15 Heralds and Harvests - The great climax

The sounding of the seventh trumpet announces the climax of a great prophetic programme. The era of preparation is over and the time of fulfilment has come. As the Hebrew bondservant awaited the jubilee trumpet, so the servants of God wait for the seventh trumpet of the Apocalypse. The mighty 'rainbow' angel has sworn that there should be time no longer, but in the days of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished (10:5-7).

The period immediately before the seventh trumpet is one of suffering for the people of God. The two witnesses are persecuted (though their vindication comes just before the seventh trumpet), and the other saints are also afflicted.

There is another great climax in Revelation. It is the occasion of the opening of the book of life, described in chapter 20 (remember how the theme is developed from Revelation chapter 5?).

It is not difficult to see that the two climaxes are one. The sounding of the seventh trumpet proclaims that the time to open the book of life has come. To set two passages side by side is to establish this fact:

Revelation 11: 15-18

Revelation 20: 11-1 5

"And the seventh angel sounded ; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast,

"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according

and art to come ; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth."

to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Chapter 14

The events of chapter 14 come after the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Not only do these events appear later in the prophetic record, but they concern the time when the Lord takes the initiative, so to speak; when the saints are rewarded and the enemies are punished and destroyed.

A quick reminder here that Revelation 14 contains the following features:

1. The Lamb on Mount Zion with the 144,000

2. An angel preaching the everlasting gospel, and warning of impending judgments

3. A second messenger announcing the imminent destruction of Babylon

4. A third messenger announcing the forthcoming destruction of the beast, and warning against worshipping the beast

5. Words of encouragement to God's suffering servants

6. The reaping of the "harvest of the earth"

7. The reaping of the "vine of the earth".

Sealed for salvation or marked for perdition

Let us now look at the opening scene. The Lord Jesus stands on Mount Zion with 144,000 redeemed people, who have the seal of the living God in their foreheads. This is a striking contrast to the picture that immediately precedes it in the last section of chapter 13. One of the features of the beast-worshipping community of the last days is that each member carries on his body the mark of the beast.

What will this mark of registration and identification be? An incision? an earmark? an invisible tattoo? We shall probably have to wait and see: but the waiting will not be long.

"No man" is one of the key phrases of Revelation. Whereas in the kingdom of the beast no man is permitted to buy or sell if he does not bear the mark of the beast, the 144,000 are distinguished by the song they sing. No man is able to sing the song but the 144,000 (14:3).


One important word is often overlooked. The 144,000 are first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb (verse 4). A harvesting expression this. Firstfruits imply a great ingathering to follow. This ingathering is spoken of in the same chapter:

"And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped" (verses 14-16).

Immediately after the account of the reaping of the harvest of the earth, another reaping operation is described. The vine of the earth is reaped, and cast into the winepress of the wrath of God: "And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs" (verses 17-20).

The reaping of the vine of the earth comes after the reaping of the harvest of the earth. This is the order presented in chapter 14. and it is also the order implied in chapter 19. Here the Lord Jesus is represented as the rider of a white horse and he is followed by an army of people riding on white horses, "clothed in fine linen, clean and white" — "the righteousness of saints" (verse 8). It is after being united with the saints that "he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (verse 15). In the language of chapter 14, the blood comes to the horse bridles (verse 20).

The question of the identity of the 144,000 has been discussed.1 It has been argued that the Scripture's own statement concerning their identity should be accepted. They are "of all the tribes of the children of Israel". It may be recalled that John heard the number of those who had been sealed — the redeemed of the tribes of Israel — before he saw another multitude, a different one, which no man could number "of all nations, and kindreds, arid people, and tongues" (7:9).

Of course there is an important difference between the reference to the 144,000 in chapter 7 and that in chapter 14. The earlier picture of the seventh chapter concerns the sealing of the faithful Israelites. They are marked as God's people — marked for protection — as were the Israelites whose houses were covered by the blood of the passover lamb, and as righteous people were marked on the forehead in Ezekiel 9. In Revelation 14 there is a progression. Here these redeemed Israelites are harvested. They are united to each other and to the Lord Jesus Christ after the resurrection.

We have observed that the 144,000 are called firstfruits, and that there is a description of a great ingathering later in the same chapter. The implication seems therefore to be that these Israel-itish saints are restored to life before the great multitude from all nations. This would be another application of the principle, "to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (Romans 2:10).

Those who might feel inclined to reject this thesis are asked to ponder the use of the word "firstfruits" in Revelation 14:4. Clearly this word implies a harvest to follow: when does this harvest occur? It cannot be denied that a great harvest is spoken of later in the same chapter: is it not reasonable to relate this to the "first-fruits" of verse 4? Does it seem likely that although the words "firstfuits" and "harvest" occur in the same chapter they have no relationship to each other?

There may be another example of the 'perspective' principle here. From a distance the resurrection of all righteous people could be thought of as a single event. But as one gets nearer to the occasion, it can be discerned by carefully scrutinising the message provided for the instruction of those who live in the last days that the resurrection is phased, and that the Israelitish saints are raised first.

Two other New Testament scriptures may have a bearing on this subject. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says: "Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they are Christ's at his coming" (verse 23). Now, in Revelation, this principle of every man in his own order is extended: first the Jew, then the Gentile. The other scripture is 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul is at pains to assure his readers that when the Lord Jesus comes, living saints will get no advantage over dead saints. They will not receive priority treatment. On the contrary, the dead saints will rise first, and then the living saints will be united to the Lord Jesus:

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (verses 13-17). Putting all this together, the order would seem to be: first, the resurrection of the Israelitish saints; then the resurrection of the Gentile saints; and finally the calling of those who are "alive and remain" to the presence of the Lord.

The order of events that we have been trying to work out relates to resurrection and meeting the Lord, and not to receiving immortality. Although the evidence appears to point to the conclusion that the Jewish saints are restored to life first, it seems likely that immortality will be bestowed on all the saints at the same time.

A comparison of Revelation 14:1,2 and 19:5-7 helps to establish this conclusion. The passage from the 14th chapter refers first to the 144,000 on Mount Zion, and then to " a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder"; and in chapter 19 there is an invitation for all God's servants, both "small and great", to praise Him, followed by words which could well be a quotation from chapter 14 (concerning "the voice of many waters" and "mighty thunderings"), and leading to an announcement that the time has come for the marriage of the Lamb, "and his wife hath made herself ready".

The suggestion therefore is that the uniting of all the saints to Christ and the bestowing of immortality on them is the development of the Mount Zion scene that begins with the 144,000 — the Jewish elect. Events follow each other quickly.

The complete and ultimate unity of all the members of the body of Christ will be realised when they receive the blessing of "life for evermore". In Psalm 133 this joyful occasion is compared to the occasion when Aaron (the high priest who represented a multitude) was anointed with precious ointment which ran from his head, over his beard and down to the very skirts of his garments. The theme and the lesson of this symbolic act is unity — a unity that will be brought to its ultimate perfection on one grand occasion,

The destruction of Babylon — before the marriage of the Lamb

Because this is largely a study of sequences, we turn now to Revelation 19 and note that the uniting of the saints with Christ takes place after the destruction of Babylon. A reading of the first seven verses of Revelation 19 will make this clear:

"And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready."

Although reversed sequences are sometimes found in Revelation, this does not read like one. First the wanton woman who pretends to be the bride of Christ is removed, and then the marriage of the true bride takes place.

Moving forward in chapter 19, we note that after the destruction of the whore and after the marriage of the Lamb, the Lamb marches forth with a great company to destroy the beast.2 Those who follow the Lamb are clothed in white linen, and, like their Leader, they ride on white horses. In this very chapter it is stated that white linen represents the righteousness of the saints (19:8). This is just one of several features that establish the identity of these people. There are fascinating verbal links between this passage in Revelation 19 and the letters to the churches — links with Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea — that make it quite clear that the saints are involved in the destruction of the ultimate arch-enemy. Because the language of Revelation is symbolical, it would, however, be wrong to conjure up a mental picture of a military engagement involving a cavalry charge.

Three doom messages

Back now to the three doom messages of chapter 14. The first is accompanied by a universal appeal because God's judgments are imminent:

"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (verses 6,7).

The second message pronounces the doom of Babylon:

"And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication" (verse 8).

The third message concerns the doom of the beast, and carries the sternest of warnings:

"And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascend-eth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (14:9-11).

From the way that the word "followed" is used in the passages quoted above, it seems reasonable to regard these announcements as being in chronological sequence.

The great appeal

How appropriate that, in the first message, God is called the Creator of heaven, earth, sea and rivers, when He is about to demonstrate His control over these elements by a reversal of His creative activity. The warning is evidently intended to prepare responsive people for the judgments of heaven, earth, sea and rivers, described in chapter 16 — in the vial series. A glance at the sixteenth chapter will assure the reader that these regions suffer catastrophically when the vials are poured out; and the words of verses 5-7 make it clear that these are divine judgments:

"And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments."

The doom of Babylon

The second message of doom is surely an abridged version of chapter 18, which likewise begins with the words: "Babylon ... is fallen.. ."(18:2).

Incidentally, it is not always appreciated that Revelation 18 comes earlier, chronologically, than that part of Revelation 17 concerning the destruction of Babylon. The warning of chapter 18, urging people to come out of Babylon, would only have relevance if it came before Babylon's annihilation.

Warning against beast worship

So abhorrent is the beast to God that any compromising relationship with him is condemned:

— "If any man worship the beast

— "and his image,

— "and receive his mark in his forehead,

— "or in his hand . . ."

The punishment of beast worshippers is effected, first, in the vial judgments, and finally, by destruction in the lake of fire, (chapter 20).

Appended to the warning against beast worship are words of encouragement for the people of God. These words should be thought of as a parenthesis — an exhortation to those who, by reading this programme of judgments, know beforehand about the

fate of the ungodly. These words are not a part of the programme. "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them" (14:12,13).

The seven last plagues

The effect of the pouring out of the seven vials, or bowls, of God's wrath, is a devastating series of divine judgments. These visitations are remarkably similar in detail to the trumpet judgments, but are more drastic, and events seem to follow each other in rapid succession. There is a certain finality about the seven last plagues. In terms of judgment and destruction the vials are followed only by the destruction of Babylon, the judgment seat of Christ and the annihilation of the beast and the false prophet.

Revelation 15 is a short chapter that introduces the vials, and chapter 16 provides the details. Included in chapter 15 (verses 2, 3 and 4) is a picture of a victorious, rejoicing multitude standing on a sea of glass, having gotten the victory over the beast. This is a good example of a reversed sequence: the details of the victory are related later.

The vial-bearing angels

The vials are poured out by angels "clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles" (15:6). This description is similar to that of the One like the Son of man of chapter 1 — the Lord Jesus Christ. It could therefore be appropriately applied to those who have identified themselves with the Lord, that is to say, the saints. Furthermore it is expressly stated in Revelation 19:8 that fine linen is "the righteousness of the saints".

If, however, the vial bearers are saints, there is a sequence problem. According to Revelation 19, the saints are united to the Lord Jesus (which would, presumably, mean their glorification) after the destruction of Babylon; and Babylon is destroyed after the outpouring of the vials. Are we then to suppose that the saints pour out the vials before they are immortal? Or what?

Here is a suggestion. The identity of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 has been discussed. Massive evidence has been produced to demonstrate that the witnesses represent a company of believers who preach powerfully when the beast holds sway. Their powerful words are matched by powerful deeds. Of them it is written that "if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies"; and "these have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will" (11:5,6). Hitherto our interest has been concentrated on the witnesses' power to destroy their enemies with fire, to withhold rain and to turn water into blood — like Moses and Aaron and like Elijah. Now let us think particularly of their power "to smite the earth with all plagues". Do they use this power to pour out the vials of the wrath of God — the seven last plagues?

And could this throw any light on the mysterious statement that after the resurrection of the witnesses they ascended up to heaven in a cloud? Instantly our minds go to Elijah and to the Lord. Each of these ascensions is followed, sooner or later, in one sense or another, by a coming again. Is this also true of the witnesses? The suggestion is that the story of the witnesses is carried forward to chapter 15 and continued in chapter 16. Under another name, this special group of saints is active again, and the enemy is still the beast. Now they smite the earth with plagues — the vials of God's wrath.

So the vial bearers are not the saints generally, but a special group of saints — those described in Revelation 11 as the two witnesses. The fact that most of us would view this sort of assignment with revulsion has no relevance. Our immediate purpose is to ascertain, as far as we are able, the facts, however our conditioned human minds might want to reject them. There have been circumstances when mortals have been told to set aside that normally admirable virtue of pity — "thine eye shall not pity ..."

A beast-worshipping community

One fact emerges clearly from chapter 16. The vial judgments are poured out on to a beast-worshipping community. Thus the first vial brings "a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast"; and the fifth angel pours out his vial upon "the seat of the beast", as a result of which the kingdom of the beast is full of darkness. Moreover, after the outpouring of the sixth vial, three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.

There are, in fact, two human 'poles' that claim the allegiance of men — the beast and Babylon. In Revelation 14 there are warnings against each of these.

The beast — a latter-day Pharaoh

The word "plagues" recalls the plagues of Egypt, and the details of the seven last plagues provide a further reminder. A grievous sore, water into blood (twice), darkness, frogs, lightnings, hail — these visitations come straight from Exodus. Notice too that, as in ancient Egypt, the plagues are selective in their effect: they distinguish between beast worshippers and others. Pursuing the parallel further, see how those who suffer are beyond repentance — their hearts are hardened. Twice it is stated that they repented not; and thrice, that their response to the plagues is to blaspheme God. Indeed, after six of the seven plagues have wrought tremendous devastation, powerful propaganda is still pouring from the mouths of the three arch-enemies, urging the people to prepare for a massive assault on the forces of righteousness.

The parallel is followed right through. Just as Pharaoh and his army were engulfed and destroyed in the Red Sea, so the beast and the false prophet meet their fate in the lake of fire.

Incidentally, the fact that both the prophecy concerning the two witnesses, and that of the seven last plagues are so obviously based on the Exodus, indicates that they are consecutive scenes in the same great drama. This is a further pointer to the conclusion that the same actors are involved in both scenes. Just as Moses and Aaron who witnessed for God against Pharaoh were also God's agents to bring the plagues on Egypt, so (it is suggested) those who witness against the tyrant of the last days are also in control of the seven last plagues.

Order of events

On the basis of conclusions presented in this chapter, the following sequence of events is suggested:

1. The sounding of the seventh trumpet

2. The seven vials

3. The destruction of Babylon

4. The Mount Zion scene — Israelitish saints raised

5. The great company of saints raised

6. The destruction of the beast

7. The millennium (The three doom messages have to be fitted in somewhere. It has been suggested that they should be placed before the seventh trumpet.)

The Jerusalem drama

All this must be fitted into a larger context.

To return to an earlier thought, it has been suggested that the sixth trumpet (the second woe) announces a massive invasion of Israel. In the symbolic language of Revelation, the army comes from the Euphrates, the river of Babylon. Here then is the army of the apocalyptic Babylon; here are the combined powers of the Western world — a nominally Christian segment of the world — united in a mission of destruction against Israel.

It looks as if the invasion will be in support of the Arabs. The motives: to control an area of immense strategic importance before Russia gets a foothold; and to ensure a good supply of Arab oil. Other objectives could well be: to free Jerusalem (a city important to the Arabs, and the holy city of three world religions) from Jewish control, and to release the occupied territories.

The invasion of Israel sets the scene for the beginning of Revelation 11, and explains verse 2: ". . . the holy city they shall tread under foot forty and two months". Here then is the last phase of the downtreading of Jerusalem by Gentile invaders, and it lasts 42 months or three and a half years.

Three and a half is a familiar number in prophecy. It is appropriate that half of the perfect number, seven, should be associated with suffering. Two other periods of three and a half years are also mentioned in the same context:

"And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth" (11:3).

"And there was given unto him [the beast] a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months" (13:5).

The three and a half year period of the beast's power clearly follows that of the Gentile downtreading. It probably begins when the deadly wound is healed.

And the witnessing period? it seems likely that this begins before the downtreading period is completed, and runs on to include a part of the period of the beast's power. Hence the hostility of all except God's faithful servants to the work of the witnesses.

When the witnesses have finished their testimony, the beast suppresses them, but they are vindicated very soon (three and a half days later); and then events move rapidly to the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Although, as we have seen, the beast is far from finished when the witnesses are vindicated, his decline and fall are imminent.

When the seventh trumpet sounds, the Jewish elect, the 144,000, are united with Christ. Then a series of warnings, after which the seven vials of God's wrath are poured out. Like Pharaoh of old, the beast becomes furious and desperate. After the sixth vial there goes out of his mouth an ugly incitement to the people of the world to follow him to battle; but before this "battle of the great day of God Almighty" is joined, the beast annihilates the harlot organisation. Ultimately the beast is destroyed by the Lord Jesus.

Revelation 17 supplies the information that the ten kings give their power to the beast; and from Daniel 7 the extra piece of information can be gleaned that this is the consequence of the annexation of the territory of three of these ten kings. Translated into more literal language, it seems likely that the following events can be envisaged:

After the invasion of Israel by the army of the Western world ("Babylon"), Israel gains yet another amazing victory, even more dramatic than those we have witnessed within recent years. This involves a crushing defeat for the Arabs, in whose support the "Babylonian" army has tried to destroy Israel. The Arabs (the ten kings) quickly decide that survival depends upon a pact with the Israeli beast. A truly spectacular victory by the beast is implied by the acclamation: "Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" (13:4).

It may be recalled that certain suggestions were offered concerning the second beast of Revelation 13—the publicity organisation which is also referred to as the false prophet.3 Its emergence seemed to come after the healing of the deadly wound of the first beast; and its two horns suggested the union of two groups of people. Jews and Arabs?

After this last amazing victory the Israeli beast is right in the centre of the world stage — "... and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life. . ."

All except the "very elect" are deceived. Many may regard this rapid succession of fantastic events as proof positive that the Lord is in the land of Israel. No wonder the work of the witnesses, who are loud in their condemnation of the beast, is offensive to all except God's true servants. Those who dwell on the earth (as distinct from those who dwell in heaven, and are blasphemed by the beast — see Revelation 13:6,7) rejoice when the witnesses are suppressed (11:10).

So to the seventh trumpet and the seven last plagues, when the beast-worshipping world is punished; then the destruction of Babylon by that bizarre Jew-Arab combination, the beast and the ten kings; then the resurrection, first of the Israelitish saints and then of a great multitude; and finally the destruction of the beast and the false prophet by Christ and his immortal army.

References and Notes

1. See Part 2, chapter 13 - The Trumpet Judgments

2. See Part 1, chapter 7 - Babylon the Great.

3. See Part 1, chapter 5 — The Revelation of the Beast.

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