Warning and judgement
In chapters 12 and 13 John has described Satan’s activities and his parody of the trinity. It has been a disturbing account of a day when Satan’s lies will be widely embraced, but truth will speak.
In this 14th chapter we will see that not one person will fail to hear the truth, God will speak in an unmistakable an dramatic fashion.
1. The song of the 144,000.
John is in observation mode: ‘I looked, and there before me.’ He is about to see some future events, the signs and symbols used to characterise and describe Satan and the beast now give way to a more straightforward description. The scene is on earth and the Lamb is observed standing on Mount Zion. A survey of the use ‘Mount Zion’ in the bible indicates that Mount Zion is Jerusalem. Many commentators have noted that the beast stands on sand, but the Lamb stands on a rock! What appropriate pictures of lies and truth! The Lamb is accompanied by the 144,000 servants we met in chapter 7. In contrast to those who receive the mark of the beast, these servants bear the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads. John not only sees, but he hears: the sound comes from heaven and is loud like a torrent of water and a peal of thunder, but this is not random noise, it’s a sound of music played by harps and it comes from the throne of God. Sometimes you hear a well known tune and you just want to sing. The 144,000 hear the music and burst into song, but it’s a song that only they can sing. It seems that this event marks the completion of the work of these 144,000 – in a similar way, the Israelites sang a song after the completion of their escape from Egypt (see Exodus 15) – likewise this time for singing seems to come after the harsh experience of representing God and truth in a world dominated by Satan.
John gives us some additional information about these 144,000. Firstly they were celibate: they were unmarried and had no physical relations with women. This reminds us of the Apostle Paul who likewise was unmarried. Paul seems to have recognised that being unmarried offered him some advantages as he undertook God’s work: his status as a single man afforded him to opportunity to devote his time and attention to the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 7). Interestingly in 1 Corinthians 15: 8 Paul describes himself as one ‘prematurely born’. Perhaps Paul may be considered as a sort of forerunner of the 144,000 – and perhaps as we think of the trials and difficulties experience by Paul it may well inform us of the likely experiences of these 144,000. But just imagine the impact of 144,000 men in the mould of the apostle Paul! In spite of the best efforts of Satan, these men would doubtless have had a remarkable impact on the world in which they operated. John notes secondly that they followed the Lamb wherever he goes. It’s almost as though they longed to be with the Lamb as they undertook their difficult ministry and now on completion they are with the one they loved and served and they will not let him go! Thirdly, John states that they were purchased from mankind and offered as firstfruits to the lamb. There is a harvest of souls to come and these men are the first of many! Fourthly, they are truthful (no lie was found in their mouths) and they are blameless. It hurts like crazy when you hear people deliberately and without shame lie. I heard two young women the other day rehearsing their (fictitious) birthdates so that when questioned they could claim a child fare on the train – seemingly such a small thing but a lie nonetheless. We must be people of truth. Does the momentary gain that a lie brings outweigh the peace that comes from living a blameless life? Let’s be careful to live lives that are characterised by God’s qualities rather than those of Satan’s. I’m struck by the word ‘blameless.’ What a great description. I did a search in the bible’s use of the word blameless. I noted that Noah was blameless in a dreadful world, Abraham was called to be blameless, Job was blameless and David prayed in Psalm 19 ‘Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.’ I don’t think blameless is the same as perfect – it is within reach for all of us if we choose to live right, it seems to be avoidance of willful sin. Perhaps we ought to add to our prayer list for each other to live blameless lives.
2. Three angels of preparation
God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and it seems that he offers every possible means to warn people of the need to repent and worship him. In this next section of chapter 14 (v 6-13) we will see the work of three angels who offer warnings to the people of impending judgement. Incidentally there is an interesting symmetry to the remainder of chapter 14, three angels offer warnings, then Jesus, the ‘one like the son of man’ begins the work of judgement and finally three further angels are involved in the judgement harvest. Christ is at the centre of the warning and the judgement.
John saw an angel flying in mid-air. This angel proclaims the eternal gospel to every nation, tribe, language and people. That pretty much sounds like everyone to me! There will be no ifs and no buts everyone will hear the truth, everyone will hear the eternal gospel – no one is outside of God’s mercy. The message is simple; Fear God, worship God, give him glory. The choice will be clear and stark, either follow and worship Satan or God. There is no other option, there is no abstention, it’s one or the other. It’s time to decide, there is no more delay, the hour of God’s judgement has come. I’m interested to see that the offer is to worship the God who ‘made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ Our schools, universities, mass media and even many churches now deny the creative power of God. The theory of evolution of the complex structures that make up our world has to be one of the biggest lies ever perpetrated by Satan. His purpose is clear, to draw men and women away from God and truth. Adam and Eve fell for Satan’s lie in the Garden of Eden and men and women today fall for Satan’s lie that there is no creator God. Of course it’s a clever lie but it’s a lie nonetheless. Lies result in hardship and sorrow and we see the effect of Satan’s lies in our society today. Our young people are taught that there is no God, that we are not made in the image of God but are merely the products of the effects of time and chance on matter. Having lost any sense of purpose and value we are left with a generation who bear the bitter fruits of this lie: lives without morals or meaning.
A second angel followed the first and said ‘fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’ John will uncover a bit more about Babylon later in Revelation 17 and 18. But for now we should recognise that Babel is associated with opposition to God and competition with God – you will remember in Genesis that the desire was to make a name for mankind and disobey God’s instruction to fill the earth. The head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream statue was Babylon. The statue represented the world powers that God’s kingdom will reduce to nothing. One day this structure will fall and its key city and system, Babylon which intoxicates the world, will fall. We need to take note. All of the systems and structures of Satan’s world are impressive and attractive but we must not be taken in, the whole structure will fall at God’s command.
A third angel follows. This time the instruction is crystal clear: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they too will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength onto the cup of his wrath!’ The angel goes on to describe what this will mean: torment with burning sulphur and no rest day or night. In fact the torment will be ‘forever and ever.’ This is alarming and frightening. But the warning is clear and the advice could not be any more explicit. If you are reading this and you are not a believer you must heed the warning now whilst there is still time and if you are a believer, are you investing in eternity or spending your talents, time and resources on perishable things?
We live in days of great benefit. Paul (1 Thessalonians 4 and 5) was very clear that believers in the present age are not appointed to the wrath of these days, but rather we have a blessed hope: to be caught up to be with the Lord. Paul gave this information as an encouragement. Now is the time to make our peace with God as we will be spared this dreadful judgement, but for those who live through this period and heed the message of these angels, words of comfort and encouragement are few and far between. The best that can be said comes in v13: ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ The conditions for those who refuse the mark of the beast will clearly be immensely difficult but they will know rest and their works will follow them.
3. The Son of Man and 3 more angels
The warnings have been given and now the judgement of God comes. We are rather accustomed to literature that follows a straightforward chronology. But often writers will use both flashbacks and flash forwards to tell their story. Chapter 14 is something of a flash forward as we see the great end to this 3 and a half year period. It’s an end that God brings about and it is an end of bloodshed and wrath. The Old Testament prophet Joel speaks specifically about this period of the Day of the Lord when God brings judgement to the earth. But God’s wrath has a purpose and the Day of the Lord will bring restoration for Jerusalem and Judah. (See specifically Joel 3).
The picture John describes involves a white cloud, seated in the cloud is one like the son of man who wears a crown and holds a sharp sickle. The ‘son of man’ is a title for the Lord Jesus that speaks of his role as a kinsman redeemer, he has paid the price now he is about to take possession. He wears a crown: a crown of victory and he holds in his hand an instrument of severe judgement, a sharp sickle.
The remainder of chapter 14 is a sort of flash forward to chapter 19 which describes the final victory of the Lamb. The first of these three angels starts the judgement process: ‘take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ John saw the Lord swing his sickle over the earth. Both Jesus and John the Baptist spoke much of a harvest day, and now it has come, it will involve separation of wheat from tares, grain from chaff, worthy from worthless.
An additional two angels are observed by John, one armed with a sharp sickle and a second has charge of the fire. The Son of Man has more harvesting to do, this time of grapes. The grapes are ready for harvest and once gathered are thrown into God’s winepress – it’s a winepress of wrath! The language is picture language but the meaning is clear. The product of Satan’s kingdom are to be dealt with, it’s the end of this season. John says that these ‘grapes’ were trampled in the winepress outside the city but rather than grape juice there is blood and lots of it! The blood was observed by John to rise as high as the horses bridles and for a distance of 180 miles! This is what John saw and this speaks to us of the horror of God’s judgement on those who worship Satan and refuse the offer of salvation. We must not miss the point here, the warning is clear, the outcome is certain and a response must be made.