Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
We have had before us the terrible foes which the cause of Christ and His righteousness must encounter in the world. We have seen the subtle spirit of the Evil One defeated, yet plotting new methods of assault, and utilising the powers of the world, its sheer force and its culture, to crush holiness and to destroy spiritual religion. The whole vision reminds us that our conflict is not with flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, and the world-rulers of this darkness (Ephesians 6:12). We have seen the spiritual issues which are at stake. In all the outward forms which the conflict may assume there is but one inward spiritual antagonism—the spirit of evil against the spirit of good, the god of this world against the Christ of God. We have seen this power of evil rise to its blasphemous climax. But what has the Church of Christ been doing? The sealed ones of God have suffered; but have they done more than suffer? Has theirs been only a passive endurance of evils? Have they wielded no weapons against these foes, and used no counter-influence for good? The chapter before us will answer. In it the sacred seer takes us from our survey of the powers of evil, and shows us the powers of good. We have seen the strength of the wild beast: we may now see the followers of the Lamb. In the chapter there are seven messengers, or agents, employed, who prepare for or complete the harvest: the angel of good news (Revelation 14:6-7); the angel proclaiming the doom of the great world city (Revelation 14:8); the angel who warns men against the mark of the wild beast (Revelation 14:9-12); the angel of comfort (Revelation 14:13); the angel of the wheat harvest (Revelation 14:14-16); the angel of the vintage (Revelation 14:17-20); the angel of fire (Revelation 14:18). But before these we are shown a vision of the servants of the Lamb.
(1) And I looked . . .—Better, And I saw, and behold, the Lamb (not “a Lamb:” it is the Lamb, the true Lamb of God, against whom the wild beast wages savage and subtle war) standing on the Mount Sion. The Saviour, the Lamb, in whose blood the saints have found their victory, is seen standing on the citadel of the heavenly city. Babylon is to be introduced (Revelation 14:8). In contrast, Zion, the chosen abode of God (Psalm 132:13-18), the type of the spiritual city whose citizens are true to the King (comp. Psalm 2:6; Psalm 74:2; Hebrews 12:22-24), is introduced. There are to be seen the Lamb, set as King upon the holy hill of Zion, and with Him the sealed ones, His faithful soldiers and servants. They are described as 144,000 in number: a number which represents the full growth of the choice ones of God, the true Israel of God. (See Note on Revelation 7:4.) These have their Father’s name on their foreheads: they can be recognised as children of God, (Comp. Note on Revelation 7:2-3, and Revelation 22:4.)
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:(2) And I heard a voice . . .—Translate, And I heard a voice out of the heaven. The saints stand with their Lord, the Lamb, on Mount Zion, and just as of old a voice came from heaven bearing witness to Christ, so round the abode of the saints heavenly voices are heard, full of majesty, terribleness, and sweetness, as though the sounds of sea and thunder blended with the music of heavenly harps. We call to mind the magnificent 29th Psalm; there the saints, secure in Zion, hear all around them the voice of God in the thunder and in the sea, while in His safe sanctuary the saints can sing of His honour.
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.(3) And they . . .—Translate, And they (i.e., the heavenly harpers) sing a new song (the words “as it were” ought, perhaps, to be omitted) before the throne, and before the living creatures, and the elders (i.e., in the presence of God Himself, and creation, and the Church), and no one was able to learn the song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were purchased from the earth. It is a heavenly song, and no spirit dulled by earthly desires can learn it. The Spirit of the Lord can open the dull ear to hear and to rejoice in the songs of God’s saints. Amid the world-noises of Babylon men can neither hear nor sing aright the Lord’s song (Psalm 137:4); but the redeemed (the purchased from the earth) of the Lord can come with singing unto Zion (Isaiah 51:11).
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 firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.(4, 5) These are they . . .—The characteristics of the servants of the Lamb are given in this verse and the following. The first is purity: they are virgins. The expression can hardly be limited to the unmarried, as the 144,000 represent the wide society of the choice ones of God. They are those whose hearts have been made as the hearts of little children (Matthew 18:1-4), who have that purity of heart which Christ declared to be blessed, and which St. James declared to be the first mark of heavenly wisdom (Matthew 5:8, and James 3:17). The next is implicit obedience: they follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. Some, indeed, take this to be a kind of heavenly reward: they shall be the nearer companions of the Lamb. But it is better to take it as describing their complete consecration to Christ. They are those who are with Christ, who have tasted the cup that their Lord tasted, and have taken up their cross and followed Him (Matthew 20:22; Luke 14:27; John 12:24-26). It is well to weigh these words; it is in the “wheresoever” that we may test the reality of our Christian life. Here lies the cross that Christ bids us take up. Here is the echo of Christ’s words, “Whosoever forsaketh not all he hath cannot be My disciple.” The third mark is separation, or unworldliness: they were purchased from among men, as a firstfruit to God and to the Lamb. They were a chosen generation, a peculiar people (Titus 2:14; 1Peter 2:9), as the Israel of God (Deuteronomy 7:6). The fourth feature is utter truthfulness: in their mouth no guile or no falsehood. (Comp. Psalms 14 and Deuteronomy 32:1-2.) The verse emphatically ends with “They are blameless.” The words “before the throne of God” must be omitted. (Comp. Revelation 7:14-15; Ephesians 5:27; and Colossians 1:22.)
We have seen the servants of God; we have marked their character; we are now to see the weapon which is to be employed in the conflict against the enemies of Christ.
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,(6) And I saw . . .—Better, And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an everlasting gospel, to declare glad tidings over them that sit on the earth, and over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people. In view of the world the gospel is proclaimed; this is the good news that God loves the world, has redeemed mankind, that they belong to Him. This word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and the weapon (not carnal) which the Church uses against her foes. It is represented as in the hand of an angel rising in view of all nations: “The sound has gone out unto all lands.”
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.(7) Saying . . .—These words declare what ought to be the effect of the gospel. Those to whom it is preached are sitting inactive on the earth. They must be roused to fear God and give Him glory. They must not fear the powers of evil, the wild beasts, &c., or be afraid of their terror (1Peter 3:14-15). They must realise that there is an hour of judgment at hand, which will discriminate between the worshippers of the world and of God. Let them learn to worship the Creator of all, and to turn from the worship of lesser and lower.
If we ask when this gospel angel appeared, our answer must be that the whole cycle of the gospel preaching is included in the vision, though doubtless there have been ages when the light of the glad tidings of God has gone forth with revived lustre, and when the warnings against easy acquiescence in evil have been given with unmistakable distinctness.
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.(8) And there followed . . .—The gospel angel is followed by the angel that proclaims the downfall of Babylon. Better, And another, a second, angel followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, who has given all the nations to drink of, &c. The second angel follows on the first: the doom of the world-city, the metropolis of the empire of the world-power, follows the proclamation of the gospel. The principles of Christ’s gospel must undermine the world-power; the fall of some Babylon principle has almost always succeeded the age of spiritual revival. Pagan Rome goes down before the gospel. Civil freedom follows the wake of religious freedom, for Babylon belongs not to one age. Pagan Rome was Babylon to St. John; papal Rome was often Babylon to a later age. Dante, Savanarola, Tauler, Luther, felt her to be so in the days when their eyes were enlightened; but Babylon was not on the Euphrates alone: she has reared palaces on the Seine, and on the Thames, Tiber, and on the Bosphorus. She may yet erect her power in more imposing form; but faith in that gospel which is the power of God, will cast her down along with everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The influence of Babylon is declared in this: that she has given all nations to drink of deadly wine—the wine alike of her sin and of her doom, of her fornication and of the wrath which will overtake it. Babylon, then, is clearly an emblem of some principles which have been more or less accepted by all nations, and which will more or less involve all in the consequences of her fall. (Comp. Revelation 16:19; Revelation 16:17, where the features of this Babylon are more fully developed.)
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,(9) And the third angel . .—Better, And another angel, a third, followed them, saying in a loud voice, If any man worship the wild beast and his image, and a mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, he also himself shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled pure (in full strength, undiluted, e.g., “He shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy,” James 2:13) in the cup of his indignation, and shall be tormented in fire, &c., &c. This third angel naturally follows the other two, which describe the powers which are in conflict: the word of God, and the Babylon of the world; the gospel will triumph; Babylon is doomed; hence comes the warning that men should not identify themselves with the city of worldliness, falsehood, and sin. The reference to the wild beast, the image, and the mark, carries us back to the last chapter, and shows us that Babylon is only another aspect of the work of God’s enemies: it is the city of the world-power. The warning not to receive the mark is a declaration that man, individual man, is responsible: there is no necessity for his receiving the mark, the hall-mark of a cowardly connivance at wrong-doing, or for setting his judgments by the fashions of the world.
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.(11) For ever and ever.—Or, unto ages of ages. The imagery of the smoke going up reminds us of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:28; comp. Isaiah 34:10). They have not rest by day and by night, who worship the wild beast, &c. Sin, which is first embraced as a delight, becomes soon an inexorable tyrant, by an awful retribution compelling men along the routine of the evil habits which they loathe while they long for, and long for even while they loathe them: there is a destiny of unrest in all sin. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest.” It is well that solemn words like these should be read by the light of the most certain of all truths—the power sin has of stamping its indelible features upon the human character, and giving to habit the force of a destiny.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.(12) Here is the patience . . .—Translate, Here is the patience of the saints (not “here are they,” but) who keep, &c. In this readiness to wait, to endure through much tribulation to the end, is the patience of the saints seen. There is a patient waiting for Christ shown by those who keep God’s commandments, who cleave to righteousness in spite of much temptation, and who refuse to pay homage to the god of this world because firm in the faith that Jesus is King.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.(13)And I heard a voice . . .—Translate, And I heard a voice out of the heaven, saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, in that they shall rest from their labours; for their works follow with them. We are not told whose voice speaks, but it proclaims a blessing on (not only martyrs, but) those who die in the Lord, in happy union and fellowship with Him (John 15:2-5; 1John 1:3); such are happy, for they rest from toil, and their works of faith and labours of love (even if only the giving a cup of cold water in the name of Christ) follow with them into the presence of their Lord (Matthew 10:41-42; Hebrews 6:10). The words “from henceforth” form a difficulty; the reason for their introduction is to be found in the state of trouble which the last verses describe: the righteous are happy in being taken away from the evil to come. Or may it be that the words are designed to console the mourners in an age when dark unbelief robs away the sweet resurrection trust, and writes over its graves, “Farewell for ever”? If the climax of world-power should be bitter scorn of the idea of a life to come, and complacent satisfaction with a portion in this world, then words of faith, proclaiming that the dead are happy and restful, and that their work is not in vain in the Lord, may find new force to sustain a fainting courage or a wavering trust.
(14) And I looked . . .—Better, And I saw, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one seated like to a son of man, having upon his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. There can be little doubt that Christ Himself is here intended: the “cloud” (Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:9), the expression “Son of man” (comp. John 5:27 and Daniel 7:13), the “crown,” the general resemblance to the vision in Revelation 1 (see Revelation 1:7-13), indicate as much. The “crown” is the crown of victory; the hour of conquest is at hand. The sickle shows that the harvest has come. (Comp. Joel 3:12-14 and Mark 4:26-29.)
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.(15) And another angel . . .—Translate, And another angel came forth out of the temple, &c. It has been asked, “What harvest is this?” It is the gathering of the good seed, the full corn in the ear, into the celestial garner (Mark 4:26-29). The angel who announces that the harvest is ready comes forth from the Temple, the inner shrine, the holy place which was measured off in the sanctuary of the faithful (Revelation 11:1); whereas the angel who calls for the vintage comes forth from the altar (Revelation 14:18).
The angel cries—Put forth (or, send) thy sickle and reap, because the hour is come to reap, because the harvest of the earth is ripe (or, dried); the wheat stalks are dry, and the fields white for harvest (John 4:35). The sickle was put in: the earth was reaped.
There must be some difference between the vintage and the harvest. There is an autumn gladness about the harvest: there are tokens of judgment in the vintage. It is not the sharp sickle alone which is required: the winepress, the winepress of God’s wrath, is called into use. An angel from the Temple calls to the Son of man to reap the harvest: an angel from the altar calls to an angel from the Temple to gather in the vintage. The vintage symbolises a harvest of judgment; do not the words respecting Babylon (the wine of the wrath of her fornication, Revelation 14:8) come to the mind and confirm this? The angel rises from the altar, beneath which the murdered saints had cried, “How long?” and proclaims, “The vintage, the hour of vengeance, has come!” And it is not without significance that the angel to whom this cry is addressed comes forth out of the Temple, the safe sanctuary of God’s faithful ones, as one who has witnessed their secret sorrows and their sufferings, and is fitted “to recompense tribulation to the troublers of Israel” (2Thessalonians 1:6).
(17) And another angel . . .—Translate, And another angel, . . . having himself also (as well as the Son of man, Revelation 14:14) a sharp sickle.
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.(18) And another angel . . .—Translate, And another angel, . . . he who hath authority over the fire. The two scenes—one in Revelation 6:9-10 (the souls crying beneath the altar), the other in Revelation 8:5 (the angel mingling incense with the prayers of the saints)—must be remembered. The angel who had charge of the altar fire, and flung the ashes betokening judgments towards the earth, calls with a loud cry, Send thy sharp sickle, and gather the bunches of the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.(19, 20) And the angel . . .—The vine (i.e., the vintage of the vine), when gathered, is cast into the winepress of the wrath of God, the great (winepress). And the winepress was trodden without the city, and there came forth blood out of the winepress as far as the bridles of the horses, from a thousand six hundred furlongs (stadii). The outflow of the blood of the grapes pressed reached over a distance of sixteen hundred stadii. The treading of the winepress was a figure representing vengeance; the red juice of the grape strongly suggested the shedding of blood. (Comp. Isaiah 63:2-4.) The winepresses stood usually outside the city: it is so represented here, not without an allusion to those who fall under the weight of this judgment because they have refused the defence of the true city and sanctuary. (Comp. Revelation 14:1 and Psalm 132:17-18.) The distance (sixteen hundred stadii), i.e., four multiplied into itself and then multiplied by a hundred, is symbolical (such seems the most probable meaning) of a judgment complete and full, and reaching to all corners of the earth—“the whole world, of which Satan is called the prince, is judged, and condemned, and punished” (Dr. Currey). In the vintage and harvest is a piercing discrimination between the faithful fruit-bearing children of the King and the cowardly or selfish, whose hearts are for self and not for Christ, but who yield themselves servants to sin.