The Last Harvest (Revelation 14)

        Do you ever question whether your sacrifice is worth it? Each day we rise and give ourselves to work, and family. We labor to keep our houses clean and our children fed. We read and study God’s Word to feed our own soul and share it with others. We give our money to those in need and for the advance of the gospel of forgiveness. We bear with the wayward and rebellious. We overlook neglect of busy friends and church members. We pick up our Bible and Sunday School material to prepare and teach one more lesson. We visit the sick and hurting and those who will not remember our visit once we leave. We spend hours praying for relief and reconciliation that has yet to come. We continue to fight that sin that continues to control us. Do you ever question is it worth it?

            The life of a Christian is a life of sacrifice. We are called to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Christ. The world hated Jesus, so the world will hate us. We are called to speak truth in love that may marginalize us. We are called to sacrifice our time, our money and our pride for the glory of Christ. We will face persecution. We will tire. We will grow weary. Is it worth it? There will be days when that question may be harder to answer, but there will be that day when the answer will be abundantly clear. Living for Christ will be worth it.

The Redeemed

             Revelation 14 should be a welcome reminder that all our labors and sacrifices for the Lord Jesus will be worth it. We must not believe the lie or fall to discouragement that darkens the hope of the resurrection. One day, we will experience the presence of God. One Day, we will know all our efforts were worth it. Revelation 14:1-5,

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

This is the second time John uses 144,000 in Revelation.  I believe this number is referring to all the redeemed of the Lamb. I provided six reasons why I believe this is referring to the church when we studied Revelation 7 so I will not go in detail now, but I would say the number is symbolic representing the 12 tribes of Israel with the 12 apostles which John mentions when describing the New Jerusalem. Twelve times twelve is 144 times 1,000 equals 144,000. The number is representative of all who belong to the lamb.

            The 144,000 are with the Lamb with the name of God and the lamb written on their foreheads in contrast to the rest of the earth that possess the mark of the beast. John says that these 144,000 are redeemed twice from the earth and from mankind. They are redeemed by the blood of the lamb. They are able to learn the song of redemption. They can learn because they have been redeemed. Not everyone can learn the song.

            What hinders people from learning the song of redemption? First, people cannot learn the song because they do not believe that they need redemption. Many people would admit that they are not perfect, but they will quickly reply that even though they are not perfect, they still are “not that bad.” There is a hidden scale that most people have that helps pacify their consciences helping them to believe that because they have not committed horrible sins than they are safe from God’s justice. Second, another reason people cannot learn the song of redemption is that they love their sin more than they love God. Sin is deceptive. It is alluring. It promises happiness and satisfaction and it only leaves emptiness and regret in its path. Many people are slaves to their passions. They bow down to the god of money and sex. They don’t literally prostrate themselves before an image, but their lives are controlled and consumed by them.

            Friend, do you see your need for redemption? Are you controlled by your desires? The Bible is clear that every human being needs redemption because every human being is a sinner. We all have wronged a holy God and deserve punishment. Only those who follow the Lamb can learn the redemption song. And it is not by their own merit, but their recognizing their sin and the merit of the Lamb. Faith in the blood of the lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the only hope for salvation. Only Christ saves.

            There are two marks of the redeemed in their passage that can help us determine whether we belong to God. First, it says the 144,000 have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. John is probably not referring to literal virginity and celibacy, but rather they have remained faithful to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, Paul writes, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning thoughts will be led astray from a since and pure devotion to Christ.” Likewise, John is referring to those who remain as the faithful bride of Christ not abandoning him and pursuing the evil one. Remember Revelation 12-14 is a battle between the Lamb and the Beast; God and Satan. Either you are marked by the Lamb or the Beast. The church is faithful to Christ as a bride is faithful to her husband.

            The second mark of their redemption is that there is no lie found in their mouth. The Devil is a liar and an accuser. He deceives and twists the truth. Christians on the other hand, speak the truth. They confess the truth about their sin and their hope in Christ as Savior. They are blameless not in that they are sinless, but that their blame has been swallowed up by Jesus Christ. Jesus has taken our blame so that we, though sinners, are pure and holy in his eyes. We belong to Christ and union with Him makes us blameless. We are sinless but redeemed in Christ to be blameless.

            Those two individual marks can be summarized by the sentence, “It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” Christians are followers of the Lamb. We deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Beloved, where are you not following the Lamb? Is there any area where you have chosen not to go?

Friend, God offers redemption, but you must come to the Lamb. If we are sinners, then we need redemption. No amount of good works can erase our sin. Our sin must be paid for. Either you will pay, or you will allow Christ to pay for it on your behalf. Friend, turn from your sin and embrace the payment of Christ. He delights to save. Follow him wherever he goes.

The Reporting

            There is this cataclysmic pronouncement of the three angels. It is an announcement of hope for the redeemed and woe for the worshipers of the beast. Revelation 14:6-11,

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.  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 heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

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.”

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, 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 sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Is your sacrifice worth it? The three angels emphatically proclaim that knowing Christ is worth it.

            The first angel proclaims the eternal gospel to every nation and tribe and language and people. It is the eternal gospel as it was there before the foundation of the world and it will be there after the close of world. God is kind and gracious to extend this call to the rebellious one last time. The eternal gospel is a message of grace and hope, but it also is a message of wrath and judgment. The emphasis in this section is on wrath and judgment. God who made the heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water is coming with his judgment on all sin and it is comprehensive and total.

            The second angel pronounces judgment on Babylon, the representative of the earthly city, or in John’s day, Rome. The nations are drinking the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality. As in the previous section, John is drawing on the imagery of sexual immorality to communicate the spiritual adultery of the nations that stand against God. The earthly city encourages love of world over God, and love of self over Christ. This great city will fall like all earthly cities. Babylon, Nineveh, and Rome all seemed invincible, until they weren’t. The city of man and its secular adulterous ideals will one day fall. Judgment is coming.

            The third angel brings a terrifying word for all who follow the beast. All who have rejected Lamb who was slain will be slain. All who denied that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross will drink of the cup themselves. God’s holy and ferocious anger will be delivered against the people of this world. Let us not move past this too quickly. The greatest motivation to come to Christ is the love that Christ has shown on the cross. God’s kindness leads us to repentance but avoiding God’s wrath against your sin is another motivation. Hell is real and horrible. Listen again to the pronouncement of this angel,

“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 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 sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

If you reject God, you will drink his wrath. He will pour out the full anger of his wrath against you for your sin. It is hard to imagine the wrath of God against sinners or maybe it’s just we do not want to think about it.

            How would you respond against someone who broke into your home and attempted to abuse and molest your children? God hates sin. God is holy and just and will punish sin with a holy and righteous anger. Those who do not bow to Christ will be tormented with fire and sulfur. And the smoke their torment goes up forever and ever. Hell will never end. The torment and the punishment of hell will never cease. Those who reject God will have no rest, day or night. There torment will rise forever and ever.

            Many in this congregation deal with chronic pain. You are in constant pain with only brief moments of relief. Imagine if there was never relief, but only constant pain. Hell is eternal. If you reject Jesus, you will face conscious torment for all time. And the punishment will be just. Friend, we do not want you to go hell. We want you to repent and believe in Christ. Hell is an awful place, but it is a just place. God is just in his judgment. Please, the for the sake of Christ and your soul, repent and believe.

            Imagine standing at the edge of a pit. Inside the pit is a raging fire. Even standing at the edge of the pit you can begin to feel the heat of the flames. Now, imagine your body laid horizontal before the flames. The flames are within inches of your face. You begin to experience the ferocity of the flames. The only thing that can save you is if someone pulls you up. If you not pulled up, the flames begin to burn and torment body leaving you in anguish. The heat of the flames shows no mercy. Friend, I could continue and graphically describe the burning of the flesh and cries of agony, but no image can give justice to the wrath of God against sin and sinners. A holy God will execute holy judgment against sin. Hell is worse than anything you can imagine.

            We cannot explain away the doctrine of hell. Hell is a real place with real suffering forever. If we lose the biblical doctrine of hell, we also lose the biblical doctrine of justification.

If we lose hell, we lose heaven. If we lose hell, we lose salvation. And if we lose hell, we lose the love of Christ. Jesus experienced hell for us on the cross. He was forsaken by God and experienced separation from the Father and an agony that is far beyond what we can imagine. We can only truly know the deep love of Jesus Christ when we recognize the reality of hell. He experienced hell for us on the cross.

We may bristle at the reality of hell, but rightly understood, it does not minimize God’s love, but maximizes it. John Lin aptly says,

The issue is not how God can allow there to be a hell if he is a loving God. The issue is that if Jesus Christ would experience hell for me, then truly he must be a loving God. It is not why would God allow hell, but why would God experience hell for me? And yet he did.[i]

Beloved, we cannot truly have God’s love without the doctrine of hell. God so loved the world because he experienced hell for us. Rejoice in God’s real love.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9).

God has given us real hope in his real love as he saves us from a real hell. Look at the contrast between the redeemed of the Lamb and the those who follow the beast. Revelation 14:12-13,

 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 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 labors, for their deeds follow them!”

The unrighteous will never rest but have unending torment. The righteous who follow Christ will be blessed and have rest from their labors.

            John calls the saints to endure following Christ. Your labors are worth it as they follow you. God sees what is done in secret and will reward. Do not give up for you will reap a harvest. Trust in the eternal gospel of salvation. Do not turn back to the things of this world. Say no to lust. Say no to greed. Say no to pride. Say no to anything that separates you from Christ. Hell is real, but so is heaven. Where will you go? It is simple, do you know Christ? Christ showed you his love by taking hell for you on the cross. Accept his gift and live. Reject it and die.

And beloved, let us be moved by the reality of hell so that we can implore others to turn to Christ. One of the reasons we don’t share Christ is because we have not been gripped by eternity. All of history is headed toward that day. Let us be ready and let us help prepare others.

The Reaping

            There is a great end-time harvest. God will gather the righteous to himself for eternal blessings and gather the unrighteous for eternal torment. The wheat and the chaff. Revelation 14:14-20,

                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. 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.” So, he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 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.” So, the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

Beloved, the harvest is coming. Endure to the end. Hold fast to Christ. All your sacrifices will be worth it at the harvest. Friend, if you have not bowed to Christ, I plead with you, to do it today. Your passions and desires will not save you at the end-time harvest. We all will face the harvest, the question for us all, is what kind of harvest will be? Will our harvest be for eternal life or death?

 

 

[i] http://www.newcitycatechism.com/q-parent/q28.php accessed 7.7.14