16 Oct 2022
Passage Revelation 14:6-20
Speaker Chris Haley
Are you ready for end? “The ending always comes at last, endings always come too fast, they come too fast, but they pass too slow” That was someone writing about a relationship (Art Garfunkel), but it’s true for other things too. We’ve nearly reach the end of this section in Revelation, and yet again Revelation we’ve reached the end of the world again! Hasn’t it gone quick! We’ve seen some incredible things. We’ve seen a giant angel with pillars of fire as legs, offering edible scrolls the Apostle John to eat. We’ve seen prophetic witnesses performing miracles in the streets, only to be killed, but then resurrected in the sight of all. We’ve seen a pregnant woman clothed in the sun giving birth to a child, and then chased by a dragon. We’ve seen a terrible beast come up from the sea and make war on the saints. We’ve seen a beast in sheep’s clothing, looking all innocent, performing miracles even, but speaking like a dragon and causing the saints to be persecuted and killed. If you’ve not been around for any of those and want to know what they are all about- all the talks are there on our website. But now we’re reaching towards the end of another section in Revelation and, as expected from what we’ve been saying about how the book of Revelation works, we have another ending of the world
It’s an ending in two parts really. Our passage this morning tells one part of the story, and the next chapter the other part. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the end of February for that! One part is the horrific ending for the world at large. And the other is the blessed ending for the saints in glory. I’m sorry, but this morning it’s the horrific ending for the world at large that’s focused on in this passage, and it’s not for the fainthearted, but we’re going to try and deal with it as sensibly and honestly as we can. It’s here for our help and for our good, to help us be ready for end. God wants us to know this- that’s why he’s put it here, but please do bear in mind this is only half of the story. So our first heading of three this morning…
A message for the world- Judgement is here! v6-11
We get here three angels with three messages all linked together. The common theme of the message is that judgement is here. Judgement from God is coming- and the three angels pick up on three different parts of that message. The first angel is the ‘why’ of judgement. The second angel is the ‘who’ of judgement. The third angel is the ‘how’ of judgement. The first angel- the ‘why’ of judgement:
6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7 ESV)
We get an angel flying overhead proclaiming an eternal gospel to everyone in the whole world. It’s tempting to jump straight into thinking we’re talking about the Gospel of the Kingdom, the good news about Jesus. The good news that Jesus died on the cross in our place and offers forgiveness and a relationship with God. The thing is though that’s not the content of the angel’s message. It doesn’t mention Jesus at all. It might helpful to know that this the only time in all his writings John uses the word ‘Gospel’, and it’s not the Gospel, it’s a gospel. An eternal gospel, but not the Gospel, and that fits with what we read. Here is people being told to worship God the creator, to fear Him and give Him glory. It sounds a lot like Romans 1 where Paul writes:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21 ESV)
God has revealed himself, proclaimed himself to the whole world through creation right from the beginning. The correct response we’re given here is to honour and thank him, to glorify Him, but we don’t. Here it’s the same message from the angel. It’s implied that judgement is coming because we haven’t glorified and worshipped God our creator as we should, because that is what we’re called to do in light of the coming judgement. That is what we haven’t done. We’ve lived our lives without thanking, worshipping, glorifying our creator. As good as we might think we are, if we haven’t done that we’ve missed what we made for. Jesus tells the story of a group employed by a landowner to look after his land, and give him the fruit when harvest was in. One of the interesting things in that story is that the workers in some way do what they’re told- they look after the land and they grow the fruit. But they do it for themselves- instead of giving it to the owner. We as human being act like them. We might not be murderers or bank robbers. Actually, we might look as though we’re doing what God’s told us to do! Look at that vineyard and they’re on with growing fruit, they’re on with tending the vines. It’s not that they’re trashing the vineyard or destroying the fruit, but who are they growing the fruit for? Is that fruit for God or is it for you? Because there’s a world of difference between doing it for God as we should be, and doing it for ourselves. One is an act of obedience, the other an act of rebellion.
Really the big question is: Is my life about God and what He wants, or me and what I want? Am I living for me, or am I living for God? That’s the problem we have as human beings- we think it’s normal to live for ourselves, and yet that is the essence of the problem here. The angel’s message is worship God, but instead we worship ourselves or other things. We put ourselves at the centre of our lives. The angel’s message is give God glory, but instead we seek glory for ourselves. We’ve forgotten what we’re here for. We’ve got native, we’ve gone rogue for our enrichment. We want the fruit for ourselves. We want to steal the glory due to God for ourselves, and so judgement is coming- that’s the why. But what about the ‘who’ of judgement: The answer from the second angel is Babylon:
8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” (Revelation 14:8 ESV)
Babylon pictures the world-system in opposition to God. A bit like way ‘world’ is used elsewhere in John’s writings. We’re told not to love the world- that doesn’t mean people, but the system. Jesus says in John 15 that believers are not ‘of’ the world, again it doesn’t mean the people, but the system. In both those cases you could replace it with Babylon as it’s used in Revelation- they’re basically the same thing. This is the first time Babylon is mentioned in the book, but it won’t be the last- this city will be one of the biggest features of the next part of the book which we’ll look at later this year. Earthly Babylon will be contrasted with Heavenly Jerusalem. Babylon will be pictured as a prostitute, Jerusalem a bride. Babylon will fall, Jerusalem will thrive, and it’s no mistake that Babylon is the city chosen. Babylon is named after Babel- that great tower that our ancestors tried to build to make a name for themselves. Babylon was called ‘Babylon the great’ by its greatest emperor Nebuchadnezzar the Great! It was the head of gold of the statue of Kingdoms in Daniel. The Kingdom of Kingdoms among the children of men. The one all subsequent empires sought to reproduce. It was in one sense the pinnacle of man’s arrogance and false rule. And yet for a while they occupied the people of God. God’s people had a temporary home in Babylon- they lived there, but they weren’t ‘of’ there- they were different, and it’s a combination of all those things that makes it such a great image for this. Our temporary home, while we wait for our enduring city. It’s something we must endure- we’ll come back to that later- snd it’s temporary because as the angel says, one day the announcement will come that Babylon has fallen. That this godless world system that glorifies itself rather than gives glory to God will be over. The fall of Babylon historically is a picture of what is coming. This world will be judged by God. This world will end, and a new world will begin, the New Heavens and the New Earth, the New Jerusalem, and Babylon will fall. But for now, even though as Christians we’re citizens of heaven, we live in Babylon, and Babylon is tough place to live. Later in the book she is pictured as drunk on the blood of the saints. Here she is enticing the nations into debauched drunkenness. Idolatry and harlotry, are probably both in mind. In the ancient world they went hand in hand. Living a pure and godly life is hard in such a world setup. Is it just the world system that will be judged? The world will end but the people in it will be ok? No, the people will be judged and it won’t be pleasant v9-11
9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11 ESV)
Babylon was sought after for its wine, wine that made the nations drunk. God here gives the people what they want: “You want wine? Well, here is the wine of my wrath! A full strength cup of my anger!” And his judgement is poured out, not just on the system, but on the people- the followers of the beast, those who have the mark on their forehead, which we saw last week are those who have their minds set on earthly things. ‘Normal’ people -those who do not have the seal of God, those who follow the way of the world, and the language here, whilst figurative is horrific: tormented by fire and sulphur. This is a reference back to Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed with fire and sulphur. This done, in the presence of the angels and the Lamb. The angels and Jesus are watching on as they are tormented, and this is something that goes on for ever and ever. Some have noted that it’s the smoke that goes on for ever- as though it were a memorial, but the next line about no rest- implies that they are still there. ‘There is no rest for the wicked’ as the saying goes. Well it’s actually a quote from Isaiah 48, but it’s backed up here. An eternity of restless torment
I want to pause here- because I realise this is not easy stuff. Whilst the meaning is fairly easy- the implications are harder- aren’t they? I am not a fire and brimstone preacher- I don’t relish these passages. These affect family and loved ones for me- and that makes this hard, but the whole point of announcing this in advance, so to speak, is so that we can avoid it. Listen to what the first angel says: “Fear God and give him glory…, worship him who made heaven and earth…” We’re told this so there’s time to turn. Jesus spoke about this to warn people. God is giving John this vision to warn people of the horror that is coming from those who won’t turn from their self-destructive sinful ways, and turn to Jesus, the lamb who took God’s judgement on the cross for those who trust him. This is hard, but the point is simple- heed the warning! At the end of our passage we’re introduced to three more angels, we’re going to look at the last two and then finish with the one in the central section of the passage. Here we see…
Another Message for the world– the Harvest is ready v17-20
17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:17-20 ESV)
I nearly did this passage for our harvest festival this year, but I decided that whilst the imagery of harvest is used, it’s not really the right vibe for a harvest festival! Here we have two angels involved in a grape harvest. They come from the temple in heaven. The one who calls for the reaping comes out from the altar, which is where, in chapter 6, the Christian martyrs were calling out for the judgement of the world and an avenging of their blood, and this is what is happening here. Here is the time of reckoning. The message is given by the angel who has authority over the fire- presumably a reference back to the fire and brimstone in verse 10. The other angel is told by this one that the harvest is ripe. The grapes are ready, and so he comes with a sickle and harvests the grapes. There were several big crops in the region at the time, but grapes are chosen on purpose, for the same reason that wine was chosen for communion to represent Christ’s blood, here the grapes represent human blood. The grapes are thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath, but instead of wine, blood flows from the winepress. It flows for 1,600 stadia- that’s about 180 miles! That’s here to London- almost exactly! And deep enough to nearly cover a horse- an average horse is about 5-6 ft tall. For those of us who were taught or are being taught the metric system at school, that’s 300km long, and 1.4-1.8m high! This river of blood is longer than the river Jordan! It’s nearly as long as the river Thames! The picture is horrific! But as we’ve seen throughout Revelation it’s nothing that we don’t see elsewhere in the Bible. Jesus himself uses this sort of harvest imagery- though perhaps not quite as graphic. In the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13, Jesus pictures the world being like a field that one day be harvested by angels. The wheat is taken safely into the barn, the tares or ‘weeds’ we’d probably call them now, are bundled up and burned in the fire. When Jesus explains it to his disciples he says that the angels will “…throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42 ESV). That same picture here is used, but the end is being thrown in a winepress rather than thrown in a fire, but the vision is not saying anything that Jesus himself didn’t talk about. What about the other side though- what about the wheat? Well the vision has that too, right in the centre of our passage there is…
A message to the Saints – endure and don’t fear V12-16
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” 14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. (Revelation 14:12-16 ESV)
In the light of Babylon’s immanent fall, in the light of the coming judgement what should we be doing? Well verse 12 tells us to endure. We are to endure and in verse 13 we are not to fear. We need to endure, because life before the fall of Babylon is hard! Christians are characterised as those who keep God’s commands (if that’s John speaking here, he nearly always means by that that we love one another as Christ has loved us!) and those who keep their faith in Jesus, that they trust in the Lord Jesus. And that’s really what he means to endure: we keep on loving one another- and not give in to the world around us, and that we keep on trusting in Christ- and not give up. We endure. That word elsewhere is translated ‘patience’, or ‘patient endurance’. We keep on keeping on, we wait- knowing that the end of our hardships is coming. We live in Babylon now, we live in a world that is opposed to God, but that won’t always be the case. One day our exile will be over- we will finally be home! And Babylon that sought our destruction, will one day be destroyed. When we look at the world around us it can be depressing, but it won’t always be like that. Not because we can change the world and turn it round. We might be able to make it better- but it will just be a better Babylon- we’ll still be exiles! But one day Babylon will be consigned to the scrapheap and the Kingdom of God will prevail, and if we’re believers this morning we’re part of that abiding kingdom. So keep going, endure, the fall of Babylon is coming! Endure, and do not fear!
We are not to fear because as believers we have a different destination from Babylon and the followers of the beast. Believers are not headed for the winepress of God’s wrath. Jesus took God’s wrath for us on the cross. We’re not headed for the fire and sulphur. Jesus faced the judgement of God in our place at Calvary. And that means that whilst there’s no rest for the wicked as we saw, there is rest for the believer. Death has lost it’s sting for the believer. We are no longer are enslaved to the fear of death. John can even write that those who die in the Lord, those who die as believers are blessed! Death is no longer something to be feared. We don’t need to be scared of death. What awaits us as Christians is wonderful rest! Not that we’ll sleep for eternity- though I know for some of you with young kids that might seem appealing! But rest like God rested on the seventh day- not because he was tired, but so that he might enjoy His creation. Rest like Joshua gave the people of Israel when they entered the promised land. Their enemies defeated and peace all round. Repose, refreshment, enjoyment. No need to toil which is what that word really means. Their work on earth is done, and what they have done will follow them. It’s not salvation by works, it’s toil, hardship and endurance, followed by rest! And the Spirit agrees! This has God’s mark of approval. Eternity will not be sleeping or lounging about. We will be conscious and consciously enjoying the wonderful world God will give to us. That’s really what ‘rest’ means in the Bible.
How do we get to that rest? Well, there is another harvest spoken of here. The words used is not the same ones as used for the grape harvest. The words used here refer to the wheat harvest. That was celebrated at a totally different time of year to the grape harvest. The wheat harvest interestingly enough was celebrated at Pentecost! Here is the wheat harvest being brought in by One like a Son of Man, One who comes with the clouds, One who wears a golden victor’s crown on his head! Here is the Lord of the harvest. Here is the Lord Jesus, and His harvesting is different. Some people think this is the same harvest as in verses 17-20, but it would seem strange to use such similar imagery right next to each other for the same thing. What is there left to harvest if this is the same harvest as those verses? No, this is Jesus safely bringing in the wheat harvest, while the verses that follow are the reaping of the grapes to be crushed in the winepress of God’s wrath. It’s likely with the placement that for both this is the final judgement- in chapter 15 we’ll see the saints safely gathered around a crystal sea celebrating victory as Moses did after crossing the red sea, and seeing the Egyptian army drown in the sea. In fact we’re looking at that passage from Exodus next week! It could be the Gospel going out and people being gathered that way, Jesus said to his disciples that the fields were ripe for harvest, meaning to go and tell people the Gospel. But with it being put next to what follows- it would seem more that this is the final gathering- rather than the Gospel going forth. Here then is the end. Here then is Judgement Day. Here is the beginning of the rest of eternity- the saints are gathered in and the rest judged- this is the end.
And as we said at the beginning endings always seem to come too quickly. I genuinely believe this is the next thing on God’s calendar. There is nothing more that needs to happen. Jesus said he would come like a thief in the night, at an hour we do not expect Him. Our job is to be ready for when he does, ready for the end. Are you ready for the end? If you’ve never put your trust in Jesus for your future- do it now! The time is short. If you’re a believer are you living in light of the end? Are you living for God’s glory or your own? Are you bearing fruit for God like you were made for, or are you hoarding it all for yourself? Are you enduring under the hardships of Babylon, or just going with the flow? These are important questions. Are you telling people the God News about Jesus while there’s still time? One day it will be too late, and the stakes cannot be higher as we’ve seen. Let that motivate you and me, beyond the fear we feel about talking to our friends, neighbours and family about Him. Are you ready for the end? Let’s pray for endurance as live in this fallen world, awaiting the harvest that is coming when we will be brought safely home.