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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 14

 

 

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Introduction

The Fifth Vision - The Final Day of Judgment (chapter 14).

We must see this vision as a whole. Revelation 14:6-12 are parenthetical. John says in quick succession ‘I saw the Lamb on Mount Zion’ with the pure firstfruits, and ‘I saw one like to a son of man, having on his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle’ ready to harvest the earth who are ‘dried up’ (v. 15)’, and then describes the gathering of the vintage for the winepress of the wrath of God (18-20). First the firstfruits, then the harvest and then the vintage.

The first picture draws attention to the One Who was slain and redeemed men for Himself, gathering His own as the firstfruits without blemish and without spot, having made them wholesome grain and fruit, the others draw attention to the Son of Man Who has received His kingdom and is now about to exert His authority with a sceptre and sickle of judgment on those who are a dried up harvest and to deal with them in the light of the wrath of God against sin. It is the final judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous.


Verse 1


The Resurrection and Rapture (Revelation 14:1-5).

‘And I saw and behold the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him one hundred and forty four thousand having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.’

That this is the heavenly Mount Zion comes out in the following verses, for they sing before the throne. It can be said of them literally that they have ‘come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels’ ( Hebrews 12:22) . The promise that they would have His name and His Father’s name written on them was given to overcomers in Revelation 3:12. The one hundred and forty four thousand of chapter 7 were sealed on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). There is thus no reason to doubt that these one hundred and forty four thousand are overcomers from the churches and are the one hundred and forty four thousand of chapter 7, which confirms our interpretation there. As such they represent the whole church of God. This is the fulfilment of Matthew 24:31 prior to the judgment of the wicked (Revelation 14:14-20).


Verse 2-3

‘And I heard a voice (sound) from heaven like the voice (sound) of many waters and like the voice (sound) of a great thunder, and the voice (sound) which I heard was like the voice (sound) of harpists harping with their harps, and they sing as it were a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty four thousand, those who had been purchased out of the earth.’

The voice like the voice of many waters was the voice of the Son of Man in Revelation 1:15, the voice like a great thunder was the voice of the living creature in Revelation 6:1, the harpists harping with their harps are the twenty four elders in Revelation 5:8. Later also the voice as the sound of many waters and the voice of mighty thunders is the voice of a great heavenly multitude (Revelation 19:6) who celebrate the marriage of the Lamb and His bride. Thus the mighty ones of Heaven unite in their welcome of these redeemed people. This forms the swelling background to the song of the one hundred and forty four thousand.

‘And they sing as it were a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.’ This is the song of the redeemed celebrating the name which no one could know except those who received it (Revelation 2:17). They sing ‘as it were a new song’ because they have now been raptured or resurrected and stand in their new spiritual bodies before God. It is the new song of Revelation 5:9 and yet it is freshly new for it is now sung by those who have actually experienced redemption. They glory in what has been done for them by Him who purchased them out of the earth.

Alternately it may be a song sung by the heavenly multitudes to welcome them into Heaven, then ‘no man could learn the song’ refers to the fact that it is for the redeemed and the redeemed alone. They alone are recipients of the welcome.

‘No one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty four thousand’. ‘No one’ must refer to those who dwell on earth for it is sung before the living creatures and the elders so that they learn the song. Alternately it may signify that no one else can really know the song fully because they have not experienced it in full. Indeed both ideas may be in mind. What a wonderful song of triumph it must be. Their sufferings and trials are behind them and they are now to share Heaven with their Lord and Saviour Who has prepared a place for them (John 14:2) and to receive their rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10). But they are not thinking of this but of their Saviour and Redeemer Who bought them with His own blood.


Verse 4

‘These are they who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were purchased from among men to be the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no lie. They are without blemish.’

In Revelation 21:27 we are told that no one can enter the Heavenly city except those who are clean, those who avoid idolatry (abomination) and those who make no lie. Thus those who can enter that City must be undefiled, must follow the Lamb and must have in their mouth no lie as here. This is their idealised state. They have been changed into His image from glory into glory by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), they have been made like Him for they see Him as He is (1 John 3:2), they are holy and without blemish before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4), they are presented to Him ‘a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:27).

‘Not defiled with women for they are virgins’. When the people of Israel were preparing to see the revelation of God and to receive God’s covenant of grace at Sinai, Moses sanctified the people and they washed their garments, and he exhorted them not to come near a woman for three days (Exodus 19:15). The followers of David could only eat of the holy bread if they had kept themselves from women for three days (1 Samuel 21:4). Sex is seen as having an earthiness about it which comes short of the heavenly. Those who are resurrected will be like the angels, neither marrying nor being given in marriage (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25). Thus they will be ‘virgins’. Whether men like it or not the ideal world is peopled by virgins, whose minds are set on things above (Colossians 3:2). (It should be noted that the idea in Revelation 14 is of virginal men, not women).

Paul likens the church to a pure virgin presented to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). Here we have John’s representation of the same idea. So the picture of the one hundred and forty four thousand as ‘virgins’ is to indicate their acceptable state before God and that they are now in their resurrection bodies. They are cleansed, sanctified and purified. They are pure of all taint of sin and of all earthiness. They are ‘in Christ’ and share His total abstinence from all that was earthy. This does not condemn sexual relations within marriage but it does indicate that they are secondary and earthly. These are now beyond such things. Whatever was their state they are now undefiled and pure. As we have seen earlier the misuse of sex, promiscuity and unnatural sex, was one of the prime things condemned by God in the churches (Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20-22) and was part of the teaching of the false teachers, and that must clearly be in mind here.

However we must note that the forbidding of marriage on earth is also a heinous crime (1 Timothy 4:3) and in Hebrews 13:4 the undefiled bed is one where sex has been retained for fulfilment within marriage. Thus some have seen the thought of their ‘virginity’ here as suggesting that ideally they have only partaken of sex within the marriage bond, being husbands of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), but the idea here does seem to go beyond this, and many Christians do not come within that description. It does suggest that it is not just earthly virginity that is in mind.

‘These are they who follow the Lamb wherever He goes’. This echoes Revelation 7:15-17 and demonstrates that the one hundred and forty four thousand are also the great multitude whom no man can number. They are the sheep of the Shepherd Lamb (Revelation 7:17 - compare John 10:27; Luke 9:57). They look to Him with a fully developed desire to be ever with Him in loving obedience and service.

‘These were purchased from among men to be the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb’. The idea of the firstfruits here must be seen in the context of the chapter. God is about to reap His grim harvest (Revelation 14:14-20). But before He reaps the harvest He collects the firstfruits. The firstfruits are those who have enjoyed His deliverance and belong to Him. The remainder are reaped to condemnation. Compare how Jeremiah declares the true Israel to be ‘holiness unto the Lord, the firstfruits of his increase’ (Jeremiah 2:3) where the emphasis is on the firstfruits as that which is set apart to God. Thus His people are seen to enjoy a unique place in His affections as those who have been made clean and pure and are freely offered. They are that part of the harvest which belongs to God.

This echoes to some extent James 1:18 where the redeemed are again seen as the firstfruits but there as the firstfruits of the restoration of creation. There he says we are ‘a kind of firstfruits of His creatures’. The firstfruits had to be selected as without blemish, as something special. So God’s people are seen as selected out to be offered to God prior to the redemption of the whole creation.

Contrast this with Romans 8:18-25 where the idea of firstfruits is amplified in terms of a creation groaning for deliverance. ‘We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for our adoption, that is the redemption of our bodies’ (Romans 8:23). There the idea is that we have experienced the entry of the life-giving Spirit, a quickening which creation will have to wait for. The idea of the firstfruits is therefore connected with the resurrection of His people as the initial preparation for the deliverance of creation in the new Heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1). They are partakers with Him Who is ‘the beginning of the creation of God’ (Revelation 3:14).

(The idea of a superior group of ‘firstfruits’ in comparison with other Christians is nowhere found in the New Testament. In that sense it is Christ alone Who is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23). However the picture of the firstfruits is applied to the idea of those first becoming Christians in a particular place prior to further conversions (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15) but that is not the idea here).

‘In their mouth was found no lie. They are without blemish’. They have been made like Him ‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’ (1 Peter 2:22), Who had no ‘deceit in His mouth’ (Isaiah 53:9). This demonstrates that we have here the idealised state. There may be men who are ‘virgins’ in earthly terms, but there are none who are totally free from lies, guile, dishonesty or deceit, none who are without blemish, except for those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).

Similarly, in Zephaniah 3:13, Zephaniah declares ‘the remnant of Israel (the true Israel) will not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth, for they shall feed and lie down and none shall make them afraid’. There we have its fulfilment in the idea of ‘the remnant of Israel’, those chosen of God, as being freed from all deceit and as a result being shepherded by God. That can also be seen as connecting the one hundred and forty four thousand with being ‘shepherded’, as being those who follow the Shepherd (Revelation 7:17).

We may also see as included in this passage in Revelation reference to the fact that having received the love of the truth they did not believe and proclaim ‘the Lie’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). Those who are genuine and truthful will themselves know the truth and will boldly declare it (John 7:17).

The whole picture is of total purity in contrast with those who dwell on earth who glory in the worship of false gods and false ideas, believing the lie, and in over-indulged sex and fleshly enjoyment. The pure are the firstfruits. The full harvest, the harvest of the earth-dwellers to judgment, comes later (Revelation 14:14-20).


Verse 6-7

‘And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven having an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, for he says with a great voice, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment is come, and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters”.’

The message is specific, ‘the hour of His judgment is come’. There will be delay no longer (Revelation 10:6). The fact that he has eternal good news or an eternal Gospel, good news that spans from beginning to end and on into eternity, in contrast with the message of the beast, may suggest that there is yet hope for these people, the earth-dwellers, if only they will repent, a message to all nations from which none is excluded. It is the last call. As such it must be seen as prior to the resurrection described above, and it would appear covers the brief period between the destruction of Babylon and the final Battle. Once the resurrection has taken place only judgment awaits the unrepentant.

This parenthesis is remarkable. Even at the last God appeals to men. Even while glory and judgment is being described God fits in a plea and warning to respond before it is too late. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The call is for submission to God before it is too late, to respond to Him in awed fear, to give Him the glory due to His name, and to worship Him rather than the beast. This terminology is used as a deliberate comparison with their attitudes to the beast. They fear the beast and give him glory (Revelation 13:3-4). But in contrast with the beast here is the One Who made Heaven and earth and sea. All is His and under His control. Therefore let them rather fear Him and give Him glory. Though beasts may have arisen from sea and earth, yet sea and earth are His not theirs. Let them therefore worship the source of all things

The creation of heaven, earth and sea parallels Revelation 10:6, but here is added ‘fountains of waters’ i.e. fresh water sources. Thus He Who created the heaven and earth and sea also created the fountains of waters, the life-source for men. The reference to fountains of waters may include a spiritual reference and compare with Revelation 7:17; Revelation 22:1 and be a hint that life is still available for those who will repent (but compare Revelation 8:10; Revelation 16:4). He is the source of both kinds of life. The only question now is whether their hearts are too hardened to respond, and, sadly, that is what the passage suggests.

‘Those who dwell on earth’. The verb used for ‘dwell’ here is different from elsewhere and literally means ‘sit’ (kathemai). We can compare the similar use in Luke 21:35 where it relates to surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this life in the light of the coming judgment at the end of the age. Thus it may have special reference to their casual attitude and worldly behaviour.

‘Fear God’. It is ‘the whole duty of man’ to ‘fear God and keep His commandments’ for ‘God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing whether it be good or whether it be evil’ (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Compare also Exodus 18:21; Psalms 66:16; Ecclesiastes 8:12; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5; Acts 10:2; Acts 10:22; Acts 10:35; Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:12; Colossians 3:22 from which it is apparent that the fear of God is closely connected with obedience and a desire for purity. God is fearsome because He is holy (Revelation 15:4). Thus those who seek Him will seek purity.

‘And give Him glory’ (compare Revelation 4:9), for the giving of glory to Him is the sign of a pure heart (Psalms 29:2). It symbolises obedience and openness before God (Joshua 7:19; Malachi 2:2). It should be done before it is too late (Jeremiah 13:16; Malachi 2:2).


Verses 6-11

The Three Angels Declare that the Time of Judgment Has Arrived (Revelation 14:6-11).

This section is paranthetical to bring out that those who are to be reaped have brought their own judgment on themselves in spite of God’s pleadings.


Verse 8

‘And another, a second angel, followed, saying “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great which has made all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication”.’

The idea and wording connects with Isaiah 21:9, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen’ where it relates to idolatry, and with Jeremiah 51:7-8 from where he obtains the picture of her making the earth drunk with her ideas. The doom of this great city, with all it represents of pride and rebellion, which has drawn on itself God’s wrath because of its idolatry and sexual misbehaviour, and has led others to do the same, has at this stage already taken place (details are given later in chapters 17-18, which see). The time of final judgment now fast approaches. Let those called on consider that all ‘Babylon’ has done for them is to lead them into uncleanness and make them drink the wine of God’s wrath, and that now that Babylon has met its inevitable doom, they need to reconsider their ways.

John may well have thought of ‘Babylon’ here especially in terms of Rome, simply because in his day Rome epitomised all that Babylon stood for, but to the spiritual beings who spoke of it and proclaimed it, it represents that which first began when Cain first ‘built a city’, and then at the tower of Babel and continued in great Babylon and in all great cities that sought to conquer and to enforce idolatry, the occult and sexual perversion on others. It is only Rome to him because he sees in Rome a fulfilment of the idea that all who in their pride set themselves up against God and seek to live and build up riches without taking Him into account, as had Babylon before it, will fall (compare what is said to the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:15-17)). They are doomed to destruction. Had he known what we know he would have known that it meant more than Rome.

It was not just Rome or Babylon, but the idea that Babylon and Rome epitomised that would be destroyed. Indeed all the prophets see the destruction of the great cities of the world which set themselves up against God as inevitable. They see them as all doomed to total destruction in the end. This is not second guessing what will be but the inevitable consequence of what they are. They know that Babylon, Rome and all other such cities, and what they represent, exist only to be destroyed. They are anti-Christ, seeking to replace Him in men’s minds, therefore they can have only one end. In every period there is another ‘Babylon’ also doomed to destruction. There will be one in the final days. For Babylon represents man over against God, laden with sin and indulgence.


Verses 9-11

‘And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is prepared unmixed in the cup of His anger. And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, yet they cease not day or night, those worshippers of the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of His name.’

The messages of the three angels (three signifies completeness) sum up the history of the world for those who dwell on earth. We find here, first God’s call to the world, then the alternative of the anti-Christ who deceived the nations and is now fallen and finally the doom of those whose response is to anti-Christ. The prime reference is as a warning to Christians in the early days not to submit to the beast of Rome, but it contains within it the warning against submission to anti-Christ in any form, i.e. submission to false religion or secularism for whatever reason, and especially to the final anti-Christ depicted by the beast from the abyss (chapter 17). While they may not worship the Roman beast and his image they worship other images and false ideas and stand equally condemned.

This passage has often been grossly misrepresented. It is a picture of judgment not of eternal torture. First it is stressed that those who commit themselves to the beast, and continue as his, will drink fully of the awful and total wrath of God. At the last mercy must cease and then there is unabated wrath. The wrath of God, revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), is not impetuous anger but an attitude towards sin necessarily resulting from the holiness of God. In His ‘otherness’ He cannot abide sin and if men will not repent then they must accept that they will receive its full deserts (Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6). In the end it is the result of their rejection of God’s offer of mercy in Christ (John 3:36).

‘And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.’ John’s readers would understand the vivid picture. In those days when men were brought to trial they were tortured in order to make them admit the truth. The same could even be done to witnesses of the common kind. It was simply a fact of life. (Compare how Jesus was scourged before He was sentenced). So now we learn in vivid language that the followers of the beast will face trial in the presence of the angels and of the Lamb in such a way that they will be made to tell the truth. It is of course symbolic and not literal, to bring out the awfulness of the situation. Compare how fire and brimstone came out of the mouths of the the evil spirits (Revelation 9:17-18) and fire out of the mouths of the two Witnesses (Revelation 11:5).

The One Who suffered for men will now be their judge because they rejected His mercy, the bleeding Lamb has become the Destroyer, and the impact of His fiery eyes and words will make them prostrate themselves before Him and admit the total truth about themselves. We can compare for this Revelation 9:17-18. There the fire and brimstone was intended to bring men to admission of sin and repentance (Revelation 9:20-21). Here it issues in the hopeless confession of sin before the Judge.

As we have seen throughout the book, fire, and fire and brimstone, represent spiritual impact and application, the former with a message which still contained hope, the latter with a message of judgment and destruction. Fire came from the mouths of the two witnesses, representing their powerful burning words which left their enemies bereft but contained hope for those who would respond (Revelation 11:5) , fire and brimstone came from the mouths of evil spirits as they attacked men’s inner thoughts, minds and spirits, bringing them to destruction (Revelation 9:18). Fire and brimstone will now pierce the inner thoughts of the judged.

We must not remove the force of the words. Men will cry out in anguish longing to be hid from God’s wrath against sin (Revelation 6:16). They will weep and gnash their teeth as they recognise that it is now too late (Luke 13:28 compare Matthew 8:2; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30). Their torment will thus be great as the words of judgment burn into their souls. It would be no kindness to water down the awfulness of that time. But it does not represent a picture of everlasting conscious torment. It is saying that they will be thoroughly and severely judged.

‘And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever.’ The portrayal of their examination as being conducted with fire and brimstone leads on to the picture of the ensuing smoke rising eternally. It is the constant stress in Scripture that the consequences of sin are eternal, and that the signs of its punishment will also be eternal, signifying that the judgment itself is final and there is no escape from it. (For everlasting smoke see Isaiah 34:10; Revelation 19:3; and compare Genesis 19:28 with Jude 1:7; for everlasting fire and maggots compare Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 9:48).

‘Yet they cease not day or night those worshippers of the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.’ The thought of what they must face had made no impact on them. Even as they had received warnings of terrible judgment to come they had continued with their worship of the beast. Timewise this comment is looking back before the judgment scene.

Note the construction of the whole passage. It commences with a final offer of mercy, continues with God’s judgment on those who are worshippers of the beast and his image and those who receive a mark on their forehead and on their hand (Revelation 14:9), and it finishes in holy exasperation that in spite of the consequences of which they are warned those worshippers are carrying on with their worship.

‘They cease not day or night.’ This is in deliberate contrast with the worshippers of God who also cease not day or night (Revelation 4:8) (the Greek is exactly the same). It does not therefore indicate spiritual unrest as such but perseverance in a course of action. Just as the living creatures persevere in worshipping God so they persevere in worshipping the beast. They refuse to fear God and give Him glory.

So while the first angel appeared to be offering hope, and was indeed doing so, the final picture is that men are now too bound up in sin to repent. God’s offer of mercy will extend to the final hour, but as a whole man is too hardened to benefit.

John, of course, has a foreshortened view. As far as he is aware the coming of Christ and the ensuing judgment could happen at any time. Thus he speaks in those terms. But while viewing things in that light, as he must, he is also aware that Christ’s coming might be considerably delayed, for he knew that no one knew the time of that coming. Either way he knew that anti-Christ would continue for it is part of the inevitability of history.


Verse 12-13

A Reminder of the Blessedness of the People of God.

‘Here is the patient endurance of the saints, they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice behind me saying, Write, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth. Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, for their works follow with them.’

What has just been described enables the people of God to endure patiently under great tribulation. Their awareness of what is to be, gives to them strength to continue. They keep His commandments because they love Him, as He Himself said, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15 compare John 14:21; John 15:10; John 15:12), and they will thus hold firmly to the truth about Jesus.

‘The faith of Jesus’ refers to the testimony concerning Him. They believe in it wholeheartedly and hold it fast. Unlike the unbelievers previously described, those who are His and have died ‘in the Lord’ can know that from henceforth they are blessed. For as the Spirit has testified, they rest from their labours and their works follow them. Note the assumption that every Christian will have ‘works’ to present before the Judgment Seat of Christ. For them the judgment day holds no fears, it has introduced for all of them their rest. No longer will they need to battle and hold on, for all that is over and they will receive the due reward for their faithful service. Alternately we may read it as ‘faith in Jesus’ (an objective genitive) stressing their personal faith.

This short interlude between the message of the three angels and the coming scenes of the judgment of those who have not been raptured and resurrected is to remind the readers in the midst of judgment that for His people there is nothing to fear, for they are with Him on Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1).


Verse 14

The Final Judgment of the Earth Dwellers Portrayed (Revelation 14:14-20).

‘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.’

This is ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory’ (Matthew 24:30; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Luke 9:26; Luke 21:27). This is in contrast with Daniel 7:13 where He was coming before the throne of God to receive His crown and His authority and dominion (see Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62 and compare Matthew 28:18). Here He has already received His authority and dominion, for He sits (on His throne) and wears a golden crown (Psalms 21:3), and is now poised to reveal Himself so as to exercise that dominion over the earth.

The title Son of Man represents true humanity as opposed to the wild beasts and its use by Jesus reveals both His true humanity and that He is the ideal man. He is what God intended man to be. Thus He is uniquely in a position to judge mankind. To the redeemed He was the slain Lamb, slain for them. To the judged He is the true man Who as such has the right to judge mankind.

‘In his hand a sharp sickle’. There is now a change in status. Previously the Son of Man had been the sower of the good seed (Matthew 13:37), now He has become the reaper (Matthew 13:39-41). The time for mercy is past. The time of judgment is here. He Who previously came to save is now here to judge (compare John 3:17; John 12:47 and contrast John 5:27). Note the stress on the sharpness of the sickle. His judgment is clean and sure.

Once more we are at the scene of final judgment, as in Revelation 6:17; Revelation 11:15-18. Compare also Revelation 16:20-21; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:11-15. Each section in Revelation brings us up to this point.


Verse 15

‘And another angel came out of the Temple, crying with a great voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Send forth your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come and the harvest of the earth is dried up (overripe)”.’

The angel comes from the Temple of God with direct instructions from Him Who sits on the throne. Everything has its time, and even the Son of Man may not act before the time (compare 1 Corinthians 4:5). The great voice, as always, emphasises the importance of what is about to happen.

‘Send forth your sickle and reap.’ The words are reminiscent of Joel 3:13. ‘There will I sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle and reap, for the harvest is ripe, come, tread, for the winepress is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision’. This then is the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25:31-46. The righteous have been gathered ‘on the right hand’, on the heavenly Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1-5 see Joel 3:17) to enjoy eternal life, and those who are remain are gathered on the left hand and will be reaped and thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath.

‘The hour to reap has come’. Everything has its hour, a concept which is a favourite of John’s. Jesus had His hour when He went to the cross (John 7:30; John 8:20; John 12:23; John 12:27; John 13:1; John 17:1 compare Matthew 26:45; Mark 14:35). The earth must face its hour of trial (Revelation 3:10). The ten kings of the beast will have their hour (Revelation 17:12). Great Babylon will have its hour (Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:17; Revelation 18:19). Now has come God’s final hour, it is the hour of judgment.

‘The harvest of the earth is dried up (overripe).’ The good fruit and the good harvest has already been gathered in (Revelation 14:1-5). What was left is now gathered in, overripe and useless, fit only to be burned. Their fruit is not edible. It is ‘the harvestof the earth’ contrasted with the heavenly harvest of Revelation 14:1-5.


Verse 16

‘And he who sat on the cloud cast his sickle on the earth and the earth was reaped.’

His action is the signal for the angels to gather out of His kingdom ‘all that offends and they who do iniquity’ (Matthew 13:41).


Verse 17

‘And another angel came out from the Temple which is in Heaven, he also having a sharp sickle, and another angel came out from the altar, he who has power over fire, and he called with a great voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Send forth your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe”.’

John is at pains to demonstrate that He Who sits on the throne is at one with the Son of Man in the action about to take place, for the angel with the sickle comes forth from His Temple. He is to help with the reaping.

The angel from the altar who has power over fire was described in Revelation 8:5. He represents the prayers of God’s people and here we find that this final hour of judgment is in response to those prayers (Luke 18:7; Revelation 6:10). Creation itself has groaned and waited (Romans 8:19-22). Now its hour too has come. This is intrinsic in the Lord’s prayer. ‘May your name be hallowed, your rule come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6:9-10). They were prayers for the fulfilment of God’s purposes.

The angels are the assistants of the Son of Man in judgment. The Son of Man initiates the reaping, the angels carry it out and gather the remains of the harvest to be burned (Matthew 13:40-42). This is assumed here and illustrated by the treatment of the vintage. John sees the two harvests as taking place at the same time. The emphasis is on the fact that nothing is excluded.


Verse 19

‘And the angel cast his sickle into the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth and cast it into the winepress, the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and there came out blood from the winepress, even to the bridles of the horses as far as a thousand and six hundred furlongs.’

John sees vividly the activity of the winepress in which the grapes are trodden and when the juice overflows the red wine flows, so that the red wine looks like blood flowing from the winepress. This takes him on in thought to the great last battle. The language is anticipatory of Revelation 19:11-21 where the heavenly horsemen go forth to judgment. It is stressing the greatness of the judgment with blood flowing for two hundred miles and deep enough to reach the horses’ bridles. Sixteen hundred is the square of forty emphasising again the greatness of the judgment. The flood was on the earth forty days and forty nights (Genesis 7:12). This is a judgment far vaster than the flood.

‘Outside the city.’ It was right and appropriate that it should take place outside the city for that is where Jesus was crucified (John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12). It is where that which was plagued was taken (Leviticus 14:40-41). This is Har-Magedon (Revelation 16:16 compare Revelation 19:11-21), possibly the mountain overlooking Megiddo (it means ‘the Mount of Megiddo’), where great battles were fought of old, where God discomforted Sisera (Judges 5:19; compare 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:22), where God will defeat all His enemies (Revelation 19:11-21). It is symbolic of a place of mourning (Zechariah 12:11). The judgment could not take place ‘within the city’ for Mount Zion is now in Heaven (Revelation 14:1), the place of the redeemed.

The picture of the winepress has in mind Isaiah 63:1-6 where the One Who speaks in righteousness, mighty to save, has trodden the winepress of God’s enemies in His anger, ‘for the day of vengeance was in my heart and the year of my redeemed has come’ (Isaiah 63:4). As here He is avenging the ill-treatment of His people on the those who have maltreated them. The whole picture is emphasising the awfulness of God’s judgment. It is stressing that it is ‘a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 14:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-14.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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