The Lamb and 144,000 on Mount Zion
In the first five verses of this chapter we find another striking preview of the blessing of the godly remnant in Israel. This preview is given at the time when the nation is involved in the most brazen idolatry in its history. The Lamb standing on Mount Zion (v. 1) indicates His eventual complete triumph over idolatry. The 144,000 with Him remind us of Revelation 7:2-8 where all twelve tribes are represented and seen as sealed in their foreheads. In this chapter the 144,000 have the name of the Lamb and of His Father written on their foreheads. This is in marked contrast to the mark or name of the Beast in the foreheads of his deceived victims.
Mount Zion is on earth, its name meaning "sunny." This name is specially used for Jerusalem in connection with the sunshine of her millennial glory. A voice is heard from heaven as the voice of many waters and of great thunder (the voice of the great power of God), together with the voice of harpers (v. 2). These have deepest interest in the 144,000 Since they are distinguished from the elders, the harpers must be those martyred during the two halves of the Tribulation Period (Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 13:15; Revelation 20:4).
These singers of verse 2 sing a new song which only they and the 144,000 can learn (v. 3). This song appears to be that of joyous triumph of faith resulting from God's intervention on their behalf when suffering the great sorrows of the Tribulation. Both of these companies have deep sympathy for each other: no one else could enter into a song of this kind as they could. The reason for this is that they have both gone through deep suffering in the Tribulation Period.
The 144,000 are those who have kept free from the adulterous defilement of the doctrine of the beast and False Prophet (v. 4), for faith has been awakened in them to follow the Lamb wherever He leads, however great the dangers. They are redeemed, liberated by the grace of God in virtue of the blood of the Lamb, from among men and called "the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb." From one viewpoint, Christ Himself is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:22). From another viewpoint, those who are saved now are "a kind of firstfruits" (James 1:18), but in the millennial kingdom the twelve tribes will be the firstfruits of all the blessing on earth.
"In their mouth was found no guile" (v. 5) reminds us ofPsalms 32:2. Only when David frankly confessed his whole guilt of adultery and murder before God in connection with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1-27) was this true of him. Such brokenness and confession will be likewise true of Israel, for they have been guilty of adulterous unfaithfulness to God and of the murder of their Messiah. For centuries they have sought to cover up their sin by daring to accuse Jesus of being an imposter and therefore justifying their having put Him to death. But when they see their great Messiah as He appears in Jerusalem at the end of the Great Tribulation they will be broken down in genuine repentance (Zechariah 12:10-14). Their hearts will be laid bare in God's sight. Because of their new-found faith in the One whose sacrifice atones fully for their sins, God will impute righteousness to them. They are therefore seen "without fault before the throne of God."
An Angel With the Everlasting Gospel
In the first five verses of this chapter God has shown His counsels of blessing for Israel: now the rest of the chapter summarizes some solemn events of the Tribulation Period that will lead to this. When judgment is about to fall, an angel is seen flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to all who dwell on the earth, Jews and Gentiles (v. 6). This preaching will be by means of those (mainly) Jews awakened and born again during the Tribulation, and the flying angel denotes the urgency of the message. It is "the everlasting gospel," not the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus as is preached today.
Rather, it is the gospel (or good news) that creation itself has preached throughout history, that God is Creator of all, but now added to it the fact that the hour of judgment has come (v. 7). Man must face His Creator: let him therefore now bow to His authority. This may not seem like "good news" to many, but it is "good news" for a world crushed and torn by man's sin. Judgment is the only hope, the only relief from mankind's ruined state. It is an appeal to every individual to bow to God rather than to the bestial systems of man's idolatry.
Another angel then announces that Babylon is fallen (v. 8). Babylon, the great harlot that sits on many waters (Revelation 17:1), claims to be "the Church" with headquarters in Rome, the city of seven mountains (Revelation 17:9). Because of her profession she has greater responsibility than any other company on earth at that time, and thus must first be judged. She is shown to have utterly failed in her responsibility. This judgment will be seen more fully in Chapter s 17 and 18.
The Beast's Worshipers
The judgment of Babylon is followed by a third angel who declares the awful judgment of those who worship the Beast and his image and who receive his mark in their forehead or hand (v. 9). This judgment goes beyond that of the Tribulation. The language of verses 10 and 11 is dreadful: God's wrath is poured out without any alleviating mixture into the cup of His indignation, with the torment of eternal fire and brimstone. Men will reap the well-deserved results of their brazen defiance and blasphemy against their Creator.
In the light of verse 11 (and other scriptures such as Matthew 25:46 and Revelation 20:10)) what folly it is for anyone to belittle the horror of eternal punishment and to claim that the torment of hell is not eternal! There is no end to the smoke of their torment: they have no rest day or night. God does not mince words to accommodate the objections of unbelief. He means what He says and His words are intended to put the fear of God into men's souls, not to lessen their concern as to judgment.
Verses 12 and 13 intervene to encourage the faith of the godly who refuse the mark of the Beast. At such a time the patience (or endurance) of those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus is specially commended. Though martyred for their obedience to God in those days of awful trouble, they have the unspeakable comfort of a voice from heaven, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." It is a special blessing for that time, though certainly the fact is true at all times. The Holy Spirit then affirms the precious reality of their rest from their labors (in contrast to the worshipers of the Beast in verse 11) and of the lasting fruitfulness of their works. Revelation 20:4 speaks of their resurrection before the Millennium to the eternal joys of heaven, a more blessed reward than that of those who are not martyred and only inherit the earthly kingdom, as wonderful as that will be.
The Harvest Reaped
In verses 14 to 20 the direct judgment of the Son of Man is briefly described by two different pictures-the harvest and the winepress. Christ is spoken of as "one like a Son of Man" (v. 14) because, though He is truly Man, He is more than man. His sitting on a cloud indicates some measure of obscurity: though He is acting directly, yet the world will not fully realize it. The cloud being white infers the perfect purity of the judgment. The crown of divine glory is on His head, for here He takes His rightful authority. His hand holds a sharp sickle, a sharp hand tool used by early farmers to cut down a large amount of grain by each swing of the arm.
Later we see Him coming in glory with a sword protruding from His mouth (Revelation 19:15), for there He fights against His enemies. In the case of the sickle, His judgment is seen from the viewpoint of His acting to bring forth fruit for His eternal glory. He cuts down the grain with the object of separating the wheat from the chaff. The harvest is therefore not unmingled wrath in indiscriminate destroying of mankind, but rather involves a discriminating separation of the good from the bad. Reaping is not destruction, but for the benefit of the great Reaper.
Wonderful are the counsels of divine love! If the grain is cut down, yet this is in view of a general harvest. Many will be brought low who will prove to be believers, lifted up again and blessed by the grace of God. The suffering of the Tribulation is not emphasized in the harvest, but the resulting blessing. Many among the Gentile nations will be saved as well as thousands from Israel. Those from the Gentile nations are spoken of inMatthew 25:31-46 where the Son of Man sets the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left. The sheep are entitled to enter into eternal life, being given all the blessings of the Millennium, while the goats (unbelievers) are assigned to eternal punishment because of their mistreatment of the Lord's brethren (the godly Jews), which indicated their attitude toward Christ Himself.
An angel coming out of the temple spoke the word to Him who sat on the cloud, who swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. (v. 16). In Matthew 13:30 the harvest involves the wheat gathered into the barn, with the tares (the children of the wicked one) left in bundles for burning. The wheat in that case is the Church (all believers from Pentecost to the Rapture), spoken of inJames 1:18 as "a kind of firstfruits" of God's harvest, taken to heaven at the Rapture, while the following Tribulation harvest (in our present chapter) will be that of the multitude who are saved for earthly blessing in the Millennium, the tares and the chaff being burned up in judgment.
In verse 17 "another angel" comes out of the temple in heaven with a sharp sickle. The temple emphasizes the holiness and calm deliberation of the judgment. In verse 18 a different angel still, one who had power over fire, came out from the altar, and he gives the word to the angel with the sickle to use the sickle to gather the vine of the earth because its grapes were ripe. The angel with the sickle is not "one like the Son of Man." Perhaps the reason for this is that in the case of the winepress, everything is total judgment, the unmitigated suffering of the wrath of God. Nothing is said of resulting blessing. The vine is thrown into the great winepress of the wrath of God and the winepress is trodden outside the city. A winepress was a large vat in which the grapes were placed, and the people in bare feet walked or stamped around in the vat and thus squeezed out the grape juice. Thank God, He will bring great joy out of this tremendous sorrow, for the resultant wine speaks of joy, but the emphasis here is not on joy, but on the unspeakable suffering that will afflict the people, specially in the land of Israel, which will bear the worst of the agony of the Tribulation.
When the winepress is trodden outside the city ( not in Jerusalem), blood covers a distance of 1600 furlongs-about the length of the land of Israel-"up to the horses' bridles." This must be figurative, but an awesome figure! The bloodshed will go far beyond the control of those who have begun the devastation. As to Israel at that time, "in all the land, two parts shall be cut off and die" (Zechariah 13:8). In 1988 the population of that country was estimated at 4,500,000. Two-thirds of that number would be fully three million people. Such decimation of Israel's population is staggering to imagine. We are not told how many Gentiles will die, but Joel 3:9-13 shows that both the harvest and the vintage will affect Gentiles as well as Jews. Revelation 19:1-21 speaks of this very time of the winepress (v. 15), when the judgment is against the Gentiles at Armageddon. The winepress involves more than this one engagement, however, for the winepress spoken of inJoel 3:12-13 is at a different location-the Valley of Jehoshaphat at Jerusalem.