Let the Word Speak!

Vision 4: The Seven Agents of Judgment

The first two visions, in parallel, presented how the tribulation would affect believers. The third vision made it clear that this tribulation would come from worldly powers, specifically the Roman Empire, with Satan as the root of the evil. The fourth and fifth visions, also in parallel, will present the judgement that is coming, particularly as judgement is dispensed to those that are unfaithful to God. The fourth vision presents the scene, and the fifth will present the same scene with greater intensity. This fourth vision also presents a contrast to the third, displaying what is God’s against what is Satan’s.

Opening scene in heaven (14:1 – 14:5)

1 And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.

John’s opening scene in all of these visions is intended to provide reassurance to believers, and John presents strong reassurance by showing God’s people on God’s mountain to start the vision after the scenes of the strength of the Satanic trinity. These are the same 144,000 sealed with God’s seal in Revelation 7:3-8, now appearing in the presence of the Lamb on the mountain of God. Mt. Zion is presented in Joel 2:32 as a sign of deliverance and restoration. In Isaiah 24:21-23, the Lord conquers earthly kingdoms, then puts the sun and moon to shame when He sets up his reign on Mt. Zion. The vision of mountain, as part of the wilderness, is a precursor to the City of God to follow. It also provides a contrast of the beast on the sand (13:1) and the Lamb on the mountain. Technically, these 144,000 are still on earth, but they are as close to heaven as they can be, and heaven has drawn close to them, so close that they are pictured in the coming verses as singing in the heavenly throne room.

2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with [playing on] their harps:
3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed [”purchased”] from the earth.

John’s first description of this “one” voice sounds very similar to the voice of God (thunder, waters). As the description continues, he identifies the source of the voice as the people of God, unified in song, who have drawn so close to God that they sound like the Father. There is simultaneously power and sweetness in this chorus, in contrast to the blasphemy of the beast.

4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins [”chaste”]. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
5 And in their mouth was found no guile [”deceit”]: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

John presents a stark exclusivity to this chorus. Only the numbered and sealed were allowed onto Mount Zion and into the chorus. This is similar to Jesus’ teaching of the “narrow gate” that leads to light (Matthew 7:13-14). The great danger presented over and again in the letters to the churches was compromise, and these verses present that heaven is not achieved by “faking” it, but by being faithful.

As in other passages, the specific descriptions of those in the heavenly chorus are figurative, rather than literal. In describing the 144,000 as “chaste,” John calls on two images. The first is that of warriors who always prepared for battle by abstaining from sex (see 1 Samuel 21:5, for example). The second is the dominant image in the rest of Revelation of the church as the pure and holy bride of Christ. Paul also uses this second image in 2 Corinthians 11:2, where he mentions the church as a “chaste virgin” presented to Christ.

The next description has these faithful following the Lamb wherever he goes, which clearly includes to a martyr’s death and beyond. Their faith was not a mental exercise, it grew “feet.”

The third description reminds us that these faithful aren’t redeemed by their power, but by the redemptive grace of God and the Lamb. By identifying these as the aparche “first fruits” (as in Exodus 34:22), John reinforces these faithful as an offering and God’s acceptance of these as a worthy sacrifice. When the term “first fruits” is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, as in Romans 11:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:15, the meaning is that these are the first of many more to come. To those who misinterpret the 144,000 as a fixed number, John in his reference to “first fruits” promises that the entire harvest will come later.

The fourth description indicates purity and spotlessness, and is a quote from the Messianic prophesy in Isaiah 53:9. While the Greek explicitly reads “telling no lies,” the context and the Isaiah reference expand the meaning to include being a faithful witness to God.

The seven angels that speak of judgement in the following verses are not as easy to identify as the seven seals, trumpets, or bowls. Don’t let the more subtle identification of the set of seven angels detract from the overall structure. Talbert’s outline of repeating the story of the seven angels of judgement with the seven bowls of wrath in the fifth vision fits well with the parallel of first two visions of seals and trumpets, and reinforces the overall message of judgement.

The first angel with news (14:6 – 14:7)

6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven [”mid-heaven”], having the [better translated “an”] everlasting gospel [”good news”] to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

This message is for the earth-dwellers, the unfaithful. The position in midheaven again is in view of all, with the fourfold description indicating the entirety of the world.

7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

This angel was sent to present good news, but this “good” news is a call for the unfaithful to acknowledge the creator of the entire (fourfold) earth, a fundamental recognition of God’s authority and greatness. Most commentators don’t interpret this message as a call to repentance, but to judgement. However, it is also a call away from the distortion of evil back to the truth of God.

The second angel announces the fall of Babylon (14:8)

8 And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made [”forced,” (thymos)] all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication [”the wine of her impure passion”].

This judgement, taking place within history (rather than at the End Time), shows the defeat of Rome and the idolatrous worship that Rome required. This message from the angel is a quote from Isaiah 21:9, repeated in greater detail in Jeremiah 51:8. Isaiah and Jeremiah warned Judah of its unfaithfulness and God’s wrath to come, carried out by the Babylonian empire. In these referenced verses, the prophets promised that there would be an end to God’s wrath, a restoration of God with his people, and the fall of the power that brought the tribulation. There is a parallel in describing the sin of Babylon as wine of impure passion, for the wine in future references is of God’s judgement, as in Jeremiah 25:15. This imagery can even be taken to mean that in drinking the wine of impure passion, they are actually drinking the wine of the wrath of God.

The third angel warns those who worshipped the beast (14:9-14:12)

9 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath (thymos) of God, which is poured out [”mixed”] without mixture [”undiluted”] into the cup of his indignation [”anger”]; and he shall 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 ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

The fall of Babylon (= Rome) is not just for the empire, but for all those who “went along” with the empire. The judgement presented here for the followers of evil is at the End Time, a parallel to the judgement during history spoken by the second angel. This punishment for those who rejected God for worldly powers is eternal, just as those who are faithful live with God forever.

This punishment, arising from God’s anger, is described as “mixed, undiluted wine.” One common practice of the time was to dilute wine with water, but there is no watering down God’s wrath. The term “mixed” refers to combining spices with the wine to make it taste stronger. What John portrays is the strongest possible wine.

John has a holy purpose in portraying this eternal punishment in fire and sulfur. It is not to gloat over those who once persecuted Christians, and it is not to gain the same entertainment value as a Stephen King horror movie. It is to remind his listeners that choosing to compromise their faith has immensely eternal consequences. In using the strongest terms for punishment in the book of Revelation, he reminds them that nothing is more serious than rejecting God’s will for an “easier” alternative. Remember that John’s purpose in writing was to reclaim “lukewarm” Christians, not save the lost.

12 Here is the [call for] patience [”perseverence”] of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

Because this message of judgement, introduced now in this vision, is so significant, John reemphasizes the importance of the enduring, “overcoming” faith that has been the hallmark throughout the book of those who follow God.

Interlude: the voice from heaven (14:13)

Just as the first two visions had interludes, so does the fourth. The placement of the interlude is quite different, after the third angel rather than after the sixth seal or trumpet. This pattern will be repeated in the fifth vision.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

This two-fold blessing, from the Voice and from the Spirit, is shown to be true because it comes from two witnesses. This passage emphasizes that the purpose of following God is not to escape the judgment but to live in God’s blessings. What they must endure is difficult, including giving up their lives for their beliefs, but the promise of life after the pain parallels the imagery of labor pains before giving birth. The blessings resulting from this faithfulness include God’s presence, rest, and reward for their faithfulness. The phrase “from henceforth” is a bit bothersome if applied to the time line of this fourth vision, since that would mean that those who died before would not be so blessed. On the other hand, the “henceforth” makes excellent sense if taken to mean the time that John is writing. Given that this is an interlude, an aside if you will, this is a very reasonable interpretation. There is also the sense that we carry our successes with us, so that we will build on our service on earth with our service in heaven.

The fourth and fifth angels harvest grain (14:14-14:16)

The final four angels are presented in two parallel sets of two.

14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son [better “a son”] of man, having on his head a golden crown (”wreath”), and in his hand a sharp sickle.

This text is a little bothersome in that this fifth being is not explicitly described as an angel, and is often interpreted (as here in the KJV) as Jesus, the Son of Man. In the context of Revelation, there is tremendously appropriate fanfare and adoration when Jesus or the Lamb appears, so the “normal” response to this being, and the wreath instead of the diadem, shows it as an angel. The parallel of these two angels with the next two would raise confusion if one of these was Christ, but the other three were angels. It is also difficult to imagine Christ in the next verse taking orders from an angel coming out of the temple. The added descriptions — seated on a cloud, golden crown — show instead that the angel has been sent directly from heaven to earth for this purpose, just as the Mighty Angel in the interlude in the second vision came down with power given in God’s presence.

The image of a harvest of grain and grapes for judgment is found in Joel 3:12-14, where the Lord calls the heathen to come to judgment. The sharpness of the sickle is a sign of intentional preparation for the harvest. Sickles became rusted and dull over the growing season, and had to be cleaned and sharpened in preparation for the harvest.

15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe [”overly ripe”].

This angel came from temple in heaven, calling so that the world could hear. The twosome of the angel to harvest and the angel giving the command again show truthfulness and purpose, as with the two witnesses.

16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.

The harvest is used in Joel 3:13 to show the Day of the Lord judgment against evil — in due time — and the establishment of God’s permanent home, overflowing with sweet wine and milk, for his people. In the beautiful passage in Isaiah 27:12-13, the End Time “threshing” will gather the people of Israel “one by one,” even those that had been exiled and “lost” in Assyria and Egypt. Jesus presents the end time as a parable (Matthew 13:24-30) of good seed that was infested by the enemy with weeds, where the land owner directs his workers to wait until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds.

The sixth and seventh angels harvest grapes (14:17-14:20)

17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.

In the first pair, the angel with a sickle came in a cloud and the other out of the temple. In this escalated repetition, this angel with a sickle comes from the temple and the other angel, who is associated with fire, thus judgment, directly from the altar in heaven.

Both wheat and grapes provided well-known images of harvest, and both were used in parables and images.

19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

The account of this pair escalates the message of the pair harvesting wheat, by making it more clear what the results of the harvest are for the unfaithful. Wine presses were normally outside the city, so the explicit reference to location is used as a reminder that executions were done outside the city, as with the crucifixion of Jesus. There is also the message of rejection, those cast outside of the city.

The image of cataclysmic amounts of blood, stretching a length the size of Palestine, reinforces the exclusive nature of the faithful, and emphasizing that large numbers rejected God’s grace and are receiving the punishment for their rejection of God. The number 1,600 means both 4 x 4 x 100, emphasizing the absolutely entire earth, and 40 x 40, with “40” being the number for judgment, as in “40 days and nights” of Noah’s flood. This is the final judgment, and the number of wicked people executed in this final judgment is staggering.

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