Reading for Thursday, Nov 29: Revelation 14
John’s visionary sequence continues as he witnesses the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, the location of Jerusalem and the temple. With him is a vast number — 144,000 strong, with the name of the Father and the Lamb / Son on their foreheads. Sealed as they are, these represent something of an army of the faithful, aligned with the Lamb against the dragon and his beasts. 144,000 is not to be interpreted literally, but rather it symbolically represents the totality of the people of God: 12 tribes x 12 apostles x 1000 (Revelation’s numerical representation of greatness). These are assembled to sing a new song before the throne (v3), a new song by a new people living in a new covenant in a new creation. These have not been defiled, but represent chaste virgins. This is another metaphor to describe the faithfulness of the people of God, in stark contrast to the wanton lifestyle of Babylon’s residents.
An angel appears with an “eternal gospel” (v6), proclaiming, “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,” (v7). Rome was often heralded as “the eternal city” and the emperor’s actions were known through the empire as “good news” (or “evangelion”, the same word we use for “gospel”). In John’s vision, he is testifying that there is only one eternal city, the city of God; and there is only one eternal gospel, the good news of the victorious Lamb.
Another angel appears to trumpet victory: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all the nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,” (v8). In John’s day, Babylon / Rome was alive and well. To declare her downfall was to speak folly. Yet, fitted with the lenses of heaven, we see that God has already defeated these imperial powers, stripping them of their seduction and shaming them for all time. The victory of the Lamb knows no bounds! Babylon has fallen!
The saints are encouraged to endure, as a voice from heaven offers one of seven beatitudes found in Revelation: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed indeed, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (v13). Death, still an inevitable part of the human experience, is transformed to blessing. For to die “in the Lord” is to die in peace.
The final image of this chapter focuses on judgment, taking the motifs of harvest and winepress directly from Joel 3:13. Once again, John is clearly identifying the church’s present situation as fulfillment of the great stream of prophecy in Israel’s history. But even this time foretells of even greater glory to come.