Revelation 14. A vision of the 144,000 in heaven, then three messages, then the harvest of the righteous and the winepress of God’s wrath.
Mount Zion, mentioned only here in Revelation, was the main mountain within the walls of Jerusalem, on the other side of the valley west of the Temple Mount. It was where David built his palace, and where, it was prophesied, the ‘Son of David’ would also reign. “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” God says of him concerning a future day of wrath (Ps 2:6). Here it stands for the heavenly Jerusalem, the dwelling-place of God (Heb 12:22). Martyred because of their prophetic testimony, the 144,000 are now, temporarily, with the King in heaven. Instead of a protective seal on their foreheads they have the name of God written there. Like the twenty-four elders, and like the others who will have conquered (15:2), they are given lyres – the instrument of David – so that they praise with their hands as well as their voices. With joy they sing a song known only to them. The many others who have been purchased for God (5:9) will also learn the song, but not until they have been raised. The 144,000 are the first.
Israel was commanded to observe three festivals through the year: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (including Passover), the Feast of First-fruits, and the Feast of Ingathering, when the main harvest was gathered (Lev 23). All had spiritual counterparts in the New Testament era. On the day after the first weekly sabbath following Passover, the priest was to wave the sheaf of the first-fruits before Yahweh and offer a year-old male lamb without blemish, like the paschal lamb. In AD 30 that sabbath coincided with the day of Jesus’ resurrection, for he was the sheaf of the first-fruits (I Cor 15:20). On the fiftieth day, seven weeks after the waving of the sheaf, Israel celebrated the week-long Feast of First-Fruits, giving thanks for the first harvest. Finally, on the first day of the seventh month trumpets were blown, on the tenth day of the month they observed the Day of Atonement, and on the fifteenth day they celebrated the main ingathering, when they took branches of palms and other trees and made booths out of them. The week-long festival was also called the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. It was to remind them of the period between the Exodus and the entry into the promised land when, because of unbelief, they were forced to wander in the wilderness.
In relation to Israel, believers in the Messiah are a kind of first-fruits (Jas 1:18), while the main harvest takes place when Israel’s dead are raised and brought back into the land. The Day of Atonement prefigured the nation’s restoration, for it was on that day in the calendar that Moses received the second set of tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, after Israel had made for themselves a golden calf, worshipped and sacrificed to it, and thereby broken their covenant with God. The golden calf was prophetic of Israel’s apostasy in the days of Jeroboam, some time after 930 BC, when he too made golden calves for the nation to worship (I Ki 12:25ff). Moses had smashed the first tablets, just as God was to abrogate his covenant with Israel because of their continual apostasy (II Ki 17:7-23). The second set of tablets that God made prefigured his eventual re-acceptance of Israel under a new covenant (Jer 31:31-37). So on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), having purified himself by sacrifice, the high priest took two goats. The one goat he sacrificed as an atonement for the sins of the people, sprinkling its blood over the mercy seat inside the veil and on the altar outside the veil; it signified the unilateral atonement made by their Messiah, the Passover lamb, which they were to reject when they offered their own lambs (or goats). On the head of the other goat he laid the sins of Israel and sent it into the wilderness, signifying the time that Israel would spend in exile because of their rejection of their Messiah (Matt 27:24f, Acts 18:6). Thereafter, God would pour on the Jews a spirit of grace and pleas of mercy, as in their mind’s eye they looked on him whom they had pierced. He would open ‘a fountain for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’ (Zech 12:10-13:6, Rev 1:7).
In relation to Gentile believers, the first-fruits are the 144,000, for they are killed and raised to life before the main harvest. The main harvest consists of the many who have died in Christ since his first coming, not least the multitude gathered during the great tribulation (7:9). When the kingdom of God comes, the nations that have survived the wrath of God will themselves follow the Law and keep the Feast of Booths (Zech 14:16-19), for then they will be in the same interim position as Israel was after the Exodus and after Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70: they will have received the Law (Isa 2:3) but they will not yet have entered his promised rest (Heb 3:7-4:10). They will enter his rest, if at all, only at the general resurrection.
The gospel is eternal because it was in view even before the foundation of the world (13:8), and although revealed at the end of the ages it has effect back to the beginning (Gen 3:15, 4:4, Luke 11:30, Acts 17:30, Rom 2:16, 3:25, I Pet 3:19). The apostate Church says that we should not fear God. But Scripture says that we should (Ps 89:7, Prov 1:7, 19:23, II Cor 5:11, 7:1, I Pet 2:17), for he is holy and righteous, and the judge of our souls. The proper response to the good news is to fear him, to glorify him by the amendment of our lives, and to worship him, our Creator and Saviour. Indeed, what the angel says with a loud voice – what he proclaims – is itself the gospel in summary. The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:11). Whoever is convicted and believes in the Son is not condemned, but saved.
We have seen it in our time. The ‘theory of evolution’ is an amoral pseudo-religion that keeps the uninitiated in a state of subservience to authority. Contrary to the most basic law of physics, molecules are claimed to have a natural tendency to self-assemble into forms ever more complex. Contrary to the fossil record, which shows plant and animal phyla appearing suddenly – animals, not until five-sixths through the record – all organisms are represented as genealogically linked. Contrary to our experience of ourselves and how we relate to others, we are told there is no such thing as a soul; our ideas, atheistic as well as religious, are the products of atoms that know nothing about truth, our sense of free will is a self-affirming illusion. So the western Church, wishing not to seem futile in its thinking, has gone along with the denial of the witness of God in creation and the witness of the Word to creation, preferring to believe the wisdom of man. It is a heresy of the first order, a corruption of the gospel itself. The corruption of society necessarily follows. Those who believe that Nature brought itself into being worship Nature, not God, a sex-goddess that hates all restraint.
‘Heaven’ here denotes the firmament containing the solar system (Gen 1:8) and ‘earth’ the land, distinct from the sea (Gen 1:10). In contrast to 8:10, springs or fountains are singled out because in the first world there was no rain; moisture oozing up through springs from the great deep watered the earth and supplied the water for lakes and rivers (Gen 2:6, 7:11, Prov 8:24). There is an implicit recognition that the world has changed over time: it was not created to be unchanging and eternal.
‘Raging’ renders adjectivally the noun thumos, denoting strong emotion, usually anger. ‘Fornication’ translates porneia; ‘sexual immorality’ (ESV) is somewhat evasive, because it prompts the question, what is sexual immorality. The root word porne means a female prostitute, that being the only social category for an unmarried woman who regularly lay with a man; unmarried women were assumed to be virgins. Pornos (I Cor 5:9, 6:9) is the corresponding male. Porneia refers to all copulation outside marriage (John 8:41), not just ‘adultery’ (NIV, cf. Heb 13:4). Again, the western Church has almost given up on insisting that the sexually impure will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor 6:9). The identity and fall of ‘Babylon the Great’ are dealt with in chapters 17-18. Mention of the city’s fall here functions like the writing that appeared on the wall of the palace where Belshazzar drank wine with his lords, wives and concubines, praising Babylon’s gods. Its days are numbered and about to end. When the 144,000 proclaim the gospel, that will be part of their message.
The phrase is repeated in 19:3, where the smoke is that of ruined Babylon the Great, which lies in torment (18:10). The point is that the destruction is final, the focus being on the worshippers of the beast in and around Edom, who have invaded Israel. The warning is also part of the gospel as finally presented.
In summary, the first angel calls the whole world to repentance; the second pronounces judgement on modern civilisation; the third pronounces judgement on the Arabs who seek Israel’s destruction.
The comparable phrase in 13:10 refers to the Jewish saints. Now Johns reminds Christians that they too must be steadfast; he who endures to the end will be saved. The gospel does not nullify the commandments (Matt 5:19-20); rather, the Holy Spirit give us power and will to obey them. We look to Jesus, the faithful witness, the author and finisher of our faith.
The command specifically to write down the blessing is by way of emphasis (also 19:9, 21:5). Many in the last three and a half years will be killed because of their faith, but they must hold onto the promise that they will enter the Lord’s sabbath rest. As in the message to the churches, the Spirit confirms the importance of service. Their work in the Lord will not have been in vain.
To ‘bless’ in English can mean to pronounce God’s favour on a person (or speak well of God), the opposite of curse, or it can mean for God to favour a person directly. In Greek the words translated ‘blessed’ are distinct: eulogetos (blessed, or worthy of blessing) and makarios (blessed, with the consequence or promise of joy). The word here is makarios, as elsewhere in Revelation (cf. eulogia in 5:12, 5:13 and 7:12).
and wilt take thy people home;
from thy field wilt purge away
all that doth offend, that day;
and thine angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store
in thy garner evermore.
The furnace is the earth from which the saints have been removed (16:8). But though survivors may be ‘rarer than the gold of Ophir’, not everyone will perish during the days of wrath. Hence the furnace is also a chasm of fire and smoke outside Jerusalem called Gehenna, or Vale of Hinnom, misleadingly translated ‘hell’ in the gospels. When the Son of Man sits on the throne of his glory, the nations will be made to assemble before him, and he will separate them into two groups (Matt 25:31-46). Some, though they have not heard of him, he will invite into his kingdom; others he will cast into Gehenna, now a lake of lava (Rev 19:20). The wicked who survive the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth will be eternally judged then; those who perished will be judged in the resurrection at the end of the thousand years.
Here is another metaphor: instead of weeds burned in the fire, grapes thrown into a press and crushed. It refers to the ‘Day of the Lord’ at the end of the period of wrath (6:17, 16:14), when Babylon the Great is suddenly destroyed (16:19) and the armies of the rulers of the earth, mounted on horses, are slaughtered (19:15-18). If the location ‘outside the city’ (cf. Heb 13:13f) suggests a location not far from Jerusalem, and not simply the ‘wilderness of the nations’, it is the fate of the enemies of God in and around the land of Israel that is particularly in mind. The fire is not here metaphorical. It is the instrument of wrath, the same celestial fire as was cast to the earth during the time of the trumpets (8:5).
The language is gruesome, and challenges notions that the deity of the New Testament is different from the deity of the Old. One last time, God comes to redeem his people, ‘because they have scattered them among the nations and divided up my land and cast lots for my people and traded a boy for a prostitute and sold a girl for wine to drink’ (Joel 3:2f). 1600 stadia is about 184 miles: if we take the number at face value, the carnage cannot be confined to the valley. Through Ezekiel (35:15) God says, “As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you: you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all Edom”. As the crow flies, 1600 stadia is the distance from Mount Seir, in the south of Jordan, to Megiddo (Rev 16:16). It is possible to imagine a series of armies stationed at intervals between these points. Bozrah, on the Kings’ Highway 40 miles north of Mount Seir, was the ancient capital of Edom, its location still evident from the name of the village next to its ruins, Basira (not to be confused with Bosra in southern Syria, and still less with Petra). If the measurement is hyperbolic (cf. Rev 21:16), the meaning remains that the land will be drenched in blood (Isa 34:7). Alternatively, it could be a quantification of the blood spilled over all the earth as a consequence of the fire.