Rev. 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!” (HCSB)
The dead who die in the Lord
This section ends with a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” This is followed by the Holy Spirit, who speaks, “Yes, let them rest from their labor, for their works follow them!”
Certainly, those who “die in the Lord” are blessed. Their names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. The angels have rejoiced at their entrance into the kingdom. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and will return to resurrect and glorify them. They will live forever with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. Meanwhile, at the moment of death, they are absent from the body and present with the Lord. And they will be wherever Jesus is forever and ever. These are blessings for which every believer may rejoice for they are gifts of God’s grace, secured through the finished work of His Son.
But what does the phrase “from now on” mean? It cannot mean that those who previously have died in the Lord are lesser citizens of the kingdom or are denied the full benefits of eternal life. Nor can it mean that God withholds His promises from particular saints just because they lived in a different chapter of human history. Rather, the voice from heaven seems to be assuring those who remain faithful to the Lord during a time of extreme persecution that in death they are spared further suffering. Even more important, they are reminded that “their works follow them,” meaning they will be richly compensated in eternity for what they willingly sacrificed in time.
Jurgen Roloff writes, “The final word is not that God gives up his own without defense to the hostile powers but rather that he grants them his salvation. The prophetic Spirit, whose spokesman John understands himself to be, affixes to the pronouncement of blessing a foundation that interprets it: those Christians who now lose their life will be spared further distress; they may enter God’s eternal rest” (Revelation: A Continental Commentary, pp. 176-77).
Their works follow them
The phrase, “their works follow them,” is especially rich with meaning. Christians are called to follow Jesus wherever He leads them. Consider, for example, the life of the apostle Peter, who leaves his fishing nets and follows Jesus. Despite setbacks and harsh rebukes from his Master in the days leading up to Calvary, Peter follows the resurrected Christ and serves as His spokesman on the Day of Pentecost. He heals in Jesus’ name on the steps of the temple; is rebuked by the religious leaders of his day, imprisoned, and set free by an angel; is sent to carry the gospel to the house of Cornelius; writes two epistles in the canon of Scripture; and ultimately loses his life for the sake of His Savior, preferring to be crucified upside-down because he does not feel worthy to be slain in the same fashion as His Lord, according to tradition. Peter follows Jesus, and his works follow him.
The same may be said of the other apostles, including Paul, a one-time Pharisee named Saul who violently seeks to stamp out Christianity one Christ-follower at a time. Jesus comes to him on the road to Damascus, confronts him, blinds him, and leaves him stumbling and in need of guidance from others. Paul wrestles with his world view in light of the Light of the World and follows Jesus, becoming the apostle to the Gentiles, writing much of the New Testament, preaching the gospel humbly but boldly on pagan hillsides and in kingly palaces. In the end, Paul, too, dies a martyr’s death. He follows Jesus, and his works follow him.
The call to follow Jesus wherever He leads is given to us, and we are accountable for how we answer that call. The gate is narrow. The road often is dark and treacherous. But Jesus leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, going before us, equipping us, encouraging us, cheering us, and rewarding us. He rarely gives us the details of what we may expect in our journey of faith, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us. He has laid out for each of us a path of good works in which He bids us walk. And when we follow Him, we know our circumstances and destinies are in His loving hands.
There are at least two ways in which our works follow us. First, there is a temporal following. That is, our acts of obedience – sharing the gospel, teaching the Word, ministering to those in need – result in tangible rewards here and now. New believers enter the kingdom. Young converts grow into able disciples. The feeble are fed, clothed and sheltered. We gain close new relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters. And we draw closer to our Savior. Even after our death, these works multiply through the lives and deeds of those in whom we have invested our spiritual gifts and callings. Think for a moment, how the lives of Peter and Paul still touch us today. Or think about the people in your life who have been the hands and feet of Christ to you, and how their works have be multiplied through your words and deeds.
But there is a second way in which our works follow us, and that’s what the Spirit is saying in Rev. 14:13. As the saints leave the suffering of this present age and pass through the portals of heaven, they enter into eternal rest and discover the treasures they have laid up in heaven. They meet people who have trusted in Christ because of their testimony or the treasures they have invested in global ministries. They are rewarded with “crowns” – laurel wreaths – that testify to their faithfulness. Most important, they are greeted by Jesus, who takes their faces in His nail scarred hands and with a sweep of His thumbs wipes away every tear from their eyes.
It does not seem out of the scope of Scripture to say that every person will hear seven words from Jesus on judgment day. Those who follow Jesus will hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Those who reject Him will hear, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.”
Four major views of the beast from the earth
How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view these three angels and their messages?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – generally see the first angel as symbolic of the church, which delivers the “eternal gospel.” Most preterists see this gospel as the same message of salvation that Christ commands His apostles to preach before the end comes – the end, in this case, being the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:14). As for the message of the second angel, many see Babylon the Great as a symbol of Jerusalem, while others argue that it depicts Rome after the fall of Jerusalem; she is idolatrous, a persecutor of God’s people, and destined for judgment. The third angel’s message may be a reference to hell, or to the complete destruction of either Jerusalem or Rome. The “fire and sulfur” reference may be drawn from Sodom and Gomorrah, with their visible destruction as a historical witness to God’s judgment of sin.
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – are divided as to whether the first angel’s message represents the missionary era and the Great Awakening, or some future fulfillment. Regarding the second angel, for several centuries many historicists equated Babylon with papal Rome. As for the third angel, for those who have pledged allegiance to the papacy, they will suffer eternal damnation. “One cannot drink from the cup of the harlot without also drinking from the cup of God’s indignation” (Revelation: Four Views, p. 328).
- Futurists – who say the events in Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – are divided about the “eternal gospel.” Dispensationalists tend to see two gospels: the gospel of the kingdom preached by John the Baptist and Jesus and after the rapture of the church, and the gospel of grace proclaimed throughout the church age. In this regard, some futurists see the first angel’s message as the gospel of the kingdom, while others see it as the gospel of grace. Still others see this message as an element of the gospel that focuses on God’s readiness to deal with the world in righteousness and establish His kingdom. As for the second angel and his message, Babylon may be identified in several ways: 1) a city, 2) a religious system, or 3) a political system. Some say Babylon in the first half of the tribulation is the apostate church, and in the second half is an actual city, perhaps Rome or a rebuilt Babylon. Finally, the message of the third angel describes eternal damnation for those who worship the Antichrist.
- Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – argue that the first angel is symbolic of the general concept of the need to awaken to the reality of God’s rule before it is too late. Some say, however, this is the one and only gospel being proclaimed. As for the second angel, Babylon is symbolic of human society organized against God, just as ancient Babylon is the center of idolatry, the occult, immorality and rebellion against God. Finally, many see the message of the third angel as a description of hell for those who reject the gospel.
Next: The harvest and the vintage – Revelation 14:14-20