Chapter 14: Who Is Really Winning?
The previous chapter features a pair of seemingly indestructible beasts that are trampling down the people of God. The Evil Empire seems to be winning against God’s army. Appearances can be deceiving, however. In Chapter 14 the 144,000 of chapter 7 are gathered at Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) with the Lamb, enjoying a “heavenly” choral arrangement of a song written just for them by God Almighty himself.
Naturally, like chapter 7, the description is figurative. They are holy, and have kept themselves undefiled by the Babylonish system of the Empire. They are described as “first fruits for God and the Lamb.” This is Old Testament harvesting terminology. The earliest-ripening part of the harvest was to be given as an offering to God. The resurrected Jesus is described in similar language by Paul in the New Testament (1 Cor 15:20). These saints have been brought back to life as the first portion of a new creation. Where Jesus is, they have followed in their own time. Jesus has died and returned to life, and so have they. This idea will be fleshed out later in the book as the exploration of the theme of “rewarding of his saints” continues in chapter 20.
Messages of Three Angels
The scene shifts to heaven, where three angels make announcements.
Angel #1: The Everlasting Gospel
The first angel bears “the everlasting gospel: “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (14:7) The gospel proclaimed by this angel is not substantially different than that preached by Jesus in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Angel #2: Fall of Babylon the Great
An emphatic announcement that Babylon the Great has fallen because it has made all nations drink of the “wine of her fornication.” This will set up her followers for the next announcement about drinking from another cup.
Angel #3: Judgment on Babylon’s Followers
Those with Babylon’s mark get to drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath. The punishment symbolically fits the crime. They are tormented for an undisclosed period of time in the presence of the Lamb (though “the smoke” of their torment is said to go up forever). They have “no rest.” Chapter 18 will have more to say about this punishment.
Contrast this with the reward of those who die for Jesus Christ as John calls “for the endurance of the saints, who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.” They will “rest from their labours” because their actions “follow them” (from death to life).
The Final Harvest: Contrasting Results
The last part of the chapter contrasts the end results of the two “armies.” Returning to the analogy of a harvest that began the Chapter 14, those who follow Jesus are described as the “fully ripe” harvest that is reaped for God (v. 14-16). A contrasting harvest of those who follow the Beast is consigned to “the winepress of the wrath of God” (v. 17-20).
The “wrath of God winepress” idea has a long Old Testament pedigree, and is always used for times of national (on Israel) or international (on all of Israel’s enemies that overdid punishment) judgment. Examples can be found in Isaiah 63:1-6, Lamentations 1:15, Joel 3:13. The depth of the blood that comes out of it is an image intended to intensify the discomfort of believers who are cooperating too closely with the Roman system of Emperor-worship.
In this chapter, God is saying that no matter how great the might of his enemies, he holds all the aces. He can match any army the world sends against him, and then still up the ante to a level nobody else can begin to match. Only Jesus Christ and his Father have life! The world can only offer death.
Worship God and the Lamb alone! This remains the message of the book. There is a war going on, usually unseen, all around us. You really don’t want to be on the losing side of this one!