Posted by: stpowen | July 6, 2013

Revelation (10). The Lamb and the 144,000.

Matt. 24:13. ‘But he who endures to the end shall be saved.’
Romans 8:35. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or the sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’

Read Revelation 14 and Psalm 2. It may also be helpful to read my introduction to the book of Revelation which can be found here: https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/revelation-things-that-must-shortly-take-place-part-1/

This chapter divides itself into three parts:
Verses 1-5. The Lamb and the 144,000.
Vs. 6-13. The proclamation of the three angels.
Vs. 14-20. The reaping of the earth, which is itself divided into two parts: vs. 14-16 & 17-20.

In the last chapter {1} we read of the two beasts, helpers of the dragon, Satan. We decided that the first, the beast from the sea, represents anti-Christian political power and the second, the Beast from the earth, pseudo-religious power. We saw the rage of the first beast against God (13:6) and the persecution of God’s people (13:7; 15-18). Now we see another vision, happening in heaven even as this rebellion and persecution is taking place on earth. This is what we might call a Consolatory Vision. It is inserted here by the Holy Spirit to reassure Christians that no matter how fierce the discrimination and persecution from the world, God will protect His own. It is worth reading these verses in conjunction with Luke 21:16-19 and John 15:18-16:4.

Verse 1. ‘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.

We have met the 144,000 before {2} in Chapter 7. They represent those redeemed for God from both the old and new covenants. Though they are a ‘great multitude that no one could number,’ they are a number known to God. They are safe with Christ, and can never fall away. They have the Father’s name written on their foreheads rather than the name or number of the beast (13:17). They are sealed to the day of redemption (7:3), the seal being the Holy Spirit; ‘In whom [Christ] also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory’ (Eph. 1:13-14). The Lord Jesus declared, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Mount Zion should not be thought of as Jerusalem as she is now. Rather it represents the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of God’s people (21:1ff; Gal. 2:25-27).

Vs. 2-3. ‘And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the sound of thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who were redeemed from the earth.’
The voice is that of Christ (1:15; 6:1). The music is heavenly (5:8; 15:2). The 144,000 are singing in heaven before the throne of God (4:4-6). Although not all of God’s elect are yet in heaven, in God’s eyes all of His people are already ‘[seated] together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6. cf. Col. 3:3). They are singing a new song (cf. 5:3), a song of the Lamb and His victory. Only believers, those who have been bought by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19) are able to learn this song. Others may sing the words, but only the redeemed know the reality.

Vs. 4-5. ‘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 deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.’

The Bible does not promote celibacy. The 144,000 have not committed spiritual adultery; they are the bride of Christ (Song 4;7; cf. 2 Cor. 11:2). They follow Him wherever He goes, through poverty, through persecution, even through death itself. “[For] he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses His life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). They are ‘firstfruits’ because there is the expectation of more to follow down the ages. Their profession of Christ is true and unreserved, unlike that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1ff).

Vs. 6-7. ‘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 judgement has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’

In 8:7, John saw an angel flying in the midst of heaven; this is another one. He has the everlasting gospel to proclaim and because he is flying in the ‘midst of heaven,’ his mighty voice can be heard throughout the earth. All the time that the two beasts of Chapter 13 are defying God, promoting the interests of the devil and persecuting God’s people who refuse to compromise their beliefs, and all the time that those same people are safe in God’s hands, still the gospel goes out into all the world. It is the everlasting gospel: it does not change. It is the same word that the Lord Jesus preached at the start of His ministry (Mark 1:15); the same that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38), and the same that the apostle Paul preached to the Athenians (Acts 17:30). It is a call to repentance and it applies to all- ‘every nation, tribe, tongue and people’ (cf. 11:9; 13:7). It calls men and women to cease to worship Satan (12:4)- that is to love the world as it stands opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17)- and instead to fear and worship God who has created the world and everything in it. The Greek word Metanoiew, translated ‘repent,’ signifies a radical change of heart and mind. Those who have been going in one spiritual direction must change and go in another. The message is all-encompassing, but especially to the mass of unsaved people who are living without any thought of the judgement that must come upon them. The Lord Jesus spoke of the people of Noah’s day. ‘They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all’ (Luke 17:27). There is a day of judgement coming upon the earth, and there is no true preaching of the Gospel without a warning to repent.

v.8. ‘And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all the nations drink the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’

This is our first introduction to Babylon the Great; we shall meet her again in Chapters 17 and 18. Babylon, of course, was the place to which the Israelites were exiled for 70 years (2 Chron.36:15-21; Psalm 137). She stands in Revelation as the world as it stands opposed to God, and where God’s people are forced to sojourn for a time. She is an attractive and outwardly desirable place in many ways (cf. 17:4; 18:16), but she is also irredeemably wicked (18:1-5).The message of this second angel is that God’s people should keep well away from her. The cup she offers is the lifestyle of the big city. It may be superficially attractive, but to drink of it is to bring judgement upon oneself. The idea of a cup of wrath is a common one in the Old Testament (Psalm 60:3; Jer. 51:7 etc.). The message of the second angel is that the time of this present world is strictly limited; so much so that John uses the past tense, and repeats the word ‘fallen’ to drive home the certainty of God’s judgement (cf. Gen. 41:32).

Vs. 9-11. ‘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. 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 have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”’

In the light of the impending judgement of God on Satan’s regime, the third angel warns of the urgent need to keep apart from it. According to 13:3-4, it is ‘All the world’ that worships the beast; that is, all those who do not belong to Christ (13:8). Such people are warned that God’s wrath is upon all those who have the mark of the beast upon them.

The wine metaphor of verse 8 is continued and expanded. God’s righteous anger against sin is likened to a cup of wine that those who worship and obey Satan must drink full-strength. It was the custom of the Greeks in ancient times to dilute their wine with water. God’s wrath against sinners is by no means diluted but will be poured out into the cup and given to them individually to drink. ‘For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red. It is fully mixed and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down’ (Psalm 75:8). The reality of the metaphor is revealed in vs. 10b-11. Eternal punishment and condemnation awaits the unrepentant. How vital is it to heed the warnings of Scripture! The Lord Jesus has taken that cup of God’s wrath on behalf of His people (Matt. 26:42; John 18:11) and drained it to the dregs. He has suffered the righteous fury of the Father against sin on our behalf, but those who do not trust in Christ will drink the cup for themselves.

v.12. ‘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 labours, and their works follow them.”’

In the present world it is often the wicked who prosper and the righteous who suffer. Through John, the Holy Spirit assures Christians that when Christ returns, things will be changed, utterly and forever. As God’s people endure hardship and poverty because of the allegiance to Christ, they should persevere, raise their eyes to heaven, and wait patiently for their eternal reward. The voice from heaven is undoubtedly that of God Himself delivering this wonderful beatitude. Persecution and destitution are temporary; the love of God is eternal. Note that the saints are those who not only believe in Christ, but who keep His commandments. Their works follow them to heaven as their witnesses that they were faithful witnesses for Christ. Why not pause now and read prayerfully Luke 6:20-23.

vs. 14-16. ‘Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like the Son of Man, having on His head a gold crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time 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.’

We now come to the third division of this chapter; the harvesting of the earth. As in the previous divisions of Revelation the last part of each division covers the end of the age and the judgement of God and the Lamb (cf. 6:12-8:1; 11:15-19; 19:11ff; 20:11ff) {1}. The ‘Son of Man’ undoubtedly refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. The eschatological references to clouds and the Son of Man are well known. (1:7, 13; Dan. 7:13; Mark 14:62). The cloud is white, symbolizing purity and, more especially, judgement (cf.20:11). Our Lord is seated, like a judge (Dan. 7:9; Acts 25:6, 17) and He awaits the signal from the Father to begin (cf. Mark 13:32).

Finally the message comes: the world is ripe for judgement. Figuratively, harvesting represents the Day of Judgement (cf. Jer. 51:33; Matt. 13:30 etc.). First there is the wheat harvest, the in-gathering of God’s elect (Mark 4:26-29; John 4:35-38). There will follow the grape harvest, the reaping of the wicked for punishment. As usual, John has an Old Testament reference in mind. ‘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’ (Joel 3:12-13).

The first harvest then is that of the righteous; those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ. In verse 4, the 144,000 were described as the ‘Firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.’ Now, in the fulness of time, the harvest is complete. ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: First the blade, then the head, after that the full blade in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come’ (Mark 4:26-29). The seed is sown by preaching and witnessing- in churches, in the open air, one-to-one and by the distribution of the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit fertilizes the seed and at the end of the age, Christ will reap.

Vs. 17-20. ‘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 outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.’

Here, finally, is the grape harvest- the harvest of God’s wrath. One angel comes out of the heavenly temple- from the very presence of God. The other comes from the altar. In 6:9-10, we saw the souls of the martyrs under the altar; they were crying out to God for justice. Now that justice is to be meted out. The second angel is described as having ‘power over fire.’ The only explanation for this that I can think of is that in O.T. times it was at the altar (of incense) that the incense was burned. Incense is often used as a metaphor for prayer (5:8; 8;3. cf. Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:9-10). The prayers of the martyrs have risen like incense to God, and in the fullness of time they are being answered. Moreover, the sins of the world have now reached their zenith; they are ‘ripe’ for judgement.

The concept of the ‘winepress of God’s wrath’ comes from Isaiah 63:2-4, and perhaps from Gen. 49:11, one of the earliest prophecies of the Messiah. Although we are told that the winepress ‘was trampled,’ there is no doubt that it is Christ Himself who is doing the trampling (19:15). The reference to the horses’ bridles lends a warlike image to these verses which will be made even clearer when we get to 19:11ff. Various explanations have been proposed for the ‘1,600 furlongs’ (or stadia). One possibility is that 1,600 is 40 squared. Forty is the number of punishment (40 years in the desert; 40 lashes for the criminal. Punishments in ancient times were usually inflicted outside the city (cf. Heb.13:12-13).

Whatever one’s understanding of the details, these verses are very sobering. The safety and joy of God’s people are contrasted with the terrible punishment of the wicked. Let us make our ‘calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10); the alternative is grave indeed. This might be a good time to read Deut 30:19-20 and Matt. 7:21-23.

    Notes.

{1} https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/revelation-9-chapter-13-the-two-beasts/

{2} https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/revelation-part-4-the-144000-and-the-great-crowd/

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