Bible burnout. Every time I get to this point in my study of Revelation I hit a wall. My passion in life is the word of God, but I am not interested in gaining information as an end in itself. I want the Lord to grip my heart and mind through His word, and then I want Him to get a hold of you too. Groping my way through the maze of figures, symbols, and characters in the Apocalypse is labor intensive and exhausting mentally, but it is worth it if your appetite for this great book has been piqued.
Good news. chapter fourteen is an easy chapter exegetically speaking, and I hope you really get as blessed as I have.
The chapter begins with the reappearance of the 144,000 from chapter seven; but why are they mentioned again at this juncture? Let me try and use an analogy, albeit feeble, to explain it. You remember the desolation after the twin towers were hit back on 9-11-2001. The smoldering ruins were called ground zero, a grim reminder of that fateful day. Many who survived that day because they providentially missed work or somehow got out before the structures collapsed went back to visit the site.
The Jewish remnant had been sealed by God for protection. When the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, they heeded the warning given by Jesus decades earlier to flee. Now they return to Mount Zion–ground zero, if you will. The city has been reduced to rubble. The Lamb is there with them–bearing the marks of slaughter yet standing–and they follow him wherever He leads. They are safe and secure in Him. They have kept themselves pure from spiritual fornication–that is, they have not worshipped the beast or his image. (Sex per se is nowhere forbidden in scripture, so that the meaning here must be symbolic.) Their presence here introduces the stern warning against worshipping the beast and serves as an encouragement to the saints to persevere in the faith no matter what; and in the end they too will stand triumphant over the enemy.
Notice that they are called the firstfruits. This expression is used elsewhere to describe the first converts to Jesus in a given place.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ (Romans 16:5).
I urge you, brethren–you know know the household of Stephanas, that is, the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints (1 Corinthians 16:15).
The gospel harvest started in Jerusalem, and then spread to all Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the known world (Acts 1:8). The church was exclusively Jewish in the years of its infancy. Thus this Jewish remnant is here called the firstfruits. Here is another clue that points to the soundness of a preterist position. If the 144,000 were really Jewish Billy Grahams yet to appear in a future great tribulation, they would more fittingly be referred to as the lastfruits. But I digress.
Imagery from the world of agriculture is found throughout the chapter in the form of three harvests. The firstfruits harvest has already been mentioned. The second harvest (vv. 14-16) is a depiction of Christ reaping the harvest of His elect through the spread of the gospel. In the gospels the Lord had described the growth of the kingdom in terms of a harvest:
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).
Do you not say, “there are still four months, and then comes the harvest?” Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest (John 4:35).
The third harvest (vv. 17-20) is the gathering and crushing of the earth dwellers who worshipped the beast and received his mark. The order here is significant. In the ancient Near East the firstfruits of the grain harvest were gathered in early spring, followed by the harvest of ripe grain in the summer months. The grape harvest began in late summer and ran through the fall. Also of note is that the grape harvest is used in the Old Testament as a metaphor of judgment because the grapes are trampled and crushed, producing juice reminiscent of blood.
Why is your apparel red and your garments like one who treads in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me. I have trodden them in my anger and trampled them in my fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my robes (Isaiah 63:2-3, c.f., Lamentations 1:15; Joel 3:13).
The warnings of vv. 6-13 are indeed sobering, but they are tempered with the promise of eternal life. A committed witness for Christ in the Days of the Apocalypse was not without cost. And yet the danger factor did not impede the progress of the gospel in the least. In fact those who died in the Lord were counted to be specially blessed.
All this makes me wonder if the freedoms we enjoy in this country are important to me just because they allow me to enjoy my comfort zone. Would I be willing to stand firm in the faith in the face of the kind of persecution the early believers faced? Well, I suppose those folks were really no different from me. What was different was the measure of grace given to them by God in their hour of need. It’s all about Him, and He gets all the glory.
I remember the days of the Jesus Movement when there was a great harvest of young souls. I pray for another in-gathering in this generation. Maybe for this to happen God will need to take us out of our comfort zone. If that’s His plan I want to be right in the middle of it.