An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 8 June 2011; Revised 3 January 2018
Scripture: The Scripture text of Revelation used below is prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. Unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are from the NASB 1995 Updated Edition. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers are available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library or Early Christian Writings. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.). Online.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from Walter Bauer, W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The First Fruits of Israel (14:1-5)
1― And I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.
the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion: In the previous chapter John had seen visions of two beasts. Suddenly the scene shifts as if in one moment he had been watching the second beast and in the next blink of his eyes John "looked" and sees the Lamb and a large crowd. The Lamb standing on Mount Zion may be contrasted to the dragon standing on the shifting sands of the seashore (13:1) (Johnson). Mount Zion, the highest point in Jerusalem, is the sacred place associated with David since he first captured it (2Sam 5:7) and represented the place in which God chose to dwell and provide a sanctuary for His people (Deut 12:5; Ps 20:2; 76:2).
Eventually Mount Zion became a substitute name for the city of Jerusalem (Ps 48:1f; 135:21; Isa 2:3) and by extension the nation of Israel (Ps 125:1; Isa 46:13; 59:20). Outside of Revelation the apostolic writings contain seven references to Mount Zion, which emphasize the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecies that promised a deliverer and a renewed kingdom (Matt 21:5; John 12:15; Rom 9:33; 11:26; Heb 12:22; 1Pet 2:6). The specific geographical location suggests that this event occurs at a time when Jerusalem has been freed of Islam and Mount Zion is once again solely devoted to the worship of the God of Israel.
Stern suggests that "Mount Zion" refers to the heavenly Jerusalem based on the grammar of "before the throne" in verse 3 and the symbolic use of Mt. Zion in Hebrews:
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 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" (Heb 12:22-23).
While Mount Zion in Hebrews may be intended as a parallelism for the New Jerusalem, the two locations are just as likely mentioned in terms of contrast. In the Hebrews passage Mount Zion more likely represents the place at which the "spirits of the righteous," i.e., the faithful Messianic remnant, were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and perfected in holiness, fulfilling Ezekiel 36:26-27. "Mount Zion" may also point to the future when the millennial kingdom will be centered in Jerusalem and from which the law will go forth over the earth (Mic 4:1-8).
and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand: Grk. chilias, thousand. The noun is actually plural. Some have speculated that the 144,000 here is a different group than the one in 7:4-8 because no direct connection is drawn, but the coincidence is too great for this to be a different group. Little is said of the 144,000 in Revelation. The pretribulationist view is that these chosen of the tribes of Israel are Messianic Jews who serve as evangelists to proclaim the "Gospel of the Kingdom" throughout the earth after the Rapture (so Morris, Sevener and Walvoord). The pretribulation theory apparently leaves the prediction of Matthew 24:14 unfulfilled, so a large missionary force is needed to offer salvation to the people of the world (cf. 14:6f). Of course, no such purpose or activity is described or even hinted in Revelation. The primary focus of the narrative is on what Yeshua has done for them and their character, but there is a hint of an exalted vocation in verse 4.
having His name … written on their foreheads: In contrast to the Antichrist's followers who are branded with his name, the members of this multitude bear the name of both the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads, probably on a turban as prescribed for priests (Ex 28:4, 37f; 39:30f; Ezek 44:18). The word "written" is a perfect passive participle, which may point back to 7:2ff when the group was first chosen.
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.
And I heard a voice: Grk. phōnē, sound or voice. See 1:10 on "voice." After seeing the large crowd John hears a single unidentified "voice" that shifts John's attention away from earth to heaven. from heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Danker). See the note on 3:12. Here the last location is meant. like the sound: Grk. phōnē. Three points of contrast are given to describe this voice – many waters, thunder and harps, which suggest majesty, power, volume and beauty, all at the same time. (See 5:8 on "harps.") The singular voice probably belongs to the Lord.
3― And they 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 who had been purchased from the earth.
And they sang a new: Grk. kainos. See 2:17 on "new." song: The 144,000 sing a "new song," a term that occurs seven times in the Tanakh (Ps 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa 42:10) and twice in Revelation. All of the new songs praise God for His salvation and most of them feature the playing of the harp as in the previous verse. God has the best music and the best musicians!
before the throne: The location reference supports the interpretation that the crowd is in heaven. A person can be "before God" without being in heaven (cf. 11:4), but the idiom of "before the throne," which occurs nine times in Revelation, clearly refers to heaven (4:5, 6, 10; 7:9, 11, 15; 8:3; 20:12). However, the crowd being in heaven in this verse does not mean they were in heaven in verse 1. John, himself, goes back and forth between heaven and earth during the Revelation visions and in verse 1 Yeshua is standing on, not in, Mount Zion. John simply sees the crowd first on earth when they were selected and then later in heaven, probably after martyrdom or the resurrection.
and no one could: Grk. dunamai means to be able to do something or that something can be done. learn: Grk. manthanō means to learn through instruction from a teacher, to come to know something, to find out something, to appropriate for oneself through experience or practice, or to understand. the song: The phrase "no one could learn" could have a dual meaning here. The angels would not learn the song since they have no need of deliverance from sin or the beast, which provides the reason for the new song.
except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased: Grk. agorazō means to buy or to redeem (Rienecker). The verb is a perfect participle emphasizing that the work was completed in the past with continuing results to the present. The new song could be composed especially for the 144,000, and other redeemed disciples would not be permitted to sing it, or more simply the song lyrics may be in a language that can only be understood by the 144,000. Certainly Yeshua has paid the price for redemption of the entire world (1Jn 2:2), but this verse describes a special privilege of these chosen by God.
from the earth: Given the identity of the 144,000 as representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel (7:4), "earth" should probably be translated "Land," referring to the land of Israel and "purchased" would not only have the meaning of personal redemption, but selection for sacred service in the millennial kingdom (see the next verse).
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.
These are the ones: Three significant claims are made about the 144,000 representatives of the tribes of Israel. who have not been defiled: Grk. molunō, aor. pass., means to defile, to soil, to stain (Rienecker). The verb occurs only three times in the apostolic writings (here, the other in 3:4 and in 1Cor 8:7). The Greek word would probably correspond to the Hebrew word "profaned," which speaks of a lasting consequence, whereas the word "unclean" often has a brief or temporary consequence. with women: Grk. gunē, an adult female, whether single or married.
for they have kept themselves chaste: Grk. parthenos, one who has no sexual relationship, a virgin when used of a female. Only here is the noun given a masculine meaning. Taken together these words seem to suggest that the 144,000 Jewish men have rejected marriage, because it would somehow contaminate them. Thus, many commentators interpret the phrase "defiled with women" figuratively to mean defiling relationships with the pagan world system, principally the great harlot of Chapter Seventeen (Mounce). The use of "virgin" could be a metaphor for the people of God. The regular Hebrew word for "virgin" occurs 18 times in the prophetic books and every time refers to Israel. In 2Corinthians 11:2 Paul desired to present the Corinthian congregation as a "virgin" to Yeshua. The assembly of the Yeshua followers is also pictured as a pure and spotless bride (Eph 5:27; Rev 19:7). The figurative approach seeks to save this verse from contradicting the high opinion of marriage expressed by Yeshua and the apostles (Matt 19:4-6; Eph 5:22-33; 1Tim 5:14; Heb 13:4).
Morris, taking the narrative literally and trying to get around the (mistaken) belief that the phrase would otherwise say that marriage defiles a man, suggests the 144,000 are voluntarily celibate based on Yeshua' reference to those who "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 19:12). However, marriage has been God's normative pattern for men and women since Creation and does not defile a person in any religious sense. Stern finds unacceptable the identification of the group as eunuchs. Refraining from marriage has never been idealized in Judaism and was not encouraged by the apostles.
While Paul voluntarily chose to remain single for the sake of the ministry, Peter and the rest of the apostles and ministers were married (1Cor 9:5), and, in fact, it was expected that ministers would be married (1Tim 3:2, 12). Moreover, Paul, under divine inspiration, denounces in the most unequivocal and strongest language any requirement imposed by any authority on any person to remain unmarried,
"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage" (1Tim 4:1-3).
The high view of marriage in Scripture generally and the grammar of this verse specifically would argue against all 144,000 men as being single and celibate. By Torah definition the only way a man can be defiled by a woman is by violating the prohibitions against incest, harlotry, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and sex during menstruation (Lev 18; Heb 13:4). These men stand in marked contrast to the immoral conduct of the leaders of the congregations in Pergamum and Thyatira. The sad fact is that immorality in one or more of these forms among leaders in Christianity has been a persistent problem for centuries. The label of "chaste" indicates that these men are holy to the Lord and exhibit the moral restraint expected of godly men.
These … follow the Lamb: The second claim is that these men "follow the Lamb." In the apostolic writings the concept of "following" means to be a disciple of someone and the statement may be an allusion to the announcement of Yochanan the Immerser to two of his disciples, "Behold, the Lamb of God" (John 1:36). Those two disciples immediately left John and followed Yeshua. The fact that the 144,000 "follow" the Lamb then denotes a very special relationship. Just as the original twelve disciples believed Yeshua to be the promised Messiah in whom were all the hopes of Israel for salvation and restoration and followed Yeshua, first on foot all over the holy land, and then in their ministry, so these disciples devote themselves to wholly serve the Lamb of God.
These have been purchased: Grk. agorazō, aor. pass., to buy or purchase, usually occurring in passages concerning commercial transactions. The verb is used figuratively of freedom purchased for a slave. Paul employs this figurative use in 1Corinthians 6:20, "you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body." The connection Paul makes between spiritual freedom and moral responsibility may be seen in the chasteness of these men. from among men as first fruits: The third claim is that these men have been purchased as "first fruits" (Heb. bikkurim). The metaphor of "first fruits" has its background in agriculture and the practice of identifying the first of the harvest each year as a source of offerings to be made to the Lord (Ex 23:16, 19; 34:26; Deut 18:4). God required that first fruits of field and flock be offered to God before the rest of the harvest or flock could be put to secular or common use (Ex 13:2; 23:19).
The offerings of the firstfruits were of different kinds and certain portions of them had to be presented in the Temple at Jerusalem. Two of these firstfruit offerings were public and national - the first omer on the first day after the Sabbath following Pesach (Passover), and the wave-loaves at Shavuot (Pentecost). The other two kinds of firstfruits were offered on the part of each family and of every individual who had possession in Israel, according to the Divine directions in the Torah. Firstfruits were also distinguished between those offered in their natural state, and those brought in a prepared state, such as flour, oil, wine, etc. (Edersheim 302). For a farmer, who utterly depended on the land for his livelihood, to give the first fruits was always an act of trust in God, because any number of environmental factors could adversely affect the rest of the annual harvest.
Besides its ordinary statutory meaning related to offerings from the people, the concept of "first fruits" has two significant spiritual applications in the Torah. First, the whole nation of Israel could be regarded as first fruits taken from the nations of the world "to be a people of His own possession" (Deut 7:6; cf. Jas 1:18) in order to serve Him in holiness (Lev 11:45; Num 15:40; Deut 28:9). God then selected the Levites among the tribes of Israel as first fruits of the nation to serve as priests, worship leaders, teachers, judges and servants of the Lord (Num 3:12f; Deut 18:5; 21:5). Since the Levites were sanctified for ministry, the Lord placed a restriction pertaining to women on those serving as priests that was not imposed on the rest of the tribes, and it was not celibacy.
Priests were expected to be married. Here is the restriction. The priests "shall not take a woman profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God" (Lev 21:7). The high priest was further restricted from marrying a widow (Lev 21:14). The instruction to Levitical priests about marriage is included among other guidelines on avoiding defilement in Leviticus 21. Unfortunately the ministry given to Levi had been corrupted by his descendants (Mal 1:6–2:9, 13-16) and the Lord promised that He would take drastic action: "And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple … and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness" (Mal 3:1-3).
The concept of first fruits appears seven times in the apostolic writings (Rom 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; 1Cor 15:20-23; 16:15; Jas 1:18 and here), all of which draw special meaning from the Torah offerings of first fruits (Edersheim 309). First, Yeshua the Messiah is the firstborn of the dead and all creation (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15, 18; Rev 1:5), "the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1Cor. 15:20, 23) and "the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:23). Just as Yeshua was raised from the dead as first fruits so the dead will be raised before the living are raptured in the Second Coming (1Th 4:16; Rev 20:6).
Second, the allusion in Romans 11:16 is undoubtedly to the first of the dough offered at the temple, and means that if God chose and set apart the fathers, "the first piece of dough," then the whole lump (the whole people) is in reality sanctified to Him; and therefore God cannot, and "has not rejected His people whom He foreknew" (Rom 11:2). Third, the first fruits meant those who were the first in an area to receive and respond to the message of the good news (Rom 1:16; 8:23; 16:5; 1Cor 16:15; Jas 1:18). The 144,000 Jewish men may then represent the first fruits of the ministry of Elijah and the second witness in Israel who turn the hearts of Jews back to their fathers (i.e., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and rekindle in them the love of God and expectation of the fathers for the Messiah (cf. Mal 4:5f). Thus, these Jews are special in God's sight as fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy.
The 144,000 may be first fruits for one additional reason. On the Day of the Lord when the Messiah comes He will not only purify the sons of Levi, but take "first fruits" from the rest of the tribes to serve as priests in the Millennial Kingdom for all the earth as prophesied by Isaiah, "Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD…. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites," says the Lord" (Isa 66:20f). The Lord duly applies the holiness standard of the Torah to make His selection (cf. Mal 3:16-18). The scene John witnessed may well have been the ordination of the 144,000 for their ministry. Their faithfulness in life and death, as well as their selection and ordination would then serve to explain why these special men have the double name on their foreheads and sing a new song that no one else is permitted to learn.
5― And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.
And no lie was found: The Lord performs an oral examination on the men and reports nothing incriminating in their mouths. "No lie" is the opposite characteristic of the unregenerate (Rom 3:13) and a hallmark of the Messiah (Isa 53:9) and the faithful remnant (Zeph 3:13). God's people will not compromise the truth like those who are willing to abandon the Creator and follow the "deceptive philosophy" (Col 2:8) and "godless myths" (1Tim 4:7) of the world and its anti-messiah (Rom 1:25; Rev 21:27; 22:15). Of course, the inspection only confirmed the condition He already knew to exist. This may seem ironic, since Yeshua said it was out of the "heart" that lies came (Matt 15:19), but the mouth is simply the vehicle that gives the heart and mind the means for expression.
they are blameless: Grk. amomos means the absence of physical defects or blameless. Amomos is used frequently in the LXX for the Torah standard that sacrificial animals be unblemished (Earle). To be called "blameless" is a high compliment in Scripture. There are five different Hebrew words and five different Greek words in Scripture translated "blameless." The word used here occurs eight times in the apostolic writings (Eph 1:4; Phil 2:15; Col 1:22; Heb 9:14; 1Pet 1:19; Jude 24) and functions as a character assessment. While the corresponding Hebrew word (tam) was used to describe the fitness of an animal to be offered to God (Rienecker), its first usage referred to the character of Noah. Even though Noah lived among a people whose hearts were always inclined to evil, he kept his character untainted (Gen 6:9).
Likewise, Job was reputed to be "blameless" (Job 1:1; 2:3). God commanded Abraham, "walk before Me and be blameless" (Gen 17:1), and the record of his life bears out this character trait. Little considered is that Genesis 25:27 describes Jacob with this same Hebrew word. However, Gentile translations do not want to accord Jacob the same status as Noah and Job and inexplicably and inaccurately render tam in only this verse as "quiet," "peaceful," "plain," or "mild." The character of the 144,000 Jewish men truly emulates their father Jacob.
The two final characteristics of the 144,000 reinforce the interpretation that they have been selected for priestly service based on satisfying standards of the Torah. Even though priests in the Old Covenant could only come from the tribe of Levi, they still had to comply with certain spiritual, moral and physical standards and qualifications (Lev 10:9ff; 21:16-21; Ezek 22:26; Mal 1:5ff; 3:3; Heb 5:1-4; 7:26f; cf. 1Tim 3:1-7). David sums up the spiritual expectations best in Psalm 24:3-4: "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully." In David's time the only entering the "holy place" would be the High Priest, although the perfect fulfillment of the Psalm occurred in Yeshua. Yet, in the final days of the tribulation the High Priest of the New Covenant will call forth a new cadre of priests to serve the spiritual needs of the millennial kingdom and He will call men who emulate His own character.
The Last Proclamation (14:6-8)
6― And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having eternal good news to proclaim to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;
And I saw another angel: Grk. angelos, lit. "messenger." See the note on 1:20. A new vision introduces three angels, distinguished only by the adjective "another." Each angel announces a special proclamation from the Lord to the people of the world, perhaps in response to the installation of beast worship and marking the population. God does not wish any to perish and provides these last appeals and warnings, sort of like the "carrot and stick" method of discipline. Probably the divine effort will meet with little or minimal results.
flying: Grk. petomai, pres. mid. part., to fly. This unique verb occurs only in Revelation (4:7; 8:13; 12:14; 19:17). In all the other verses the verb is associate with a bird. Airborne flight in Scripture is normally associated with the birds and possession of wings (Gen 1:20; 2:20; 6:7; 8:7; Job 39:26; Prov 26:2; Isa 31:5), but descriptions of angels (not counting cherubim, seraphim or the four living creatures of Revelation 4) never mention wings or flying. Angels normally appear as human beings (e.g. Judg 13:6; Dan 9:21). It's not likely that the verb here is intended to be taken metaphorically (as in Ps 55:6; 90:10; Prov 23:5; Jer 48:40; Hos 9:11; Rev 12:14), but as a word restricted to activity in the sky wings are not literally necessary for an angel. Zechariah saw a "flying scroll" and no wings are mentioned (Zech 5:1-2). David saw an angel standing between heaven and earth (1Chr 21:6).
in midheaven: Grk. mesouranēma, midheaven. See the note on 8:13. The mention of "another angel flying" might give the reader the impression that this is the second time John saw and heard an angel flying in mid-heaven (cf. 8:13). However, there probably should be a comma between "angel" and "flying." This "another angel" is simply the next angel John saw (the last being in 11:15) who continues the judgment theme of the other angels God employs to carry out His wrath.
having eternal good news: Grk. euangelion originally meant a reward for good news and then it simply became "good news." In Scripture euangelion refers to God's good news of His grace. It is interesting that the word does not occur at all in the book of John. The first angel in the trio is entrusted with the message of the eternal good news. What is the good news? As translated in other versions it means the good news from God that He offers grace, mercy and salvation to fallen mankind through the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of His Son. The good news is described as "eternal," which occurs only here in the apostolic writings. In other words, the good news, God's plan of salvation, has always existed even before the Creation, having originated with God. In addition, the adjective implies the ultimate goal of the good news since Yeshua defined eternal life as knowing God (John 17:3).
While many people don't understand the need of being "saved," Scripture is clear that without knowing and believing in God one cannot hope to gain eternal life after death. The content of the good news message has two forms in the apostolic writings, one for the Jews as found in Peter's Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-36, 38-40), and one for the Gentiles as found in Paul's sermon to the Greeks (Acts 17:22-31). For the Jews the good news meant deliverance from their enemies and the fulfillment of all the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as frequently reiterated by the Hebrew prophets (Luke 1:68-73). For the Gentiles the good news meant that the Creator God had provided a way to be included in His kingdom and share the covenantal promises given to the Jews. In both cases the people were called to confess and turn away from their sins in order to receive God's mercy and avoid His final judgment (Matt 10:32; Acts 17:30f; 26:20; Rom 10:9; 1Jn 1:9). In addition, the good news anticipates the establishment of Yeshua' eternal kingdom that will provide tremendous benefits and rewards to all that love His appearing (2Tim 4:8).
An angel proclaiming the good news is most unusual, but no specific time reference is mentioned to place this event in relation to the beast's war on God's people. Perhaps the world has stopped paying attention to the message proclaimed by messengers of Yeshua or their ability to communicate the message has been suppressed if not eliminated by the anti-messiah. Yeshua had promised "This good news of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come" (Matt 24:14). Yeshua emphasized the urgency of the Great Commission when He told His disciples, "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). Night comes with the advent of the anti-messiah, but God demonstrates His grace by sending His last messenger, someone the anti-messiah cannot kill or imprison. The angel with supernatural power and speed is able to proclaim the good news as he circumnavigates the globe. No one will be able to stand before God and say they have not heard the good news of Yeshua.
to proclaim to those who live: Grk. kathēmai means to sit or sit down. The verb is a present participle indicating an ongoing activity. The good news is to be announced first to those who live on the earth. The clause could be translated as "those sitting on the land" and serve as a reference to Israel. The "sitting" may connote rest after immigration. The good news was intended for the Jew first (Rom 1:16) and the angel's activity here is probably a fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10, "I will pour out on the house of David and on those living in Yerushalayim a spirit of grace and prayer" (CJB). Just as the apostles expanded their evangelism from Israel to the Roman Empire, so the angel continues around the earth with the good news of salvation for every nation and ethnic group. (See 5:9 on these categories.)
The good news of the Savior is offered to all, regardless of sin, sentiment or status. Of course, the fact that the good news is preached to those who have taken the mark of the beast raises the old question of whether taking the mark is irrevocable, which is related to the issue of whether grace is available after apostasy (Heb 6:4-6) or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:31-32). Hope is found, though, in the good news itself for "Messiah came into the world to save sinners" (1Tim 1:15 CJB), among whom Paul said he was the worst. While the mark of the beast, apostasy and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit may represent the worst kind of rebellion against God, they are also the result of deception by the devil. If some glimmer of the Light can break through into the darkness of the soul, then grace can rush in to create faith that leads to repentance. It is important to remember that "with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26), and God should not be convicted of cruelty by inferring that none of the recipients of the angel's message could repent or are automatically predestined to hell.
7― and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."
and he said with a loud voice: The angel has sufficient volume to broadcast his message over a large area. Unfortunately, most people have rejected the love of God and only judgment is left. Fear: Grk. phobeomai has two basic meanings, (1) to be afraid or frightened, and (2) have reverence or respect for God or men who command respect. God, and give Him glory: Since fear is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), then a rational person should consider the consequences of not repenting. The fear of the Lord has three aspects. First, proper fear always recognizes God as King and Judge of the universe who is worthy of adoration and obedience. Second, this fear is not a cowering emotion, but a healthy respect that alters behavior on the same order as might be conveyed by "fear of electricity."
Third, the idiom means that the person has the same attitude toward evil as God, as Solomon says, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Prov 8:13). The word "glory" refers to the light in which God dwells and to His very presence. To "give Him glory" means that since nothing is hidden from His light, then hiding the truth would be pointless. The religious concept of "giving glory" no doubt led to its association with the practice of taking sworn testimony in judicial proceedings (cf. Josh 7:19; John 9:24). See 4:9 and 11:13 on "gave glory."
because the hour of His judgment has come: Grk. erchomai, aor., to come. The translation of "has come" recognizes the verb as a Hebrew idiom expressing present reality and not merely a one-time event in the past. In commenting on the same verb in Luke 19:10, David Biven notes that from the days of the LXX (ca. 200 BCE), the Greek aorist tense was often used to translate the Hebrew past tense, but the Greek fails to adequately convey that the Hebrew tense is not merely reporting action occurring at a particular point in past time, but expresses the intention or purpose of the subject that continues from the time the action was initiated (Biven 91f).
The people are warned that the "hour" for judgment "has come," a common Hebrew idiom referring to the arrival of an anticipated event, and in the Gospels the verb is used to refer to the anticipated crucifixion of Yeshua (Mark 14:41; John 5:25; 13:1; 12: 23; 16:21, 32; 17:1). While Yeshua and the apostles warned the world of a future judgment event (Matt 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36, 41f; Mark 16:16; John 5:29; Acts 17:30; Rom 14:10; 2Cor 5:10; Heb 10:27; 2Pet 2:9; 3:7; 1Jn 4:17; Jude 6), and chronicled in Revelation 20, the verb "has come" emphasizes a present reality that hearkens back to the first advent of Yeshua. Yeshua said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind" (John 9:39), an expression referring to the division in families and societies that would occur because of Him (cf. Luke 12:51ff; John 3:19; 12:31f).
Coming "for judgment" may sound strange since the Lord stated His purpose elsewhere to "seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). However, this is an instance where the literal English translation does not properly render the Hebrew nuance behind the Greek. In Hebrew the word "judgment" can also mean "salvation" and the verb "judge" often means "save" (Biven 60f). The Hebrew judges were saviors or deliverers of the people and not merely prosecutors to punish criminals as in the modern sense of the word. Considering the Hebrew background, this verse is conveying that the angel proclaiming the eternal good news is saying, "The opportunity for salvation is right now as I am proclaiming it. Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow will be too late."
and worship Him who made: The eternal good news also calls men to worship God since He is the Creator (cf. 10:6). (See 4:10 on "worship.") The comprehensive idiom "made the heaven(s) and the earth," which occurs thirteen times in Scripture, emphasizes that the universe could not possibly have created itself or evolved by chance from lifeless chemicals. The first mention occurs in Exodus 20:11 where God asserts simply, but significantly, that He created everything within six twenty-four days. The addition of "the sea" first occurs in the Torah commandment, but the inclusion of "springs of waters" is found only here in the Scriptures. The creation summary may include these four ecological elements in Revelation to underscore the fact that the Creator has the power to afflict those same elements with environmental catastrophe in the trumpet and bowl judgments.
Since ancient times men have rejected God as Creator, deceiving themselves that the universe is the ultimate reality and with that mindset have worshiped and served "the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25). And if Yeshua is not the Creator (John 1:1), then He cannot be the Savior or coming King. Genesis 1 is the foundation for the good news of the Messiah. The affirmation of creation was a key element in the preaching of the Apostles, since the Gentile peoples were unfamiliar with the Scriptures and were steeped in evolutionistic pantheism (Acts 14:15; 17:24; Col 1:16). The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, the first true civilizations after Noah's flood, believed everything evolved out of a watery chaos. Modern science has not improved much on ancient myth. All complex systems require a creator and the biblical testimony that God spoke the universe into existence fully formed is the only adequate explanation that accords with human reason and experience (Ps 33:6-9). Rightly does Nehemiah extol God's sovereign creation,
"You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You" (Neh 9:6).
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."
Fallen, fallen: Grk. word piptō, aor., can refer to falling from a higher point to a lower point, falling to the ground (violently); to structures collapsing or falling to pieces; to the destruction of persons; or to complete moral ruin. The second angel of the trio arrives on the scene and announces the downfall of the historic center and symbol of rebellion against God, quoting the pronouncement of doom in Isaiah 21:9. "Fallen, fallen" is equivalent to a solemn funeral dirge announcing the certainty of ruin, although no details are provided at this point as to means of the fall.
Babylon the Great: Grk. Babulon, which in the Tanakh is uniformly "Babel" and refers to an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Euphrates about twenty miles south of Baghdad, near the modern village of Hilla in Iraq. Akkadian seems to derive the name from babili(m) or from another earlier Sumerian source. But in both cases it means "Gate of God." Babylon occurs 12 times in the apostolic writings, half of which are in Revelation (TWOT 1:89). To say that Babylon is fallen could refer either to the infrastructure collapsing because of the great earthquake of the seventh bowl (16:19) or the destruction of the city by the beast confederation (17:16f; 18:8). Babylon has a love-hate relationship with the beast (see Chapter Seventeen) and the requirement of worship and marking may be the issue that brings about their final separation and her destruction.
she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion: Grk. thumos. See 12:12 on "wrath." Thumos occurs 18 times in the apostolic writings, but only in Revelation is it translated "passion." DNTT clarifies that the meaning of "passion" belongs to the earlier classical Greek period, but apostolic usage of thumos is connected with that of later secular Greek and only means anger, wrath or rage (1:106). If the intent was to depict lust, then the Greek words pathos (passion) or epithumia (desire) would have been more appropriate.
Babylon is charged with making all the nations to drink of her "passion" (cf. 18:3). The word translated "passion" really means wrath or anger and is so translated in the NASB 14 out of the 16 times it occurs in the apostolic writings. Only two times, and both times in Revelation in reference to Babylon, is the word translated "passion," probably influenced by the presence of the word "immorality." In the context "wrath" would be a better translation. The phrase could be lit. translated as "the anger of the fornication of her." The verse would then have two possible meanings. The first possible intention of the phrase may be convey that Babylon's enticements conceal a rage against God. She does not sin accidentally or negligently, but with a high hand in blatant betrayal. The second meaning, and the one that seems more appropriate, is that the "wrath as almost all other occurrences in Revelation refers to God's wrath (14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; and 19:15).
of her immorality: Grk. porneia meant to prostitute or practice prostitution, but does incorporate a variety of sexual offenses. See 9:21 on "immorality." In ancient Babylon every woman was expected to sacrifice herself in a temple by giving her body to a stranger at least once in her lifetime (Herodotus, I, 178; also Baruch 6:40-43). The last clause might be translated "the wine of the wrath on her immorality," considering the imagery of the winepress in 14:19f. The verse warns that nations will suffer the wrath of God because they choose to consort with the harlot, perhaps echoing Jeremiah 51:6b-7,
"For this is the Lord's time of vengeance; He is going to render recompense to her. Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the Lord, intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are going mad."
The angel is not simply talking about the nations engaging in immorality with Babylon, but of sharing in her judgment.
Verdict Against Idolatry (14:9-11)
9― And 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 upon his hand,
If anyone worships the beast: The third angel of the trio now makes his entrance and presents an ominous warning against elevating the anti-messiah to the status of a god. The Lord God, Creator of the universe, is the only One worthy of worship. and receives a mark: People are also warned against taking the beast's brand of ownership. A person might be a moral upstanding citizen in every respect, but one act can bring eternal doom. This warning by the third angel is both warning and security for the believer. No faithful disciple of Yeshua has to worry about taking the mark of the beast accidentally or in ignorance, but God provides the warning nonetheless in advance of the event. The penalty for disloyalty is a price too high to pay. See 13:16 on the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast testifies in unequivocal terms the choice of expediency and the utter tragedy resulting from that fateful decision. The fact that an angel is delivering the warning at this point in the narrative argues against a pretribulation rapture and reassures the disciples that God will not allow them to be deceived into taking the mark.
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.
he also will drink of the wine of the wrath: Grk. thumos occurs at least seven times in Revelation in reference to the wrath of God. See 12:12 on "wrath" and 14:8 on "passion." of God: God's wrath is often pictured in Scripture as a cup of wine (cf. Job 21:20; Ps 11:6; 60:3; 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22; 63:6; Jer 25:15). which is mixed in full strength: "Mixed in full strength" is what Robertson calls a bold oxymoron, because the phrase would be literally translated "mixed unmixed." The adjective "unmixed" in John's day referred to wine that was full strength. For drinking at meals wine was normally diluted with water. The participle "mixed" means that it is strong wine made even stronger by the addition of spices (cf. Ps 75:8). The inferred contrast between diluted wine and full strength wine should remind the reader that in the past (and the present) God's wrath has been tempered with His grace and since the destruction of the earth by the global flood in Noah's day, God has shown remarkable forbearance toward sinful mankind (Acts 17:30; Rom 2:4; 3:25). However, the cup of full strength wine means that the time of His patience has ended.
in the cup of His anger: Grk. orgē. Ladd clarifies the use of the two Greek words for anger in this verse: "orgē refers to the kind of anger that rises out of a settled disposition, while thumos represents anger of a more passionate kind. In most of the apostolic writings, orgē is the usual word to designate the divine wrath; outside of Revelation, thumos is used only once for this purpose (Rom 2:8)." In the LXX there is virtually no distinction between the two Greek words for anger (DNTT, I, 105). Both words are frequently used together in the LXX to express the intensity of God's wrath.
The strength of God's wrath is also emphasized by the use of the two different Greek words for anger. God's response to evil and wickedness probably seems to be gross overreaction by human standards, but God's wrath is not an emotion that arises from having one's feelings hurt or from unfulfilled expectations. In the past God refrained from imposing His wrath in response to man's sinning as an expression of His grace and offer of salvation (Acts 14:16; 17:30; Rom 3:25). Nevertheless, God's wrath is consistent with His justice and the penalties He long ago announced in His Torah. The day is coming when grace will no longer be available. In contrast, the disciple of Yeshua is enjoined to get rid of both kinds of anger (Eph 4:31), avoid personal revenge and leave justice to God (Rom 12:19). However, many people when experiencing conflict fail to understand the principle of equity and tend to react in ways that exacerbate the problem.
and he will be tormented: Grk. basanizō. See 9:5 on "tormented." The angel warns that those who fall prey to God's judgment will suffer the torment of fire. The word "tormented" is a strong word meaning to be inflicted with physical pain and the singular "he" points to the very individual and personal nature of God's punishment. with fire and brimstone: Grk. theion. See 9:17 on "brimstone." The dual combination of "fire and brimstone" reinforces the picture of "mixed unmixed" wrath and occurs again in 19:20, 20:10 and 21:8 in reference to the lake of fire, or hell. Brimstone is a word used for the yellow sulfurous mineral usually found near active volcanoes. Large deposits of sulfur are found in the Dead Sea area. Highly combustible, sulfur burns with a very disagreeable odor.
Scripture reports God using brimstone in the past to punish the wicked (Gen 19:24; Ezek 34:8ff; 38:22) and this reference implies a specially created divine fire to be used in the future. While many Christians spiritualize Hades, the intermediate place of punishment, and hell, the final destination of the damned, Scripture describes the condition of separation from God most graphically (Ps 11:6; Luke 17:29). Yeshua, who spoke of hell more than anyone else in Scripture, described it as a place of "outer darkness" and "everlasting fire," and a place that "destroys both soul and body" and causes "weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 10:28; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
in the presence: There appears to be a contradiction with 2 Thessalonians 2:9 where the eternal punishment is said to take place away from the presence of the Lord, whereas here the punishment is in the presence of the Lamb and His angels. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, the phrase would be literally translated "from the face of the Lord." The preposition "from" emphasizes being separated from someone, and to be separated from the face of the Lord is to be separated from the grace of the Lord. In a spatial sense hell is probably in a far corner of the cosmos (cf. Jude 13), but would still be before the Lamb since He rules over the entire universe (Matt 28:18). As David observed, "where can I flee from Your presence?" (Ps 139:7)
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."
And the smoke of their torment: Grk. basanismos. See 9:5 on "torment." goes up forever and ever: In 9:5 the torment of the Pit locusts is said to last five months, but here the torment of hell lasts for eternity. The nature of the torment is hinted at in Luke 16:23-31. In the parable of the rich man who died and went to Hades he reported to Abraham that he was in agony because of the flame. Yet, eternal torment is not caused just by the physical characteristics of hell. The rich man was also tormented by the thought that his five brothers would come to the same place. He understood that everyone will spend eternity somewhere and that death closes the door on any further opportunity to affect that destiny.
One might wonder how an immortal spirit could be tormented by fire but not be consumed. A fundamental law of science should be considered. According to the Law of Conservation of Energy, the form of matter and energy can be changed, but neither can be annihilated (BBMS 186f). By energy is meant the capacity or the production of work. If mere physical matter cannot be annihilated, how much more so would be the soul/spirit of man. The meaning of "destroy" in Matthew 10:28 needs to be considered in the context of all Scripture passages on hell and eternal punishment. "Destroy" cannot mean "annihilate" or "obliterate" if it is going on for eternity, but it does makes sense in the context of the Law of Conservation of Energy. One could say that this law does not function properly in hell because the inmates produce no meaningful "work." Thus, hell destroys by ruining the very meaning of life.
they have no rest day and night: the narrative employs a time expression from human experience and may indicate that because of the continuous torment, hell's prisoners will lose all sense of time. A significant contrast between the two destinies (cf. verse 13) is the matter of rest: rest for the believer, but no rest for those who take the mark of the beast. The torment of hell is without a break or time off for good behavior. While the description may be intellectually comprehended and the human experience of suffering may offer some understanding, there really is no way to truly appreciate continuous, eternal and unrelenting agony. The importance of avoiding God's wrath and warning others to seek God's grace while it is available cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, as Robertson says, there is no more important lesson today than the fear of God (Heb 10:31).
By contrast, the twenty-four elders sing praises to God "day and night" (4:8). If the expression were also meant to be a factual attribute of hell, it would imply a rotating mass and a light source. In Genesis 1:2-5 God provided a light source for "the deep," and its rotation by the action of the Spirit's moving over the surface created the effect of day and night before the sun was created on the fourth day. The reader is reminded of the angel's warning in 14:9 of the consequences of idolatry. For the second time the text emphasizes that the mark of the beast is the mark of his name, a specific definition that absolutely precludes anything else from being identified as the mark of the beast.
Blessedness of the Disciples (14:12-13)
Here is the perseverance of the holy ones: The angel then makes a kind of parenthetical reference to the terrible tribulation that the disciples must endure, but implies that justice will be done for their sufferings. Perseverance can only result from toughness of mind that refuses to surrender no matter how bad the conditions might become. The saint has the attitude of Job who declared to his friends, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 15:13). The three friends of Daniel had a similar attitude and their defiant words to Nebuchadnezzar still inspire,
"Our God is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan 3:18).
The resolve and endurance of Yeshua's followers described in 2:19 and 13:10 is repeated and amplified here in two ways. First, the disciples keep the "commandments of Yeshua." (See 12:17 on "keep the commandments.") Yeshua had cautioned His disciples, "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15) and "You are My friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:10). The Lord's command in the upper room was that His disciples love one another (John 15:12), which He amplified to mean laying down their lives for one another. This command to sacrificially love flows from the two great commandments to love God and to love neighbor which sum up all that is required in the Torah and the Prophets (Matt 22:40). The world, of course, rejects moral absolutes (cf. Judg 21:25), mocks followers of Yeshua for their adherence, and actively seeks to impose tolerance of sinful practices. The disciples understand that God's law is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12). Since only God can repeal or enact exceptions to His laws, the Lord's disciples are love-bound, as well as duty-bound to be fully obedient (John 14:21-24).
and their faith: Grk. pistis translates the Heb. emunah, which means (a) trust, reliance on something or someone and (b) faithfulness, trustworthiness (Stern 538). The second characteristic of these followers of Yeshua is "their faith." (See 2:13 and 13:10 on "faith.") Faith means being convinced of God's reliability, maintaining confidence in God to do the right thing in the right way at the right time for His people and remaining committed to Him through trials while awaiting His final deliverance and victory. The text then adds the qualification of "in Yeshua." Other Bible versions translate the phrase as "faith of Yeshua." Modern translations give weight to the context, which is concerned with the perseverance of suffering disciples. When Paul faced execution by the first century antichrist, Caesar Nero, Paul confidently testified to Timothy "I have kept the faith" (2Tim 4:7). However, is this faith the disciple's trust in and faithfulness to Yeshua or a pattern of faithfulness modeled by Yeshua?
The NASB and other versions (e.g., CEV, NIV, NLT, and TEV) treat the phrase "faith in Yeshua, tēn pistin Iēsous, as an objective genitive, meaning that Yeshua is the object of the faith. However, many scholars believe the phrase to be a subjective genitive meaning "faithfulness of Yeshua" (Rienecker) as translated in the KJV, ASV, CJB, DRA, LTB, NKJV, and the RSV. The same phrase is found in Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16; 3:22; Ephesians 3:12 and Philippians 3:9.
Both of these shades of meaning have merit, but the distinction between the two interpretations is not inconsequential. For the disciples to have "faith in Yeshua" would mean they continued to believe in and confess Yeshua as Savior and Lord and refused to recant in the face of all tests and trials. The value of the translation "faithfulness of Yeshua" is that it emphasizes that salvation begins not with humans but with the faithfulness of Yeshua who trusted in His heavenly Father, left the comfort of heaven to redeem mankind, demonstrated loyalty to please His Father by living in obedience to and producing the works of righteousness required by the Torah, and then finally laid down His life as an atoning sacrifice (John 4:34; 8:29; Gal 4:4f; Phil 2:5-8). Yeshua is the author and perfecter of the believer's faith (Heb 12:2; cf. Eph 2:8). The "faithfulness of Messiah" then becomes the model for the faithfulness and discipleship of the followers of Yeshua (1Pet 2:21).
So it will be in the last of the last days that no matter what deception the devil or the anti-messiah may use to try to discourage or defeat God's people, disciples will persist in their confidence in the Lord. Peter noted that there would be mockers who would test the faithful by challenging (and mocking) them with the question "where is the promise of His coming?" (2Pet 3:4). Regardless of what may be conjectured about when Yeshua may return, unfulfilled predictions prove nothing about the reliability of His promise of to return. The loyalty of true disciples cannot be swayed by the foolishness of such hoaxes, but instead they will endure to the end because of their trusting faithfulness.
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, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them."
Write: John hears a "voice" directing him to "write" and as a faithful scribe of the Lord John wrote what he heard. (See 1:11 on "write.") Twelve times in Revelation John is instructed to write something specific. The frequency of the command perhaps indicates that those portions of Revelation should receive special attention and reflection from the reader. While the speaker is not identified it is more likely the Father than an angel. Blessed: Grk. makarios. See 1:3 on "blessed." John is given a comforting beatitude, the second of seven in Revelation, "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." The stress here is on being in a personal relationship with Yeshua when one dies. There is no blessedness for those who cast away their faith and deny Yeshua (cf. 2Tim 2:11-13) or for those who never believe.
who die in the Lord from now on: However, the beatitude ends with the phrase "from now on," which presents an interesting puzzle. Does this phrase refer to John's life period or some point in the future tribulation? Why is there even an emphasis on people who die after a certain point? While all who die in the Lord receive the reward of heaven regardless of the circumstances of their death, this phrase makes a transition in the narrative to refer to those who will face the full assault of the beast. It is like the greater honor given to those who receive the Medal of Honor over others who served in war. The context makes it clear that the blessing is for those who die after the beast assumes power and begins imposing his mark (v. 9). The description of the disciples in verses 12 and 13 is meant to contrast with those who follow the beast in verses 9-11.
that they may rest: While the speaking of the Spirit is only alluded to in the letters to the congregations, John clearly hears the Spirit respond to the beatitude and give two reasons why the disciples are blessed. First, the Spirit promises rest from labor. "Rest" literally means to have relief (Heb 4:9). From the beginning when God created the Sabbath He has been trying to get people to follow His example and rest one day a week (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11). The "labors" refer to hard work that produces weariness (Rienecker). In this present age labor is wearisome because it is performed under the curse on our world (cf. Gen 3:17ff) and is focused on what is temporal and passing. But the disciples weary themselves for God's kingdom, doing good to the souls and bodies of men.
The labors of the disciples obtain God's commendation. Social status, academic degrees, organizational position or personal success follow no one into the next life. The second reason for being blessed is that the "works" or deeds done for Yeshua and His kingdom are remembered. Just as a reputation will follow a person when he moves, so it is in heaven. Yeshua urged His disciples to produce good works that would glorify the Father (Matt 5:16) and producing the works of righteousness God prepared beforehand (i.e., by defining them in the Torah) reflects the grace disciples have received (Eph 2:10). All that the disciples do for God and others will not be forgotten. Even a cup of cold water given out of love for the Lord will receive its reward (Matt 10:42).
The Reaping of the Earth (14:14-20)
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.
Then I looked: The opening words introduce a vision of sickles, with the double emphasis on sight serving as John's way of asserting the veracity of his story. The last time John "looked" the Lord was seen on Mount Zion with His Jewish brethren (14:1). There is no discontinuity here since the Lord may appear and disappear at will (cf. Luke 24:31; John 20:19).
sitting on the cloud: The Lord is seen here sitting on a cloud, which is always associated with His coming. When Yeshua ascended to heaven He was lifted up in a cloud (Acts 1:9) and the angel present told the disciples that Yeshua would return in the same manner (Acts 1:11; cf. Matt 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). In Daniel 7:13-14 the Son of Man comes on the clouds and appears before the Ancient of Days to receive a kingdom of everlasting dominion. All of these references, of course, are to atmospheric clouds and not the "cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1. It is not clear why He uses a cloud, but His sitting on it demonstrates His supremacy over His creation.
one: four aspects of the Lord are emphasized in this verse, Creator, Son of Man, King and Judge. like a son of man: John declared that he saw one "like a son of man," indeed the same Son of Man John had seen at the beginning of the Revelation (see 1:13 on "son of man"). The title Son of Man is the favorite word of identification for Yeshua. The title occurs 89 times in the apostolic writings, only four times outside the Gospels. The expression occurs 107 times in the Tanakh, generally as an idiom for "man" or "human" (e.g., Num 23:19). It is used mostly as a form of personal address, 93 times in addressing Ezekiel and once in addressing Daniel (8:17). However, in Daniel 7:13 the idiom is given a distinctly new and unique meaning, treating this figure as someone who is more than a man. having a golden crown: Grk. stephanos. See 2:10 on crown. The "golden crown" worn by the Lord is the victor's wreath and not the diadem of 19:12. The crown not only portrays His conquering of His enemies but His installation as King.
and a sharp sickle: Grk. drepanon, a sharp implement for harvesting grain or grapes. The noun comes from the verb drepō, which means to pluck, and was used to refer to a sickle or pruning hook. The noun occurs only in this chapter and Mark 4:29 (Robertson). Johnson indicates that a drepanon was used for reaping grain, for pruning the vine and cutting off clusters at vintage. The sickle in His hand was the implement of reaping in ancient times and still is in some third world areas. The sickle is referred to as "sharp" indicating its readiness for use. While angels are depicted as reapers (14:17-19; cf. Matt 13:39), the Son of Man possesses the authority for reaping and oversees the harvest. in His hand: The fact that He holds the sickle means that the final judgment cannot be avoided. The image of the sickle anticipates two harvest scenes, one of wheat and one of grapes, which are thematically parallel to the "gathering" parables of John the Immerser and Yeshua in the Gospels (Matt 3:12; 13: 24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:31-46).
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."
Suddenly another angel (not of the trio who just delivered proclamations) comes out of the temple crying out at the top of his voice. The word "another" identifies this angel as a member of the group of angels making announcements in this chapter and it is more likely that the angel has come from heaven, as the fifth angel does in verse 17. crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud: While some commentators question whether an angel would give an order to Yeshua, the message no doubt originates from the Father who informs the Son that the hour to reap has come. Yeshua had said that only the Father knows when the Son of man will be sent (Matt 24:30, 36). Now He gets the word.
Put: Grk. pempō, aor. imp., to send, in the sense of dispatching persons or things (Danker). in your sickle and reap: Grk. therizō, aor. imp., to bring in a crop, to reap or harvest. The imperative command of "put in your sickle" and the repeat of the idiom hour has come from 14:7 carries the urgency of "do it now." Morris suggests that this angel comes from the Jerusalem temple to plead with the Son to end the abomination of desolation and proceed with the reaping (DSB). However, angels do not engage in an intercessory role and "put" is a command, not a request.
the harvest of the earth: Grk. gē should be translated "land" as in the Land of Israel considering the focus of the prophecy. The angelic command echoes the prophecy of Joel, "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great" (Joel 3:13). In Joel the "wine press" is parallel to the "valley of decision," (i.e., the Valley of Jehoshaphat) in which multitudes must face their doom on the Day of the Lord at the battle of Armageddon (19:15; Joel 3:9-17). The epic battle is foretold in Zechariah 12:1-9; 14: 1-5. See the note on verse 20. is ripe: Grk. zērainō, aor. pass., to dry or be dry (Rienecker). The verb tense indicates perfect ripeness for harvest (Rienecker). In other words, all the forces of the beast have gathered and are in position to be destroyed by the Lord.
16― And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
In a symbolic act the Son of Man, while still in the clouds, swung the sickle over the land of Israel, and in so doing represented that the enemies of Israel had been forcibly reaped. The brevity of this verse to describe such an extraordinary feat emphasizes the incredible power of the Son of Man. The verb "was reaped," while in the past tense pictures the prophetic certainty of an event already accomplished.
17― And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle.
The fifth angel to enter the vision comes from the temple in heaven, which distinguishes it from the one in the earthly Jerusalem. The straightforward manner of the statement may indicate that the preceding four angels likewise came from the temple. This angel, too, has a sickle, which is in accord with the gathering parables of Yeshua where the angels play a prominent role in collecting and separating the righteous and the wicked (Matt 13:39, 41, 49; cf. Mark 13:7).
18― And 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."
And another angel: A sixth angel, the one who is in charge of the temple fire, appears to reaffirm the urgency of reaping. Again, Morris thinks this angel comes from the earthly temple (DSB), although the text presents no transitional statements to indicate that the scene shifts repeatedly between earthly and heavenly temples. This may be the angel that John saw in 8:3-5 who filled the censer with fire and cast it upon the earth and the description alludes to the specialization among the angels. Since the angel came out from the altar and the altar is connected elsewhere with the prayers of the disciples (6:9; 8:3-5), then it is possible that the prayers of the disciples play a role in bringing about God's judgment on the wicked (Mounce).
him who had the sharp sickle: as an angel had called to Yeshua to reap, so this angel directs the angel with a sickle to reap. vine of the earth: Again, "earth" should be translated "land" as in the Land of Israel. The nation of Israel is often depicted as a vineyard in the Tanakh (Ps 80:8; Isa 5:3) and Yeshua likened the nation to a vineyard (Mark 12:1-9). The location is confirmed by the description in verse 20.
her grapes are ripe: Grk. staphulē means a bunch of (ripe) grapes and is not the same word as used in the previous clause for the "clusters from the vine." The grapes are "ripe," a different word than the one used to describe the land in verse 15. This word for "ripe" literally means "to be in the prime," "to be at the peak" (Rienecker). In 6:10 the martyrs asked "how long"? Just as Yeshua came "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4), so His judgment will take place at the right time when all is in readiness.
19― And 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.
the angel swung his sickle: The sixth angel carries out of the command of the fifth angel. and gathered: Grk. trugaō, aor., to gather in ripe produce (Danker). There is no kindness or gentleness by the angel, but a violent and powerful arresting. The NASB inserts the words the clusters from to complete the word picture.
the great wine press: Grk. lēnos means a trough, vat or wine press. The ancient winepress consisted of two parts, where the grapes were crushed and where the juice fell (Rienecker). The winepress of John's day was a trough or vat with high sides and serves as a disturbing word picture of God's judgment. There is no way out for those who are cast into it. The ancient method of wine-making involved workers stomping the grapes with their bare feet while standing inside the trough, which had a duct leading to a lower basin where the juice collected (Mounce). of the wrath of God: this reaping is not a deliverance of the disciples, but the destruction of the wicked.
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.
outside the city: The location of the punishment of the wicked is a reference to outside the walls of Jerusalem (cf. 2Chr 32:3; 33:15; Acts 14:13). Just as Yeshua was brutally crucified outside the city, so the wicked will face the humiliation of unmerciful wrath (cf. Joel 3:11-14). blood came out from the wine press: John does not spare the reader and audience from the gory scene. The grapes within the winepress are "trodden" or stomped. The Messiah performs this action alone as Isaiah says, "I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, and I stained all My raiment" (Isa 63:3).
The winepress is apparently a metaphor for a very large area and by the all-powerful Word of God bodies of men and animals literally explode as the burst of juice from trodden grapes, perhaps as a result of the barrage of boulder-size hail in the seventh bowl of wrath (6:16; 16:21; cf. Joel 3:13). This is an unusual image to be inserted in a vision of harvest elements. The abrupt contrast points out that John had been seeing an acted-out parable of the Day of the Lord, but the Lord suddenly showed him the reality that the vision represented. As the conclusion to the vision of the wine press of wrath, the reader is probably meant to interpret this scene as the utter annihilation of the beast's army (as described in 19:17-21), which will be gathered from all over the earth (16:12-14).
up to: Grk. achri, prep., up to a point in time or space, a function word signifying an interval between two points with focus on continuity. the horses’: Grk. hippos. See the note on 6:2. bridles: Grk. chalinos, a bit or bridle. The ancient horse bridle consisted basically of the mouthpiece, usually a single bar without a joint and cheekpieces that were often quite elaborate. Decorations in bronze or silver might be added depending on the wealth of the owner.
Horses are mentioned directly four times in Revelation (6:2-8; 9:7-9, 17-19; 18:13; 19:11-21). With modern technology and the symbolic use of "horse" to describe the pit locust (9:7) many interpreters find it difficult to take literally the reference to the beast's army using horses. However, the choice of using so many horses could either arise from military preference or economic necessity. If the beast's army represents Muslim nations, then the anti-messiah may insist the invasion occur on horseback as symbolic of the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. It was not all that long ago in World War II when the German army used horses to pull artillery and supply trailers. The use of horses as a military asset could also be economic necessity. The various judgments on the earth will likely disrupt the production of crude oil and bulk petroleum and the distribution of refined products, causing strict rationing and high prices and forcing localized reliance on animals as beasts of burden and transport (cf. Zech 14:15).
This description of the blood coming "up to the horses' bridles" as a measurement is ambiguous. It could be a vertical measurement from the ground to where the bridle is worn on a standing horse, about four to five feet, but more likely it is the measurement of the width of the bridle mouthpiece, about 4-5 inches. Considering the measurement is given in relation to the massive bloodletting then the vision is of a dead horse on the ground with the blood deep enough to cover the bridle on the head, but not deep enough to cover the rest of the carcass. Those unaccustomed to war or those ignorant of the history of war cannot imagine rivers of blood, but this overflow in one place is greater than any other battle in history. Consider this parallel description from the Jewish Midrash Rabbah of the Roman slaughter of Jews in order to suppress their revolt of 132-135:
"They slew the inhabitants until the horses waded in blood up to the nostrils, and the blood rolled along stones of the size of forty se'ah and flowed into the sea a distance of four miles." (Lamentations Rabbah 2:2:4, quoted in Stern)
for a distance of two hundred miles: The Greek measurement is 1,600 stadion. A stadion was equal to 607 English feet, so the total length is about 180 miles. This distance is close to the length of biblical Israel from Dan to Beersheba (Ladd). While Revelation provides no intelligence data on the size of the beast's army at Armageddon, the mention of the distance emphasizes that the amount of blood would equal millions of people and animals.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DM: Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Company, 1955.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
DSB: Henry Morris, Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.
Earle: Ralph Earle, The Book of The Revelation. Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim, The Temple-Its Ministry and Services, Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1994. Online.
Johnson: Alan F. Johnson, Revelation. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
Ladd: George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
Morris: Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record. Tyndale House Publishers, 1987.
Mounce: Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997) Online.
Sevener: Harold A. Sevener, God’s Man in Babylon. Chosen People Ministries, 1994.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. ed. R. Laird Harris. Moody Bible Institute, 1980.
Walvoord: John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press, 1966.
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