In this 19th study of revelation we look at need for salvation and the reality judgment and Hell in chapter 14. A recording of this will be uploaded at the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.
“What’s the point of all this hardship? Why push through the pain? Others have given up, and they seem to be having an easier life! What can be worth this much effort?” Whether it’s a marathon, long-term studies, a grueling project or start-up initiative – somewhere along the road you will ask that question in agonizing pain. So too in your journey of faith.
The answer to this question is what Revelation 14 offers to struggling church. The scenes instills courage in the hearts of believers tempted to give in or give up, but it does not shy away from the sober reality of what is at stake. The chapter is divided in three logical sections, revealing the role models, the reason and the reward for endurance.
The role models for endurance (14:1-5). Chapter 14 opens in stark contrast to chapter 13’s end. Moving from the Beasts and those who receive the mark, John’s attention falls on the Lamb and his army of 144’000 who bears the mark of His Father on their foreheads. In our post on the 144’000 from chapter 7 we concluded that this group represents the fullness of people saved by Christ’s blood, who remain loyal to him.
From the contrasting groups John hears contrasting sounds (14:2-3): God’s voice roars from heaven “like many waters” accompanied by “load thunders” (repeated in 8:5; 11:19; 16:18; refer 4:5) alluding to God’s justice and judgment from his Law (Exodus 19:16). This originates from his judgment on the and his worshiper (14:8ff). John also hears the sound of joyful, tranquil music by harpists. These comes from the believers singing before the throne the song of the redeemed (compare 4:3 with 5:8-10) – a song that only those who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb can faithfully sing.
The redeemed are described as those “who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins… who follow the Lamb wherever he goes”. (14:4). This phrase is not a reference to physical celibacy, but spiritual fidelity, as it contrasts God’s faithful people to those seduced into “fornication” with “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (14:8; 17:6). Here, drawing from the Old Testament prophets (notably Hosea), John describes idolatry as the Church’s spiritual unfaithfulness to God symbolically with a married person’s immorality and sexual unfaithfulness towards his or her spouse. Paul uses this imagery when he laments the Corinthians’ backsliding: “I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that… your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.“ (2 Corinthians 2:11). But the ones before the throne are a bride “without blemish” (4:5; compare Ephesians 5:27).
The reason for endurance (14:6-12). The next section in this chapter outlines the basic theology on judgment, revealed by three angelic messengers. Angel one proclaims the “eternal gospel: Fear God and give him glory.” God is the creator of all the earth, that he is sovereign over all the nations, and that he will judge all people, everywhere – and that hour is soon (14:6-7). Angel two announces the destruction of “Babylon” because she lead people everywhere into idolatry and immorality (14:8; compare Isaiah 21, Jeremiah 51). In chapter 18-19 the author returns to this theme, wherein Babylon is described as the the city infested by demons and inhabited by the defiled (18:2). Angel three decrees God’s wrath on the beast and all who bears his mark: eternal judgment in “fire and sulfur” (14:9-11) – an allusion to Hell.
Our generation is not comfortable with the idea of judgment in general, and hell in particular. I don’t like speaking about hell either – but Jesus, our Saviour, spoke more about Hell than he did about Heaven. His urgency to save people from the reality of eternal judgment drove him from heaven to earth, from comfort to the cross. Because, in his words, Hell is an eternal torment (Luke 16:23) of anguish and regret (Matt. 13:42) in unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48). From this “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30) there is no escape (Luke 16:19–31). Hell is not a place where he banishes people to, but rather the default destination that he came to save us from. This same urgent cry to count the cost and remain faithful is what we hear throughout Revelation, and in particular in this chapter.
This section concludes with the exhortation “for the endurance of the saints, [to] keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (14:12; compare 13:10 and Matthew 24:13). In other words, this is the reason to patiently bear the shame and suffering on earth, because the alternative is to serve the beast and bear his mark, which mean you will share in judgment. Suffering tempts believers to deny Christ to escape the wrath of the Beast, to enjoy peace on earth. But the angels warn that it is better to suffer the wrath of the Beast for brief time on earth than the wrath of the unbearable Lamb for eternity. Remain faithful to to Christ, because – “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
The reward for endurance (14:13-20). John describes then hears the voice declaring that “those who are dead in the Lord… may rest from their labors” (14:13) but sees a terrible judgment by “the Son of Man” likened to the harvest and trampling of grapes in the wine press (14:14-20; compare Isaiah 63:1-6). This terrible judgment of the nations happens when the “grapes are ripe” so that their crushing leave the land flowing with blood (14:15, 20; compare Isaiah 34:1-3).
In this image of judgment, with blood flowing on the land, there is a powerful allusion to the crucifixion of Christ – an act of God’s mercy and justice. In this grape-pressing image of judgment John alludes to Christ being taken “outside the city” (14:20; compare John 19:16-17 and Hebrews 13:12), “crushed by God” (Isaiah 53:5), and his “blood flowed” for the remission of sins of all the world (compare Matthew 21:37-39). The invitation for the reader is that in the crucifixion of Christ, and his blood which flowed on our behalf, we may escape the wrath of God (1:5; compare Ephesians 2:13).
Herein Jesus reveals that the reward for endurance is to enter the rest (or peace) of God by faith is atonement (14:13; compare Hebrews 4:1-13), to be freed from the presence of sin, suffering and Satan forever – rather than suffer from the wrath of God along with Satan and his hosts of evil.
Bringing it Home
This call to endure was written to church in Asia oppressed daily by the Beast which was Rome and temped by the seductive culture called Babylon, nearly 2000 ago. However we can identify with their inclination to give up on our faith and fidelity as we are bombarded daily by suffering and seduction.
Walk on. This chapter calls me to look at my suffering in light of the eternal Fires. I’m urged to consider the cost of denying Christ and default into a life of compromise for comfort’s sake. And this spurs me on to “run the race with endurance, looking to Jesus” and that “great cloud of witnesses” who surrounds his throne (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m encouraged to “to be found in Him… hold onto what is true…press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:9-16). My salvation from Hell makes the endurance worth it!
Witness. This sober look at the Final Judgment calls me to consider how I look at my family, my neighbours, my world. If Christ was moved from comfort to the cross to save the lost – like me – how much am I moved to share this “eternal Gospel” (14:6) so that others may be saved from the wrath of God?
Worship. This look at the Final Judgment also moves me to sing the song of the redeemed – to remember the his blood and relish in his mercy towards me. Amazing grace indeed!