After the seven seals in chapters 6 and 7, and the seven trumpets in chapters 8 and 9, and before the seven bowls in chapter 16, we have the seven signs in chapters 12 to 15. The first sign which John saw was the conflict between the dragon and the woman and her children. The second sign John saw was the beast from the sea who was a kind of evil imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ and he represented the devil’s persecuting power which is directed against the Lord’s people in these, the last days. And the third sign John saw was the beast from the earth who represented the devil’s deception and deceit, because he deceived the earth-dwellers.
In chapter 14, we have three more signs. In verses 1 to 5 John sees the Lamb and the 144,000 who are with him on Mount Zion. In verses 6 to 11, he sees three angels who were sent out with various messages to declare. And in verses 14 to 20 he sees the Lord’s harvest of the earth. And the seventh and final sign is in chapter 15 where John sees the saints who are singing their victory song. Today we’ll look at the sign of the Lamb in verses 1 to 5 and the sign of the three angels in verses 6 to 11.
Verses 1 to 5
The fourth sign which John saw was the Lamb and the 144,000 who were with him on Mount Zion. Well, whereas the beast from the sea which we read about in chapter 13 was an evil imitation of the Lamb of God, here we have the true Lamb of God. And he’s standing on Mount Zion. Now, Mount Zion was the place where Jerusalem was located. But the Lamb in John’s vision is not standing on top of the earthly Zion; he’s not in the earthly city of Jerusalem; he’s standing on the heavenly Zion; he’s standing in heaven. We know that because in verse 2 John hears a sound from heaven and in verse 3 he tells us that the 144,000 are standing before God’s throne. So, he’s in heaven.
And we’ve come across the 144,000 before; we met them back in chapter 7 where they all received God’s seal as a mark to show that they belonged to God and were under his protection. And, when we studied chapter 7, I explained that the 144,000 represented the whole of Christ’s church. This is the total number of the redeemed. And so, here in chapter 14, John sees the Lamb of God; and all his people are with him in heaven. And look at the end of verse 1, because there we learn that the seal they received in chapter 7 was the name of the Lord and the name of God the Father. God has put his name on his people to show that they belong to him. Whereas the earth-dwellers — all those who follow the dragon and his beasts — were marked with the name and number of the beast, the Lord’s people are marked with the Lord’s name.
Now, we need to remember that this is a vision, which uses images and pictures to symbolise what we need to know. So, just as we’re not to expect the number 666 to appear on anyone’s forehead, so we’re not to expect God’s name to appear on our forehead. John is using the image of a seal to teach us that there are some who belong to the Devil and who walk in his ways; and there are others who belong to the Lord and who walk in his ways.
And having described what he saw, John begins in verse 2 to describe what he heard: a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters, and like a loud peal of thunder, and like the sound of harpists playing their harps. What was this sound he heard and which he’s trying to describe for us? Well, it was the sound of the 144,000 who were singing. And what were they singing? A new song: a new song which none could learn apart from the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. In other words, this is a song which can only be sung by the redeemed who are God’s people who have been delivered from their sin and misery by the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, a new song was sung to celebrate God’s victories. Every time there was a new victory to celebrate, a new song was required. And so, here are God’s people in heaven, singing a new song to celebrate God’s victory over sin and Satan and death.
And in verses 4 and 5 John describes the 144,000 in four ways. First of all, they haven’t defiled themselves with women. Is John criticising those of us who are married? Is he saying that it’s wrong for men to be married? No, it’s an image, a picture to symbolise the purity of those who have been redeemed. Secondly, the 144,000 follow the Lamb. Back in verse 3 of chapter 13 we were told that, apart from the Lord’s people, the whole world followed the beast. They follow the beast, whereas God’s people follow the Lamb. Thirdly, they were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. We have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb so that we now belong to him. And just as the Israelites set apart the firstfruits of their harvest from the rest of the harvest and brought the firstfruits to the Lord in his temple, so we have been set apart from the rest of humanity to belong to God. Fourthly, no lie was found in their mouths and they are blameless. This again speaks of the purity of God’s people, because Christ our Saviour has delivered us, not only from the penalty for sin, but also from the power of sin. And what he has begun in us in this life he will bring to completion in the life to come.
So, John saw the Lamb of God in heaven; and all his people are with him. Well, this is a vision of what we’re hoping for and longing for: when all of God’s people will come into presence of God to be with him for ever and for ever. And when we gather together on Sundays to worship God our Father and the Lamb of God who was slain for us we’re enjoying a foretaste of what awaits us in the life to come. In chapter 13, the earth-dwellers who do not believe were worshipping the beast, that evil imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ. But God has been merciful to us and he has given us a knowledge of the truth and he has enabled us to worship him, the true God and the true Saviour of all of God’s people.
Verses 6 to 11
In verses 6 to 11 we have the next sign which John saw. And this time he sees three angels. He describes the first one in verse 6: this angel was flying in mid air and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth. Now, when we think of the gospel message, we think of the good news that Christ died for sinners. But this angel’s message is very different:
Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.
This is a message of judgment to come. Well, for those who believe, the message that Christ died for sinners is good news; it’s good news, because Christ is able to save me. But for those who refuse to believe, that same message is bad news, because they’ve rejected the only one who can save them. And by rejecting it, they’re only increasing their guilt before God, because they heard the good news, but did not believe. When the church preaches the gospel to the world, and the world doesn’t believe, we often assume that we’re doing it wrong; and there must be a better way to make the good news known. If we do things differently, then they’ll believe. But we forget that God uses his word to save and to condemn. To one — to those who are being saved — the message of the gospel is the fragrance of life; to others — to those who are perishing — the message of the gospel is the smell of death. That’s how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 2. And so, this angel announces the good news of the gospel, which, for the 144,000 who belong in heaven, is the best news; but for those who dwell on the earth and whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, it’s a message of judgment to come.
John describes the second angel in verse 8. This one cried out about the fall of Babylon. Now, in the Old Testament, Babylon was that mighty, pagan nation who held God’s people in captivity at the time of their exile. When John wrote the book of Revelation, Christians lived in fear and dread of another mighty, pagan nation: they lived in fear of Rome. And so, John’s message was a message of encouragement to his first readers, who could take heart because, just as Babylon fell, so Rome will one day fall. However, Babylon stands, not just for Rome, but for every pagan power which opposes the church of Jesus Christ. And this angel is announcing that they will fall. In fact, their fall is so certain that the angel announces that it’s already happened. Babylon was once great, but now it is nothing; and every pagan power which opposes Christ and his church will come to nothing.
And John describes the third angel in verse 9 and it too is a message of judgment: judgment on all those who worshipped the beast and his image and who received the mark of the beast which we read about in chapter 13. They will drink of the wine of God’s fury which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. Remember the Lord Jesus on the night before he was crucified? Remember how he prayed for the cup to pass from him? He was referring to the cup of God’s wrath. It’s an image from the Old Testament. On the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ drank to the bottom the cup of God’s wrath against us. So, he took the cup which is rightfully ours and he drank it for us. But here is this angel, announcing how the wicked — who followed the beast and not the Lamb — will one day have to take the cup of God’s wrath and drink it themselves. The wicked will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of God’s holy angels and the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and for ever, because their punishment will be for ever and for ever. And whereas the Lord’s people will enjoy perfect peace and rest, the wicked will have no rest, day or night.
In verses 1 to 5, John saw the Lord’s people who were with the Lamb on the heavenly Zion and who were singing a song of victory. And in verses 6 to 13, he saw these three angels who announced this terrible and terrifying news about the wicked who have rejected the good news of the gospel, and who belong to Babylon and not to Zion, and who have worshipped and followed the beast instead of the Lamb, and who will be punished for ever and for ever for their sin and rebellion.
And so, we come to verses 12 and 13 where John applies this passage to his readers. And so, what is the application? What does this message mean for us? It calls, first of all, for patient endurance. Patient endurance. We’re to endure with patience all the troubles and trials of this life. Even though the Devil is against us; and even though he will stir up opposition against us; and even though our lives may even be put in peril and we have to suffer all kinds of troubles and trials, in these, the last days, we’re to remain steadfast and we’re to keep going and we’re to persevere so that we will continue to follow the Lamb instead of following the beast. Whoever follows the beast will face God’s wrath; whereas those who follow the Lamb will enjoy perfect peace and rest, because blessed are those who die in the Lord, for they will rest from their labours. Do you see that in verse 13? We will still die. But, for those who believe, the grave is the doorway into that perfect peace and rest which our Saviour has prepared for us. Throughout our life here on earth, we have to work hard and to struggle with all our might against sin and temptation and trials and troubles; but one day we’ll rest from all our labours.
And look: our deeds will follow us. In a sermon on this passage, Sinclair Ferguson, a Scottish preacher, points out that they don’t go before us. It’s not that God first sees our good deeds and then admits us into his presence on account of what we have done. No, first he sees us, all those who have been washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. And then, after he sees us, he sees our good deeds, which is our life of obedience to his law, which we have lived out of gratitude for all that he has done for us.
And so, this is the application: despite all the troubles and trials of this life, we’re to persevere in the faith with patient endurance, looking forward to the day when we’ll enter God’s presence in the life to come. And in the meantime, we’re to live a life of good deeds, seeking to do God’s will by obeying his commandments.