Next we come to chapter 14, where we have neither the counsels of God as opposed by Satan (hitherto in heaven to accuse before God, but at that day cast down unto earth), nor the plan and instruments by which Satan gives battle to those divine counsels. This we have had in Revelation 12 and Revelation 13. But now we enter on another line of things. What is God doing with and for His own? Nothing? Impossible! He does what is active in good for His then purposes. God is pleased to reveal to us a variety of ways in which He will put forth His power, and send both testimony and warning suited to the crisis; and this is given with remarkable completeness throughout the seven divisions to which this chapter naturally lends itself.
The first is a full numbered multitude separated to the Lamb on mount Zion. It is no repetition of the sealed company in Revelation 7, no mere securing out of the twelve-tribed whole. Judah had a guilt which Ephraim, far away, did not share; and grace there works, as one might say, "beginning at Jerusalem." The Lord Jesus is about to insist on His rights in the midst of Israel; and Zion is the known centre of royal grace. "Royal" is said, because it is Christ asserting His title as Son of David; but it is also royal "grace," because it supposes the total ruin of Israel, and that the Lord in pure favour begins at Zion to gather round Himself once more. This accordingly is the first form in which God displays His action for the last days. The devil may have his Beasts and horns; God has His Lamb; and the Lamb now is not seen on the throne in heaven, or taking a book; He stands on mount Zion. It is a notable point of progress toward the kingdom that is clearly brought into view before the close. It answers more to the style of David than to the settled reign of peace in Solomon's day. But how unintelligent to fancy that these out of Judah any more than the scaled out of Israel in chap. vii. are Christians! It is opposed, not only by internal reasons but by the structure of the book, which shows the heavenly saints changed and with the Lord Jesus (chap. 4). These saints are expressly in verse 3 distinct from the crowned elders, like the Gentile crowd in Rev_7:9-17.
"And I saw, and, behold, the Lamb stood upon the mount Zion, and with him a hundred [and] forty-four thousand, having his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads." They are associated with the earth-rejected Messiah; and in the vision they are seen with Him on mount Zion. It is not a question of "their" Father. No such relationship is ever found in the Apocalypse, but the Lamb's name and "his Father's name written on their foreheads."
"And I heard a voice out of the heaven, as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard [was] as of harpers harping with their harps; and they sing as a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders: and no one could learn the song but the hundred [and] forty-four thousand that had been bought from the earth. These are they who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins." They had not corrupted themselves; and the Lamb was their leader. With Babylonish wickedness they had nothing to do; pure in spirit they were associated with the holy Sufferer. "These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were bought from among men, first-fruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are blameless." "Before the throne of God" is spurious.
Such is the first action of God. It forms a complete remnant, not from the twelve tribes of Israel, such as we saw in Rev. 7, nor simply sealed for security against providential judgments. This is particularly out of Jews proper; first-fruits to God and the Lamb, gathered out from those guilty of His rejection. Now God answers all that and other wickedness by this merciful and honourable separation to the Lamb, who is about to be installed in His royal seat on mount Zion. They not only follow Him as Messiah, but as the holy Sufferer and rejected One.
The next scene gives us an angel with a message to Gentiles. "And I saw another angel fly in mid heaven, having an everlasting gospel to preach to those that sit on the earth, and unto every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people." Why is it called "everlasting"? Remember that the gospel as now preached is a special gospel in character, fulness, and time, in no way an "everlasting" gospel. Nobody ever heard the gospel of the grace of God till Jesus died, rose, and went to heaven. The gospel as it should be preached in and out of Christendom depends on the most stupendous facts ever accomplished here below, for which God waited more than four thousand years even of man's dwelling on the earth before He would or could righteously send it forth. Consequently the gospel of His grace as we know it is never in scripture called an "everlasting gospel." Do not most use these terms without thinking what they really mean? When they speak of the "everlasting gospel," they have probably a vague notion that it connects us with eternity. They think it a grand and worthy epithet, conveying one really knows not what. It is a mistake, if scripture is to decide.
"Everlasting gospel" means what it says: those glad tidings which always have been and always will be true. Whatever else God has made known to man, this has always abode unchanging. The glad tidings of God since man fell were that He purposed, by the woman's Seed, Christ Jesus, to bless man and to crush Satan. Even the end of all things will proclaim the selfsame thing. The millennium will be the display and demonstrative testimony to it. When judgment in every form is over, in the new heavens and the new earth man will be thoroughly and for ever blest, and God will be with them, their God.
The declaration of this truth, as here described, is an everlasting gospel. In the latter day it will act as setting aside the lie of Satan, who puts and would fain keep man in a position of estrangement from God. For He is morally forced to be the judge of men, instead of being the blesser of all that believe on the earth. All misrepresentation of God is the fruit of Satan's wiles; but the everlasting gospel presents God as the blesser of man and creation. This was His word ere sin entered, and this He will certainly bring to pass (not of course for every individual). Alas! most listen to Satan and despise God's mercy in Christ, especially such as having heard reject the gospel of His grace. And these are lost for ever. But God is love as surely as He is light: what ought He to be to all who persistently by grace honour both the Son and the Father?
The way in which the subject is spoken of here confirms this. "Fear God, and give glory to him" (there is thus the evident contradiction of idolatry); "for the hour of his judgment is come." Then will be the downfall of those that turn from God to all the vanities of the nations, as ready to trust in the creature as to distrust the true God. "And do homage to him that made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" It is the universal message of God to man, founded on His creative glory. The solemn threat of His speedy judgments is a ground for pressing on the defiled conscience of man the claim of the honour solely due to Him.
There are no doubt many who think it an extraordinary circumstance that God should send out such a message as this in days rapidly approaching. Let us consider why it is to be so. Men conjecture out of their own position and judge from their own circumstances. But none can understand aright as long as he reasons and concludes thus. Not so is any part of the Bible understood, least of all perhaps prophecy. If it be a question of our conduct or duty, it is indispensable to stand on our proper relationship; we must abide carefully in the place that God has given us, while bowing to the word of God that applies to us there. How can we act intelligently or rightly as Christians unless we, knowing what it means, believe as Christians? We only glorify our God and Father just so far as we as children look up to Him as our Father, and as saints own Him as our God. This is surely true.
But here we no longer find Christians on earth There are elect Jews; there are nations preached to, along with "those that sit [or, are settled] on the earth." That is, there are men in fixed unbelief under this designation, as well as the mass of nations, tribes, tongues, and peoples. It seems then that God comes down, as it were, to meet them on the lowest possible ground of His own truth. They are called to fear God and give glory to Him and this is on the footing that He is Judge, just about to deal with His own world. He calls upon them to do homage to the Creator, away from the idolatry of those that worship the creature.
At this present moment there is the working of a leaven that will end in idolatry, especially (if there be in this a difference) for the higher and educated orders of this country to drag into it the lower also. In the humbler classes their gross love for sensible objects, pleasant sounds, impressive processions, and striking shows prepares them for it. But there is the active instilling of a spirit, no doubt more subtle and refined among educated men, which will infallibly school them into naturalistic idolatry before many years are over. There is, on the one hand, the material tendency of modern science and literature; there is, on the other, the condescending patronage of times that are past: the excessive cultivation of art, music, flower-shows, the revival of Greek plays and aesthetics generally, perhaps of the Olympic games, etc. On these dangerous tracks all that is now energetically leavening the world tends to bring man back to heathenism again. The truth of Christ is to their minds severe and exclusive. How much more "light and sweetness" to have a Pantheon for Him and all other objects of veneration! Schiller strove for it, and Goethe with his maxim of "the good of evil," and Max Müller with his philosophy of religions.
However this may sound to those most confident in their unbelief, we must remember that another cause of a most solemn nature is plainly revealed: God is going to pour out a judicial delusion on Christendom. It is what the apostle calls the apostasy, or "falling away"; and it is at hand. He will not only inflict severe blows of judgment but give men up to believe a lie - the great lie of the devil - the easy-going god of indifference to man, if indeed there be a god. The great truth of all times is that God, the Creator of all, the God who has now revealed Himself in Christ and by redemption, alone is the due object of worship and service. So far then is this message from being a strange thing, that it appears exactly suitable to man as he will then be situated, and is no less appropriate to God's wisdom and goodness.
Another consideration perhaps may help some as connected with this and confirmatory of it, founded on the last part of Matthew 25, where all the nations are called up before the Son of Man when He sits as King on the throne of His glory. Surely this cannot be in heaven but on earth: how could "all the nations" be seen on high? It will be remembered that He tells those whom He designates as the "sheep" that, inasmuch as they did what they had done to His "brethren," it was really to Him; as on the other hand the insults fell on Him which were aimed at them. These acts of kindness, or of hostile indifference, will be owned by the Lord when He judges the quick. It is no use for people to call it the general judgment, or the judgment of our works. It has nothing to do with us who believe on Him now. The one principle before us in this scripture is His dealing with the living Gentiles, or all nations according to their ways with His brethren. To act aright then will require real power of God through grace. The pressure against His messengers at that time will be enormous. If any receive them well, it will be from faith, however small may be the measure of their faith. That to honour His brethren is virtually to honour Himself, they had not themselves known. When they stand in presence of the King, how astonished they are that He should regard what was done to the messengers of His gospel in the last days as if done to Himself! When men are raised from the dead, they know as they are known; but these are the nations alive in flesh. Compare Mat_24:14.
Certainly these Gentiles were wrought in by divine grace, yet evidently they are far from what is called "intelligent." How often must one beware of making too much of this! What a constant snare it is to slip into unconscious or inconsiderate criticism! Men are apt to give themselves an exaggerated importance on the score of their knowledge. God attaches a far higher value to the heed paid to the Lord Himself, and to those He sends out. It is a crucial test. Then most of all it will be so, because these messages will go forth to the nations on the earth before the end comes. Growingly lifted up and self-satisfied, the nations are summoned by Jewish messengers (poor and contemptible in most eyes), who will solemnly proclaim the kingdom just at hand; for the King is coming in person to judge the quick apart from and before the judgment of the dead. Some souls here and there will receive them, not only treating them in love, but this because they receive the message. The power of the Spirit alone gives them faith. None less than God Himself inclines their heart. Accordingly the Lord here refers to its reception, with the grace that accompanied it, as evidence of their heeding Himself in the persons of His brethren, the messengers.
This is similar to, if not the same as, the everlasting gospel. It is called by Matthew the "gospel of the kingdom." The "gospel of the kingdom" and the "everlasting gospel" are substantially like. In the Revelation it is thus described, because it was always in the purpose of God, through the bruised Seed of the woman, to crush the foe and to bless man himself here below. This Matthew, in accordance with his design, calls rather the "gospel of the kingdom," because Christ is going to be King of a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. S. John, it would seem, calls it an "everlasting gospel," because it is in contrast with special messages from time to time (Heb_4:2), as well as with all that had to do with man as he is here below. At this most corrupt time the suited glad tidings will be sent forth, and certain souls will receive it by God's grace. Thus the second scene in the chapter is the proclamation of an everlasting gospel to those settled down on the earth, and to the nations, etc., as the first section was the separation of a remnant of Jews to the Lamb on mount Zion. Both point, as do other visions of the book, to the various operations of God's goodness, and to the different groups of blessing He will form. Is it incredible that God should thus work in honour of Christ the Lamb? How good is the God we adore!
The third section, which may be passed over with comparatively few words, is the warning of Babylon's fall. "And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, which hath made all nations drink of the wine of the fury of her fornication." It is the first notice of man's mock-church, once and long the chief source of ecclesiastical corruption, and still further lapsing into Gentile abominations in the future. But we shall hear in due time unmistakable marks and instructive details of an object so repulsive to God, and so deceptive for the natural man.
The fourth is a warning of fatal danger from the Beast. "And the third angel followed them, saying with a great voice, If any one doeth homage to the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the fury of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone before the holy angels and before the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up unto ages of ages: and they have no rest day and night, who do homage to the beast and his image, and if any one receiveth the mark of his name." So far these divine dealings go in pairs; as the work among the Jews, and then a final testimony to the Gentiles (though here we have angelic intervention, not in the first case); next is sent the warning about Babylon, and another yet more urgent about the Beast. "Here is the endurance of the saints, that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Grace and love could guard them, though they be confessors of a faith by no means up to the measure of the "one faith" of Christians, but suited of God to their day.
Then comes the fifth, which is very different. It is a declaration, that "blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from henceforth." From this time nobody that belongs to the Lord is going to die, and those that die in the Lord (i.e. in fact all who have thus died since Rev. 4, 5) are on the eve of blessedness, not by personal exemption but by sharing the first resurrection and the reign with Christ, which terminates persecution and death for His name. The wicked must pay the wages of sin, and be destroyed by the judgments of God; but there shall be no more dying in the Lord after this. As a class these are to be blessed (not to die) henceforth. "And I heard a voice out of the heaven saying, Write, Blessed [are] the dead which die in [the] Lord, from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; for their works follow with them." There is an end of such sorrow and labour: the Lord is going to take the world and all things in hand.
Accordingly the next scene runs, "And I saw, and, behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sitting son-of-man-like, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Send thy sickle, and reap; for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is dried. And he that sat upon the cloud thrust (or, put) his sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped." It is not here a question of gathering in. One Son-of-Man-like is seen with the crown of gold, King of righteousness, not yet manifested as King of peace, which will surely follow in its season (Heb_7:2).
Then comes the close of all these things. "And another angel came out of the temple that [is] in the heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the altar, that had authority over the fire; and called with a great voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Send thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripened." This goes further. How growingly intense is the repeated "sharp sickle"! For the harvest the call was out of the temple; here it is out of the temple that is in the heaven. It is not only wrath on earth but from heaven. Another angel comes out from the altar (i.e. the place of human responsibility, where God manifests Himself to sinners in the sacrifice of Christ, judging sins but in grace). O ye that idolise forms and rites, postures and impostures, beware; yours is not worship in spirit and truth! Could an apostle if here recognise you as keeping the unity of the Spirit,
So much the more tremendous is His vengeance on the earthly religionists who despise Christ and the cross in word and in deed. This angel has authority over the fire, the sign of detective and consuming judgment. "And the angel put his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and put [it] into the great winepress of the fury of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress unto the bridles of the horses for a thousand six hundred stades" (or furlongs).
In short then, if we sum up this series we have here the harvest and the vintage, the two great forms of divine judgment at the close: the harvest being that judgment which discerns between the just and the unjust; and the vintage being the infliction of unmingled wrath on apostate religion, "the vine of the earth," the object of God's special abhorrence. For in plain and direct terms we have seven distinct acts in which God will interfere in the way, first of grace for a double testimony; then of warnings to the world; next also of comfort as to His deceased; finally of judging the evil results, as far as the quick are concerned, at the advent of the Son of Man.
Here closes the striking series of Rev. 12 - 14, which are not in historical sequence of the successive Trumpets, or at least of the seventh, but go back to give us the secret springs of the crisis to which we were brought generally in the seventh Trumpet, the plans of Satan when he lost access to heaven for ever, and what God meanwhile does for His glory to the end of the age. Then we resume a fresh and final septenary of divine inflictions, the seven last Bowls of God's fury to be poured out on man's apostate and impenitent iniquity.