Read Revelation chapter 14—The Final Harvest. It may seem strange that in the middle of the book of Revelation we would be speaking of the final judgment. We would be inclined to say, “Well, if we are going to deal with the final judgment in the middle of the book, what is left?” What is left is to look over the Christian era again and see other aspects of the problems, trials and victories of God's people. I believe that part of the difficulty that many have in understanding Revelation comes from an assumption, an unfounded assumption, that Revelation is a continuous chronological narration from the beginning of the Christian era to the end. But, as you read Revelation, it just does not work out that way. Instead, we are seeing a series of visions throughout the book looking at the Christian era from various vantage points and calling attention to various aspects.
As a background, in chapter 12, we had that horrible picture of Satan under the figure of a dragon with many horns and heads. Then, in chapter 13, we saw that terrifying picture of the beast coming up out of the sea. Then, we saw the beast of the earth coming up, and we saw those who had the mark of the beast and some very grim sights presented to us.
All of this might strike terror even into the heart of a Christian. So, as it happens throughout the book of Revelation, before we go into that final terrifying moment of judgment and the final wrath of God being poured out upon the wicked, there is a pause to speak to the heart of the Christian to say, “Do not be afraid, because you will be preserved and you will be protected. And, the terrifying things that are to come will be for a brief time, but, ultimately, victory will be yours.” So, after seeing the terror of the beast coming up from the sea and the earth and those bearing the mark of the beast persecuting the people of God in chapter 13, we are again provided reassurance in Revelation 14 that God's people will be preserved and will enjoy the presence of God eternally.
As we begin this chapter, we see the 144,000 who were on the earth (verse 3) and who now are at the throne of God in heaven (verse 2). The can sing together a new song now because
they share, being the redeemed of all the ages, the new experience of the presence of God and of the Lamb. They are together on Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever (Psalm 125:1). If we are wondering who these 144,000 are, they are followers of the Lamb who are called virgins (verse 4) because they did not become unfaithful to Christ.
Some mistakenly assume that the writer is speaking here about literal virgins, but that is contrary to the whole idea. It is speaking spiritually. They are the ones who are faithful to Christ. This idea is presented in the same terms by the apostle Paul in II Corinthians 11:2 where he said to the church, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” The idea is that the church is to be spiritually faithful and loyal to one husband, to Christ, and, in that sense, they maintain their purity and their virginity. In other words, these are faithful followers of the Lamb of God. These 144,000 were “purchased from among men” (verse 4). Well, who are they? Let us let the Bible explain to us.
Who are those purchased from among men? In Acts 20:28, the apostle Paul said, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased which His own blood.” That is what Jesus purchased on the cross with His blood, the church of our Lord. So, when we see those who have been purchased from among men, the only people that have been purchased by the blood of Lamb are those who are the church. The 144,000 of Revelation, then, has reference to the church. We see the same idea expressed in I Corinthians 6:20, when Paul, in writing to the church, says, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.”
Now, these 144,000 in Revelation 14 are also described as “... being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (verse 4). What does this mean? The background to the idea of the firstfruits is back in the Old Testament. Exodus 23:19 is perhaps the first clear reference to it. It says, “The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” Many other passages in the Law of Moses say that the children of Israel, when they made sacrifices to God, were to present the
firstfruits of the land. That would be the choicest of the crop and the first to come forth. In Jeremiah 2:3, we see this concept of the firstfruits being used figuratively to refer to the people of God. It says, “Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase.” Israel, the people of God, is spoken of as the firstfruits of God's increase. So, the people of God are the first fruits.
We find the same idea being expressed by James when we come back to the New Testament. James applies it now to the people of God who, in the new dispensation, are Christians, those in the church. James 1:18 says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Christians are God's firstfruits. Both in the old and New Testaments, "firstfruits' is a way of referring to the people of God, of the people of God. So, when we come to the book of Revelation, we see the 144,000 being referred to as the firstfruits of God and to the Lamb. If we allow the Bible to interpret itself, that means the church.
Of course, it would include the redeemed of all the ages, the church, in the sense of God's people in the Old Testament and God's people under the New Covenant. It is the redeemed of all the ages, those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb.
There are those who teach in our time that 144,000 is a special group of super–Christians who are going to someday inherit the new heaven, and all of the rest of us who were not quite that good are going to end up on the new earth. That is just totally foreign to what Revelation 14 is saying when it describes to us who the 144,000 are. They are the firstfruits. They are those purchased. The are the followers of the Lamb. They are virgins, that they are spiritually chaste. They have not committed adultery or fornication with the beast, as we saw in the previous chapters. They are the ones who are true and faithful, loyal to Jesus Christ who is the husband of the church, which is the bride of Christ.
These 144,000 people are those that have the name of the Lamb and of God on their foreheads. This is in contrast to the rest of mankind, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, the free and the bond who have the mark of the beast on their
foreheads, as seen in Revelation 13:16–17. So, those who have the name of God and the Lamb, who are sealed on their foreheads, are those who are redeemed of God. Those who have the mark of the beast on their foreheads are those who are followers of Satan and the beast. Mankind is simply divided into two: those who have the mark of Satan, those who have the mark of Christ. And, you are either one or the other. You are either God's or you are Satan's, which is the teaching throughout the scripture.
In the mouth of the 144,000 is found no lie, and they are without blemish (verse 5). And, you say, “Does that not suggest a super group out of the church?” Or, you might say, “Many of us probably told some kind of lie along the way, but these have told no lies.” Is that what is said? Look at it again. It says, actually, that in the mouth of the 144,000 there was found no lie. Why are they found without lie? Because it has been forgiven by the cleansing of the blood of the Lamb. That is true of all Christians. When we enter the presence of God we are found without sin. Why? Because we have never committed any sins? No. But, because the blood of the Lamb has kept right on cleansing those who have been followers of the Lamb, those who have been walking in the light. It seems to be one of the hardest messages for some reason, for Christians to understand, yet it is so clearly taught to us in I John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Yes, you may have told a lie, you may have committed any number of various kinds of sins, because we all sin. John said that. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). But, the blood of Jesus keeps on cleansing us as we are really walking in the light and faithfully making that effort to follow our Lord. The blood keeps cleansing so that when you finally arrive at the judgment seat of God, you are not carrying that great load of guilt of sins with you. You have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.
So, there are no lies there because they have all been erased and cleansed. They have been wiped away by the blood of the Lamb. We can come to the judgment joyously, not because we somehow have become worthy of any goodness, but, because,
in spite of our sins, and because of our faith in Jesus. He has promised that He will confess us before the Father. Just as in Revelation 11:12, where it says, “Come up here,” we look at heaven and then drop back to look at the situation on earth before Jesus comes again. Then, in Revelation 14:1–5, we look at heaven and then, beginning in verse 6, we again look at situation of the earth before Jesus comes again.
One of the things that sometimes creates confusion as people study Revelation is that there is sometimes a flashback that occurs as we are reading through the book and we need to watch and look for such. We're clearly seeing a scene in heaven and the redeemed are there, the church is in heaven.
But now, in the very next verse, we are dropping back in time and looking at the scene here on earth before the judgment, before we find the church and the redeemed in heaven.
Now, we encounter three angels. Actually, we are going to see six, but first we want to look at three. These three are to be seen together because they are bearing the same kind of message. It is the message of warning. Actually, chapter 14 of Revelation divides itself into three sections. Each section begins with the statement, “And I looked, and behold.” The very opening verse of Revelation 14 says, “And I looked [saw].” These form three separate units. The first is showing us the redeemed in heaven, the second is showing us the earth again, and the warning that God tried to give to mankind concerning the judgment which is to come, and the final verses, 14 through 20, show us the judgment that is to come.
Now, we come to verses 6 through 13, and here we see three angels in verses 6, 8 and 9. Those belong together because each is warning mankind to turn to faith in God and away from sin, and from the judgment of sin, which is to come. The coming judgment is eternal good tidings to the people of God, because it means their deliverance. Look at verses 6–7: “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
Here, we have the angel bringing the message of eternal good tidings, even though it is a message of judgment. For God's people, the judgment is not something to fear. It is D–Day. It is victory day for the people of God. it is the time when finally we are delivered from the oppression of persecutors. I think this is expressed in the last book of the Old Testament, in the last chapter of the Old Testament. In Malachi chapter 4:1–2, where we see both sides of judgment, it says, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, that will leave them neither root nor branch.
There is the terrifying side, but now the other side. “But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall–fed calves” (Malachi 4:2). He shall come as the Sun of Righteousness arises with healing in its wings. That, too, is a scene of judgment for God's people.
So, as we look at this particular message of the angel, we are seeing a message of judgment which is really a statement in Revelation 14:7: “... for the hour of His judgment has come.” Some see here a picture of an angel coming at the very last moment of human history crying to mankind and saying, “The hour is come.” But, this is the message of God throughout the ages because even John himself in his first epistle, I John 2:18, said: “ Little children, it is the last hour.” He was writing that back in the first century. He said this is the last hour, but then, if you follow the usage of John as he employs the word “hour.” he does not mean that it is the last sixty minute interval of human history, but, rather, this is the hour of God, this is the time of God. This is the time to turn to God. It is the time of the judgment of God. We always stand in the last hour, so to speak, because for all we know, the Lord could come in this hour. The message of the gospel is continually a message of urgency.
The second angel tells us that Babylon is fallen. It is spoken of as an accomplished fact, a characteristic of Bible prophecy when speaking of the certainty of future fulfillment. In fact, these are the exact words used by Isaiah in Isaiah 21:9 in prophesying the fulfillment of the destruction of the city of
Babylon. He said, “... Babylon is fallen, is fallen!” It was a future event, but he could say it is fallen because of the certainty of its accomplishment. So, here the angel says, “... Babylon is fallen, is fallen” You can count on it!
This is the first time Babylon is introduced in Revelation. Often in Revelation, a thought is introduced that is later on developed more fully. Here is an example of it, because when we get to chapters 17 and 19, we are going to learn a lot more about Babylon. But, for now, it is sufficient to say that Babylon is actually the world's seductive attractions that would lead men away from God. We will develop that thought later just as John develops the thought later in chapters 17 and 19.
Look again at the statement in Revelation 14:8: “... Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Now, the word “wrath” is the Greek word humos which can equally be translated “passion.” If you will look at it from that point of view, he is saying that he has made all the nations to drink of the wine of the passion of her fornication, her passionate immorality.
Here is the third instrument of Satan for the destruction of God's people. We have two introduced in chapter 13, namely, the beast that comes out of the sea, representing the oppressive persecuting political powers of the earth, and the beast that comes out of the earth, which represents false religion. Now, we come to the third instrument of Satan, and that is seduction. This represents the effort to seduce God's people.
Satan want's us to believe the attractions of this earth and those things that are contrary to the will of God, those things that provide life and fulfillment and excitement. He would lead us away from an attachment to God. We see here, however, the warning for the benefit of all of us that Babylon is fallen, that those earthly enticements are only for a time. God's people, those who have seen the true joys and have loved Christ, will actually enjoy His presence and have joy forever.
The third angel announces that those who are attached to this world will perish with this world. Here in this life, the wrath of
God is mixed with grace; but, eventually, in hell, the wrath will be unmixed. The final and decisive judgment will have been made. This realization and certainty that God's people will be avenged by God should encourage God's people to patiently endure all afflictions and trials. Let us look at it. The third angel said: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength 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. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9–11).
It is popular in these days to try to minimize the wrath and the judgments of God and the reality of hell. But you simply cannot believe the Bible and deny it. You cannot believe Jesus Christ and deny it because Jesus had more to say about it than even his apostles did in the New Testament writings. And, here in Revelation, in no uncertain terms, we are introduced to the thought that the followers of the beast, the followers of Satan and his days, are going to experience fire and brimstone. They will be tormented in the presence of the holy angel, in the presence of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever and they will have no rest day and night. How could you say anything more clearly than that? It is a terrifying thing to enter into eternity unprepared to meet God. This is something we have got to realize. If we had the sense of the reality of the fact, perhaps we would be more enthusiastic and diligent in trying our best to turn men to God, to persuade men that God does love them and that He is trying to spare them from eternal punishment.
Jesus has done his best to say this is the way it is: “Do not water it down. I am telling you the reality of the matter that there are only two possible destinies, either you spend eternity in My presence or not in My presence. And, if you are not in My presence, but are simply with Satan and his followers, what do you have to look forward to?” However, verse 12 says, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
The thing that should cause us to steadfastly endure and continue to follow the commandments of Jesus and the faith of Jesus is that we know what the alternatives are. We have had set before us in crystal–clear terms that there are only two destinies. Jesus said you either enter in by the narrow way, or you will enter the broad way—there are only two. We have got to make men aware of that fact and of the awfulness of failing to choose God's way.
We see that even if the believer experiences death at the hands of those who bear the mark of the beast, eternal blessedness is his. Notice verse 13, one of the most reassuring and comforting verses in the Bible: “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘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 works follow them.’ ”
We have just seen that the smoke of the torment of the wicked goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night. Now, we see that the followers of the Lamb are able to rest from their labors. In Philippians 3:8–9, Paul said: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
If, in the last day, we can be found in Christ, then that is the joy that we shall be thankful for eternity. And the scripture gives us only one way we can enter into him. It is found in Galatians 3:27 and Romans 6:4. We are baptized into Christ and when that happens, according to I Corinthians 12:13, we are simultaneously baptized into His body, the church. That is the way you get into Him and that is the only way you can ever be found in Him. It is accomplished when you enter into the water of baptism and have the blood of Christ sprinkled on your heart, sprinkled from an evil conscience according to Hebrews 10:22.
And now the final harvest has come. Jesus, “... One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days,” as described in Daniel 7:13, and was prophesied as coming in the same manner as He went, according to Acts 1:9–11.
We see in Revelation 14:14 the One like the Son of Man sitting on the cloud as the earth is reaped in Judgment. It says: “And I looked and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.”
This is in perfect harmony with what John wrote in John 5:27: “... and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” Here is the Son of Man on the cloud who is about to execute judgment on all the earth. No longer does He bear the crown of thorns: he wears the crown of victory. He brings a sickle to gather the firstfruits of them that are His. I believe that Joel 3:13 provides a most informative picture of what we are seeing described in Revelation 14. It says: “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe, come, go down for the winepress is full, the vats overflow—for their wickedness is great.” Here, Joel combines the two figures we see in the last part of Revelation 14, the sickle put forth to reap the harvest and the grapes put in the winepress where the wicked are trampled out. So, we see the two aspects of the final judgment of God, the judgment of the righteous and the wicked. They are mentioned separately, but they happen simultaneously.
What we see in Matthew 3:12, is the expression of the whole picture of revelation 14:14–16, John the Baptist said; “... and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” Jesus is going to gather the righteous. Yet, the picture in Revelation has the angels doing the gathering. But, that is also in harmony with what has been revealed to us in the gospels. Matthew 13:39 says: “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are the angels.” Notice, also, Matthew 24:31: “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” We are seeing the elect of God being gathered in Revelation 14.
We now come to another aspect. Two angels come bringing judgment on the wicked. Each comes from the very sanctuary of God in heaven where the cries of the persecuted people of God have ascended, as we saw in Revelation 8. And, God's
first response is that the wicked should be cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God. In Isaiah 63:3–4, God said, “I have trodden the winepress alone,and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes for the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come.”
And so, in the trampling out of the grapes in the winepress of the wrath of God, we see the final judgment on the wicked. The result is an awesome scene of blood—1,600 furlongs across, which would be somewhere from 150 to 200 miles. Here was a sea of blood of that dimension up to the bridle of a horse in depth. And, that suggest that the final judgment of God is thorough, complete and universal, it encompasses all of the wicked.
Why do we have the number 1,600? Perhaps, it is that 1,600 is the square of 40 and 40 is the traditional standard of punishment. The children of Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness as the punishment of God. Forty lashes of the whip save one were used in the punishment of criminals. The squaring of the 40 would suggest the fullness, the completeness and finality of the wrath of God.
The sea of blood is outside the city, away from the presence of God forever. Perhaps, the most complete statement of the message of Revelation 14 is found in Galatians 6:7–8: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
The choice is clearly set before you, and the choice is whether you would serve God or be a follower of Satan. If you believe in Jesus, repent of your sins, confess you faith in Him and are baptized in Him, then when the judgment day comes, if you have been faithful, you will be found in Him, not having a righteousness of your own, but that which is through faith in Jesus Christ. If you trust Him and believe Him, then obey Him.