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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Revelation 14-15

Revelation 14-15
Chapter 14
  • We start off with a break from the previous verse which talked about the number allocated to the beast (13:18).
  • Here, John has another vision in which he sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and there are 144,000 with him who have the name of the Lamb name written on their heads (14:1). Just like the number given in Revelation 7:4, this seems to be a symbolic expression.
    • Mount Zion is considered to be the spot, according to the unknown author of Hebrews, where God will reign (Hebrews 12:22).
    • “Written on their foreheads” is probably a reference to the seal placed upon the 144,000 in chapter 7, which will also be referenced again later (22:4).
  • John hears a voice like the sound of many waters, like the sound of thunder, and like the sound of harpists playing (14:2).
    • “Many waters” is probably a repeat of the details offered earlier (1:15).
    • As is typical with John, an author who keeps with the Jewish tradition of hesitance to describe God, he uses similes (indirect descriptions using the words "like" or "as" instead of direct descriptions) to describe God. He hears a voice like the sound of waters, like thunder, and like the sound of harps.
  • No one is able to learn the song that is being played (14:3), indicating that there is some sort of exclusivity to this song, though its exact nature is not clear.
  • The 144,000 thousand are described as “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.” (14:4-5 NRSV).
    • This characterization of them being “virgins” isn't something that is meant to literally talk about their sexual history, but is to be understand in terms of sexual abstinence—ritual purity even—concerning contact with the divine (see Exodus 19:15 and Deuteronomy 23:10-14 as examples of this).
    • A relationship with God has also been viewed intimately throughout parts of the Bible, so this passage can also be viewed as a testament to the 144,000's consistent faith in God which did not stray to doubt in him or faith in other deities. They were spiritually “pure.”
  • Next follows this encounter with three different angels, all bearing three different messages.
  • The first angel comes with an “eternal gospel” (14:6) and declares “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (14:7)
    • The eternal gospel implies that the message that follows is an announcement of God's judgment being imminent.
    • The angel is asserting the importance of giving worship to the creator, rather than the created (Romans 1:25).
  • The second angel comes and says, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” (14:8)
    • Babylon was a sinful city, and is more representative of evil, than a physical city. Still, this declaration can be found similarly in other passages (Isaiah 21:9; Daniel 4:30). This message is repeated later (18:2).
    • Fornication, though typically seen as a sexual act, in this case can be seen as leading people astray from the message of God spiritually. This would seem to enforce the idea that the 144,000 “virgins” remained true to God spiritually, and did not commit fornication.
    • The reference to drinking of the wine is probably foreshadowing the events later in the chapter referencing the harvest of grapes and the pressing of wine (14:18-20).
  • The third and last angel comes and declares that those who received the mark of the beast and its created image, will drink the wine of God's wrath. There is strong imagery concerning the punishment given to these individuals (14:9-11).
  • Then John gives a “call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.”
    • This seems to be a message of encouragement to those who have been oppressed by the dragon (12:17).
  • Then John hears a voice that declares that, “Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord. . . they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” (14:13).
    • This is the second blessing, or beatitudes, given in the book. There are a total of seven. The first was mentioned at the very beginning of the book (1:3).
  • John then sees a white cloud, with one like the Son of Man on it. He has a golden crown on his head, and holds a sharp sickle in his hand. Another angel comes out of the temple, and says that the sickle is to be used to reap, for the time to reap has come. The one who sat on the cloud swings his sickle over the earth, and the earth was said to be reaped (14:14-16).
    • This can be seen as borrowing some imagery from the book of Joel (Joel 3:13).
    • This precedes a very similar harvest.
  • John then sees another angel come from the temple with another shark sickle in hand. The angel comes out from the altar and declares that the sickle will be used to “gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” The angel swings his sickle over the earth, and gathered all the products from that. He throws these grapes into “the great wine press of the wrath of God.” The wine press was walked upon, and blood is said to flow out from it in an immense quantity. (14:17-20)
    • Unlike the first harvest, this harvest seems to have something especially dark or negative about it since it invoked the wrath of God and involved blood.
    • This could be God's vengeance for the martyred saints mentioned earlier (6:10-11).
Chapter 15
  • Chapter 15 is incredibly short and breaks with the narrative found in chapter 14. As you will have already noticed by all your reading in the book of Revelation, the book does not smoothly flow from one part to the next, but is filled with visions that interrupt other visions, and mysterious symbols and images interspersed throughout.
  • John sees another portent in heaven that is said to be great and amazing (15:1). Seven angels with seven plagues, and these are to be “the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.” (15:1).
    • This is the third portent, or sign, that John sees (12:1, 3).
    • is ended” can be read to meat that it is brought to fulfillment or that it is accomplished.
  • Before John's eyes, a something that appeared to be like a sea of glass mixed with fire is noticed. Those who conquered the beast and its image are standing alongside this sea with harps (15:2). They sing a song of praise. “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the lamb: 'Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your holy name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.'” (15:3-4; emphasis mine).
    • A sea of glass has parallels with an earlier part of the book (4:6).
    • The song of Moses is likely a reference to Exodus or Deuteronomy (Exodus 15:1-18; Deuteronomy 32).
    • Those who are worshiping God declare that he alone is holy, and this may stand in contrast to the emperors of the first century who declared themselves to be gods worthy of worship.
  • After John has heard this song, the “temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen [other ancient authorities read stone], with golden sashes across their chests.” (15:5-6). The angels are then given their seven bowls full of the wrath of God (15:7), and the temple will filled with smoke from the glory of God and his power. No one could enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels had come to an end. (15:8).
    • The “temple of the tent of witness” is the heavenly version of the tent of witness that was carried around by Israel during their time wandering the desert (Numbers 9:15).
    • For an apocryphal perspective on this, see 3 Maccabees 6:18-19. In this, opening the heavenly gates (in Revelation, the temple of the tent of witness is opened) is seen as a sort of introduction or prelude to judgment.
    • Bowls were part of the religious ritual in Judaism.
    • Smoke could be a reference to a large number of verses (Isaiah 6:1-4; Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 8:10-11).
  • This is the close of chapter 15, and really serves as a prelude to chapter 16. The brevity of chapter 15 serves to introduce chapter 16. When we move on to the next chapter, we will explore the judgment of the bowls.We're starting to move away from the part of the book of Revelation based on “story-telling” in which there are dramatic stories and images given to us, but rather to a sort of theological aspect of the book in which judgment and God's divinity and holiness are discussed, as well as the vindication of God's saints/martyrs.

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