanded to be written, and confirmed by the solemn asseveration of the Spirit, I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.
In these verses a description is given of Christ as coming to judgment, to inflict punishment upon his stubborn enemies; and here we have the judge described,
1.By his form or shape, he was one like the Son of man.
2. By his place and posture of judgment, sitting on a white cloud, the cloud denoting the sovereignty of the judge, and whiteness prefiguring the uprightness of his proceedings, and both signifying his speed and swiftness in coming to execute judgment; on this white cloud did he sit, denoting thereby both his composedness and freedom from all passion and perturbation as a judge, and also his majesty and authority, sitting as a king upon his throne, as well as like a judge upon his tribunal.
3. He is described by his royal ornament, having on his head a golden crown. Behold here the different estate of our Lord Jesus Christ above, from what it was here below; here crowned with thorns, there crowned with gold, the reward of his sufferings! Blessed be God, that as it was with the Head, so shall it be with all the members!
4. By the instrument which he had in his hand fit for the work which he had in his hand, namely, a sharp sickle for the reaping of the earth. A sickle is a circular instrument, and compasseth the corn round about, which is to be cut down; the judgment of Christ upon the wicked will inclose them all, not a soul of them whall be able to escape it; and a sharp sickle signifies the quality of his judgment, that it will be severe. Behold here the unavoidable destruction of the wicked, and how impossible it is for them to escape the judgments of Christ; all the wicked together are no more in the hand of Christ than as an handful of grass, or ripe corn, to a sharp sickle in a strong hand.
In the fifteenth verse we have a manifestation of the church's fervent desire that Christ would make speed, and hasten his work, and come quickly to judgment, both for the consummation of their glory, and for the destruction of his own and their enemies: Thrust in thy sickle, and reap, for the harvest is ripe; that is, it is full time to execute thy judgment on the wicked, for their sins (which call for these judgments) are now come to the height.
Behold here Christ's day of judgment is like a day of harvest; when the corn is ripe, the sickle is got ready; when the sickle is got ready, it is set to work; when it is set to work, it cuts down all, wheat and tares, corn and grass, without discrimination; but the Lord of the harvest soon commands a separation to be made of the good grain from the tares, of the righteous form the wicked, laying up the former in the granary of heaven, binding up the latter for the fire of hell.
In the sixteenth verse we have observable,
1. Christ's ready answering of, and complying with, the desire of his people, to thrust in the sickle of his judgment, and reap the earth: he that sat on the cloud did thrust in his sickle. How ready is Christ to fulfill the desires of them that fear him, to hear their cry and help them in his own time, in the best and fittest season!
Observe, 2. The great and infinite power of our Lord Jesus Christ, that upon the thrusting in of his sickle, the whole earth was presently reaped. Behold the ability of Christ for judgment, as well as his impartiality in judging: such a Judge is he, as the power of the mightiest cannot daunt; such a Judge, as the riches of the wealthiest cannot bribe; such a Judge, as the subtilty of the wisest cannot deceive; in a word, such a Judge, as there is no appealing from, no repealing of, his sentence.
O great day; when the stiffest knee shall bow at the tribunal of Christ, and the strongest back shall bend under the insupportable burden of the wrath of the Lamb; when the Alexanders and Caesars, which once shook the earth, and caused the world to tremble, shall revere and lie prostrate at the foot of Christ! Behold then, and admire the wonderful power and dexterity of Christ in judging, that upon the thrusting in of his sickle the whole earth was presently reaped!
In the former verses we meet with the metaphor of an harvest, in these we meet with that of a vintage; there the wicked were compared to rice corn fit for the harvest, here to ripe grapes fit for the winepress; signifying by both, that the wicked, by filling up the measure of their sins, do make themselves ripe and ready for judgment.
Note here, 1. That as the true church is called a vine, so is the wicked antichristian church here called; but with this addition, a vine of the earth, cleaving to, and only favouring of, the earth; a good name will signify little in judgment; to be called Christians, virgins, &c. what will it profit, without burning and shining lamps?
Note, 2. Whereas the grapes of this vine are said to be not only ripe, but fully ripe, how great is the forbearance and long-suffering of God towards to wicked! Maximum miraculum est Dei longanimitas, the patience of God towards sinners is the greatest miracle in the world: but though lasting it will not be everlasting; when long abused, it turns at last into fury; ripening in sin, is a sure prognostication of judgment at hand.
Note, 3. The vine with all its clusters are gathered, small and great, one and another, all shall appear before the bar of Christ, Revelation 20:12 I saw the dead small and great stand before God: and the books were opened, and the dead were judged out of those books.
Note, 4. Whither this degenerated vine, with all its clusters, was cast, namely, into the wine-press of God's wrath, which is called a great wine-press, because it can contain all the wicked; it will hold them all, be they never so many; and is said to be trodden, that is, by Christ, denoting the severity of that vengeance which will be inflicted upon sinners; the grapes which have hung a long time ripening in the sun are severely pressed at last.
Note, 5. That the blood which came out of the wine-press (the blood of the grape) was so much in quantity, that it came up the the horses' bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs; all metaphorical expressions, signifying that wine is the wrath of God, and the cup of his indignation; and the hyperbolical expression of its height, reaching as high as the horses' bridles; and of its length, reaching more than a thousand furlongs, shows that mighty deluge and inundation of God's wrath, which the wicked in general, and all Antichrist's followers in particular, shall not only drink of, but swim in: and as they shed the blood of the saints abundantly, in like manner God will give them blood to drink in great abundance.
Note lastly, That although these two metaphors of the harvest and the vintage signify one thing, only the vision is doubled, like Pharaoh's dream, to show the certainty thereof, yet we may conceive that the similitude of a vintage here holds forth greater judgment than the harvest: Almighty God, in his providential dispensation towards the wicked, proceeds gradually; as they proceed from one degree of wickedness, so does he from one degree of wrath and vengeance, to another; the vintage follows the harvest, the sharp sickle follows the sickle, the harvest is said to be ripe, the vintage to be fully ripe; if the flood of God's anger in this life will not wash sinners clean, the deluge of his wrath in the next will wash them quite away: Blood came out of the wine-press, even to the horses' bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
Eternal thanks to Christ the Lamb, who has delivered his from this dreadful wrath to come!
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 14". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20