Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 14, Heaven Prepares the World to Receive God’s Full Wrath

This chapter opens with a glimpse of Jesus Christ then shows us a "behind-the-scenes" look at heaven as it prepares the world to receive God’s full wrath.

v.1-5 "Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. And they sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God."

In stark contrast to the counterfeit lamb rising out of the earth in the last chapter, John beholds the true Lamb of God standing on Mount Zion (the future site of His Millennium reign; Isa.2:2-3, Ps.132:13-14). The one hundred and forty-four thousand with Him are those upon whom God had earlier sealed as immunization against the plagues about to be unleashed on the earth-dwellers (Rev.7:1-8). Seemingly, just before the final bowls of judgment are poured upon the earth, the Lord stops to reassure His own that He has already taken His place in government and that His own are safe in Him.

Okay, let’s look at the one hundred and forty-four thousand and consider the many unique and exclusive characteristics that surround them.
  1. They sing a “new” song. For all the songs sung in heaven, only two are called new songs. That sung earlier by the twenty-four elders (Rev.5:9) and this one. Moreover, though loudly exclaimed and joyfully celebrated by those who hear it, this song cannot be learned by anyone in heaven but by the one hundred and forty-four thousand. This is probably because of how uniquely different they are from other groups. They are saved after the rapture; subsequently given protection from death by a guarding seal; and they accomplish a very demanding ministry during a time when man’s greatest persecution and God’s greatest judgments are on earth.
  2. They are virgins who have not been defiled with women. This might suggest that they are unmarried men (check—Matt.19:12).
  3. They "follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” This probably hints at their future place in the Millennial Kingdom, and perhaps explains why they are revealed to John alongside of Jesus on Mount Zion.
  4. They "were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” In other words, they are God’s Tribulation harvest. They are planted during the Tribulation, bear fruit throughout the Tribulation, and then redeemed from among men at the end of the Tribulation.
  5. "And in their mouth was found no guile." The word guile means “without decoy, or deceit,” and undoubtedly alludes to the fact that they do not accept "the lie" perpetrated by Antichrist (see—2Thess.2:11). In other words, their witness of Jesus Christ remains true, completely without compromise, and thus "without fault before the throne of God.”
v.6-11 "Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth-- to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people-- saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.' And another angel followed, saying, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.' Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they shall have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.' "

In this quick succession of three flying angels, John records the ominous and foreboding message each delivers to those dwelling upon earth.

It should be noted, however, that the message is for the unbelievers, not the redeemed. The “earth dwellers” are those who set their mind on earthly things, and therefore, because they are friends with the world, are at enmity with God (Phil.3:17-19; Jas.4:4). On the other hand, the redeemed are classified as citizens of heaven, strangers in the world who desire only a heavenly country (Phil.3:20; Heb.11:13-16).

Okay, let's consider the three messages.

The first angel delivers the "everlasting gospel.” This signifies a message of "good news” that the long awaited judgment of God has come, that Satan's reign upon earth is about to be consummated, the deliverance and restoration of Israel is about to take place, and the rule of Jesus Christ on earth is about to begin. Moreover, the angel preaches it with a "loud voice" so that every nation, tribe, tongue, and people might immediately fear, give glory to, and worship God.

The second angel carries a message of judgment against the city of Babylon. The phrase "Babylon is fallen, is fallen" is not meant to mean that Babylon has fallen, however, as if the judgment had already taken place, but is used in the same way the Old Testament prophets used it, to signify that Babylon is about to fall (check—Isa.21:9; Jer.51:8). This is furthered evidenced in the repetition of the phrase "is fallen, is fallen," which in Scripture is used as a declaration that God has established judgment, and will shortly bring it to pass (Gen.41:32). So the angel is reiterating that which Scripture has already declared—that Babylon has been sentenced for judgment by God, and that her judgment is coming (we'll see this later in Chapters 17 & 18).

The third angel speaks of judgment upon the souls of men. This is arguably the most alarming of the messages because it carries with it an irreversible consequence based upon a singular decision: One must refuse to worship Antichrist and his image and to accept his mark, or "he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God" and be made to endure God’s judgment and "he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone" forever and ever. In other words, those who take the mark cannot be saved.

v.12-13 "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.' "

The saints (those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior during the Tribulation) will be required to endure the evil without compromise, even to death. Their faith will be tested especially by the mark of the beast. For by refusing to accept the mark, they will be prevented from buying or selling goods and services, will become targets for death by the government, and will become enemies even to members of their own family. It will a time of such unprecedented bloodshed and human suffering, and the patience to endure it will be a life-or-death struggle they must contend with during every moment of the Tribulation (see also—Luke 21:16-17,19).

This might explain why this is the first of only two instances in Revelation where the Holy Spirit speaks directly. An encouragement to the Tribulation saints that they will find rest in death, and His blessed assurance that their works will accompany them to heaven.

v.14-20 "And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple crying with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, 'Thrust in your sickle and reap, for the time has come for you to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.' So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, 'Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.' So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled out side the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs."

John now sees what I deem to be a behind-the-scenes look at heaven in spiritual preparation for the outpouring of God’s wrath with the seven bowl-judgments about to follow (Rev.15-16). I consider it behind the scenes because it appears more to set the stage for the impending judgments, rather than an event man will recognize is actually occurring.

The purpose is to "separate" and "gather". The imagery used is that of a harvest of wheat and grapes. First, in a manner not unlike the cutting and threshing of wheat, God will separate this world’s spiritual powers of good and evil and all concerned with false religious powers. Then, like a vintage of grapes, He will gather up His own and then assemble the unholy and all evil governmental powers together for judgment (Joel 3:12-14; Matt.3:12; Matt.13:30).

Okay, let's take a closer look.

The threshing of wheat speaks of God’s judgment of the false religious powers that have long co-existed in bitter opposition with the truth of God. Our Lord explains it best in His parable of the “wheat and tares” where He speaks of a field implanted with good seed and bad seed, later interpreted as the “sons of the kingdom” and “sons of the wicked one” co-existing in the world. Moreover, He goes on to say, whereas He will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and cast them into the furnace of fire, the righteous (elsewhere called “the precious fruit of the earth” whom God has patiently waited for; Jas.5:7), He will gather unto Himself (Matt.13:24-30; 36-43).
“His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt.3:12)
The vintage of grapes shows us the conclusion of the harvest, speaking of God’s severe judgment by war of the evil governments of the world culminating at Armageddon. For the governments of man, like clusters of ripe grapes plucked from the vine and brought into the husbandman's vat for trampling, will in these last days be brought to the winepress called Armageddon and therein crushed under the heavy foot of God’s great wrath (see also--Rev.16:21). And human blood, as the result of war, will gush from the valley like a river and flow downstream at a depth of about four feet and for a distance of one hundred and eighty miles.
"Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats 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" (Joel 3:12-14).
Okay, now let's consider Armageddon.

The battle of Armageddon represents the final conflict between Christ and Antichrist. And though generally considered as one single battle waged at the conclusion of the Tribulation, it might actually include three battles waged over the entire last half of the Tribulation (tantamount to a three and a half year world war). For Scripture speaks of three battles in the last days; all fought in and around the vast plains of Esdraelon, which is called Armageddon; all resulting in untold human casualties; and all used by God to in fact destroy all the major world governments long in opposition to Him and His nation Israel.

The first battle concerns the invasion of Israel by a coalition of Russian and Islamic nations (Iran, Turkey, Libya, and Egypt; Ez.38-39). This will cause an intense war in which Israel is spared, but results in the invading army becoming utterly destroyed by “pestilence and bloodshed…flooding rain, great hailstones, fire and brimstone” (Ez.38:22). Moreover, the country of Russia will be engulfed in fire, as will another country (or countries considered out of harms way) along “the coastlands” (Ez.39:6). This may or may not allude to the United States, as some commentators believe. It should also be noted that in April 2008 Russian President Vladimir Putin became the first Russian leader in history to Libya, creating a strategic alliance, signing numerous agreements, and negotiating a $2.5 billion arms sale to this enormous and historic enemy of Israel.

The second battle concerns the invasion of the Middle East by a coalition of Asian countries referred to as “the kings of the east” (Rev.16:12) and probably headed up by China. This not only escalates the first war, it significantly expands it; and as a direct result of the confrontation every major city in the world will be destroyed (check—Rev.16:12; Zep.1:15-18; Isa.24:1-6).

The third battle concerns the invasion of planet earth by Jesus Christ at His Second Coming, in my opinion to prevent the annihilation of Israel. For Jesus said, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s [Israel’s] sake those days will be shortened” (Matt.24:22). As a result, all the remaining armies of the world are consumed, and the Antichrist and the False Prophet are plucked out alive from this planet and cast into the lake of fire (Rev.19:11-21).

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