Dave: November 5, 2009
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 14
(Notes from Adam are in maroon-colored font; A new section reflecting the Historicist viewpoints of Sam Storms can be found at the bottom of this post, and was added on November 30th.)
Verse 1: Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
What do you recall from Revelation 7 about the 144,000?
• They are sealed from the wrath to come
• They are servants of God
• There are 12,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel
• They are sealed on their foreheads
Some view the 144,000 from chapter 7 as the same group as the multitude in chapter 7. Can you recall the arguments against this view?
Note the similarity of this verse to Hebrews 12:22 – 23, which states, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” Steve Gregg writes in his book, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), that some believe this passage here in Revelation “influenced the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, a suggestion which, if true, tends to establish the pre-A.D. 70 date of writing for Revelation” (p. 314). Gregg also writes,
The first vision of this chapter, depicting the 144,000 with the Lamb standing on Mount Zion (v. 1), is reminiscent of the second psalm. The psalm speaks of the kings and rulers vainly rebelling against and resisting God and the Messiah, but declares that God laughs at their futile efforts to unseat Him from His sovereign position. God tells them, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (v. 6). Despite all the efforts of the dragon and the beast to eliminate the church, the Judean believers stand secure with the Lord in victory (p. 312).
Verses 2-5: 2And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
What do we learn about the 144,000 from chapter 14?
• They are standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion
• They have the name of the Lamb and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
• They were redeemed from the earth.
• They (and only they) could learn the new song that was being sung
• They are virgins
• They follow the Lamb wherever He goes
• They are said to be redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb
• In their mouth no lie was found for they are blameless
Q: Who are the 144,000?
A: According to the Pre-tribulation rapture view, they are Jewish believers brought to faith after Jesus returns and removes the church from the earth (How they are brought to faith is a question which naturally accompanies this view, since many who hold this view believe that the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 is the Holy Spirit who is removed from the earth along with the Church). Kenneth Gentry, a partial-preterist, says (Before Jerusalem Fell, 1998, pp. 232ff) that the 144,000 are Christians of Jewish extraction:
• Jewish, because they are “in the land”**
• Jewish, because they are from the twelve tribes of Israel
• Jewish, because they are contrasted with the multitude in 9-17
**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” (also translated “the land”) in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]
Q: Does the fact that they are termed “firstfruits” shed light on whether they are from the AD 60’s or from a time period yet to come?
A: Yes. As Steve Gregg has written, “That this group lived in the first century is confirmed in another passage, which calls them the ‘firstfruits to God’ (Rev. 14:4). Since the church age has been one long harvest of souls (Matt. 9:37f; John 4:35-38), the ‘firstfruits’ must have come in at the beginning of this time (compare James 1:1, 18, which speaks of the Jewish believers as ‘firstfruits’). If this 144,000 referred to some future group living in the end times (as the futurists believe), one would expect them to be called the ‘last fruits’ ” (Source: See chapter 7 study).
Q: Why might John be bringing up the 144,000 again?
A: Possible answer: as an encouragement to those persecuted by the beast – that they will soon be with the Lord in Mt. Zion.)
Regarding the 144,000, who are said to be virgins: Note that being virgins might not pertain to their marital status or moral purity; rather it might have to do with the fact that they have not been defiled by the harlot, Jerusalem (more on this when we reach chapters 16-18 in our study, or feel free to look here for my personal take on this).
Q: Why does John describe them as blameless?
A: Possible answer: it is because of their redeemed state.
Verses 6-8: 6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
8Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”
This is the first mention of Babylon. What do we know of it from the text?
• She was “great”
• She was influential
• She was lawless
Q: Who or what is Babylon?
A: (Preterists are split . . . Jerusalem or Rome; again, more on this in our study of chapters 16-18, but feel free to look here for my personal take on this)
Steve Gregg notes that there are those (like David S. Clark) who believe that the “eternal gospel” here is simply “the announcement of the doom and judgment” which is depicted as soon to fall (p. 320). However, adds Gregg, “most expositors would see this as a reference to the regular message of salvation that Christ told His disciples to preach, and which He indicated would be preached in all the world before ‘the end comes’ (Matt. 24:14).” He quotes from J. Stuart Russell, who wrote:
There is a manifest allusion here to the fact predicted by our Lord that, before the coming of “the end,” the Gospel of the kingdom would first be preached in all the world…”for a witness to all nations” (Matt. 24:14). This symbol, therefore, indicates the near approach of the catastrophe of Jerusalem,–the arrival of the hour of Israel’s judgment.
The following is an excerpt from my term paper on 70 AD, regarding the idea that the gospel was preached in all the world by 70 AD:
…it’s interesting that Paul told his Roman readers that their faith “is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8). In his epistle to the Colossians he also said that “the word of the truth of the gospel,” which had come to them, had gone to “the entire world” (Colossians 1:6) and had “been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (verse 23). Devout Jews “from every nation under heaven” even heard the gospel in their own languages on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5).
Do these statements not indicate that Matthew 24:14 had already been fulfilled by the time they were written? The phrase “the whole world” here then must mean what it meant in Luke 2:1 when we are told that “the entire world” was registered in the days of Caesar Augustus, i.e. the known world or the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 11:28, Acts 24:5, Romans 16:25-26). Eusebius (263-339)…said this about Matthew 24:14:
Thus, under the influence of heavenly power, and with the divine co-operation, the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly illumined the whole world;  and straightway, in accordance with the divine Scriptures,  the voice of the inspired evangelists and apostles went forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world; the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the bounds of the ocean, and visited the Britannic isles (Dennis Todd ; , 2009).
Verses 9-11: 9And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Q: What is the mark that John is referring to?
A: The mark of chapter 13.
Do you see any contrasts to anything earlier in the book?
• “Forehead” in 14:1 (the foreheads of God’s faithful servants)
• “no rest day or night” in 4:8 (i.e. for the four living creatures, who worship the Lord without ceasing)
Two views of verses 9-12:
• The description of hell awaiting all non-believers
• The violent destruction that awaited historical Jerusalem or Rome; in this regard, Steve Gregg (p. 328) notes that the imagery here (“fire and sulphur”) reminds one of the destruction that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah. He adds, “If one argues that Sodom’s smoke did not ascend ‘forever and ever,’ it should be noted that Jude spoke of Sodom and Gomorrah as ‘suffering the vengeance of eternal fire’ (Jude 7)… [The context in Jude indicates] the visible destruction of the cities as a historical witness to God’s wrath toward sin.”
Verse 13: 13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Why are the dead blessed?
• They experience relief from persecution
• They receive entrance into the presence of Christ
Is it still the case that the dead in the Lord are blessed?
What does “their deeds follow them” mean? And is this still the case?
What is the significance of “from now on”?
•  From this point in history (70 AD) onward (See Hebrews 9:8, which, according to some interpreters, indicates that the “way into the holy places” was not fully opened as long as the Jerusalem temple–“the first section” was “still standing“). This is not necessarily a typical partial-preterist viewpoint.
• Or  From the point of death onward
Regarding the first option, Steve Gregg states (p. 332):
It is also possible that the emphasis is upon the state of those who die in the Lord after a certain point in history–in which case, the allusion may be to the change occasioned by the replacement of the Old Covenant with the New. If the fall of Jerusalem has been the subject of this chapter to this point, then it would follow naturally that this passage considers the impact of the Old Covenant’s passing upon the postmortem experience of believers. Remembering that “the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing” (Heb. 9:8), [David] Chilton writes: “By the work of Christ, heaven has been opened to God’s people. The limbus patrum, the afterlife abode of the Old Testament faithful (the ‘bosom of Abraham’ of Luke 16:22), has been unlocked and its inhabitants freed (cf. I Pet. 3:19; 4:6). Death is now the entrance to communion in glory with Christ and the departed saints.”
Verses 14-20: 14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
Q: What are the differences between these two reapings? What are they referring to?
A: There is a distinction between a “dry” ripening (v 15-16) and a grape ripening (v. 18). See Matthew 3:11-12; 13:31-34. The first reaping is said by some to be a reaping of the righteous; the second of the unrighteous. Others say that both are of the unrighteous. Of the first view, Steve Gregg comments (p. 336), “Many expositors believe that the reaping of verses 14-16 has to do with the salvation of the believers, or their gathering to safety (the escape of the Judean Christians to Pella in A.D. 66-70), while the vintage vision of verses 17-20 depicts the judgment upon the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” He quotes from J. Stuart Russell, who believes that verses 14-16 are “the fulfillment of the prediction, ‘The Son of Man shall send His angels, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds‘ (Matt. 24:31-34), an event which was to take place before the passing of that generation.” Gregg then adds,
Some have thought it strange that Christ, the Lord over all angels, would take instructions from an angel who urges Him to Thrust in Your sickle and reap (v. 15). However, the angel simply represents the church praying in obedience to Christ, who commanded that believers “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). In response to the request, laborers are in fact sent and the earth (or land) was reaped (v. 16).
Regarding the harvest of verses 17-20, there is a direct correlation to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (See Lamentations 1:15 – 20; This makes much sense if the same imagery used in Jeremiah’s day is used once again when Jerusalem falls for the second time in 70 AD because of Israel’s unfaithfulness–and rejection of her Messiah). The bloodshed foretold in 19-20 is said by Preterists to be fulfilled in the Roman army’s attack in 70 AD. The following information is taken from my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD:
Josephus writes [concerning the Roman soldiers, after they had burned down the temple in Jerusalem], “they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (The Wars Of The Jews, 6:8:5).
The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, could possibly bring to mind a passage like Revelation 14:19-20, which says, “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles].” This was the understanding of John Wesley (1703-1791) who, in his commentary on this passage, wrote:
And the winepress was trodden – By the Son of God, Rev 19:15. Without [outside] the city – Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, ‘the city,’ immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses’ bridles – So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs – So far! At least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.
Wesley, like many today, tied this passage (Revelation 14:19-20) to Rev. 19:11-21, and rightly so. This is often referred to as the “Battle of Armageddon,” which Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say will happen in the plain of Megiddo. Author John Noe, on the other hand, notes that what the Bible refers to as a “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) would transpire “at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16). In Hebrew it’s actually “Har-Magedon,” as “har” means mountain in Hebrew (“Armageddon” is based on the Greek rendering, since “h” is silent in Hebrew). Therefore, this battle was to take place primarily on a mountain, not in a valley. Noe adds,
The most likely case is that Revelation’s “Har” is Jerusalem. Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17)… “Magedon/Megiddo” may also be comparative imagery. A great slaughter once took place in the valley of Megiddo (2 Ki. 9:27; Zech. 12:11). Throughout ancient history, this valley was also a favorite corridor for invading armies and the scene of numerous famous battles (Jud. 4-7; 1 Sam. 29-31; 2 Sam. 4; 1 Ki. 9:15; 2 Ki. 9-10; 22; 2 Chron. 35). So much blood was shed in this valley of Jezreel or Megiddo that it became a synonym for slaughter, violence, bloodshed, and battlefield, as well as a symbol for God’s judgment (Hos. 1:4-5). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.
In a similar fashion, the word “Waterloo” has garnered a symbolic use. Back in 1815, this town in Belgium was the battleground and scene of Napoleon’s final defeat. Today, we have a saying that some one or some thing has met their “Waterloo.” We don’t mean they have met that city in Europe. We mean, by way of comparative imagery, that they have met a decisive or crushing defeat, or their demise. I suggest Revelation employs the word Magedon/Megiddo in this same manner. History records that a great slaughter took place on a mountain in Palestine within the lifetime of the original recipients of the book of Revelation. In A.D. 70 the Roman armies of Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Eusebius, 1.1 million Jews were killed.
This description by Josephus also shows how the fulfillment of this prophecy could have taken place during the Roman-Jewish War of 67-73 AD, regarding which he provides the following account:
Now, this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and [the] Jordan [River] could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the Lake Asphaltitis [the modern Dead Sea] was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river. And now, Placidus, after this good success that he had, fell violently upon the neighbouring smaller cities and villages; when he took Abila, and Julias, and Bezemoth, and all those that lay as far as the lake Asphaltitis, and put such of the deserters into each of them as he thought proper. He then put his soldiers on board the ships, and slew such as had fled to the lake, insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans, as far as Macherus (Josephus, “Account of the Lake Asphaltitis,” War of the Jews 4:7:6).
The following notes from Sam Storms are based on the Historicist viewpoint (and are his direct quotes):
Insofar as the majority of chapters 12-13 focused on the persecution of believers by the Dragon (Satan) and his earthly agents, the sea-beast and the land-beast, it is understandable that chapter 14, together with 15:2-4, should describe the reward of the persecuted faithful and the final punishment of their enemies. In other words, “chapter 14 briefly answers two pressing questions: What becomes of those who refuse to receive the mark of the beast and are killed (vv. 1-5)? What happens to the beast and his servants (vv. 6-20)?” (Johnson, 141).
VERSE 1: On occasion in the OT, Zion could refer to the hilly area in southeast Jerusalem, to the temple mount, to the historical city of Jerusalem, and even to the entire nation of Israel. In Psalm 2:6, Zion is the “holy mountain” of God on which he installs Messiah as King. In other words, Zion may be the eschatological city where God dwells with and protects his people. Heb. 12:22-23 (cf. Gal.4:25-27) refers to Zion as the ideal, heavenly city to which believers even now aspire (and in which they hold citizenship; cf. Phil. 3:20) during the course of the church age. In certain texts, Zion is indistinguishable from the redeemed who dwell there (see Isa. 62:1-12). Many contend that it is, in fact, a reference to the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21) which “comes down out of heaven” as a dwelling for God’s people. In any case, it is where the Lamb and his redeemed share fellowship and the authority of the kingdom.
… … Another interesting fact is that the numbering (144,000) is probably used to evoke images of the OT census, which was designed to determine the military strength of the nation (see Num. 1:3,18,20; 26:2,4; 1 Chron. 27:23; 2 Sam. 24:1-9). The point is that these in Rev. 7 and 14 constitute a Messianic army called upon, like Jesus himself, to conquer the enemy through sacrificial death. In the OT those counted were males of military age (twenty years and over). This explains why the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1ff. are adult males, i.e., those eligible for military service. According to Num. 31:4-6, one thousand soldiers from each of the twelve tribes were sent into battle against Midian.
… … Most dispensational, pre-tribulational, premillennialists, i.e., most who read the book in a futurist sense, understand the 144,000 to be a Jewish remnant saved immediately after the rapture of the Church. Many then argue that, in the absence of the Church, they serve as evangelists who preach the gospel during the Great Tribulation… Be it noted, however, that there is nothing explicitly said in this passage about these people functioning as evangelists or being responsible for the salvation of the multitude. (Sam Storms then asks several questions, including: [W]hy would God protect only Jewish believers and leave Gentile believers to endure such horrific judgments?) …[In Revelation] 9:4 we read that only those with the seal of God on their foreheads are exempt from the demonic torments that are so horrible and agonizing that men will long to die. Is it feasible or consistent with the character of God that he should protect only a select group from such wrath while afflicting the rest of his blood-bought children with it? The answer is a resounding No. Therefore, those who are sealed on their forehead in 7:4-8 (and 9:4) must be all the redeemed, not a select few.)
… … Others, such as myself, contend that the number 144,000 is symbolic (as is the case with virtually every number in Revelation). 12 is both squared (the 12 tribes multiplied by the 12 apostles? cf. 21:12,14) and multiplied by a thousand, a two-fold way of emphasizing completeness. Hence, John has in view all the redeemed, all believers, whether Jew or Gentile . . . i.e., the Church. As Beale points out, “if Gentile believers are clearly identified together with ‘the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel’ as part of the new Jerusalem (21:12,14,24; 22:2-5), then it is not odd that John should refer to them together with Jewish Christians in 7:4 as ‘the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel’” (417). Let us also not forget that the “seal” of 7:2-3 is equivalent to their receiving a name. And one of the names written on Gentile believers, in addition to the name of God and Jesus, is “the name of the new Jerusalem” (3:12)! Finally, as noted earlier, in Rev. 9:4 the demonic scorpions are told to harm only those “who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads,” implying that all Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile) have such a seal.
VERSE 3: In 14:1-5 it may be that they are portrayed at the close of history, in heaven, having suffered martyrdom under the beast but triumphant in Christ.
VERSE 4: Others see in the word “virgins” (parthenoi) a metaphor of all saints who have not compromised with the world system or yielded to its idolatry. They have remained loyal as a “virgin bride” to their betrothed husband (see 19:7-9; 21:2; 2 Cor. 11:2)… Note also the many OT texts where the word “virgin” is applied figuratively to the nation of Israel (2 Kings 19:21; Isa. 37:22; Jer. 14:17; 18:13; 31:4,13,21; Lam. 1:15; 2:13; Amos 5:2), as well as the fact that idolatry and injustice are often figuratively pictured as “harlotry” or “sexual immorality” (see Jer. 3:1-10; 13:27; Ezek. 16:15-58; 23:1-49; 43:7; Hosea 5:4; 6:10). Israel’s idolatry was also described as “defilement” (Isa. 65:4; Jer. 23:15; 51:4). This is similar to what we find in Rev. 2:14,20-22. In other texts in Revelation, to “fornicate” (porneuo) and its cognates usually are metaphorical for spiritual apostasy and idol worship (14:8; 17:1,2,4,5,15,16; 18:3,9; 19:2). When these words are used literally, they are part of vice lists (9:21; 21:8; 22:15).
VERSES 6-7: Is the “gospel” preached by this angel designed to lead to conversion? Or is it simply the declaration of final judgment on those who have rejected it? Those who favor the latter point to what follows: vv. 8-11 proceed to describe the eternal judgment of unbelievers. They also point to the similarity between this angel and his gospel, on the one hand, and the messenger of the three woes in 8:13. Both speak “with a loud voice” (8:13; 14:7) while “flying in mid-heaven” (8:13; 14:6). Both also address unbelieving earth-dwellers (8:13; 14:6)… On the other hand, these verses sound similar to 11:13 where we earlier concluded that the possibility of conversion is in view. Even if the angel is holding out one final opportunity to repent and be saved, the subsequent context would seem to indicate it goes unheeded.
VERSE 10: Second, they will be “tormented with fire and brimstone” (v. 10b). Punishment with “fire and brimstone” is also found in Gen. 19:24 (Sodom and Gomorrah) Ps. 11:6; Isa. 30:33; Job 18:15. The combination of fire and brimstone (or sulphur) as a means of torment occurs 4x in Revelation (14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8)… Moses Stuart contends that “the addition of brimstone to the imagery renders it exceedingly intense, for this not only makes the fire to rage with the greatest vehemence, but is noisome to the smell and suffocating to the breath” (2:298).
VERSE 11: First, the “smoke” of their torment, i.e., the smoke of the fire and brimstone (v. 10) “goes up forever and ever”. See Isa. 34:9-10 for the OT background. It is almost as if there is a smoldering testimony to the consequences of sin and the justice of God’s wrath. The duration of this phenomenon is said to be, literally, “unto the ages of the ages”. This terminology occurs 13x in Revelation: 3x with reference to the duration of praise, glory, and dominion given to God (1:6; 5:13; 7:12); 5x with reference to the length of life of God or Christ (1:18; 4:9,10; 10:6; 15:7); once referring to the length of God’s reign in Christ (11:15); once referring to the length of the saints’ reign (22:5); once referring to the ascension of the smoke of destroyed Babylon (19:3); once referring to the duration of torment of the devil, beast, and false prophet (20:10); and, of course, once here in 14:11.
VERSE 14: Whereas some have argued that the “one like a son of man” here is simply another angel, the likelihood is that this is an allusion to Dan. 7:13 and that the exalted Christ is in view.
VERSES 15-16: There is no debate about the meaning of vv. 17-20. Everyone agrees that those verses describe the final judgment of unbelievers only. But what about vv. 15-16?
Those who argue that vv. 15-16 refer to judgment only appeal to the following points: (1) Both vv. 15-16 and vv. 17-20 are a clear allusion to Joel 3:13, a passage that deals only with divine judgment. (2) The “sickle” is more normally viewed as a negative instrument of judgment, designed to inflict harm, not to provide help. (3) The phrase “the hour to reap has come” in v. 15 sounds similar to “the hour of His judgment has come” in v. 7, the latter clearly referring to the eschatological judgment. (4) The image of a “harvest” is common in the Bible for divine judgment (see Isa. 17:5; 18:4-5; 24:13; Jer. 51:33; Hosea 6:11; Joel 3:13; Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Mark 4:29).
Those who argue that vv. 15-16 refer primarily to a redemptive ingathering of souls from among the nations at the end of history appeal to these points: (1) The 144,000 are described as “firstfruits”, in the sense that they are an initial redemptive ingathering that anticipates or serves as a pledge of a final redemptive harvest. Vv. 15-16 describe the latter. (2) It is no less the case that the image of a harvest (especially “reaping”) can be used in a positive sense as a metaphor of the gathering of God’s elect (see Luke 10:2; Mt. 13:30,43; John 4:35-38. (3) There is no reference in vv. 15-16 to the metaphors of threshing and winnowing (common images of judgment).
VERSES 17-20: The OT background is probably Isa. 63:1-6.
Our study of Revelation 15 can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.