May 4, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LII: 144,000 & Angels Heralding the Gospel

The Lamb, The 144,000 & Three Angels Heralding The Gospel

In the opening verses of chapter 14 we see that God /Christ’s presence with believers secures their ultimate identification with the lamb, their redemption, and their persevering righteousness (Revelation 14:1–5). In this passage we see an immediate and deliberate set of contrast of the Lamb in 14:1 to the beasts of chapter 13. Righteous and unrighteous, wicked and holy and this emphasizes that Jesus is the true Lamb to whom allegiance is to be given in contrast to the false lamb of Revelation 13:11 - the first beast. We see the Lamb is seen “standing” on Mount Zion (this “standing” is actually a Greek participle that functions as a finite verb). The fact that the Lamb is in Zion emphasizes his genuineness, since that is one of the names for the true city of God in the OT. It also shows that from the very beginning, God has always been faithful to His covenant, even to the end of time. In the last days God will “install” his “Messiah” and “King on Zion, my holy mountain.” Then the Messiah will judge the ungodly and will be a place of refuge for those who fear him (Psalms 2:6–12).

Although it is not specifically stated it is possible that Zion is identical to the new Jerusalem in chapter 21 which “comes down out of heaven” and becomes part of the new creation after the destruction of the old creation. It is possible that they merge. People always think of Heaven, God or the spiritual as far away. In reality we know that we quite often interact with the spiritual immediately and imminently / immanently. Angels and men interact quite a bit. I do not believe the Heaven or the spiritual locations are necessarily as far away as many may think. This is not the premise the Bible illustrates. It is distant in terms of holiness and righteousness, not distance. The doctrine and theology of the Christian Holy Spirit is that He actually dwells within us! Not somewhere out there on Jupiter or Mars. Heaven and the spiritual is an issue of presence not proximity.

The most balanced assessment of this is the idea of the Kingdom of God put forth by Jesus in that it is an “already-and-not-yet” view of Zion that is in mind, which would be consistent with Revelation 7:9–17 since that vision blends past, present, and future. Old Testament background suggests that the divine name written on believers is a figurative way of speaking of God’s presence with his people, which protects them. The names of Christ and of the Father, written on the  foreheads of the 144,000, are in contrast with “the name of the beast,” written “on the foreheads” of unbelievers . All of this harkens back to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:8- "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." There was an early church interpretation of the 144,000 was a figurative number of completeness referring to the church as the true Israel.  We see strong support of this idea in Revelation 22:4 that affirms that those who have “his name on their foreheads” are the entire community of the redeemed from throughout history.

All of this end-time praise on Zion was prophesied in the Old Testament Isaiah 35:10. Therefore, the imagery in Revelation14:2–3 portrays redeemed saints praising God for the victory he has won for them over sin and the beast, though the victory over the beast is not explicitly mentioned until Revelation 15:1–3. A threefold description of “those who have been purchased from the earth” (v 3) now follows.  First, they are those who “were not polluted by women, for they are virgins.” The meaning of “polluted” and “virgins” has been hotly debated. The literal views. Some see in “virgins” a literal reference to a group of celibate Christian men or to celibate Christian men and women (Matthew 19:12). The serious problem with this literal views is that nowhere else does Scripture view sexual relations within the bond of marriage as sinful.  Another idea is that this is figurative and is comparative to Israelite soldiers being required to preserve ceremonial purity before battle (Deuteronomy 23:9). The most probable interpretation stems back to the idea of the churches like Philadelphia. It makes more sense to understand “virgins” as a metaphor of all true saints who have not compromised or given into the world and its culture and that they have remained loyal as a virgin bride to her groom. Like the Sacrificial Lamb that went before them in death and resurrection (Christ), they offer their lives up in sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). By not only following Jesus’ teaching and identify with his redemptive work, but they also imitate his faithfulness in the midst of suffering and persecution.  As such, we the saints were purchased from among humanity as first-fruits to God and the Lamb. The idea of saints as “first fruits” develops further the idea of Christians as sacrifices to the Lord. In the OT the “first fruits” of the harvest were offered to God at the sanctuary to show that they especially belonged to him and to signify that he was the sovereign owner of the whole.  More on that idea here: First Fruits Of The Resurrection - Part I: Jesus Christ. Just as the Lamb was blameless with respect to the accusations against him, so are the saints who follow his path.

We then see that God will judge the world system and nations who give allegiance to anti-christian forces, but will give an eternal reward to the faithful who persevere through oppression Revelation14:6–13. Chapter 14 reaches its climax with two descriptions of the final judgment (Revelation 14:14–20), which highlights the judicial tone introduced in v 6. Here the “gospel” is called “eternal” because it is immutable and permanently valid. The angels address is to the unbelieving earth-dwellers. The description further confirms that these are unregenerate multitudes, the majority of which are not expected to respond favorably to the gospel announcement. The same universal formula for universal sinning humanity has been used since 10:11 of all in the world who are idolaters. A possible understanding of these angels may very well be as a messenger of wrath. This supported by the possible partial allusion to Jesus in Matthew 24:14: “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” I believe this might be an issue of timing not the fact that the angels themselves are the vehicle for preaching the Gospel and fulfilling Jesus’ statement. I just think they are road signs and indicators that the end has arrived. The “two witnesses” in Revelation 11:3–13 had the same function…they were acting as testimony. Just as in both Matthew 24 and Revelation 11, once the “testimony” is completed, the final judgment will come.  In the coming consummation and the establishment of God’s sovereignty in His Kingdom the triumph over evil forever will come as good news. The Good News which is the euangelion or the Gospel. The appropriate response to this Gospel is to repent, fear God and give him glory. Believers will do this, unbelievers will not…to their doom.

The time for repentance will now be past and is gone when the final judgment approaches. Those addressed are not warned to give glory before the time of punishment arrives but “because” the time has arrived.  The resolute fate of the damned is now unchangeable. “The hour of his judgment has come”. The rebellious spirit or the unrepentant masses will  be made to confess that God is their sovereign judge, who glorifies himself by the very act of judging them. The angel has not come to tell earth-dwellers to repent in order to avoid judgment, but is issuing the verdict that they acknowledge the mighty hand of their maker through their judgment.

The mention of is an allusion to the fact that the “mentality” and corrupt spiritual nature of Babylon so infected the nations as to render them incapable of heeding the first angel’s declaration of the gospel.

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” Revelation 14:8

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon” comes from Isaiah 21:9, “Look, here comes a man in a chariot
with a team of horses.  And he gives back the answer: ‘Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!’”
It is here in this passage that we can resolutely know that the references to Babylon are in nature to the infectious reprobate nature that infects all mankind with greed, idolatry, sin and rejection of God Himself. The Isaiah passage is a statement that the idols of Babylon had been destroyed- so too the mindset of Babylon in the end days. The destruction of the idolatrous system of the world is in mind here. Babylon here was the embodiment of the ungodly world power under which Israel had to live in captivity. Babylon here is embodying the world system that is immoral, wicked and the persecutor of the Christian brethren. The Babylon here is embodying everything that wages war against God and despises Him. Babylon is the ungodly social, political, and economic system controlled by the leading dominant Empire that will place believers in the same position as Israel was in under Babylon…subjugated, oppressed and persecuted. This means that in the Apocalypse an all wicked world system is most likely in view when we see “Babylon the Great.”

As it has been in the past so it will be in the future. Many will go along with the religious and idolatrous demands of the ungodly earthly order. We see this even today and we have seen it all throughout history. We even have begun to see the church proper cave into the demands of the world system and its culture in an effort to convert the world. Instead the world only ends up converting the church as the church subverts itself and unmoors from Scripture in an effort to compromise with the culture. It is often so subtle that the churches never see it coming until it is too late and they have already compromised with the world and abandoned God. This compliance is explained in the identification of Babylon as “she who made all the nations drink from the wine of the passion of her intercourse.”  It is Babylon’s promise of “prosperity”, “health” and “wealth” that end up making quick willing subjects of even church goers. It is intoxicating and too alluring to ignore…and the majority of the world’s inhabitants will imbibe. …even self-professing Christians. Possibly even you. Have you checked to assure that you are truly in the faith?

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