Chapter 13 ended with the picture of a great mass of humanity marked with the sign of the Beast, serving him and worshipping his image. They prevented the saints for participating in commerce, buying and selling.
In contrast, chapter 14 opens with a vision of the saints in heaven, sealed by God from the wrath to come. The seal of God is the name of God the Father and the Lord Jesus as their mark. They have privileges in heaven, in contrast to the privileges of the followers of the Beast on earth.
The chapter also gives us a look at the end of the age. There is a call to repent, the fall of the world’s systems opposing Christ, and the harvesting of those left on earth. The passage extends through 15:4, the victory song of the saints.
This passage also concludes a series or cycle of 7 visions beginning with the birth of Christ and ending with the final judgment. All of this is to accomplish the glory of God.
John first saw the Lamb, who is Jesus. (14:1) He was on Mount Zion. This shows the fulfillment of Psalm 2:6. Psalm 2 is recognized as a “Messianic Psalm”, meaning that it foretold events of the Messiah’s life. Verse 6 says “as for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill”. Paul, in his sermon recorded in Acts 13, tells us Psalm 2 was fulfilled in the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Jesus’ position on Mount Zion also shows him as the true Lamb, in contrast to the false prophet, or second beast, who appears as a lamb. (13:14) Zion is portrayed in the Bible as the true city of God. Psalm 2 presents Messiah standing on Mount Zion at the end of time judgment the unrighteous and defending the remnant of believers. Isaiah 23:24, speaking of the judgment of unbelievers, says “the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion…and his glory will be before his elders”.
With him are 144,000 saints, the believers of all history. This is the same group we saw in chapter 7. Verse 4 tells us that they are the first fruits, separated from the remainder before the great harvest. We see that Mount Zion here represents heaven, as they are “before the throne” and “before the four living creatures and before the elders”. We saw in the vision of chapter 4 that the throne and these beings are in heaven.
The saints are gathered around the Savior. He is pictured as the Lamb, representing his sacrifice to save us. The saints are singing to him. It is loud, like the roar of many waters and the sound of thunder. (2) It was also beautiful: it sounded like harps playing. It is also a fulfillment of Isaiah 35:10: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing”.
The saints were singing a new song. In the Old Testament, people sang a new song to celebrate victory of the Lord over his enemies. Look, for example, at Exodus 15. God defeated the powerful Egyptian army, drowning them in the Red Sea. Moses stood up and led the congregation of Israel in singing a song to the Lord. They sang “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously”. It is a song celebrating the Lord’s victory.
Look also at Psalm 18. When the Lord delivered David from King Saul, he sang the song incorporated into that Psalm. He sang “I called upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies”. (v.8)
So too, when the complete number of the saints is gathered in heaven, Jesus will have been victorious. He will conquer all of his enemies, as we will see in the following chapters. And the saints will sing his praise loudly and beautifully.
No one but the saints could learn the song. (3) Only those who believe in and follow Christ will share in his praise and fellowship in heaven. This is a contrast to the exclusive ability of the followers of the Beast to buy and sell on earth.
The saints are also know by their loyalty to Christ, represented here by sexual purity. (4) The statement that they are virgins and sexually pure is a symbol for their undiluted loyalty to Christ, part of they symbolism of the church as the Bride of Christ and the image of adultery symbolizing idolatry. In contrast, those marked by the Beast worshipped his image, an idol. In contrast, those sealed by Christ worship him only. They also obey him. They “follow the Lamb wherever he goes”. They also do not lie, they are blameless. We are blameless because Christ has made us so by his death. John says these have been redeemed from mankind. And we strive to live blameless lives after coming to Christ in salvation. We will see this symbol again when the church is presented as a virgin bride adorned for her husband, Christ Jesus. (19:7 and 21:2)
So, we see a division of humanity in chapters 13 and 14. One group rejects Christ to follow the Beast into idolatry and rejection of God. The other group follows Christ and are part of him for all eternity. This division will be made even more clear at the “harvest” shown later in the chapter.
3 Angelic Messages
The scene now shifts from heaven to earth. Three angels will bring three announcements. The announcements are warnings to those on earth who follow the Beast.
The first angel proclaims the eternal gospel to people all over the earth. He calls for repentance and belief as judgment approached. The angel calls on people to fear God, give him glory and worship him a creator.
To fear God is to recognize him as the Almighty and the only God. There is not much fear of God in the American culture. Some of the blame for this falls on the church, which has often presented God as our co-pilot, or a Santa Clause type of being, or our cozy little buddy. The pendulum of preaching took a big swing from over emphasizing God’s wrath in the 50s to over emphasizing God’s wrath ever since. Much of our music and teaching treats God as less than God and more like a heavenly buddy. You could hardly expect the culture to fear God if the church does not. We give God glory by acknowledging who he is.
These words really strike me. Once, as I walked in Brooklyn, a young man stood on a chair and yelled out these words. Some Christian people moved away in embarrassment. Yet, in a sense, the young man was the voice of the angel in this passage.
This message is a sort of “last call”. The message of the gospel has gone out over the world since the resurrection of Jesus and it will continue to go out until the harvest. Then there will no longer be an opportunity to repent and be saved.
The second angel declared the fall of Babylon the great. This comes as an interesting surprise, for John has not discussed the figure of Babylon yet. The fall is announced, but will be described at length in another vision to be described in chapters 17-18. Babylon is a powerful symbol from the Old Testament, signifying the pagan world order which oppressed God’s people. For the original audience of this book, the churches of Asian, it was the Roman Empire. It has taken many forms throughout church history. This order uses a mixture of raw power and sexual license to rebel against God. Imagine someone telling you to explore all of the realms of sexual possibility and punishing you if you object that it violates God’s standards. Where do we see that happening? We will see that those who participate in Babylon all suffer God’s wrath along with it.
The third angel speaks of the fate of those who follow and worship the beast and its image. (9-11) They will “drink the wine of God’s wrath” in full strength. They will suffering hell, tormented with fire and sulfur. This punishment will last forever. Verse 11 says their torment “goes up forever and ever and they have no rest”. This verse destroys the concept of some who say punishment is not forever, but will be ended by annihilation.
The Call for Endurance
Why are these visions given and these messages recited ? Verse 12 tells us. It is a call for the endurance of the saints. By telling of the joy of heaven to come and reminding us of the fate of those who reject Christ, we are encouraged to endure in our faith. We endure despite the power of our enemies. But we also endure because we know of their future destruction.
After the angelic messages, a voice sounded from heaven saying blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on, for the rest from their labors. This is in great contrast to the fate of those who follow the Beast. We may not think of death as a blessing, especially if we have it easy on earth. But it is a ceasing of suffering and a beginning of bliss: life in the presence of the Savior, as part of the Saints of all history, with no pain, persecution or suffering.
This, by the way, is the second of 7 benedictions in Revelation.
A few days ago, I lost a precious friend I have know for decades. She was a lovely woman, full of faith and joy, one who shared Christ at every opportunity and encouraged everyone around her. It was uplifting just to be around her. But, about one year ago, she went to the hospital in pain. The doctors found advanced cancer in several places. She took the treatments, losing her hair and swelling up so that her beautiful features were distorted. The Lord took her. I, and many others, are so sad to lose her. But I am so glad her suffering is over. She stands on Mount Zion with the congregation of the redeemed, singing the praise of Jesus in his presence. She is free of pain and full of joy. She has rest from her labors.
The voice from heaven also tells us the deeds of the dead in Christ follow them. Even though are deeds done in the flesh are flawed by our sin, they have value. The Apostle Paul said: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
In the parable of the talents, Jesus told the faithful servant “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) I long to hear those words from Jesus. If I do, it will be enough for eternity.