In this chapter John is given a picture of the tribulation period from the standpoint of the Messiah’s victory. We will view the ultimate triumph of God, the Lamb and His followers, the true believers.
Vision of Victory
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were purchased among men and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.
In Revelation 7:3-8 we learned that the 144,000 are “the servants of our God,” and represent all the tribes of Israel. We were told that they were “sealed” by God “on their foreheads”. Now we are given additional information about these sealed servants of God. We learn three things about this special group of 144,000 believers: the protection, praise and purpose of God.
The Protection of God
The protection of God involves the presence of the Lamb, which is reassuring. Jesus says in:
…..I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
At the moment the Lamb of God is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father according to Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 10:12 where He continues to intercede for us according to Hebrews 7:25. When John writes that he sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion he does not mean he sees the Lamb in heaven. No, John describes here the Lamb’s ultimate triumph at the end of the tribulation. “Mount Zion” is used symbolically of the Messianic age, the Jewish hope of all its history – a kingdom promised to the people of Israel with Messiah as its king, reigning in Jerusalem, in fulfilment of God’s promise to king David according to Psalm 2; Psalm 48; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 24:23; Joel 2:32; Obadiah 17, 21; Micah 4:1-7. The seal of God on the foreheads of these Jewish believers is a reminder that they belong to God and to the Lamb and is in contrast to the mark of the beast which is mentioned in Revelation 13:17.
The Praise of God
John heard a “sound” from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. This “sound” does remind us of God’s voice as mentioned in Exodus 19:16-19 and Psalm 29:3. John compares the “sound” as well to that of harpists who are playing their harps. We have a number of examples in the Scriptures of people playing harps for instance: Psalm 147:7; Psalm 149:3; Psalm 150:3; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 15:2. John hears this group of 144,000 Jewish believers singing a new song. This song could only be sung by them. They had been redeemed out of the tribulation because God had sealed them and had protected them during this time.
In Revelation 5:9 the twenty-four elders sing a new song. The difference between the song of the twenty-four elders and the 144,000 Jewish believers is that the twenty-four leaders represent the church-age believers who are in heaven during the tribulation while the 144,000 Jewish believers are those who have gone through the tribulation and been protected by God during that time.
The Purpose of God
John writes that they keep themselves pure. It is possible that it means they do not get married. However, more likely it refers to moral and spiritual purity for they remain faithful to Christ. See also the Apostle Paul’s words in II Corinthians 11:2. Since they are Jewish, there is probably a connection with passages where Israel is described as “the virgin, the daughter of Zion” according to II Kings 19:21; Isaiah 37:22; Lamentations 2:13 or the “virgin of Israel” according to Jeremiah 18:13; Jeremiah 31:4, 21. Their commitment to the Lord is absolute. They are willing to go wherever and do whatever. They are wonderful examples of how all of us are to live and is what Jesus requires of us as we can read in Matthew 4:19a where Jesus says; “Come, follow Me…” These 144,000 Jewish believers are the “first fruits” of those to be saved during the tribulation. The “first fruits” are an indication of the harvest to come. I Corinthians 15:23 refers to Jesus Christ as the “first fruits”, a reference to the promised resurrection. He was the first to arise from the dead and not die again. More will follow at his second coming. Also, these 144,000 Jewish believers are a sign that many more Jewish people will be saved at the end of the tribulation. Zechariah 13:8-9 suggests that the remnant will consist of one-third of all the Jewish people. Zechariah 12:10 indicates that their response to the Lord will be the result of “the Spirit of grace and supplication” being poured out upon them. Ezekiel 39:29 prophesies a time when God will pour out His Spirit on the house of Israel. Paul writes in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved”. This group of 144,000 is “blameless”. Likewise, believers are to be “blameless” according to Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; Jude 24.
Vision of Judgement
Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of His judgement has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. This calls for patient endurance of the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes”, says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them”.
John has another vision, this time of angels proclaiming the gospel and warning of the coming judgement of God.
The Proclamation of the Gospel
In Revelation 8:13 we read of an angel (eagle is not a correct translation) flying in mid-air warning about three more of God’s judgements to come. In Revelation 14:6 we read once again of an angel flying in mid-air. This time the emphasis is on the proclamation of the gospel not simply announcing the coming judgements.
This angel proclaimed the “eternal” gospel. This gospel will reach all nations by the end of the tribulation period. Jesus predicted that in:
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The “end” is the end of the tribulation period. The gospel will reach all nations, tribes, languages and peoples before the end of the tribulation period. This gospel is to bring people to God so they might worship Him for who He is, and what He has done.
The Prediction of the Fall of Babylon
In Revelation 14:8 a second angel predicts the ultimate destruction of Babylon. John takes up this prediction in Revelation 17 and 18 and we will do a thorough study of it then.
The Punishment of Those who Worship the Beast
In Revelation 13:11-18 we read that all the inhabitants of the earth worshipped the beast and his image and received a mark in their right hand or on their forehead. In Revelation 14:9-11 we read of God’s judgements on these people: they will be tormented in the lake of fire as we can read in Revelation 20:15. Their punishment will be an eternal punishment from which there will never be any rest according to Matthew 25:41, 46; Jude 6-7; Revelation 20:10.
The Patience of the Believers
Believers are called to endure patiently and to remain faithful to Jesus no matter what the circumstances might be. Their death is not something to be afraid of, unlike the death of unbelievers, for when believers die they will no longer suffer pain, exhaustion and they will all be rewarded for their labour for God will not forget what they have done according to I Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 3:23-24.
Vision of the Final Harvest
I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud. “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Another angel came out of the temple and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
One Like a Son of Man
John sees one “like a son of man”. Jesus Christ is called the “son of man” throughout the gospels. It is the title He most often used for Himself. It is a reminder that our coming Judge is One who knows what we are like, His humanity enables Him to judge mankind as we can read in:
And He (God) has given Him (Jesus) authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.
He is seated on a white cloud. The “cloud” is a symbol of the divine and holy presence of God and the word “white” emphasizes moral purity and is a picture of the righteousness of God. He wears a golden crown, which is the mark of a king.
He has a sharp sickle in his hand, which suggests the reaping of a harvest. It is an unusual picture of the Lord Jesus Christ but it is a picture of Him in judgement. In Matthew 13:37-43, we have a parable that parallels this particular passage.
The Instruction about the Sharp Sickle
The time for reaping the harvest has come. God’s judgements will come according to His time schedule. He will bring His vengeance upon the earth in due time according to Revelation 6:17. The reaping of the harvest has been placed in the hands of the Son of Man. He is the Judge of all the earth, being given that responsibility by God the Father. The same One who died on the Cross to bear our sins will be the One who will judge those who have refused to accept His payment for their sins. According to John the harvest is ripe. In fact, the harvest is overripe. When the judgement of God finally falls upon an unbelieving world, it will come as a judgement which is long overdue.
The picture of God’s judgement being like a sharp sickle reaping a harvest comes from:
Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness! Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.
The sickle being thrust into the harvest symbolizes God’s judgement on the nations who come against Jerusalem and the people of Israel. The judgement occurs in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is adjacent to the city of Jerusalem. It is there that all the nations will come against Jerusalem and it is there where their blood will flow. This valley is called the “valley of decision.” This is not because the multitudes are given an opportunity to believe but because God will decide the fate of all who reject the Messiah and His salvation. In this section we have two harvests mentioned, one is of the son of man harvesting, the other is of an angel harvesting. They, in fact refer to the same harvest: the judgement of unbelieving nations. One criteria for this judgement appears to be how these nations have treated the Jewish people according to Matthew 25:31-46. The angel who has charge over the fire is very likely a reference to the angel with the golden censer as mentioned in Revelation 8:3-5. This is a reminder that the judgement of God upon unbelievers is in answer to the prayers of His people and in particular the martyrs mentioned in Revelation 6:10. The “fire” represents God’s judgement according to Matthew 3:11-12.
The Impact of this Judgement
Jesus will be personally involved in the final judgements of the nations who come against Jerusalem for He will tread “the wine press of the wrath of God” according to Revelation 9:15. This will mean His garments will be blood stained according to Isaiah 63:6 and Revelation 19:13. Whatever John exactly means when he mentions that the blood flow will cover a distance of approx 180 miles, it is certain that a great multitude will be killed. This picture of Jesus as Judge is so very different from Jesus the Saviour. For us, as believers, it may be very hard to imagine that our Lord Jesus Christ, whose love and care we all have experienced will one day rise up and be involved in judging the nations of the world. Yet, that is exactly what He will do. So, while there is still time, let us go out and share the good news of salvation with those who are in darkness.