A Holy People, Redeemed and Purchased
Chapter 14 picks up from the end of chapter 13, but seems quite different. After reading about the number of the beast, we are now reminded that God's Holy people have the name of the Lamb and the Father written on their foreheads. We see the number of God's army again, 144,000. We've discussed previously the Jewish linkages to this number, but here we see much less focus on the Jewish origin, and rather that they have been redeemed and purchased (v3 & 4). How wonderful it is for no lie was found in their mouths and that they were blameless, (v5). We also see that the Lamb is standing on Mount Zion, the mountain where Jeruselum is located.
The comparison between God's people and the rest of the world is being set up. We see in verse 8 the comparison with Babylon, which has made all the nations drink the wine of adultery. We see in the Old Testament that adultery is often used to refer to Israel's idolatry. Here we have something ('Babylon') that promotes adultery or idolatry. Israel is often portrayed as an unfaithful woman or prostitute. We see this, not as a subtle reference, but rather as maddening or passionately. This rich language again shows us the extremeness of the vision. This is again promoting one of John's key messages and provides us with a warning against compromising with the world and its values. Prophets through the years had been calling for Zion's restoration and here, in comparison, we are introduced to Babylon, which has fallen,
A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” (Revelation 14:8)
Compare this to Zephaniah 3:14-17.
Babylon here throws up an interesting question for us. Babylon in the Old Testament was the capital of the Babylonian empire, responsible for taking the Kingdom of Judah into exile. The empire fell to the Persian empire, who released the Israelites from exile, allowing them to return to Judah and Jeruselum. At this time Babylon itself fell. Is this verse pointing to the Old Babylon, that it has fallen? Or is it pointing to a new power, that is represented by this code Babylon? If so, is it preempting and prophesising its eventual fall? The original audience would recognise that Babylon is code for Rome, (see 1 Peter 5:13). This shows that John is most likely using it as code for Rome and what Rome stands for, the world system. This includes anything that takes us away from worshiping God, including our own corruption.
Verse 8 is announced by the second angel. The first is flying in mid-air (v6) perhaps adding more rich language to express the spread of the eternal gospel. We see the angel proclaiming to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. This is the same wording found in Revelation 7:9 when describing the great multitude who will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.
The third angel speaks of judgement, the cup of his wrath. and burning sulfur, (Genesis 19:24). By contrast, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on (v13). We are again encouraged to have patient endurance, obey God's commands, and remain faithful to Jesus Christ.
The final section of this chapter presents an image of a harvest. The use of the title 'son of man', taken from Daniel 7:13, and also Jesus's most common title for Himself is used. They have a crown of Gold, showing royalty, Jesus as king. What's unusual however is that He is instructed by an angel. Verse 15, another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” This image points back to Joel 3:13 when Joel prophesied about the judgement to come upon the nations.
Old Babylon has fallen, Rome did fall and all the temporary empires that have come since have and will fall. The rich allure, the intoxicating fragrance, and the bold attraction of these things that take us away from the true worship of God are what John wants to point out to us. We each have our own Babylons. These might even change for us over time, but we must be aware, stay steadfast in the faith, and worship the one true living God.