The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Part 26, Revelation 14:1-20, The Song, the Message, and the Harvest
Revelation, Part 26-14:1-20: “The Song, The Message, The Harvest” Don’t you love a good story? Some of the best are cliff hangers, keeping us coming back for more. Like John’s visions in Revelation. From the time the Lord Jesus commanded his apostle to come to the throne of God, John’s visions and experiences all serve as fantastic ingredients to a compelling, powerful story. But lest we think this is only a story, we need to think again. For what John experienced is absolute truth. And truth is true for all times in all places. John told the truth to those in the First Century. John tells the truth to us in our day. And should what John sees in his visions not come to pass until sometime later, no matter. Every microstrand of truth John revealed will come to pass. Though John used the words he was familiar with to express his visions, we need to be careful that we understand it, as best as we can, through John’s eyes, for once again, the Revelation was not written to us. It was written for us. So let’s jump right in as we continue to experience absolute truth as told in this epic story. Last Lord’s day, we left the story where the false prophet commands the world they need to worship the beast. Under pain of death, they are to bow the knee. As the story unfolds for us in our passage for today, Revelation 14:1-20, there are some who refuse to worship the beast, and, there is one—that would be the Lord--who does not want any to go by the way of the fake theocracy. As I mentioned last week, fake news did not begin with Trump. It’s older than Rome, going back as far as the Garden, where the serpent asked, “Did God really say?” The beast and false prophet try their level best to persuade precious souls to go their way. But there are some who are obstinate. Stubborn. Non-team players. In the words of one former presidential candidate who shall remain nameless—she said that “deep seated religious beliefs,” probably of those who are in the basket of deplorables, “must be changed.” Well, this chapter is all about the stubbornness of God’s people. His righteous people. His separated people. Their commitment to the Lord and his ways gives hope to those who have yet to commit their lives to the beast and his ways. “Which way is worth it?” they ask. Through His people and angelic messages, the Lord gives a rock solid alternative to the deception of the beast, ultimately the dragon. What will it be, Babylon or Mt. Zion? This passage is also about the surety of God’s judgment. In horrific, graphic detail. We love it when God keeps his promises of salvation. Provision. Patience. God is faithful. But God is just as faithful to keep his promises of judgment on the wicked, for faithfulness is faithfulness. When God says he will keep his word, we can be certain of it. For he who promised is faithful. John’s story continues in vv.1-5. He sees 144,000 saints of God, and the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion. Now, if you have been closely following our study of Revelation you might be asking, “Haven’t we seen these people before?” How about 7:1-8? Remember how a powerful angel tells 4 other angels that they cannot destroy anything until 144,000 servants of God receive a seal on their foreheads. This seal shows God’s mark of ownership of them and the servants’ loyalty to God. These servants are described as coming from the tribes of Israel, so it would appear they are ethnic Jews. But as we discovered when we went over this chapter that the tribe of Dan is missing. So the conclusion of many, myself included, is that we need to interpret the 144,000 as all of God’s people. Also, we need to remember the seal of God does not mean they are guaranteed to keep their physical lives, for many will die—but their physical death will only prove to be a one-way ticket to the throne room of God! Many of God’s saints will die physically, undergoing the first death. But not the second death. As the old saying goes: “If we’re only born once, we die twice—suffering physical and eternal death. But if we are born twice-as in born again, we only die once—that is, we only undergo physical death.” If you read carefully in Revelation 7, it’s as if John pushes pause: he describes the 144,000 saints on earth then suddenly switches his vision to that of a great multitude of martyrs in heaven. So, where did the 144,000 go? They were transported, as it were, to Mt. Zion, standing with the Lamb. And I call this beautiful and majestic. For what did we see in Chapter 13? It appears as though the antichrist and false prophet has the whole world right where they want them—at their feet, at the behest of the dragon. If this book were to finish at the last verse of chapter 13, how massive would be the despair! But God! He has sealed for himself on earth, as John calls them, 144,000, who haven’t worshiped the beast. Let’s notice in Revelation 14:1who these 144,000 are. They bear the Father’s and the Lamb’s names-a double mark of ownership and protection. But this is really nothing new, for all Christians have received a seal. Paul told the Ephesian Christians when they believed, they were marked with a seal—the Holy Spirit, who sealed them until the day of redemption. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, let me remind us what Jesus said about His ministry. Right before the Lord was crucified, here’s what he said about the Holy Spirit in John 14:16–18: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Then Jesus says something that I believe is key to interpreting what is happening with the Lamb as he stands with the saints on Mt. Zion: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The very presence of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, indwells every Christian. And that includes these 144,000. Isn’t it interesting how throughout the book of Revelation the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit is not addressed? Where is He? Again, He lives in every believer! He has marked each one, and sealed them until the day of redemption. And this leads me to a point of interpretation of the Lamb on Mt. Zion. I don’t want to make too big of a deal over this, but it doesn’t seem to make sense for the Lamb to be standing on Mt. Zion with the saints. Throughout the book of Revelation, where is the Lamb? At the right hand of the Father. Now where does John sees him? On Mt. Zion. But what about his ruling and reigning at the Father’s right hand? Who is taking care of the scroll that he unrolled, declaring before all heaven the things that must take place? It seems to me that since the Lord equated the Holy Spirit with Himself, the one whom John “saw” as it were, was the Holy Spirit leading the 144,000. It’s only my opinion about this, but I believe we need to account for the ministry of the Lamb on earth. For it is clear that he will not return to earth until Revelation 19. Let me say a word about Mt. Zion. This is Jerusalem, the place the Lord loves. Among the many things God reveals in His affection for Zion, righteousness to the nations flows from there. When Christ does return to reign, Mt. Zion will once again be the place where the nations will go to discover how to live in the presence of the King. Isaiah says in Isaiah 2:2–3: It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law--literally the teaching of the ways of God--and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And it is precisely God’s righteousness--the living out of his ways--is what in reality is the normal Christian life. Notice the complete break between chapters 13 and 14. The residents of Mt. Zion--the 144,000 have no dealings with the residents of Babylon—those who have taken the mark and worship the beast. How did John describe the character of the 144,000? Every person claims “virgin” status in v.4. They are spiritual virgins, for they have remained faithful to the Lord. Immorality in Scripture often refers to idolatry, a fitting contrast to the worship of the beast and the false theocracy of Babylon. Notice that no lie is found in their mouths in v.5. This refers to the powerful, truthful testimony with which they speak about their God. Contrast that with chapter 13, where nothing but lies is told about the Lord. The picture of the Lamb here reminds me of Psalm 23, where the Shepherd leads his flock in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake-hence the 144,000 following the Lamb, wherever he goes. And what a picture! Absolute separation from the system of the world, the beast, and ultimately the dragon. Certainly, they miss out on the economic security the mark gives them, but the security the Lord gives his faithful followers is as sure as the promises of God and the sacrifice of the Lamb. In vv.2-3, John turns his attention a massive, all-inclusive choir giving praise to Almighty God from 2 sources: A roar of many waters and the sound of loud thunder make up the first source. All non-human creation shouting out adoration to the Creator. Then another voice. Remember in Revelation 7, when John writes that he saw countless saints as far as his eye could see, standing before the throne with palm branches in their hands? In this vision in chapter 14, John sees them with harps. He hears them singing a song that only the redeemed can learn. It’s as if heaven opens up on Mt. Zion with a heavenly loudspeaker aiming directly upon them! Untold numbers of the redeemed playing on an untold number of harps, teaching the 144,000 on Mt. Zion the song of the redeemed. In trying to somehow capture the sight and sound of this, I just have to say with David in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high. I cannot attain to it!” So now the lines are drawn. Babylon and those who live there, toss accusations at those who live on Mt. Zion: They call them “self-righteous, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, beastophobic bigots”, being “holier than thou”. “How dare you . . . be who you are?” But I can’t overstate how vital it is for these 144,000 to display the righteousness of God. For through them and the messages of the angels He will send, God is offering a rock solid, hope filled alternative to those who have yet to make up their minds as to whether or not they will enter Babylon to their eternal destruction. Amazingly, even after all the death and destruction we have read so far in John’s prophecy, there are those who are alive and can be saved. God in his mercy is still holding out his hand. But it’s decision time for them. Babylon? Or Mt. Zion? Enter the angels and their messages. In vv.6-14 we see 3 angels who proclaim messages of hope, reality and warning. Notice the mission and the message of the first angel. To every person still deciding whether or not to become a resident of Babylon he tells them “Give glory to God! Worship the creator!” And by their righteousness and loyalty to the Lamb, the 144,000 faithful witnesses give a loud and proud testimony—“you don’t have to go by way of the beast. Become a resident of Mt. Zion, the city of the redeemed! You can sing the sweet song of salvation. You have yet another opportunity to choose.” But alas, there is no indication that anybody responds to the everlasting gospel offered by angel number 1. As it happens so often, unsaved people turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the gospel call, even despising the demonstrated unity and love of God’s saints to one another. Well, what does a God who does not desire the death of the wicked do when the world refuses the gospel given by an angel? He sends another angel, of course. This one makes an appeal to reason, almost like apologetics. This angel gives them a vision of the demise of Babylon—the great city full of blasphemy against the Lord. The second angel tells those in the valley of decision, “Listen! What you are thinking about doing is a dead end. Don’t let the beast convince you that Babylon is the most happening place on earth. It is nothing but an attractive, carefully constructed house of cards. At any moment, a giant fan is about to be turned on. Then where will you be? But Babylon’s offering is so very enticing! One swallow of the wine of her passion and idolatry—referred to here as sexual immorality, and the city, and every inhabitant, will be long gone. The angel gives the warning but, once again, there is no indication that anyone heeds it. Finally, the third angel gives a severe warning. An ultimatum. “No excuses. No do overs. No amount of tears or screams for mercy will do. If you take the mark of the beast—you are done.” I find an important lesson in John’s vision of these angels. It’s fallen human nature to quickly say that God is constantly angry with every last person on the planet. Non-Christians so often turn away from God because they assume He has no patience with sinners. One little sin or slip up and He instantly destroys people. And even as Christians, how many of us are convinced that God has no patience with us? If nothing else, the messages of these angels lets us see how patient God is with every person. God has given us true dignity. The choices we make either for or against him are real choices. We have freedom to choose. But we don’t have the freedom to choose the consequences of our choices. God made clear the consequences of our choices. Now, choose. Speaking of consequences, notice in vv.10-11 what happens to those who spurn God’s invitation, refuse to listen to God’s offer to reason together with him over sin, and reject God’s salvation: they will drink God’s wrath poured out in full strength. They will be tormented with fire and sulphur forever —in front of the holy angels and the Lamb. No rest, literally no break, ever from the suffering. My dear brothers and sisters. And perhaps those yet to be my brothers and sisters. Do you realize that gentle Jesus will oversee the forever torment of humans? God’s offer of salvation will end one day. Every person who worships the dragon will be tormented forever. Let me plead with you today. If you have come to the place in your life where you see this as future reality for yourself, and you say from the deepest part of your being, “I am not ready to face the Lamb of God” in the judgment, then I implore you, come to Jesus. Don’t wait any longer. You may not have tomorrow. No one wakes up the morning of the day of their death and says, “I need to get ready because I am going to die today.” As a young person, you may think you have years, then you can do business with God. Not so. Every person here has been given right now. We don’t have even the promise of tonight. Whether young or not so young, don’t refuse Him. God is calling. Don’t think, “God would never torment me. Jesus loves me.” Jesus does love us. That’s why Jesus gave us this warning. Every vision John experienced are the things Jesus commanded John to write down. Jesus said these are things that must take place. If you have never come to him, turning from your sin and resting only in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, then you are in the same boat as even the most wicked, unrepentant person who ever lived. But if you have turned from your sin and from the depths of your soul have said, “Lord Jesus Christ, on you I placed all my sins. I rest in your complete sacrifice for my sin. I am grateful for your sacrifice for me. I have committed myself to serve you the rest of my days, regardless of the cost, out of my gratitude for you, because you loved me first.” If what I just said describes you, then rejoice in the Lamb for what he has done for you! But now, in vv.12-13, we see a call from the Lord. We can, even as Christians, become complacent in our followership. We saw a similar call to Christians in chapter 13 as well. This call, once again is one to the saints. Literally, “this is the endurance of the saints.” What is this endurance? It’s keeping the commandments of God and faith in Jesus. In other words, “saints, don’t turn back. Babylon is enticing. The beast knows what sinful human nature wants. He will offer it but refuse it in the power of the Lord. Know who it is that is offering it to you. He is your enemy. Give it no place whatsoever in your life.” But to make matters more difficult the beast will ramp things up. It will be a bloodbath of the saints. Faithfulness to the Lord means, by definition, opposition to the beast. And the labors of the sealed saints will not go unnoticed by the beast. So, persevere, saints! This will also make things more difficult for those who have yet to decide between Babylon or Mt. Zion. Faithful witnesses will physically die. Babylon will promise peace and security. But what Babylon won’t tell them is what their ultimate end will be. And that ultimate end will be seen in the next part of John’s vision: the harvest. In vv.14-20 John sees 4 angels who have a special mission: a 2-part harvest. In vv.14-16 is the part 1. The time has come-the crop is full and ripe. The angel swings his sharp sickle and just like that, the earth is reaped. Most people who study this for a living see this as the reaping of the righteous. Not much to talk about here, except for a question: where did the crop go? It does not say. But v.13 gives us a clue. Due to the work of the 144,000 many will be gathered in as a harvest of the righteous. They are the blessed of the Lord. Like so many other saints, they will join the heavenly choir, adding their voices of praise, worship and adoration to the one worthy of all praise, worship, and adoration. In vv.17-20, we see part 2 of the harvest. Using a little sanctified logic, we can figure out who makes up this crop—it’s the reaping of the wicked. All those who did not heed the warning of the gospel are those who make up this harvest. Like the first reaping, this crop is ripe and ready for the harvest. But the destination of this crop is far different from the first one. In v.19 we find this entire harvest winds up in the winepress of the wrath of God. Now the horror of v.20: God’s winepress of his anger and fury is now full. This verse doesn’t say who stomps on the harvest but John does give us the results: massive shedding of the blood of the wicked. As horrible as it is, God has appointed a time for this judgment. He warned and warned. Now, it is too late. But as bad as that is, though the bodies of the wicked are killed, the Lord has not dealt with their souls yet. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, John has written a master story line. This moves me to the core. The resplendent glory of the choir in heaven singing the song of the redeemed and teaching it to the sealed saints of the Lamb on Mt. Zion, the fountainhead of righteousness. The angelic messages of hope, reality and warning, tragically go unheeded. And the final harvest of the righteous and the wicked. The graphic picture painted by John’s words is almost too much to take. Because these are people. Some of those are souls of those who we know and love—and who God loves, too. But in the words of John Piper, God loves his own glory more than you or me. He created everything seen and unseen to glorify him. Psalm 19:1-The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 24:1 tells us the Lord owns everything in creation and everyone on earth. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. As we have been exploring God’s attribute of sovereignty in our Behold Your God study during Bible Fellowship, we discover, again that the Lord has the right to do with his creation as he sees fit. It is not his will that any perish but all to come to repentance, as Peter tells us in his second letter and through Ezekiel, his prophet in Ezekiel 18:23: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Given that the sealed saints are sealed for the purpose of painting an infinitely better alternative than the ways of the world for the multitudes who are not part of the body of Christ, what can we do? This calls, once again for radical separation from the world. In the most famous sermon the Lord preached, the sermon on the Mount, he labels his disciples as salt and light. Both of these elements are by definition distinctive. We are to live differently than the rest of the world. There are too many Christians who, quite frankly, have compromised with the Babylon while claiming to live on Mt. Zion. It’s not so much in the way we dress, or the vehicles we drive or the computers we operate. Brand loyalty means little here. I’m talking about the big issues, such as social justice and the adopting the world’s values of how it defines marriage and sexuality. I’m also talking about the personal issues, such as the attitude of “I don’t want to be bothered” when it comes to being inconvenienced when a fellow Christian has a need. The world is deathly afraid of speaking out on things because they might get labeled. But because we, too, don’t want to be labeled, we remain silent as well. In these things I mentioned, how much of that can be attributed to the condition of our hearts as followers of Jesus? Let me ask a question: How many of us have distaste for the things of God when no one is looking? If given a choice, and there were no consequences, how many of us would rather watch an extremely violent or sexually charged movie than pray? Or if by some chance we had all of our expenses paid for the rest of our lives, how many of us would rather live the way we are living than go to the foreign mission field to give the gospel to those who have never heard? But the beast, the ways of the world, has convinced us that living lives where we pursue nothing but the things of God is the most distasteful, wasteful thing we can do. God’s word challenges that notion for all of us and offers us so much more fulfillment and joy than Babylon could ever give. David told us where ultimate pleasure and joy is to be found: in God’s presence, at his right hand. Psalm 16:11-You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. The call I am making to all of us today is, to radically come untangled from Babylon. What I am not calling for is we refuse to deal with non-Christians altogether. Jesus says we are in the world not of it. We need to interact with them. To witness to them. But when you are around non-Christians, you need to be the one to influence them, rather than they influence you. That especially goes for friends who influence you to develop a distaste for the things of God. If you find you do have a distaste for the things of God, ask Him to change your taste, and keep asking him until he does. And finally, unbelievers often trifle at the things of God. They know God exists, even if they tell themselves over and over he doesn’t. Romans 1:18 tells us that places the knowledge of himself in every person, but it is suppressed by their unrighteousness. And in their serious moments, they know he exists but they believe the lie that they have time to get things right with Him. The story is told about how those in the devil’s inner circle tried to come up with the most effective way to keep people from getting right with God. One demon spoke up and said, “sir, I have a good solution. Tell them there is no heaven.” The devil rejected that one and almost smacked the junior demon. “We have been saying that for a long time. But every time a crisis happens, they begin to pray. And the enemy above answers their prayer. We have lost many people using that story. Another demon spoke up and said, “sir, I have a good solution. Tell them there is no hell.” The devil smiled at that one a bit. “That might work with some—a lot more success than telling people there is no heaven.” A third demon spoke up. This one was dancing his little devilish jig. For the first time since he followed the devil, he was able to smile. He said, “sir! I have the solution.” We don’t want to tell them there is no heaven. We don’t want to tell them there is no hell. Let’s tell these foolish earth people that heaven is real. That hell is real. But let’s add one statement: There is no hurry.” The devil started dancing with the third demon. “That is perfect!” he said. Let’s tell them there is time to take care of that religious stuff when they get really old. Like 60 or something. The more completely followers of Christ break with Babylon, the more forceful and compelling God’s story becomes. And the more compelling the story, the greater incentive non-Christians have to come away from Babylon, the place where we all lived at one time. A strong believer named Tertullian lived about A.D. 150, in the middle of severe persecution of his fellow Christians. He continually called for a complete untanglement of his brothers and sisters from Babylon-the world’s system. Let me pass on some of his encouragement. He wrote much differently than we do. So, I’m going to try to translate his words. But now suppose that you desire to pass this life in worldly delights. Why are you so ungrateful as not to be content with the multiplied pleasures, which God bestows on you? For what can be more delightful than reconciliation with God the Father and our Lord? Or the revelation of the Truth that he gave us? What can be more delightful than the discovery of errors or the forgiveness of all our sins? What greater pleasure can we have than a disgust for pleasure itself? Or a contempt for the whole world? What greater pleasure can we have than true liberty? Or a pure conscience? What greater pleasure can we have than a sure knowledge than God’s provision is more than enough in this life, and the absence of all fear of death when facing the future? These are the pleasures, these the entertainments of the Christians, and these are holy, everlasting, free. May the Lord help us as followers of Christ to make a radical break with Babylon. For, the more radical the break, the greater the alternative those in the valley of decision can have between Babylon and the beast or Mt. Zion and the Lamb. The way we live our lives gives precious souls hope that a real choice really does exist. Let’s help them make that choice.