Revelation #11 : The 144,000 in the Bible, the harvest and the vials, the mark of the beast 666 – chap 14-16

Revelation #11 : The 144,000 in the Bible, the harvest and the vials, the mark of the beast 666 – chap 14-16

sermon Revelation 16 : Pierre Constant, 2022_10_18, AB Lausanne church

title : Revelation #11 : The 144,000 in the Bible, the harvest and the vials, the mark of the beast 666 – chap 14-16


Many children of God are concerned and worried about the mark of the beast , the number 666 ; they fear receiving it involuntarily and thus being excluded from the presence of God for eternity. Speculation about the meaning of the number 666 of the beast is rife and continues to feed the religious imagination.

The good news is that if we are children of God, we cannot receive the mark of the beast, simply because we have received another mark, another sign: the seal of God, the seal of the Lamb. It happens that the division into chapters in our Bibles does not help us to clearly perceive the continuation of the story; this is the case here, between chapters 13 and 14 of Revelation: Revelation 14.1-5 comes immediately after the paragraph dealing with the sign of the beast 666 (Revelation 13.16-18). One is placed immediately after the other, with the aim of signaling the contrast between the two signs, between belonging to the beast or belonging to God.

One of the fundamental truths of the book of Revelation is that there are only two clans: that of God and the Lamb, on the one hand, or that of the dragon and the beast, on the other. Either we have the seal of God and we suffer the wrath of the beast, or we have the mark of the beast and we suffer the wrath of God. It’s one or the other.

End of the second interlude (Revelation 14), The 144,000 :

John ends this interlude by bringing the 144,000 back on stage and presenting a series of vignettes again featuring images of judgment on the nations. This chapter can be divided into three sections:

The 144,000 on Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1-5)

This is the second mention of the 144,000. The first is recorded in Revelation 7:4-8, where John heard the number of those who had been sealed with the seal of God. We had seen that these 144,000, on earth, marked with the seal, represented in fact the totality of the people of God, presented as the new Israel, the new people of God and this in conformity with other texts of the NT. John had then described these 144,000 in what he saw, namely a great multitude of all nations, tribes, peoples and languages, standing before the throne and worshiping him who sits on the throne and the Lamb.

Who are they ?

They have the name of the Lamb and the name of His Father written on their foreheads (v. 1). They are described in v. 3 as “having been redeemed from the earth.” Located at this place in the record, the 144,000 contrast with those who received the mark of the beast.

They are described as not having defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins (v. 4); they are even blameless (v. 5). Should these descriptions be understood literally or figuratively?

Interpretations of their identity go in two directions:

A subset of all Christians? This interpretation relies heavily on the meaning of the word “firstfruits,” usually meaning the first fruits in the OT, heralding further fruits, a more bountiful harvest. Are these then the martyrs from the great tribulation (according to the futurist interpretation, especially among dispensationalists)? Virgin Jewish men (in the literal sense), who never lied?

Or is it all Christians, all children of God, all redeemed? In the OT, the term “firstfruits” can be understood not only in the sense of “first fruits which announce others to come”, but also in the sense of “that which is reserved for God, which is consecrated to God “. Moreover, the term “virgins” refers to a reality often mentioned in the OT, that of spiritual adultery when Israel fell away from God (cf. Isaiah 57, Jeremiah 3, 5, 7, 9, Ezekiel 16 , the whole book of Hosea, and so on); even James takes up this idea in James 4.14 (and elsewhere in the NT). They are the “redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:3). They sing a song that no one else can sing (not even the four living creatures, nor the elders), they are “the saints, who keep the commandments of God and the faith in Jesus” (v. 12). What is in their mouth is not the lie (of the second beast), but the truth (of the testimony given to Jesus).

b. Where do they stand?

They are with the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. What does this expression mean? Two possible interpretations about Zion:

Mount Zion in Jerusalem on earth? Some exegetes understand it this way.

Others understand Mount Zion as a reference to the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). This is how Zion is presented in Hebrews 12:22: “You have come near to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the myriads which form the choir of angels”. In Galatians 4:26, Paul speaks of the Jerusalem above, which is our mother.

Rather than seeing in these verses of Revelation 14 a prediction of the appearance of 144,000 Jews in a literal Jerusalem, this is rather a vision of the new people of God, the redeemed of the earth, before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, in the very presence of God, in heavenly Zion, in the presence of the Lamb. I remind you that we are in apocalyptic literature.

What are they doing ?

They sing a new song that only they can sing, the sound of which is like that of harps (often an instrument of joy in the OT, not an instrument of lament).

Moreover, they follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They walk after Him, in His footsteps, a way of saying that they are disciples of the Lamb (cf. Matthew 16.24, Mark 8.34).

In contrast, then, to those who receive the mark of the beast, John here reminds the redeemed, those who have received the seal of the Lamb and His Father, that despite the cruelty of the first beast and of the seductive power of the second beast, the Lamb guards His own.

Proclamation of three angels (Revelation 14:6-12)

John then presents, in rapid succession to each other, three proclamations from three angels. Their messages are interrelated and progressive:

The first angel has an everlasting gospel, to declare it “to the inhabitants of the earth,” a phrase we have already studied earlier. What is this gospel? Some think it is what is reported in v. 7: “Fear God, give him glory, . . . “. Others include v. 7, more properly, not as the content of the everlasting gospel (often referred to heretofore as referring to the sacrificial death of the Lamb for His own, Revelation 1.5-6, as well as chapters 4 and 5), but as the appropriate response to this Gospel. Those redeemed from the earth by the sacrifice of the Lamb fear God, give Him glory, prostrate themselves before their Creator, recognize His superiority and the justice of His judgments.

The second angel announces the fall of Babylon, which will be fully described in chapters 17 and 18. We will deal with this Babylon when we study those chapters (another indication that Revelation should not be read as predictions of precise events presented sequentially; apocalyptic literature often returns to the same themes, and we have an example of this here).

The third angel announces eternal condemnation against those who receive the mark of the beast or the mark of his name. It is the negative counterpart of what was affirmed in Revelation 13:16-17.

Here we have one of the clearest, but at the same time most appalling statements of the eternal punishment that awaits those who do not have the seal of God. The expressions are terrifying:

  • the wine of God’s wrath, poured out unadulterated (i.e., pure, in all its strength) into the cup of his wrath;
  • a torment in fire and brimstone before the holy angels and before the Lamb;
  • the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever, that is, for eternity;
  • they have no rest day or night.
  • Some of these images are taken from the TA:

The cup of the wrath of God: “There is a cup in the hand of the Lord, fermenting wine full of mixture, and he pours it out: all the wicked of the earth suck, drink to the dregs” (Psalm 75.8); this image recurs very often in the prophets (Isaiah 51.17, 22, Jeremiah 25 [read v. 15-17, 18-20, 27-28, 33-34], Ezekiel 23).
The fire, the sulfur, the smoke, obviously recall the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
This description is so appalling that many people, including evangelical scholars, interpret this text differently. Since the question comes up quite often, let’s take the time to look at the subject a little more precisely. There are basically five different ways to interpret the biblical texts dealing with eternal judgment:

Universalism (not very popular among evangelicals), that all human beings will be saved, through the love of God. This understanding surfaces regularly, in every generation, given the difficulty of accepting that a God of love, forgiveness and mercy would delight in seeing people suffer for eternity. The most recent form of universalism was presented by Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins (HarperOne, 2011).

Annihilism, according to which people are eventually annihilated, destroyed, either immediately after death or after suffering for a time.

Conditional immortality, in which God does not directly intervene to annihilate a person’s life after death, but simply withdraws His breath of life, He no longer supports the existence of these people. Gospel writers have sought to balance the justice of God and the love of God in this way, among them: John R. W. Stott, Philip E. Hughes, John Wenham.

Eternal punishment to which are destined only those who have voluntarily and consciously rejected the message of the Gospel or who have done evil on a large scale (one thinks of Hitler, of the torturers of human history, of sinners notorious). Contemporary Catholicism is getting closer and closer to this way of understanding the Bible. For those who hold this position, the death of Christ stands as a sacrifice for all the sins of all human beings (unless repeatedly consciously disbelieved). We are therefore “saved” by Jesus, but without necessarily needing to believe in Him personally. Personal faith is often replaced by human sincerity, response to God as creator, obedience to one’s own conscience, good works, no harm to one’s neighbor, and so on…

Conscious and eternal punishment for all those who did not place their personal faith in the person of Jesus, who died for their sins. This is the most exclusive position of the five mentioned here. If many have tried to explain eternal punishment or eternal judgment otherwise, it is at the cost of a biblical definition of certain elements of the text. Far from delighting in such doctrine or delighting in speaking of the eternal suffering of people, we must recognize, however, that the Bible speaks of eternal, conscious, endless judgment. To reach any other conclusion requires minimizing the holiness of God, the gravity of sin, the honor of God, or the full content of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

John ends this part of the text in v. 12, again calling on its readers and listeners to persevere, to keep the commandments of God, to continue to place their faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for them.

Two images of eternal judgment (Revelation 14:14-20)

These two images (harvest and vintage) refer to the same event, presented under two different aspects:

The first image, that of a harvest, is very brief. All we are told is that the son of man (probably Jesus) throws in his sickle and the ground is reaped. This tells us that judgment is inevitable and final.

b. The second image is that of the grape harvest. Normally, the grapes are trodden to extract the juice. Here, it is human beings who are trodden down in “the great basin of the wrath of God” (v. 19), and it is God who tramples them! This image speaks to us of the violence and horror of the wrath of God. For our world which knows the horrors of war and human violence, this language is surprising but not difficult to grasp!

These two images remind us of what it really means to be saved. The NT teaches that we are saved “from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

This text from Revelation reminds us that the gospel is good news of salvation and deliverance only insofar as we recognize our perdition and helplessness.

B. The Seven bowls (Revelation 15–16)

Introduction (Revelation 15)
The third and final heptad presents judgments from God, this time in the form of vials. We saw in the previous chapter that the image of the cuts is taken from the AT.

Angels hold seven wounds, said to be the last, not in terms of temporality, but in terms of scope. “Through them the wrath of God is fulfilled” (v. 1), like the first two series of judgments.

Some of the images shown here are reshoots of previous images. This is how we find the Crystal Sea (4.6). This time, those who stand on the sea of ​​crystal are “the vanquishers of the beast, of its image, and of the cipher of its name”, all allusions to elements already mentioned.

So let’s take a look at some of these images:

conquerors of the beast: 12.11;
the image of the beast: 13.13-15;
the number of his name: 13.16.18;
the harps in their hands: 14.2;
they sing the song of Moses: a reference to the song of Moses after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15), which becomes the model for all the songs of deliverance, to be compared to the song of the Lamb mentioned in 14.3.
This celestial song (Revelation 15.3-4) is a singular contrast to the “woes” pronounced in the past, to the blasphemies pronounced by the beast and to the refusal on the part of the inhabitants to repent and who blaspheme the God of heaven (Revelation 16.11). The same gesture made by God produces both praise and blasphemy, depending on whether the response comes from those whom God has “redeemed from the earth” or whether it comes from the “dwellers of the earth”.

Sounding like an echo of the 7th trumpet , when the temple of God in heaven was opened and the ark of His covenant appeared in heaven (Revelation 11:19), again “the sanctuary of the tabernacle of the testimony” is opened in heaven (Revelation 15:5).

Seven angels come out of it, holding the seven plagues announced in v. 1, presented this time in the form of sections. But before John describes the seven angels pouring out their vials, he points out that these are given to them by one of the four living creatures, just as the seven trumpets “were given” to the angels (Revelation 8:2). Moreover, v. 8 evokes the presence of God, the glory of God, in a language that strongly recalls the descent of the cloud on the tabernacle in the desert (Exodus 40. 34-35) or the descent of the cloud in the temple during its consecration by Solomon (1 Kings 8.10-11).

It is again by order of a voice issuing from the sanctuary (16.1) that the angels take action.

The Seven Bowls (cups/vials) (Revelation 16)

The seven cups are presented in rapid succession, without an interlude.

The first bowl, a malignant and painful sore, befalls men who have the mark of the beast (Revelation 16.2). The language recalls one of the plagues of Egypt, the 6th (the dust producing ulcers and eruptions of pustules – Exodus 9. 8-12).

The second bowl, poured into the sea, it turns it into blood and kills all living beings in the sea. Two things to note: a greater severity than that attached to the second trumpet (where it was the third of the sea that was touched, Revelation 8. 8-9), as well as a new echo of one of the plagues of Egypt, the first (Exodus 7. 20-25).

The third bowl, like the third trumpet, touches rivers and springs of water (Revelation 16:4-7). The waters are not poisoned by a star falling from heaven (cf. Revelation 8. 10-11), but they are turned into blood. This plague is presented as a righteous judgment in response to those who shed the blood of the prophets. This judgment of God provokes a heavenly response fundamentally affirming the justice and truth of God’s judgments.

The fourth bowl touches the sun, just like the fourth trumpet (Revelation 8:12). But this time, the sun is not obscured by a third of its strength, on the contrary, it is given to burn human beings. Presented in contrast to the heavenly response following the third vial, the response to this fourth vial comes from human beings who blaspheme God’s name (recognizing that these vials come from him) and do not repent. Far from leading people to repentance, God’s judgments only bring to light the true nature of what lies in human hearts. Were it not for the grace of God, no human being would give glory to God. What is amazing about God’s plan is not God’s judgments, but God’s graciousness to those He redeemed with the blood of the Lamb.

The fifth vial touches the throne of the beast, whose kingdom is darkened (Revelation 16:10-11). Again, we see a parallel with the fifth trumpet which described a star falling from heaven and unleashing an army of demons like an invasion of locusts (Revelation 9:1-11). The result on human beings resembles the result of the fourth vial: afflicted with great pain, they blaspheme the God of heaven because of their ulcers (cf. Revelation 16.2) and do not repent of their works.

The sixth vial touches the Euphrates (Revelation 16:12-16), image of the great river beyond which once stood the military powers so menacing and invincible. But this time, they are what John calls “the kings of the east” (v. 12). Who are they ? Speculation, unlike this river, has never dried up and is still going strong today. Three unclean, “frog-like” spirits of sign-operating demons, gather the kings of all the earth (and not only of the East, thus signaling the metaphorical meaning of these kings of the East) for the ” battle of the great day of God, the Almighty” (a way of recalling the futility of this battle, the outcome of which is already settled by the blood of the Lamb).

The historical interpretation sees in these three unclean spirits a reference

to paganism,
to the papacy and
to Islam.

The battle of Armageddon is interpreted as a real military conflict (whose enemy is often associated with modern Russians, Turks, Persians – Iranians, or others).

More recently, the futuristic interpretation brings them closer to the Chinese or the Japanese, to Iran or Afghanistan or even to Pakistan or India. In short, the rumors are rife.

The place of this gathering is called in Hebrew Armageddon, i.e., the “mountain of Megiddo”. Should we understand this expression in the literal sense, designating the valley of Megiddo in Israel? There is no “mountain of Megiddo in Israel, but rather a “plain of Megiddo”. Like Mount Zion (Revelation 14.1), and like the place of the great city called in a spiritual sense Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11.8), the name of this place is most likely to be interpreted symbolically.

The seventh vial is poured into the air, unlike the other six. According to John’s description of it, the judgment brought about by this cup surpasses all precedents (“an earthquake such as there has not been since men have been on the earth” – v. 18). The cities of the nations fall, the islands flee, the mountains are not found. This plague is “violent in the extreme” (v. 21). I believe this is again (as with the sixth seal and the seventh trumpet) a presentation of the final judgment. If it is not the final judgment, then it is an extremely intense judgment.


Human sin has consequences. It is a challenge to God. It is a prison from which one can no longer escape by oneself. It is a spiritual blindness that renders the human being incapable of pleasing God, of responding to Him adequately. There is a slavery from which one cannot free oneself.

God’s judgment on human beings is serious. It is not the fact that God simply abandons the human being to his fate by withdrawing his grace from him, it is the act of God against human rebellion against Him, the manifestation of His justice, the demonstration that our acts have an eternal scope, because they are directed against an Almighty, Eternal, Immortal God. The judgments of God and the justice of God bring out the holiness of God, the gravity of our sins, the greatness of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
“Your works are great and wonderful, Lord God Almighty! Your ways are just and true, King of the nations! Lord, who would not fear you and glorify your name? For only you are holy. And all the nations will come and bow down to you, because your righteousness has been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4).

Bible Passages

Revelation 14 / KJV Bible

1. And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
2. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
3. And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
4. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
5. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
6. And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
7. Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
8. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
9. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
10. The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
11. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
12. Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
13. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
14. And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

Revelation 15 / KJV Bible

1. And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.
2. And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
3. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
4. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
5. And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:
6. And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.
7. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.
8. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.

Revelation 16 / KJV Bible

1. And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.
2. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.
3. And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
4. And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.
5. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.
6. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
7. And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
8. And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.
9. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
10. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,
11. And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
12. And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
13. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
14. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
15. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
16. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
17. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
18. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
19. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
20. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
21. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Related Links / Notes

Revelation (Apocalypse) Bible Study

Study Notes are translated from the original French version prepared by Pierre Constant who has been Associate Professor of the New Testament at the Toronto Baptist Seminary since 2003. The orginal French notes are in “note” form, and are not a direct transcription of the video. The notes provided here follow that form, but are detailed enough to help provide a deep understanding of the texts in the book of revelation.

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