Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Understanding And Applying the Text
This section is clear. It is so clear, it needs little interpretation. It speaks for itself. There is a marked contrast between the beast and the lamb. The beast reigns on behalf of the dragon. The lamb rules in the name of the Father. The hundred forty-four thousand is another contrast. These have the name of Christ and the Father inscribed on their forehead. This in contrast to those with the number of the beast on their foreheads.
John mentioned a hundred forty-four thousand in chapter 7. This is the same hundred forty-four thousand. They are the elect from Judea. They are from the tribes of Israel.
This scene is a repetition of the scene in 7: 9-17. This is common throughout the book. Scenes are repeated. This allowed the seven churches to see the events from many angles.
The writer to the Hebrews may have had this same vision. The description in Hebrews 12 is too similar. It cannot be a coincidence. The scene is the same, mount Zion. The characters are the same, the firstborn.
The writer to the Hebrews calls them, first-born, John’s vision explains the title. They are the first converts to the faith of Christ in the land of Judea.
John sees three angels. They appear in rapid succession. Each angel has a prophetic message. Each announcement is of coming judgment. The first has a message of the gospel. The message is to those who dwell on the earth. We have seen how “earth” is best understood as specific land. It is a reference to Judea. Then to every nation, tribe, language, and people.
This is an allusion to Matthew 24:14. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” This is an implication of the nearest of the judgment of Jerusalem.
Paul wrote to the Romans the gospel was preached in all the world. (Romans 10:17-18)
The second angel proclaims the fall of Babylon. But the proclamation appears to be a statement of history. “Fallen is Babylon”
What is this Babylon? Babylon was a label. It was derogatory. When the Jews called a place Babylon, they meant it was heathen. It was an enemy of God. It carried the connotation of sinfulness and pride. The Tower of Babel was in Babylon. So calling a place Babylon meant nothing good.
Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the first Temple in 425 BC. Nebuchadnezzar held siege to Jerusalem for 30 months. Starvation and disease ravaged Jerusalem. When Nebuchadnezzar’s army breached the walls, they murdered one million Jews. They burned the city. They destroyed the Temple. They took survivors as slaves.
The Jews lost the ark of the tabernacle. The ark represented God’s blessing. It was gone. God’s blessing had left them. We cannot overstate the impact on Jewish history. Much of the Old Testament prophets are a result of the Babylonian war and captivity.
Four groups dominated the middle east. They were Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Jews lumped them together. There were heathens, oppressors, and even dogs. They were all Babylon.
Today Christians know little of either the Roman and Babylonian wars. As a result, we fail to see God’s fulfilled prophecies. This can weaken our faith. Or it results in silly solutions trying to preserve faith.
When John talks about the judgment of Babylon, he talks about the judgment of the godless.
But we have not answered who is this Babylon. There are two candidates. The first is Jerusalem. The second is Rome.
There are many good reasons for it being Jerusalem. Jerusalem rejected Christ. They crucified Him. Their worship was of their own making. (Matthew 15:9 Mark 7:7)
Jerusalem had become God’s enemy. Jerusalem had become a Babylon. And we see that Jerusalem fell. It suffered God’s judgment. This view keeps Christ’s word that all the things in this book would happen soon. (Revelation 1:1) Every happened in the first century.
The other view is Babylon is Rome. Rome fell twice. The first was a spiritual fall. The second was a physical fall. In 312 Constantine converted to Christianity. Outside Christ’s resurrection, this was the most significant event in Church history. Before Constantine’s conversion, Rome persecuted Christians. After Constantine’s conversion, Christianity held a place of honor. So this was a spiritual fall. The spirits that held Rome captive fell.
There is much debate about Constantine’s conversion. Was Constantine was a true believer? There are even debates about rather the elevation of the Church was actually good for the church. But we know the spirit before Constantine was gone. Christianity exploded.
A second fall was the physical fall of Rome. Rome fell to the Barbarians in 476 AD. Events in the spiritual realm reflect in the physical realm.
My view is why do we need to choose? Why can’t it be both?
Isaiah prophesied a virgin would give birth. The Hebrew word translated virgin may mean a young maiden. It is clear that is what Isaiah intended. But it also means a woman who has not had sexual relations. In the context of Isaiah’s day, it meant a young maiden. God fulfilled it when Isaiah’s wife gave birth. But Matthew tells us of greater fulfillment. It occurred centuries later in Bethlehem. There a young maiden who had never had sexual relations gave birth.
So it is not either/or. It is both/and. Has God fulfilled His promises? Yes. Can God fulfill it again? Absolutely.
Here is an observation. It may relate to a fuller fulfillment. Or it may have no significance. I offer it for your consideration.
As I look through history I notice Christianity moved from east to west. Europe was Christian. From Europe, Christianity spread west to the Americas. It spread west across the Americas. Today Christianity continues its westward movement. It has spread to Asia. The church is growing in Asia. It grows in China even under tremendous persecution. And it continues to move westward. I heard the other day the church is growing fastest in Iran. It grows under great persecution.
The gospel is about to circumnavigate the globe. Does this observation mean anything? Maybe. Maybe not. It may mean that while God fulfilled the prophesy once. He is doing it again. The Gospel was preached in all the known world. It has a greater fulfillment by circumnavigating the globe. I am not claiming this is a greater fulfillment. I am only making an observation. One which is interesting. It may or may not have significance.
The point is God fulfilled His promise. Can there be many fulfillments? Can we trust God? Has He kept his promises? YES! Can He fulfill them again? Absolutely!
The third angel announces God’s wrath. The angel announces God’s wrath against idol worshipers.
This is in stark contrast to the voices of the hundred and forty-four thousand. They sing praises to God.
God’s judgment and wrath fall on all who follow the beast. To the saints, there is a call to endue. We are not promised ease. In fact, God promises us persecution. But there are blessings for the saints. Blessed are those who die in Christ from now on. In previous times saints had to wait until the consummation or closing of the Jewish age. They died in faith but did not have the inheritance. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about this consummation.
The judgment of Jerusalem was the end of the age. The end of the Jewish age. Before Christ’s work the pious who died, died waiting for Christ to complete His work. They died in faith. But they did not have the inheritance. They awaited the inheritance. Those who die now are blessed. We will die and are at rest. Christ’s redeeming work is complete. We have the inheritance.