Rev. 14:9 – And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his 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 mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. 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 his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (HCSB)
A third angel follows the other two and pronounces woe on those who worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their foreheads or hands. The consequences of rejecting God – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of scripture – are spelled out plainly. The one who embraces the beast will experience the consequences of his or her rebellion.
First, the beast worshiper will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger” (v. 10a). The Greek word for “cup,” poterion, is used 82 times in the New Testament (HCSB) and denotes a drinking vessel of any sort. Commonly, a cup is a small bowl made of pottery, wider and shallower than today’s tea cups. However, the wealthy enjoy their drinks in goblet-shaped cups of metal or glass. The cup used at the Last Supper likely is an earthenware bowl large enough for all to share.
Figuratively, however, throughout the Bible the word “cup” may describe a measure of blessings or wrath divinely allotted to people or nations:
- In Psalm 16:5, David calls the Lord “my portion and my cup of blessing.”
- In Psalm 116:12-13, the writer declares, “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.”
- But in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet warns, “Wake yourself, wake yourself up! Stand up, Jerusalem, you have drunk the cup of His fury from the hand of the Lord; you who have drunk the goblet to the dregs – the cup that causes people to stagger.”
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus agonizes over His impending suffering and death, He prays, “My Father! If it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
- And moments later, after Peter cuts of the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus tells him, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” The cup Jesus endures, of course, is His sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross to secure our salvation, a most bitter cup as “the One who did not know sin [became] sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s also a cup Jesus endures “for the joy that lay before Him” because it results in our salvation (Heb. 12:2).
But now in Revelation the cup, which the Babylonians entice the world to drink, is turned into the cup of God’s wrath.
Rev. 14:6 – Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having 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 Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (HCSB)
In Revelation 14, John sees three angels and records their unique messages. The first angel flies high overhead and proclaims the “eternal gospel” to the earth’s inhabitants. The second angel announces the fall of Babylon the Great. The third angel warns that those who worship and beast and receive his mark on their foreheads or hands will be severely punished. Finally, John hears a voice from heaven promising comfort to those who “die in the Lord from now on.”
This passage raises many challenging questions:
- What is the “eternal gospel?”
- Who or what is “Babylon the Great?”
- What does it mean to “drink the wine of God’s wrath?”
- Do verses 10-11 speak of temporal punishment on earth, or of everlasting torment in hell?
- What does the third angel mean when he says, “This demands the perseverance of the saints?”
- And who are the “dead who die in the Lord from now on?”
Let’s take a closer look.
Rev. 14:4 – These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (HCSB)
They were redeemed … as the firstfruits
We should note that John refers to the 144,000 as people “redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” In what way are they firstfruits?
In the Old Testament, the first sheaf of ripe grain is to be offered to the Lord, and is waved before Him by the priest, expressing gratitude to God and acknowledging that He – the Owner and Giver of all things – will grant a bountiful harvest. A lamb also is sacrificed as a burnt offering (see Lev. 23:10-14). In addition, the Lord requires the first of the Israelites’ flocks, and even their first-born children, although a redemption price is accepted in their stead. All of this is designed to teach God’s people that He is their sovereign Lord who demands their first and best, yet who watches over them as a gracious landowner, husbandman and shepherd.
In this respect, the word “firstfruits” involves two ideas: 1) that which is first, the beginning, or that which has the priority of time; and 2) that which is part of the whole to follow, and which is the earnest or pledge of the whole. The first sheaf of ripe grain therefore is not only the first in order of time, but is the earnest or pledge of the entire harvest that surely will come in.
Consider the feast of firstfruits, one of seven major Jewish festivals. The first and best of the barley crop is offered to the Lord in thankfulness and in faith that He will grant the rest of the harvest to be bountifully reaped. More importantly, it is a shadow of the coming Messiah.
Rev. 14:4 – These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. 5No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (HCSB)
They have kept their virginity
Now John provides a further description of the 144,000: “These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes … No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless” (vv. 4- 5).
Few commentators insist that John is speaking of celibate men. While some biblical saints are in fact virgins – and Jesus acknowledges that God has called some to remain so (see Matt. 19:11-12) – there is nothing in scripture that equates celibacy with a special degree of spiritual maturity. The “virginity” here clearly is symbolic of spiritual purity on the part of the 144,000.
W.A. Criswell puts John’s words in proper context: “Consider, for example, 2 Corinthians 11:2, where Paul says to the church at Corinth: ‘… for I have espoused you to Christ, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to our Lord.’ Now, does that mean that all those folks in the church at Corinth were unmarried, that all the men were bachelors and all the women were spinsters? … The idea is impossible. But we know what Paul means. He says to the Corinthians that the church is going to be presented to Christ as a chaste virgin. Likewise, when the text describes these men in Revelation as virgins, it refers to the fact that they separated themselves from the pollutions and corruptions of the earth. They were virgins unto God. They had given themselves in pure devotion to the Lord” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 147).
Rev. 14:3 –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. (HCSB)
They sang a new song
John records in verse 3, “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.” Is this the same “new song” that the elders sing in chapter 5? And why are its melody and words limited to the 144,000?
Some commentators argue that the song here is different from the elders’ song in Revelation 5 because no one can learn it except the 144,000. Others contend it is the same song, which the elders, who represent both Old and New Covenant believers in Revelation 5, are able to teach the 144,000 in Revelation 14.
We are given the words to the elders’ song in Revelation 5: “You [the Lamb] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). Perhaps these are the same words of the “new song” in Revelation 14, which those redeemed from the earth sing before heaven’s throne.
In any case, it appears this “new song” is a song of redemption, and the reason it’s confined to the 144,000 is because they are redeemed people. Unbelievers cannot legitimately sing this song because they have not experienced the salvation purchased with Christ’s blood. They may mouth the words, but their lip-synching will never exalt them to heavenly portals or entitle them to join the heavenly choir of equally vile sinners who have been wonderfully transformed by the blood of the Lamb.