Revelation 14: The Most High responds to the dragon’s vengeance with serenity, peace and truth.
007 and Mission: Impossible are killer movie franchises, but the modern spy thriller contains few surprises. After defeating a few minions, the hero approaches the lair of the evil genius. Captured and facing certain death, the hero escapes for one final battle, mano-a-mano, while the base explodes. Victorious, he floats away to enjoy the grateful embrace of his beautiful co-star.
In the James Bond series, early on it was easy to tell the hero from the villain. The hero accepted the limits of civilized conduct – he spoke with restraint and ate clam chowder. But as the series progressed, the veneer wore away, until with Daniel Craig we saw a simple dogged violence. The enemies were no longer weeds growing on mysterious islands: they were thorns on the rose of civilization: super-villains arising from our national security services.
In War, Sebastian Junger documents the real-life experience of infantry holding forward positions in Afghanistan. This is no story, no imaginary adventure to entertain. When those warriors returned to civilian life, their loved ones were unable to hold them. The life-and-death intimacy of combat compelled them to re-enlist.
But what option do we have except to demand such sacrifice from warriors and their families? Evil will destroy us if we don’t fight it.
The final scenes of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon capture this paradox. The villain takes refuge in a maze of mirrors. As Lee floats through the maze, every angle reveals a potential threat: the hero’s own reflection. As one of the most gifted martial artists of his age, Lee understood the warrior’s peril: No matter how virtuous his desires, violence can consume the warrior, turning him into the man he fights against.
Compare this to Gethsemane. Having prayed for grace and strength, Jesus turns to receive the temple guard led by Judas. Now these were not soft men, but in the presence of love they stood awed. One of the Apostles draws a sword and cuts off an ear, and still they stand while Jesus turns to heal the wound. The assembly remains motionless until Jesus reminds them that they should return to the Temple.
So do we expect Christ to fight against the dragon using its own methods?
Let’s review the story: In Revelation 12 and 13, the expelled dragon seeks vengeance against heaven through the destruction of humanity. The plan of vengeance relies upon dragon’s ability to control the primitive reptilian brain that remains inside the human brain. By driving us into fear and pain, the dragon can prevent people from developing the parts of the brain that receive the power of love sent by the Most High.
The evidence of Gethsemane is compelling, though. It is a reminder that we are made in image of the Most High. Being embraced by Jesus’s love, the warriors sent to fetch him saw how to organize their minds to receive love. They felt the beauty of its power, and realized that they had nothing to fear from priests or kings. Priests and kings die, but the love of the Most High endures forever.
Would this lesson remain with them? Perhaps for some. But in the Apostle himself we see the hold of violence. Jesus rebukes him:
“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
[NIV Matt. 26:52]
Words like this were first heard in Genesis 9:6:
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed.
Is this what Jesus means? Then why did he rebuke the Apostle at all? Didn’t the warrior live by the sword? Didn’t he deserve to die by the sword?
This confusion is echoed in the two common translations of Revelation 13:10:
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed.
He that killeth with the sword,
must be killed with the sword.
The New International Version suggests that we should not resist evil. The King James seems to demand that we fight back. Which is the true teaching?
In Revelation 14, this controversy is put to rest. It is the NIV that contains the true teaching of Christ.
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. … And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.
[[NIV Rev. 14:1,3]
The song is a song meant for human minds and hearts. It is the song of comfort to the weary and weak. It is proof to them of the love and longing of the Most High.
I heard this song once, and I don’t know how to describe it. Perhaps a comparison: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is my favorite piece of music, and in particular the fourth movement – the chorale. In the final passages, the voices of the four soloists rise and fall, each voice leading and then supporting. The male and female voices in the choir blend harmoniously – not pleading or demanding, but sharing. It is the sound of masculine and feminine integration. That is what the song of the 144,000 is like, except the harmony and pitch are perfect, and they sing only one word: “Dei. Dei. Dei.”
In her spiritual autobiography, St. Theresa of Avila writes:
O Lord of my soul and my Good! There are souls so determined to love you that they gladly abandon everything else to focus on nothing but loving you. Why do you not want them to immediately ascend to a place where they may receive the joyful gift of perfect love?
The reason being that the Most High needs us here. Only when we are in a body is it safe for us to invent new relationships. We are watched carefully, and the angels above model their relationships upon us. This is why only the Lamb can teach the new song, because only the Lamb as Christ continued to love even when suffering death at the hands of sinners.
The 144,000 are described as those “redeemed from the earth.” Remember that we have seen this scene before in Revelation 7. Here, then, the story of the dragon’s vengeance joins with the salvation of heaven. We know that what follows will tell us how the Most High accomplishes the redemption of the Living Creatures.
Revelation 14 offers three elements in the Most High’s response to the dragon’s vengeance. We have touched on one: the “new song” sung by the 144,000. To that is added the counsel of three angels and the promise of the redemption of the saints trapped on earth with the dragon.
The three angels introduce the work described in the next section of Revelation. In chapters 15 to 19, we will be given more detail as to how the Most High redeems humanity. The first angel brings the “eternal gospel” described as the “Rider on the White Horse” in Revelation 19. The second angel decrees the fall of Babylon the Great, a new character in the story that dominates Revelation 17 and 18. The third angel warns against the coming of God’s wrath, detailed as the seven bowls in Revelation 16.
These five books predict events that will bring terrible suffering to all of humanity. In reading that prophesy, I found relief from the way that Revelation was given to us. It starts from the eternal and works down to the human experience. Revelation 4-7 describes the great effort of the angels and the glorious success they achieve. Revelation 8-11 describes the long history of life here on earth, again ending with glorious success. Revelation 12-14 describes the struggle against the dragon by Christ, adding details about the methods used by Christ to achieve victory. Our faith is thus strengthened by understanding.
These retellings of the constancy, determination, and sacrifice of the Most High and the angels make it easier to read of our trials, because the time of our trial is actually very short. We need be strong only for a few years, where the Most High has been strong for billions of years. It is not too much to ask of us. In fact, we are promised that we only need to resist for one lifetime. A voice from heaven tells John:
“Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
[NIV Rev. 14:13]
The victory of Christ over the dragon is seen by John as a pair of frightening events. The first vision is given as:
[The beast] will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.
[NIV Rev. 14:10-11]
The second vision is of the winepress that purifies the spirits harvested from the earth. The vineyard was a common setting in Jesus’s parables, and so John is well prepared to understand the vision. Even so, as in Revelation 12 John needs to be shown twice to understand. The first telling reveals that the harvester is Christ. The sickle is swung, but the harvest is unclear. The second telling reveals the harvest as grapes that are trampled in a winepress, with
…blood flow[ing] out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of [180 miles].
While these images are frightening, we should remember that John is trying to explain events in spirit. It is not bodies that Jesus harvests, it is souls. It is not bodies processed in the winepress, it is souls.
What of the smoke of the tormented beast? Sin appears like smoke because it emits no light. Sin is selfishness, and purely selfish people consume without returning anything. They are like black holes. Those souls appear as wisps of darkness in the light that surrounds the Most High. When Christ finishes his work, selfishness will be forced out of his kingdom. The strength of Christ will not be temporary, as it is here on earth when we send one criminal to jail only to have another take his place. No, whenever selfishness arises in Christ’s kingdom, it will be cast out immediately before it has a chance to take root. This will be true for all eternity.
As for the winepress: it is Jesus sacred heart, the heart that evil tried to corrupt with fear and pain. The heart that remained pure in its love for us. The heart that we enter only upon being purged of our sin. The winepress is where the last of our weakness and shame is taken from us, allowing us to enter as servants of love to each other in heaven – servants that partake freely of the great power of the Most High.
Let’s summarize today’s study.
While the dragon seeks to use tyranny and hypocrisy to create war between people, the Most High will not use violence to throw down the dragon and his servants. Violence only justifies further violence, and so corrupts even the humblest warrior.
Instead, the Most High presents Christ to the 144,000 angels that have loved the living creatures for billions of years. Christ teaches them a new song. That song is a clarion call that guides the hearts and minds of those that desire to know love.
To that song are added three great and specific promises. The teachings of religious hypocrites will be overshadowed by the Eternal Gospel of love. The culture of sexual corruption will be overthrown. And Christ will purge his followers of selfishness, allowing them to enter with him into Paradise.
Revelation 15 through 19 describes these events in detail. For now, we can rest secure in the knowledge that despite the hardships we will endure, our faith will be returned a glorious reward.