This is a continuation of Applying Revelation 13: Two More Beasts & 666.
Way back in Chapter 7, John saw 144,000 Christians get their foreheads marked with Yahweh’s special seal. Naturally those Christians were all Jewish in ethnicity and naturally none of them were from the Israelite tribe of Dan, which Jewish Christians have rejected as evil at this time. In Chapter 7, we learned how ridiculous this whole ethnic favoring business is, but when talking to Jews in the Bible, Yahweh doesn’t even bother to try and talk about other ethnicities being just as welcomed by Him. These ancient Jews have a raging superiority complex and they simply must be the stars of both this world and the next, so this is how Yahweh portrays them.
Immaturity and rebellion abound among God’s audiences in both the Old and New Testaments. Because of this, we find Him simply not bothering to even try to explain certain realities to people—such as the fact that the real Heaven isn’t going to be a glamorous replica of the ancient city of Jerusalem. To the Jews, Heaven must look like their favorite city on earth, or it just won’t be heavenly. Never mind about all of those other ethnicities that wind up in Heaven—they’ll all just have to align with Jewish preferences because obviously the Jews are the stars of the universe. Don’t miss the extreme ethnic arrogance that is being accommodated in biblical prophecies.
Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him were 144,000 who had His Name and His Father’s Name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from Heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together. (Rev. 14:1-2)
Mount Zion was a popular nickname for Jerusalem which is used all throughout the Old Testament. Building a city on some elevated plot of ground makes it easier to defend from enemies who have to hike up to get to you. Jerusalem spanned a cluster of four hills, only two of which are given names in the Bible (Mount Zion and Mount Moriah). Zion was the hill that the Temple was built on, and Zion is where John now sees Lamb Jesus standing. With Jesus are those 144,000 from Chapter 7, and now instead of just having Yahweh’s seal on their foreheads, they have the Names of both Jesus and Yahweh. Remember that Jews who grew up under the Old Covenant have enormous difficulty accepting that Jesus really is as awesome as the magnificent Yahweh. Yahweh used to be the only God they knew about, and they still view Him as superior. In this vision, we will see our Gods using dramatic imagery to push these Jews to accept Jesus’ equality with Yahweh. First the 144,000 were only marked by Yahweh, now they’re marked by two Gods.
This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of Yahweh and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever He goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to Yahweh and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame. (Rev. 14:3-5)
The virginity of these 144,000 Jewish men signifies moral purity. Notice that these men have kept themselves pure—John gives no credit to Divine empowerment in his interpretation of this scene. He describes his fellow Jews as having perfect, unwavering devotion to Jesus. This is an absolute crock. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t sin, or falter in his devotion to God. But one only has to read through the epistle of 1 John to get an idea of how entrenched in denial this apostle is about his own personal failings. John refuses to own that he himself isn’t perfect, and he’s decided that moral perfection achieved through human striving is a requirement for salvation. This is what Pharisees like the apostle Paul taught back in the Gospel books, and John clearly bought into their absurdity at some point in his journey. By now he’s an old man yet he is still clinging fiercely to the delusion of sinless Christians. He’s also hanging on to that Old Covenant sacrificial system, despite the fact that in real life the Temple has been annihilated for over twenty years and the Levitical priesthood is no longer in operation. Yet John describes these sinless Jewish Christians as a “special offering” to Yahweh and the Lamb. Well, no, they’re not an offering. They’ve been saved by grace through submission to the terms of Yahweh’s New Covenant. They didn’t make it into Heaven because Jesus was blown away by their moral perfection.
And I saw an angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. “Fear Yahweh,” he shouted. “Give glory to Him. For the time has come when He will sit as Judge. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.” (Rev. 14:6-7)
The Good News referred to in the New Testament is the announcement of Yahweh’s New Covenant—a Covenant in which eternal acceptance and the forgiveness of past, present and future sins is being offered for the first time. Under the Old Covenant, you couldn’t “get saved” until you died. Salvation wasn’t granted ahead of time, and if you ended your life on earth in a state of spiritual rebellion, Yahweh chucked you into Hell. It is only under the New Covenant that we are introduced to this concept of eternal security whereby we can be confident of our salvation status long before we actually die.
Now notice that Yahweh is being exalted as the Judge here. Today Christians who believe in a tribulation and in a pre-tribulation rapture are waiting eagerly for Jesus to return again. But before Christ came, Yahweh was the One everyone was waiting for. Yahweh always taught the Jews to expect Him to suddenly return one day to judge the earth, stomp out evil, and reward the righteous.
For look, Yahweh is coming from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. (Isa. 26:21)
Gather before judgment begins, before your time to repent is blown away like chaff. Act now, before the fierce fury of Yahweh falls and the terrible day of Yahweh’s anger begins. (Zeph. 2:2)
At the end of the Old Testament, Yahweh describes a future day when He will trash all the wicked and reward all of the righteous. Then He says that an Elijah-type prophet will show up before that great day arrives.
“Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of Yahweh comes.” (Mal. 4:5)
Four hundred years later, Jesus identified John the Baptist as the foretold Elijah. For the Jews, that only increased the expectation that Yahweh Himself would soon return in some super dramatic way. The idea of Jesus also making some spectacular return to earth wasn’t even a concept until He introduced it. But even after Jesus said He would return, the Jews continued to anticipate the return of Yahweh as well. Yahweh is the alpha God in the mind of the Jews, which is why this angel in Revelation is ordering everyone to revere Yahweh and crediting Yahweh for creating everything.
Then a second angel followed the first angel through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.” (Rev. 14:8)
Today, if you call someone Hitler, everyone understands that it’s not a compliment. Today we use the names of historical people, countries, and events like synonyms to emphasize certain characteristics. To call someone Hitler is to suggest that they are a brutal tyrant or a mass murderer or a raging bigot. To call someone Mother Theresa is to suggest they are very generous, moral, and compassionate towards others. Certain names are globally understood, but most are only understood within specific cultures. Abraham Lincoln is a very significant figure to Americans, while Mao is a very symbolic name to the Chinese. But Chinese citizens won’t understand what’s so important about the name Lincoln, and plenty of Americans don’t know anything about Mao. It was the same in ancient times. The Jews had a long list of famous names which were only significant to them: David, Ahab, Jezebel, Elijah, Abraham. One just had to drop one of these names into a conversation, and there would be immediate understanding as long as both parties in that conversation were familiar with Jewish history. But for a Greek, the name Abraham wouldn’t mean much, nor would terms like manna or the Torah. Here in Revelation, we find several famous historical names being used. Jezebel’s name was used back in Chapter 2, and now the name Babylon is being dropped. Both of these names are famous synonyms for “ultra-evil” which every Jew would understand.
When your country is utterly conquered by another country, you don’t get over it very quickly. Today when people think of World War II, Germany is often the first antagonist to come to mind. This isn’t really fair, because there were multiple countries on both sides of that war. But Germany tends to get most of the flak, just as Germany got the blunt of the blame for World War I. Whether they are fair or not, these historical judgments stick.
Now in Israel’s history, she got mowed down many times by many countries and empires. But of all of her historical antagonists, one name rose to the top: Babylon. Babylon was the empire that sacked the southern kingdom of Judah, completely ending any illusion of Israel being an independent nation. Before Babylon came along, the Assyrian empire sacked the northern ten tribe kingdom of Israel. Yet even though Assyria was just as violent and brutal as Babylon, and even though Assyria was also responsible for deporting Jews all over the place, it was Babylon’s name that was recorded in infamy. Why? Because Babylon sacked Jerusalem and utterly destroyed Yahweh’s Temple for the first time. This extra action gained Babylon extra notoriety, just as Germany continues to remain infamous today because she spawned those hideous concentration camps. Never mind that Russia’s psychotic Stalin mowed down at least 20 million of his own citizens (and that’s not counting the other 20 million who died in the war)—it’s Hitler’s 8 million which get the attention today. See how it works? History is biased. It chooses a few favorite horror stories to obsess over, then intentionally downplays crimes of equal and greater magnitude. It was the same with the Jews. Both Assyria and Babylon took down whole kingdoms of Israel, but Babylon was the one who was exalted as ultra-evil. Here in Revelation, Babylon becomes the code name for Rome.
Remember that Domitian is monitoring written material in these times and looking for evidence of anti-Rome sentiment. So John needs to keep things cryptic to the Romans, yet he makes them very obvious to his fellow Jewish Christians by referring to nasty old 666 man and this great city named Babylon. Everyone in John’s Jewish audience will understand that Babylon is a synonym for Rome. This is a no-duh obvious pairing. The Babylonians were those ultimate bullies who butchered scores of Jews and toppled the Temple and Jerusalem. The Romans have done all the same crimes. Babylon is the perfect name to give to Rome, and here the hatred for Rome is underscored as she is accused of making “the whole world” join her in her sins. This is more than a little exaggeratory, but it certainly gets the point across. Rome is a yuck.
Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of Yahweh’s anger. It has been poured full strength into Yahweh’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.” (Rev. 14:9-11)
The beast being referred to here is Spotty Domitian, who we met in our last chapter. To sincerely align with Domitian’s religious ideals would mean you were wholeheartedly worshiping Satan. Here God is putting out a very terrifying description of what will happen to those who refuse to align with His New Covenant requirements: they’re going to end up tormented forever in Hell. He portrays their torment as an experience which they are conscious of and getting no relief from. Notice how He also portrays Jesus and the angels kicking back in Heaven enjoying the sight of humans suffering. Our Gods have never taught that They weep over the suffering of those who end up in Hell, so get these images of teary-eyed Jesus out of your head. Our Gods are a lot more than just love. They delight in getting revenge on Their enemies in eternity, and this isn’t the first time Yahweh has introduced the concept of Heaven and Hell intersecting in some way. This idea of Heaven’s residents watching God’s enemies writhing in misery reaches way back to Isaiah’s time, and there’s much we can learn from understanding that our Gods delight in showcasing the results of Their eternal judgments.
This means that Yahweh’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying His commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a Voice from Heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!” (Rev. 14:12-13)
Once you understand that Old Covenant Jews had no concept of the Holy Spirit as a separate God, but rather viewed Him as an extension of Yahweh, it’s interesting to notice how much the Holy Spirit stays in the background in biblical accounts. Here in Revelation, He only pipes up a few times, yet He doesn’t take on human forms like Yahweh and Jesus, nor is He given a bunch of time in the spotlight. But just wait—when the real end times begin, we’ll finally get a big faceful of the Holy Spirit taking center stage and showing the world just how awesome He is.
We’ve already seen the 144,000 Jewish men having a great time singing songs in Heaven. For a Jew who is still dealing with the hardships of life in the Roman Empire, such a scene could inspire frustration and jealousy. Notice how God specifically encourages those who are still on the earth by saying that those “who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” God is encouraging Christians on the earth that they, too, have rewards waiting for them in Heaven.
Then I saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
Then a second angel came from the Temple and shouted to the one sitting on the cloud, “Swing the sickle, for the time of harvest has come; the crop on earth is ripe.” So the one sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the whole earth was harvested.
After that, a third angel came from the Temple in Heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then a fourth angel, who had power to destroy with fire, came from the altar. He shouted to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of Yahweh’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. (Rev. 14:14-20)
In the Gospels, Jesus described the angels as assisting Him in His final judgment work. Here we see a series of humanoid angels coming out of Yahweh’s heavenly Temple and tossing all of humanity into a big wine vat. The angels are using sickles, which were common farming tools at this time. A sickle is a curved blade attached to the end of a stick which you could swing at clumps of wheat grass to cut large hunks down at once. Here angels use their sickles to figuratively “harvest” the earth. The first harvest image was probably something like wheat. The second harvest image is grapes. We humans are the grapes in this passage, and it doesn’t go well for us. We end up tossed into a large vat where we then get brutally stomped until the land is covered in such a deep flood of our blood that a horse would have trouble keeping his head above the liquid line. That’s a whole lot of blood.
So what are we supposed to be learning here? The wrath of our Gods is very real, extremely intense, shockingly violent, and utterly terrifying. We really don’t want to end up on the wrong side of Them in eternity, but if we have aligned with the terms of Yahweh’s New Covenant, we won’t. The take away here is not to start freaking out about ending up in Hell, but rather to get over this absurd delusion that God is only love.