Chapter 14: The King on Mount Zion

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

St. John has just revealed the evil triad of enemies facing the early Church: the Dragon, the Sea Beast, and the Land Beast. He has made it clear that these enemies are implacable, that the conflict with them will require faithfulness unto death. The question again naturally arises: Will the Church survive such an all-out attack? In this closing section of the fourth major division of his prophecy, therefore, John again addresses these fears of his audience. The action of the book comes to a halt as the apostle gives comfort and provides reasons for confidence in the coming victory of the Church over all her opposition. “The revelation of the three great foes, the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the land, is followed immediately by a sevenfold disclosure of victory and judgment in the heavens. The purpose of these visions and voices from heaven is obviously to show that the powers of the heavens are mightier than those of the infernal serpent and his associates. The trinity of hostile forces, armed with many lying wonders, might seem from a human point of view invincible. But John, like the young servant of Elisha when confronted with the horses and chariots and immense host of the king of Syria, is here admonished that they which are with the persecuted Church are more and mightier than they which make war against her (comp. 2 Kings 6:15-17).”[1]

The Lamb with His Fair Army (14:1-5)

  1. And 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.
  2. 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 harpists playing on their harps.
  3. And they sing 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 Land.
  4. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they are chaste men. 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.
  5. And no lie was found in their mouth, for they are blameless.

1          We are back in Psalm 2 again: St. John has shown us the heathen raging against the Lord and against His Christ, rebelling against the authority of the Godhead; and now the Lord says: “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain,” guaranteeing that the nations will submit to His all-embracing rule. In opposition to the Beasts rising from Sea and Land, the Lamb is standing (cf. 5:6) on Mount Zion, already enthroned as King of kings, the Ruler of all nations. The Mountain-imagery of the Bible is clearly a reference to the original Holy Mountain, the location of the Garden of Eden (Ezek. 28:13-14). The prophetic promises of the restoration of the Mountain to the earth (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:32-35, 44-45; Mic. 4:1-4), as well as the numerous redemptive activities on mountains (Gen. 22:2; Ex. 19:16-19; 2 Chron. 3:1; Matt. 28:16-20), signified the fulfillment and consummation of Paradise through the Messiah’s atonement, when God’s Kingdom would fill the earth (Isa. 11:9).[2] The Lamb standing on the Mountain is a symbol of Christ’s victory over all His enemies, with His people restored to Eden and fellowship with God. The fact that the Mountain is Zion (mentioned seven times in the New Testament: Matt. 21:5; John 12:15; Rom. 9:33; 11:26; Heb. 12:22; 1 Pet. 2:6) serves to highlight this victory, for Zion is the special “holy mountain” of Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s presence with His people and His victorious reign over the earth, when all kingdoms are gathered together to serve Him in the New Covenant (cf. Ps . 9:1-20; 14:7; 20:1-2; 48:1-14; 69:35; 87:1-3; 99:1-9; 102:13-22; Isa. 24:21-23; 51-52; 59:16-20; Jer. 31:10-37; Zech. 9:9-17).[3]

The Lamb is thus not alone on Zion, for his people share in His victory. They are there with Him, the one hundred and forty-four thousand, the Remnant of Israel ordered for battle according to the thousands of her tribes (see on 7:4-8). We saw that the Mark of the Beast (13:16-17) was the parody of the divine sealing of the true Israel (7:2-8); now St. John reminds us of the original sealing, the mark of God’s ownership and protection of His obedient people. That the 144,000 are regarded as members of the Church, and not ultimately as a separate category of ethnic Israelites, is underscored by John’s combination of previous imagery. We were told before that the 144,000 are sealed on their foreheads (7:3), while it is all Christ’s overcomers who have His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads (3:12). The 144,000, therefore, belong to the Church, the army of overcomers. Yet they are also a special group: the Remnant-Church of the first generation.

2-3      With his eyes on the Lamb and His army, St. John hears a Voice from heaven, the familiar reminder of God’s presence in the Glory-Cloud: like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and… like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, the heavenly orchestra playing accompaniment to the victory song of the army of saints, who sing a New Song before the Throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. The New Song is, as we saw on 5:9, the new liturgy necessitated and brought about by the new epoch in the history of redemption. And this liturgy, the exultant response of the redeemed, belongs to the Church alone (cf. 2:17): No one could learn the Song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who have been purchased from the Land, redeemed as slaves from the tyranny of the Land Beast.

4-5      St. John gives further descriptions of the redeemed: These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they are chaste men. Several strands of Biblical imagery are involved in this statement. We must dispense with the idea that John is speaking of literal celibacy by calling them “chaste men” (or “virgins”), as Carrington pointed out: ” ‘Virgins’ here is obviously a violent symbol for purity, just as ‘eunuchs’ in Matthew [19:12] is a violent symbol for celibacy; neither is meant to be taken literally. They are not men who have had no intercourse with women, but men who have not defiled themselves with women, which is quite a different idea, and is certainly not meant to describe marriage.”[4] Virgin is frequently used in the Old Testament for Zion, the people of God (2 Kings 19:21; Isa. 23:12; 37:22; Jer. 14:17; 18:13; 31:4, 21; Lam. 1:15; 2:13). More particularly, the chastity here is a symbolic reference to the requirement of sexual abstinence by soldier-priests during holy war (cf. Ex. 19:15; Lev. 15:16; Deut. 20:7; 23:10-11; 1 Sam. 21:4-5; 2 Sam. 11:8-11). In addition, the context condemns the “fornication” committed by the nations, in connection with the worship of the Beast (v. 8-10). Fornication and harlotry, throughout the Bible, are potent metaphors for apostasy and idolatry (cf. Isa. 1:21; Jer. 2:20-3:11; Ezek. 16:15-43; Rev. 2:14, 20-22), while religious fidelity is called chastity (2 Cor. 11:2). The Lamb’s army, gathered about Him on Mount Zion, is chaste, faithful to Him, and singlemindedly consecrated to the Holy War.

St. John tells us further that these soldiers are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, the term follow being a typical metaphor for the obedience of a disciple (Matt. 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; Mark 9:38; 10:21, 28; Luke 9:23; John 8:12; 10:4-5, 27; 21:22). A precise statement of those who comprise this group, however, is given in the next phrase: These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. The expression first fruits refers essentially to a sacrifice, the offering up of the first harvest of the land to the Lord, claimed by Him as His exclusive property (Ex. 22:29; 23:16, 19; Lev. 23:9-21; Deut. 18:4-5; Neh. 10:35-37; Prov. 3:9-10); these Christians have offered themselves up to God’s service for Christ’s sake. More than this, though, the New Testament uses first fruits to describe the Church of the Last Days, the “first-generation” Church (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:15), especially the faithful Remnant from the twelve tribes of Israel (James 1:1, 18): “The confessors and martyrs of the apostolic Church, who overcame by reason of their testimony and the blood of the Lamb, are thus declared to be a first fruits, a choice selection out of the innumerable company of saints. The purpose of this Apocalypse was to give special encouragement to these virgin spirits.”[5]

The characteristics of this group are strikingly similar to those of Israel when she first became God’s Bride:

I remember concerning you the fidelity of your youth,
The love of your betrothals,
Your following after Me in the wilderness,

Through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD,
The first of His harvest…. (Jer. 2:2-3; cf. v. 32)

Finally, St. John says, no lie was found in their mouth, for they are blameless. It is the Dragon who is the deceiver, the false accuser, the father of the Lie (John 8:44; Rev. 12:9); God’s people are characterized by truthfulness (Eph. 4:24-27). As St. Paul declared regarding the heathen, the basic Lie is idolatry: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures…. For they exchanged the Truth of God for the Lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:22-25). At root, the Lie is false prophecy (cf. Jer. 23), the rendering of honor and glory to the creature in place of the Creator. We have seen that the conflict between true and false prophecy, between the witnessing servant-prophets and the False Prophet, is central to the concerns of the Book of Revelation. In opposition to her enemies, the Church carries and proclaims the Truth. As the prophets had foretold, God raised up a faithful Remnant during the time of wrath and tribulation on Jerusalem:

But I will leave among you

A humble and lowly people,

And they will take refuge in the name of the LORD.

The Remnant of Israel will do no wrong

And tell no lies,

Nor will a deceitful tongue

Be found in their mouths…. (Zeph. 3:12-13)

Commentators have often been vexed over the question of whether this picture is meant to represent the Church as seen on earth, or the Church as seen at rest, in heaven. It should be obvious that both aspects of the Church are in view here – especially since, as we have seen, the Church on earth is “in heaven” (12:12; 13:6). The famous statement in Hebrews 12:22-23 provides compelling evidence: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal assembly, and to the Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven…. ” Milton Terry rightly remarks: “The heaven of our apocalyptist is the visional sphere of the glory and triumph of the Church, and no marked distinction is recognized between the saints on earth and those in heaven. They are conceived as one great company, and death is of no account to them…. Thus the entire passage serves to illustrate how saints ‘dwelling in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ are all one in spirit and triumph, no matter what physical locality they may occupy.”[6] For St. John, Zion “is neither in Jerusalem nor above the clouds; it is the whole assembly of the saints, living and departed.”[7]

In fact, Stuart Russell held that Hebrews 12:22-23 was based on this passage in Revelation: “The points of resemblance are so marked and so numerous that it cannot possibly be accidental. The scene is the same – Mount Zion; the drama tis personae are the same – ‘the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven,’ corresponding with the hundred and forty and four thousand who bear the seal of God. In the epistle they are called ‘the church of the first-born’; the vision explains the title – they are ‘the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb’; the first converts to the faith of Christ in the Land of Judea. In the epistle they are designated ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’; in the vision they are ‘virgins undefiled, in whose mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.’ Both in the vision and the epistle we find ‘the innumerable company of angels’ and ‘the Lamb,’ by whom redemption was achieved. In short, it is placed beyond all reasonable doubt that since the author of the Apocalypse cannot be supposed to have drawn his description from the epistle, the writer of the epistle must have derived his ideas and imagery from the Apocalypse.”[8]

Thus, while the specific application of the 144,000 is to the Church of the first generation, in principle they are seen as the Church in her entirety (which, at the time St. John was writing, they precisely were). This is confirmed by a comparison of the parallels between this passage and the description of the redeemed in 5:6-11:

14:1-5                                                                    5:6-11

1          And I looked, and behold, the           6          And I saw… a Lamb standing…
Lamb was standing…

3          …before the throne and before        6          …between the throne (with the
the four living creatures and                         four living creatures) and the
the elders.                                                           elders.

2          the Voice… was like harpists             8          the twenty-four elders… having
playing on their harps.                                   One each a harp.

3          And they sing a New Song.               9          And they sing a New Song.

4         These have been purchased from   9          [The Lamb] purchased us for God…
among men as firstfruits to God                  from every tribe and tongue and
and to the Lamb.                                               people and nation.

The Gospel and the Poisoned Cups (14:6·13)

  1. And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal Gospel to preach to those who sit over the Land, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;
  2. and 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 the heaven and the earth and the sea and springs of waters.
  3. And another angel, a second one, followed, saying: Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great! She has made all the nations drink of the wine of the heat of her fornication.
  4. And 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 upon his hand,
  5. he also will drink of the wine of the heat 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.
  6. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the Beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of the Beast.
  7. Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
  8. And I heard a Voice from heaven, saying, Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their deeds follow with them.

6-7      The rest of this chapter is divided into seven sections – a Vision of the glorified Christ, flanked on each side by three angels. St. John is about to make the transition between the Trumpet-visions (proclamations of judgment) and the Chalice – visions (applications of judgment). Foreshadowing this change, the first three angels make special proclamations regarding the Lamb’s victory, and the last three angels perform special actions to assist Him in implementing His conquest. As we would expect, these angelic proclamations and actions parallel the duties of the Church, particularly of her rulers and governors.

First, St. John sees another angel flying in midheaven, the sphere of the Eagle’s cries of woe to the Land (8:13). But this angel preaches peace: The coming judgment is not an end in itself, but part of the proclamation of the eternal Gospel. Contrary to the speculations of several expositors, there is no reason to suppose that this is something other than the Gospel of which the New Testament constantly speaks. It is the message of the coming of the Kingdom, as John and Jesus had announced from the beginning: “Now in those days John the Baptizer came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1-2); “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). And this is the Gospel preached by the angel, every element in it an aspect of the New Testament message: Fear God (Luke 1:50; 12:5; Acts 10:35), and give Him glory (Matt. 5:16; 9:8; 15:31), because the hour of His judgment has come (John 12:23, 31-32; 16:8-11); and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and the sea (the world, Gen. 1) and springs of waters (Paradise, Gen. 2). All this bears striking resemblance to what is recorded of the apostolic Gospel (cf. Acts 14:15; 17:24-30.

The angel preaches this Gospel to those who sit over the Land. The usual expression for the Israelite apostates is those who dwell in the Land (3:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8). This time, attention is focused on the message to the authorities of Israel, those who are seated or enthroned over the Land (the verb is the same as that used in v. 14, of the Son of Man enthroned on the Cloud). The Gospel message commanded the rulers of Palestine to submit to the lordship of Christ, to honor Him, rather than Caesar, as God. But the rulers and authorities rejected Him, saying “We will not have this Man to rule over us!” (Luke 19:14). The Lord Himself proclaimed the glory and judgment of God to the authorities of Israel (Matt. 26:64), and warned His disciples that they would preach an unpopular Gospel to the rulers: “But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” (Matt. 10:17-18). Moreover, “this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matt. 24:14). And this was the Gospel order-to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles (Acts 3:26; 11:18; 13:46-48; 28:23-29; Rom. 1:16; 2:9): The angel preaches to the rulers of Palestine, and then to every nation and tribe and tongue and people. Before the end came in A.D. 70, St. Paul tells us, the Gospel was indeed preached to all the world (Rom. 1:8; 10:18; Col. 1:5-6, 23). In spite of the attempts of the Dragon and his two Beasts to thwart the progress of the Gospel, the mission of the apostles, evangelists, martyrs, and confessors of the early Church was successful. The world was evangelized.[9]

8          Another angel, a second one follows, presenting another aspect of the early Church’s proclamation: Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great! This is the first mention of “Babylon” in Revelation, a proleptic reference foreshadowing the full exposition to come in later chapters (similar to the early reference to the Beast in 11:7). It is certainly possible, however, that St. John’s readers understood his meaning immediately. In his first epistle, presumably written before the Revelation, St. Peter described the local church from which he wrote as “she who is in Babylon” (1 Pet. 5:13). Many have supposed this to be Rome, where St. Peter was (according to tradition) later martyred; but it is much more likely that the apostle was in Jerusalem when he wrote these words. Based on data from the New Testament itself, our natural assumption should be that “Babylon” was Jerusalem, since that was where he lived and exercised his ministry (Acts 8:1; 12:3; Gal. 1:18; 2:1-9; cf. 1Pet. 4:17). Moreover, St. Peter’s first epistle also sends greetings from Mark and Silas [Silvanus] (1 Pet. 5:12-13), both of whom lived in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12; 15:22-40).[10]

In any case, the primary thrust of the prophecy has been directed against Jerusalem; it has dealt with Rome only insofar as Rome was related to Israel. John gives us no indication that the subject has been changed. As we shall see in Chapters 17 and 18, the evidence that the prophetic Babylon was Jerusalem is nothing short of overwhelming. The term is used of the apostate city just as “Sodom” and “Egypt” were used in 11:8 to describe “the Great City… where the Lord was crucified” (note also that the same expression the Great City is used in 16:19 to describe “Babylon”). St. John’s reason for applying the word to Jerusalem is that Jerusalem has become a Babylon, a replica of the proud, idolatrous, persecuting oppressor of God’s people. Terry rightly observes that “as Jesus in Matthew 24:14 said that the end of this city and the pre-Messianic age would follow the preaching of the Gospel among the nations, so in this Apocalypse the proclamation of the fall of Babylon the Great follows immediately after that of the eternal Gospel”[11]

This great Harlot-City (17:1) has made all the nations drink of the wine of the heat of her fornication (an ironic contrast to the legitimate and blessed “wine of love” celebrated by Solomon, Song 1:2-4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:2, 9). The word usually translated wrath (as in KJV) basically means heat (NASV renders it as passion). In verse 10 the idea is definitely one of wrath, but here John is simply using the familiar Biblical picture of apostate Israel as a harlot, inflaming men’s passions with the heat of lust. Israel has abused her privileged position as the divinely ordained “guide to the blind” and “light to those in darkness” (Rom. 2:19). The nations looked to her for instruction, yet ended up blaspheming the name of God because of her wickedness (Rom. 2:24). God had intended her to be Lady Wisdom, summoning all men to eat of her food, to drink of her wine, and to live in the way of understanding (Prov. 9:1-6). Instead, she had become Madam Folly, using stolen goods to tempt men into the depths of hell (Prov. 9:13-18). Like the Beast from the Land (the False Prophet who speaks like the Dragon), Babylon’s primary occupation is seducing others into fornication, the worship of false gods.

9-11    And another angel, a third one, followed them, with an appropriate message of doom for anyone who worships the Beast and his image, or receives a mark in his forehead or upon his hand (see above, on 13:15-18). The great offense of the Land Beast – apostate Israel’s religious leadership – was the promotion and enforcement of the worship of the Beast 03:11-17). St. John is thus giving a clue to the great city’s identity by repeating his words about the Land Beast immediately after his first statement about “Babylon.” He is also reminding the Christians, especially the “angels,” the Church officers, of their duty in proclaiming the whole counsel of God. They must preach the uncompromising message of the exclusive, all-encompassing lordship of Jesus Christ against all pretenders to the Throne. They must speak prophetically to their generation, sternly condemning the worship of the Beast, warning that those who drink of Babylon’s heretical cup of State-worship also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength – literally, mixed unmixed (or, as one commentator delightfully translates it, mixed neat[12]) – in the cup of His anger. The warning is clear: You cannot drink one cup without the other.

Moses Stuart explains the imagery: “God is often said to give the cup of inflammation or indignation to nations whom He is about to destroy (e.g. Isa. 51:17; Lam. 4:21; Jer. 25:15-16; 49:12; 51:7; Ezek. 23:31-34; Job 21:20; Ps. 75:8). Persons intoxicated are unable to destroy or even resist those that assail them; so that to represent them as intoxicated in the way of punishment is to represent them as devoted to irremedial destruction. Or we may present the matter in another light. Criminals about to suffer were often through compassion of executioners or bystanders presented with a stupefying potion which would diminish their sensibility to pain, but which of course was the index or precursor of certain death. Thus in Mark 15:23 it is recorded that Jesus refused to drink ‘the wine mingled with myrrh,’ which was proffered Him when He was about to be nailed to the cross. The holy Savior would not abate any portion of His agonies by the use of an intoxicating drink. But in whichever of these two ways the expression in our text is accounted for, the meaning remains substantially the same – for the drinking of such an intoxicating cup is the prelude to certain death.”[13]

As we saw in verse 8, the word rendered wrath is really heat; those who desire Babylon’s cup of “heat” will get a hotter drink than they bargained for, the cup of God’s undiluted wrath. Those who fornicate with the Beast will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. The imagery of their permanent doom is taken from the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone, when “the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace” (Gen. 19:28; cf. its symbolic use in Isa. 34:9-10, describing the fall of Edom). Incredibly, Ms. Ford claims that “the allusion to the Lamb is embarrassing for the Christian.”[14] Not nearly so embarrassing as the inane remarks of certain commentators! The real reason for the embarrassment some scholars feel at finding these Beast-worshipers destroyed with fire and brimstone in the presence of the Lamb is their own modern form of Marcionism, a heretical dichotomy between the “gentle and loving” Christ of the New Testament and the “wrathful” Deity of the Old Testament. Such a distinction is completely alien to the Bible. St. John, with more sense (and no apparent embarrassment), has simply been faithful to his Old Testament source, recasting it in New Testament terms: “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of those cities, and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 19:24-25). Certainly, the text itself emphasizes that the torment of the Sodomites took place in the presence of the LORD (just as the Altar is before the Throne in the Tabernacle). And St. John is fully aware, even if his commentators are not, that the Lamb is the LORD.

There is a grim contrast here: The worshipers of the Beast, and those who receive his mark, have no rest day and night from their torments. The words are repeated from the description of the cherubim in 4:8, who have no rest day and night, eternally engaged in a sacrifice of praise.

12-13 Here is the perseverance of the saints. The patient confidence, hope, expectation, and faith of God’s people is in the justice of His continual government over the earth and the certainty of His coming judgment (cf. 13:10). The saints are not to fret because of evildoers, for they will wither like the grass; we are to trust in the Lord and do good, to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him, and we eventually will inherit the earth (Ps. 37). The wicked persecutors will be destroyed, St. John tells his readers, and that shortly; with St. James he can say:

Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and the late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door! (James 5:7-9)

The perseverance of the saints is necessarily bound up in the fact that they keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. In opposition to all forms of creature worship, Christians keep the commandments; they keep the faith. The New Testament knows nothing of a lawless Christianity, or of a devotion that denies the objective content of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Christianity demands obedient and faithful perseverance in the face of opposition. Naturally that has consequences, not all of them pleasant. St. John’s readers knew that keeping the faith could well mean their death. For their sakes he records the next words of the Voice from heaven, saying, Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! 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. 1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6). Death is now the entrance to communion in glory with Christ and the departed saints. Jesus Christ has delivered us from the ultimate fear of death; we can say, in the famous lines of John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud”:

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

The early Christians understood that death had been conquered by the resurrection of Christ; this theme recurs repeatedly in their writings. Again and again one is struck with the note of victory in the attitude of the martyrs as they faced death. St. Athanasius wrote of this fact in his famous defense of the Christian faith: “All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead. There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Saviour’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot as he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Saviour on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, ‘O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?’ “[15]

Bishop Eusebius, the great Church historian, was an eyewitness of many early martyrdoms, and recorded what often took place when Christians were placed on trial: “We were witnesses to the most admirable ardor of mind, and the truly divine energy and alacrity of those that believed in the Christ of God. For as soon as the sentence was pronounced against the first, others rushed forward from other parts to the tribunal before the judge, confessing they were Christians, most indifferent to the dreadful and multiform tortures that awaited them, but declaring themselves fully and in the most undaunted manner on the religion which acknowledges only the one Supreme God. They received, indeed, the final sentence of death with gladness and exultation, so far as even to sing and send up hymns of praise and thanksgiving, until they breathed their last.”[16]

The same cheerful hope is evident in St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, the early martyr who was torn apart by wild beasts in Rome (around A.D. 107). In one of his famous letters, he pleaded with his Christian brethren in Rome not to seek his release, but to allow him to be “poured out a libation to God, while there is still an altar ready”: “I write to all the churches, and I bid all men know, that of my own free will I die for God, unless ye should hinder me. I exhort you, be ye not an unseasonable kindness to me. Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my sepulchre and may leave no part of my body behind, so that I may not, when I am fallen asleep, be burdensome to anyone. Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not so much as see my body. Supplicate the Lord for me, that through these instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not enjoin you, as Peter and Paul did. They were Apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am a slave to this very hour. Yet if I shall suffer, then am I a freed-man of Jesus Christ, and I shall rise free in Him. Now I am learning to put away every desire.

“From Syria even unto Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only wax worse when they are kindly treated. Howbeit through their wrongdoings I become more completely a disciple; yet am I not hereby justified. May I have joy of the beasts that have been prepared for me; and I pray that I may find them prompt; nay, I will entice them that they may devour me promptly, not as they have done to some, refusing to touch them through fear. Yea, though of themselves they should not be willing while I am ready, I myself will force them to it. Bear with me. I know what is expedient for me. Now I am beginning to be a disciple. May naught of things visible and things invisible envy me; that I may attain unto Jesus Christ. Come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, cuttings and manglings, wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body, come cruel tortures of the devil to assail me. Only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ.

“The farthest bounds of the universe shall profit me nothing, neither the kingdoms of this world. It is good for me to die for Jesus Christ rather than to reign over the farthest bounds of the earth. Him I seek, who died on our behalf; Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. The pangs of a new birth are upon me. Bear with me, brethren. Do not hinder me from living; do not desire my death. Bestow not on the world one who desireth to be God’s, neither allure him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light. When I am come thither, then shall I be a man. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any man hath Him within himself, let him understand what I desire, and let him have fellow-feeling with me, for he knows the things which straiten me.”[17]

Alexander Schmemann reminds us, however, that “Christianity is not reconciliation of death. It is the revelation of death, and it reveals death because it is the revelation of Life. Christ is this Life. And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be, namely the enemy to be destroyed, and not a ‘mystery’ to be explained.”[18]

Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their deeds follow with them. Again there is a contrast with the fate of the Beast-worshipers, who will have no rest day and night from their torments. The persevering saints are encouraged to continue in faithfulness, for their eternal rest is coming and their works will be rewarded. Biblical perseverance is determined by the rewards of eternity, not by the tribulations of the moment. Biblical hope transcends the battle. This does not mean that the Bible commands an other-worldly neglect of the present life; but neither does it countenance a perspective that is only, or primarily, this-worldly. Our sinful tendency is to go in one direction rather than the other, but God calls us to be both this-worldly and other-worldly. Biblical faith calls us to work in this world for dominion with all our might (Gen. 1:28; Eccl. 9:10), and at the same time reminds us constantly of our eternal hope, our ultimate rest.

The Son of Man, the Harvest, and the Vintage (14:14·20)

  1. And I looked, and behold, a white Cloud, and sitting on the Cloud One like the Son of Man, having a golden crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand.
  2. And 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, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the Land is ripe.
  3. And He who sat on the Cloud threw His sickle over the Land; and the Land was reaped.
  4. And another angel came out of the Temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle.
  5. And another angel, the one who has power over the fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud shout to him who had the sharp sickle, saying: Send forth your sharp sickle, and gather the clusters from the vine of the Land, because her grapes are ripe.
  6. And the angel threw out his sickle to the Land, and gathered 
the vine of the Land, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
  7. And the winepress was trodden outside the City, and blood came out from the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for sixteen hundred stadia.

14-16 These verses form the centerpiece of the whole section, verses 6-20. We have seen three angels making proclamations to the Land of Israel (v. 6-13); three more will appear, to perform symbolic actions over the Land (v. 15, 17-20); and in the center is a white Cloud, and sitting on the Cloud One like a Son of Man, having a golden crown on His head. This is the familiar Glory-Cloud, with which Christ was clothed in 10:1; now it is white, and not dark as on Sinai (Ex. 19:16-18; cf. Zeph. 1:14-15). St. John’s reason for referring to the Cloud in this context can be discerned from his connecting it with the Son of Man. The reference is to Daniel’s prophecy of the Coming of the Messiah to His inauguration as universal King – a vision which follows his prophecy of the Beasts with seven heads and ten horns:

I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the Clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory, and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)

St. John’s point is clear: Let the Beasts do their worst – the Son of Man has ascended in the Clouds and received everlasting dominion over all peoples and nations! His Kingdom will never be overthrown; He will never have a successor. It is clear also that this is a vision, not of some future coming to earth, but of the result of Christ’s original Ascension in the Clouds to the Father – the definitive Parousia.[19] The Son of Man reigns now as the Second Adam, the King of kings. St. John does not show Christ coming in the Cloud, but in fact already seated on the Cloud, installed on His heavenly throne. Earlier (v. 6), he showed us the Israelite officials sitting over the Land; over against them sits the Lord Christ, enthroned on the Glory-Cloud (cf. Ps. 2:2-6).

The King has not only a crown on His head, but also a sharp sickle in His hand. And 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, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the Land is ripe. The first angel in this triad repeats what the first angel of the other triad had said (v. 7): The hour has come! This time, however, the emphasis falls not on judgment but on blessing, the gathering in of the elect. This, too, is connected with the work of the Son of Man in His Parousia, when He sends out His “angels,” His apostolic messengers, to gather in the elect (Matt. 24:30-31). The word for gather is, literally, to synagogue; His meaning is that Israel, which refused to be synagogued under Christ (Matt. 23:37-38), will be replaced by the Church as the new Synagogue. The first churches were simply Christian “synagogues” (James 2:2), and looked forward to the soon-approaching Day when apostate Israel would be thoroughly disinherited, and the Church revealed as the true Synagogue, “gathered together” in the final, New Covenant form (2 Thess. 2:1). Jesus described the Kingdom of God as a great harvest (Mark 4:26-29), and told His disciples: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages [cf. Rev. 14:13], and is gathering fruit [cf. Rev. 14:4] for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36),

Accordingly, the first angel (representing his earthly counterparts) calls on the Son of Man to put in His sickle (mentioned seven times in this passage) and reap, praying in obedience to Christ’s command: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). From His Cloud-Throne the King answers the Church’s prayer: Throwing His sickle over the earth, He sends out harvesters; the Land is reaped, and the fruit is brought into His Kingdom. The image of the sickle is connected in Scripture with Pentecost, celebrated after the grain had been harvested (Deut. 16:9), when the Spirit is poured out in salvation and blessing (Acts 2).

17-18 St. John returns to the theme of judgment, for the concomitant of the gathering of the Church is the excommunication of Israel. Genesis 21 records how the recognition of Isaac as the child of promise required the casting out of the bondwoman Hagar and her son, Ishmael; and St. Paul saw in this story an allegory of the rejection of old Israel and the recognition of the Church as the “heir of the promise.” He spelled it out to the churches of Galatia, which had been infiltrated by Judaistic teachings: “It is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our Mother…. And you, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:22-30. Old Jerusalem, the capital city of apostate, persecuting Judaism, was cast out, excommunicated from the Covenant, even as the Church was being recognized as the legitimate heir of the promise. Christians, born of the Spirit, are the true children of the heavenly Jerusalem.

A second angel, therefore, comes out of the Temple which is in heaven to assist in the harvest with his sharp sickle. At first this appears to be simply a continuation of the first harvest, but St. John makes a subtle shift, going all the way back to the beginning of this section of Revelation in order to draw on its imagery of wrath. Christ instructed his disciples to pray, not just for the conversion of Israel, but for its destruction as well; and thus in 6:9-11 we saw the saints gathered around the golden altar of incense, offering up their imprecatory prayers for vengeance. Shortly after that scene, at the beginning of the Trumpet visions, an angel took the censer of the saint’s prayers, filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it onto the Land; “and there followed peals of thunder and voices and flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (8:3-5). Now, at the close of the Trumpet section, St. John sees the same angel, the one who has power, not just “over fire,” as most translations render it, but over the fire, the fire burning on the altar; and he comes specifically from the altar of the saints’ prayers in order to render judgment, to bring about the historical response to the worship and the prayers of the Church. He too prays for a harvest – but this time it will be a harvest of the wicked, the “grapes of wrath” (Joel 3:13 similarly combines the images of harvest and vintage). So this third angel calls to the second angel, the one holding the sickle, and says: Put in your sharp sickle, and gather the clusters from the vine of the Land, because her grapes are ripe. God’s Vineyard, Israel, is ripe for judgment.

My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
And He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with a bright red grape.
And He built a tower in the middle of it,
And hewed out a wine press in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.
What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
And I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed;
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.
For the Vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the House of Israel,
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. (Isa. 5:1-7)

19-20 The Vineyard is judged: The angel threw his sickle to the Land, and gathered the vine of the Land, and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God to produce the substance that will be poured from the chalices in Chapter 16. The repeated references to the Land (six times in verses 15-19), combined with the imagery of tile vine of the Land, emphasize that this is a judgment on the Land of Israel. Reviewing the extensive Biblical background of the vineyard idea, Carrington concludes: “It does not seem possible to suppose that St. John could have intended to apply these words to any other country than Israel, or to any other city than Jerusalem. They echo the words of St. John the Baptist, with which the whole Christian prophetic movement began, Even now is the axe laid to the root of the tree. What is contingent in the Baptist is absolute in Revelation. Israel is rejected.”[20]

The imagery of this passage is based on Isaiah’s prophecy of the destruction of Edom, where God is described as a man crushing grapes in a wine press. He explains why His robe is stained with “juice”:

I have trodden the wine trough alone,
And from the peoples there was no man with Me.
I also trod them in My anger,
And trampled them in My wrath;
And their juice is sprinkled on My garments,
And I stained all My raiment.
For the Day of Vengeance was in My heart,
And My year of redemption has come.
And I looked, and there was no one to help,
And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold;
So My own arm brought salvation to Me,
And My wrath upheld Me.
And I trod down the peoples in My anger,
And made them drunk in My wrath,
And I brought down their juice to the earth. (Isa. 63:1-6)

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 sixteen hundred stadia. It is unfortunate that translations such as the New American Standard Version, due to literalist presuppositions, render this measurement into a modern American measurement: two hundred miles. While that translation does provide a good idea of the magnitude of the bloodshed, it entirely misses the important symbolic figure of sixteen hundred, a number which again emphasizes the Land: four squared (the Land), times ten squared (largeness). Sixteen hundred stadia is slightly more than the length of Palestine: The whole Land of Israel is thus represented as overflowing with blood in the coming nationwide judgment. The streams of running blood become a great Red Sea, reaching up to the horses’ bridles in a recapitulation of the overthrow of Pharaoh’s horses and chariots (Ex. 14:23, 28; 15:19; cf. the extensive use of Exodus imagery in the following chapter). Zechariah had foretold of a day when all things throughout the Land would be holy, when the Land would be filled with pure worshipers, when HOLY TO THE LORD would be inscribed even “on the bells of the horses” of Israel (Zech. 14:20-21). But God had raised up on Mount Zion a new, pure Israel, in whom the promises would be fulfilled. Old Israel had become apostate and unclean, her horses swimming in blood.

The bloodshed covers the Land, yet it is outside the City. The historical fulfillment of this was, from one perspective, when “Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood,” as the troops of Vespasian and Titus overran the country. The whole Land, except for Jerusalem, was covered with death and devastation.[21] Theologically, however, the fulfillment of this text must also be related to the sacrifice of Christ, for that was the definitive bloodshedding “outside the City.” In the Old Testament sacrificial system, “the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting City, but we are seeking the City which is to come” (Heb. 13:11-14). Outside the City, therefore, was the place of judgment, where the bodies of sacrificed animals were disposed of; and it was the Place of Judgment, where Christ’s blood was shed by rebellious Israel. In this layered imagery, then, the blood flowing outside the City belongs to Christ, sacrificed outside the camp; and it is to be the blood of apostate Israel as well, cast out and excommunicated from “the Jerusalem above” and disinherited by the Father. Here is the doctrine of Limited Atonement, and with a vengeance: Blood will flow – if the blood is not Christ’s, shed on our behalf, it will be ours! “In A.D. 70 the Vine of Israel is cut down and trampled in the Winepress; but this destruction is the culmination of a process which has lasted over forty years; it began Outside the City, when one whom they despised and rejected trod the Winepress alone, and of the people there was none with Him. It was in that moment that Jerusalem fell.”[22]

[1] Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1898), p. 402.

[2] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 29-32.

[3] 3. Once we understand that the Garden of Eden was on a mountain, we can more easily understand the basis for the amazing agreement among the mythologies of the different cultures. All cultures originated from the dispersal at Mount Ararat, and later at Babel; and they took with them the memories of the original Paradise. Thus, in every ancient culture, there are myths of the dwelling-place of God on the Cosmic Mountain (e.g., Mount Olympus), and of man’s expulsion from Paradise, and his attempts to return (e.g., the almost universal preoccupation with building tower-gardens, pyramids, and mounds; cf. the “groves” and “high places” of apostate Israel). See R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, [I97I] 1978), pp. 36-53; cf. Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return: or, Cosmos and History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, 1971), pp. 12-17.

[4] Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), p. 237.

[5] Terry, p. 404.

[6] Terry, p. 404.

[7] Carrington, p. 236.

[8] J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1887] 1983), pp. 469f. It may be admitted that Russell has not proved his case “beyond all reasonable doubt.” But he has clearly established at least a conceptual relationship (if not a dependent one) between Hebrews 12 and Revelation 14.

[9] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 90f.

[10] For further material on the meaning of St. Peter’s reference to “Babylon,” see J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia, pp. 346ff.

[11] Terry, p. 407.

[12] Carrington, pp. 248f. With the British sense of propriety, Carrington admits to a certain degree of trepidation in this rendering.

[13] Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse (Andover: Allen, Morrill and Wardwell, 1845), pp. 297f.

[14] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1975), p. 237.

[15] St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated and edited by Sister Penelope Lawson, C.S.M.V. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1946, 1981), pp. 42f.

[16] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, viii.ix.5, trans. Christian Frederick Cruse (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [n.d.] 1955), p. 328.

[17] St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans, iv-vi, ed. and trans. J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1891] 1956), pp. 76f. On the early Christian attitude toward martyrdom, see Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers (Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1963), pp. 190-210.

[18] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), pp. 99f.

[19] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 68ff., 102f.

[20] Carrington, p. 256. On Christ’s use of vineyard imagery in His parables, see Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 76-82.

[21] See Josephus, The Jewish War, Book iii.

[22] Carrington, p. 261.