In Revelation 13, we saw Satan’s last and greatest effort to usurp God’s throne and establish his own kingdom on the earth. Now, the Lamb responds. Revelation 14-16 depicts Christ’s reprisal through seven plagues culminating in a violent conquest of the beast and all who receive his mark. This is the third and final set of judgments found in Revelation: seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven plagues.
This complete and decisive judgment is presented to us through the imagery of a grape harvest. When we as Christians speak of a harvest, we often speak in positive and hopeful terms. A spiritual harvest can be thought of as a season of blessedness and breakthrough following a season of labor, grief and sacrifice (Ps. 126:5-6; Mat. 9:35-38; John 4:34-38). This end time harvest, however, is focused on the wicked and unrepentant people of the world. Their harvest is them reaping the destruction they have sown into for so long (Gal. 6:7-9).
The sin of mankind has reached its “full measure” (Gen. 15:16). God’s great longsuffering with human and satanic rebellion has run out, and no mercy is left. This passage teaches us three aspects of divine justice: (1) it is retributive in that it satisfies itself in the punishment of evildoers, (2) that punishment will be meted out by God Himself, and (3) ultimate justice for every evil done awaits an appointed time, a harvest at the end of the age.
I. The Harvest is Ripe
14:1-5: The Lamb and the 144,000
V. 1:“The Lamb.” The One who alone is worthy to take the scroll and open the seals, to rule and reign over the universe (Rev. 5), confronts the satanic usurper.
“Standing on Mount Zion.” Refers to both the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem (2 Sa. 5:5-7; Heb. 12:22-24). It is quite possible that the earthly Jerusalem is in view here, as it is shown to be under siege in the end times. But it is also heavenly because it is in the heavenly realms where God dwells with His people.
“144,000.” The redeemed remnant of Israel has been joined and vindicated by their Messiah.
VV. 2-3: “They sang a new song.” Revelation is a book of prophecy and praise- God is praised for His greatness, His wisdom and His justice throughout. The words of this new song, however, are not revealed to us. From the context, we know this is a song of war, a battle cry. The Bible contains many such songs to strengthen God’s people for war and send fear into the enemy (Ps. 29).
V. 4-5: “Those who did not defile themselves with women.” Like Israel’s fighting men of old, this army does not engage in sexual relations before battle (Dt. 23:10; 1 Sa. 21:5; 2 Sa. 11:11). Also, a stark contrast to the immorality and prostitution of the wicked sinners who consort with Babylon.
“They follow the Lamb.” Jesus is both the Lamb and the Good Shepherd. The true sheep know the voice of their Shepherd, and do not follow impostors (John 10:4-5, 14-16). While the world has gone after the antichrist, the 144,000 were not fooled (1 John 2:18-27).
14:6-13: Three Angels
Three angels announce the judgments to come upon the earth.
The first angel (vv. 6-7) announces the “eternal gospel” calling those still on the earth to repent and give God glory even as His final judgment is imminent. We see later that they do not repent (16:9-11).
The second angel (vv. 8) foreshadows the fall of “Babylon the Great,” to be fully fleshed out in chapters 17-19.
The third angel (vv. 9-13) announces that the “win of God’s fury” is ready to be poured at full strength. Singled out for punishment are those who worship the Beast and receive his mark. Many times in the Bible is God seen pouring out His wrath like a cup of foaming wine. Those of us who are in Christ are eternally grateful that He drank the whole “cup” that our sins deserved (Mat. 26:39).
While the wicked are promised no rest and no peace (v. 11), the righteous are promised blessedness and rest, even in death (vv. 12-13).
14:14-20: The Harvest
This section is an illustration of the judgment to follow in the plagues and in the battle of Armageddon (16:16). This passage seems to show a dual harvest. “One like a son of man” (presumably Jesus, cf. Dan. 7:13) swings a sharp sickle to harvest the earth. This first harvest (vv. 14-16) is of the righteous; the second harvest is of the wicked (vv. 17-20). Those gathered in the second harvest are crushed like grapes in a winepress (cf. Isa. 63:3). This dual harvest parallels Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Weeds (Mat. 13:24-30, 36-43).
II. Seven Angels with Seven Plagues
15:1-2: Seven Last Plagues
“God’s wrath is complete.” Contrast with the judgments of the seven trumpets (Rev. 8-9) that seemed only partial in scope. God has expressed His wrath and issued judgments throughout history (Rom. 1:18), but all things considered, has been incredibly merciful and longsuffering toward sinful man. No mercy is left. God must fully express His fierce wrath on mankind.
15:3-4: The Song of Moses and of the Lamb
Note that “those who had been victorious over the beast” (v. 2) are those singing. These are the tribulation martyrs (Rev. 12:11; 14:12-13). They have overcome by laying down their lives, refusing to apostatize. A reminder of God’s past deliverance of His people out of Egypt (Ex. 15:1-20) and into the Promised Land (Deut. 32:1-42). God’s faithfulness to His people and His promises, as well as His supremacy over the false gods, is extolled.
15:5-8: The Temple is Opened
The temple in heaven is open (Ex. 25:8-9; Heb. 8:9). Out of the temple are seven angels commissioned to carry out his final judgments.
III. The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath
16:1-2: First Bowl: Festering Sores
Similar to the plague of boils that fell on Egypt (Ex. 9:8-12).
16:3: Second Bowl: Sea Turned to Blood
Similar to how the Nile turned to blood (Ex. 7:14-25). Sea represents commerce and travel.
16:4-7: Third Bowl: Rivers and Springs Turn to Blood
See above. Rivers and springs represent usable fresh water. Those who shed the blood of the saints are made to drink blood themselves.
16:8-9: Fourth Bowl: The Sun Scorches the Earth
The sun, which we rely on so heavily, has turned on us to destroy us.
16:10-11: Fifth Bowl: The Earth Darkened
Similar to the plague of darkness in Egypt (Ex. 10:21-29). The spiritual darkness is now manifested in the physical (Pr. 4:19).
16:12-16: Sixth Bowl: A Demonic Army Gathers
The Euphrates River, historically a natural barrier to military attack, is dried up to make way for “Kings from the East” to cross over and attack. Demonic frog like spirits, through the false prophet, rally the kings of the nations for war. This is the set up for the battle detailed in the coming chapters (Rev. 17:12-16, 17:14, 19:19, 20:7-10).
16:17-21: Seventh Bowl: Babylon is Judged
“It is done!” Another announcement that the impending judgment is a complete one. A new element to the narrative is again foreshadowed—the Great City, or Babylon (cf. 14:8).