Revelation 4: The Lamb’s army and the Harvest
Revelation 14New International Version (NIV)
The Lamb and the 144,000
14 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.
The Three Angels
6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
8 A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’[a] which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand,10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Harvesting the Earth and Trampling the Winepress
14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man[b] with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.[c]
Last week we saw John depict these two terrible beast; one coming from the sea and the other from the land, among us; these represented the imperial systems of military might and propaganda might of John’s current day Rome. However, they showed a little more, they showed that man builds these empires of evil (the are beastly). And these empires parody the power and hope of Jesus, but end in wickedness, and human suffering.
Essentially; welcome to the world! We through our desires to build up our own kingdoms in opposition to God have really made a right mess of things.
Now, last week as we covered the issue of John calling us to allegiance to the Lamb rather that the imperial systems of this world; we might have been tempted to think why?
The beastly system has all the power, it has the money, it seems to be wining. Today we cover the fact that it can’t; and how you want to be a part of the Lambs army and not a part of the beastly systems of Babylon.
So, let’s dive into the imagery that John uses in this passage;
1.The Lamb and His army
John, transports us out of the horrifying images of the beasts to Mount Zion, the city of God, the fortress where God protects his people.
And here in opposition to the beasts of Babylon (which is Rome in John’s day) we see the Lamb and the 144000 which we have covered previously at the beginning of the year.
The message that John is painting in this passage is that if those suffering under the beastly rule of Rome endure because they are secure in the Lamb.
But more to this John says that firstly they were those who did not defile themselves with Babylon, and no lie was found in their mouth (in other words they we not part of Satan’s Kingdom – the father of lies) but John says that they are the firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Now because we don’t live anywhere near an agrarian type of life – we have no idea most of us where our food comes from- besides the local Checkers or Pick n’ Pay and food security is not an issue for us. We don’t understand the wonder of the firstfruits.
In John’s day, the firstfruits was a sign of the harvest to come. If it was good firstfruits it meant a good harvest; and so, great celebrations surrounded this fristfruits harvest. John says that the great Army of the Lamb, this perfect number representing the people of God was just the beginning. The harvest is coming (which is what we will look at next).
The lesson is this; through persecution, though it looks like Rome/Babylon is wining; God is already taking the victory and the harvest will be great!
This leads us into the next image that John uses;
2.The Gospel and Judgment
John now tells us three angels; one declaring the eternal Gospel, another declaring judgment, and the final one warning, if anyone worships the beast they will befall his fate.
Again, at the end of this is John’s warning
“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” (14:12)
The message given here is a simple but powerful message; Babylon will fall; justice is coming, the way out for the world and the people of this world is the eternal gospel.
Our tendency today as well as the tendency of John’s day is to fall into a state of despair at what we see. And this is peppered in the Psalms as well. This is the idea that evil seems to be winning, injustice is reigning and what is the point of all this? Has God abandoned his world?
In fact; John is leaning on again the prophets of the Old Testament who lamented on the plight of Israel who had fallen into the hands to Evil Empires that abused them. The cry went out from the Prophets? Has God abandoned us?
The people of John’s age must have been feeling the same thing? Has God left this world to just fall apart? Well, John answers with the way God is healing His world; the Eternal Gospel is going out and in this Gospel, is the declaration that God’s judgment is coming!
The second angel declares that judgment; Babylon has fallen! This must have been an incredible statement to the readers of John’s age; how could Rome fall? It seemed so powerful, so strong? How could it fall? Well it fell to God’s judgement!
Essentially, the call is this; stay in the systems of this world; in the great empire, take her protection and indulgences, but know, if you do you will join in her judgement: the full wrath of God’s judgement.
Which leads us to the final image given to us in this passage;
3.The Harvest and gathering of wrath
In this final image that we are dealing with tonight; John again goes back to Isaiah and leans on Isaiah 63 where we see the servant of the Lord; who Isaiah depicts as the suffering Messiah in chapters 42 and 53 treading the grapes of God’s wrath and he states in Isaiah how the servant did it alone and got blood on his cloths.
Now this is in contrast the harvest of grain; which is obviously those who are saved; a picture used in the Old Testament and even in the preaching of Jesus as God’s calling together his own.
Now, the temptation is to react in two wrong ways to this passage; the first, I’ll say is a domination form and the other is an overly-inclusive form.
One way celebrates the destruction of the wicked as if it is our mandate to destroy them, and then celebrate in their destruction. This misses the point of the passage and in fact the message of the whole Bible. As we see this is the judgment of the “Son of Man” it is his doing! Throughout Scripture we see the Holy Words of God calling us to leave Justice to Him, to leave revenge to Him. Because only He is the true judge of the whole earth! The Judgment is not ours, it is His to meet out.
The other temptation is to say; I cannot believe in a God who would trample people so that their blood flows; you see the bible is a gruesome book of a maniacal vindictive God.
Essentially it comes down to the idea that how can a God of love send someone to suffering for all of eternity. And the answer to this is that we must understand this in light of the chapters we have read and the message of Revelation and the Message of the Bible.
If God was to simply pass over people’s injustice, their wickedness their abuse of His creation, their abandonment, and utter scorn of who He is, how could he be a good God and let that go unpunished. In fact, to let that go unpunished shows that he is not good, in fact he is evil.
Would we simply let someone off the hook if they committed an atrocity against us? No! So how can we expect the God of heaven and earth to act in the same injustice.
What we see though is this punishment is after the call of the eternal gospel; and this is the message, church; God’s judgment is coming! In fact, it must! Everything in us knows that the world needs some level of justice being administrated; the problem is; how can we stand? Surely, we are guilty? Surely, we have not kept ourselves pure? Well, that is why God has made a way; the Eternal Gospel; the good news; that the justice of God; the treading of the grapes has for you occurred on the cross of Jesus; He took your punishment so that you could receive His reward!
This is why John connects the image of the wine press to it being outside the city. The Judgement of God will be done in light of the cross of Christ; those who by their wickedness refuse His grace will be subjected to His justice!
And so, the call for us today is where will you be when God comes to administer His justice; with the wickedness of Babylon? Bound to the systems and ways of this would? Well then, your destiny lies with it; you will find yourself at the hand of God’s justice!
Or are you found in the Lamb, among His people? Well when God’s justice comes you have already faced his wrath in the cross and you will be welcomed as a good harvest!
Let us therefor rest in the fact that God is still working in His world and justice is coming.