Chapter 14

Introduction

Chapter 14 continues the Introduction to the Bowls section that extends from chapter 12 to chapter 15. This section serves as a prelude to the wrath of God as revealed in the bowl judgments coming up in chapter 16.

So far, chapter 12 discussed Satan and his crimes against God, and chapter 13 discussed Antichrist and the False Prophet and their crimes against God. All of this provides justification for God’s coming wrath.

However, there is still one other group deserving of wrath, which is unredeemed humanity. We saw them in chapter 13, represented by those who worshiped Antichrist and received the mark of the beast. We will also discuss them here in chapter 14. As we’ll see, humanity is divided to two groups because while some people will face God’s wrath, there are others who won’t.

This chapter concludes with a brief, but graphic, preview of God’s wrath.

Commentary

The Vision of Mount Zion

1Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. 4These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.

v1 the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion – John sees the Lamb (referring to Christ per Rev 5:6), who is standing on Mount Zion. We should first understand what, where, and when this occurs.

The word “Zion” is seen mostly in the Old Testament. The first mention is 2 Sam 5:7 where it is a as fortress in Jerusalem held by Jebusites. However, King David defeated the Jebusites, made Zion his own fortress, and took up residence there. Jerusalem thus became known as the City of David and the center of the kingdom of David. The name “Zion” became emblematic of Jerusalem and with the kingdom that reigns from there.

Two chapters later, God made a covenant with King David stating that a future descendant of David would inherit his throne and reign forever: 2 Sam 7:12-13 “12“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13“He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This prophecy refers to the Messiah, and it promises that the Messiah will descend from David and one day reign on earth forevermore. In other words, it is a promise that God would use David’s “Mount Zion” kingdom to bring the kingdom of God to earth (see the Great Promise). This covenant with David linked Mount Zion with the kingdom of God.

Therefore, the term Mount Zion is often used in scripture to refer to God’s kingdom (e.g. Psalm 9:11, Isa 8:18, Jer 50:5) and this is the best way to understand Zion as it is used in here in verse 1.

Where and When is this Mount Zion Scene?

When Mount Zion is used in the Bible as a reference to God’s kingdom, it does so one of two ways:

  1. When referring to God’s kingdom before Christ’s return:
    Mount Zion refers to God’s heavenly kingdom, or the “heavenly Jerusalem” — the place where God dwells. For example, the only other place in the New Testament where Mount Zion is mentioned is Heb 12:22, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels”. This is consistent with the idea that, until he returns, Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), but it is still the kingdom of heaven.
  2. When referring to God’s kingdom after Christ’s return:
    Mount Zion refers to the new Jerusalem where Christ will reign on earth. For example, Isa 24:23 (a prophecy of the end times), it says “Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, For the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem”. Also, Micah 4:7 (speaking about the remnant of Israel in the last days) says “And the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion From now on and forever”. This new Jerusalem will come from down heaven to earth (Rev 3:12, Rev 21:2).

Question: Does the “Mount Zion” mentioned in verse 1 refer to the kingdom of God in heaven, or the kingdom of God on earthTo answer this question, we must determine if this scene in verse 1 pertains to the time before Christ’s return or to the time after Christ’s return. We can see the answer to this question simply by reviewing the overall structure of this chapter:

  • Vision on Mount Zion — verses 1-5
  • Warnings to people of earth about coming judgment — verses 6-11
  • Messages to the saints as judgment approaches — verses 12-13
  • Preview of Christ’s return in wrath (Battle of Armageddon) — verses 14-20

From this, it seems only natural to assume that the Mount Zion scene at the beginning of this chapter chronologically occurs before the return of Christ at the end of this chapter. As explained above, this implies that the Mount Zion of verse 1 is as scene in heaven, not on earth. This claim receives further support from verses 2 and 3 (explained below).

v1 with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads – These are 144,000 Jewish servants of Christ introduced in chapter 7, and they are said to be with Him (i.e. with the Lamb). This means that if the Lamb and Mount Zion are in heaven, then the 144,000 are in heaven also.

Side note: If the 144,000 Jewish servants of the Lamb are in heaven at this point, it suggests that they will all be martyred during the great tribulation, and this scene in heaven shows them all united in heaven with Christ. We know that at least some of the 144,000 will be alive as late as the fifth trumpet event because they are referenced in Rev 9:4 as those who do have the seal of God on their foreheads. Very likely, they are identified that way (instead of as “the 144,000”) because fewer of them remain alive on earth by that time. There is no reason to think that they will survive the great tribulation. On the contrary, they appear to be similar in purpose to the apostles, and as we know, almost all of the apostles faced martyrdom as a powerful testimony of their faith in Christ.

This suggests that the Mount Zion scene occurs in the latter part of the great tribulation, after all 144,000 Jewish servants have been martyred. This means that the two Jewish witnesses will soon be killed by the beast (Rev 11:7), and the bowl events will follow shortly thereafter. This timing fits well with the broader context of this passage, since it is preceded by descriptions of the great tribulation in chapter 13, and it is followed by a preview of the bowls later in this chapter.

v2 And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps – This voice that sounds like “many waters” seems to have the same meaning as Rev 1:15, where “many waters” was used to describe the voice of Christ. This is probably the best understanding here, especially since Christ (the Lamb) is depicted in this scene. It adds that His voice is loud like thunder, and yet beautiful, as suggested by the playing of harps.

v3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders – The ones who are singing must be the 144,000 (see next part of verse 3 below), and they are clearly distinct from the four living creatures and the elders. This is a “new song”, which is a term frequently used in the Old Testament, and it’s always used in the context of joyful praise (e.g. Ps 40:3, Ps 98:1, Is 42:10). Earlier in Revelation, it was also used in this sense (Rev 5:9). The song is “new” in the sense that the cause for praise is new.

v3 no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth – That only the 144,000 Jews could learn this song suggests that the particular praise expressed in this new song is specific to them. The song may pertain to God’s faithfulness and mercy to Israel, despite the many centuries in which they had denied their own king.

Incidentally, these verses solidify the above claim that this Mount Zion scene is in heaven:

  • The 144,000 were with the Lamb on Mount Zion (verse 1).
  • The voice (of the Lamb) is from heaven (verse 2), so the 144,000 with him must be there also.
  • The only ones could learn the song are the 144,000 (verse 3), so they must be the singers.
  • The singers are before the throne, the four living creatures and the 24 elders in heaven (verse 3).
  • The 144,000 had been purchased from the earth, suggesting that they are no longer on the earth.

v4-5 4These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. – We are given some more attributes of the 144,000 Jews who were sealed as God’s servants:

  • They appear to be unmarried Jewish virgin men. The word translated as “chaste” is parthenos, which is the same word translated as “virgin” elsewhere in the NT (e.g. Matt 25:1, which is the parable of the ten virgins, and in Luke 1:27 to describe Mary). However, it could also mean morally pure, not necessarily to exclude marriage. This is not a point to be dogmatic about.
  • They are fully devoted to Christ their king, and they are given special status as “first fruits“, the first and best of the redeemed remnant of Israel (Num 18:12). They may also be first fruits in the sense that they were the first to receive the seal of God on their foreheads. In Rev 22:4 we see that in God’s kingdom, everyone will have this seal.
  • They speak the truth, strongly suggesting that their role on earth was to spread the gospel during the great tribulation.

In these respects, the 144,000 closely resemble the apostle Paul. Knowing how influential Paul was, one can appreciate the impact that the 144,000 would collectively have upon the world.

Final Call of Salvation to People of Earth

6And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

v6 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people – There might be an actual angel in the sky proclaiming the gospel. However, I think it more likely that this verse is given to emphasize the shortness of time remaining to accept the gospel, as indicated in the following verse.

v7 he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come – The message is that judgment is coming very soon. This represents a final warning and call to salvation to the people of the earth. As mentioned in chapter 8, the primary purpose of the trumpet period is to warn the earth concerning the coming judgment. This verse heightens the urgency, because this warning period is about to end.

Pronouncement of Wrath to the Ungodly

8And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”

v8 Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great – In Revelation, Babylon is used symbolically to represent the final Satanic kingdom of the end times (discussed in The Great Harlot and Babylon). This kingdom has led all nations into idolatry, and it is about to receive God’s judgment.

Side Note: “Fallen Fallen is Babylon” is a quote from Isaiah 21:9, which was actually an amazing prophecy about ancient Babylon. Isaiah’s prophecy was stated long before ancient Babylon even became a great power. Isaiah lived around 700 BC when Assyria was the dominant empire. Babylon didn’t even rise to power until about 626 BC (over 70 years later), and it didn’t fall until 539 BC (about 160 years later). Here in Revelation, this same phrase is again used to foretell the doom of a kingdom that persecutes God’s people.

v8 she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality – Wine is introduced here as a metaphor. It is something people drink for pleasure, but it can dull one’s judgment, leading to ruin. Likewise, many people of the end times will follow after the temporal pleasures promised by the deceptions of Antichrist’s kingdom, but they shall face judgment.

This metaphor of the wine and its effects is carried forward in the next passage.

9Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

v9 If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand – This is the group of people who received the mark of the beast (see The Mark of the Beast). These are the people who have devoted themselves to Antichrist.

v10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger – Just as Christians are baptized to demonstrate their devotion to Christ and share in his resurrection, these people are, in a sense, baptized into Antichrist, and will share in his destruction.

According to this wine metaphor, if you drink the wine of immorality, then you must also drink the wine of God’s wrath. It’s as if the two “wines” are mixed together and one cannot drink one without also drinking the other.

Messages to the Final Saints

12Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

v12 perseverance of the saints – This statement shows that the judgment of the wicked described in verses 9-11 is given primarily to encourage the saints to remain faithful, by reminding them the consequences of being unfaithful. The persecution faced by the saints will be severe, but it is only temporal, and infinitely less than the torment awaiting their persecutors who worship Antichrist.

Possibly, this verse is placed here to identify this point in time as the moment when their perseverance is finally rewarded, because the things that follow this point in time constitute God’s vengeance on behalf of His saints, as promised in the fifth seal (Rev 6:10,11).

13And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”

v13 Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! – An interesting statement made particularly interesting by the added qualifier “from now on”. It raises a couple of questions:

  1. To what time period does “from now on” refer?
    We can see simply by looking ahead to the next verses that “from now on” is referring to the duration of the bowl judgments in which there will be a great deal of death. This promise of blessing suggests that people may still come to faith even during the bowl judgments. That is, one may still die in the Lord during the bowls.
  2. Surely those who die in the Lord at any time are blessed, so why is this blessing qualified to those in the “from now on” period?
    I believe this qualification makes sense if the rapture occurs immediately prior to the bowls (which is my view). In this case, everyone alive on earth is an unbeliever because any believers who survived the great tribulation have been taken by the rapture. This is a unique and gracious offer of salvation to unbelievers even after God begins pouring His wrath upon the world. Even in the midst of God’s wrath, those who cry out for His mercy can receive it and be called blessed (Joel 2:32).

God’s Wrath (Preview of Bowls)

The next few verses are a preview of the bowl events that contain God’s wrath. In fact, these verses focus mainly on the visible return of Christ which takes place at the end of the bowl judgments, and which is itself the most severe event of them all. I believe that this event is highlighted because it marks the conclusion of God’s long-standing offer of redemption to sinners. As discussed in verse 13 above, people may still repent and be redeemed in the midst of God’s wrath during the bowls, but those who remain unrepentant up to the visible return of Christ must face God’s wrath in the eternal way.

This preview extends the metaphor about the wine of God’s wrath by showing that the wine of wrath comes from the grapes of wrath.

14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

v14 behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand – This identifies Christ as the one holding the sickle, and He is described similarly in Rev 19:11-12.

v15 another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” – That this angel is coming out of the heavenly temple suggests that he is carrying a message from the throne. The message is that the time of God’s wrath to hit the earth is now, and Revelation makes it clear that God’s wrath is contained in the bowl events (Rev 15:7).

Side note: Some commentators believe that the one sitting on the cloud in verse 14 is not Christ, arguing that it would be inappropriate for Christ to receive a command from an angel, as seen in verse 15. However, verse 15 doesn’t need to be seen as an angel commanding Christ. We have to remember that this is a vision given in order to inform us of the future. For that purpose, it is sometimes necessary for the vision to include contextualized statements concerning God’s motives and intentions, and verse 15 is an example of this.

The angel is not commanding Christ, but for our benefit, he is verbalizing Christ’s own intentions and His own reasons. It is very similar to the account where Elijah apparently commanded God to bring fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18:37,38). But really this “command” was a declaration of God’s intentions, given for the benefit of the onlookers.

v16 Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped – Christ will “reap the earth”. We’ll see shortly that this is the first of two reapings. The meaning of the two reapings will be discussed below.

v17-19 17And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God – Interestingly, verses 17-19 almost repeat what happened in the previous three verses (14-16). That is, (1) one appeared with a sickle, (2) another appeared calling for the first to reap, and (3) the first one swings the sickle and gathers. In both cases, the motivation for reaping is given: because the harvest is ripe.

In the figurative language used here, the “harvest” represents the unrepentant sinners upon the earth, and the “ripeness” represents the end of God’s patience with them. This corresponds directly to the wrath of God described by the Old Testament prophet Joel in Joel 3:13: Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great

The second reaping above is clearly associated with the wrath of God, which is culminated at the visible return of Christ at the conclusion of the bowl events. The bowls end in chapter 19 where we see this same event described using the same wine press metaphor (Rev 19:15).

This raises a question: What then is the first reaping?

The Two Reapings

We have seen that there are two “reapings” of the earth. To see why, we must pay attention to the differences:

  • In verse 14 (first reaping), the one appearing with the sickle is Christ.
    In verse 17 (second reaping) the one with the sickle is said to be an angel.
  • In verse 15 (first reaping), the call for reaping doesn’t specify what is being reaped from the earth.
    In verse 18 (second reaping), it is the “grapes of wrath” being reaped from the earth.
  • In verse 16 (first reaping), it says “the earth was reaped“, with the past tense indicating that Christ’s first reaping was accomplished before the second reaping began.
    In verse 19 (second reaping), we see that the second reaping is the wrath of God.

We observe that the second reaping represents God’s wrath and that it follows after the first reaping. From this, we may reasonably say that the first reaping is not God’s wrath, but rather something done in preparation for God’s wrath. One good possibility is that the first reaping represents Christ gathering up his saints from the earth just before the wrath of the second reaping begins. That is, the first reaping may be the event commonly called the rapture, as described in 1 Thes 4:16-17.

The angel coming out of the temple in verse 18 is identified as “the one who has power over fire”, which identifies him as the same angel we saw handling fire at the altar in Rev 8:3-5. That is, the same priestly angel who instigated the trumpets in chapter 8 will also announce the bowls of God’s wrath, which is what we see this angel is doing here in verse 18. Recall that in chapter 8, this angel symbolized God’s wrath when he hurled fire to the earth (Rev 8:5).

Side note: Some people assume that the harvest and two reapings here in chapter 14 must correspond two the “two gatherings of the harvest” mentioned in Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13. It’s not an unreasonable assumption since both passages use similar metaphors and both pertain to the end of the age. However, this assumption cannot be right for the following reasons:
(1) The second reaping (of the grapes of wrath) is clearly God’s wrath against the wicked, while the second gathering in the parable (of the wheat) is clearly a blessing for the righteous.
(2) The two reapings of the earth pertain only to people alive in the end times, while the two gatherings in the parable pertain to all people of all time.
A better understanding of the parable is that the first gathering (of the tares, which is burned in the fire) represents the unrighteous thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15), while the second gathering (of the wheat, which is taken into the barn) represents the righteous taken into the kingdom of God (Rev 21:2).

The Grapes of Wrath

The metaphor about the “grapes of wrath” adds to our understanding of God’s wrath if we simply understand the basics of wine making:

  1. Wine comes from grapes.
  2. The grapes aren’t harvested until they are ripe.
  3. When the grapes do become ripe, they must be harvested without delay.

This metaphor emphasizes God’s patience with sinners (Psalm 86:15, Rom 9:22, 1 Pet 3:20, 2 Pet 3:9-15). It may be summed up as follows:

  • Long ago, mankind fell into sin, and God had every right to destroy the world with his wrath immediately. But instead, he chose to withhold his wrath, patiently allowing mankind to live on despite their sin. That’s not to say that God has been ignoring the sin. All sins are accounted for, and God is patiently allowing this list of sin to constantly grow longer. This is likened to a winemaker patiently waiting for the grapes to ripen.
  • However, God’s patience with sin cannot endure forever (for then it wouldn’t be patience, but neglect). At some point (that only God knows) that list of sins will be considered full, and for the sake of His justice and holiness, His patience will end. This is likened to the winemaker deciding that the grapes are finally ripe.
  • God shall finally fulfill His promise to exercise His wrath upon the earth. This is likened to the winemaker harvesting the grapes with a sharp sickle, putting them into the winepress, and trampling the grapes to produce the wine.

We saw this idea of “delayed wrath” in the fifth seal. In heaven, those servants of God who had been slain asked God: “how long will you refrain from avenging our blood?”, and the answer they were given was basically, “a little while longer, so that more of your fellow servants will be killed, until we reach the appointed number”. In other words, each time a fellow servant is killed, it only causes the grapes of wrath to ripen a bit more. Eventually that appointed number will be reached, and then the grapes of wrath will be harvested, which means the bowl judgments will come. When the fifth seal begins (i.e. the start of the great tribulation), we know that the grapes of wrath will very shortly be ripe, and the winepress is just 42 months away (Rev 13:5).

Why does God patiently delay his wrath for so long? 2 Pet 3:8-10 answers: “8But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

Note that the “promise” mentioned in 2 Pet 3:9 refers to the Great Promise, that the Lord would return to set up his kingdom on earth. Sin shall not be tolerated in the holy kingdom of God, which is why the coming of the kingdom corresponds with the day of His wrath against sin. Until then, God is patiently enduring the wickedness of the world to allow the kingdom to be filled by those who repent.

v20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles – The trodding of the winepress of God’s wrath symbolizes the execution of God’s wrath upon the earth. This means that verse 20 is a symbolic preview of the bowl judgments (Rev 16:1).

In the Greek, the distance given is not expressed as “two hundred miles”, but as “1,600 stadia”. A stadia is an ancient Greek unit of distance that amounts to about 607 feet. So 1,600 stadia is converted to miles using (607 feet x 1600) / 5280 feet per mile, which comes out to about 184 miles.

Side note: That this winepress of God’s wrath was trodden “outside the city” is interesting. The “city” in being referenced here could only be Jerusalem. This could be a reference to the Jews who are being protected in Israel (they fled to the Mount of Olives just east of the temple mount in Jerusalem). There seems to be a poetic significance to this: At his first coming, Christ was killed outside the city to save the people of the world, although the Jews (inside the city) rejected him. At his second coming, Christ shall kill those outside the city, while protecting the Jews inside the city, who now receive him.

While most of this passage is obviously using figurative language (grapes, harvest, winepress), the specific distance mentioned here doesn’t seem to serve any figurative purpose. Most likely, this distance refers to something literal. This is discussed further in The Battle of Armageddon.

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