Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 14
A Hundred and Forty-Four Thousand VirginsEdit
- 1And I looked, and a lamb stood on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 having his Father's name written on their foreheads.
"a lamb": Christ is consistently represented as a Lamb throughout Revelation (a parallel with the unblemished lamb of Old Testament sacrifices).
"Mount Zion": Possibly Jerusalem, though Hebrews refers to Mount Zion as "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb 12:21-23).
"144,000": Chapter 7 speaks of 144,000 "of all the tribes of the children of Israel." This may refer to a separate group of 144,000, though it seems likely that the two groups are the same. If they are, it should be noted here, as with chapter 7, that "children of Israel" does not necessarily equate to "Jews." See notes on 7:1-8 . The 144,000 may be alluding to God's army which we will learn about later in Revelation.
"having his Father's name written on their foreheads": In chapter 7, the 144,000 are described as being "sealed" in their foreheads (v3). For more on this, see notes on 3:12 .
- 2And I heard a voice from heaven like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of a great thunder, and I heard the sound of harpers harping with their harps, 3and they sung a new song before the throne, and before the four creatures, and the elders, and no one could learn that song but the 144,000 who were redeemed from the earth.
Commentary: The voice of many waters and of a great thunder refers to God. If the 144,000 are martyrs (see on 7:1-8 ), this passage appears to refer to a special reward set aside for those who have made that ultimate sacrifice, perhaps a song set aside only for them to learn. Perhaps the harpers are angels and saints that were previously accepted into heaven. Not everyone could hear these glorious tunes, only those who are true believers.
- 4They are not defiled with women, for they are virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were redeemed from among mankind, being the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.
Commentary: In the first sentence of this verse, John seemingly asserts that the 144,000 are actually all celibate men. This is certainly problematic because it would mean that all the victims of persecution would be male. Consequently, scholars agree that this depiction should not be taken literally. Rather than an exaltation of celibacy, this verse should be taken metaphorically in terms of the sexual abstinence required before contact with the divine (Exodus 19:15). Also, John could be drawing on the sexual abstinence required of warriors entering a holy war (Deuteronomy 23:9-14; 1 Samuel 21:5; 2 Samuel 11:9-13). Instead of referring to a physical purity, John is likely referring to a spiritual purity. Babylon is seen as a great whore and the soldiers of Christ are not to be seduced by her wicked ways.This virgins here are the ones, not only men, who avoid the idol worshipping that is famous in Babylon, or Rome.
- 5And in their mouths was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God.
Commentary: They are innocent of the only sin which Jesus did not forgive: religious hypocrisy. These men are perceived as perfectly pure because they were never married. God sees them as the purest of the bunch. It is said that the remaining people will be judges based on how they treated these pure men. This will decide whether they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven or be crushed.
Three Angels Make AnnouncementsEdit
- 6And I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, 7saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come. Worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the springs of waters.”
Commentary: We have a cultural idea that angels are spiritual beings with wings. The Greek angelos literally means messenger, however, and it is translated both as angel or messenger, and refers to both heavenly and earthly beings. The Greek word for heaven also means sky. With that in mind, this angel may be a man or woman of God who travels the world preaching the gospel by "flying in the midst of heaven," which is possibly a first-century vision of modern air travel. God will send this Angel so that all may hear the good news of God and that no one has an excuse for not hearing the message of the salvation of Christ.
Again we see worship showing up, which serves as a reminder than proper worship of God is one of the key themes of the book. This chapter is at a crossroads of worship, in chapter 13 those who do not worship the beast are killed, but in chapter 15 the righteous are rewarded for their proper worship of God. This chapter is then about the outcome of each choice. Of course, there is no middle ground-either one worships God or one is in league with the beast. This reflects the outsider mentality of early Christians. Being unable to take part in many aspects of Roman life, it would be easy to be tempted to worship the Roman Gods and therefore partake in the benefits of Roman life, John views this as immoral. They are to worship God and only God.
- 8And there followed another angel, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
Commentary: This "angel" truly is a messenger, for he or she brings the news of Babylon's fall.
The Greek “thumos” here translated as wrath can also be rendered passion. Some have preferred this because it seems to make more since that fornication would have passion rather than wrath. However, in verse 10, the same phrase is used clearly referring to wrath. The image of God’s wrath being like a drink of wine is frequent in the Old Testament (see Job 21:20, Ps 75:8, Isa 51:17, and Jer. 25:12). Wine causes stagger, just as following Rome (the woman) has caused people to do.
- 9And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead, or on his hand, 10the same will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
Commentary: Just as the people of God have his name "on their foreheads" (see v1 above), Satan, in imitation of God, initiates his followers with his mark. In spite of his pretensions to divinity, he apparently will not be fooling anyone, because this verse indicates that those who follow him do so knowingly and willingly, and as a result will receive a stern punishment.
"He will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels..." refers to the eternal torture the devil followers will face. They will be able to see the happiness of all in Heaven, but will never be able to attain this because they bare the mark of the devil. Instead, they will be in the heat of hell where everything constantly burns, but the people will never be consumed. Instead, they will be in pure agony.
This chapter in revelation is interesting because these three angels are no longer people to worship and cleave to God. Instead, three angels carry messages of judgment and punishment to the people of earth. The eternal punishment that is the price for bearing the mark of the beast is just the beginning of the divine justice that is inevitable.
The Son of Man Reaps the HarvestEdit
- 12Here is the patience of the saints. Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. 13And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours and their works follow them.”
Commentary: This verse serves to bring edification and encouragement to the saints, telling them to remain faithful and continue their preservation. The identity of the voice from Heaven is not explicitly stated, but it is presumably the voice of God. The beatitude nature of the speaker's statement offers a promise of eternal rest, and ultimately life. The earthly struggles in comparison to the Heavenly treasures they will inherit and the sleep they will attain are minuscule. Since many people will take what these men have to say to heart, they will have trust in Jesus, and receive awards for their patients.
The phrase "blessed are the dead who die in the lord from now on," can be translated as "henceforth," if the Greek word is ap arti, or "assuredly" if the word is aparti. The difference is an issue of permanence or consequence.
- 14And I looked and saw a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like a son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
The remaining verses of Chapter 14 are to serve as a preview of God’s final judgment over the “wicked earth-dwellers”. The appearance of a white cloud has appeared time and time again in both the Old and New Testament. In this instance, the white cloud is an introduction of a fourth event. Unlike other events, it is not introduced by an angelic being. Clouds metaphorically act as ambulatory "vehicles" to transport heavenly beings in heaven and on earth. In this case, one who is like a son of man. Some state that it is indeed Jesus, while others proclaim it is the angel Michael, as his name means "who is like God." Regardless of the identity of “one like the son of man” is a heavenly being because he is “like the son of man”, the fact that he rides on the white cloud, and the golden crown. A golden crown similar to this is worn by each one of the twenty-four elders mentioned in Chapter 4, the rider on a white horse in Chapter 6, and the locust cavalry wear golden crowns in Chapter 9. The golden crown on his head signifies that this being has authority and a great status. A sickle was a hand-held agricultural cutting tool typically used during harvest time. The sharp sickle signifies the new beginning of harvest.
- 15And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, “Thrust in your sickle, and reap, for the time is come for you to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Commentary: In this sense, the sickle and reaping the earth is referring to the harvest of those ripe for judgment. Some believe that Christ will be the one to harvest the good while the other angel would be the one to harvest the wicked. The loudness of the angel's voice suggests a sense of urgency and also that the angel would want many to hear of his cry. The shear size of these angels must also be mentioned since they are sitting on the clouds yet have a sickle big enough to harvest the entire earth.
The Grapes of WrathEdit
- 17And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar who had power over fire, and cried with a loud cry to the one that had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”
Commentary: This is the second angelic being with a sharp sickle, also ready to begin harvest. This being is like the one mentioned in verse 14. The third angel has “authority over fire”, a symbolic image of judgment. The fire shows the holiness of God. "Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of earth” comes from Joel 3:13. This shows that this harvest is a grape harvest. The general idea of this passage is that the wicked get the punishment they deserve.
Some propose that this angels has come to harvest the wicked, just as Christ harvests the righteous.
- 19And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even up to the horses' bridles, for 1,600 furlongs.
Commentary: The angel is to gather the wicked of the hearth in the harvest and give them to the Lord for his judgment. This also shows the severity of the punishment. 1,600 furlongs is approximately 185 miles, also the length of Palestine and a horse's bridle is normally 4–5 feet off the ground. The blood could refer to grape juice, but is more-likely to refer to blood from a great battle that will occur outside the city.The point of the detail of blood is to show the severity and the vast people that were judged by the Son of Man. The fact this occurs outside the city is fitting because this is where people would have been executed. The only valley that fits this description is the Jordan Valley. It is also unclear whether this is a literal war or an event directly from God, comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Witherington argues that this vicious judgment must be interpreted as "God's justice tempered with mercy." But this mercy can be better described as vengeance, or the justice of a jealous autocrat without consideration of morality or forgiveness. This image of blood running like a river was presumably a hopeful on to Christian sufferers at the time of writing.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.