They were all having fun in the sun. As the small waves crashed in, they made a sound that was much bigger than was truly represented by their size. Some of the now reddened sunbathers were enjoying the lazy pursuits of sand castle making, while others were strewn out along the beach, lying out on towels like the resting seals on an island of the Galapagos. Just a few feet into the water there were literally dozens of tube-laden swimmers. Some were riding waves, but most were just bobbing up and down to the rhythm of the sea’s movements. Above them on the shore sat a lifeguard slumped back in his seat, scanning across the surface of the water. The smell of salt air mixed with coconut oil from the Coppertone sunscreen together with the light glistening on the water had a mesmerizing effect – even on the lifeguard. In fact, watching the dancing rays of the sun against the moving water threatened to hypnotize him. Suddenly, the light flashed as it caught a brief point of deflection that snapped the lifeguard from his stupor. It was a fin – and the lifeguard knew what was beneath the water where that fin was exposed – a shark. He stood up on the step that was joined to the front of his seat and looked through his binoculars. As he gauged the danger, he began to blow his whistle. When people were moving too slowly, he raised his hand to his mouth and called out the word that motivated all of them… “Shark! Shark!” People began to flee to the beach. The lifeguard knew an important truth…The power and danger of the shark lay beneath the surface.
It is a lesson worth remembering: It is often not what we SEE that shows the real power – it is only the tip of the power that is exposed. That is true for all that God’s enemy does – but it is also true of God Himself.
Key Principle: What earth sees is a mere shadow of reality. The real world is the SPIRITUAL WORLD that is beneath the surface of the physical universe’s mask. This world perishes – that one preceded it and will be there when this one is finished.
Paul knew this truth. He said: 2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
As John introduced this critical truth that will help guide Tribulation believers through troubles in the way it had helped Paul through persecution – John, under Divine inspiration, opened the door to helping the believer see the powers of darkness beneath their extreme earthly troubles. Let me remind you of our story and the “dark team” that was exposed in the last few chapters of Revelation that we have been studying together. They were the “beneath the surface” evil team – an unholy trinity – that was revealed in Revelation 12 and 13:
- The “father figure” was a dragon that was clearly identified as Satan – who was bested in Heaven and was tossed to the earth (Revelation 12:7-9), ending the whining and droning against the people of God in Heaven’s corridors
- His fall to earth coincided with the appearance of the “son figure” of this unholy trinity – the Antichrist. Called the “man of sin” and various other names – he burst on the scene as a startling new political force after being mortally wounded and then miraculously raised. His initial legislation purposed to offer bold peace initiatives, all the while stockpiling weaponry and trading power around the earth. A rising confederation of earth’s powers formed an axis of evil at the Antichrist’s command. His confederation acted as ONE, but was swift, powerful and transformative.
- Eventually, the dragon pulled in a second ally in the Tribulation – a “spirit figure” in the unholy trinity. This beast was described as LIKE THE FIRST and a HARLOT (Revelation 17) that attempted to spiritually satisfy men’s need for relationship outside the God given boundaries of intimacy with HIM. This was both a false religious beast, and a sign oriented magnet pull of popularity. It had a propaganda ability and pointed to the Antichrist. This one was all about spreading the Antichrist’s BRAND.
That team that was built to wound believers and destroy the coming Kingdom was exposed to ENCOURAGE SUFFERING BELIEVERS. It was exposed to bring confidence to the flagging heart. By Revelation 14, it became important for John to make clear that God wasn’t sitting on the sidelines. The Creator had a team prepared also – and His team was accomplishing His desires in stark contrast to what it appeared on earth. Things looked BAD on earth, but they weren’t bad- they were following the long scripted plan of the Most High.
On first inspection you see that both Heaven and Earth are coordinated spiritually in the message and judgment delivered to the earth. God has a bigger team just “beneath the surface” of the physical world. He is not holding back because He cannot marshal His forces – patience alone delays His coming! God inserted the information about what HE was doing in a PARENTHETICAL statement – the fifth of seven such parentheses in the book according to the old commentator Dake. This one begins: “AND I LOOKED…”
What John described were seven people or events that caught his attention:
- The 144,000 witnesses that followed the Lamb (14:1-5)
- Angel #1: The Gospel of the Tribulation Period (14:6-7)
- Angel #2: The Indictment of Babylon (14:8)
- Angel #3: Call to both the Marked and the Martyrs (14:9-14)
- Angel #4: Call to Commence Judgment (14:15-16)
- Angel #5: Judgment Reaping Begins (14:17)
- Angel #6: Grapes of Wrath Harvest (14:18-20)
Even a quick glance at the list reveals that six of the seven beings that caught John’s eye were angels that related to judgment. In the Bible, angels have been ascribed the primary role in executing judgment. One such clear example is in the teaching of the seven step parable in Matthew 13, where Jesus clearly enunciated this role for angels:
Matthew 13:24 “…The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”…36 “… His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
In an important way, the record of Revelation 14 is the fulfillment of that incredible promise.
Essentially, the words of Jesus are the outline for Revelation 14: The Son of Man sends the angels to reap. The passage, therefore opens with position of the Lamb and His people, and then moves to the reaping call of the angels:
The Lamb and His 144,000 workers (14:1-5)
Revelation 14:1 Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion…
Some may wonder why we don’t begin with the Lamb and His movements – instead of the 144,000 – in light of the fact that the Lamb is clearly mentioned first in the passage. Let me say something that some will find hard to grasp, but if you keep reading and keep studying, it may offer more help than confusion. Taking the text literally doesn’t imply that we don’t understand that even literal speech has common metaphor. When we read that “all the world” went out to hear John the Baptizer – we don’t picture the Chinese of the Han Dynasty on the bank of the Jordan River. We understand there are common ways to say things. When Jesus spoke of the “two or three gathered together” in the context of judgment – He promised to be “in the midst of them”. This was to be a comfort as they judged difficult things… not an implication that He would materialize and “beam down” when they got together. Normal metaphor doesn’t collide with literal understanding, but we must be careful to judge where it appears and where it does not. I mention this because the passage we are in now has a “tricky” part to it – it is not clear where the players are in 14:1-5. It opens with the Lamb on “Mt. Zion”, and it looks to some like Jesus left Heaven and relocated to Jerusalem. Others move Mt. Zion to Heaven and see it as the “Heavenly Zion” (cp. Hebrews 12:22-13), a perfectly reasonable way to see the mentioning of a city in a metaphor (though I do not think that is what he is doing in Revelation 14).
Hebrews 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
That Revelation 14 is set in Heaven is one of a series of possibilities, but not what I believe is going on in the passage. If you follow the rest of the description of the 144,000 in the coming verses, they appear to be ON THE EARTH, making decisions that would not be made in Heaven – like not defiling themselves sexually. Since they are WITH the Lamb, it seems more proper that the use is a metaphor. I believe John is trying to indicate that God’s witnesses were on earth, remaining undefiled and offering the truth – and that Jesus was their center – they followed Him. I believe he meant it the way I mean it at a wedding, when I tell a couple to FOLLOW JESUS and KEEP HIM IN THE CENTER OF YOUR HOME. I mean metaphorically – not strictly literally – and everyone in the room knows that.
Look at verse one again. It may look to you (as it does to me) that the opening description of the Lamb’s presence is mentioned to assure the reader the 144,000 are following the Messiah, and they are following the Law – since they are Jewish believers. There are many today who really do not understand Messianic believers. They ostracize them, or make them feel really strange. We should keep in mind that if Revelation 14 is to be understood literally, as I believe it should, MESSIANISM will carry the Gospel to the world in the Tribulation Period. They will have no better reputation in the world then they do now – but God will use them as His primary vehicle to reach the world! This doesn’t mean that everything they do is correct today, but it does mean they will carry a very significant role in the coming days.
The Dedication of the 144,000 (14:1)
They are believers that follow BOTH a dedication to the words of the Father (from the estranged Jewish bride of the Father) and follow the Lamb – they are Messianic Jews. Their placement on Zion is another clue to their identity. Zion is used in Scripture as both a Heavenly ideal – and the eternal city at the end of Revelation – and an earthly city of Promise with Messiah the King (Psalm 2, 48, Isaiah 2, 24, Joel 2:32, etc).
14:1b “…and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.
Before we go on with the description of these Tribulation believers, can I ask you a question? What MARKS your head? Are you embracing the world’s system in your thinking so fully that your life is patterned by the way they think. I am not going all fuzzy on the mark of the beast here – I am simply using the pattern of Scripture. You see, long before, God told Jewish fathers to teach their children the Scriptures in Deuteronomy 6:7: “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Orthodox Jews have taught their disciples to put a Mezuzah on their doorposts. They were instructed to bind phylacteries on their arms and forehead. We don’t do it in a PHYSICAL way as I was shown in my education in Jerusalem – we take it as a common metaphor, that God wanted fathers to BIND THE LAW on their children by making it relevant to them in everyday life – and illustrating how God worked daily in their home. It isn’t WRONG to buy a phylactery and bind the Law to a child, but a box with little written scrolls stuck to their head won’t draw their allegiance to God any more than sleeping on my Math textbook would naturally cause me to understand Mathematics. The binding must be about TEACHING VALUES or the box binding won’t help.
In the same way, I need to ask: What values are bound on your head? Is morality determined in your mind by what a majority of people SAY about things? Did you choose your life path by what would give you the best INCOME, or rather by seeking God for direction? Is right and wrong in your heart determined by People Magazine or God’s eternal truth? Listen to these prophetic words of Al Mohler: In a day of rampant moral relativism and social experimentation, Americans have been engaged in a free-for-all exercise in cultural revolution. But when the experiment is directed at marriage, the fallout is sure to be uniquely tragic. The legalization and cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage will mean, ultimately, the destruction of marriage itself. Without a coherent vision of marriage, the entire society will eventually find itself completely unable to regulate sexual behavior or personal relationships. What happens when the next “sexual lifestyle” gains civil rights status? Those who charge that even raising such a question is scare-mongering, must face the simple fact that the question is unavoidable. Intellectual honesty demands that we recognize the fact that acceptance of same-sex marriage implies–to anyone who has even the slightest commitment to intellectual integrity–the acceptance of any adult consensual sexual lifestyle as legitimate and ultimately deserving of legalized status. (Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.) So I ask again, Who is setting the bar for the definitions of your heart, and your actions. Do we really believe that soon the church will not be standing alone in the message of sexual purity? If we do, are you prepared to put your life up as an example of it? Who is marking your decision making patterns – whose mark do you carry on your head?
The Direction of the 144,000 (14:2-3a)
Dropped into the middle of their description is a voice and choir from Heaven that gives them direction. They got the cues of their message from Heaven, and truths revealed to them that no one appears to have accessed. Revelation 14:2 And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3 And they (in Heaven) sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand…”
The Description of the 144,000 (14:3b-5)
Look at the description of these 144,000 witnesses and then ask this question: When the church is removed, how many people will think that sexual purity is even a concern. How many care about it even NOW? Watching what is happening in our country in our time, we must see the stark difference between these witnesses and the sweeping European and American remaking of moral codes: Revelation 14:3b “…who had been purchased from the earth. 4 These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5 And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.
- They were PURCHASED out of the earth – they are not like them.
- They were not drawn into sensual practices – they worked at chastity and abstinence.
- They followed the LAMB – when everyone else followed the DRAGON.
- They told the TRUTH – when their world was so deceived it did not believe that TRUTH could even be known.
Sadly, this could be said of Christians in a local high school in many school districts. It could be said of college students that desired to have a testimony on their college campus. The dark standards of our world are permeating our times so very quickly that these description points can already be seen as a HIGH CONTRAST to the prevailing world view of our times!
Now, in a swift pass over the text, let’s see six angels swoop into the scene:
Angel #1: The Gospel of the Tribulation Period (14:6-7)
Revelation 14:6 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
The first angels brings a message of the eternal Gospel (that salvation in every age was always by grace through faith and in no other way). The angel pushed out the message to be sure that all men on earth had the opportunity to know God, though few thought it worth listening to. He also brought the additional part of the Gospel that we don’t preach in the technical giving of the message today: That the church is gone and the last days of judgment had come. The call to worship God is interesting formed around the CREATION MESSAGE that had probably been long removed from society by lab coated men and women of the sciences. Clinging to the message of Creation was part of the final stage of reaching out in response to the truth of God.
Angel #2: The Indictment of Babylon (14:8)
Revelation 14:8 And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”
The second angel pointed out that the system of men was morally bankrupt, and that was a central truth of the message of the witnesses. It is quickly becoming the central truth to our ministries in these latter days as well.
Angel #3: Call to both the Marked and the Martyrs (14:9-14)
The third angel offered a message to two people groups of the earth. First, he warned people who were making the decision to follow the beast that it had dire consequences that were absolutely eternal. As churches move away from a message of hell, it is easy to hear how collared clergy will line up against such a message: Revelation 14: 9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will 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 goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
That same angel seemed to signal that martyrdom was becoming the order of the day. In my view, the 144,000 get their protection removed at this point, and they begin to be culled from the earth by evil men, which brings a step up in the tempo of Heaven’s judgment against earth’s mutineers: Revelation 14:12 Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” 14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.
Angel #4: Call to Commence Judgment (14:15-16)
The tempo of judgment continues with one judgment following another – for the time had come: Revelation 14:15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Angel #5: Judgment Reaping Begins (14:17)
Still another of God’s army lashed out in threshing the earth… Revelation 14:17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle.
Angel #6: Grapes of Wrath Harvest (14:18-20)
The final grape harvest – a wine of blood of men – was now on the horizon: Revelation 14:18 Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.
Things looked VERY BAD on earth. It appeared that God was LOSING as the earth’s witnesses were being destroyed. In fact, God’s team was accomplishing His long-before scripted plan. I take great COMFORT in that truth. Why? Because it forces me to admit once again that I am not qualified to know when God is losing!
- When the country ebbs into sin-sickness in our school system – I cry out to God and complain, “Why don’t you DO SOMETHING Lord?” – because I think I can tell who is winning by what is happening – but I cannot.
- When the political frame of the country seems to be reeling and no candidate seems to be able to identify Biblical values wholly and model them – I wonder why God doesn’t raise up someone different – but I do not know His plan.
- When the economic values of our homes are decreased and our currency loses its value around the globe I complain to the Lord that mission dollars to not go far anymore – but I must humble myself and recognize that God is working His plan.
- When our historic foundations are eroded to the point that the influence of Christ and the Gospel in the formation of the country is out rightly denied while damaging beliefs and religious groups gain a more solid foothold of rights in our government than we have – I weep, but God is on His path to victory, and all things are happening as he would have them.
- When this generation of unborn American children are slaughtered out of a perverse desire for selfish convenience I cry out to Him repeatedly – “God, where are You? Why don’t you stop this terrible nightmare.” He says, “Just do your part, for I know where I am taking your nation.”
When I cry God answers! He shows me the truth. I see only the fin of power. The real power is beneath the wave.
I am no ample judge of the Almighty’s plan. I do not see what the enemy is really doing – nor do I understand how God will take evil and overturn it into GOOD. I see the FIN, but not the FISH. I see the PROBLEMS but not the PLAN.
In the moments I become most angry, I show the most ungodly ego. When I complain about what God is allowing, I am masking the real complaint – what God is DOING. His patience with evil is a constant sore point to me – because I believe I understand the plan.
Israel weeps in darkness and blindness as God has focus His holy attention on the many of us from another nation, people, kindred and tongue. To US this is a marvelous plan… we love being the object of God’s affection. Consider the words of Paul to the Romans 9:22:
“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make know the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even US, whom He also called, not from among the Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”
Those words are set in a context that says that God turned His face away from Israel for a time to BLESS the other people of the world, like me – to allow the Gospel to go to the ends of the earth through the temporary, mutual rejection between Israel and God. From my standpoint that is GREAT – because God opened a door for my access. If I were looking from Israel’s standpoint – I would not be nearly so enthusiastic. The salvation of the world sounds great, but I wouldn’t want the darkness to fall on my own family. In the final analysis, if I were Israel, I would have to admit that this is the way God chose to tell His story – and His way is always best. Can we say less about our own times?
Can I not admit that when I am disgusted by the world’s sin sickness – it is BOTH a reminder of man’s mutiny and of God’s patience? That should quiet my heart. It MUST quiet my soul. The fact is that what the earth sees – and what I can see now apart from the discerning light of the Word of God – is a mere shadow of reality. Beneath the surface lurks the SPIRITUAL WORLD operating but masked by the physical universe. The real is hidden, the temporal is seen… and mature believers learn the difference between the two – and which to rely upon.