Revelation Chapter Fourteen
Standing in His victory (1 Cor 15:58; 1 John 5:4-5).
In Revelation thirteen we read of the beast from the sea and the beast from the land that are empowered by the dragon. The camera now turns yet again and, in chapters fourteen and fifteen, we move from the limited power of darkness to the protection and blessing of God’s people by the Lamb and judgement on all who follow the beast. In Christ we are part of God’s salvation-creating activity, a plan spoken of in Acts 2:16-21 and Heb 1:1-5, that speaks of the last days as a season that is already present. In this present season, as in any season, we are called to share His love no matter what is going on around us.
John Richmond was a young lawyer on the fast track of success with his law firm in Virginia, USA. When he chose to leave the firm in order to help families that had been enslaved in the rice mills of South Asia his colleagues said, “What do you mean you’re going to rescue slaves? It’ll never work” and things like, “You’ll have no future” and “You’re a fool.” Gary Haugen from IJM comments on these words in his book, “Just Courage” and writes…
“When people choose to be brave instead of smart, their courage is generally so threatening to those who are smart rather than brave that they end up being maligned, not congratulated.” He goes on to say, “Are we going to love or are we going to look smart? Because loving the needy doesn’t look smart."
G. Haugen in, ‘Just Courage’ pages 117-118
Dick Gregory the anti-war activist once said…
“Love is man’s natural endowment, but he doesn’t know how to use it. He refuses to recognise the power of love because of his love of power.”
From: ‘The Book of African-American Quotations’, Ed Josyln Pine, page 77.
The Lamb on Zion and the 144,000 (Rev 14:1)
Throughout scripture Zion is spoken of as the city of God and here in chapter fourteen the Lamb is pictured with 144,000 who have his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads; in other words it is obvious that they are His. The proclamation of the gospel and also of judgement is then made by angels.
Zion is a metaphor referring to Jerusalem and is used figuratively of Israel as the people of God (Is 60:14) with the church being spoken of as the heavenly Jerusalem in Heb 12:22f and here in Rev 14:1. In the Scriptures Mt Sinai represented the legal relationship with God whilst Zion represented the relationship of grace.
“In both OT and NT, the city stands for the people of God. In Revelation 21:9 the Holy City is the bride, the wife of the Lamb. In the O.T what happens to Zion, in blessing or cursing, is a microcosm of Yahweh’s purpose for his people.”
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, page 981
Further imagery concerning Zion includes that of a woman (Isa 1:8) who is the covenant partner of God, yet through her adultery she becomes a woman left to her own devices and she feels that she has been forsaken (Isa 49:14). In reality she is the one who left God, yet due to God’s awesome grace and mercy this is not the end of the story. She will not be called deserted but will be given a new name, ‘Hephizbah’ meaning, “My delight is in her.”(Isa 62:4). Because of the coming Messiah she is spoken of in Isa 6:7-9 as a pregnant woman in labour.
“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
One final point we can note concerning Zion is that the name ‘Zion’ means ‘fortification’ and speaks of safety and security for those who stand in the grace and mercy of God.
All believers are sealed by the Spirit (Eph 4:30) and in Revelation chapter seven and fourteen we have 144,000 mentioned and also a great multitude. They are one and the same group viewed from different angles, so let’s now remind ourselves of what we said in chapter seven.
In Hebrew, the word for ‘thousand’ (‘elef) can refer to a tribe, crowd or regiment and therefore does not have to refer to a literal thousand. In a not dissimilar way Abraham is spoken of as the father of all believers (Rom 4:16), yet is not our literal father, and we are viewed as the ‘body’ of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), though not literally. We are those who are ‘more numerous that the stars’ (Gen 15:5), the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27) and the 144,000 – a multitude belonging to God.
The symbolic nature of the number 144,000 as referring to all believers can also be picked up in noting that one of the original tribes of the Patriarchs is missing from the list of tribes in Revelation seven (Dan), whilst the tribe of Manasseh, (a son of Joseph) takes its place. The tribe of Dan was situated on Israel’s northernmost border and may well have had more in common with foreign neighbours than with other tribes in Israel. In Manasseh being included in the tribal list of Revelation chapter seven we have one who is unusually born (out of Egypt and suffering) grafted in. A not dissimilar picture is found in Paul, who is “abnormally born” (1 Cor 15:8) and is found in the ranks of the apostles. In light of this, 144,000 refers to all believers (1 Cor 12:27); yet there is more to the picture.
The number 144,000 can also remind us of the military roll-call of the fighting men of Israel and so to our position as an army of believers. We pick this up, for example, from Ephesians and Numbers 31:5-6 where we read…
“So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signalling.”
From all we have been looking at we see that the 144,000 (all believers) in Revelation speaks of the great multitude from a different perspective; that of an army of believers. As Revelation reveals (along with 2 Corinthians and Ephesians), this army, which includes you and I, are protected by the seal of God (the living presence of the Spirit), and are called to take our stand against evil (Eph 6:11f). In standing we recognise that, at times, it can seem as if God is not present, as the difficulties of the world and our emotions try to get the upper hand; yet He is present nonetheless and is aware of what we go through. We need to stand with an open heart trusting in the word of God rather than allowing the world around us to reshape our vision.
“Affliction makes God appear to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man, more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell. A kind of horror submerges the whole soul. During this absence there is nothing to love. What is terrible is that if, in this darkness where there is nothing to love, the soul ceases to love, God’s absence becomes final. The soul has to go on loving in the emptiness, or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may only be with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then, one day, God will come to show himself to this soul and to reveal the beauty of the world to it, as in the case or Job.”
Simone Weil in, ‘Waiting for God’ page 70.
The name of Jesus and the Father on their foreheads.
In verse one of chapter fourteen the 144,000 (representing the church) are spoken of as having the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads. This is symbolic and does not speak of a literal writing of the name on the forehead, as indeed there is no physical mark concerning the seal of the Spirit (Eph 4:30), however there is something that is visible.
The ‘visible’ presence of the seal of the Holy Spirit is seen in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22f) present in and through the life of the believer. This ‘visible’ presence will also be seen at times in the gifting of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12) as and when God allows us to operate in them. Jesus only did what His father asked of Him (John 8:28) and we are to keep in step with the Spirit and do likewise: seeking His guidance at all times and obeying Him. In seeing this we answer the question, “Why is the mark of the Father and the Lamb mentioned in Rev 14:1, but not the Holy Spirit?”
The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity who points to the work of the Father and the Son and, in this sense, the mark of the Father and the Lamb is the presence of the Holy Spirit who helps us develop a relationship with God through Christ and empowers us in the new life we have been called to.
It is through what God has done and the presence of the Holy Spirit that believers in John’s day and ours are seen as different from the world, whether that is in how they live or walk through the death of martyrdom as many have done down through the centuries.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
1 Tim 6:6-7
In continuing to walk through Revelation fourteen we then read of God’s angels proclaiming the gospel and speaking of judgement. Throughout scripture angels are often spoken of as being about God’s business and we now turn to look at this, whilst recognising that the true angel (messenger) of the Word of God is the Incarnate Son of God (John 1:1 John 1:5; Phil 2:5f).
Angels and the work of God.
In Genesis 16:7 the angel of the Lord finds a struggling runaway slave called Hagar near a spring in the desert and reaches out to help her and in Genesis 32:1-2 we read of an angelic encampment called ‘Mahanaim’ (meaning ‘Double-camp’) as God continues to help Jacob see just who God is. Earlier, in Genesis 19 angels deal with a decadent Sodom and Gomorrah, whilst in Joshua 5:13-15 the commander of the Lord’s army appears in a way that reminds Joshua of just who it is that is in charge of all things.
In Numbers 22:31 a man called Balaam, (employed by a Moabite king to curse Israel) has his eyes opened to see the angel of the Lord standing before him with a drawn sword. Then in Judges 6:11-12 we find the angel of the Lord speaking to Gideon, a small man amongst a struggling people. The angel tells Gideon that the Lord is with him and then prophetically calls him a ‘mighty warrior.’ Later the angel of the Lord appears to Manoah from the clan of Danites (Judges 13:2) and tells him that his barren wife will conceive and have a child; and so we could go on. In 1 Chronicles 21:16-18 David sees the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, sees an angel (Luke 1:11), as does Mary (Luke 1:28), Joseph (Mat 1:20; 2:19) and the ‘drawn-the-short-straw’ shepherds looking after the temple flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth. In Matthew 4:11 angels attend to the ‘all-powerful’ One clothed in flesh and on planet earth as a servant-king and, in Luke 22:42, we find an angel from heaven strengthening him in Gethsemane before he walks to a death that he never needed to own. In Acts 5:19 we read of a redeemed and Spirit-empowered Peter being set free from prison, and later heaven opens and a soon-to-leave servant sees Jesus standing ready to greet him. Later, as scripture and time roll on a reformed-reborn ex-murderer speaks of a man who was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4).
A song only the believers know (14:3).
As already commented on, ‘Zion’ speaks of the people of God personified at times in Israelite history as a wayward woman who was later rescued from her rebellion and failure. The ‘woman’ is brought to repentance and redeemed through the grace of God which ultimately points to the birthing of the Messiah on planet earth in a borrowed manger amongst livestock and sheep dung.
Through the Risen King all believers are the ‘called out as special’ ones; an army whose power is totally derived from the grace of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. These believers sing a new song which only they can sing, this speaks of an intimacy of fellowship and an awareness of who God is and just how much He has done for them. If you look at any group of believers who are worshipping God you find a whole variety of expressions on their faces as they praise a God from whom they have experienced forgiveness and reconciliation at deep and personal levels.
As a young woman Jackie Pullinger went out to work with drug addicts and the street people in China. She writes of the way Jesus reached into addict’s lives and the impact it had upon others, saying:
Few of the junkies had had any exposure to Christianity before coming off drugs. Far from being a hindrance this actually helped them. Now they would arrive saying:
"I have heard how Ah Kei (or some other friend) has changed. He says it’s Jesus who did it. I think Ah Kei is the meanest addict I know. If Jesus can change that one he can change me too.”
Their faith did not depend upon any understanding of theological concepts but upon the seeing of Jesus working in others and the willingness to let him work in their lives too. Each time they prayed they were answered and their faith grew as they were healed… Most of our boys began to understand Jesus with their minds only after they had experienced him in their lives and bodies.
Jackie Pullinger in ‘Chasing the Dragon’, p 159-60.
They do not defile themselves in any way (14:4).
Here John uses the word ‘virgins’ as a metaphor for all true believers, this being a term which, at times, was applied to Israel (eg. 2 Kings 19:21). What is being underlined here is the character of those who are saved; they do not identify themselves with the world but are rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:1-2).
In a world where continual attempts were being made to coerce believers away from the faith, John reminds his listeners that they are the ‘purchased among men’ ones, offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb (Rev 14:4). In the OT the firstfruits of the harvest were offered to God in the sanctuary as recognition that everything belonged to Him as the rightful owner of all things.
We belong to God through the work of the Great Shepherd (John 10:11, 14) and we are encouraged in our daily walk (Gal 5:25,Heb 10:22) through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
The people of God are seen as blameless in that they are redeemed by the work of Christ. The predisposition to sin has been broken and they stand in the armour of the Lord (Eph 6:11,13) as those who fight against evil.
In his book ‘Loving God’ Charles Colson (founder of Prison Ministry) speaks of the testimony of Myrtie Howell, an old Christian lady who stood for Jesus as she came against evil. Throughout her life Myrtie had written to prisoners about Jesus, with many writing back and calling her grandmother. Colson then goes on to speak of visiting her in the nursing home where she lived and mentions the encouragement he gave her. Reflecting on this visit he writes…
“My heart ached for these pathetic figures, clinging so desperately to something they never had, seeking to save a life that for so many had been only a cruel hoax: seventy, eighty or ninety years of joy, defeat, pain, and pleasure and then just sitting waiting, for darkness to come. Waiting. Waiting – for this meaningless existence to end. And what was beyond? Nothing? Or more of this hell? If there is no God, or if He can’t be known, they why live at all? Meanwhile upstairs sat Myrtie Howell with her wide ninety-one-year old grin of joy and triumph. Ready to live. Ready to die. By now she was probably back at her desk writing to prisoners.” Charles Colson in, ‘Loving God’ pages 276-277.
An angel declares the gospel and encourages people to fear the Lord – to see Him as He really is as creator and redeemer (Rev 14:6-7).
In the world Jesus was birthed into people knew all about rules and regulations, power, oppressive regimes and tyranny. They also knew what it meant to have heavy taxes imposed on them and understood hunger, sickness, malnutrition, isolation, loneliness and demonic possession. Apart from this there were also millions who were acutely aware of being judged by their history and ethnicity. Many would know what it was like to feel a ‘nobody,’ yet in Jesus and the power of His kingdom they found someone very different.
In Jesus people found a rule and reign that was based on love (1 John 4:8) without compromise to holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) and holiness without compromise to love. In Jesus they found a Kingdom that crossed social and cultural barriers and had a heart; a heart that stood with hurting, suffering and downtrodden people and did not write them off the minute they did something wrong.
In Jesus ordinary everyday people found a King who did not stand with them out of a sense of duty or obligation or for what He could extract from them, because this King already owned every molecule and atom in the universe. Instead, they found a King in servant-rags and a Kingdom that exercised breath-taking grace, mercy, compassion and love and all without compromise to holiness.
Through Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation, people had their eyes opened and hope (Rom 5:5, 1 Pet 1:21) was birthed into struggling hearts as they came to see the law of agape love in action (John 15:12). In the hands of fallen man laws such as those relating to the Sabbath had become heavy burdens (Luke 6:7, 13:14). In the life of the Servant-King they saw it unchained from man’s ideas concerning God (eg. John 5:8-9, 9:14) and came to see it as the teaching of a father (John 14:9), perfectly lived out by the One who touched their lives in power and love. In all of this they came to see the ‘fear of the Lord’ – to see God as he really is and they were in awe at his holiness, righteousness, love, grace and mercy.
In Jesus many came to see that God’s Law is not a harsh-taskmaster inflicting heavy burdens on all, but instead, in the hands of the Righteous One, they saw the true heart of the law-giver. Although many might not have known it at first, what they were seeing in Jesus was incredible and unheard of anywhere else. They were seeing the law giver coming under His law as a man and in doing so becoming the law-keeper.
They were seeing a Shepherd King showing them the right way to live as He encountered and walked with incredibly diverse people, all of whom had ‘crossed the line’ so to speak and were reaping the wrong harvest of their own making. And then, if they were open to what God was doing, they came to see the extent of God’s love as He took their punishment, paying for all they had ever done wrong. This is the good news and so there is hope for us all.
Whilst Jesus was on His three and a half year journey to what should have been our cross, He told amazing stories about His heavenly Father. He spoke of the Father like a man who ran out to greet his prodigal son (Luke 15:20) and as the one who sees every sparrow that falls to the ground (Mat 10:29-31). He also spoke of His Father’s kingdom as being like a landowner (Mat 20:1), going out during the very hottest part of the day to support and encourage the less-fortunate. This is the good news.
God breaks down barriers; He lives out the good news that He proclaims in word and deed and gives power for others to live the very same way. God brings the marginalised back into the family. He restores the rights of the down-trodden and outrageously forgives those who turn to Him, even those whom others had learned to hate with a passion. He also encourages us to do likewise. Yet He is holy. He is so holy that comparing a match with the noon-day sun does not adequately illustrate the difference between our concept of perfection and His concept of life as it should be lived. And then we have the cross.
At the cross we see how God’s holiness and love is combined without weakening either. We also see how a place of crucifixion, degradation and insult becomes the place of awesome victory over all the powers of darkness. In the work and presence of the Shepherd King we are truly blessed. We are not blessed by standing in our own strength, our own thinking or sense of achievement but through His righteousness alone.
Blessing (happiness, wholeness and completeness), is all about covenant relationship; about God stooping low (Phil 2:5-7) and coming alongside fallen man. Blessing is like a man who takes a day off to work to help a struggling friend, yet so much more than this. Blessing is like a bank manager who writes off someone’s mortgage and then goes and helps them repair their dilapidated house, yet so much more than this.
And so the gospel continues to be proclaimed in all its glory across the earth by an angel who says “fear God” and the command to worship the creator. This fearing God is not cowering from Him in worldly fear but having the utmost respect through seeing Him as He reveals Himself. He is the creator of heaven and earth and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess (Is 45:23 Rom 14:11) that Jesus Christ is Lord, as everyone gives an account of their lives to Him.
The Good News: God has crossed the line to stand with us.
In Jesus we see God continually crossing the line to stand with those marginalised by their sin and often written off by those around them. In standing with these people Jesus often found the anger of the crowd coming against Him, yet still He crossed the line.
For example, Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2) a chief tax collector (architelones) at Jericho was so desperate to see Jesus that he put aside etiquette and social rank and climbed a tree in order to get a look at Him. Despite having one of the most despised professions in Jewish society, Jesus calls him by name and is willing to associate with him. Jesus was willing to endure the indignation of the crowd who were annoyed at Him going to be the guest of a sinner. They saw Zaccheus as nothing but a sinner, yet Jesus saw him as much more than this. Jesus saw Zaccheus as a prisoner who needed releasing from the imprisonment of His own thinking and corrupt lifestyle.
On many occasions Jesus endured mocking crowds and the criticism of the self-righteous as He reached out to the ‘labelled as unreachable’ ones in love that did not compromise holiness. I remember reading a story a few years ago that reminded me of this love, a true story that occurred at the end of the Second World War.
At the end of the Second World War Nazi prisoners were marching through the streets of Moscow to be shipped back to Germany. The Nazi officers who were at the head of the column of prisoners were said to have looked arrogant despite their imprisonment. The Russian crowds, who were all too well acquainted with Nazi atrocities, had to be restrained from attacking the prisoners by their own Russian troops. Yet when the enlisted soldiers marching behind their officers appeared, the whole scene changed.
The conscripted soldiers had not been treated as well as their superiors and many appeared to be on the verge of death by starvation, with torn uniforms covering bodies that were little more than skin or bone. These men were doing their best to make their way to the train station with stronger men holding up their weaker friends. All in all it was an incredibly wretched sight to behold.
The crowd grew silent and then, somehow, a woman managed to push her way through the line of Russian soldiers, went up to one of the prisoners, and gave him a piece of bread. Other women ran to their homes and got what little food they could, returning to give what they had to feed the starving enemy soldiers.
I’m sure some of those watching would have said, “How can you do such a thing for soldiers who have killed our own families?,” yet many women still crossed the line to feed enemy soldiers.
The gospel is the good news of a Saviour who crossed the line in order to enter our humanity and reached out to all –both high and low – enduring the mockery of others as He did so. In Jesus we see that God has done everything possible to bring us to Himself. Whilst many other religions have been founded on violence and oppression towards others, Christianity is birthed through its founder taking our punishment upon His shoulders and giving eternal life to all who call on Him in repentance and faith. As the first angel we hear from in Revelation fourteen proclaims, God is the creator who should be worshipped and to whom all glory and praise belongs.
The words of the second angel.
A second angel appears and proclaims, "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries" (Rev 14:8.). In these words we capture a picture of heavenly judgement with Babylon the Great symbolising all world systems that offer security, strength and wealth through political power and/or religious ideology that is not rooted in God. The historical Babylon had originally been one of Nimrod’s cities (Gen 10:10), with Nimrod’s name meaning, ‘Let us rebel.’ Centuries later it was viewed as the most powerful kingdom on earth as it dominated surrounding people groups and nations. Yet just as Babylon fell, so too will all worldly powers that are ultimately built on sand and not rock.
Babylon’s maddening wine.
Those who live with a distorted worldview are inevitably influenced by all manner of ideology, teaching and advertising, hence the phrase John uses: “drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
In Israel wine was a symbol of joy in that it spoke of the fullness of the harvest and great blessing from God. Here it speaks of a worldly harvest which intoxicates and draws man further from the truth and deeper into the prison of his own making along with the lies of Satan. The adultery that is spoken of speaks of man, who was made for God, giving himself to the beckoning call of these false belief systems.
However, just as Isaiah prophesied the fall of the most powerful city in the ancient world of his day (Is 21:9) so too, every government and empire that stands against God will fall, including Rome and all the ‘Romes’ that follow. God sees and knows all things.
God is the One who knows the stars by name (Psalm 147:4) and is aware of every hair on our head (Matt 10:30); He sees a glass of water given in His name (Mk 9:41) and the widow’s two small coins (Luke 21:2-3). God is the one who controls historical eras (Isaiah 40:6; 1 Pet 1:24) and brings in, or allows rulers to stand and fall. Everything that is not of God will one day become ‘this too has passed away’ as judgement comes about in increasing measure.
A third angel then follows the second angel and states that anyone who worships the beast and his image will receive his mark on the forehead or hand (Rev 14:9), drink the wine of God’s fury and be tormented with burning sulphur (14:10).
The words of the third angel.
In contrast to the wine of adulteries, which speak of the harvest of evil, we now hear of the wine of God’s wrath that speaks of the fullness of judgement on all who oppose God. John’s mention of a cup reminds us of Psalm 75:8-9 which reads,
“In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.”
The third angel also speaks of people being “tormented with burning sulphur,” this being reminiscent of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-25) and Isaiah 34:9-10 where the land of the enemy becomes blazing pitch.
The mark of the beast’s name.
The mark of the beast’s name refers to the nature and character of evil being manifest through those who follow wrong beliefs and therefore is not a physical mark in the sense of a seal or name written on someone. It is the nature and character of evil seen in how people think, live and speak. Evil seeks to dominate and totally control that which by rights is God’s alone and an attempt to dominate can be found in the physical city of Babylon and the rule of Nebuchadnezzar.
King Nebuchadnezzar sought to change the names of Daniel (meaning, God is my judge) to Belteshazzar (Dan 1:7) meaning, “May Bel preserve my life.” In doing so he was effectively saying, “I own you and my gods control your thinking and actions; you will become like us.” Yet, in Daniel’s day, God clearly revealed that Daniel belonged to Him in both His work with Daniel and His dealings with the Babylonian empire and hierarchy. When the empire collapsed Daniel was not only still standing but also stood in a position of power and authority.
The mention of the fall of Babylon and the mark of the beast would not be lost on John’s hearers as they are reminded that judgement comes by the hand of the One who rules all history and not just a few sporadic pockets. Those who continued to follow the road of darkness would end up in torment, whilst the army of the Lord, (speaking of all believers) will rest in His finished work and sing praises to Him.
The word praise means, ‘to shine,’ and we shine as we open our lives to His love and embrace His teaching. That’s why Solomon writes, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day” (Prov 3:18) and why Paul tells the Ephesian church to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18), meaning, to come into the protective care and influence of the Holy Spirit.
Praise is the picture of a person with upraised arms looking and pointing to something amazing. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus (2 Cor 4:18, Heb 12:2) as our guide in this journey through life – not to self or those around us, not to our finances or achievements or resources – but to Him. In looking to Jesus the way we look at everything around us changes. An example of this is as follows.
“Perhaps the most obvious sign of Wilberforce’s conversion to the Christian faith was that it changed the way he looked at everything. Suddenly he saw what he was blind to before: that God was a God of justice and righteousness who would judge us for the way we treated others; that every single human being was made in God’s image and therefore worthy of profound respect and kindness; that God was “no respecter of persons” and looked upon the rich and the poor equally.”
E. Metaxas in, ‘Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness’, p 45.
The voice from heaven (14:13).
A voice is then heard from heaven underlining the position of all who die in the Lord. They are blessed and are those who have been redeemed by the ‘stooped –low’ One, the King of Kings veiled in flesh. Through His great sacrifice they are the ‘eternally living’ ones in the green pastures of His presence. In thinking of this I am reminded of one servant of God who recently passed through a martyr’s death in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit: Pastor George Orji.
Pastor George Orji from the Goodnews Church of Christ in Maiduguri, Nigeria, was murdered by members of Mohammed Yusuf’s Boko Haram sect along with many other Christians. Testimonies from those who later managed to escape, spoke of how Pastor George died singing and praising God. Some of those giving testimony vowed to forgive Boko Harem. Whilst being interrogated Pastor George had continued to sing and praise God. He was then left trussed up before being killed and whilst laying there turned to others and said, “If you survive, tell my brothers that I died well, and am living with Christ. And if we die, we know that we died for the Lord.”
In the condolences register at the church where George Orji pastored there were many comments from members of his congregation one of whom said, “The church will always be indebted to the late George Orji for the removal of the obstacles to our faith. He gave us the picture of a world with a unity and harmony surpassing the boldest dreams of the past.”
As John wrote almost two thousand years ago, those who have died in the Lord have not been defeated and rest in Him.
There are many stories of believers walking through the death of martyrdom in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and another testimony is found in Ben Witherington’s commentary on Revelation where he relates a story taken from, ‘Tell My Pastor I Died a Believer.’ The story is about a man called Ranjiit who used to be an assassin in a small Asian country and part of it goes like this:
“This man was basically a paid assassin who had killed many police officers in his day. But he was converted through the witness of a minister. Ranjit became a well-known preacher through whom many others were converted. But the terrorist group he had been a part of demanded he continue to work for them. When he refused, they came after him and he hid in his pastor’s house. The pastor volunteered to die in his place, but at this juncture Ranjit came out and, rather than allow his pastor to die, accepted being beaten to death. His final words were, “Tell my pastor I died a believer.”
Ben Witheringrton in ‘Revelation’ page 198
The White-Cloud Rider.
The camera continues to whirr and we now see one like a son of man seated on a white cloud and with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. He is then told to reap because the harvest of earth is ripe.
The Son of Man is a term that has been used elsewhere to speak of the humanity and supernatural origin of the Messiah. For example, in Daniel (Dan 7:13), the Son of Man’s entrance into history and His royalty and ruler-ship over history is depicted in the riding of a ‘chariot-cloud’ as the divine warrior (Ps 68:4). He is presented before the throne of the Ancient of Days and given all power and dominion. The end-time prophecy of the coming Messiah – the Son of Man – has begun to be fulfilled, is being fulfilled at this very moment and will be fully realised at some time in a future that is most definitely in His hands. Meanwhile we are in the ‘now-but-not-yet’ of His story. In Revelation 1:13 the imagery of one like the Son of Man also points us to Jesus as the Servant-hearted One who came and stood in our place, has power over all people and will come to judge the wicked.
Here in Revelation 14:14 we have a figure that appears human and takes orders (and is therefore unlikely to be Jesus). In light of this there are at least two points we can note before moving on. Firstly the imagery, as already indicated, can remind us of the Servant-hearted nature of Christ and secondly the human-like figure seated on a cloud (an angelic being) speaks of the finished work of Christ concerning salvation. All that remains for any who do not repent is judgement, as was the case when God brought judgement on Babylon in Jeremiah’s day (Jer 50:16, 51:33).
Judgement is spoken of as the harvest of sin as evil is cut down and trodden underfoot (reminiscent of the crushing of Satan’s head (Gen 3:15)). In Revelation chapter fourteen sickles are mentioned seven times underlying the perfect judgement of God. The verses are also reminiscent of Joel 3:13 where the sickle is swung on a harvest of wickedness. Grapes are then gathered from the earth’s vine (as opposed to those in the true vine (John 14) and are trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath with blood flowing from the press.
“Wine was sometimes called “the blood of grapes” (Gen 49:11; cf Deut 32:14); and as the red wine of the Passover provided a useful symbol for Jesus’ blood at the last supper, wine here deliberately evokes the gruesome image of human blood crushed out of maimed flesh. Sometime around August or September workers collected ripe grapes in baskets and deposited them in long wooden or stone troughs. There, often to the rhythm of a flutist, workers trampled the grapes into juice with their feet.”
Craig Keener in, ‘Revelation’ page 377
In verse twenty of chapter fourteen we then read that the ‘blood that flows’ out of the press travels 1,600 stadia (circa two-hundred miles) and up to the height of a horses bridle. One day there will be the complete destruction of all that comes against God.
The wrath of God.
God’s wrath reveals His holy, moral character as the One who is personally against all sin and without this His love would just be a feeling that does not take right or wrong into account in any way. A love like this would be the so-called ‘love’ in a parent who thinks that allowing their children to do whatever they like all the time is perfectly ok. God’s anger and wrath (the terms are sometimes used interchangeably) is expressed in a way whereby fallen man can see that he is accountable to the Creator and can have the opportunity to turn to Him. This, after all, is what happened when Jonah finally made it into Nineveh (Jonah 3:4). In revealing His wrath God is calling people to repentance, and also showing that judgement will fall on those who refuse. All of us are by nature ‘children of wrath’ (Eph 2:3), yet the ultimate penalty for sin fell upon Jesus, revealing the depth of God’s love for us.
God has done everything possible for man to find forgiveness through the many warnings given, and judgement falling on His own Son. For those who do not repent there is no alternative: judgement will fall on all outside Christ.