Glory or Wrath?

revelation.pngAn exposition of Revelation 14:1-20. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, October 5, 2008.

I’m an old fashion kind of guy. I liked it better when good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. I enjoyed watching movies were you didn’t spend the first half of the movie trying to figure out which character was the good guy and which one was the villain. In other words I like the days before the “anti-hero.” I know life is more complicated than that. I understand that we are all complex human beings and there are varying degrees of good and bad. It get that. But there is something to be said for clear lines marking good and evil. In our gray world people do not like black and white but we cannot deny that black and white exist! There is right and there is wrong. There is good and there is evil. Truth and error. One of the things I appreciate more and more as I study the book of Revelation is its clarity. Throughout the book, in the midst of its vivid images and fantastic sights, there is a clear understanding of good and evil. There is an unmistakable clarity between holiness and unholiness, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between God and Satan. One passage that drives that distinction home in a vivid way is the 14th chapter.

Text: Revelation 14:1-20
John the beloved apostle and bishop of Ephesus found himself exiled to the isle of Patmos for his faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel. There along the shore, on the Lord’s Day, he had an encounter with the risen Christ. He was caught up into the heavens through an open door and given a vision of things to come. The church was suffering from severe persecution. Those troubled saints feared the end was in sight. The Lord of the church had something to say to his struggling saints and he would say it through John. Thus Revelation was intended as an encouragement and an inspiration to first century believers and to believers in every age until the Lord comes again. How do you live like a Christian when there is nothing Christian around you? Everywhere those Christians in Asia Minor looked wickedness abounded. The book of Revelation speaks to how we live for Christ in a Christ-less world. How do you maintain faithfulness when the whole world is in turmoil? John kept bringing them back to see the victorious Lamb. And in this text he makes it very clear the glory that awaits the people of God and the terror of the judgment that awaits the ungodly. As we explore this chapter we will discover that…

Thesis: The visions of Revelation 14 draw a clear line of distinction between the glory that awaits the redeemed and the wrath to be poured out upon the ungodly.

Though this chapter opens with this glorious scene in the heavenly Zion it is, in many ways, the darkest chapter of the Revelation. In vivid language John contrasts the glory of heaven and the shear terror of hell. The text forces you to come to grips with where you stand. You cannot passively consider this chapter. This chapter portrays your destiny. You will either enjoy the glory of the heavenly worship described in the opening verses or you will know the torment of God’s wrath unmixed, undiluted and in full measure.

  1. In the midst of ungodliness and unholy turmoil the righteous find peace and security in their identification with the victorious Lamb. (14:1-5)
    The first thing we note is the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion. This is not the physical city of Jerusalem but rather the heavenly Zion referred to in Hebrews 12:22-24. This is the dwelling of the people of God. This is were we “abide.” The Lamb is standing – fixed, immovable. And who is with him? The 144,000 who have been redeemed from the earth. These are the redeemed. Those who have yielded to Christ. It is the redeemed community. This is the gathering of all the saints. Not an elite group. Not a spiritual Special Forces unit who’ve fought their way through the tribulation but all the redeemed. (12 X 12 X 10 X 10 X 10 = 144,000) The complete people of God from both Old and New Testament. In contrast to the mark of the beast they have the name of God on their foreheads. And note they were singing a new song. One that only the redeemed could sing. They were singing the song of redemption. Note how these worshipers are described:

    1. Have not defiled themselves with women: celibate? Are these eunuchs? Taken in context I think it means they have not played the “harlot”. They did not commit spiritual adultery by declaring Caesar is Lord.
    2. They follow the Lamb wherever He goes: discipleship. They are devoted to the Lamb.
    3. They are “firstfruits”: they are offered to God – Romans 12:1-2
    4. In their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless: they speak the truth. They did not participate in the lie of emperor worship. Dear saint this is who you are. This is your identity. Regardless of how things seem. Regardless of how difficult things may get – this is your destiny. To be gathered with the saints from every generation around the throne of God in the presence of the Lamb singing the song of redemption. Now the rest of the chapter is in stark contrast to this scene. From their perspective it looks like they are on the loosing end of things. It seems as if Rome and those who march to the beat of her drum prosper while faithfulness to Christ leads to death. But in reality it is the other way around.
  2. Those who have made peace with the wickedness of this world are clearly and passionately warned of the wrath to come. (14:6-11)
    In this section we are introduced to three heralds or messengers. The first in verses 6-7 proclaims the Gospel. The second messenger comes announcing the doom of the ungodly in verse 8. The third messenger vividly portrays the torment that awaits the ungodly in 14:9-11. The message is clear: If you refuse the mark of the beast you will face the wrath of the beast If you take the mark of the beast you will face the wrath of God Take your pick. This is a horrifying picture. There is no one of making this come out nice. “The wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger…” Full strength = unmixed, undiluted, not watered down. John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, makes it abundantly clear in this text that your only hope is in the Gospel. But we are not through yet.
  3. All men are made sober by the certainty and the severity of God’s judgment. (14:14-20)
    The time of judgment has come. It is appointed unto man to die once and face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The judgment is portrayed in this passage as the harvest. First the grain harvest which speaks of the inevitability of judgment. Judgment is unavoidable. When the time is right according to God’s schedule there will come a reckoning. This judgment is also portrayed in terms of a grape harvest. Look at 14:17-20. These images are drawn from Old Testament passages like Lamentations 1:15, Isaiah 63 and Joel 3. This speaks of the violent thoroughness of God’s judgment. This ought to go a long way in destroying the myth that God was wrathful in the OT but loving in the NT. He is both loving and wrathful in both Testaments because that is who He is! Wrath is the outworking of God’s holiness when He confronts rebels. We ought to fear His wrath. Our problem is that we fear temporal judgment. We are afraid of sickness and disease. We are afraid of financial ruin or embarrassment. We ought to fear God! But we no longer believe in hell therefore we do not fear it. I would submit to you there is nothing difficult about understanding this section of Revelation – there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun!

The visions of Revelation 14 draw a clear line of distinction between the glory that awaits the redeemed and the wrath to be poured out upon the ungodly. What does your future hold?

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