THE LAMB AND THE SAINTS
In the previous chapter, John portrayed the overthrow of the persecutors of the saints. In this chapter he discusses the glorious victory of the saints over the beast and false prophet who have persecuted them. John also reveals the horrible fate of those who were so arrogant as to set themselves against the flock of God. The vision of this chapter is divided into three sections. The three sections begin with the phrase “I looked” (vs 1), “I saw” (vs 6), and “I looked” (vs 14).
14:1 The Lamb stood on Mount Zion: Jesus is pictured standing with those who are His. The symbol of Mount Zion is from the Old Testament where the name referred to Jerusalem (2 Sm 5:7; 1 Ch 11:5; Ps 149:1,2; Zc 9:9; Is 28:16; Ml 4:1-6). Here reference is to the heavenly Zion (vss 2,13; 21:2; Ps 125:1; Hb 12:22-24). One hundred and forty-four thousand: This is the 144,000 of 7:4 who compose the whole community of God on earth. In one sense these who are redeemed have reached heavenly Zion as a result of coming to the sanctuary of the Lamb. The reality of their blessings in Christ, however, will not be fully realized until they have come into the new heavens and earth that are yet to come. His Father’s name: In 13:16 there were those who had submitted to the beast, and thus, they had his name written on their right hands. But these here are identified by the disposition and nature of the Father that they manifested, and thus, are identified to be with the Lamb (3:12; 7:3; 22:4; see Ph 2:5).
14:2-5 Sound … as the sound of many waters: This is a powerful voice that thunders and demands the attention of all (See 1:15; 6:1; 19:6). Harpers harping: The metaphor emphasizes the sound of the voice. The voice had the melodious appeal of the sound that is made by a harp (See 5:8). A new song: They sang the song of victory because they had overcome all enemies by the power of the Lamb (See 5:9). No one could learn: It was a song that was sung only by those who were of the nature of the Lamb. The song, therefore, could originate only out of the hearts of those who had submitted to the kingship of the Lamb. The ones who were not defiled: Those who had given themselves in submission to the Lamb had not compromised themselves with the worship of idols. They had not committed spiritual adultery (See 2:20; 3:4; 17:5,6; 2 Ch 21:11; Jr 3:9; 2 Co 11:2; Js 4:4; 1 Jn 5:21). Firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: As the best at the beginning of the harvest was offered to God in the Old Testament, so here the best of humanity is offered to God. These are those who have given themselves in submission to the will of God (Js 1:18; 1 Pt 5:5,6; compare Hb 12:23). They are without fault: It is not that they are without sin, for Christians commit sin. However, they are cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, and thus, seen by the Father through the blood (1 Jn 1:7-9). It is the blood of the sacrificial Lamb that presents them perfect before the Father (7:17; see Cl 1:22,28; compare Ps 32:2; Zp 3:18; Ep 5:27; Jd 24).
JUDGMENT ON BABYLON
14:6,7 Having the everlasting gospel to preach: The angel is used to signify all those who have gone out with the message of the gospel (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15; At 8:4). They go with the message of the Lamb’s death for the redemption of all who would hear and learn from the Father (Jn 6:45). They go with the message of the resurrection of the Lamb for those who have been held captive by the fear of death (Hb 2:14). The message, therefore, is God’s answer for mankind’s sin problem and physical death problem (See Rm 5:12; 1 Co 15:20-22). Fear God and give glory to Him: As opposed to fearing Rome and State religion, the plea of the evangelists of God is to fear Him who has power that infinitely exceeds that which is presumed by Rome or any earthly power (11:18; see Mt 10:28; At 10:2,22,35; Rm 11:20). Christians must fear God more than they fear anything that is of this world. Worship Him who made heaven and earth: It is only natural to worship the Creator of all things. That which is created can never logically demand worship that is to be given to God (See At 17:22-29).
14:8 Fallen is Babylon: Rome is the Babylon that is fallen (16:19; 17:2,5; 18:2,3,10). Though the actual fall of the city of Rome occurred in A.D. 476, this is a prophetic statement. The fulfillment of the prophecy is spoken in the present or past tense as if fulfillment has already taken place. In other words, the fulfillment of the prophecy is certain because it has originated from God. It is so certain that it is conveyed to men in either the present or past tense in order to convey certainty of fulfillment. Such was the manner by which the prophets spoke in reference to those who were against God’s people in the Old Testament (See Is 46:10; 48:3; Jr 51:8). God used Babylon to take Israel into captivity in 586 B.C. However, He pronounced judgment on Babylon for her onslaught against His people. He would in a similar manner use Rome to terminate national Israel in A.D. 70. But He would bring judgment on Rome for her merciless actions as He brought judgment on Babylon. Made all nations drink: The Roman State and religion had intimidated the citizens to submit to both the State and religion as men should submit to God only. She thus intoxicated the minds of the citizens with the venom of religious deception. Since the Roman State allowed herself to be so used by Satan to deceive the nations, God would pour out His wrath upon her (See Ps 75:8). And so it is with any earthly government that sets itself against God. Those governments that give themselves over to evil and to the forceful subjugation of their citizens, have pronounced their own judgment. They will eventually be swept from the pages of history to make way for a government that brings freedom.
14:9,10 If anyone worships the beast: Those who would submit to the worship of Rome and her diabolical imperial religion (vs 8; 13:14), will also be recipients of the wrath of God that will be unleashed on the State and her pagan priests (Compare Jr 25:15,27-29; 51:7). Receives his mark: These would be those who both spiritually and mentally dedicate themselves to the State in order to trust in her for both economic security and spiritual fulfillment. Poured out in full strength: The wrath of God will not be diluted as with some wines that were served. The wicked politicians and priests, with those who have given allegiance to them, will receive the full measure of God’s judgmental wrath. God will have no mercy on those political leaders and their cohorts who set themselves against humanity, and especially, against His sheep. They will reap the full condemnation and fury of God’s wrath. Tormented with fire and brimstone: This metaphor of their punishment is the most severe that could be constructed from the realities of this present world. It is the greatest metaphor of human experience that could be used to portray the punishment that is awaiting wicked government officials who would torment their people, and especially, the people of God (See 19:20; 20:10,14ff; 21:8; Gn 19:24; Ez 38:22; 2 Th 1:8,9).
14:11 These wicked government rulers are subjected to a definite punishment that matches the crimes they have inflicted upon the citizenship of the nations they ruled (19:3; Is 34:9,10; Mt 10:28; 25:41; Mk 9:44). We need not view this punishment of torments as something that is yet in the future for the wicked. After death, comes final judgment for all men (Hb 9:27). As the rich man of Luke 16, he, as well as all the wicked, go immediately into torment when they die. John wants us to understand that the “fire and brimstone” for the wicked is not something that is still in the future in reference to the death of the wicked. It is happening simultaneously as he writes to comfort persecuted Christians. “In the presence of the Lamb” signifies that Jesus has all authority over this matter and will render punishment to those who have harmed His body. And truly, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb 10:31).
14:12 Those who undergo the pains of persecution know that their persecutors will receive their just punishment at the time of their death. Therefore, the saints are patient for the retribution that God will render to those who have afflicted His flock. They are also patient concerning their rest. At the moment of death, the righteous go to be with the Lord (2 Co 5:8; Ph 1:23). At the time of their death, the wicked go into everlasting torment for their rebellion.
THE TIME OF REAPING
14:13 The dead who die in the Lord: Those who have died to the world can die in the Lord in peace (See Rm 6:3-6; 2 Tm 2:11,12). Those faithful Christians who physically die in the Lord are in the care of the Lord after death (2 Co 5:8; Ph 1:23; see Rv 2:10; Ph 3:9; see 1 Th 4:13-18). Their works follow them: Their works are not the condition upon which they have been saved, but the manifestation of their faithful thanksgiving for their salvation (See comments 1 Co 15:10,58; 2 Co 4:15). The good works of the righteous are not in vain because they are in the Lord (1 Co 15:58). However, the good works of the unrighteous are in vain because they are not in the Lord (See Rm 6:3-6).
14:14 A white cloud: This is symbolic of judgment (Is 19:1; Jr 4:13; Mt 24:30; 26:64; compare Mt 24:30; At 1:9,11; Lk 21:27). Judgment means calamity to the wicked but deliverance for the righteous. When in-time judgment comes upon the wicked in this life, then the righteous are relieved of the persecution the wicked bring upon the righteous. One like the Son of Man: The term “Son of Man” was the Jewish reference to the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus is the one who has been anointed to be the judge of all things (Jn 5:22,27; At 17:31). All things were created for Jesus (Cl 1:16). He died for the sins of mankind (Jn 1:29; 1 Co 15:3). Therefore, He is the One who will judge those He created. In the historical context of the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies in reference to Jesus as the Messiah, it was prophesied that when the Messiah came, national Israel would be brought to an end. Jesus was proclaimed to be the Messiah in A.D. 30 (See At 2:36,37). His work as the Messiah was not only to bring salvation to all men, but also to bring an end to national Israel. Once this was accomplished in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then it was time to bring judgment upon the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2:44 and 7:13,14, which kingdom was used as God’s instrument to bring national Israel to an end. A golden crown: The Greek word here (stephanos) is the one that is used to refer to the victory crown (6:2). It is the crown that was given to those who had been victorious in battle. A sharp sickle: This was a sharp harvesting instrument that was used to gather in the fruit of the harvest. The meaning here is that all men are gathered in for judgment (See Jl 3;12,13; compare Mt 13:30; 9:38). The gathering in is pictured as sufficient and complete.
14:15,16 Another angel came: This is the messenger that comes from God and announces that all has been concluded. It was time for the end of all things (See Mt 24:46; compare Mt 13:39-41). Thrust in Your sickle and reap: The fruit of the harvest for judgment is taken from mankind (Jr 51:33; Mt 9:37ff). At the command of the messenger from God, Jesus thrusts the sickle throughout humanity in order to bring men into judgment before Him (Mt 25:30,31; 2 Th 1:7-9).
14:17-20 A parallel command goes out in order to reap the wicked for their judgment and condemnation. Grapes are fully ripe: When the grapes were ripe, it was time for harvest. The metaphor, therefore, is that the wicked have come to the time of their judgment where they must reap what they have sown among men (Is 63:2,3; Jl 3:13). Outside the city: Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem (Hb 13:11,12). It is appropriate, therefore, that the wicked will be punished far from the presence of the city of saints (See 21:10; Hb 11:10; 12:2). Blood came out: The cryptic imagery here is to make Christians wonder with awe at the judgment God has in store for those who persecute the body of Christ. One thousand six hundred furlongs: This imagery is difficult to explain. It could be that the vision seeks to portray the severity of the judgment in terms that would strike horror in the minds of the wicked. Whatever the real meaning, at least one thing is very clear. The punishment that is in store for the wicked cannot be explained with the most horrifying words of the human language. There is no metaphor that will lift our minds high enough in order to contemplate the horror of hell. The reason for such cryptic language here is obvious. The saints are to be comforted in knowing that their persecutors will be punished. The wicked who care nothing about these things will with their seared consciences carry on in life until they are doomed to the punishment of hell.
[Next lecture: The Binding of Satan – April 18]