Can Change the World Again.
The Revelation of John - Chapter XIV
Commentaries on the Entire Bible
Comprehensively there are three main subjects in this chapter: the joy of the redeemed in heaven; the judgments of God upon the wicked in this world, and their eternal misery in the world to come. More particularly, we have a second vision of the one hundred and forty-four thousand redeemed from earth and their character (vs. 1-5); the first angel and his proclamation (vs. 6, 7); the proclamation of the second angel (v. 8); of the third (vs. 9-11); the time of suffering for the saints (v. 12), but their blessedness in the near life to come (v. 13); the reaping of the earth by one like a Son of man (vs. 14-16); and the gathering of its vintage (vs. 17-20).
1. And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him a hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
The improved reading of this verse gives us, not "a Lamb," but the Lamb, which means the same previously seen and spoken of (chap. 5: 6, 8, 12, 13, and 6: 1, 16, and 7: 9, 10, 14, 17, and 12: 11, and 13: 8). Also, in the last clause, not merely "his Father's name;" but "having his name and the name of his Father" written in their foreheads. "The mount Zion," which is here seen in vision as located in heaven, transfers the sacred mount of the holy city, below to the heavenly city above.There seems no reason to doubt that the numbers given here (the "one hundred and forty-four thousand") refer to chap. 7; and yet I see no occasion, here as there, to limit this throng to the saved from the ancient Jewish nation. They seem rather to represent all the redeemed, at least all those who have "come up out of great tribulation." They bear on their foreheads the name of their chosen Master, the God and the Savior whom they love and adore.
2. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
3. And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
4. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.
5. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
In the last clause of v. 2 the improved reading, instead of "And I heard the voice of harpers," gives us"And the voice which I heard was as that of harpers;" i. e., he speaks of the same voice from heaven before spoken of and goes on to describe it more fully. It was a sound of heavenly song.Also in v. 5 the Sinaitic and other manuscripts concur in giving falsehood [pseudos] instead of "guile" [dolos]; while the Sinaitic and Alexandrine omit "before the throne of God." All the recent editors concur in this omission.The special points made here are full of interest and of moral value; the grand magnificent chorus like the roar of ocean and "the voice of great thunder;" yet with music of heavenly sweetness as of harpers playing with their harps: also that it is a "new song," unlike the song familiar to heavenly ears in the ages beforenew because it celebrates new scenes of victory through grace, new triumphs over Satan and sina song which none can learn but the souls redeemed from earth. This does not mean that the sinless angels will not love to hear this song and will not praise God for such grace to their once fallen but now recovered brethren; but does mean that their experiences have no such witness to bear to the raise of grace that redeems souls from sin and death.In v. 4 the word for virgins is in the masculine gender, showing at least that it does not apply to woman to the exclusion of man. It seems to me probable that lewdness is used here to represent idolatry of heartthe giving of the heart to some idol rather than to God aloneaccording to the current usage of the Old Testament prophets. If it be taken in its literal sense it must still be considered as applying without distinction of sex, and also as a representative sin, really including all sin.Characteristically they follow the Lamb wherever he goeth, through scorn, shame, toil, suffering, deathwith one only law of lifeimplicit obedience to their glorious Leader; the settled, changeless purpose to follow his steps, lead wherever they may.These were redeemed from among men, from this fallen race, and not gathered into heaven from some sinless realmsome order of beings among whom sin and woe were never known. They are a first fruit unto God and the Lamb, as a closer translation of the original would require.The preferable reading in v. 5lie instead of "guile"probably looks to the staunch and unflinching testimony they had borne for God in the face of persecution. Some who had previously professed Christ quailed before the terrible ordeal of torture and death, and prevaricated or denied; but these were true and could not deny Christ.The reader will not fail to note the moral bearing of all these points upon the hearts of Christians under the fierce temptations incident to an era of fiery persecution. It ought to bear with precious moral power upon all our hearts to-day, girding us to every work and to all patient endurance and self-denial; but it was specially adapted to those days which so fearfully tried men's souls.
6. And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
7. Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
As this angel is the first of a series of three, and designated therefore with no reference to any one before him, he of v. 8 being "another" (i. e., a second) and he of v. 9 being definitely name "the third," there seems much pertinence in the reading of the Sinaitic manuscript which has, not "another angel," but simply an angel.Not "fly" but flying is the precise translation of the text. Also "an everlasting gospel," not thethere being no article and therefore, so far as appears from the text, no allusion to the old and well known gospel, the "glad tidings of great joy to all people." Yet the main question on this passage is not settled positively by this circumstance of the omission of the article. This main question is whether this gospel is the general onethe news of salvationor a special onethe tidings that great Babylon is fallen. Inasmuch as gospel means glad tidings, the word admits either sense.In favor of the former construction herethe good news of salvationit may be said (1) That this is the usual sense of the word in the New Testament; (2) It helps us to give a natural and appropriate sense to the word "everlasting" the glorious old gospel which has been the joy of saints since the first promise in Eden, and is to be their joy till the last redeemed soul is gathered home, and indeed onward thence through everlasting ages; (3) The announcement of the fall of Babylon is in place (on this construction of the word "gospel") for its bearing upon the great and vital question whether the gospel of Christ should be preached to all the worldBabylon having set herself with utmost strength to oppose; God with his high arm of judgment upon her to break her down and give free scope to the outgoing gospel. She stands to frustrate this enterprise: her fall assures its success. These points apply to sustain the first named construction.On the other hand, in favor of the construction which explains "gospel" here as the glad tidings of Babylon's fall may be urged, (1.) The absence of the article, i. e., the fact that the writer does not say, "having the everlasting gospel"the old well known news of salvation; but simply everlasting gospeleverlasting good news that will bear glory to God and good to man through all the future ages.(2.) It must be admitted that v. 7 gives us the very words which the first angel proclaimed, and there is at least a strong presumption that this is precisely the good news which is spoken of in v. 6. That is, the writer first gives in general terms a view of this angel's commission, his message; and then proceeds to give us his very words. Hence the context bears with great force in favor of this second construction.(3.) It adds much to the force of this consideration that it is altogether in harmony with the genius of this book to have one or more angels sent forward to foreshow the outburst of any great judgment. In harmony with this usage, here is a first angel whose mission is to herald the fall of Babylon. That is, he does not come to preach the proper New Testament gospel, the general news of salvation; but the particular and special news that Great Babylon is about to fall. The reader will bear in mind that the seven seals and the seven trumpets were mostly foretokens of the fall of Jerusalemforeshowings of some of the premonitory indications and progressive advances toward that final and grand result. So of the seven vials of chapter 16.(4.) There is some objection to the first named theory, and of course some support to the second, in the questionIn what sense can an angel be said to have the everlasting gospel of salvation through Christ to preach to all the earth? Especially, how can he preach it by flying through mid heaven? It has pleased God to send, not angels, but men, to preach this gospel in all the world to every creature. What can it mean that this should be done in vision by an angel?This objection is still heightened when we consider that this is one angel out of three, his work being manifestly in close relation to theirs; while theirs is certainly not in any direct sense, the preaching of the gospel of salvation, but the second one announces the fall of Babylon, and the third, the awful woe upon all who belong to this great Babylon.I incline therefore strongly to this latter constructionthe good news that Babylon is about to fall.Of course this news is good and should call forth ascriptions of glory to God because Babylon appears here as violently and mightily withstanding the progress of the gospel. Therefore God's hurling her down insures victory to Zionsuccess over the whole earth to the mission of the gospel and the salvation of the lost. Therefore "fear God and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment has come:" his justice can not sleep forever; and it awakes even now to its work and the cause of God must triumph. Therefore worship him who shows himself the Maker and Lord of allwho, having all the elements of nature in his hand, can wield them all, if need be, for the destruction of his foes.
8. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
The approved reading here omits the word "city," thus: "Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great." The name Babylon appears here first, but doubtless in the same sense as in 16: 19, and 17: 5, and 18: 2, 10, etc. That is, this is "the woman" of 17: 18; "the great harlot" of I7: 1explained most specificially to be the great city Rome. The Hebrew writers use the symbol of a woman to represent a city. "Jerusalem is the mother of us all" (Gal. 4: 26); Zion sits as a desolate mother in the scenes painted by Jeremiah in his Lamentations (1: l, 2). Rome was a second Babylon in the threefold sense (1.) of being a great persecutor and oppressor of God's people; (2.) of being thoroughly idolatrous, devoted intensely to idol-worship; (3.) of being doomed like old Babylon to a terrible fall. Here the fall of Babylon is explicitly attributed to her influence in intoxicating and maddening the nations with the hot wine of her spiritual fornicationi. e., her poisoning them all with her idolatry. "The wine of the wrath," etc., is the hot wine, the heating, intoxicating wine which inflamed their passions toward this harlotry of idol-worship.
9. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
10. The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb
11. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
These verses paint with fearful imagery the torments of all the worshipers of this "beast"the same spoken of chap. 13, viz., the Roman imperial power, thought of here as enforcing idol-worship, and in fact the worship of itself as well as of the countless gods of ancient Rome.The language, "drink the wine of the wrath of God," manifestly follows the terms which in v. 8 describe the sin to be punished. Rome had led all the nations to "drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." Retribution comes upon them in the form of "drinking the wine of the wrath of God." The former expression gives shape to the latter.This drinking from the cup of God's indignation has its antecedent type and therefore its explanation in the usage of the Old Testament prophets which may be seen expanded in Jer. 25: 15-29. The idea there is that God leaves such guilty nations to a mad infatuation which brings on their utter ruin. They eat the fruit of their own crimes. It is of course implied that beyond the natural results of sin, the hand of God is against them in righteous retribution. Yet this retribution, in the case of judgments on nations in this world, often, perhaps usually, comes in the way of the natural results of outrageous sinning. The phraseology here points strongly to some direct infliction of suffering in righteous punishment for sin.The translation, "poured out," can scarcely be justified from the original text which means preciselywhich is mixed undiluted in the cup of his indignation.It should be noticed that these sufferings are declared to be "in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb"the smoke of their torment forever rising within the view of the holya fact which had been already foreshadowed in the closing verses of Isaiah's prophecy (66: 23, 24). Such a manifestation of God's righteous retribution has its sublime moral lessens, and it is by no means the purpose of God that they shall be lost upon the moral universe."They have no rest day nor night"no rest in a sense of the justice of their cause: no rest in a feeling that they have done nobly in rebellion against God and all goodness; no rest in the spirit of stubborn reckless hardihood and brave endurance; no rest in the hope of ultimate escape or termination to their woe. Alas! what one possible element in their cup of ruin can ever give them rest! They have madly put themselves in the attitude of eternal antagonism against God: how then can they have rest so long as sin is sin, and so long as God is Almighty, and so long as the peace and the glory of his throne demand that he should make the punishment of his madly rebellious and incorrigible enemies exemplary before the moral universe?It is well to note the forceful moral bearing of these scenes upon the suffering or imperiled martyrs for whom primarily the Lord gave and John wrote these visions. Well might they saySave us from the awful doom of those who worship the beast and receive the mark of his name! Fearful as our lot of suffering may be, it is but short, and all beyond is in effable peace and glorious rest. But who can bear the doom of the men who madly seek our lives? Let us rather pity than curse them! Let us at least bear our hard lot in patience, for its woes are nothing compared with theirs!
12. Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
The best manuscripts emit the second "here" and read"Here is the patience of the saints who keep the commandments of God," etc. The idea is, Here is scope for patience; or better, giving the word patience its ancient and strict sense: Here is demand for the heroic suffering of the saints. They have before them a fearful endurance of trial and torture; let them brace their nerves for this struggle and breast the terrible storm, their eye of blended faith and hope resting on God alone, for there is glorious reward to come!
13. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, with the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.
A special voice from heaven proclaims, "Write, Blessed are the dead, etc." This command at this precise point may have had a twofold purpose(a) to place the reward of the righteous dead in strong contrast with the eternal unrest and untold woe of the wicked dead; and (b) to minister to the Christian fortitude of those who were then subjected to a fearful ordeal of trial, terror, and torture."Blessed are the dead"yet not all the dead, but those only who die in the Lordin the special relation which is thus most comprehensively putdying for him, dying in peace and union of soul with him, in humble trust and repose in his grace and love."From henceforth" has been taken by some to mean specially that they are blessed immediately after death, with no intervening period of unconsciousnessmuch less any intervening state of purgatory: and by others to mean that whatever may have been true in former ages, the Christian martyrs of this age and onward will find perfect blessedness in death. It seems to me to have special reference to the scenes of persecution then present and impending, and to say in view of those scenes, not only that the martyred dead were blessed, but that from this point onward their lot would be rather enviable than otherwisenot to be feared but rather to be chosen, so glorious would be their reward and so surely would they escape all the further toils and persecutions of this life. Of course it affirms the great gospel truth of the immediate blessedness of these who die in the Lord, for all such rest from all the toils and trials which press upon them in this earthly state; all such hasten to their ineffably glorious reward.Their works fellow closely after them, to determine the question of their destiny and to receive their appropriate reward.This must not be pressed to mean that their heavenly blessedness is simply the reward of work and not of grace; but that their works are the witness of their fidelity to Christ and place them within the pale of his friends whom he graciously rewards immeasurably beyond the line of their simply just deserts. So great is his love to those who have sought to be true and faithful to his name!
14. And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
One like a Son of man (not "the Son") corresponds in this point to the description in Rev. 1: 13. That he should appear upon a cloud is peculiar to the glorious Son of man, as in Acts 1: 9, and Rev. 1: 7, and Mat. 24: 30, and 26: 64, and Dan. 7: 12. I see no objection to supposing that this represents Jesus himself appearing in vision as about to reap the great ripe harvests of the earth. The figure imitates Joel 3: 13. "Put ye in the sickle for the harvest is ripe." as vs. 17-19 imitate the remaining part of this verse: "for the press is full; the vats overflow."The golden crown upon his head defines him to be the glorious King and Conqueror. See 19: 12.Remarkably the word rendered "thrust" applied to the sickle has the primary sense, to hurl; to send down as if it were a missile weapon to do its execution by being thrown from the hand. The meaning may be onlysend down thy hand which holds the sickle.The guilty nations of the earth are here the ripe harvests reaped by the sickle of the Righteous and Almighty Kingfor just retribution.
17. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God.
This scene corresponds mainly with the preceding, differing in the following respects: that there, the sickle is in the hand of the glorious Son of man; here, in the hand of an angel: there, we have in symbol the grain-harvest, and here the vintage: there, the reaping closes the scene; here, the vintage is thrown into the great wine-press of the wrath of God and trodden outimitating in this point the scene given in Isa. 63: 7. In each case an angel comes forth, the first from the temple, the second from the altar, to give each harvester his special commission, showing that every thing is done at the immediate behest of the Great Lord of all.
20. And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the horse-bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
The treading of this vintage brings out blood, human bloodand in quantities fearfully vastunto the horses' bridles, for the distance of sixteen hundred furlongstwo hundred miles! A most appalling scene! It has been often said that this is proximately the length of Italy, the peninsula of which Rome is the great central city. If this be not the reason for this specific limitation, I know not what reason can be assigned. It must signify an immense destruction of human life, although this language, since it represents simply what was seen in vision, need not be pressed to signify a precisely literal ocean of blood two hundred miles long.It is entirely obvious that these two scenes, the grain-harvest (vs. 14-16), and the vintage (vs. 17-20), are a twofold representation of the same grand, fearful destruction of God's enemies. As the power of the Pagan Rome of that age was worldwide"a great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth" (17: 18)it seems natural, not to say inevitable, to apply these twofold descriptions to her predicted fall. It is but expanding in new form the announcement given by the second angel (v.8). "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" And with her shall fall also the nations which drank at her hand the hot wine of the maddening cup of her bewitching idolatry. The historians who have written of the decline and fall of the old Roman empire have unconsciously written the fulfillment of these wonderful prophecies. The same subject which in divine prophecy justified these varied, sublime and portentous symbols, became a fit theme for human history, scarcely ever surpassed in its grandeur of eloquence and in its lessons of moral instruction.