"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on...that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them."Revelation 14:13
Opening prayer: Father, I'm amazed at how you continue to offer hope and deliverance to those who put their trust in You. Give us a fresh glimpse of Your love and grace toward us, we pray.
This is a continuation of our series on the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:
Rev. 1: The Revelation of Jesus
Rev. 2-3: I Know You!
Rev. 4-5: Preview of Heaven
Rev. Study: Prophecies of Daniel
Rev. Study: Raptures and Resurrections
Rev. 6: Overview of the Tribulation
Rev. 7: Some Special People
Rev. 8-9: Danger! Rough Road Ahead!
Rev. 10-11: Seven Thunders; Two Witnesses
Rev. 12: The Woman and The Dragon
Rev. 13: The Last-Days Dictator
Today's lesson is another one of the colorful interludes in the Book of Revelation. Like the others, this one gives us details of God's special love and active caring for specific groups of believers.
The first group is pictured in Revelation 14, verses 1-4:And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with Him an hundred forty [and] four thousand, having His Father's name written in their foreheads. 2 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: 3 And they sang 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. 4 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.
This group should look familiar to us. This is the group known simply as "The 144,000" that we studied in the lesson on Some Special People. These are Israeli-born men, 12 thousand from each of 12 tribes of Israel. We saw them anointed shortly after the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel, shortly after the last-days dictator helps to broker a seven-year deal between "many" and Israel. Now they appear in heaven, as a group. It appears that they've had a private "rapture." See Raptures and Revelations for perspective on the many rapture events described in Scripture.
After this group is anointed (in Chapter 7), they disappear from the Bible narrative until here, in Chapter 14. We can only speculate about their activities, but it would be safe to say that they're active evangelists in Israel during the period immediately before the last-days dictator reveals his true colors. They will be doing what 1,900 years of evangelism has failed to accomplish -- making the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah, real for huge numbers of Israelites.
This passage doesn't give specific time clues, but it's relatively safe to say they arrive in heaven at some point after the beginning of the Great Tribulation. For 3 1/2 years, this group will tell all Israel that (a) Jesus IS the Messiah, and (b) the last-days dictator is NOT the Messiah, even though he was instrumental in securing international consensus for Israel to rebuild its Temple in Jerusalem.
- Bad news: much of Israel will not believe them on either count -- until too late.
- Good news: sufficient numbers will remember their preaching and flee to the wilderness when the armies surround Jerusalem and the last-days dictator desecrates the Temple.
- More good news: While in the wilderness experience, the people of Israel will have a Messianic revival of unprecedented proportions.
Now for a most-peculiar interlude, in verses 6-12: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, 7 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.
8 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.
9 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, 10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: 11 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. 12 Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
Verses 6-7 tell of an angel proclaiming "the everlasting gospel" (the never-ending good news) to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people..." on earth. Think about this for a minute. The world at that time will be in the throes of the Great Tribulation. There has been at least one nuclear war already. The last-days dictator will be in power and executing any Christians and Jews he can find. How can this angel be talking about good news?
The point here is that God will give every person on earth one last opportunity to hear and understand the gospel message. God is merciful and gracious. God is willing that none should perish but that all should repent and come to receive the gift of eternal life. Even though nearly everybody on the planet has previously rejected Jesus, God is persistently and lovingly giving EVERYBODY one last chance. You can fully trust a God like that.
Will an actual angel orbit around the earth and speak the gospel?
Maybe, since it's an easy matter for God to perform a miracle of tongues (like Pentecost) for everyone to hear the gospel in their own language. And it really doesn't matter whether God uses an angel to supplement the native-born evangelists and TV satellites in spreading His gospel message. Every person on earth will have the opportunity to know and respond to the truth. No excuses.
Verse 8 is very odd, and will be explained in the upcoming lesson on Revelation 17-18. For your homework, read those two chapters and try to figure out what "city" on earth has made "all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."
- Hint #1: This does NOT refer ONLY to Saddam Hussein's pitiful 3/4-scale replica of Babylon in Iraq. Nothing much important has happened there for a very long time. Mr. Hussein's expensive toy city WILL be vaporized, because of its abominable religious heritage. But Babylon's true spiritual heirs reside elsewhere today.
- Hint #2: The "wine of the wrath of her fornication" is a technical term with its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. It refers to spiritual adultery performed in the name of the living God. This rules out Washington, DC and Hollywood, California, which specialize in political and cultural forms of corruption. It also rules out Mecca, since the Islamic concept of Allah is nothing at all like the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Blasphemy is not the same as spiritual adultery.
- Hint #3: There are not many viable candidate cities, so don't bother making a long list.
Verses 9-12 warn everybody on earth to NOT accept the mark of the beast. This is the flip side of the message in verses 6-7. God is still being merciful and gracious, giving people time to decide to follow Jesus. By contrast, the beast and False Prophet will FORCE people to make an immediate decision concerning the beast and his mark. The beast will NOT be gracious. And his False Prophet will be as cruel and merciless as any Inquisitor in the Middle Ages.
These events, verses 6-12, sound very much like our Lord's words in Matthew 24, verses 11-14:And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Before the very end, the gospel of Jesus the Messiah "shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations." This gospel will be a stark contrast to the politically correct doctrine advanced by the False Prophet and the beast, and it will be very costly to accept the gospel and reject the beast. Folks on earth during that period will regret not accepting Jesus sooner (and missing the earlier raptures). But as Jesus promises, "he that shall endure to the end...shall be saved."
Moving on, let's look at verses 13-16 and read about the first of two completely different harvests: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. 14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud [one] sat like unto the Son of man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. 15 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. 16 And He that sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18 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. 19 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.
Despite the tumult and destruction of the Great Tribulation, God continues to take a personal interest in those who put their trust in Him, even those who just figured it out a few moments ago. Notice the command from heaven: "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."
It doesn't take a Bible scholar to figure out that the first harvest is taken by Jesus Himself. This event is not the gathering described in Matthew 24:31. Instead, it is the very last harvest (laborers taken into the vineyard at the 11th hour) of believers before the devastation of the Day of the Lord.
Notice also that the entire Trinity of God is taking a personal interest in this small group of persecuted martyrs. God the Father speaks from heaven, the Holy Spirit reaffirms it, and our Lord Jesus Himself performs the harvest. This is the God that I put my trust and confidence in. He has never failed or foresaken me, and He will surely take equally good care of you if you put your trust in Him.
This special group of believers appear again in the next chapter, Revelation 15, verses 2-5:And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, [and] over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. 3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous [are] Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true [are] Thy ways, Thou King of saints. 4 Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for [Thou] only [art] holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgments are made manifest.
Notice the many perspective clues in this passage:
- This group consists of people that chose to stand firm for Jesus and refused to take the mark of the beast.
- These faithful saints apparently paid for their decisions with their lives, murdered at the command of the False Prophet -- the true spiritual successor to the religious hypocrites that organized our Lord's death.
- This group has a uniquely Jewish flavor, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. This group is clearly not the present-day Church or any group we have seen appear in heaven thus far.
- This group is NOT having a pity party, even though they were probably tortured and brutally murdered. They are praising God AND His ways. Right now, His ways seem difficult and painful to us. When we arrive in heaven, His ways will make a lot more sense and we'll be very grateful we didn't get more of our own way.
- The last chorus of their song looks forward to Jesus' triumphal return to the earth, to rule over all nations.
Back to Revelation 14, we see that verses 17-19 describe a very grim, very different type of harvest:And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18 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. 19 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.
You have just observed the "Grim Reaper" in action. The people harvested in this event will be the "grapes of wrath," and rightfully so:
- They made the fatal mistake of "taking the easy way out."
- They did "the practical thing."
- They listened to the voice of Babylon, their "traditional" religion, which encouraged them to receive the beast as if he was the second coming of Christ.
- They accepted the mark of the beast so they could spend a pitiful few days or weeks buying and selling within the beast's "managed economy."
- They worshipped that vile monster of a person.
They did NOT trust God, even though God had given them ample warnings about the beast and ample opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel. No need for great detail here. You get the picture: They did not have a "love of the truth, that they might be saved."
The Love of the Truth
Do YOU love the truth?
Jesus loves you, personally and passionately. His love and power are the best protection you have against the forces of darkness that will soon rise to power here on earth. His truth will make you immune to the seductive lies of the beast and the False Prophet. My hope is that you've already come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the true Messiah of Israel.
If you aren't sure of your relationship with Jesus, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can.
Now two quick offers before we close:
- For an overall timeline of last-days events, click here.
- If you disagree with some (or all) of my conclusions -- GOOD! I'm pleased that you have the intellectual fortitude to think for yourself. Just click here to see some positive steps for continuing your study of Scriptures.
Closing Prayer: Lord, every day I see news stories and hear blasphemous statements from people who don't have the love of the truth. Please make Your love and Your truth real for me, that I can help make Your Son, Jesus, become real to others. Amen.
Hey, teacher! Can you give us an overall timeline for all the tribulation events? I'm getting confused about what happens before what.
Welcome to the club: nobody (including you and me) can know the exact chronology, but we can develop some guidelines by comparing these Scriptures to other prophetic passages. The problem arises because the book of Revelation is arranged by subject, not by strict chronology. Within each chapter or major division, the events are arranged in sequence. But these events might happen before, after, or concurrently with events revealed in later chapters. For example, both the sixth seal of Chapter 6 and the seventh trumpet in Chapter 11 announce the beginning of the Day of the Lord, at the very end of the Great Tribulation.
Having said all that, we can make some cautious generalizations about chronology.
A Guide to Last-Days Events
Here are some general guidelines based on material we've already covered:
- At some point in the near future, possibly on a Pentecost Sunday or on Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), the Lord will call His followers to heaven and give them/us all new resurrection bodies.
- Shortly after you and I are airlifted to safety, the last-days dictator will facilitate a seven-year peace treaty between Israel and its hostile neighbors.
- The signing of this peace treaty will mark the beginning of the "70th week of Daniel" -- as described in Prophecies of Daniel. This "week" (seven-year period) will be a time of God's specific dealings with the nation of Israel, so the Church must be taken away just before or exactly at its beginning.
- Beginning then and continuing through the seven years will be the unfolding of the judgments we saw in Revelation 6, with the opening of the seven seals:
- Religious deception and a false messiah,
- Wars and rumors of wars,
- Disease and famine,
- Earthquakes and natural disasters, and
- Martyrdom of Christian and Jewish people for their faith.
- Approximately 1/4 of the world's population will be killed through these wars, diseases, famines, earthquakes, religious persecution and other disasters.
- Shortly after the start of the seven-year period, the Lord will put His seal on 144,000 Israeli-born, Messianic-Jewish men. These men will have a unique evangelistic ministry for the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation period before being given a private rapture to be with the Lord.
- Through the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation, the last-days dictator will be a model of political correctness. He and his False Prophet will appear to be angels of light, helping to "teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." They will make great, inspiring speeches, encouraging people of all races and religions to live in peace and love. Millions will thrill to hear them, buy their tapes, and spread their deceitful gospel.
- In the middle of the tribulation period, the last-days dictator will break the treaty, seize control of Jerusalem, defile the rebuilt temple, and go on a killing rampage to destroy the Jewish people. A faithful remnant will escape "to the wilderness" -- perhaps the rock city of Petra.
- The breaking of the treaty will announce the beginning of the 3 1/2 year period known as the Great Tribulation.
- When the beast rises to power, the False Prophet will force everybody to take the mark of the beast. This will be a forgery-proof identification and electronic funds transfer system.
- At the very start of the Great Tribulation, the Lord will raise up two witnesses who will prophesy for the entire 3 1/2 years. They will call the shots for God, predicting the arrival of the Trumpet judgments and calling plagues down on the earth.
- At the start of the Great Tribulation, the Trumpet judgments will begin to fall upon the remaining inhabitants of the earth. These judgments will bring the type of devastation normally associated with nuclear war, and 1/3 of the earth's population will be destroyed.
- Shortly after the start of the Great Tribulation, the Lord will call a rapture for a second group of believers. These will be people (both Jews and Gentiles) who come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the Messiah, during the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation period. These are called the "numberless multitude," as we saw in the lesson Special People.
- At some point, either at the start or sometime during the Great Tribulation, the devil and his angels will be cast out of their places in heaven and be confined to the earth. He and his henchmen intend to persecute every Christian and Jewish person remaining on the planet. Make plans to be elsewhere BEFORE that happens.
- Near the end of the Great Tribulation, our Lord will take a final harvest of believers who will stand tall in their faith and refuse to accept the mark of the beast. These believers will be eternal celebrities in heaven as a reward for what the apostle Paul describes as "momentary light affliction."
- By contrast to the believers just mentioned, the faint-hearted folks who take the mark of the beast will be part of a different harvest -- the grapes of wrath -- performed by a very grim reaper.
- At the end of the Great Tribulation, the two witnesses will finish their prophecy and the last-days dictator will kill them. After 3 1/2 days, the Lord will resurrect the two men and give them a private rapture to heaven.
- At the end of the seven-year period will come the Day of the Lord and the Battle of Armageddon.
- When the dust has settled, Jesus will return to the earth to set up His Kingdom and a 1,000-year period often called The Milennium. You and I will return with Him to participate in His government.
In upcoming lessons, we will add more significant events to the above outline. Click here to return to the lesson.
Hey, teacher! I don't agree with your conclusions!
Good! Please don't be satisfied with ANYBODY's explanation, especially mine. My goal is to spur you on to do further study on your own. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear that you were so outraged by my lessons that you spent days studying these Scriptures trying to prove me wrong.
All I ask is one thing: Spend your time studying the Bible. Don't waste your time reading books ABOUT the Bible, except for fun. (Hint: You will save yourself a lot of grief (and money) if you avoid commentaries.) Instead, pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. Then make up your own lists and charts based on your own personal study of the Bible.
A few study helps are worth purchasing. Look up key words and phrases in your Strong's Concordance and in your Vines' Dictionary of New Testament Words. Get the Greek/English Interlinear text by George Ricker Berry, so you can get a flavor for the word-by-word literal translation of the Greek. Spend the majority of your time studying in the King James Version or the New King James translation. These two are the most accurate. (Note: Although the paraphrase versions (Living Bible, NIV) are very readable for the Old Testament and helpful for devotional studies, they are less accurate in the New Testament.) Follow up on the margin notes in your Bible, looking for related passages and concepts. Take everybody's explanations (including mine) with a grain of salt. Click here to return to the conclusion of the lesson.