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. 14:4 – 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. 14:1 – Then I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. on Mount Zion stood the Lamb
There stood the Lamb on Mount Zion
John writes in verse 1 that he sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. The identity of the Lamb clearly is Jesus, as we know from other scriptures. In John 1:29, John the Baptist declares, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Seven verses later he tells two of his disciples, “Look! The Lamb of God!” Every faithful Jew would know the significance of this cry. Jesus is the fulfillment of every precious, beloved lamb slain as a sacrifice to God under the Old Covenant.
In a message at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington, England, Aug. 25, 1889, Charles Haddon Spurgeon reminds his congregation that the Lamb of God is seen first in the lamb for one man as Abel offers up a more excellent sacrifice than his brother Cain. Next, there is the lamb for the family as portrayed in the Passover. Then there is the lamb for the people – two young lambs sacrificed every day for the children of Israel. We then see the Lamb for the whole world – the Lamb John beholds, who takes away the sin of the world.
Spurgeon declares, “There was nothing of greater wonder ever seen than that God Himself should provide the Lamb for the burnt offering, that He should provide His only Son out of His very bosom, that He should give the delight of His heart to die for us. Well may we behold this great wonder. Angels admire and marvel at this mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh; they have never left off wondering and adoring the grace of God that gave Jesus to be the Sacrifice for guilty men” (www.spurgeon.org/sermons/2329.htm).
Rev. 14:1 – Then I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of cascading waters and like the rumbling of loud thunder. The sound I heard was also like harpists playing on their harps. 3They 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. 4These 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)
In Revelation 7 we are introduced to 144,000 “slaves of our God … sealed from every tribe of the Israelites.” Now, we encounter 144,000 standing with the Lamb on the Mount Zion. They sing a new song that only they can learn in the presence of the four living creatures and the elders. They are described as ones “not defiled with women,” who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” They are redeemed from the earth as the “firstfruits for God and the Lamb,” and “they are blameless.”
Many questions arise as we read this passage:
- Who are these 144,000?
- Are they the same 144,000 we encounter in chapter 7?
- Is this number to be taken literally or figuratively?
- What is the new song that only they can learn?
- Is their virginity a reference to sexual purity, or does it mean something else?
- In what way are they “firstfruits” for God and the Lamb?
- And does their blamelessness mean they do not sin?
The identity of the 144,000 – here in Revelation 14 and in Revelation 7 – is a matter of much debate. Whether we can know with certainty who these redeemed people are depends in part on our willingness to challenge our preconceived notions and let the Scripture speak for itself. We must consider the genre of Revelation, the historical context, the meaning of key words and phrases, and the importance of numbers in Revelation. We also need to be willing to go as far as scripture takes us, but no further. With these cautions in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into these verses.
Next: There on Mount Zion stood the Lamb – Revelation 14:1
Rev. 13:4 – They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”
They worshiped the dragon and the beast
Witnessing the spectacle of the beast’s miraculous recovery (or resurrection), the earth’s inhabitants “worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?’” (v. 4).
Verse 8 makes it clear that the world’s unbelievers – not Christians – worship and dragon and the beast: “All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered.” This miraculous deception – a counterfeit of the resurrection of Jesus and an answer to the resurrection of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 – is enough to convince the world’s lost people that a savior has come.
How interesting it is to observe the selective belief of those who reject Jesus. In Rev. 11:9-10, people from every tribe, language and nation display the corpses of God’s two witnesses, rejoice over their deaths, and even exchange celebratory gifts. But when God raises the witnesses from the dead, they are terrified and give glory to the God of heaven. That is, they acknowledge a divine miracle but do not commit their lives to the One who performs it. When we get to Rev. 13, however, and the apparent healing / resurrection of the beast, the earth’s unbelievers do more than pay lip service to the one who performs the miracle – they worship the dragon and the beast.