The 144 000 in Heaven, Three Angels and the Wine Winepress of the Wrath of God (Part 10)
The 144 000 in Heaven (14:1-5)
“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless”.
Chapter 14 consists of three very different parts, starting with a serene scene of the servants of the Lord gathered on Mount Zion, singing a new song, celebrating their salvation before the Lamb, which is in stark contrast to the end of the chapter which describes the terrible judgement of “the great winepress of the wrath of God”. In-between the two contrasting narratives there are angels, with one angel proclaiming the “eternal gospel”. There is a strong message being revealed, starting with the great reward of eternal life, despite great adversity on earth, followed by a last call from an angel to repent, and ending with the severe consequences of rejecting God’s gift of salvation.
Parenthesis 6, starts with Mount Zion, which is where God dwells, it is not the Mount Zion on earth as the presence of the Lord departed from the Temple Mount when the veil was torn in two, at the death of Jesus on the cross. The scene is unfolding on Mount Zion in heaven, only a place that has the presence of God may be called Zion. Present with God are the 144 000 witnesses, with the names of God the Father and God the Son on their foreheads. These are the 144 000 Jewish believers chosen for service in chapter 7, they will have ministered from the start of the Tribulation, right into the dark days of the Great Tribulation. It is during this time, because of their openly proclaiming the message of salvation, that they will be identified as rebels in opposition to the Antichrists and be put to death.
In verse 1 the contrast with the False Prophet marking the foreheads of those that worship the beast in chapter 13 becomes clear – the 144 000 have the “Father’s name written on their foreheads”. Satan counterfeits that which is of God, and there could be no greater joy for him than to place his mark upon the heads of God’s most treasured creation. The 144 000 have triumphed, they are before the Throne of God, singing a new song, a song specific to their calling, sung with their harps. Their past trails and torment are turned into a new song of praise!
No matter how corrupted and sinful the world becomes, God always has His remnant who will not submit to the demands of the world, and because of this, the 144 000 are shown to be victorious. The voice “like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder” is the voice of Jesus (Revelation 1:15 and 4:5), announcing His approval of the 144 000 – most likely speaking the words “well done my true and faithful servants”.
The emphasis of these first five verses is on the eternally minded devotion of the 144 000 while they were on earth. The symbolism of the number 144 is significant as 12 is governmental completeness and fullness, which is underlined by the multiplication of 12 X 12. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 suggested that celibacy was a higher calling than marriage. So, the 144 000 knowing that they had less than seven years to minister, devote their lives to service. It seems that although they were sealed and protected from the judgements of God, they have been martyred during the False Prophet’s persecution of the saints, becoming the first fruits of the Tribulation Saints. The term “first fruits” means the very best, and carries the idea of an expected harvest.
Identity of the 144 000
- Mount Zion: Jerusalem is only called Zion when God dwells there – the presence of God is not in Jerusalem (“Ichabod” 1 Sam. 4:21). Revelation 14:1 is referring to the Zion in heaven (Galatians 4:26).
- Verse 3 records that the gathering takes place “before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders,” they are therefore present in heaven.
- 144 000 believers (links to Revelation 7).
- Name of both the Father and the Son written are on their foreheads, they are “sealed with the Father’s seal”.
- Redeemed, from the earth and from mankind, God takes possession of them.
- The fact that they “have not defiled themselves with women,” means they had focused lives, knowing their time was short, they were eternally minded committing every day to service for the Lord.
- They are blameless believers cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.
- They are the first fruits, which implies the very best of an expected harvest of believers during the Tribulation.
Messages from Three Angels (14:6-13)
“6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water’. 8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality’.9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name’. 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!’” .
John’s attention is suddenly drawn to the first of three angels who is proclaiming the “eternal gospel” to the world. The angel is the third and last of the warnings sent from God to turn from evil and repent. Prior to the angel there will have been the 144 000 Jews and the Two Witnesses, the repeated opportunities for repentance reveals God’s mercy, and leaves the world without excuse at the Great White Throne of Judgement. The refusal to accept the repeated spirit-lead warnings from God reveal the hard-heartedness of mankind at this time. Note that the duty to preach the Gospel is given to the Church (Matthew 28:16–20), not to 144 000 Jews, Two Witnesses or an angel. The fact that this role has been taken over by others including an angel, means that the Church is at this time no longer on earth. The evangelical work of the 144 000, the Two Witnesses and the angel will fulfill the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24:14, where He preached that the Gospel would be preached to all the world before His second coming.
John refers to the Gospel preached by the angel as the “eternal gospel,” as the Word of the Lord never changes, it remains the same from generation to generation. The warning that is stressed by the “eternal gospel,” is to fear God instead of the Antichrist, to give glory to God and not to worship the Antichrist. As the timing of the angel’s message is during the Great Tribulation, the focus of the message from the angel is therefore not to take the Antichrists seal. There is also the added warning that the last and most severe judgements are still to come – the Seven Bowls.
Revelation 17 depicts Babylon as the Great Whore, the spiritual prostitute, while Revelation 18 reveals political Babylon; the proclamation made by the second angel anticipates the destruction of political Babylon. Babylon is the name given to the city with the spiritual connection to the Tower of Babel rebellion of Nimrod and Semiramis, which combines both the spiritual and political nature of the city – Rome, the city of seven hills (Rev, 17:9). The city is the home of the apostate End Times religion, the spiritual adultery of the whore must therefore be Roman Catholicism.
The third angel gives a last warning to take the hard way and refuse the mark of the beast, underlining the connection between the mark and the worship of the Antichrist. This is a special warning to those who want to take the mark so as not to rock the boat, and to appease the authorities. The decision to take the mark will have dire, eternal consequences, and should not be taken lightly. The result of the easy option will be eternity in the Lake of Fire, where there will be eternal torment. The warning given in Revelation 14 is clear; there are two choices: Worship the beast, or worship God. Then there are two consequences: Torment forever and ever, with no rest day or night, or the exact opposite – eternal peace in the presence of God. The concept of hell is taken with a pinch of salt in modern times, it is written off with jokes like “If I go to hell, I will be so busy greeting old friends I will not have time to worry”. The torment of the lake of fire is real, and the reality of a suffering that has no end, being “forever and ever,” is terrifying. The severity of this warning explains why the 144 000 are shown in heaven rejoicing before the Lord at the start of the chapter, the encouragement is to endure suffering for a short while so as to attain an eternal reward, rather than suffer for eternity.
The Great Winepress of the Wrath of God (14:14-20)
“14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe’. 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, ‘Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’ 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia”.
Jesus’ favourite term for Himself during His ministry was “Son of Man,” making a direct link (kesher) to Daniel 7, and the Son of Man arriving before the Ancient of Days to be seated on the Judgement Throne. It was the ideal title for Jesus, as it was vague enough not to arouse the ire of the religious leaders, but still carried the message that He was both man and God. The image of Jesus that John describes matches that of Daniel’s “Son of Man,” both are riding on clouds, both are described as “Son of Man,” and both are ready to dispense judgement. The “Son of Man” in John’s description holds a sickle, a symbol of harvest and judgement; it is an anticipation of the events of Revelation 19. The blood of God’s saints has been spilt at the guillotine, so Jesus will use His blade to spill the blood of rebellious mankind, who sanctioned the beheadings.
The crown that Jesus is wearing in John’s description is a stephanos, a wreath made of foliage which is of the type worn by a person of high status, or that which was given to first place athletes at the ancient Olympic games. It is not the diadem, a king’s crown, a number of which Jesus wears at His return in Revelation 19:12. Jesus is wearing a garland that symbolises victory – there is no competition – He has won before He even starts! His triumph was at the resurrection – Jesus returns to earth to claim what is rightfully His – the judgement is a forgone conclusion.
Whenever I read the verses 14-16 of chapter 14, my mind goes to the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe:
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; he hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; his truth is marching on”.
The Northern states of the union during the American civil war believed their cause was righteous – “to set all men free” – they believed that God was on their side. Julia Ward Howe uses the words of the return of the Lord for judgement in Revelation 14:14-16, to emphasize the fact. John’s words of warning should cause the same terror in the unsaved, as the sound of the volleys of Union rifle and artillery fire from Cemetery Ridge, was for the Confederates marching across the exposed open field towards the ridge for over a kilometre at Gettysburg. The verses describe the anger of the Lord unleashed on humanity, a direct face to face confrontation, man against God – with each person being crushed like a grape, their bodies bursting and blood gushing out.
John gives a clear reference to the soon coming Battle of Armageddon – when grace has been rejected – wrath is the alternative. Some commentators see John’s writings of the flow of blood as hyperbole, while other interpret it a purely symbolic. The pragmatic suggests that while in John’s day battles were confined to a small geographic location, such as a valley, the area described by John would suit the large area of a modern battle zone. They then postulate that the severity of the battle when Jesus returns, will then have blood being splattered to the height of a horse’s bridle.
The reason commentators are sceptical of a literal interpretation is that the distance to Akko (northern coastal town) from Jerusalem along the coastal highway is 169Km, which is 127 km short, so the distance given by John seems way too far. However, one does not give precise measurements of 1.5m high and 296 km long when exaggerating, or writing symbolically.
The city referred to in verse 20 is Jerusalem, and the reason John makes this connection is that he is making the point that the wicked will be killed outside of the city. It was outside the city, in the Hinnom valley, that all that was waste and unclean was dumped and burned in his day.
“20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia (296 km)”.
To estimate the feasibility of John’s prophecy that blood will flow for 296 km being literal, one needs to consider the following facts:
- The Jordan River, the main river in Israel, is more like a stream in some places and reaches only 20 m in width at its broadest. A reasonable average of the streams of blood flow would therefore be 5 meters.
- The severe earthquakes that Israel will experience, during the judgements will change the topography, and Jerusalem being on the high ground in the centre of Israel will mean that blood will flow in a number of directions, the combined distance giving the full measure of the blood flow.
- In flash floods, the water will flow from the source to the ocean, but by the time the water dropped by the storm reaches the sea, the source could be dry. In other words, the flow of the blood could only be a few of kilometers long, but covering the full distance of 296 kilometers.
The armies of the world initially converge on Israel to confront the Antichrist, but at the return of Jesus, they join forces and attempt to confront the King of Kings.
Chapter 14 is a complete counter to the rise of the Antichrist and the False Prophet recorded in chapter 13, revealing that we should not fear the authority of man, but rather the authority of God. In Revelation 14, God is revealed to be in full control, with all authority power and might, triumphant over evil, and celebrating with the righteous.
Something I would like all believers to consider, is that, three times in the Book of Revelation John reveals Jesus as the Righteous Judge, preparing to pour out His wrath on mankind, (Revelation 1,14 & 19), yet the image of Jesus that the Church gives the world is of a baby in a manger. The Church is clearly failing in its duty to reveal the Truth to the world.
Revelation chapter 15
The parentheses of Chapter 14 are now over and the John returns to the main narrative, the unfolding events of the Great Tribulation. Chapter 15 begins with the preparation for the last judgement before the return of Jesus – the Seven Bowls – the wicked world is about to “drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:10), promised to those who take the mark of the beast.
The Song of Moses and the Lamb (15:1-4)
“1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed’” (emphasis added).
In Leviticus 26:21-26 God warns Israel of the severe consequences of turning against Him, saying “I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve” (Lev. 26:21). Mankind has experienced the severity of the seven Trumpet Judgements, and now face a second wave of seven Bowl Judgements more severe than the first, they are receiving double the consequences that Israel was threatened with.
In Chapter 4 John describes a “sea of glass” before the Throne of God, this is the raptured Church. A restless sea in Scripture is the masses of sinful humanity (Isa. 60:5; 57:20). The symbol of peace and tranquillity before God’s throne is the righteous taken out of the wicked nations at the rapture, revealing the finest glass in crystal form, pure and translucent – without sin. John now reveals an added component to the “sea of glass,” “fire,” which is a symbol of holiness, and God’s presence. The Bride of Christ will have consummated their relationship with the Bridegroom, through the sustaining power and presence of the Holy Spirit within each individual, which will have occurred at the rapture when each believer attains a heavenly body. The rapture follows the Jewish marriage ceremony of John’s day, the bride would leave her home to go with the bridegroom to his village just prior to the wedding. On arriving at the bridegroom’s village, the bride and groom would go into the newly prepared home they would live in, and the relationship would be consummated before the wedding ceremony.
So, in Chapter 15 John sees that the “sea of glass” – the raptured Church – is separate from those who went through the Tribulation and refused the mark of the beast. There is a clear distinction between the Bride of Christ and the Tribulation Saints. These persecuted saints sing a song of Moses and the Lamb, which celebrates El Shaddai, Almighty God, and the wonders He has done for His people. The focus of the song is completely on God with every line pointing to Him (you; your) – it glorifies God for His majesty and greatness, His dominion and power. Included in this song is the song of the Lamb, a song of redemption. There is no complaint from the lips of these martyred saints, there is an understanding that their suffering has earned them eternal rewards.
Seven Angels with Seven Plagues (5-8)
“5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (Rev. 15:5-8).
The seven angels emerge from the original Tabernacle, because their work is holy as are the final judgements they carry. The angels have golden sashes similar to that which Jesus wore in Revelation 1, a reminder that God’s judgement is always pure and holy.
John sees the sanctuary being filled with smoke, revealing the glory and power of the presence of God. Just as Moses was unable to enter the Tabernacle when the Shekinah Glory, the cloud of God’s presence, filled the tent (Exodus 40:34-35), so too, the cloud prevents anyone entering the sanctuary in heaven. No one is allowed to interfere with the process taking place within – the plagues of God’s wrath are being prepared.
Libations Poured from handleless Bowls
In Genesis 35:14, after God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he gave a drink offering (a libation) on a sacred pillar he had erected. Libations were in the form of olive oil, water or wine in temple sacrifices. Wine offerings to God, as stated in the Old Testament, was an important requirement of worship, and was often referred to as drink offerings.
The most relevant Old Testament reference comes in Jeremiah 52, at the moment of the Babylonian Exile. Nebuchadnezzar had entered the city of Jerusalem to lay waste to it. The Babylonians entered the House of the Lord, the Temple, and they stole many things, including the bowls sitting next to the lampstands—bowls that Jeremiah 52:19 describes as those used for pouring libations. These were the bowls used by King Belshazzar of Babylon in drunken celebration (Daniel 5), which resulted in God’s judgement on the city. Note, that it is the city, of the origins of Babylon Religion, that is judged by God because of drunken revelry involving the golden bowls from the Temple, and it is the consequence of people following the corruption of Babylon Religion that is judged by God with His seven golden bowls of wrath.
In the Temple the priest would pour the wine from a jug into the golden bowls, and then the ritual was completed by pouring the wine out before the Lord on the Temple Mount. This process is followed in Revelation 15, with God pouring out the wine of His wrath into each of the seven bowls, the contents of which is then poured out onto the earth.
In Revelation 15 John completes his tour of God’s Temple which started when he is shown the lampstands by the Throne of God, then from there he moves from the altar of incense, to the ark, to the trumpets, to the sanctuary (Holy Place), and finally, to the bowls.
The imagery of the Bowl Judgements started in Revelation 14, with the angel swinging his sickle across the earth and gathering the grape harvest from the earth and throwing it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. From the winepress God fills His wine jug and then portions out the wine of His wrath to the seven angels holding the seven bowls. This symbolism is confirmed by John later in chapter 16 with the destruction of Rome:
“…and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (16:19).
Jesus provided salvation by pouring out His life for us. This act of redemption is remembered by believers during communion, where wine symbolises the blood of Jesus. Those that reject His blood as an offering for sin during the Great Tribulation, will receive the wine of the wrath of God poured out upon them.