The last several weeks have been spent studying a pretty intense section of Revelation. In chapters 8 and 9 we read about the “seven trumpets” signaling God’s judgement, in 10-13 we read of beasts and dragons and the martyrdom of believers. Today is a little more highly concentrated good news. (Though none of the previous pieces were bad news.)
So this week, we’ll be in chapter 14, but to be perfectly confusing, I am going to start by dipping back into 13 to cover an item we did not have time for last week, that is of great importance moving forward as it is mentioned several more times in some pretty important places.
The book of life
It first shows up in Revelation in chapter three, where we learn that those who “conquer” (maintain faith until the end) will not have their names blotted out of it.
5 “In the same way, the one who conquers will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before my Father and before his angels.Revelation 3:5 (CSB)
We see it again in chapter 13 where we learn that everyone on earth, except those whose names are written in the book will worship the beast. In other words, those whose names are written in the book will conquer. (Compare that with the previous point!)
All those who live on the earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered.Revelation 13:8 (CSB)
We also learn in 13:8 that the book was written before the foundation of the world, and that it belongs to Jesus. We come across it next in chapter 17 verse 8, which is a restatement of 13:8.
…Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see [the beast].Revelation 17:8b (CSB)
It becomes especially relevant on judgment day, described in chapter 20. All of humanity is lined up before the judgement seat of Christ, and a set of books are opened, which contain all the deeds done in their life, and…
…anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.Revelation 20:15 (CSB)
Meaning, according to the deeds done in life, you are found guilty and worthy of the lake of fire, but if your name is found in the Lamb’s book of life, you are saved from it! And finally:
27 Nothing unclean will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those written in the Lamb’s book of life.Revelation 21:27 (CSB)
This book also shows up throughout the Old Testament, Law, Prophets, and Psalms, where it seems ethnic Israelites who were unfaithful to God would have their names blotted out of the book of life.
Jesus mentions this book in Luke 10:20 when he tells the disciples to “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The author of Hebrews mentions that all believers throughout the ages can be described as having their names “enrolled in heaven” in Hebrews 12:23. Paul also references the book of life in Philippians 4:3 to reference all believers.
The Lamb’s book of life is another way of saying that Jesus knows who His sheep are. And he keeps them secure, and helps them to persevere through every trial, and to come home to him safely in the end.
There is a second image used in Revelation (and indeed elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments as well) that also symbolizes this same truth. And we come to that now in Chapter 14. Let’s read the first part of the chapter together.
The last two weeks we’ve learned that the Dragon, Satan, makes war against the agains the church by way of two beasts. The Beast: Kings — past, present, and future — who exercise political and military power against God and his people, and The False Prophet: Teachers — past, present, and future — who spread false ideologies which are opposed to God and His people, which motivate and empower the beast against the church. A formidable army.
Chapter 14 begins to describe the forces of God in this spiritual battle.
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of cascading waters and like the rumbling of loud thunder. The sound I heard was like harpists playing on their harps. They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, but no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, since they remained virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were redeemed from humanity as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.Revelation 14:1–5 (CSB)
Who are the 144,000? I take these to be the same 144,000 from Chapter 7. And we get more information about them here.
Standing on Mount Zion – God’s dwelling place. His throne room. This is an image of the victorious army of God, those who made it through “the tribulation” – those who conquered and persevered through a life of suffering, hardship, persecution, possibly even martyrdom, having held tightly to the faith. This is a glimpse of the future destiny of every worshipper of Jesus. How do we know the 144,000 are a picture of every believer?
The Father’s Name Written on their Foreheads – As we said last week, this is the direct contrast with “the mark of the beast” – “the seal of God” – God’s name written on your forehead. All those who worship the beast receive the mark of the beast, all those who have the seal of God follow the Lamb wherever he goes!
There are many references in the New Testament to believers being sealed by God.
12 “The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God—and my new name.Revelation 3:12 (CSB)
21 Now it is God who strengthens us together with you in Christ, and who has anointed us. 22 He has also put his seal on us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.2 Corinthians 1:21–22 (CSB)
13 In [Christ] you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed.Ephesians 1:13 (CSB)
“These are the ones who are virgins” – Adultery is a prevalent metaphor for unfaithfulness to God throughout the Bible, and the virginity here is the counter-metaphor. God’s people are those who have been redeemed and cleansed from their spiritual adultery and made to be pure brides to be presented to Christ. (See Jude 24).
“These are the ones redeemed as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb” – The firstfruits offering and all it symbolizes in the Old and New Testaments is a fascinating study, and I’d recommend taking time to do so in your small groups. But for time today, I’m going to cut to the chase and just say that the firstfruits offering is used as symbolic of all believing Israel in Jeremiah 2:3, and all Christians in James 1:18.
“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He Goes” – And this might be the simplest and yet hardest truths expressed in all of Revelation.
Who do the 144,000 here represent? Believers. Those who follow Jesus. Those who are faithful to God, sealed with God’s seal, having their destiny secured. And as this passage concludes: they are judged as blameless on judgement day, all because of the work of the Lamb.
Will you be found among them? Are you trusting Christ, the victorious Lamb, with your eternal destiny? Following wherever He leads you? Clinging to faith in Him in whatever trials you go through on this earth? Resisting the temptations of that dragon the devil and his beasts and false prophets?
From here, the scene shifts, and we hear five proclamations. Like the rest of Revelation, these proclamations are given to the first century church, have been relevant for the church throughout history, are relevant for us today, and will, continue to be relevant until Christ’s return.
These five proclamations set up the remainder of the book of Revelation.
Proclamation 1: Judgment is coming! Worship the Creator!
6 Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, with the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”Revelation 14:6-7 (CSB)
This is a warning and a call to repentance to every inhabitant of the earth. Judgement is coming. Worship the creator! This has been the church’s mission for the past 2000 years: the Great Commission. We preach about a loving creator. We preach about our rebellious hearts against him. We preach Christ’s mercy and offer of forgiveness. We preach about his return for judgement any time now. We preach about the necessity of repentance. We preach about the rewards of eternal life in paradise with our loving creator. Revelation is ultimately Good News!
Proclamation 2: Babylon has Fallen!
8 And another, a second angel, followed, saying, “It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen. She made all the nations drink the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath.”Revelation 14:8 (CSB)
We’ll get more into Babylon the Great in coming weeks, and the proclamation that she has fallen. This statement is a prelude to what’s coming.
Proclamation 3: Anyone who worships the beast will suffer the wrath of God!
9 And another, a third angel, followed them and spoke 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 will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is poured full strength into the cup of his anger.Revelation 14:9-10 (CSB)
Wrath, full strength – Until now in history, and described in Revelation, God’s judgement against man’s rebellion has only been partial. We suffer earthly consequences of our sin, natural disaster, disease, war, famine. And these things are terrible. But they are nothing compared to what’s coming on Judgement day, which will be described in chapters’s 15 and 16 in next week’s sermon. This is a merciful warning. Don’t be deceived into worshiping the beast. Nothing he has to offer is worth the price.
He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, 11 and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or anyone who receives the mark of its name. 12 This calls for endurance from the saints, who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus.”Revelation 14:10-12 (CSB)
Tormented forever and ever in the sight of the Lamb – This is hard one. We don’t have time for a full teaching on Hell right now. We’ve done it in the past, but there are two terrible truths that are important to point out. First is the eternality of the punishment. Torment with fire and sulfur with no rest night or day, and the smoke of that torment going up forever and ever. Second, is that this punishment is carried out in the sight of the Lamb. There is a popular teaching that Hell is the absence of God, and there is some truth to that, being cast out of God’s presence, but never out of His sight. The ones who ultimately refuse Jesus forever, who reject him in favor of the beast and all its counterfeit, empty promises, will see the Lamb forever. This Lamb, Jesus, who died for your sin, who reaches out to you continually with an offer of mercy and forgiveness in this life… and they’ll know forever that they were wrong. And had only to give up their stubborn pride and self sufficiency and repent and follow their good shepherd, their loving creator.
Proclamation 4: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they will rest from their labors, since their works follow them.”Revelation 14:13 (CSB)
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord – This is a reminder that goes against the outward appearance of our situation. The beast’s lie is that the Christian life is not worth it. Suffering is not worth it. Throughout history, martyrs have been offered the chance to recant.
“For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians; and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakeable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.”Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan – Epistles Book 10 Letter 96
Against this is a reminder that the blessing of eternal life awaits us. That execution is not the worst possible fate.
Their works follow them – This wonderful little statement is easy to miss in all the imagery. The promise to believers is that when we go to be with Jesus, we will rest from all our labors, all our suffering in this life, because our works follow us. When the Bible speaks of believers performing “good works” in God’s name, it is easy to imagine ministry and mission work. Charity, evangelism, preaching, bible study, helping a friend, serving the church. But it is important to remember that when the Bible speaks of a Christian’s good work, it includes those things AND our everyday work! One day, we will rest and our work will follow us.
This is an echo of teaching in the New Testament, that our work, all kinds of it, will be tested and rewarded appropriately, according to our motive in doing them. Doing things for selfish reasons will result in loss, and doing things for the Lord, and for the good of others will result in reward.
Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.Colossians 3:22b–24 (CSB)
So the question for us, in this seemingly tiny sub-point in revelation, which is a favorite topic of mine, is what kind of reward is your day-to-day work in the home, classroom, workplace, neighborhood, church, and community producing? This would be a good thing to discuss with your community group: how does your day-job contribute to the betterment of mankind? In what ways might your work here on earth follow you into eternity?
The Harvest Is Ready
The last 7 verses of our chapter today, I believe are are prelude to the seven bowls. I will read them here as a preview for next week’s sermon.
14 Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and one like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Another angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the one who was seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So the one seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17 Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the temple in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the vineyard of the earth, because its grapes have ripened.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle at the earth and gathered the grapes from the vineyard of the earth, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles.Revelation 14:14-20 (CSB)
Judgement day is coming. The powers that rule this world in opposition to God that look so invincible, and sometimes so enticing are doomed to destruction. On that day, will you be found among those who bear the mark of the beast? Or will you be found among those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes? Who bear the seal of God’s name? Whose names are found in the book of life? Because if you are found there, you are blessed. Your great reward is guaranteed, and no power of hell or scheme of man will ever be able to take that away from you.