THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 27
THE TRIUMPH OF THE GOSPEL
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." And another angel followed, saying, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, "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. 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 or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. 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." Then 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. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe." So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs" (Revelation 14:6-20, NKJV)
The Lord Jesus is showing John things determined and controlled by heaven. We must ever keep before us that "the heavens do rule" (Dan 4:26), and that an "eternal purpose" (Eph 3:10-11) is being executed in the earth. As the six-singed seraphim of Isaiah's vision cried, "The whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa 6:3). Everywhere, God is at work. In the blessing of humanity, He is at work (Psa 24:5). In the sending of delusion, He is at work (Isa 66:4; 2 Thess 2:11). In the raising up of kings and kingdoms, He is at work (1 Sam 2:8; Psa 75:6). In the casting down of kings and kingdoms, He is at work (Isa 2:12; 26:5; Dan 2:21). The world is His stage, and His purpose is being fulfilled in its history. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, saw the hand of the Lord in the punishment of the ancient people. In his sorrow, he uttered a truth that is most relevant to us. "The LORD hath done that which He had devised; He hath fulfilled His word that He had commanded in the days of old" (Lam 2:17).
The observation of the Lord's working is a privilege vouchsafed to heavenly beings. When the hand of the Lord moves, both the heavens and the lower regions of this earth are summoned to give Him glory. As Isaiah said, "Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!" (Isa 44:23).
The book of Revelation is a sort of Divine subpoena to consider the activities of this world as the outworking of God's purpose. In that enactment, there is an final view to be seen. Ultimately, evil will go down in utter frustration, and righteousness will be exalted. The devil and all of his wicked forces will be summarily cast into the lake of fire, while those who follow Him will be exalted to reign with Him, "world without end" (Eph 3:21). Satan cannot win, and Jesus cannot lose! The wicked cannot end up in prominence, and the righteous cannot end up in ignominy and shame! These are things that must be seen and embraced if we are to remain "faithful until death" (Rev 2:10).
History Is Not an End of Itself
History is never an end of itself, and the relating of historical facts do not carry the greatest weight in the Kingdom of God. It is the WORKER behind the facts, and the REASON for them that brings profit to the soul. In this book, we are beholding the WORKING OF THE LORD. In that working, His will is the ultimate thing being accomplished. Satan, although intensely active, is being frustrated on every hand, and his diabolical purpose being thwarted. Too, there are intentions-high and lofty purposes-being served in this Divine working. The saints are being oriented for glory, and the wicked are being shown to be worthy of condemnation. The Lamb of God is being vindicated and extolled, while Satan is being exposed and overthrown.
With zeal, we must avoid being caught up in a view of the book of Revelation that obscures the working and purpose of the Lord. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in curious views of the beast, his mark, and other components of the vision. The hearts of believers are to be comforted and blessed by the Revelation, not thrust into a state of fear and distraction. Christ is seeking to comfort His people!
We will now embark on another view of "the end"-the time when God's "eternal purpose" shall have been fulfilled. The history of this world is moving toward the consummation we will consider. These things are not statements of the ideal, or things the saints simply desire to happen. These are a depiction of realities that have been determined in heaven. They are sure to come. Our aim: be ready for them! These will SURELY come to pass, and will not fail of fulfillment.PHENOMENAL HEAVENLY ACTIVITY
If it is true that we are beholding the execution of the will of God, we should expect heaven to be active in the process. A view of the Kingdom that leaves us thinking God is inactive is wholly inadequate. It misrepresents the Lord and disarms the saints.
God is never presented as determining matters in which He Himself is not involved. He is a "very present Help in trouble" (Psa 46:1). Jeremiah spoke to our hearts when he said for God, "Am I a God near at hand, says the LORD, and not a God afar off?" (Jer 23:23).
The "heavens do rule," but not in absentia, or apart from a direct involvement. They are ever active in the affairs of men, and particularly in salvation. The persuasion of this reality will bring joy and strength to suffering saints, enabling them to finish their course.
Satan Is Active
We have already seen Satanic activity of large proportions. Employing the governments of this world and corrupt religion, he has maintained an constant initiative against the saints of the Most High God. He has not been successful in His intent, however, because he operates strictly within the boundary of God's will. He is "under authority," praise the Lord! Of the exalted and enthroned Christ it is written, "Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him" (1 Pet 3:22). These include Satan's "angels" (Rev 12:9), as well as the "holy angels" (Matt 25:31).
With great subtlety, the devil has injected wicked concepts into the mainstream of theological thought. He would have us believe that the Lord instituted a powerful movement at the first, with Divine fellowship and intervention being prominent. Now, however, all of that has come to a grinding halt, and men are basically on their own. Armed with the Word of God and good minds, they are to understand the things of God and extend the borders of the Kingdom. At least that is what our adversary would have us believe. But this is not at all the case.
Heaven Is Involved-Believe it!
Repeatedly, the book of Revelation confirms the involvement of heaven in the life of the church. There is activity in heaven on the behalf of God's people. The Father Himself is active ((1:1-2; 4:8; 5:10; 17:17; 18:20), together with the Son (1:8; 2:23; 5:13; 17:14), the Holy Spirit (2:7; 11:11; 22:17), and all of the holy angels (5:11; 7:1; 17:1). There are lofty heavenly personages who work in the behalf of God's people, like the "four living creatures" (Rev 4:6-9), cherubim (Psa 80:1), and seraphim (Isa 6:1-2). There are also special categories of angels who work in our behalf. They include "mighty" angels (Rev 10:1) and "archangels" (1 Thess 4:16). They are all engaged in the the purpose of God to bring "many sons to glory" trough the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is in perfect accord with the remainder of Scripture that consistently presents heaven as active in our behalf. Any view of salvation that leaves man on his own is seriously flawed. It will, if not abandoned, drag the individual back into the very pit from whence he once was taken!
At least six different angels are prominent in this vision. The first has "the everlasting Gospel" (Verse 6). The second cries out "Babylon is fallen!" (Verse 8). A third angel affirms that all who worshiped the beast and received his mark would taste of God's wrath (Verses 9-11). A fourth angel comes out of the Temple of heaven and tells the reigning Christ the time for reaping has come (Verse 15). A fifth angel also comes out of heaven's temple having a sharp reaping sickle (Verse 17). A sixth angel with power over fire comes out from the Altar telling the angel with the sickle to reap the vine of the earth (Verse 18). How glorious is the heavenly involvement in this!
There is a note of authority and effectiveness is found in these angels. They do not sound an uncertain message, or make fruitless attempts to execute the will of God. What they carry is eternal. What they announce is sure. They are beheld coming out of the very temple of heaven, where God and the Lamb reside. They are also directly involved in the reaping of both the righteous and the unrighteous.
We must learn from these involvements that all of these things will work for the ultimate good and blessing of the people of God.
A Voice from Heaven
John hears a voice from heaven affirming the blessedness of those who die in the Lord (Verse 13). The Holy Spirit affirms the truthfulness of the words by saying "YES!" This voice was heard over the crashing of the waves on Patmos, and the blasphemies belched forth from the beast. The ravages of the earth could not suppress the heavenly voice!
The Son Is Seen
The Son of Man Himself is seen on a cloud, with a harvesting sickle in His hand (Verse 14). Note, He is not beheld as the Lamb, but as the primary Man-the "Son of man." The harvest of humanity will be under the supervision of the "Second Man" and "Last Adam." He does, in fact, thrust His sickle into the earth, and it is reaped (Verse 16).
The "vine of the earth" is finally plucked out of the domain of men, and cast into the "winepress of the wrath of God" (Verse 10-20). Judgment has come for all who chose to connect themselves with "this present evil world."
Against the Backdrop of Satan's Initiative
The marvel of our text is found in its setting. It takes place in the realm of agitation, corruption, and cursing. All of this text forms an abrupt intrusion into the affairs of the wicked. While Satan has been busy attempting to disrupt the work of the Lord, now his working is obstructed by the judgment of the Almighty!
This is something you must see with some degree of clarity. The affairs of this earth, though grievous, are not out of control. The Lord will bring down the curtain of time and conclude the work of our adversary. He shall do so without facing any resistance whatsoever. The Gospel will be preached without being deterred. Those who have aligned themselves with the devil will fall. When the earth is reaped, the devil will be powerless to stop it. The church, bless God, is in good hands. Our faith in Christ is well founded, and will be richly rewarded.THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL
"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. . . " Why is it that "an angel" is seen "having the everlasting Gospel?" And why is he seen "flying in the midst of heaven?"
It might interest you to know this is the ONLY place in all of John's writings where the word "Gospel" is mentioned. This has led some to believe it is not the Gospel of Christ, but a special word for a special time (i.e., the fall of Babylon, etc.). I reject this view because of the attachment of "eternal" to the "Gospel." Something that is "eternal" cannot be anchored in, or confined, to time. An unending Gospel cannot be confined to the fall of an enemy or the demise of an empire. It must be a message that carries its power and implications into eternity itself. It also must have been in the mind of the Lord before the foundation of the world. Such qualities are, in fact, associated with the Gospel of Christ (Matt 25:34; John 17:24; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8; 17:8).
Is the Gospel Preached by the Angel?
The angel is not carrying the Gospel through the midst of heaven to proclaim it himself, but to see to it that it is proclaimed. This should not surprise us. Angels were present at the giving of the Law. In fact, the Law "was ordained by angels," and "spoken" by them as well (Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2). These holy beings play an active role in the dissemination Divine messages.
They also have a keen interest in the Gospel, which has been preached to us with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven (1 Pet 1:12). When the Apostles were placed in prison, "the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life" (Acts 5:19-20). An angel directed Philip to go down to Gaza and confront a political official with the Gospel (Acts 8:26). An angel orchestrated the events that led to Cornelius hearing the Gospel (Acts 10:3-32).
Now, an angel comes to prepare the way for the preaching of the everlasting Gospel. He summons the heavenly gallery to give heed to what is about to happen. The end of all things is at hand, and a final harvest will be reaped for the glory of God. The corrupt church will also be brought down to the ground, proving it was an imposter.
The True Gospel Reaffirmed
The angel carrying the "everlasting Gospel" bears some resemblance to the discovery of the Word of God in the temple of God during the reign of Josiah (2 Kgs 22:8). Just as Israel had corrupted the Law, causing it to disappear from consideration, so the Gentiles have so corrupted the Gospel that is scarcely can be found in all of its purity. With the institutionalization of religion and the professionalism of its promoters has come unparalleled corruption. Our text is declaring the reaffirmation of the true Gospel, without regard to the promotion of human organizations. It is nothing less than the overthrow of Satan's corruption of the church.
The Gentiles Come In
Remember, in the previous verses the restoration of the ancient people was portrayed. I have said this is the appointed prelude to a world-wide awakening-something that has never before occurred. To my knowledge, every spiritual awakening to date has been provincial, circumscribed by geographical boundaries. While the Gospel was, indeed, "preached to every creature which is under heaven" (Col 1:23), a greater measure of effectiveness will yet be experienced.
Our present text is a prelude to the end of the world, and not the end itself. We know this is the case because an "everlasting Gospel" is going to be preached "to those who dwell upon the earth." We are, therefore, yet within the boundaries of
"The day of salvation" and "acceptable year of the Lord." We are witnessing the results of a genuinely converted people. We are also seeing the fulfillment of God's covenant to Israel, when He takes away their sin (Rom 11:27). The matter of their conversion will not end with them. Rather, it will be a means of effectively reaching the mass of mankind.
In Harmony With Scripture
No one should stumble at this truth. The Word of the Lord has spoken often of this blessing. Allow me to mention several of these promises. They are to be read with the recollection that God cannot lie or renounce His Word.
"The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isa 60:3). "The Gentiles shall come to You from the ends of the earth . . . " (Jer 16:19). "At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the LORD, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts" (Jer 3:17). "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee" (Psa 22:27). "God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him" (Psa 67:7). "All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name" (Psa 86:9). "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isa 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2). "And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee. And the LORD shall inherit Judah His portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again" (Zech 2:11-12). "Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zech 8:22-23). "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts" (Mal 1:11).
I realize this is extremely controversial, yet feel compelled to say more. All of these promises present the Gentiles in a seeking position. They come to Jerusalem. They seek the Lord. They flow into the city. They are resolved to "go up" where the Lord is. They ask for God to be shown unto them. This simply has not been the pattern of things until this time. There has been more of a quest to go to the Gentiles than for the Gentiles to come to those who possess the knowledge of God.
Too, our text is declaring something that takes place just prior to the conclusion of all things. At this present time, the most powerful and extensive effectiveness of the Gospel appears to have been at the beginning of the age. You will note that the earth is reaped following this great spread of the "everlasting Gospel." That means we are viewing the conclusion of time rather than the beginning of the day of salvation. Further, this cannot be a view of the "end of the world" (Heb 9:26), or "these last days" (Heb 1:1-3), as used in reference to the "day of salvation." Such usage is attended by thoughts of opportunity rather than the announcement of harvest. In my judgment, the Lord is exposing us to the powerful effects of the good news of Jesus Christ.
The Essentiality of Conversion
There is a principle to be seen here-one that is too easily overlooked in this day of professionalized and institutionalized religion. The effectiveness of the Gospel must be preceded by real conversion. Those who bear the vessels of the Lord MUST be "clean" (Isa 52:11). Conversion involves the initial cleansing process. Although God can disseminate the Gospel through individuals who are themselves contentious (Phil 1:16-18), this is not the ordinary manner in which He works. The "ministry of reconciliation" is effective only when carried forward by those who themselves have been reconciled to God. Although I blush to say so, this is not an apparent requisite in the contemporary church.
In our text, before the everlasting Gospel is preached, a multitude is seen on Mount Zion "with the Lamb." Evangelistic efforts that are not accompanied by such an affiliation will not yield abundant fruit. While the text speaks specifically of the people of Israel, it speaks generally of all who labor in the Lord's vineyard.
Preaching-the Appointed Means
Notice that the PREACHING of the "everlasting Gospel" precedes the fall of false religion and the harvest of the world. This is the appointed means of affecting the will of God among men. We are living in time when preaching is generally deprecated. Religious sophists have chosen to emphasize everything from entertainment to small group discussions to bring about renewal. Contrary to this, preaching has consistently been the Divine means of affecting the new birth and revival.
Jesus was introduced to the world by a John the Baptist, who came "preaching" (Matt 3:1). The Lord Jesus Himself was found "teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23; 9:35). The early church, when scattered by persecution, "went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Paul said saints were "established" by the "preaching of Jesus Christ" (Rom 16:25). The "preaching of the cross" is affirmed to be "the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). Such "preaching" is the ordained means through which it pleases God to "save them that believe" (1 Cor 1:21). In these last times, the Spirit declares, God has "manifested His Word through preaching" (Tit 1:3).
The "everlasting Gospel" is thus seen as the subject of preaching. That is what is announced, reported, or proclaimed. As you must know, much of what is called preaching is not an announcement, report, or proclamation. Too many times, I fear, it is nothing more than a dry lecture, a malicious tirade, or a boring excursion into scholasticism. It is no wonder such efforts are futile!
The message to be made known to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" is not a sectarian message. It is not the promotion of a particular theological position, or the advancement of a particular gathering of people. The heart of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, and the body of it relates to His vicarious atonement. That is why it is called "the record that God gave of His Son" (1 John 5:10-11).
In my judgment, the Gentiles have been sadly lacking in this area. "The preaching of the cross" has not been at an acceptable level. That is one of the primary reasons the nominal church has not effectively reached the world for Christ.
A Universal Gospel
The "everlasting Gospel" is so designated, among other things, because of its universality. There is neither age nor people for whom it is not suited. There is no time or person in which it will not accomplish the will of God. Note, our text states this Gospel is to be preached "unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." That accords perfectly with the initial commission of Jesus (Mark 16:15). At the beginning of "the day of salvation," and during its close, the Gospel will play a most prominent position. It has lost neither power nor relevance through the centuries!
This is not a Gospel for fallen angels, but for those who "dwell upon the earth." It reaches as far as the effects of sin have reached. It is for every political body-"every nation!" It is for every ethnic group-"every kindred (tribe)." It is for every group united by speech-"every language." It is for every amalgamation of personalities, wherever they may be found-"every people." Sin infected the entire race, and therefore the Gospel is for the entire race.
The Gospel does not adjust to social climates, but lifts men to the realm of eternal resolution. It never becomes obsolete or ineffective! It only needs to be discovered and proclaimed for Divine results to be realized.
Ezekiel's Healing Waters
We have here a picture of the renewed spread of the "glorious Gospel of the blessed God" (1 Tim 1:11). It is being spread in its purity, without regard to sectarian interests. This circumstance is portrayed in Ezekiel's vision of the healing waters-and it is glorious.
In the vision of reference, Ezekiel saw "water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east." It was coursing "from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar." A heavenly visitor showed the prophet the waters were flowing from the temple, through the outer gate, to regions outside of the city of Jerusalem and country of Israel. Normally, waters flowing out of the city were sewage, but these waters were pure and refreshing.
As these waters flowed, they became deeper. First they were up to the "ankles" (v. 3), then the "knees," then the "waist," or loins (v. 4). Then the waters became a massive river that was "too deep" to be crossed by walking. They were "waters in which one must swim" (v. 5). As these waters flowed, they reached the Dead Sea, and "its waters are healed" (v. 8). Everywhere the waters flowed "every living thing that moved" lived, including a "multitude of fish" (v. 9). Fisherman are seen "from En Gedi to En Eglaim," spreading their nets and catching "exceeding many" fish. These two cities are at the Southern and Northern extremities of the Dead Sea (v. 10).
There were, however, some "swamps and marshes" that were not healed, but were "given over to salt" (v. 11). On either bank of this healing river grew "all kinds of trees used for food." Because of "the waters" flowing from the sanctuary, they yielded fruit every month, never failing to produce. Even their leaves were "for medicine"-a prelude to glory(v. 12; Rev 22:2).
An Effective Gospel
Ezekiel saw a depiction of the effectiveness of the Gospel, and it was on a large scale. In principle, the waters began flowing on Pentecost, and reached into every segment of the world, bringing healing and health of soul. However, they did not heal on a grand scale, nor were there but a few marshy places. Converts were more like a sampling of the nations, or firstfruits. The Gospel was preached with effectiveness, but did not accomplish the grand results seen in Ezekiel's vision. The national depositories of of delusion and corruption were not healed, and certainly could not be classified as a few "marshy places." The Gospel was preached, praise the Lord, but it was also resisted, maligned, and vigorously opposed.
God, however, will yet show His mighty arm in a fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision. It is my understanding that it will occur under the leadership of Israel. There are several prophecies that speak of this type of Gospel spread. "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa 2:3-4). "And He will destroy on this mountain The surface of the covering cast over all people, And the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isa 25:7).
In the conversion of an individual, these very things are realized. The prophecies, however, speak of multitudes being affected, and "all the ends of the earth" fearing the Lord and beholding the "salvation of our God" (Psa 67:7; Isa 52:10). One cannot help but be impressed with the largeness of the vision. It does not speak of a few among many being recovered, but of the mass being recovered, and a few remaining unhealed. It is an exact reversal of our present experience.
Whatever view a person may have of the end times, it is still written, "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's, And He rules over the nations" (Psa 22:27-28). This cannot refer to every knee bowing and every tongue confessing in the day of judgment, for many in that day will do so to their condemnation. The Word of the Lord speaks here of remembering and turning to the Lord, and worshiping before Him. That is the language of conversion and spiritual healing. If one doubts that such a thing is possible, "the kingdom is the Lord's, And He rules over the nations."
WHY DEAL WITH SUCH A CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECT?
Admittedly, this is an extremely controversial area. For that reason, some would rather leave it alone. First, of course, God's Word has spoken to this subject. We do well to declare what God has promised, and do so with confidence. Second, the church is suffering from a minuscule view of God. It has grown accustomed to stunted views of the Kingdom that are not honoring to Christ, and bring no glory to the Lord.
God is "able to save by many or by few" (1 Sam 14:6). Ordinarily, we consider this to be an affirmation that God normally saves by using only "a few." And, indeed, that has been the case to this time. However, He is also able to "save by many." In some respects, that is as great a sign of Divine power as saving "by few." We must not allow ourselves to rule out this possibility. God does not say He always saves with "few" and never with "many." He does not say He prefers to save with "many" and disdains saving with "few." He is able to do both, and affirms both situations in His Word.
One further observation: what we see here is an elaboration of what occurred after the sealing of the 144,000 in the seventh chapter. Immediately following that sealing, John saw "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," standing before the throne and the Lamb clothed in white robes (7:9). Our current text is affirming this world will not conclude without the powerful effects of the Gospel being realized. This is not asserted to provide a theological template, but to encourage the hearts of suffering saints. The cause for which they labor has been underwritten by God Almighty, and will not fail. The purpose of this is not to aid men in predicting when the world will end, but to assist them in keeping the faith under great duress - to hold on their way when they are oppressed and truth appears to have fallen in the street. There are Divine appointments that guarantee the reward of the faithful and the demise of the wicked!THE HOUR OF JUDGMENT
" . . . 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.'" When the truth is proclaimed and believed, it has an immediate effect upon opposing forces. Unfortunately, this is not generally known. Nominal Christendom has all but washed this from human recollection. It is easy for some to think of a "moral majority" that are being dominated by a wicked few. Some can conceive of a gigantic revival or spiritual awakening that occurs simultaneously with an outbreak of iniquity and corruption. Bu this is not a fair representation of the case. Our text will show us that the effective spread of the Gospel will produce a downfall of what is evil.
Whether we are speaking on an individual or a national scale, turning to the Lord involves turning from iniquity. When the truth is accepted, the lie is rejected. When faith dominates, unbelief is overthrown. If there has not been a massive overthrow of wickedness, there has not been a massive embrace of the truth. If righteousness is not embraced by the majority, the majority have not believed. If the nation is wicked, it is because the people are wicked.
A message now accompanies the sounding of the "everlasting Gospel." It is a trumpeting alert, arresting the attention of the world. This message is not the Gospel itself, but an accompaniment to it. "Fear God and give glory to Him." God is going to bare His holy arm "in the eye of all the nations" (Isa 52:10).
The "hour of HIS judgment is come," and God is to be worshiped as that judgment is beheld. Until this time, the saints have been pictured under oppression by the world. Spiritual corruption has been introduced in the second beast, and its corrupt judgment has been affirmed. Under Satanic leadership, the truth has been judged, as well as those who embraced it. A religion has been spread abroad that has "a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). This adulteration has flourished, even causing the demise of God's witnesses.
However, none of this has escaped the attention of our Lord! False religion has only been "treasuring up" "wrath" (Rom 2:5) in its insurrection against the King of kings. That judgment will be poured out in its fulness in the day of the Lord-"the day of wrath." But there will be a preliminary judgment also, and that is what is now being announced.
This is not a fear like that of Adam in Eden, or Israel at Sinai. It is not a fear that thrusts men from God, causing them to hide. Rather, it is a fear that draws men close to God, causing them to be especially alert to His working. This is the "fear" of which Jesus spoke. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). All of God's opponents will learn what Israel learned, "be sure your sin will find you out" (Num 32;23).
Give Glory to Him!
God is about to work-behold Him in the working. See His purpose being fulfilled, and His will being done! Give credit to Him for what is being done! How often this admonition is found in Scripture! "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name" (Psa 29:2). "Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength" (Psa 96:7). A religion that is not able to properly recognize and trace Divine working back to God, is a false one.
The Hour of His Judgment Is Come
Those who oppose the Lord must face an hour of reckoning. Involved in this is an answer to the souls who cried out under the altar: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev 6:10). We must learn that the demise of everything false has been appointed. The wicked cannot ultimately prevail, nor can the righteous remain un-vindicated. Whether it is the Antediluvians (Gen 6), Sodom (Gen 19), the Egyptians (Ex 7-12), or Jerusalem being judged for rejecting Jesus (Matt 23:38; Lk 19:43-44), the day of reckoning will come for those opposing the Lord.
As "the hour of judgment" arrives, men are not to stand aghast, startled that such things have occurred. Rather, they are to behold the Lord in the matter, and acknowledge the rightness of it all. In worshiping Him, they are recognizing His judgment and acquiescing to it.
This is something in which the Gentile church has been very deficient-the worship of God! The current trend in "worship" is a far cry from what we see in our text. Here, the worship of God occurs when men behold His judgment upon His enemies. It is a worship of perception, not ritual. God revealed to Israel the effects of perfunctory worship upon Himself-and it was not good (Amos 5:21-26).
This is a summons for men to acknowledge the working of the Lord in the overthrow of false religion. It includes the recognition of His work, as well as a love and preference for it. God recognizes such faithful souls.
THE FALL OF BABYLON
"And another angel followed, saying, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.'" For the first time in this book, we are introduced to "Babylon." In the remainder of Revelation, we will of this city frequently.
This Is Not Jerusalem
This city is one of a primary keys to the book of Revelation. For some, it is the city of Jerusalem. The fall of it is therefore viewed as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Jerusalem,. However, did not corrupt the world with her fornication. Nor, indeed, did the kings of the earth mourn over her fall. Too, she is still found, and was not utterly removed from the earth when she was judged. That view simply will not fit into this text.
All through this book we have been exposed to symbols. The churches were seen as "candlesticks" (1:20a). Their messengers were seen as "stars" in the hand of the Lord (1:20b). The Lord Jesus is seen as a "Lamb" (5:6), and the purpose of God as a seven-sealed "book" (5:1-2). Satan is seen as a "dragon" (12:3), and the organizations he uses to oppose God's people as "beasts" (13:1,11). The people of God are perceived as "the woman" (12:4), and Satan's aggression against them as "a flood" (12:15). Sustaining fellowship with the Lord is seen as "a place prepared in the wilderness" (12:6). The faithful testimony of the truth is perceived as "two witnesses" (11:3).
Now we are seeing the primary assault of Satan in symbolic language. It is like a gigantic city, with order, purpose, and abundance. It offers refuge, commerce, and productivity. It is Satan's simulation of "the holy city, the new Jerusalem," which is "the mother of us all" (Rev 21:2; Gal 4:26).
A "city" is an amalgamation of people. Abraham sought such a place: "the city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" (Heb 11:10). God, we are told, has "prepared" such a "city" for those living by faith (Heb 11:16). The residence of the faithful is nothing less than "the city of the Living God" (Heb 12:22). Those who have embraced Christ are identified as "the light of the world." They are "a city that is set upon a hill," and "cannot be hidden" (Matt 5:14). Even so, in this world, we do not have the fulness of that city, but we "seek one to come" (Heb 13:14).
The Language of Typology
The term "Babylon" is understood within the context of Scripture. It stirs up the memory of Israel's captivity of old. Because of their disobedience, the ancient people were "carried away" into Babylon. This was accomplished under Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kgs 20;17; 24:11-16; 2 Chron 9:1). In this judgment, Nebuchadnezzar was the "servant" of the Lord, doing His bidding (Jer 27:6).
However, Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon were judged for doing the very thing God called them to do. The reason for this judgment is revealed in Scripture. "For behold, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon An assembly of great nations from the north country, And they shall array themselves against her; From there she shall be captured. Their arrows shall be like those of an expert warrior; None shall return in vain. And Chaldea shall become plunder; All who plunder her shall be satisfied," says the LORD. Because you were glad, because you rejoiced, You destroyers of My heritage" (Jer 50:9-11). Although they were used of God to punish His people, Nebuchadnezzar and his devouring hosts took delight in it. They were "glad" and "rejoiced" in the pillage of God's "heritage." Thus, they were judged.
We have a precise parallel of this in Revelation. The church degenerated into an unacceptable state, rejecting the truth and embracing a "form of godliness" while "denying the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). For this cause, God "sent them strong delusion, that they might believe a lie" (2 Thess 2:11). That "strong delusion" was found in a religious container. However, like Babylon of old, it took delight in oppressing the saints. It took glory for itself, and developed its own agenda. For this reason, Divine judgment will come upon the false church-and righteously so.
Babylon the Great
This is nothing less than the false church - the church wedded to the world, with the world as its wedded name. It is the apostasy of which Paul spoke (2 Thess 2:3-5; 1 Tim 4:1-2; 2 Tim 3:1-7; 4:3-4). That is why it is called "the great whore" (17:1). She is unfaithful to Christ, having a preference for "this present evil world." She has committed the same transgression as Babel of old-making a name for herself (Gen 11:4).
This form of corruption has captivated the church like Babylon captivated Israel. It is guilty of obscuring the truth, even shedding the blood of the saints (16:6; 17:6; 18:24). With aggressiveness, it has sought the approval of the world, which is alienated from the life of God. Listen to the vivid description of her fornication. "She made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication . . . With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication . . . For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies . . . the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication" (14:8; 17:2; 18:3; 19:2).
If you want to know what the Lord thinks of a worldly church, you are beholding it in this passage. He has an intolerant attitude toward the corruption of His truth and the prostitution of the love and affection due Him. Remember what our Lord said of Israel's perfunctory feasts. "Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies; I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood" (Isa 1:13-15). Keep in mind, the feasts God despised were the very ones He had ordained. Yet, their observance had been corrupted by the defiled hearts of the people.
Such is spiritual Babylon. The defiled hearts of the people has blemished all of their imagined worship and service. As it is written, "to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work" (Tit 1:15-16).
This is not a matter of novicehood-new believers that simply do not have a grasp of the truth. It is a matter of "fornication" - of having a preference for this world. God is going to bring all such religion down, not allowing it to continue. Further, He will do it BEFORE the Lord comes and the end of the world. Just as the political governments of this world have been proved inferior and vulnerable, so will all religious corruption be dashed to the ground.
She Corrupted All Nations
Whereas the church is "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world," Babylon brings corruption and defilement to the world. The inhabitants of the world are worse because of her. Rather than helping the condition sin introduced, this vile city has made it worse. The nations have been thrust further from God because of her. She actually taught men to be unfaithful to God.
Mark it well, wherever there is spiritual corruption, the Lord lays the responsibility at the door of spiritual Babylon. One might object, saying the false church is not the only purveyor of error and misrepresentation. But that is not the point. The generation favored with the presence of Jesus Christ had not personally killed all of the prophets. Yet, the Lord charged them with the responsibility of it all. "Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation" (Lk 11:49-51).
This, then, is the Divine manner, and righteously so. Those who choose to ignore the Christ, and even corrupt His Gospel, will be charged with similar responses of former generations. This may not fit well into stereotyped theology, but it is what is taught in Scripture.
Associated with the Gospel
Observe that the collapse of spiritual Babylon is directly related to the preaching of the "everlasting Gospel." Error falls in the wake of truth, and sin is overthrown as men become righteous. False and damaging Gospels are exposed by the preaching of the real Gospel. That is the manner of the Kingdom.
I understand this passage to mean that, following ungodliness being turned away from Jacob, the Gospel will be preached in its purity by a purified people. At that time, Christianity, as we know it, will come crashing to the ground. Thus will come to a conclusion "the times of the Gentiles" (Lk 21:24). This is the "fulness of the Gentiles" to which Paul referred (Rom 11:25).
Just as with Israel, there is a "remnant" in the present church who have not adopted the ways of the world. They will lose nothing by the overthrow of spiritual corruption. In the meantime, it is good for God's people to give diligence to avoid any teaching that will not stand in the blazing light of the unvarnished Gospel. Let us avoid any emphasis that must be abandoned when the record of God's Son is embraced. It is my settled conviction that much of contemporary religion is so off-center it is rather easy to abandon when once Christ and His great salvation are seen. This is a tragic circumstance. Truth will expose error, and effectively so, inducing the believer to abandon it with haste.DIVINE RETRIBUTION
We will now be exposed to the fierceness of Divine wrath against those who settle for spiritual corruption. It is an awesome consideration, and must not be ignored. Just as God's mercy is directed toward all who believe His "everlasting Gospel," so His wrath is directed against all who allow themselves to be taken in by Satan's misrepresentation of the same.
"Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, '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. 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 or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.'"
The language is astonishing. A soul cannot remain lethargic and indifferent when these words sink down into its ears! There is no question about this judgment. It is certain, and is with eternal consequences. There is nothing casual about this declaration. To assure us of its truth, an angel shouts the message. For now, it is a solemn warning not to become enmeshed in worldly religion. I will tell you that these words will frighten many a soul. But it is not necessary for this to be the case. Those who embrace the Son and come away from the course of this world have nothing to fear in this proclamation.
Rapidly we have moved from the awakening of a people to the fall of a system, and now enter into "eternal judgment" (Heb 6:2). The quickness of the transitions are not meant to reflect a brief period of time-although it is quite possible for that to occur. This is the language of certainty. It is declaring that nothing can interfere with this Divine determination. Israel shall be turned! The "everlasting Gospel" will be sent like a gigantic flood into the world! Spiritual corruption shall fall! Those who chose corruption over truth will suffer the wrath of God!
Collective, Yet Personal
Just as salvation is personal, so is condemnation. "If any one . . . he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God . . . he shall be tormented." When Babylon comes down, all who were aligned with her will not disappear. There will remain a body of people who have chosen corrupt religion to the purity of the Gospel. Their city has fallen, yet they are not forgotten, nor has their insurrection been blotted from God's memory. This passage confirms to our hearts that embracing a lie is never innocent. Just as the Lord takes faith personally, so preferring what Satan offers is considered a personal affront to Him, a re-crucifixion of His Son, and a treading of Him under foot (Heb 6:6; 10:29).
"If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand." There are places in Revelation where the condemned are identified as generally immoral and disobedient people (21:8). Those whose names are NOT written in the Lamb's book of life are also said to be condemned (13:8; 17:8). Here, however, we see quite another view. Here is a picture of those who have been contaminated with defiled religion. Satan raised up fraudulent Christianity, and they embraced it. They either adopted the pattern of thought, of served the institution in what they did. In so doing, however, they gave their allegiance to the devil, and took it away from the Lord's Christ. The Kingdom of God is "in power" (1 Cor 4:20), but they chose a "form of godliness that denied (rejected) the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5).
And, what will be the portion of those making such a choice? " . . . he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God." Forever blot from your mind the notion that such unfaithfulness will be ignored by the Lord. Babylon had something to drink also - "the wine of the wrath of her fornication." Later, the horrid mixture is called "a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (17:4). The idea is that of a poisoned mixture-one that brings sure death. But the death will not come from Babylon. Rather, it will come from God Himself. Those who chose to serve a fleshly religion will be made to drink of "the wine of the wrath of God." The thought of a drink consisting of "wrath" is arresting. Those who imagine God never makes His creatures do something against their will do well to consider this passage. It is true, He will not force one to drink of the "water of life." Yet, if the individual chooses not to drink that sweet elixir, he will drink the wine of God's wrath.
This is the very wrath from which Jesus has delivered us (1 Thess 1:10). Rather than enjoying that deliverance, those who followed Satan's "beast" will have God's wrath expended upon them. Twelve times this wrath is mentioned in Revelation. It is called "the wrath of the Lamb," because it is under His supervision (6:16). Because the time of its administration is appointed, it is called "the day of His wrath," and is said to have "come" (6:17; 11:18). It is an expression of the Divine nature, and is therefore called "the wrath of God" (14;10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1). Because it cannot be averted, it is called "the wrath of Almighty God" (19:15). Due to its all-consuming nature, it is appropriately called "the fierceness of His wrath" (16:19).
This is a portrayal of the hatred and indignation of the Lord. It is an aspect of Him to which you must resolve NOT to be exposed. He has already revealed those toward whom this wrath will be directed. It is now our business to zealously separate ourselves from that class of people.
" . . . which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation." As if the description were not alarming enough, a further explanation is provided. This wrath will be unlike any historical display. It will be greater than the wrath suffered by those in the flood, or Sodom, or Egypt. There was mercy present in all of those instances. Noah and his family were saved from the flood. Lot and his daughters were saved from Sodom. Israel came out of Egypt.
Holy men have been known to pray, "in wrath remember mercy" (Hab 3:2). When seeking to destroy Israel, Moses moved upon God to be merciful (Ex 32:10-12). With Israel, the Lord "many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath" (Psa 78:38). But this is not the case with the wrath we are beholding in this text. It is not mingled with mercy, and there is no turning from it. There will be no recovery, no opportunity for change, and no diminishment its severity. It will be "without mixture" - and all because those who drink it chose alignment with "the beast."
"He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." Some punishment has been administered in privacy - like the death of Judas. The torment of those who took hold on lifeless religion, however, will be dreadful. They will be "tormented with fire and brimstone." Torment speaks of extended and increasing suffering. Jesus once told of a "rich man" who died and woke up "in hell." That man said, "I am tormented in this flame" (Lk 16:24-25).
As if the torment itself was not enough, it will be "in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." I gather this refers to their vision, and not that of the angels and the Lamb-although there is nothing in Scripture to rule that out. The thought is that their torment will be accentuated by seeing the One they rejected, and the ones who could have ministered to them. But all of that was forfeited when they made the choice to follow the beast. You may recall, the "rich man" saw both Abraham and Lazarus from "hell" (Lk 16:23).
"And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." Those who are "chastened of the Lord" in this world, are given opportunity to recover. In fact, that is the reason for the chastening (1 Cor 11:32). But what we are here beholding is not chastening. Their torment is permanent, and extraction from it is not possible. There is no cessation of the torment - no time of rest and recuperation.
The phrase "the smoke of their torment" is an intriguing one. Some affirm the wicked will eventually be consumed by the fire of hell, ceasing to exist at all. They see the "smoke" as the aftermath of their destruction by fire. However, the text does not say "the smoke of their destruction." Rather, it is "the smoke of their torment." Coming from µ (bas-an-is-moo), the word "torment" means "torture, torment, or extreme distress." There is nothing in the word itself, or in the context in which it is used, that suggests it is temporal.
Just as "smoke" is ordinarily the evidence of fire, so this "smoke" is the evidence of the suffering of the wicked-a suffering that will have no termination. It indicates NO cessation of their torment, for that is what it evidences.
This is the same type of language used by Jesus in the ninth chapter of Mark. He describes "hell" as "the fire that shall never be quenched; where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched" (Verses 43-48). Note, it is "their worm," not "the" worm. The expression "their worm" equates to "their torment." It emphasizes an aspect of their torment, which is a gnawing conscience. Just as the "smoke of their torment" cannot exist without the ones being tormented, so "their worm" cannot exist if the ones owning it no longer remain.
Lest we forget, being caught up in the figures of speech employed, the Spirit reminds us of the identity of these people. They are those "who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
To say the least, this depiction should cause any soul in a state of indecision to run out of Babylon. The Lord has already told us the predetermined destiny of all who align themselves with Satan's fabrication of the church.
No Hope for Babylon the Great
Integral to this whole section is the truth that there is no hope for spiritual Babylon. Satan himself cannot be reformed. Neither, indeed, can the two beasts he raises up be changed for the better, or made acceptable to God.
So it is with Babylon. It cannot be converted or changed. Just as the devil which gave her birth, it has been condemned. The curse of God is upon it. The cry comes from heaven itself, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Rev 18:4). I know very well this is not a popular message. Yet, it is to be received without reluctance. Our Lord Himself declared the principle involved. "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt 15:13). It is not possible for this NOT to occur!THE PATIENCE OF THE SAINTS
"Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." This is not the first time we have read of the "patience" of the saints. Earlier, "the patience and faith of the saints" were declared as the means through which the first beast was overcome (13:10). At the very beginning of the book, John described himself as a "companion" in the "patience of Jesus Christ," indicating he was not being overcome by his own exile (1:9).
In Scripture, "patience" is endurance, or perseverance. In this text, it refers to those who do NOT worship the beast or his image, and refuse affiliation with him. Thus they survive the deceptive attack of the wicked one. Even at the expense of losing their lives, they avoid identity with the enemies of the Lord. They will not embrace a form of godliness that lacks the power, and refuse to give honor to corrupt religion. From heaven's point of view, that is endurance, or patience. It is something sorely needed in our time.
In preference to the offerings of the beast, the "saints" keep "the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." First, this reveals Satan's ultimate goal. He tempts men to relinquish their hold upon the commandments of God. He seeks to cause them to abandon the faith authored by Jesus, as though it were a worthless thing. If he can turn people from a consideration of Divine demands and reliance on the Lamb, he shall have lured them into condemnation.
The people of God were also described earlier as those who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (12:10). It is edifying to read this description of the saints. They are not simply people who have adopted a certain religious position, or identified with a particular movement. While carnal men boast in such things, the saints do not. When it comes to submission, they think of "the commandments of God." That is what they choose to retain in their minds. They know that, in Christ, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters" (1 Cor 7:19). Further, you can boil these commandments down to their essence. The word "commandments" are not limited to a moral code. The Law summarized the commandments in this manner. "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31). The apostles provided an even more definitive view. "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment" (1 John 3;23).
Those who "keep the commandments of God" refuse to loosen their grip upon them. They will not allow a flood of worldly care to wash them from their memory. Nor, indeed, will they permit devotion to lifeless religion to deprive them of a walk in the light of the Lord.
"The faith of Jesus" is a phrase denoting faith IN Jesus. It also assumes Him to be the Origin of that faith. He is, after all, the "Author and Finisher of our faith" (Heb 12:2). The word "Author" literally means one who causes something to begin, originator, founder, initiator. Those who "keep the faith of Jesus" maintain their persuasion of and reliance upon the Jesus. They refuse to give their allegiance to Satan's substitute, and thus overcome him.
In Christ, we receive "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb 12:28). Where this is known and embraced, strength will be granted to withstand the delusional floods of Satan. But where this is NOT known, the artifices of the devil will not be withstood.THE BLESSEDNESS OF DYING IN THE LORD
How, amidst a view of two notable events (the recovery of Jacob and the fall of Babylon), heaven speaks concerning death. Why is such a matter introduced at this time? The answer should be obvious. We have just been provided with a view of the end of those classified with "the beast." Their end is not a good one. But what of the saints? What of those who kept the commandments of God and maintained the faith that had been given to them? What will their end be? Heaven itself speaks to this matter. "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" What a contrast to the destiny of the wicked! The wicked were cursed, while the righteous are blessed - and we are talking about a common experience-"death."
What Is Death?
It may appear strange to ask such a trite question. However, there is a growing persuasion among otherwise conservative believers, that death is a sleep of both body and sou. The view is that there is no consciousness after death until the resurrection of the dead. God has, however, referred to death in a manner that discourages such a view.
Of old time, saints were said to yielded up their spirit and been gathered to their people (Gen 49:33). When Jesus died, it is written that He "yielded up His Spirit" (Matt 27:50). Paul referred to death as the "earthly house" of this "tabernacle" being "dissolved," stating "we" existed beyond that time, possessing another "house" (2 Cor 5:1). Later, he referred to death as being "absent from the body" and "present with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Peter referred to it as "putting off" his "tabernacle" (2 Pet 1:13-14).
In all of these, death is seen as a separation of the unseen part of man from his seen and temporal part.
But now we come to another view of the matter-and it too is a heavenly assessment. A blessing is pronounced upon "the dead" who "die in the Lord." He does not say "the dead" WILL be blessed, but that they "ARE" blessed. The word "blessed" means characterized by transcendent happiness, joyfully blessed, and happy. It is the word used by Jesus throughout the beatitudes (Matt 5:3-11). Twenty-six times, this precise word is used in the New Testament writings. Without exception, it is used to describe a conscious state, where enjoyment and benefit are knowingly attained.
Now the Spirit contrasts those who keep the commandments of God and faith in Christ with those who gave themselves to the beast. The saints are advantaged by death! They lived unto the Lord, and now they die "unto the Lord" (Rom 14:8). For them to live was "Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). Death was not able to "separate" them from the love of God; i.e., from a conscious realization of it as well as the benefit of it (Rom 8:38). Death only concluded their labors and suffering, not their existence or their consciousness. I do not know that Scripture ever presents unconscious persons as being "blessed."
When the voice said "from henceforth," it did not mean the condition had never existed before. Rather, this is a word to those who remain in the body and are being subjected to the "beast." Such are to understand that Satan's initiative has not diminished the blessing of the righteous one whit. The reign of the Lord Jesus is again confirmed in the blessedness of the saints AFTER the devil has done his worse.
The Response of the Holy Spirit
"'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.'" The Holy Spirit joins in the comfort. He responds to the glorious announcement by shouting a confirming "YES!" It is a most glorious thing when the Holy Spirit agrees with what is being said!
Now the Spirit enlarges the picture for us. He declares that the condition of those dying in the Lord will be enhanced by their death. This is revealed in two ways. First, they "rest from their labors." Second, "their works follow them."
"Their labors" are the activities related to keeping the commandments of God and faith in Christ. These efforts had to be maintained in an arena of opposition and hostility. When the saints die, however, they move to a peaceful realm, where "the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17).
In saying "their works do follow them," the Spirit confirms the acceptance of their works before God. Too, the effects of the labors continued even after their death. Think of the continued impact of the works of Paul, Peter, John, and others. Later saints, such as Luther, Calvin, Campbell, and others, continue to have an impact upon mankind.
Remember, the "works" of the saints followed them. If they became non-existent following their death, their works would also cease to have influence. The fact that their works live on is proof they also are alive and blessed. The knowledge of this condition is a great consolation to those in the crucible of suffering.THE REAPER AND HIS SICKLE
"Then 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." Here is a fresh phase of the vision, yet one which reflects strict Divine sequence. There should be no question about the subject of the vision. John sees the Redeemer ready to reap the harvest.
The White Cloud
Clouds frequently speak of Divine glory. In Israel's deliverance from Egypt, the Lord "led" them "in a pillar of cloud" (Ex 13:21-22). When God revealed Himself to the children of Israel, "behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud" (Ex 16:10). When the Law was given from Sinai, the "glory of the Lord" was on Mount Sinai in a cloud that "covered the mount" (Ex 24:15). All through the wilderness wanderings, a cloud hovered over the tabernacle. That cloud was called "the cloud of the Lord" (Ex 40:38). The movement of the children of Israel was determined by the movement of that cloud (Num 9:22). The strength of God is said to be "in the clouds" (Psa 68:34).
At Christ's baptism, God affirmed His Sonship by speaking "out of the cloud" (Lk 9:35). When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, "a cloud came and overshadowed them" (Mark 9:7). Also, when He ascended to heaven, "a cloud received Him out of" the sight of the disciples (Acts 1:9).
Clouds are consistently related to the glory and working of the Lord. The devil, for example, is never associated with the clouds. The horde of locusts that were unleashed upon the world came out of "smoke," not a cloud (Rev 9:3). Divine processes, however, have been connected with "clouds" in the book of Revelation (10:1; 11:12).
A "white cloud" particularly denotes the determined and pure work of the Lord-the fulfillment of an appointed purpose. This is not a review of history, but a declaration of something God Almighty has determined.
Christ's Second Coming and Clouds
We are doubtless being shown a facet of the coming of Christ. His return is consistently associated with the clouds. Jesus spoke of His return as the time when "they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Lk 21:27). He also affirmed he would come "in the clouds of heaven" (Matt 24:30; 26:64; Mk 13:26; 14:62). Earlier in Revelation it was said, "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him" (Rev 1:7). There can be no doubt that John is being introduced to the close of earthly history-the time when the Lord Jesus will come again.
Like the Son of Man
The phrase "like the Son of Man" does not mean this was NOT the Son Himself. Prior to this, the Savior had appeared "a Lamb," emphasizing His redemptive role (5:6; 14:1) . He had also been seen as rider on a horse, going forth conquering and to conquer, depicting His kingly role (6:2).
Here, however, He is seen as the Man through whom the world will be judged (Acts 17:30-31). Poised and without agitation, the glorified Man sits upon the cloud awaiting the appointed hour. On His head is a "golden crown," confirming He is in charge of the situation. This is an aspect of His reign.
The "sickle" speaks of harvest. Jeremiah mentioned "him who handles the sickle at harvest time" (Jer 50:16). Harvesting indicates a condition as well as a time. Joel, using the same words as are found in our text, said, "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe" (Joel 3;13). The Son, then, is seen as ready to harvest the earth, which is ready to be harvested.
This world is the appointed place for maturity - where both good and evil people advance toward a time of universal harvest. We are moving toward an appointed conclusion. Everyone is being readied for the harvest, and none will be excluded.
The Time Has Come!
"And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, 'Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.'"
Some of the last words Jesus said when upon earth included a unique reference to His return. "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mk 13:22). It is my understanding that the Savior has voluntarily forfeited this knowledge. Thus He fellowships with us more fully in the expectation of that time.
But now the appointed time has come. Having received the Word from God, the angel exits the heavenly Temple. He now informs the Son of Man that the hour has come. This is a designated time. Note, the "time" is related to the condition of the world. "The harvest of the earth is ripe."
There is no question about the time being described. This is not the description of a temporal judgment. In the poignant parable of the tares of the field, Jesus affirmed, "the harvest is the end of the world" (Matt 13:39). Thus time will come to a conclusion, the day of salvation will end, and the purpose for the present heavens and earth shall have been served.
From the viewpoint of our text, that time is when "the earth is ripe." It is, after all, "the field," or place of development (Matt 13:38). When God's purpose is served, there will be no further reason for its existence. Therefore, it will be reaped by the Son of Man Himself. He is the One who "sowed the seed" (Matt 13:37), and He shall reap the harvest.
The Earth Is Reaped
"So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped." There is no resistence to the reaping, nor is there delay. This is an appointed time, managed by the appointed Reaper.
The phrase "the earth was reaped" speaks of the gathering of God's people. They are the ones for whom the world was created, or the field prepared. Elsewhere, we are told the angels carry out the harvest under the control of Jesus. They are called "the reapers" (Matt 13:39). Through them, the Savior will gather us together to Himself (2 Thess 2:1). He will "receive us" to Himself through the ministry of holy angels. "He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven" (Mark 13:27).
The harvesting of the earth is the gathering of the wheat into the barn. At the very threshold of the day of salvation, John the Baptist said, "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt 3:12). Now, in our text, that time has arrived, and Jesus cleans out the threshing floor-the earth, where the development and sifting processes were culminated.
When the earth is reaped, there will be no more movement from the power of darkness to the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col 1:13). No further washing and justification will be done. The day of salvation will come to a close with the harvest of the earth. Everyone's state will be fixed, and moral change will be possible no longer.
The Foundation of the World
Ten times, the phrase "the foundation of the world" is used in Scripture (Matt 13:35; 25:34; Lk 11:50; John 17:24; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8). The NIV version erroneously translates this phrase "creation of the world" (9 times) and "beginning of the world" (1 time). This expression, however, is not one relating to time, or point, of origin. Rather, it is a term of purpose or objective.
In every text the phrase "foundation of the world" is found, the word (kat-ab-ol-as) is used. The word more literally means conceived, and refers to the purpose for which the world was created. That purpose was to create an environment in which the sons of God could be born and brought to maturity. Just as a field is meant to receive and mature seed, so the world was conceived in Divine purpose to receive and mature the sons of God-to prepare them for eternity.
The "harvest," therefore, is when that purpose will be fully realized.
One further observation on this matter. Those who believe winning souls, or bringing people into Christ, is the primary work of the church, do well to rethink their position. Scripture consistently indicates that the maturity of believers is the primary Divine objective. God has appointed our Intercessor to assure the process is completed (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). He has given us the Holy Spirit to change us from one stage of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). He has also appointed the holy angels to minister in the behalf of the elect, to ensure their safe development to maturity.
Once again, the reaping of the earth denotes the gathering of God's people to Christ through the instrumentality of holy angels. It is not meant to reflect chronology, but priority. Those who imagine this is a reference to a secret rapture have missed the point. God's purpose for the world shall have been served when the people of God are ready to be gathered unto their Lord!
All of history is moving toward this point in time-the gathering of the wheat into the barn! All of creation groans and travails in expectation of this harvest (Rom 9:19-22). Too, one of the sure marks of spiritual maturity is when we also anticipate the time. Where men are not anticipation of the harvest, they are not living by faith. They have adopted the ways of the world, and thus become enmeshed in its ways and end.THE REAPING OF THE WICKED
Here we will clash with humanly-conceived views of the end of time. The Revelation will establish that the harvest will conclude earth's history. The removal of the wicked will occur at harvest, as is clearly taught by Jesus (Matt 13:41-41, 49-50). Paul also taught this with remarkable clarity. "The Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed" (2 Thess 1:7-10).
Notice, the punishment of the ungodly will occur WHEN Jesus comes to be glorified in His saints. This is the subject of the section we are now entering.
"Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle." The event now described occurs when the earth is reaped-at the harvesting of the righteous-"THEN!" Remember, John the Baptist declared that when the reaping floor was purged, the wheat would be gathered into the barn, and the chaff would be burned. So, as soon as the harvest of the earth is announced, a reaping angel comes out of the heavenly temple. He has a "sharp sickle," that is ready for reaping. No further preparation is required. The time has come.
The Vine of the Earth
"And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, 'Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.'" I continue to marvel at the amount of angelic activity in this matter! This is nothing less than a glorious elaboration of Christ's words, "the reapers are the angels" (Mat 13;39).
From the altar
The angel who commissions the harvest comes "out from the altar." He has power over fire, with which the Lord Jesus will be revealed (2 Thess 1:8). The fact that he comes "out from the altar" provides the true perspective of what ensues. The harvest that follows will be in view of the atonement of Jesus. Just as the saved are harvested in light of their acceptance of Christ, so the wicked will be reaped in relation to their rejection of His great salvation.
The Vine of the earth
Here the wicked are seen as connected to, and deriving strength from, the earth. That is what cut them off from the Lamb of God! Alliance with this world is not taken lightly in heaven. It will, in fact, determine the harvest in which we will participate-and everyone will take part in one.
The earth is like a "vine" to which people can become attached. It nourishes those connected to it with a way of thought, as well as a manner of living. "The carnal mind" is nothing less than evidence of being connected to the "vine of the earth" (Rom 8:7). Living "according to the flesh," or walking "according to the course of this world," is being connected to the "vine of the earth" (Rom 8:5,12,13; Eph 2:2).
Those attached to this "vine" love the world, and the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15-17). They have received, and delight in, the "wisdom of this world" (1 Cor 1:20; 2:6; 3:19).
"The vine of the earth" cultures worldly-mindedness. It anchors people to the seen, and influences them to live for themselves and in ignorance of God.
God has often spoken in this manner, relating the source of life, whether corrupt or pure, to a vine. There is reference to "the vine of Sodom" (Deut 32:32), a "wild vine" (2 Kgs 4:39), "noble vine" (Jer 2:21), a "vine of low stature" (Ezek 17:6), a "goodly vine" (Ezek 17:8), and an "empty vine" (Hos 10:1).
I cannot leave this section without expressing my sorrow at the dominance of "the vine of the earth" in contemporary religion. There is too much of the world in the church, and too much of its wisdom being purveyed by its ministers. It has formed an alliance with this world that will, if not averted, result in its condemnation.
There will come a time when all who are united to "the vine of the earth" will become "ripe." At that time, their destiny will be sealed, with no possibility of change or deliverance. In our text, the entire world is seen from this perspective. All of the wheat are ready to be harvested, and all of the wicked are "ripe."
"So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs."
Often, this passage is used to buttress a view of the battle of Armageddon. It requires a prolific imagination to associate the "harvest" of the earth and the reaping of the "vine of the earth" with further worldly activities. This is a REMOVAL of the vine of the earth, not provision for its final expression!
The Vine is Gathered
The angel has no difficulty removing the vine and its grapes from the earth. He faces no resistance or delay. When his sickle is thrust into the earth, the earth's "vine" and those nourished by it are abruptly removed.
This is an apocalyptic view of the angels gathering "out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" (Matt 13:41). In strict accord with the words of Christ, we are beholding "the end of the world: [when] the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just" (Matt 13:49).
The Winepress of God's Wrath
Here, the wicked are seen as wed to the world. They have derived their strength from the cursed order, and thus must perish with it.
The wicked-ripe grapes upon the earth's vine-are not simply moved to another place. Nor, indeed, are they allowed to remain in activity upon the earth. With Divine violence, they are thrown into a crushing winepress of God's wrath. There is no mercy in this winepress! Nor, indeed, will there be recovery for those who are cast into it. All of God's indignation and fury will be directed toward these who chose to remain connected to the world. Its "fashion," though passing away (1 Cor 7:31), so enamored these people that they forfeited reconciliation to God to maintain their association with it.
Consistently, we are warned about the wrath of God. It will surely come upon "the children of disobedience" (Eph 5:6; Col 3:6). That indignation will be fully released at an appointed time, and will not be assuaged to any degree or for any reason. That will be "the wrath to come" from which Jesus alone can deliver (Matt 3:7; 1 Thess 1;10).
Without the City
"And the winepress was trampled outside the city . . . " The trampling of the winepress is language taken from the prophets. It relates to the punishment of the wicked. Isaiah sad, "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come" (Isa 63:3-4). His prophecy related more specifically to Christ tasting death for every man, enduring the curse of the Almighty alone. In Him, the Father dealt with the sins of the world. However, in our text, it is the wicked themselves that are "trodden in the winepress."
By saying "outside the city," the separation of the ungodly from God Himself is emphasized. They will "suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess 1:9, RSV).
"Outside the city" describes a situation where there is no hope, and no mercy. It is a dreadful and eternal circumstance, proceeding from being wed to the world.
Blood to the Horses Bridles
" . . . and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs." The Lord is not revealing a fleshly situation, but a spiritual condition. The punishment of the wicked will not be a vicious war upon the earth, and such a thought is ludicrous. The "blood" is that of the grape, not of human bodies. The image depicts the thorough removal of the life and influence of the wicked.
Blood [of the grapes] up to the horses bridles for 1,600 furlongs, is equivalent to blood about six feet deep and 180 miles long. It is a staggering consideration-beyond human imagination! The idea is that the overthrow of the wicked will be as thorough as the exaltation of the righteous. Just as there will not be a single righteous person omitted in the harvesting of the earth, so there will not be a single godless person missed in the reaping of the earth's vine.
When God destroyed the world with a flood, evil again surfaced. When the vine of the earth, with its ripe clusters, is cast into the winepress of God's wrath, evil will never again surface! The destruction will be thorough and obvious-like a 180 miles of blood to the horses bridles. No one throughout all of heaven will wonder if Satan will ever rise again, or iniquity will ever again assert itself.
No one is capable of measuring the immensity of God's wrath against the ungodly. It is not meant to be measured-that is why this type of description is given. The wrath of God is to be avoided through Christ Jesus, not analyzed and speculated upon. That is why this comforting description is given. Harvest time is coming! Are you ready?CONCLUSION
We have briefly viewed a most awesome text. It is comforting to those who are keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. It is frightening to those who are too closely allied with the world. Indeed, the vision is calculated to produce those results. Those who are living by faith have nothing to fear in the end of the world, the coming of the Lord Jesus, or the unleashing of the wrath of Almighty God.
On the other hand, those who choose to attach themselves to this world-"the vine of the earth"-have everything to fear in these events. Just as the coming of Christ cannot hurt the righteous, so it cannot help the unrighteous.
Both the exaltation of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked will be awesome. It will also be thorough or complete. Everyone in Christ will be included in His harvest, and everyone attached to the world will be included in the reaping of the vine of the earth.
Now, in this time, we are determining our participation in the final harvest. Everything has graciously been supplied for an abundant entrance into the presence of the Lord. There is no reason why you cannot be included! Make sure you are being nourished by the right Source!