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. The words here are taken from Isaiah 21:9, where riders say Babylon is called and her idols shattered.
For the original audience of this book, the churches of Asia, 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. It is a fate much worse than the physical death the beast inflicts on believers. 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.
The Second Coming
This passage contains two pictures of the second coming of Christ in judgment. The first picture is a harvest of grain. The crop to be reaped is not actually named, but the Greek word for “ripe” indicates a head of grain that has matured. The second is a picture of a harvest of grapes.
The pictures show Jesus, “one like a Son of Man”, presiding over the harvests. He wears a golden crown and is seated on a cloud. This is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, where one like a son of man comes with the clouds to the Ancient of Days in his heavenly court. It is the same appearance as Jesus had in the opening vision of Revelation. (1:13) In Revelation 1:7, it is said that Jesus is coming with the clouds, referring to his second coming in Judgment. That is the picture here in chapter 14.
Angels carry the message from the “temple” to the Son of Man. The Father sends the message to the Son that the time has come for the second coming. Jesus had said “concerning that day, or the hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
John the Baptist also referred to Jesus as bringing judgment, saying “his winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”. (Luke 3:17) It appears, therefore, that the harvest of grain is the gathering of the church to Christ. That is bolstered by the fact that the church pictured earlier in the chapter, in 14:4, is called the “first fruits” which is a reference to the harvest of wheat.
The treading of grapes as a symbol of God’s wrath is a symbol used in the Bible because the pouring of juice from the crushed grape resembles blood. The picture seems to be taken from Joel 3:12. There, the Lord harvests the enemies of Israel, puts them in the winepress and treads them until the juice overflows the vats. It is a picture of God’s wrath on the wicked. Their blood thirsty ways of persecuting the church are repaid in their own blood. It is also a fulfillment of Isaiah 63:1-3, 6, where God said he trampled his enemies until his robe is stained like one who treads in the winepress and Poured out their blood on the earth. This image will return in Revelation 19.
Here are a couple of small, but interesting points. The holy city was trodden by God’s enemies. Here the enemies are trodden in the winepress. Also, this winepress was trodden outside the city. (20) Only believers will enter the final city of God. Nothing impure will ever enter it.
At the end of this age, Jesus will return. He will not come to save as he did the first time. He will come to judge. Those who are not in Christ, all suffer God’s wrath, They will be cast into hell. Those who are in Christ are gathered together with him for eternity.
The judgment of the wicked will not only be an occasion of judgment, but also an occasion of vindication for the saints. Remember that John saw the saints beneath the golden altar asking when God would vindicate them. The prayers of the saints were mixed with incense and burned on the altar. The angel took the censer which held the prayers, mixed them with fire, and threw the fire down to earth, symbolizing this vindication in the judgment of those who persecuted the church. (Revelation 8:1-5) Here in chapter 14, the angel that calls for the harvest of grapes is the angel “who had authority over the fire”. (14:18) The final judgment is both the culmination of the Lord’s plan for those who rejected him and an answer to the prayers of the persecuted saints.
The Song of the Redeemed
The last verses of this passage show those who endured and did not worship the beast gathered in heaven. So, the scene has shifted from earth back to heaven.
They conquered the beast by resisting his seduction and power. (2) They held harps, stood beside the glass sea. At least it appeared to John as glass mingled with fire. (15:2). This is the same thing we saw in 4:6. John there described it as “a sea of glass, like crystal”. It is also the same thing Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 1:22) as “the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe inspiring crystal” which was a divider between earth and heaven. It is also the same thing that Moses saw when he went up on the mountain with Aaron and the elders and they saw God. Under his feet they saw a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven in clearness. (Exodus 24:10)
They sang a song of praise to God. They sang of his great deeds, his justice, our fear and reverence of his holiness, and the submission to nations to God now that he is fully revealed. The song is called the Song of Moses, alluding to Exodus 15 again. There they sang a song celebrating God’s deliverance of his people in the Exodus and the demonstration of his power and glory. It is also the song of the Lamb, for it celebrates the victory of Christ over his enemies in a new exodus from the sinful earth to the perfect new earth.
Sometimes we are short sighted. We see the plight of the church on earth. It seems weak. It seems outnumbered. We must remember that the church is really very large and growing. And the Christ who leads it is all powerful.
Looking back at the first verses of chapter 15, we see a new thing beginning to happen. The final judgment cycle is about to begin. Seven angels with seven plagues are in heaven waiting. They will complete the wrath of God. This will end this age, the first heaven and earth. We will see this from seven perspectives. We will get a deeper look into the conflict we saw in the sixth seal and seventh trumpet. As with the trumpets we will see a series of judgments and an interlude of worship.