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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Revelation 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

CHAPTER XI

THE LAMB ON THE MOUNT ZION AND THE HARVEST AND VINTAGE OF THE WORLD.

Revelation 14:1-20.

THE twelfth and thirteenth chapters of this book were designed to set before us a picture of the three great enemies of the Church of Christ. We have been told of the dragon, the principle and root of all the evil, whether inward or outward, from which that Church suffers. He is the first enemy. We have been further told of the first beast, of that power or prince of the world to whom the dragon has committed his authority. He is the second enemy. Lastly, we have been told of that false spirit of religion which unites itself to the world, and which, even more opposed than the world itself to the unworldly spirit of Christianity, makes the relation of God’s children to the world worse than it might otherwise have been. The picture thus presented is in the highest degree fitted to depress and to discourage. The thought more especially of faithlessness in the Church fills the heart with sorrow. The saddest feature in the sufferings of Jesus was that He was "wounded in the house of His friends;" and there is a greater than ordinary depth of pathos in the words with which the beloved disciple draws to a close his record of his Master’s struggle with the Jews: "These things spake Jesus; and He departed, and was hidden from them. But though He had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on Him: that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?"* (*, John 12:36-38)

Even then, however, it was not wholly darkness and defeat, for the Evangelist immediately adds, "Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on Him;" and he closes the struggle with the words of calm self-confidence on the part of Jesus, "The things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto Me, so I speak."* Thus also is it here, and we pass from the dark spectacle on which our eyes have rested to a scene of heavenly light, and beauty, and repose. The reader may indeed at first imagine that the symmetry of structure which has been pointed out as a characteristic of the Apocalypse is not preserved by the arrangement of its parts in the present instance. We are about to meet in the following chapter the third and last series of plagues; and we might perhaps expect that the consolatory visions contained in this chapter ought to have found a place between the sixth and seventh Bowls, just as the consolatory visions of chap. 7 and of chaps. 10 and 11 found their place between the sixth and seventh Seals and the sixth and seventh Trumpets. Instead of this the seventh Bowl, at Revelation 15:17, immediately follows the sixth, at Revelation 15:12 of the same chapter; and the visions of encouragement contained in the chapter before us precede all the Bowls. The explanation may be that the Bowls are the last and highest series of judgments, and that when they begin there can be no more pause. One plague must rush upon another till the end is reached. The final judgments brook neither interruption nor delay. (*, John 12:42:50)

In this spirit we turn to the first vision of chap. 14:

"And I saw, and, behold, the Lamb standing on the mount Zion, and with Him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sang as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the elders: and no man could learn the song save the hundred and forty and four thousand, even they that had been purchased out of the earth. These are they which were not denied with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. 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 (Revelation 14:1-5)."

The scene of the vision is "the mount Zion," that Zion so often spoken of both in the Old and in the New Testament as God’s peculiar seat, and in the eyes of Israel famous for the beauty of its morning dews.1 It is the Zion in which God "dwells,"2 the mount Zion Which He "loved,"3 and "out of which salvation comes."4 It is that "holy hill of Zion" upon which God set the Son as King when He said to Him, "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee."5 It is that Zion, too, to which "the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads."6 Finally, it is that home of which the sacred writer, writing to the Hebrews, says, "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speak eth better than that of Abel."7 Upon this mount Zion the Lamb - that is, the crucified and risen Lamb of chap. 5 - stands, firm, self-possessed, and calm. (1, Psalms 133:3; 2, Psalms 9:11; 3, Psalms 78:68; 4, Psalms 14:7; 5, Psalms 2:6-7; 6, Isaiah 35:10; 7, Hebrews 12:22-24)

There is more, however, than outward beauty or sacred memories to mark the scene to which we are introduced. Mount Zion may be "beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King."* But there is music for the ear as well as beauty for the eye. The mount resounds with song, rich and full of meaning to those who can understand it. A voice is heard from heaven which seems to be distinguished from the voice of the hundred and forty and four thousand to be immediately spoken of. We are not told from whom it comes; but it is there, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, and as the voice of harpers harping with their harps. Majesty and sweetness mark it. It is the music that is ever in God’s presence, not the music of angels only, or glorified saints, or a redeemed creation. More probably it is that of all of them together. And the song which they sing is new, like that of Revelation 5:9, which is sung by "the four living creatures and the four-and-twenty elders, who have each one a harp, and golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the Saints." That song the Church on earth understands, and she alone can understand. It spoke of truths which the redeemed alone could appreciate, and of joys which they alone could value. There is a communion of saints, of all saints on earth and of all who fill the courts of the Lord’s house on high. Even now the Church can listen with ravished ear to songs which she shall hereafter join in singing. (*, Psalms 48:2)

Standing beside the Lamb upon Mount Zion, there are a hundred and forty and four thousand, having the Lamb’s name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads, in token of their priestly state. We cannot avoid asking, Are these the same hundred and forty and four thousand of whom we have read in chap. 7 as sealed upon their foreheads, or are they different? The natural inference is that they are the same. To use such a peculiar number of two different portions of the Church of God would lead to a confusion inconsistent with the usually plain and direct, even though mystical, statements of this book. Besides which they have the mark or seal of God in both cases on the same part of their bodies, - the forehead. It is true that the definite article is not prefixed to the number; but neither is that article prefixed to the "glassy sea" of Revelation 15:1, and yet no one doubts that this is the same "glassy sea" as that of chap. 4. Besides which the absence of the article may be accounted for by the fact that the reference is not directly to the hundred and forty and four thousand of Revelation 7:4, but to the innumerable multitude of Revelation 7:9.* We have already seen, however, that these two companies are the same, although the persons composing them are viewed in different lights; and the hundred and forty and four thousand here correspond, not to the first, but to the second, company. They are in full possession of their Christian privileges and joys. They are not "in heaven," in the ordinary meaning of that term. They are on earth. But the two companies formerly mentioned meet in them. They are both sealed, and in the presence of the Lamb. (* Comp. Lee in Speaker’s Commentary in loc. The distinction between the two references is there wrongly given.)

The character of the hundred and forty and four thousand next claims our thoughts.

1. They were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. The words cannot be literally understood, but must be taken in the sense of similar words of the Apostle Paul, when, writing to the Corinthians, he says, "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one Husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ."l Such "a pure virgin" were the hundred and forty and four thousand now standing upon the mount Zion. They had renounced all that unfaithfulness to God and to Divine truth which is so often spoken of in the Old Testament as spiritual fornication or adultery. They had renounced all sin. In the language of St. John in his first Epistle, they had "the true God, and eternal life." They had "guarded themselves from idols."2 (1, 2 Corinthians 11:2; 2, 1 John 5:20-21)

2. They follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. They shrink from no part of the Redeemer’s life whether on earth or in heaven. They follow Him in His humiliation, labours, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension. They obey the command "Follow thou Me"* in prosperity or adversity, in joy or sorrow, in persecution or triumph. Wherever their Lord is they also are, one with Him, members of His Body and partakers of His Spirit. (*, John 21:22)

3. They are 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. Upon the fact that they are "purchased" it is unnecessary to dwell. We have already met with the expression in Revelation 5:9, in one of the triumphant songs of the redeemed. Nor does it seem needful to speak of the moral qualifications here enumerated, further than to observe that in other parts of this book the "lie" is expressly said to exclude from the new Jerusalem, and to be a mark of those upon whom the door is shut,1 while the epithet "without blemish" is elsewhere, on more than one occasion, applied to our Lord.2 (1, Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15; 2, Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19)

The appellation "a first-fruits" demands more notice. The figure is drawn from the well-known offering of "first-fruits" under the Jewish law, in which the first portion of any harvest was dedicated to God, in token that the whole belonged to Him, and was recognized as His. Hence it always implies that something of the same kind will follow it, and in this sense it is often used in the New Testament: "If the first-fruit is holy, so is the lump; " "Epaenetus, who is the first-fruits of Asia unto Christ;" "Now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of them that are asleep;" Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia."1 In like manner the mention of the hundred and forty and four thousand as "first-fruits" suggests the thought of something to follow. What that is it is more difficult to say. It can hardly be other Christians belonging to a later age of the Church’s history upon earth, for the end is come. It can hardly be Christians who have done or suffered more than other members of the Christian family, for in St. John’s eyes all Christians are united to Christ, alike in work and martyrdom. Only one supposition remains. The hundred and forty and four thousand, as the whole Church of God, are spoken of in the sense in which the same expression is used by the Apostle James: "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures."2 Not as the first portion of the Church on earth, to be followed by another portion, but as the first portion of a kingdom of God wider and larger than the Church, are the words to be understood. The whole Church is God’s first-fruits; and when she is laid upon His altar, we have the promise that a time is coming when creation shall follow in her train, when "it shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God,"3 when "the mountains and the hills shall break forth before the Redeemer into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."4 (1, Romans 11:16; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2, James 1:18; 3, Romans 8:21; 4, Isaiah 55:12)

Why shall nature thus rejoice before the Lord? Let the Psalmist answer: "For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth."* This thought may introduce us to the next portion of the chapter: (*, Psalms 96:13) -

"And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to proclaim over them that sit on the earth, and over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people; and he saith with a great voice, Fear God, and give Him glory; for the hour of His judgment Is come: and worship Him that made the heaven, and the earth, and sea, and fountains of waters.

And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great, which hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.

And another angel, a third, followed them, spying with a great voice, If any man worshippeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger; and he shall 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 goeth up unto ages of ages: and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image, and whoso receiveth the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their toils; for their works follow with them.

And I saw, and behold a white cloud, and on the cloud I saw One sitting like unto a Son of man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.

And another angel came out from the temple, crying with a great voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Send forth Thy sickle, and reap: for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe. And He that sat on the cloud cast His sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped.

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 that hath power over fire; and he called with a great voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Send forth thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her bunches of grapes are ripe. And the angel cast his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine 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 unto the bridles of the horses, as far as a thousand and six hundred furlongs (Revelation 14:6-20).

The first point to be noticed in connection with these verses is their structure, for the structure is of importance to the interpretation. The passage as a whole, it will be easily observed, consists of seven parts, the first three and the last three being introduced by an "angel," while the central or chief part is occupied with One who, from the description, can be no other than our Lord Himself. In this part it is also obvious that the Lord comes to wind up the history of the world, and to gather in that harvest of His people which is already fully or even overripe. There can be no doubt, therefore, that we are here at the very close of the present dispensation; and, as five out of the six parts which are grouped around the central figure are occupied with judgment on the wicked, the presumption is that the only remaining part, the first of the six, will be occupied with the same topic.

In this first part indeed we read of an eternal gospel proclaimed over them that sit on the earth, and over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people; and the first impression made upon us is that we have here a universal and final proclamation of the glad tidings of great joy, in order that the world may yet, at the last moment, repent, believe, and be saved. But such an interpretation, however plausible and generally accepted, must be set aside. The light thrown upon the words by their position in the series of seven parts already spoken of is a powerful argument against it Everything in the passage itself leads to the same conclusion. We do not read, as we ought, were this the meaning, to have read, of "the," but of "an," eternal gospel. This gospel is proclaimed, not "unto," but "over," those to whom it is addressed. Its hearers do not "dwell," as in both the Authorized and Revised Versions, but, as in the margin of the latter, "sit," on the earth, in the sinful world, in the carelessness of pride and self-confident security. Thus the great harlot "sitteth upon many waters;" and thus Babylon says in her heart, "I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall in no wise see mourning."1 There is no humiliation, no spirit of repentance, no preparation for the Gospel, here; while the mention of the "earth n and the fourfold division of its inhabitants lead us to think of men continuing in their sins, over whom a doom is to be pronounced.2 Still further, the words put into the mouth of him who speaks "with a great voice," and which appear to contain the substance of the gospel thus proclaimed, have in them no sound of mercy, no story of love, no mention of the name of Jesus. They speak of fearing God and giving glory to Him, as even the lost may do,3 of the hour, not even the "day," of His judgment; and they describe the rule of the great Creator by bringing together the four things - the heaven, and the earth, and sea, and fountains of waters - upon which judgment has already fallen in the series of the Trumpets, and is yet to fall in that of the Bowls.4 Lastly, the description given of the angel reminds us so much of the description given of the "eagle" in Revelation 8:13 as to make it at least probable chat his mission is a similar one of woe. (1, Revelation 17:1; Revelation 18:7; 2Comp. Revelation 11:9; Revelation 13:7; 3Comp. James 2:19; 4Rev. 8 and 15)

In the light of all these circumstances, we seem compelled to come to the conclusion that the "gospel" referred to is a proclamation of judgment, that it is that side of the Saviour’s mission in which He appears as the winnowing fan by which His enemies are scattered as the chaff, while His disciples are gathered as the wheat. There is no intimation here, then, of a conversion of the world. The world stands self-convicted before the bar of judgment, to hear its doom.

The cry of the second angel corresponds to that of the first. It proclaims the fall of Babylon and its cause. The deeply interesting questions relating to this city will meet us at a later point. In the meantime it is enough to observe that Babylon is described as fallen. The Judge is not only standing at the door: He has begun His work.

The words of the third angel continue the strain thus begun, and constitute the most terrible picture of the fate of the ungodly to be found in Scripture. The eye shrinks from the spectacle. The heart fails with fear when the words are read. That wine of the wrath of God which is mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, that wine into which, contrary to the usage of the time, no water, no mitigating element, has been allowed to enter; that torment with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; that smoke of their torment going up unto ages of ages; that no-rest day and night, of so different a kind from the no-rest of which we have read in Revelation 4:8 - all present a picture from which we can hardly do aught else than turn away with trembling. Can this be the Gospel of Jesus, the Lamb of God? Can this be a revelation given to the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who had entered so deeply into his Master’s spirit of tenderness and compassion for the sinner?

1. Let us consider that the words are addressed, not directly to sinners, but to the Church of Christ, which is safe from the threatened doom; not to the former that they may be led to repentance, but to the latter that through the thought of what she has escaped he may be filled with eternal gratitude and joy.

2. Let us notice the degree to which sin is her supposed to have developed; that it is not the sin of Mary in the house of Simon, of the penitent thief, of the Phillippian gaoler, or of the publicans and harlots who gathered around our Lord in the days of His flesh to listen to Him, but sin bold, determined, loved, and clung to as the sinner’s self-chosen good, the sin of sinners who will die for sin as martyrs die for Christ and holiness.

3. Let us observe that, whatever the angel may mean, he certainly does not speak of never-ending existence in never-ending torment, for the words of the original unhappily translated both in the Authorized and Revised Versions "forever and ever" ought properly to be rendered "unto ages of ages;"* and, distinguished as they are on this occasion alone in the Apocalypse from the first of these expressions by the absence of the Greek articles, they ought not to be translated in the same way. (*They are so rendered in the margin of the Revised Version)

4. Let us recall the strong figures of speech in which the inhabitants of the East were wont to give utterance to their feelings, figures illustrated in the present instance by the mention of that "fire and brimstone" which no man will interpret literally, as well as by the language of St. Jude when he describes Sodom and Gomorrah as "an example of eternal fire."* (* Jude 1:7 {margin of R.V.}).

5. Let us remember that hatred of sin is the correlative of love of goodness, and that the kingdom of God cannot be fully established in the world until sin has been completely banished from it.

6. Above all, let us mark carefully the distinction, so often forced upon us in the writings of St. John, between sinners in the ordinary sense and the system of sin to which other sinners cling in deadliest enmity to God and righteousness; and, as we do all this, the words of the third angel will produce on us another than their first impression. So far as the human being is before us we shall be moved only to com passion and eagerness to save. But his sin, the sin which has mastered the Divinely implanted elements of his nature, which has fouled what God made pure and embittered what God made sweet, the sin which has subjected one created in the nobility of the image of God to the miserable thralldom of the devil, the sin the thought of which we can separate, like the Apostle Paul, from the "I" of man’s true nature* - of that sin we can only say, Let the wrath of God be poured out upon it unmingled with mercy; let it be destroyed with a destruction the memory of which shall last "unto ages of ages" and even take its place amidst the verities sustaining the throne of the Eternal and securing the obedience and the happiness of His creatures. If a minister of Christ thinks that he may gather from this passage, or others similar to it, a commission to go to sinners rather than to sin with "tidings of damnation," he mistakes alike the Master whom he serves and the commission with which he has been entrusted. (* Romans 7)

At this point, after the thought of that spirit of allegiance to the beast which draws down such terrors upon itself, and before we reach the central figure of the whole movement, we have some words of comfort interposed. The meaning of the first part of them is similar to that of Revelation 13:10, and need not be further spoken of. The meaning of their second part, conveying to us the contents of the "voice from heaven," demands a moment’s notice. Blessed, exclaims the heavenly voice (at the same time prefixing the command Write), are the dead which die in the Lora from henceforth. It is difficult to determine the precise point of time referred to in the word "henceforth." If it be the moment of the end, the moment of the Second Coming of the Lord, then the promise must express the glory of the resurrection. But, to say nothing of the fact that "resting from labours" is too weak to bring out the glory of the resurrection state, there is at that instant no more time to die in the Lord. The living shall be "changed." It seems better, therefore, to understand the words as a voice of consolation running throughout the whole Christian age. In the view of "heaven" the lapse of time is hardly thought of. All is Now. The meaning of "dying in the Lord," again, must not be regarded as equivalent to the Scriptural expression "falling asleep in Jesus." Not the thought of "falling asleep" in a quiet Christian home, but of "dying" as Jesus died, is in the Seer’s mind; and not the thought of rest from work, but of rest from toils, an entirely different and far stronger word, is in the answer of the Spirit. Thus are believers blessed. Their life is a life of toil, of hardship, of trial, of persecution, of death; but when they die, they "rest" And their "works" - that is, their Christian character and life - are not lost. They follow with them, and meet them again in the heavenly mansions as the record of all that they have done and suffered in their Master’s cause.

The first three angels have accomplished their task. We now reach the fourth and chief member in this series of seven, and meet with the Lord as He comes to take His people to Himself, that where He is, there they may also be. That it is the Lord who is here before us we cannot for a moment doubt. The designation like unto a Son of man, the same as that of Revelation 1:13, itself establishes the fact, which is again confirmed by the mention of the white cloud and of the golden crown. In His hand He holds a sharp sickle, with which to reap. Thus also in different passages of the New Testament our Lord speaks of the harvest of His people, although in them He acts by His angels and Apostles.1 In one passage of the Gospel of St. John He acts by Himself.2 The glorified Redeemer is thus ready to complete His work. (1, Matthew 9:37-38; Matthew 13:29-30; 2 John 14:3)

Another angel now appears, the first of the second series of three, and styled "another," not by comparison with Him who sat on the white cloud, and who is exalted far above all angels, but by comparison with the angels previously spoken of at the sixth, eighth, and ninth verses of the chapter. This angel is said to come out from the temple - that is, out of the naos, out of the innermost shrine of the temple - and the notice is important, for it shows that he comes from the immediate presence of God, and is a messenger from Him. Therefore it is that he can say to the Son, Send forth Thy sickle, and reap. "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing."1 Until the Father gives the sign His "hour is not yet come;" and more especially of the hour now arrived Jesus had Himself said, "But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."2 The day, the hour, the moment, has now arrived; and, as usual in this book, the message of the Father is communicated by an angel. The intimation that the hour is come is grounded upon the fact that the harvest about to be gathered in is fully ripe. The Revised Version translates "overripe;" but the translation, though literal, is unhappy, and so far false as it unquestionably suggests a false idea. God’s time for working is always right, not wrong; and it is perfectly legitimate to understand the word of the original as meaning simply dry, hard, the soft juices of its ripening state absorbed, and the time of its firmness come.3 Thus summoned by the message of the Father to the work, the Son enters upon it without delay. "As He hears, He judges."4 He that sat on the cloud cast His sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped. (1 John 5:19; 2, Mark 13:32; 3Comp. the "dried up" of the margin of the Revised Version; 4, John 5:30)

The second angel of the second group of three next appears, having, like Him that sat upon the cloud, "a sharp sickle;" and he too waits for the summons to use it.

This summons is given by the third angel of the second group, of whom it is said that he came out from the altar, he that hath power over fire. The altar of this verse must be that already spoken of in Revelation 8:3, where we were told that "another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer," an altar which we have been led to identify with the brazen altar of Revelation 5:9, beneath which were found the souls of the Old Testament saints; and the "fire" over which this angel has power must be the "fire" of Revelation 8:5, the fire taken from that altar to kindle the incense of the prayers of the saints. The angel is thus a messenger of judgment, about to command a final and full answer to be given to the prayer that the Almighty will finish His work and vindicate His cause. To this character, accordingly, his message corresponds, for he called with a great voice to him (that is, to the second angel) that had the sharp sickle, saying, Send forth thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her bunches of grapes are ripe. A vintage, not a harvest of grain, is here before us; and it is impossible to doubt that it is the purpose of the Seer to draw a broad line of distinction between the two. The latter is the harvest of the good; the former is the vintage of the evil: and the propriety of the figure thus used for the evil is easily perceived when we remember that grapes were gathered to be trodden in the winefat, and that the juice when trodden out had the colour of blood. The figure was indeed one already familiar to the prophets: "Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat" (that is, The Lord judges): "for there will I sit to judge all the nations round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the vintage is ripe: come, tread ye; for the winepress is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great;"1 "Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was no man with Me: yea, I trod them in Mine anger, and trampled them in My fury; and their life-blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My raiment. For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and My year of redemption is come."2 The figure is here employed in a similar manner, for the angel gathered the vine (not "the vintage," the whole vine being plucked up by the roots) of the earth, and cast it into the winepress, the great wine press, of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and there came out blood from the winepress, even unto the bridles of the horses, as far as a thousand and six hundred furlongs. In these words we have undoubtedly the judgment of the wicked, and the last portion of them alone need detain us for a moment. (1, Joel 3:12-13; 2, Isaiah 63:2-4)

1. What is meant by the statement that the sea of blood thus created by the slaughter spoken of reached "even unto the bridles of the horses "? The horses are those of Revelation 19:11-16, where we have again a description of the final victory of Christ over all His enemies, and where it is again said of Him that "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God."1 The same winepress which meets us here meets us there. The battle and the victory are the same; and the horses here are therefore those upon which He that is called Faithful and True, together with His armies that are in heaven, rides forth to conquest The mention of "the bridles" of the horses is more uncertain and more difficult to explain, but one passage of the Old Testament helps us. In speaking of the glories of the latter day, the prophet Zechariah says, "In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses (the bells strung along the bridles) HOLY UNTO THE LORD."2 The sea of blood reached to, but could not be allowed to touch, these sacred words. (1, Revelation 19:15; 2, Zechariah 14:20)

2. What is meant by the space of "a thousand and six hundred furlongs," over which the sea extended? To resolve it simply into a large space is at variance with the spirit of the Apocalypse; and to imagine that it marks the extent of the Holy Land from Dan to Beer-sheba is both to introduce an incorrect calculation and to forget who constitute the hosts of wickedness that had been engaged in the battle: These were not the inhabitants of Palestine only, but of "the earth," three times mentioned in the description. They were "all the nations" spoken of by the second angel of the first group, all that worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their forehead or their hand, referred to by the third angel of the same group. They are thus the wicked gathered from every corner of the earth. With this idea the figures 1,600 agree - four, the number of the world, multiplied by itself to express intensity, and then by a hundred, the number so often associated with evil in this book. Whether "furlongs," literally "stadia," are chosen as the measure of space because, as suggested by Cornelius a Lapide, the arena or circus in which the martyrs suffered was called "The Stadium,"* it may be vain to conjecture. Enough that the sixteen hundred furlongs represent the whole surface of the earth upon which the wicked "sit" at ease, the universal efficacy of the sickle by which they are gathered to their doom. (*Comp. 1 Corinthians 9:24)

One other point ought to be more particularly noticed before we close the consideration of this chapter. The harvest of the good is gathered in by the Lord Himself, that of the wicked by His angel. The same lesson appears to be read in the parables of the tares and of the drawnet. In the former (although allusions in each parable may seem to imply that angels take part in both acts) it is said that "at the end of the world the Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity."l In the latter we read, "So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire."2 In like manner here. The Son of man Himself gathers His own to their eternal rest. It is an angel, though commissioned by Him, who gathers the wicked to their fate. "And is there not a beauty and tenderness in this contrast? It is as though that Son of man and Son of God who is the Judge of quick and dead, the Judge alike of the righteous and of the wicked, loved one half of His office, and loved not the other. It is as though He cherished as His own prerogative the harvest of the earth, and were glad to delegate to other hands the vintage. It is as though the ministry of mercy were His chosen office, and the ministry of wrath His stern necessity. One like unto the Son of man puts forth the sickle of the ingathering; one of created, though it be of angelic, nature is employed to send forth the sickle of destruction."3 (1, Matthew 13:41; 2, Matthew 13:49-50; 2Vaughan u. s., p. 378)

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 14:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/revelation-14.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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