Part One – A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 1-3
Part Two – A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 4-5
Part Three: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 6-7
Part Four: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 8-9
Revelation 14 and 15 form a series of short scenes in the spiritual realm that take place near the very end of the Tribulation. The unifying theme that binds them all together is that Christ is ultimately triumphant over all the forces of evil that Satan and his two beasts try to bring to bear during the Tribulation. We have in these chapters a moment of what scholars call “the prophetic preterit,” in that before the book is finished we already know who will surely win as if it was a past tense already accomplished event.
The first scene (Rev 13:1-5) foreshows the 144,000 (whom we first saw in Rev 7) surrounding Christ after the last battle outside of Jerusalem. I believe they are called “firstfruits to God” because they are THE very first souls saved after the Rapture of the Church as these Jews specially prepared by God believe in the real Messiah of Israel right after the Rapture. Given that at least half the world’s population perishes in the Tribulation, given that likely millions of Christians are martyred and given that Antichrist desperately wants to kill every single one of the 144,000, it is a miracle that every single one of them survive the seven years to stand with Christ victorious at the end. The reference to their sexual purity may extend to the entire corrupt world system – which is most especially represented by its sexual immorality. They will truly stand apart from the sin of the sick culture that surrounds them, like Daniel and his three friends in Babylon. Why can no one learn the song they sing but the 144,000? It may simply be that only these heroic Jewish believers can truly understand both the full horror of the seven years of Tribulation judgments along with the full power of God’s divine deliverance and protection. They will be living embodiments of Romans 8:28.
The second scene (Rev 14:6-11) provides a scene that every angel has dreamed of as angels finally are allowed to get into the act of sharing the gospel. The first angel preaches “the eternal gospel” because the unbelieving world hearing the message are on the precipice of eternity – and most of those who would believe this message would be martyred for their faith and have to pass through physical death to receive eternal life. Given the pervasiveness of evolution we can already easily see that it is hardly surprising that the angel’s gospel message will center on the fact that GOD IS THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE and should be glorified and worshiped as such. The second angel provides a true “prophetic preterit” because God’s judgment pronounces Babylon as fallen in the aorist/past tense even though Babylon’s destruction doesn’t actually occur until Rev 18. God has decreed that it will fall, and it will surely fall. The point is that anyone who trusts in Satan’s world system, Antichrist’s empire or the false prophet’s religious system are fools because all of it will fall. And the third angel specifically singles out the most outward manifestation of the demonic trinity’s program – the mark of the beast – stating that all who take part in it will burn in a hell that is every bit as real as the physical universe that God created above.
Rev 14:12-13 says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” Because most of those who accept “the eternal gospel” will have to pass through death to inherit life. It’s the wise alternative of taking the mark and going to hell. Those who have this “patient endurance” unto death will receive a special blessing even above previous generations of martyrs because of the viciousness of the persecution they will face. Christians will be called upon to suffer and die as they never have before. When you received Christ, would you have said that prayer with a gun pointed at your head knowing that the moment you finished praying you would be killed? That’s basically what these Tribulation believers will face.
Revelation 14:14-20 presents two different harvests at the end of the Tribulation. The first (vv. 14-16) is akin to what Jesus described in the separation of the wheat from the tares (Matt 13:39-43). Here as there, the reapers are angels. And these angels will “weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Matt 13:41) and throw them into the fiery furnace of hell (v. 42). This will take place at the end of the Tribulation after Christ has returned as King of kings and defeated Satan and his two beasts. The Tribulation believers are the wheat who will inherit the Millennial kingdom. The second harvest (vv. 17-20) and everyone in it will be thrown “into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” Verse 20 (“They were trampled in the winepress outside the city”) tells us where, when and to whom this harvest occurs: (where) outside the city of Jerusalem (when) at the return of Christ as King of kings (to whom) to all the armies gathered against Him. This harvest of slaughter is also prophesied in Zechariah 14:2-3. The demonic 200 million man army from the kings of the East and the armies of Antichrist will be gathered like clusters of grapes that are ripe for the winepress of wrath. Blood will rise as high as the horses’ bridles (Rev 14:20) from the 200 miles between the hills of Har-Megiddo and the Valley of Jezreel to the port of Elath on the Gulf of Aqabah. It will be filled with war materials, corpses and blood. The famous Latin phrase, “Sic semper tyrannis” (Thus always to tyrants)? It turns out to be ultimately true.
We’ve seen two signs – the woman (Israel) and the dragon (Satan). Israel is a sign because of her miraculous preservation by God in spite of staggering odds that they could survive as a people/culture. Satan is a sign to the wise because history proves that evil transcends human capability and points to a supernatural and personal origin in Satan. We intuitively know the world ought to be a better place but there is a malevolent intelligence seeking to thwart that better world. Now we see the third and final sign in the form of the final seven judgments from God. And if these seven plagues aren’t a sign demonstrating God’s sovereignty, nothing is. They finish the wrath of God on earth and bring the world into God’s purpose and will; and the word “completed” in reference to God’s wrath in Rev 15:1 is the identical word uttered by Christ on the cross in John 19:30: tetelestai (“It is finished”). You’ll soon see how this fits into the message of the chapter.
We again have reference to a “sea of glass” in Rev 15:2 that we saw in Rev 4:6. Again, the sea of glass symbolizes Raptured believers at rest before the throne of God. But now we see mixed with this sea of glorified believers fire, the symbol of judgment (Num 11:1; 16:35; Deut 9:3; Psalm 50:3; 2 Thess 1:7-9; Heb 10:27; 2 Pet 3:7). “God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). It seems to me that the fire represents the prayers of Raptured believers for the final judgments to come on behalf of the martyred Tribulation believers. These martyred believers stand on the sea of glass (Raptured believers) much the way a winning coach might stand on the shoulders of a victorious football team. No one is more of a “winner” than these martyred believers. There is no sign of defeat or bitterness in God’s “team” of saints; there is only praise and worship and exaltation in victory. How can death really mean victory? How can submitting to injustice and evil ultimately produce triumph? Ask martyr Jim Elliot, who famously wrote: “A man is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep (such as his own life – see Luke 17:33) to gain what he cannot lose.” This kind of victory isn’t found by playing it safe and never rocking the boat. These believers will take a stand in the face of certain death – and in so standing they will be victorious.
They sing “the song of Moses” (Rev 15:3 cf. Deut 32:1-43). Why? Because just as the Israelites looked back at Egypt and realized that they were delivered from slavery and bondage, so these martyred Tribulation saints will look back upon their experience of horror on earth in the grip of evil and realize that they are now forever delivered from suffering and death in heaven. And that song will turn into “the song of the Lamb” because it will have been Christ who brought about that great deliverance.
Rev 15 ends with a scene taking place at the heavenly tabernacle (vv. 5-8). Keep in mind that the earthly tabernacle was made from the same pattern as the one in heaven (Heb 8:5 cf. Ex 25:8-9). The Book of Hebrews draws several parallels between the function of the priests in the earthly tabernacle and Christ as our High Priest in the heavenly tabernacle. In Hebrews we learn that the rituals/symbols of the earthly tabernacle worship were designed to foreshadow things that would have ultimate fulfillment in the heavenly tabernacle. In Rev 15 John looked into the Holy of Holies of the heavenly tabernacle.
The Tabernacle of Testimony (in Acts 7:44 the King James Version calls it the Tabernacle of Witness) was both a witness FOR man and AGAINST man. It was a witness for man in that it told him how he could have his sins forgiven and approach God; it was a witness against man because the very necessity of those rituals was a constant reminder that he was unworthy to approach God on his own merit.
Inside the earthly Ark of the Covenant were three items God commanded the people to put there. And each of these items displayed man’s rejection of God. The 1st item was the rewritten stone tablet of the Ten Commandments (recall that Moses broke the original when he saw the Israelites in gross sin); the second tablet was placed in the Ark as a witness of man’s rejection of the perfect moral law (Ex 25). The 2nd witness was a pot of manna; God commanded it be placed in the Ark after Israel complained about the heavenly food God miraculously prepared for them. It was a witness to man’s rejection of God’s provision for daily needs (Ex 16). And the 3rd item was Aaron’s staff. A rebel group tried to take over leadership of the nation of Israel from Moses and Aaron, and God caused Aaron’s staff to bud to confirm who He had designated to lead. The staff that spouted leaves was placed in the Ark as a witness of man’s rejection of God’s chosen leadership (Num 17). The three items taken together displayed man’s complete rejection of God. And they were placed in the Ark as a continual witness of the fact that man was sinful and rightly deserved God’s judgment.
When the high priest entered the Tabernacle and sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat, he was in effect symbolically covering the symbols of man’s sin (in the form of the three items) from God’s sight. The Mercy Seat formed the lid to the box in which the three items were placed. As God now saw the blood of the innocent substitute rather than the three items symbolizing man’s rejection of Him, His justice was satisfied because the penalty of death had been paid. And God could then transform His throne from one of judgment to one of mercy. And of course all of this was intended to foreshadow what Christ would do as the Lamb of God and as our High Priest; His blood would not only cover but literally take away the sin of the world, thereby turning the throne of God in heaven’s tabernacle to one of mercy for all who would come by faith in Jesus.
But what John saw when he looked at the Holy of Holies was a sobering change; it now became the place from which the seven final plagues were sent forth. It was no longer a place where men were reconciled to God; the throne of mercy had now become a throne of judgment against those who had rejected the Lamb. The three reminders of man’s sin in the Ark were now fully uncovered and were a witness against man who had rejected Christ’s salvation. Which is why no one was allowed to enter the temple until the plagues were completed (Rev 15:8); because the time for mercy had now passed man by and only judgment remained.
Part Eight: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 16-18
Tags: 200 million, angels, Ark of the Covenant, Babylon, God is a consuming fire, Holy of Holies, judgment, Rapture, reapers, Revalation 14-15, separation of the wheat from the tares, song of Moses, song of the Lamb, Tabernacle, Testimony, the eternal gospel, Tribulation, winepress of God’s wrath